Netgear ReadyNAS: NAS done right

One of the most popular pages on this blog is about a storage device that has a lot of enemies and few defenders, the SC101. It’s Windows-only, uses a proprietary filesystem and when (not if) it starts crashing, just say bye-bye to your data. The product didn’t do much good for Netgear’s reputation. So when Netgear offered me the opportunity to test a real NAS solution, I agreed. So they sent me the ReadyNAS NV+.

Continue reading Netgear ReadyNAS: NAS done right

WD My Book is not really ‘Pro’ storage

WD My Book Pro 1TB After having Lacie, Maxtor, Iomega and most recently Netgear StorageCentral external storage fail on me, I am now the proud owner of a broken Western Digital My Book Pro II 1TB. I bought it less than a year ago and used it as a mirrored 500GB drive for my music, movies and images. It first failed 3 months ago (broken mirror) but after a full night of rebuilding it worked again. But now one of the drives has fallen victim to the infamous ‘click-of-death‘ and the drive would not show up anymore via USB nor Firewire. I disconnected the broken (SATA) disk, and then I could see the other one show up again as a lone 500GB drive. I quickly started copying to a 2 x 300GB FreeNAS system I had set up on an old Dell system (you don’t want to know how many old hard disks I have lying around). During the rescue operation the solo disk gave up twice, but by restarting the My Book device, it came back. So now I have an extra copy of all my data, most importantly my 80GB of photographs (quickly growing thanks to my Canon350D) and 120GB of iTunes music (mostly ripped CDs, not purchased, but still).

First thing is to see how Pixmania handles the warranty. They are supposed to send me a replacement for the broken drive, but I haven’t heard back from their customer support yet.

And then I have to make a decision about an alternative for reliable storage. Do I go for something semi-pro like the Buffalo Terastation Live (2TB, Raid5 for +- $1000) or do I build my own storage server with an old PC, a hardware RAID card and something like FreeNAS or Ubuntu. Decisions, decisions …

TomTom One: beauty with short breath

TomTom voice: Norma The TomTom One (the ‘old’ model) is my first ever GPS. Overall, an excellent design. I never had to open the manual because it is a very intuitive device. The route calculation is quite fast and accurate, and with the Spanish “Norma” voice installed, it is even a pleasure to be told where to go (“despues de ocho cientos metros, gire a la derecha“).

The only problem with the device is that within 6 months of buying it, the battery started running out very quickly. Actually, it is not always short of breath, but mostly. Sometimes when I turn off the ignition (which stops power to the GPS) it will die within seconds. Other times, it might keep on running for an hour. Feels like a bad contact inside but the standard engineering trick for this (“hit device hard with right hand”) doesn’t help.

According to TomTom support (but I don’t think that’s why my battery gave up):

Speaking of the battery, TomTom told me by phone today that I should navigate using the battery and not the in-car charger. The customer rep said that overcharging was an issue if I left it connected continually.
via reviews.cnet.com

TomTom One booting
When I check the boot screen (reset and keep pressing the power button while turning on, via) then my battery gives 4140 mV, which is a good enough score. So I don’t think buying a new battery would help (they sell for less than 20€ at e.g. www.mdsbatterie.com.fr). I guess I’ll just wait a bit and go for the TomTom One XL. Size matters.

Logitech online store: haunted

Shaky Logitech I have wanted to buy a keyboard with Bulgarian layout for a while, and as you can imagine, you don’t find these in the local FNAC or Vandenborre. So when I saw that the Logitech site allowed purchasing online, of such exotic items like a Bulgarian keyboard, I quickly ordered one. However, the experience has been unsatisfactory:

