Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

Should I get a new computer?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

I get this question often enough from people who have computers they consider old or slow. The question then becomes where should you put your money?

Many times, the older and slower equipment is fine and just needs a bit of software tweaking. I’ve had amazing performance increases from just changing the anti-malware software that’s on the computer. Some computers, however, need to have everything wiped and reinstalled from scratch to bring them back to their original glory and speed. Part of the problem is finding all the software that was originally installed so it can be put back. Then there’s the time to do it (it typically takes me between two and four hours to backup, erase, and reinstall a computer running Windows, depending upon what needs to be put back when I’m done). This is usually where the money question usually ends up.

Because of how long it takes me to do the job (believe me, I’m not lollygagging around either, I’m just focused on YOUR computer while I do it), if the computer is five years-old, it may be your money is better spent on a new computer instead. New PCs running Windows can be had for $400 or so for something half-way decent. The last couple I customized through Dell were around $700, but had some extras the clients needed as well as some additional software.

What do you do with the old when you’re done? I think I’ll wait until my next blog entry to answer that one. So many possibilities.

More on the Newton

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

I’ve continued looking for things Newton since my previous article and have found some additional resources.

What I really wanted was a flash memory card for mine.  All I need to do is install one or two pieces of software and my Newton is pretty full.  I can’t even recall what I had on it back in the day. I found some information on flash card compatibility at Apple.  I also found a vendor that has some of the original Apple 2MB cards.  And I found another which has some cards which may work (I’m not 100% confident in these).

When looking for the linear flash memory that would work on a Newton, I found that it has some pretty cool features like true random access and faster read times.  Given how ATA flash has improved over the years, these stats may not be as impressive as they used to be.  I’m not sure linear flash has improved similarly over the years.  Not like you’d notice much performance-wise on such an old device.

If you read the comments in yesterday’s post, the author of the My Apple Newton blog posted a link to his archive of software.  I’ve also found links to Newton Connection for Mac OS X.  Drivers for ATA flash, wireless cards, and others.  I could continue, but the best list for links I’ve found thus far is at the Newton Phoenix site.

I’ll be playing with this “toy” on and off over the next few weeks.  We’ll see what it can still do.

I found my Newton

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Many many years ago I bought an Apple Newton MessagePad 100.  It was a refurbished unit that was already being replaced by the MessagePad 110.  After many moves and storage units, it got a little lost.  It was found today and I thought I’d give it a whirl.

When I’d last put it away, my recollection was that it didn’t work.  I recall it stopped working the day I replaced the backup battery.  Since one of the accessories I’d bought for it was an AC adapter, I plugged it in and turned it on.  It worked.  I was a little shocked and a little elated, and now I’m wondering what to do with the thing.

It was a great little device in its day.  Years ahead of its time with handwriting recognition (even considering the many jokes about how non-accurate it was).  Consider that it was designed for you to train it.  Later, a company would come out with a piece of software for the Newton called Graffiti which trained YOU instead of the device (Graffiti was later the basis of the Palm Pilot which would supplant the Newton as the dominant PDA).

So, I did some digging to see if I can find software for it.  I still have the PC connection cable (if necessary, I think I can find the Mac serial cable), original protective sleeve, fax/modem, and an extra battery holder.  I also have a charger for the NiCd battery packs which were available, but those had long since become useless and I’d discarded them.

You can get some no longer supported software directly from Apple.  I’ve also found the United Network of Newton Archives repository and the My Apple Newton blog.  I’ve not stopped looking, but I do have more things to seek (like software which definitely works with Windows XP or newer if I can find a machine I still own which has a serial port; none of my Macs certainly have one and I’m not sure I want to buy a USB to serial device).  A linear flash drive would be nice, too, if I can find one of those antiquated things.

Do you have any old hardware lying around that was once cool and might still be?

I saw a neat little wireless gadget

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

A client of mine showed me a wireless networking adapter that I thought rather ingenious.  The Hawking Technology HWU8DD Hi-Gainâ„¢ USB Wireless-G Dish Adapter. It’s a USB wireless adapter with a parabolic dish on it to concentrate the signal.  I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.  My client got it for use in RV parks where they provide wireless to their guests but it can be spotty depending upon where you are in the park.

Previously, I’d be recommending getting a device that allows you to connect your own antenna and getting a high-gain antenna of some variety attached to it.  The cost for this could get pretty high depending upon the equipment.

Now, using a dish antenna of any type requires that you aim it directly toward the access point.  This adapter had five LEDs to let you know how strong of a signal it was getting, which would help out a great deal with aiming.  It’s also far less costly than previous solutions I would have recommended.
I’d recommend something like this to anyone who has a sketchy signal, but doesn’t want to go through the expense of setting up large antennas.

Their current products are the HWDN1 and the HWDN2, which are both wireless-N devices.  The HWDN1 supports speeds up to 300Mbps, the HWDN2 only 150Mbps.  Both are compatible with Mac and PC computers but neither has the convenient LED readout to tell you the strength of the signal.  The software that comes with it has a nice signal strength gauge (at least for the Windows version).  The HWDN1 has a list price of $75 while the HWDN2 is $65.

All in all, if you need to get a mildly distant wireless signal, one of these units may do the job.  Keep in mind that the further you are from your access point, the slower your network connection will be, but these adapters will help stretch that out quite a bit.

What printer should you get?

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

I’m often asked about what printer to get and the answers usually boil down to a combination of budget and what you need it to do.  Without giving a recommendation on a specific printer, I’ll run through the kinds of questions you should ask yourself before buying one.

To satisfy the budget question, you just need to know how much you’re willing to spend.  My experience is entry-level (the cheapest) printers generally work, have few “bells” or “whistles,” and often cost less than what it costs to replace the ink or toner.  They aren’t the fastest, quietest, or highest quality, but they get the job done.

After your budget is determined, you want to decide on the features.  Multi-function devices are becoming more common.  It’s easy to find a printer that also scans, copies, and faxes.  The ability to fax would be the one feature that might be missing on a multi-function unit since not everyone needs or wants that feature.  Do you want a flatbed scanner or will a sheet-fed unit work?  Do you want both capabilities?  How many pages in the sheet feeder?
Next up is print quality.  This is often answered by looking at what you will be printing and how often.  Looking to print photos?  You might want to consider a unit with more than four colors.  Doing mostly casual web pages and documents?  Four colors should be enough.

Speed is often the next criterion.  The speed specifications quoted will be in pages per minute and there may also be a time to print first page.  For inkjet printers, the page per minute value will vary depending upon the quality of the output (a high-quality photo printed on photo paper will take significantly longer than a black text document on plain paper).  Laser printers will normally not vary much in how quickly they print, although the time to first page might.

The type of printing technology is also important.  Inkjet printers tend to be less expensive initially and produce very good photographs.  Laser printers tend to be faster and have less costly consumables (when you consider cost per print).  There are other technologies, but they are often used for specific purposes (e.g. some dedicated photo printers use dye-sublimation technology).

One recommendation I give people for inkjet printers is to make sure they get used.  If you don’t use them, the ink will dry up.  Just printing a full-color web page once a week is normally sufficient to keep the ink flowing without costing you the amount of ink the printer’s cleaning procedure would use.