Lenovo 110S

Why did I buy this thing?

I had been looking for an ultra-portable laptop to use as a thin-client computer.

Something that I could establish a VPN connection to my home network with and connect into my more powerful desktop computer. Something I could throw into my backpack and carry around with me every day if I wanted to. Something I could use around the house. I already have an HP Envy dv7 laptop, but lugging a 17″ desktop replacement laptop around the house just isn’t something I want to do anymore.

I had been thinking about buying a really old IBM ThinkPad or Lenovo laptop. I will occasionally see them on Craigslist or eBay for $25-50. I’ve always wanted a ThinkPad. There is just something about their styling that steals my heart!

In the past I purchased an old PowerBook G4 from a guy on Craigslist to do just this very task. I gave the man $25 for it (or was it $30 or $40, it was several years ago now and I’ve slept since then). I sat it aside because I didn’t feel comfortable using the power cable that appeared to be charred. I didn’t really want to invest the money into buying a new power cable considering it would have been more than I paid for the computer itself. One of these days I will revive that computer! I hate the fact that it just sits in the closet! Anyway, I digress (a lot)!

Ultimately, the problem with buying an old IBM/Lenovo or refurbishing the PowerBook G4 was that any of those options are old, heavy, probably need new batteries, and produce way more heat than I want to deal with.

To facilitate my need for an ultra-portable thin-client, I had been using my Amazon Fire tablet. Using an external keyboard and mouse it worked fairly well. However, I still longed for a true laptop form factor. I wanted something with more versatility and ports.

I had also considered purchasing the Pinebook, but, ultimately decided against that because I wasn’t sold on the build quality at the time.

Cut to me in Best Buy on Black Friday 2017 looking at a Lenovo 110S for $99. Unfortunately, they were sold out. However, after looking at it in store and falling in love with the look and feel of it I decided this would be a perfect ultra-portable thin-client computer. Sure, the specs were absolutely terrible. Sure, the screen is absolutely awful. However, the form factor was fantastic. The fact that it was running Windows 10 was even better. I decided to look and see if I could find it online for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to find it for $99 like I did in Best Buy. However, I was able to get it through my employer’s Perks at Work program for a little under $180 (after taxes and shipping). So, yeah, I paid for it twice. *SIGH* *FACEPALM*

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Dell PowerEdge 840 Upgrade

In January 2012 I purchased a used Dell PowerEdge 840 (PE840) server. Since then I have been using it as a home file and remote desktop server. My eventual goal when I bought the server was to upgrade the server to its maximum capacity. I wanted to use the server as a file and virtualization server. I knew it would take a while to buy all of the components. I started buying components for the upgrade project in March 2015. It is now November 2016 and I have had all of the parts for a few months now. I finally had some time off from work and performed the upgrade.

Specs before upgrade:

CPU: Intel Xeon 3040 Dual-Core 1.86 GHz
RAM: 2 GB DDR2-667 PC2-5300 ECC RAM
Storage: 1-250 GB HDD and 1-2 TB HDD
Connectivity: 1-Gigabit Ethernet Port

Specs after upgrade:

CPU: Intel Xeon X3230 Quad-Core 2.66 GHz
RAM: 8 GB DDR2-667 PC2-5300 ECC RAM
Storage: 1-60 GB SSD, 1-120 GB SSD and 2-5 TB NAS HDDs
Connectivity: 4-Gigabit Ethernet Ports (1 on motherboard, 3 via add-on cards)

The upgrade was successful. The server is running well. The only major problem that I had is with Windows Server 2016. I was hoping to be able to run Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V. It installed without a problem, but it would not recognize the embedded Broadcom Gigabit NIC. I found drivers for the NIC that were created for Windows 7, but they did not work (it was a long shot, I know). I couldn’t find any newer drivers. However, I was able to utilize the NIC with Windows Server 2012 R2.

I am currently using this machine as a file and Hyper-V server. I have two virtual machines running around the clock. (1) VPN Server (CentOS with OpenVPN) and (2) Windows 7 installation that is being utilized as an iTunes server to feed our Apple TV.