  • First try: I order the keyboard, do the checkout procedure, pay with credit-card and get an immediate reaction: purchase OK, shipment will follow soon. Wow, that’s slick. Several days later, UPS passes by my front door while I’m not there, they say, the package is signed off by a certain “Korenberg” and I get an email: delivery OK. Slight alarm bell: I know no “Korenberg” living at my appartment. When I get home this is confirmed: no one in the building knows anyone by that name. Keyboard is in the twilight zone. I file complaint with Logitech, they propose refund, I accept, I’m still waiting for confirmation. But, I still need a BG keyboard.
  • Second try: I order another keyboard and try to pay with my credit card. Twice I give my credit card details, press “Process” and get redirected to the same check-out page, without any notion of whether or not my order is accepted. I check the “order history”, see that my recent purchase is not there and decide to give up on credit cards.
  • I select “bank payment” and finish checkout. They tell me what bank account I should pay on (one of Bibit), and with which message. I do the payment, see that the number message is not a structured number (“gestructureerde mededeling”) and put it in the normal message box. Since then, nothing. Has Bibit recognized the money as the payment for Logitech? No idea. Has Logitech started fulfillment? I guess not.
  • I visit the Logitech web site again, checking out the Squeezebox, and decide to test the checkout system again. I put a Squeezebox in my shopping cart. When I go to the customer care, I fly from shop.logitech.com (where I am logged in) to logitech-nl-emea.custhelp.com (which looks the same, but where another login is necessary, because both accounts aren’t linked, apparently). There I get into an eternal redirection loop, with an infinite number of “&cl=BE,nl” adding themselves to the URL.
  • I try to break out of that loop by going back to the shopping cart page. For some reason my shopping cart now contains 2 Squeezeboxes instead of one. That’s it , I’ve had it.

Bottom line: this online shop of theirs is as trustworthy as Lindsay Lohan saying she’s gonna stop drinking. I buy online a lot from shops like Amazon and Pixmania, so I think I’m qualified to say that their shopping application stinks. I’m gonna wait until next week for reply on the second purchase, if there’s none, I’m cancelling that order, and I’m never shopping with Logitech again.

Two dice make a calendar

Kalender kat

Little riddle: if you have two dice (so each has 6 sides), with 1 digit on each side and you want to be able to form all numbers between 1 and 31 (for the days of the month), what digits would be on each dice? E.g. if dice #1 has 0-1-2-3-4-5 and the second 4-5-6-7-8-9, it won’t work, because you cannot form the number ’22’.

Try to guess and I’ll give the answer next week. There’s a little trick involved! I first tried to figure it out without looking at the dice, and I enjoyed the mind gymnastics.

LG KU-800: have low expectations

LG KU800 phone Because the posts on disappointing hardware are very popular on my blog (e.g. Netgear storage and Lexmark printer), I’d like to write about a device that also should be avoided: the LG KU800 GSM. The KU800 is the Vodafone version of the KG800, which is sold in Belgium by Proximus (239€).

It was chosen by someone close to me for its neat black design, somewhat iPod-cool, let’s say. The design turned out to be the only thing it’s got going for it. The battery performance is lousy and almost every conversation of more than 5 minutes is broken of. She complained and got a replacement phone: exactly the same performance. A colleague of her also has that phone: the battery won’t even hold a full day.

The GSM forums talk about the same behaviour:

  • gsmarena.com: “it freezes up all the time, especially when im texting”, “the screen goes blank.. the camera freezes… i cant hear people on the other end… and oh the battery sucks”, “the display blocks when I slide it open , the touch pad started to fail sometimes and it has a very low speaker, i can hardly hear what the people i speak to are saying.”
  • yourmobilephonereviews.co.uk: “The battery life is appalling”, “Most of the time the buttons don’t work “, “the phone volume itself is quiet even on the full setting, battery life is rubbish”, “I am now on my 4th one they all have the same problem. It just decides when it wants to turn on or off. The screen freezes, & the vibrate mode gets stuck”

Why can’t there be a phone with great design and the performance and reliability of a Ericsson/Nokia phone? Why is there no designer on the level of Jonathan Ive working at Nokia? Maybe that is a good question for Bob Cringely.

Pimp your laptop: Apple vs Dell

Imagine you can walk up to your favourite hardware store and tell the guy: “Give me the biggest, fastest, meanest laptop you have. Money is no issue”.

Let’s see what this would buy you in the (Belgian) Apple store:

Pimped-out MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

2,4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
4 GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM
S-ATA disk 250 GB (4200 rpm)
17″ Glossy WUXGA (1920×1200)
NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT, dual-link DVI, 256 MB GDDR3 SDRAM
SuperDrive 8x (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
Bluetooth 2.0
Apple Remote
AppleCare Protection plan: 3 years

Which would cost you around 3400 euro (excl taxes/transport).

