New Box Build

Originally, this year was the year to get a new laptop or a tablet (ASUS Eeepad Transformer). However, due to another rash of BSoD’s and memory issues with the desktop, and a real lack of laptops worth buying (more on this later) it was time to replace the desktop. Part of me really wanted to push this off until AMD’s Bulldozer launched this summer, but I needed a stable desktop.

Truth be told, this wasn’t a fully new build. I only updated the following components:

  • CPU: C2D E8500 => i7 2600K
  • Memory: DDR2 800 4GiB XMS2 with DHX => DDR3 1600 8GiB Vengeance
  • Motherboard: DQ35JO => GA-Z68X-UD3P-B3
  • SSD: 80GB x-25m G1 => 120GB Intel 320

Is it fast? Of course. The processor and memory upgrade is the most noticeable, especially for tasks such as video trans-coding. However, the transition from the x-25m to the 320 was not a big upgrade. Under load, the system runs significantly cooler than the old C2D based system. Part of this may be due to replacing the front exhaust fan (the PC-A05NB vents to the front) with a PWM controlled one that can move much more air if needed.

Overall, I’m enjoying this new build, and can once again rely on my desktop for important tasks such as programming.

-John Havlik

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Canon S90

S90's image is on the left, the SD850's is to the right

After several years of trusty service (the first few months were a battle, but that’s besides the point), I’m replacing my PowerShot SD850 IS with something a little more advanced. Since I’m not ready to take the plunge into the world of DSLR, and didn’t want something terribly large, the S90 fit the bill. Simply put, there are too many things to love about the S90. It’s small (though slightly larger than the SD850), has a fast lens, has a large (for a ‘point and shoot’) sensor, and has a control right around the lens.

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Vostro 1400’s 5.1 Surround Sound

Believe it or not the Vostro 1400 does have built in 5.1 Surround Sound and can drive analog outputs for such a setup. The plug-order from left to right on the front of the laptop is front (green plug), center/sub (orange plug), rear (black plug). After plugging into the ports, go to your control panel, and open up the SigmaTel Audio panel. Under the “Jack Setup” tab right click on each of the jacks (which each should have a green check mark over if you have plugged something into them). In the pop-up menu select the appropriate setting. Then back in Control Panel go to the Sound Panel select the Speakers/Headphones option/device and click on the configure button, select “5.1 Surround” in the Audio channels list. Continue on through the setup and when done everything should work in full 5.1 surround goodness. Naturally, the on board sound isn’t as good as the sound from my X-Fi, but I don’t have the 5.1 breakout box for the X-Fi yet. Dell’s choice to place the audio jacks on the front of the Vostro isn’t the best of design choices as they get in the way of the keyboard a little bit. However, it really isn’t that bad.

I really wish all laptop manufactures would standardize on a common docking station interface which would consist of a PCI Express x16 connector plus an express card interface located in the port (plus power of course), which in the base station would allow for full sized x16 graphics card to be installed and either a normal PCI, x1 card, or express card to be installed as well, plus 4 or so USB ports on the dock. That way you can game with the laptop when docked (Geforce 9800GT anyone?) yet get the power benefits of having an IGP while mobile (I really enjoy my 5+ hours of battery life with the normal 6 cell battery).

-John Havlik

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Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio Express

A package arrived from ebay today, it was the X-Fi Xtreme Audio Express Card for my Vostro 1400. Hopefully I’ll be able to find the 5.1/7.1 extension for docking with my speakers. Sound wise, it’s much better than the on board sound, which through the internal speakers is not that great. It’s not that bad, but with external speakers the on board sound is much better, and the X-Fi is that much better. Vista didn’t automagically get things working right away (sort of disappointing since everything else just worked). Creative is now better with their driver installer as they allow just installing the driver without the other added software (read as more or less crapware). Software installation was quick and painless, required a reboot as I chose to install ALchemy. Some actual testing will occur later this weekend.

-John Havlik

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Vostro 1400

A week ago the Intel turbo memory module arrived, the last component that needed the keyboard to be removed in order to install. My Vostro 1400 came more or less stock with the following specs:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T5270 (1.4Ghz, runs at 1.6Ghz according to CPUz and is related to the L7300) (A X9000 is on it’s way :D)
  • 2GiB DDR2-667 RAM running in Dual Channel mode (PQI brand)
  • 160GB 5400RPM Segate SATA Hard Drive
  • Dell wireless 802.11g (model DW1390) (Replaced with Intel WiFi Link 802.11abgn)
  • 56Wh Li-ion battery (up to 6hrs according to Dell)
  • Intel Robinson Turbo Memory 1GiB (Added)
  • Dell Bluetooth 2.1 (model 360) (Added)
  • 14 inch wide screen display (1280×800)
  • Intel Media Accelerator X3100 graphics

After a little over a week with this laptop, I must say Dell put together a very nice machine. When I first received it I powered it up to make sure it worked, and to see how well Dell’s wireless card worked. It wasn’t able to find my wireless network, but it found every neighbor’s network, unfortunately no one keeps their networks open anymore. Replacing the wireless card requires getting behind the keyboard, on the two Compaqs that I’ve taken apart before that required unscrewing some things on the bottom of the computer, and nothing was detailed in the user manual. Not only did the manual lay out exactly what needed to be done, two nice little green plastic tools were provided for aiding in removing the media panel. Good thing they were provided as the media panel is fairly secured and required patience in removing.

Replacing the CPU should be easy as the CPU and cooler assembly has it’s own lid, as does the hard drive and the memory. Installing the blue tooth radio was easy as everything else had been. Installing the drivers was painless, Vista did everything for me. The same was true for the Intel cards, just had to insert the Intel CD when prompted, and everything “just worked” (sounds Macish doesn’t it?). This is even on Home Basic, a version that ran slower than molasses at 5am Wednesday morning this week (It was -15 degrees Fahrenheit) on a Pentium D 2.8Ghz with dedicated graphics and 2GiB of ram.

Dell with its Vostro line, as well as with the XPS line, does not install crapware. Though I did uninstall some of the preinstalled software, Google Desktop (I don’t bother searching for things in Windows), as well as some unneeded Dell software (I’m looking at you software modem driver) I really wouldn’t count those programs as crapware (compare to what a Toshiba comes with). Vista, really is not that bad. I do not like the constant “Are you sure you want to run this” prompts, but beyond that things are very responsive, I think I’ll give Intel the credit here for their Core 2 Duo being so awesome of a chip.

I have a Western Digital Scorpio 120GB (8MiB cache) that I’ll install Gentoo onto and run KDE 4 on it as the desktop manager. This hasn’t happened yet as I’m primarily waiting to do this until spring break in March. Additionally, due to the nature of Gentoo, its advantageous for me to wait for my X9000 to arrive as it is twice as fast in clock speed alone which will really help for compile times.

Speaking of CPUs I should go a little in depth on my findings on the 1.4Ghz chip in this laptop. Even though it reports to Vista and CPU-Z as a T5270 it constantly runs out of spec for that processor. It seems to like to run with a 8.0x multiplier on a 800Mhz FSB, resulting in a speed of 1.6Ghz. Added to that, the reported CPU VID of 1.013V, which is under the 1.0375-1.3V range that it is supposed to operate under. Additionall, CPU-Z gets a bit confused as the top CPU name is claims the CPU is a L7300 (which would explain the lower voltage, but not the constant overclock). Even when running two CPU Burn-in processes, the temperature didn’t get over 30C and once the fan kicked in a bit, still nearly silent, the temp dropped to 22C. I’m going to do more tests on the processor and post results sometime during spring break. With comparisons to the X9000, it should be interesting.

-John Havlik

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