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I purchased the upgrade components over the course of a year so I was able to distribute the cost. However, the RAM upgrade alone was close to $90 ($45 for 4 GBs). Recently, I had the thought of buying another PE840 to use for additional virtual machines. I found one for $90 (plus shipping) that has the same specs that mine has AFTER I upgraded it. It would be ridiculous for me to purchase another PE840 for $90 when you can get something much better that doesn’t cost that much more. You can get decent brand new servers in the $200 price range. There are much better/newer used servers to be had on eBay for as little as $100-$150. Some with 32 GBs of RAM or better. If you’re dead set on upgrading your PE840, go for it. You’ll appreciate the performance boost. If you haven’t bought the components, I would investigate buying a newer server.

The only component that I haven’t installed is an adequate GPU. It would really be nice for Hyper-V machines so I can take advantage of RemoteFX. However, I don’t think I want to put anymore money into this machine as I am hoping to retire it or re-purpose it soon. If I were to purchase a GPU for it, it looks like the ZOTAC GeForce GT 710 would be the best option. Currently on NewEgg for a little under $50. It is DirectX 12 capable which would allow you to utilize RemoteFX (which requires DX11).

When I started the process of buying the components to upgrade the PE840 I found the following blog post that was extremely useful. If you’re planning to upgrade a PE840, check it out.

What is the best CPU that a Dell Poweredge 840 can take? A Quad Core Xeon X3230!

Belkin Desktop Phone for Skype

Last year I purchased the SMC WiFi Phone for Skype and was extremely disappointed. Haunted by it would probably be a better phrase. A reader of this blog by the name of Wayne gifted the Belkin phone to me. Thankfully so, because I was still needing a phone to use with Skype since I use it as my main line. I was still struggling with the same problems I faced when I purchased the WiFi phone. That is, I was never able to quickly answer Skype when someone was calling.

I’ve had the phone for a couple of weeks now and have thoroughly tested it out. Fortunately, for the phone, I don’t feel like slamming it against the wall as I did with the SMC phone. With that said, it’s not perfect. However, it’s been a much more pleasurable experience than the SMC phone.

I think I’ll start this review off with reasons I like this model, problems I had with the phone and then we’ll get to my conclusion.

Reasons I like this model: When I was looking at this phone on the Skype Store, I really liked that it was a desktop form factor. I have saw others in the past but they didn’t have all the features that this phone has. I liked that you could plug it into the network with an ethernet cable. I thought the call quality would be much better because of this. Others that I have looked at require you to connect the phone to the computer via USB. I wanted something fully independent. There are times that I’m working on video and still want to be able to talk on Skype. I also liked the fact that it had a full color display and speaker phone.

  • Voicemail: I am really happy to report that voice mail works with this phone. That phone that I keep referring to, the one I hate so much, would never send a call to voice mail. This phone will send it to voice mail after four rings.
  • Speaker: Although I really don’t use the speaker that much it is nice to have. Sometimes I’ll use the speaker to listen to voice mails or to see if I’ll get a ring or busy signal to the person I’m calling.
  • Web Based Administration: The only thing you can do with the web based administration is upgrade the phone’s firmware. However, the geek in me thinks it’s really neat. For added security you’ll want to change the default password so others cannot gain access to the administration area.

One or the other! One of the biggest problems that I have faced while using the Belkin phone is that you can’t use Skype on the computer and the phone at the same time. Well, you can, but it causes a lot of problems.

  • Instance 1: I was using Skype on the computer to talk to someone and I had my web cam on. I was mentioning to them that I had got the phone and they wanted to see it. I unplugged the phone from the network (thinking it would be no big deal) and showed it to my friend on camera. I then plugged the phone back into the network and Skype on the computer completely crashed.
  • Instance 2: I was on a Skype call using the Belkin phone. I needed to grab a link that someone was trying to send to me in chat. So, I started Skype on the computer and the Belkin phone completely rebooted and updated it’s firmware.
  • Instance 3: I had been instant messaging with a friend and knew that they were going to call me. When I know I’m going to be on a call for a while I’d rather use Skype on the computer because it’s much more comfortable than holding the phone. When they called me I had answered the call on the computer but the Belkin phone continued to ring a few more times.

For the most part I’ve mostly been using Skype on the Belkin phone and not running Skype on the computer. This is annoying because when someone IM’s me I don’t know. Also, a lot of the people on my contact list don’t pay attention to the message that says “This user is using a version of Skype that does not support chat.” So a lot of them have been irritated with me for not responding, I apologize. Though, it does keep my computer from being overrun with more instant messages. 😉

Quiet calls. A couple of people have mentioned that when I am talking to them and pause, that there is no background noise. “Are you there?” tends to rear it’s ugly head several times during the conversation. Only a couple of people have mentioned this, though.

