Category Archives: PC

Buffalo Launches Thunderbolt Portable SSD



Buffalo LogoFollowing on from GNC’s review of the MiniStation Air earlier this month, Buffalo have a launched the MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD. As you might guess from the name, it’s a portable SSD with a Thunderbolt connection so it’s ideal for connecting up with Apple Macs.

Combining the SSD with Thunderbolt, the MiniStation has a read performance of more than 370 MB/s and a write performance that exceeds 250 MB/s, which is pretty nippy in anyone’s book. And I think those are Bytes and not bits. PC users aren’t left out with a USB 3.0 connection too, though it’s not as fast as the Thunderbolt connections.

MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD

Paul Hudson, Sales Director for Northern Europe at Buffalo, said: “The MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD combines a highly robust and aesthetically pleasing design with exceptionally fast data transfer speed. We have seen how Thunderbolt hard drives have transformed the available speed for read and write to storage devices, but with the additional of SSD in the Buffalo range, the speed stakes are raised again providing astounding performance.

The drive is bus-powered and will be available in two storage sizes, at a recommended price of £229.99 for the 128 GB product and £349.99 for the 256 GB version. There’s a .pdf spec sheet here.

Hopefully GNC will be bringing you a review of the MiniStation Thunderbold SSD in the not-too-distant future.


Elite: Dangerous



There’s a pretty good chance that if you are a 40+ British geek, the mere mention of “Elite” will roll back the years to hours of gameplay in front of a BBC Model B, flying a wireframe starship around an almost limitless universe. Trading, fighting, arms-dealing, slavery, whatever it took to get respect and the coveted Elite status. Even now, I still feel a small hint of pride in my own Elite achievement, over 20 years later.

Created by David Braben and Ian Bell, Elite was the first 3D game and eeked every last ounce of performance from 8 bit processors and 32 KB of RAM, even less once the OS had taken its share. There were tricks such as making all the objects in the universe concave, which significantly reduced several calculations in techniques such as hidden line removal and despite being largely only in monochrome, it was totally amazing for its day.

The successor to Elite, “Frontier”, never gained the same traction as the original Elite. In some ways it was too big and just wasn’t as immediate as the original Elite.

Returning to the original ethos of Elite, David Braben has launched a Kickstarter campaign for “Elite: Dangerous” to raise £1.25 million ($2 million) for the development of a new game in the canon, aiming for delivery in March 2014. Elite: Dangerous will be a multi-player game in a massive universe and initially the game will be for the PC, but other platforms will be looked at.

As usual, there are various funding levels, but £20 gets you a copy of the game plus the opportunity to reserve your commander’s name. But if you were looking to get lunch with David Braben at £5000, I’m afraid that all five slots have already been taken.

There’s additional reporting at the BBC.

 


Pogoplug Mobile Review



Pogoplug LogoThe cloud is definitely where it’s at right now, but what if you don’t like the idea the idea of Google, Dropbox et al looking after your data? Then you might be interested in a Pogoplug, which allows you to create your own cloud storage that’s only limited by the size of the hard disk. A Pogoplug is a hardware gadget that connects USB storage devices to your local LAN and then makes the space available across the Internet, effectively creating a personal cloud. The data is stored in your control and if more storage is needed, plug-in a bigger hard drive.

On review here is the Pogoplug Mobile, the 3rd generation of Pogoplug device from Cloud Engines. It offers a single USB port plus an SD card slot along with the network port and power socket. Newer Pogoplugs come with USB3 ports, but as the maximum speed of the Pogoplug cloud is always going to be the speed of the Internet connection, the faster transfer speeds of USB3 are unlikely to be a significant benefit. For testing, I used a 64 GB memory stick, rather than a hard drive, which means that the unit will run silently with minimal power consumption.

Pogoplug Packaging

The Pogoplug website has downloads for Windows, Macs and Linux, and the relevant app stores have versions for Android, iOS, Blackberry and legendary WebOS. I was able to try the Windows, Linux, Android and WebOS versions. The Windows version connects to the Pogoplug and presents it as a drive letter, allowing most Windows applications to use the Pogoplug transparently. The Pogoplug software has additional backup functionality as well, which may be useful for some people. The Linux version is command line only but anyone familiar with Linux will have no trouble getting the Pogoplug mounted into the filesystem.

The Android app is simple and straightforward with a couple of nice tricks up its sleeve. Broadly you can browse files in a directory fashion or you can view music, photos and movies in a tag or meta-data based fashion, As expected, there are viewers and players for the media, though movies get handed over to the default app rather than playing within the Pogoplug app. The music player is basic and has one really irritating flaw; it doesn’t seem to be able to pick up the track number from the mp3 files and consequently orders tracks alphabetically when playing albums. This really needs to be fixed.

Back viewPerformance-wise, the Pogoplug is always going to be limited by the upload (rather than download) speed of the broadband connection when outside of the home. This usually meant a little bit of buffering before playing music but once the playback got underway, there was rarely any stuttering. There were occasional times when folders refused to refresh but my suspicion is that any problems were down to the local data connection on my phone rather than a problem with the Pogoplug. YMMV. Inside my home, the performance was excellent.