Let’s now compare that to a fully expanded Dell Precision portable workstation from the Dell store:

Pimped-out Dell Precision M90

precision_m90

Intel® Core™2 Duo T7600 (2,33 GHz 4 MB L2-cache 667 MHz FSB)
4 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Windows® XP Professional, SP2 (NTFS)
3 jaar Business Support
3 jaar CompleteCare Accidental Damage Cover
17″ WUXGA (1920 x 1200) UltraSharp screen
NVIDIA® Quadro® FX 1500M, 256 MB RAM
100 GB harde schijf (7.200 rpm)
8x DVD+/-RW-station
Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 802.11a/g Mini-kaart (54 Mbps) Core2 Duo
Dell Wireless 350 Bluetooth

Which will set you back … 3280 euro. Or wait, try this:

Pimped-out Dell Inspiron XPS M1710

dell_xps_1710

Intel® Core™2 Duo T7600 Processor (2,33 GHz, 667 MHz, 4 MB L2-cache)
Windows Vista™ Home Premium
Premium XPS-service, 3 y
17″ UltraSharp WUXGA display, 1920 x 1200
4GB 667 MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM
160 GB S-ATA disk (7.200 rpm)
8x DVD+/-RW
512 MB DDR3 nVidia® GeForce™ Go 7950 GTX
Dell™ Wireless 355 Bluetooth 2.0
Intel® Pro Wireless 3945 802.11a/b/g mini-PCI-kaart

At a staggering … 3280 euro, or just the same as the Precision.

I know, to some extent, it’s comparing Apples to oranges, but I’m just saying: for a high-end notebook, a MacBook Pro is not that excessively expensive.

Paypal-ready shops in Benelux?

Imagine one would have a certain amount of money on one’s Paypal account, and one would like to spend that on hardware or other physical goods. Let’s now limit that to shops active in Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg. What are your options? Well, not a lot, it appears.

Computer/photography/electronics
My favourite is Pixmania: they have a big collection of all kinds of devices and good prices.

shop.cdfreaks.com sells blank DVD/CD and printer ink and also accepts Paypal.
Apart from that? Foto Konijnenberg: no. Thomann: no.

Books/CD/DVD
Amazon: no. Proxis: no. Azur: no. Bol.com: no.

Personally, I find this list quite short. Even if we would extend our choice to any shop that does not charge high shipping costs to Belgium, what are the options? The sold product should not be too obscure (no “shop with books on the noble art of patchwork”). Do you know any?

Best way to store one terabyte?

Petabox - 100TB in a rack
I’ve gotten quite some response on my Netgear SC101 post (in short: they don’t always work). There’s some catharsis in bashing inferior products, but at the end of the day, how DOES on store lots of data securely? Let’s make this more specific: how would you store 1 terabyte (1000 GB) of data on your desktop?
Let take these as requirements:

  • raw storage: 1TB or more (if used with RAID-0 striping or JBOD config)
  • redundant storage: RAID-1: leaves 500GB, RAID-5: leaves 660GB to 800GB
  • affordable: anything higher that €2000 (2$/GB) is not an option
  • accessible via either Firewire/USB or Ethernet (Gigabit)
  • accessible by Mac, PC and Linux
  • preferably not rack-mounted (who has a 19″ rack at home)
  • hot-swappable disks are a big advantage

What have you tried and what are you happy with?

Some possible theoretical options:

Direct attached drive
e.g. Lacie Biggest F800 1GB, 4-disk S-ATA: €1299
meets requirements? YES. Only Firewire + USB
Network attached storage
e.g. Maxtor Shared Storage II 1GB, 2-disk: €899
meets requirements? YES. Only Ethernet
Lacie Ethernet disk would not work: it’s rackmounted and has no RAID
Build your own server
e.g. Dell PowerEdge SC430 with 2 x SATA 500GB drives and Linux: around €1000
meets requirements? YES. Only Ethernet

For me, the only solution I have experienced to be 100% reliable is building a dedicated PC with a hardware RAID card. What is your experience?

Netgear SC101: crappy storage

UPDATE: also read my post about testing the Netgear ReadyNAS (it doesn’t suck)
Storage porn

In my continuing quest for more and better storage, I have taken the following path:

  • Maxtor 5000DV, 120GB USB/Firewire, bought in 2003. Was dependable for 3 years (warranty period: 2 years) but has crashed a couple of times since (with data loss)
  • LaCie Porsche, 160GB USB, bought in 2004. Worked OK for 2 years (warranty period: 2 years) but has crashed a couple of times since (with data loss)
  • Iomega Desktop hard drive, 250GB 100Mb Ethernet, bought in 2005. Hasn’t broken down yet, but makes way too much noise (loud ventilator, running continuously).
  • Netgear SC-101, 2x300GB Ethernet, bought in 2006. Supports RAID-1 mirroring, which I needed after all my hard disk crashes. For my less-than-optimal experience, read on.

Continue reading Netgear SC101: crappy storage