Call quality. The phone doesn’t have the absolute best call quality. Though, again, it’s definitely much better than the SMC phone. I have forwarded ports to the phone and it is directly connected to the DSL router (which has a firewall, if you were worried) to try and improve call quality. It’s not traditional telephone quality, it’s definitely not the quality you can get out of Skype on the computer, but, it’s not terrible.

Conclusion. I really like this phone. It works and operates as a phone should. Although I did have a few problems with this phone (as mentioned above), it’s a really great phone. I think it would make a great gift. Buy one, set up a Skype account, add yourself to the contact list and give it away. Just tell the recipient to plug and play.

I hope to see many software updates for this phone in the future. Hopefully, they’ll figure out a way to improve call quality. I would also like to see an addition to the embedded Skype software that makes it easy to silence the phone without going on “Do Not Disturb,” going through the settings and turning the ringer off or signing out of Skype on the phone. Signing back into Skype through the phone requires re-entering your password. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s possible to silence the phone and it’s pretty simple to do. It just requires more clicks than I think there should be.

Most importantly I would like to see an update that corrects the problem of using Skype on the computer and the phone at the same time.

In a future model of this phone I would like to see the ability to plug in a headset.

Would I recommend this phone? Most definitely. Like I said, it works as a phone should. If you’re looking for a desktop Skype phone, this is the one to get.

Belkin Desktop Phone for Skype

Digital Stream DTX9950

In my best television announcer voice: “Digital TV has better picture, better sound and more channels!” Unless you’ve been living under a rock then you have probably heard that a million times by now. If you have been living under a rock then you need to check out the Digital TV 2009 website to learn more and to apply for a converter box coupon so you can watch free over-the-air digital TV on your analog televisions.

A couple of weekends ago I purchased my converter box, a Digital Stream DTX9950. I purchased it then because my coupon was soon to expire. I knew several people who had already purchased their converter boxes. A couple of those people had purchased the Digital Stream brand. After looking at the Digital Stream, GE, Magnavox and RCA converter boxes online, I felt the Digital Stream box was to my liking as well. I had helped my Father and Grandfather with their converter boxes. My Father had the DTX9900 and my Grandfather had one from Magnavox. The one from Magnavox felt really cheap and the on screen display looked even cheaper. I had considered getting an RCA converter box but after looking at the reviews and some YouTube clips I felt it was cheap and poorly designed like the Magnavox.

Almost all converter boxes are packaged with the same accessories: a very short RF cable, a remote with batteries, manuals and the converter box. If you’re going to connect the converter box to your television or VCR the included accessories will be enough for you. If you want to connect the converter box to your television using RCA cables (for better picture) you will have to purchase those separately.

Setting up the DTX9950 is really easy. When you power the converter box on it will walk you through a setup wizard which consists of: language selection, confirmation of the cables being plugged in correctly, channel scan and time zone selection.

After having the converter box connected I was able to pick up a lot more channels. Before connecting the converter box most of the channels were snowy. I am a bit disappointed, though. I was hoping to be able to pick up even more channels. I use to get more channels on my indoor antenna than we got on the television in the living room which has an outdoor antenna. That has changed and I now get less than the antenna in the living room. There are two channels I cannot receive and four more that if I move the antenna around I’m able to get but they are very weak signals. Two of which I was able to receive before connecting the converter box. If I move my antenna around I am able to receive them but they’re prone to cutting in and out. I’m probably going to have to purchase a better antenna to pick up anymore channels. The antenna I have now is 10 years old (the same age as the television) and is just an indoor antenna that’s not very strong so I’m not going to complain.

However, I do get two channels that I did not get before. I just don’t get everything that an outdoor antenna can pick up. I just wanted to point out that you may need to get a stronger antenna to be able to receive more channels.

The included remote works pretty well. I got it to work with my 10 year old 19″ RCA XL100. At first I could only get it to power off the television. I first programmed the remote using the codes in the manual. I then used the code search function of the remote (hold down the TV power button and press the channel up button until the television powers off). Using the code search of the remote I was able to get it to power the television on and off. The remote only controls the power, volume and inputs of the television (switches between channels 3 & 4).