In common with other social and cloud apps, the Pogoplug app has automatic uploading of pictures and video from the devices camera. It’s also possible to set the folder where the uploaded images are to go. Frankly, this is brilliant as my wife is hopeless at remembering to copy photos off her smartphone so by setting up the Pogoplug app on her phone, any photos she takes get automatically transferred. On occasion, a photo would sometimes fail to completely upload; again I suspect the loss of 3G connectivity than any fundamental problem, but the error checking could be improved. It’s also possible to upload any image from within the photo Gallery app.

As with most cloud solutions, you can also share with friends and family, using either the app or the web interface. It’s straightforward – select the folder you want to share, select who you want to share with and an email is sent to them with the relevant link. It’s an easy way to share photos of Junior with grandma and grandpa.

Any downsides? Only two that i can see….first, there’s no direct integration with any other apps that I could find. Quickoffice and other office apps typically allow access straight into Google Drive or Dropbox but none seemed to work with a Pogoplug. Effectively I had to download a Word doc to the phone, do my edits in QuickOffice and then upload the doc back to the Pogoplug. Not slick.

The second is that when I was at home and on the same subnet as the Pogoplug, Internet access to Pogoplug’s servers was still needed, presumably to check authorisation privileges. Normally, it’s not going to be an issue, but it would be handy to have a way to bypass this when working locally and the connection to the Internet goes down.

Overall, the Pogoplug is a handy device that gives you control over your data rather than entrusting it to a megacorp. A few glitches spoil what is otherwise a neat little solution that potentially gives as much data storage space as you need, without paying per GB per annum. For the low cost of the Pogoplug unit (about $50 / £35), it’s a bargain.

Disclaimer – this was a personally purchased device.


Angry Birds Star Wars – Choose Your Side!



Rovio Entertainment is getting ready to release Angry Birds Star Wars. It is going to be available on November 8, 2012. I’m beginning to think that Star Wars is the “bacon” of geekdom. Everything tastes better with bacon. Adding just a little bit of Star Wars, to just about anything, can only enhance it. If you like Angry Birds, then you will probably love Angry Birds with an added Star Wars flavor.

The Angry Birds Tumblr is filled with Angry Birds Star Wars wallpapers that you can download, interesting fan art, and a countdown until when the game will be out. The tumbler page also says “Choose Your Side”. Will you say: “I’m on the Porkside”? Or, are you more of a “Rebel Without a Squawk”? If you feel inspired, you can submit your own Angry Birds fan art.

StarWars.com has an announcement that Angry Birds Star Wars is a collaboration between Rovio Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. The game will be available on iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle Fire, Mac, PC, Windows Phone and Windows 8. The announcement also says:

“Angry Birds Star Wars combines the classic gameplay and art style of Angry Birds with the legendary characters, designs, stories, and locales of the Star Wars saga. Gamers will take on the Empire in famous settings like Tatooine and the Death Star, but with the Angry Birds stable of characters playing the beloved Star Wars roles; the innovative touch-screen controls pioneered by Angry Birds are intact and improved, and the game’s humor is as sharp as ever”.

What’s not to like about a round, fuzzy, Angry Bird/Chewbacca, or a golden, metallic, Angry Bird/C3PO? On October 28, 2012, Angry Birds Star Wars merchandise will start appearing on store shelves. This will include Halloween costumes, plush toys, and action figures.


Fluff, The Silent Killer



Processor and HeatsinkFluff can be a PC killer as I recently discovered, but the solution to the problem is straightforward.

As a true geek, I built my own PC, but it’s no speed demon with a mid-range quad-core processor. However, I’d been suffering from intermittent PC shutdowns that would always happen when I was at the PC and never when the PCs was on but not in use. It was very irritating because you’d be right in the middle of something and then you’d be dumped out. I put it down to buggy software.

Last week I started to rip a few DVDs for tablet viewing and every time the PC would shutdown within about 30 seconds of starting the file conversion. At this point I began to think that the processor might be overheating, forcing a shutdown before it was damaged. Upon opening the case, nothing looked particularly out of the ordinary; there was a bit of fluff but nothing you’d think of as being a problem. It was only when I looked more closely at the heat sink on the CPU that I saw many of the spaces between the thermal vanes were clogged with fluff.

Out with the vacuum cleaner and a good hoovering later, I powered the PC on and started a fresh rip. This time the PC didn’t shutdown and I was able to rip solidly for at least an hour without any shutdowns. Problem solved!

Tip of the Day – if you are experiencing intermittent crashes or shutdowns, open your PC and give your CPU’s heatsink and fan a clean with the vacuum cleaner.

And if any Americans out there are wondering what “fluff” is, I believe that you know it as “lint”.

Heatsink and fan picture courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com.


Caught Out Again By Auto Update Reboot



Microsoft logo

Dear Microsoft,

There’s a bug in your auto-update program that makes Windows 7 reboot the PC even when the program has been told not to restart the PC.