The television we have in the living room has an older version of the Digital Stream converter boxes, a DTX9900. The only difference between the two that I have seen is that the DTX9950 has analog pass through which allows you to press a button on the remote and view analog broadcasts. Pressing the button again switches you back to digital television. This is handy in circumstances that you can pick up a channel in analog format but not in digital. When the switch happens next February I don’t know how useful this feature will be, there may be some low power stations that are allowed to continue broadcasting in analog. On the DTX9900 there is an “Info” button (instead of an analog pass through button) which brings up the program information for the channel you are currently watching. On the DTX9950 you can press the “OK” button to get the channel information to appear. There is a button for bringing up the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) on both remotes.

Note: Only digital TV signals will be sent through RCA cables. If you’re using RCA cables and want to watch analog broadcasts through the converter box you’ll have to use an RF cable.

Speaking of the EPG, this is another really nice feature. With the DTX9950 it seems that the program guide works really well and has a lot of useful information. Sometimes, more information than what is printed in the local newspaper television guide. I’ve noticed that there are some stations that have programming information for a couple of days and there are some stations that only have listings for the next few hours. Also, some stations have extended descriptions for upcoming programs and some don’t. Flashback: When I first got my RCA television the remote control had a program information button that sometimes displayed current programming information. Sometimes it would work, most of the time it wouldn’t. Hopefully, the EPG will work for the foreseeable future.

The Digital Stream and most other converter boxes allow you to take advantage of wide screen television broadcasts. If you have a wide screen television you’ll appreciate this the most. If you don’t have a wide screen television you’ll still appreciate this if you don’t mind letter boxing. I personally like it regardless of the letter boxing because it allows me to see a wider view. If you’re not a fan of the letter boxing you can zoom to fill the screen. You can also change to Anamorphic view which allows you to see the entire wide view in the frame. It doesn’t look all that great so I’d recommend sticking with the letter boxing or zooming.

A couple of other notable features are the ratings and emergency alerts. If you have children and don’t want them to view inappropriate content you can set up ratings for acceptable viewing and assign a pin number to keep them from changing the ratings. I won’t go into how stupid I think this is but I will say that I’m sure there are ways around this. Most of the converter boxes, the Digital Stream being no exception, allows you to view emergency alerts. I have not saw one of these come across the television (hopefully I won’t anytime soon) but I am guessing these would be for Amber and other emergency alerts (fire, weather, police). I don’t fully understand how the alerts would work or be shown on the screen, if you know feel free to leave a comment.

I have heard a lot of people say that they think this is a government conspiracy to get more money. I don’t agree with that. The government is freeing up the analog spectrum for other purposes and is giving you two coupons worth $40 each. The government doesn’t force you to watch television and they didn’t give you money to purchase your analog antenna or television. Besides that, digital television is truly a lot better in many ways.

Speaking of costs. The DTX9950 from Radio Shack is $59.99 ($65.84 after tax in Oak Ridge, TN). You have to pay taxes on the coupon (maybe this is a government conspiracy). After the coupon and taxes were applied I paid $25.84 for the converter box.

In conclusion I have to say I am very pleased with the DTX9950 (and the DTX9900). Like I have mentioned in this post already I think it’s one of the better converter boxes out there. I have read a lot of great things about it and in my experience with using it over the past couple of weeks I really do like it a lot. I think the features of the Digital Stream brand are far beyond those of other brands. I think it would be great if you’re someone like me who doesn’t pay for cable or satellite television and wants to receive free, local programming after the switch in February 2009. I could see this being used in campers for those who don’t want to sign up for mobile satellite television. Check out the Digital TV 2009 website to learn more about the switch to digital, sign up for two free $40 coupons from the government and find out what programming you can receive in your area with a digital television converter box.

SMC WiFi Phone for Skype (WSKP100)

The Reason For Purchasing

A couple of years ago I had a no-contract cell phone and before then I had a pre-paid cell phone. I got rid of those in 2005. They were simply too expensive. Ever since then I’ve been using Skype, Gizmo or just using the house land-line to make telephone calls. I’ve recently started getting more calls on my SkypeIn number because that’s what I give to friends, clients, recruiters and potential employers. Lately though, I have not been able to get to the computer quick enough to answer Skype. The problem is I have to go to the computer, sometimes login (usually locked when I am away), un-mute the microphone in Windows volume control, un-mute the microphone on the headset cable, put the headset on and answer the call. Heaven forbid if I’ve been using a piece of software that change’s my Skype input/output devices because if that’s the case I have to change those, too!

So you see the problem! I needed to get something that I could answer very quickly. For a while I had been wanting to get a WiFi phone for Skype. The problem is that they were still really expensive. Most of them were between $150-200. I didn’t want to spend that much. I thought about getting one of the cordless dual-mode phones but the ones that were actually affordable required you to connect them to your computer. There are models that do not require you to connect them to your computer but they cost more than the WiFi phones. The problem for me is, if I’m still in bed and a potential employer calls I wouldn’t know it because I have been turning the computer off during the night because it’s really loud and of course, I’m in sleep land. Also, the idea solution was to get something that I could take with me if I were to go on a trip, interview, vacation (ha, ha, whatever) or somewhere that was out of the area and possibly had a WiFi Internet connection.

I got onto Skype’s website a couple of weeks ago and saw the SMC WiFi Phone for Skype for $99 which I thought was a great deal. Everywhere else has the exact same model for between $130-170. The Belkin model (which is exactly the same as the SMC model other than the color and branding, in my opinion) was more expensive. I pondered on purchasing the SMC model for about an hour and I went ahead and purchased it. I have been using the phone for a week now and although I have already wrote in length about why I purchased the phone, I have a lot more to say about the phone (features, likes, dislikes, etc).

Arrival, setup, included features

The phone was shipped quickly and arrived in packaging that reminds me of typical cell phone packaging. The box contained the SMC Skype WiFi Phone, earphone, power adapter, USB cable, battery and a CD containing the user manual (nothing else is on the CD), printed user manuals (in 3 languages). In the box there is also a gift of 120 SkypeOut minutes and 3 month’s free voicemail. I was pleased with this because with my SkypeIn number I get free voicemail. With the card I was able to extend my voicemail for 3 additional months and I had just extended it a few days prior to receiving the phone. So I won’t have to do that for 6 months which is very nice. Of course I also got the 120 SkypeOut minutes but for me I do not worry much with those as I paid for the entire year of Skype Unlimited. Regardless, it’s still very nice.

Before turning the phone on and setting it up it says to charge it for 8 full hours which is fairly a standard suggestion on almost all electronics. After the phone had been on charge for 3 hours it said that it was charged. I decided to keep my anxious fingers away from the phone for a few more hours and let it continue to charge for the full 8 hours even though it said it was charged. I’m not sure if the battery was charged partially from the factory or if there is a bug with the phone. More than likely it was charged partially from the factory.

Once the phone was charged setting it up was very easy although it did take me a couple of tries getting my password in. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to input upper case letters. The phone joined my wireless network without any issues and once I got the username and password into the phone it logged onto Skype without any issues. The phone said that it was downloading contacts for quite a long time. I turned the phone off after 30 minutes, turned it back on and my contacts were there. Other than getting my contacts to appear, set up was very simple.

What I dislike about the phone

The biggest complaint about the phone that I have is how it handles voicemails. The Skype website states: “Voicemail Support: With the purchase of Skype Voicemail, the SMC WiFi Phone will record a short voice message from the caller when your are away.” I assumed that the phone would work much like the Skype software. I assumed that if I did not answer the phone after a few rings the phone would send the caller to voicemail. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In my tests and when others have called me at no time does the call ever go to voicemail. If you let it ring long enough you will get a busy signal but no voicemail.

Although the phone interface is very easy to use, the actual buttons on the phone are very annoying. I find myself having to press the buttons harder than I should at times to make them work. Sometimes it seems as though there is a delay from the time you press the button until the action you desired happens.

The phone supposedly has the ability to update itself over WiFi. I have not been able to test this because the update that I installed when I got the phone enabled the feature and there have been no updates since I installed the latest firmware. When you first get this phone you will definitely want to update it. The phone I received had year old firmware installed. Unfortunately, if you do need to update the software you can only update it on Microsoft Windows with the included USB cable. I find this amusing considering the fact that the phone is running on an embedded Linux distribution.