Last night, I was doing a full format of a 1 TB drive, which takes several hours to complete. Part way through, auto-update told me that it had installed new software and that a restart would be needed. I’m 100% sure that I clicked on the “Restart Later” button before heading off to bed with the format in progress. However, when I came into my PC this morning, it had rebooted and the format hadn’t finished. Now I won’t be able to do what I needed to do today because I’ll have to restart the format and wait several more hours.

Microsoft, how hard can this be? If I press the button “Restart later”, that means I’ll choose when to restart later, not the operating system. And besides, why can’t it check for obvious activity, like formats in progress or files not saved before rebooting the PC?

Please can you fix this for version 8? It’s almost enough to make me buy an Apple….

Yours sincerely,

Andrew


iTwin Creates a Personal Cloud



iTwin Infinite Capacity Thumb DriveiTwin is billed as an “infinite capacity thumb drive” but this sells the device short – it’s much more than this. Andy finds out what its capable of from Akash at CES Showstoppers.

The basic premise of iTwin is a pair of USB devices, one of which goes in your work desktop, the other in your home (or laptop) computer. Files can then be copied securely to and from the work computer across the internet to the laptop.

The devices are cryptographically paired together to ensure the security of the connection and the creators seem to have solutions for most of the issues that might arise, such as dynamic IPs or theft.

The brilliance of iTwin is that it offers a personal cloud solution where the data is completely under your control but not actually in your possession. No risk of theft, loss or nosey border guards rifling through your files.

Works with both Windows PCs and Mac – available now for $99.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Leonar3Do Virtual Reality Kit



Leonar3Do 3D Controller

This looks more like an instrument of torture than any kind of bird I’ve seen but fortunately it’s not and it’s actually the virtual reality controller from Leonar3Do‘s desktop VR kit. Andy and Courtney breathe a sigh of relief and chat to Stewart Oldroyd from Leonar3Do.

Hungarian start-up have created “the world’s first desktop VR kit”, consisting of the scary controller above, 3D glasses and three line sensors that affix to the computer monitor to track the position of the controller and the glasses. There’s a video on the company’s website that shows the system in action and it looks amazing.

The innovative part is that it’s an out-of-the-box environment which costs around $1500 rather the $10,000+ usually associated with VR systems. Currently only available for enterprise and education markets, the consumer version will arrive in late spring.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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AikenLabs Immersive Motion Accessory System



AikenLabs Immersive Motion Desktop Starter KitAikenLabs Immersive Motion Accessory System is a body-worn motion controller that takes real world actions and puts them into video games. Andy checks out some moves with Ethan from AikenLabs.

The Immersive Motion Accessory System comprises small black boxes worn on bands that connect wirelessly to a master controller which in turn, is connected to PC or game console via USB. Each box has an accelerometer, a magnometer and  gyroscope to accurately track motion. No optical sensor or camera is needed.

Once the boxes are in place on the player’s head, arms, legs or plastic sword, actions such as hitting, pushing or kicking in the real-world get translated into similar actions in the game. Cleverly, the system converts the gestures into standard game controllers actions such as button presses or joystick moves. Consequently the system can be used with nearly any game console straightaway; there’s no need to wait for developer support.

Interview by Andy Smith of Geocaching World.

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Vizio Introduces a Line of PCs



Vizio Computer One of the reasons I am a fan of Apple products is because of their ability to design products that are both beautiful and functional. I will never deny that a Microsoft Windows base computer can do everything an Apple computer can do and in some areas maybe more. However there are very few Window’s based computers I have seen where I went wow that is beautiful, until now. Not surprising, the computer that made me go wow, was not designed by a computer company but by a TV manufacture Vizio.

Vizio is based in Irvine, California and is a leading manufacture of flat panel HDTVs. It became the #1 selling brand in 2007 and has remained near the top since then. They also have a whole ecosystem of apps that can be found on TVs, Blu-ray Players, tablets and more. With these two fields as a background they realized that more and more consumers were using their computers not only to do work but also as a part of their day-to-day entertainment ecosystems. They also realized that there was also something missing, a Window based PC that are not only functional but looked beautiful. Computers that would look good not only in the boardroom but also in the living room or bedrooms. The new Vizio PC that is being introduced in 2012 is an attempt to fill this void. It has a thin base which holds the Windows 7 based PC . Coming out of that base is a single anodized aluminium hinge that is secured to the monitor. There are no visible wires to interrupt the flow. The monitor is full HD based on what Vizio has learned over the years building quality HDtvs. It has 2.1 audio quality. This is a computer that is designed with not only productivity in mind but also aesthetics.

Along with the all in one PC, Vizio is also introducing two thin and light notebooks and one reqular notebook. I have to admit it has been a long time since a PC has turned my head like this one has. At this time I am unable to find a listed price for the Vizio Computers. However I can’t wait till they come on to the market in spring 2012, so I can get a hold of one and see if it works as good as it looks.  The new Vizio computers will be on display at CES 2012.