The time on this phone is always incorrect. Every single time I go into the time settings and change them it will always go back one hour. No matter how many times I have updated the time on this phone it always goes back one hour. Speaking of time, whenever you hold the phone up to your ear you can hear a ticking sound. It sounds exactly like a ticking watch (and no, I do not wear a wristwatch!).

When you are holding the phone up to your ear, ticking is not the only noise you hear. If you are not in a call you can hear the phone making a continuous electronic noise. If you are listening to your voice messages and you have the phone to your ear you can hear the phone downloading each message one piece at a time onto the phone’s internal memory card.

I have made many calls to the Skype Lady (echo123) and whenever she starts speaking it’s really loud, then really quiet. Then when the bells dings for you to start or stop speaking they are really loud and can really hurt your ears. When I have made SkypeOut and calls to other Skype users it is really difficult to hear sometimes what the person is saying unless you hold the phone really close to your ear. Forget using the included earphone, it’s even worse.

The phone is awkward to hold. I really hate the back of the phone because when your run your fingers across it’s surface it sounds like sandpaper. Fortunately, it doesn’t feel like sandpaper! I wish the entire phone was as smooth as the front.

What I like about the phone

I know this is not the most important aspect of the phone but I am really pleased that it is running on a Linux distribution. I love Linux devices and love to see more and more products putting it to use.

I like the fact that this phone is upgradeable. I think that is extremely important in almost any device you purchase these days. I only hope that SMC will kick out some updates to make this phone even better.

I also love the fact that no PC is required in any aspect of setting up or using this phone (other than the initial update that I made). If I am to go on a vacation (unlikely) it will nice to be able to stay in touch using Skype.

Final thoughts and conclusion

Although the phone has it’s flaws I think the phone is a really great idea, especially for someone like me. My computer is really terrible at running Skype while it is running other applications. I normally have to close Skype if I am using Lightroom or Photoshop. For that alone it is worth it. It’s nice to be able to have a standalone device to be able to use as my phone.

It’s also a great concept for people who travel and need to stay in touch with their family, friends, etc. Skype is free for users calling each other and extremely affordable for calling out of the Skype network. When I am able to move into my own place I do plan on using Skype as my land-line alternative. I do plan on having something for emergency calls, though. Don’t forget that you cannot make emergency calls with this phone.

With all the above said I have hard time trying to decide whether I should keep the phone or smash it to pieces. The phone is useful to me in the fact that it does the primary task that I needed it for, that is to be able to answer it quickly when someone calls. However, the fact that it is very hard to hear, the people on the other end have a hard time hearing me and the problem with voice mail really makes me consider sending the phone back. I don’t want to send the phone back because I really love the concept. Regardless, I feel as though I paid for a device that in my opinion does not live up to my expectations.

Photos of the SMC WiFi Phone on Gizmodo
SMC WiFi Phone Homepage
SMC WiFi Phone Firmware Update Page
SMC WiFi Phone on Skype Store
My photos of the phone on Flickr

Article update: Thursday, September 11, 2008: I meant to update this article a long time ago but forgot to. I did send the phone back and received a refund. To my knowledge SMC has not updated the phone’s hardware. Skype has also jacked up the price of this phone from $99 when I bought it to $149. I would definitely stay away from this phone. It’s been almost a year now and I’m still bitter about this phone. I had such high hopes for it. Oh well, at least I got my money back.

20" ViewSonic Optiquest Q20WB LCD Monitor

If you recall from the Taco HTML article I wrote back in June, I mentioned that my 3 year old Envision LCD (Envision EN7100) decided to kick the bucket. Ever since then, up until the 5th of October (earlier this month, for me) I had been using my backup CRT monitor. I got paid for a web design project in September and I decided that I had put up with the CRT long enough and purchased the 20″ ViewSonic Optiquest Q20WB from NewEgg.

There are a couple of reasons I purchased this monitor, specifically. The first reason is that the monitor has DVI and VGA inputs. One of these days I am eventually going to be able to afford a new computer, hopefully a Mac. The good thing is I won’t have to get a converter for the Mac and if I still have my PC I will be able to switch between the two computers by using the on screen controls. Then just switch between the mouse and keyboard with a KVM switch.

The other reason I purchased this monitor over an Acer or another cheaper brand was because I really wanted something with a good brand name. I realize that Optiquest is a low-end model on the ViewSonic line, at least that is what I read on one of the review sites. I still figured that since all ViewSonic makes is display products that it would be better to go with something from them. I was very much considering an Acer display that was only 19″, it was the same price as the display I bought. I just got to thinking about it and thought that since they made computers and other equipment they might not have the best product.

I was fairly confident that this monitor would work with my system. I was wondering because my PC is a few years old now (I built it in 2003). Luckily I was able to pull it out of the box, plug it in and it worked without any problems. I increased the resolution to the highest resolution (1680 x 1050) and it didn’t puke. I did install the drivers for it, don’t know that it was a necessity because the screen looked great even without the drivers.

I’ve been using the new monitor for over a week now and I am absolutely in love with it. However it has a problem. It shrinks! I’m joking. Just when I pulled it out of the box when I got it and had it on my desk it looked humongous. I kept thinking to myself “How in the world did this thing fit in the box!?” Now don’t let that negate the fact that it is still a large display. It’s really nice to open Lightroom and be able to leave all the panels open and still be able to work on my photos with a large sized editing window. The same goes for coding. I can open Aptana and have all the panels open and still see most of my code. I can also have some code on one side and an IM window on the other side and a document above that. It’s very nice.

There are a lot of controls in the on-screen display. Many more than my Envision had. This Optiquest has controls for adjusting colors, contrast/brightness, the location of the on-screen display, on-screen display language, resolution notices (when you enter a low resolution it displays a message to increase the resolution for optimal performance). You also control the input selection through the on-screen display.

At 20″ the display is larger than my 19″ television. I still have to use the television for playing videos streamed online because for some reason they just appear brighter on my television. I am not sure if it is how the video files are encoded (very low resolution videos) or if it’s just a drawback of LCD technology. Again, don’t let this negate the fact that this is a great display.

The only real problem that I have noticed about this monitor and it’s really not even an issue for me, but, it is wobbly if you bump into the desk or even lightly touch it. It’s not going to tip over but the display sort of wobbles on it’s stand. Again, it’s not an issue. It may even be designed to do that so that the display simply wobbles instead of the stand being pushed back and maybe accidentally turned over.

The only other thing that may be a concern to some people is that widescreen content still does not fill up the entire screen, even though the display is a widescreen display. I don’t have any higher resolution video to try out but I assume with higher resolution video it would fill up the display with no problem at all. When you play a widescreen DVD at the highest resolution there is still letterboxing.

Again, the display is simply gorgeous. It’s very bright. When I look at my iBook now I realize just how dark it is and then wonder how much darker the CRT was because I considered the iBook to be brighter than it! I’d always use the iBook to make sure my photos looked ok after I uploaded them to Flickr! Working on my photos and videos with the CRT monitor just was not cutting it. Whenever I look at photos on the new monitor I am much more impressed with them. I enjoy them a lot more. Whenever I am on Flickr viewing photos from my friends I enjoy them much more because they are brighter and much more spectacular.

At roughly $180 this monitor puts the Apple 20″ Cinema Display to shame. The Optiquest has a 5ms response time whereas the Apple display has a 16ms response time. The Apple display has a 300 cd/m2 brightness rating, so does this Optiquest. I am glad I bought this monitor so I can better save for a new Mac desktop or laptop. Who cares about color coordinating anyway? Heck, sometimes a domino color scheme can be quite interesting!

Logitech Premium Stereo Headset

A month or so ago I was getting ready to call someone on Skype. For some reason I had my Logitech USB headset unplugged. I plugged it in and the volume was extremely loud. Everytime I would go into the volume control (in Windows) and bring the volume down it would simply go back up to the loudest level. I plugged it into the Mac and it wouldn’t do that. You could increase the volume but you could not decrease the volume. The only way to decrease the volume was to adjust it using the OS controls.

I took the switch apart because I thought it might be sticking. While I had the volume control casing removed I plugged it into both computers and it still done the same thing. I put it back together, moved a wire to a different location and still the same thing happened. I figured it was time for a new one. For some reason these things never last as long as they should.

I think the reason the previous headset lasted so long was because I was able to plug it into the USB hub on my desk. With the headsets I had prior to the USB model I was constantly rolling over the cables with my chair because they were plugged into the side of my computer tower. This time I couldn’t afford to pay extra to get the USB model so I purchased the standard analog headset from Logitech.

This new pair looks almost identical to the old pair. The only major difference is the color and the fact that the old one had a USB connector. The new set is a lot more comfortable. The padding is a lot softer. I am able to wear the new set longer without my ears feeling like they are in a vice.

The audio quality of the new set is much better as well. I’ve always been told that analog is a lot better and I definitely agree with those people now. Several people have commented that I sound a lot clearer when I am talking to them on Skype. The only thing that took some time getting use to was listening to music with the new set. I’ve always noticed that with every new set that I get, I have to get use to hearing music through them. It’s never the same.

I feel a lot more confident with the audio and microphone controls that are a part of the cable. They feel solid. The volume control is different. Instead of it being on the side of the control it’s in a dial, like a clock. It’s not as easy to accidentally turn the volume all the way up or down, which is nice. With the previous set (the USB set) I was all the time accidentally muting myself because to mute the microphone you pressed down on the top of the control, if I were to lean against my desk I would press it without knowing it.

The price was great. I got it from a store on Amazon for under $20 (including shipping). If you’re in the market for a good cheap headset, I would recommend this one.

For reference this is the USB model I had prior and here is the link to the model I have now.

e-GeForce MX 4000 on Fedora 7

Last night I decided to go ahead and try to get the official Nvidia drivers installed for my GPU on Fedora 7. I was hesitant to do this because normally whenever I try to do this I break something and wind up having to re-install the entire operating system because I can’t figure out what I need to change in my x.org configuration file to make it work again. Fortunately, last night I had better luck.

I followed the instructions on this site first. When I’d reboot, the X-Server wouldn’t work probably. The text login screen would blink three times then a blue screen would come up saying that X was unable to be started. Eventually it would fix itself and I was able to login graphically. The driver was being installed but it was not directly rendering.

I then found this entry on another site that said SELinux causes the driver to not install correctly. I thought that might have been the issue so I disabled SELinux and the firewall, restarted, still got the same thing.

After about 30 minutes I finally found this entry on another site that made me realize that I was installing the wrong drivers for my video card. The GeForce2, 3 and 4 (including MX) cards are not supported by the 97xx drivers, you have to use the 96xx series.

I finally got the correct drivers installed and everything working properly, even the desktop effects work. I thought in case I have to do this again and in case someone else has the same card that I do I would make an entry about how I got the drivers installed:

  • Open up a terminal window, login as root by entering su – and pressing enter at the prompt. Enter your root password and press enter.
  • Enter the following command: rpm -ivh http://rpm.livna.org/livna-release-7.rpm and press enter.
  • Enter the following command: rpm –import /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-livna and press enter.
  • Enter the following command: yum install kmod-nvidia-96xx xorg-x11-drv-nvidia-96xx and press enter. (Remember to put spaces between the two applications)
  • Once everything has been installed enter the following command service nvidia-96xx restart

At this point, I rebooted the machine just to make sure everything was installed correctly. Upon restart you should see a green Nvidia logo pop up, it may fade up depending on whether or not the desktop effects were enabled during the installation.

I went ahead and posted my own instructions for doing this because I wasn’t able to follow the instructions on the last link the way they had it wrote out. I did link to them so you can see where I got most of the information from.

I’d highly recommend removing the Livna repositories from your YUM sources. I had issues trying to install other software while Livna was still in my sources list. To remove Livna following these steps:

  • Open up a terminal window, login as root by entering su – and pressing enter at the prompt. Enter your root password and press enter.
  • Enter the following: cd /etc/yum.repos.d/ and press enter.
  • For me there were only 3 Livna repository files to remove, I used the following command to remove them: rm livna-devel.repo livna.repo livna-testing.repo. (Remember to put spaces between each file name). When you press Enter you will be asked if you are sure you want to remove the files, enter “Y” for each and press enter.

The only thing I’ve yet to figure out is how to get the TV-Out functionality to work. I know it’s possible, it’s just going to take some tweaking on my part. I got it to where I could see some text on the TV last night but it wasn’t readable, nor was the text on the default display so I had to kill the X server everytime (Ctrl + Alt + Backspace). Luckily it would reset itself back to the standard every time.

Hope someone finds this article useful. I know I will be appreciative of it in the future if I have to re-install Fedora.