Sunday, July 28, 2013

What I Use: Nexus 7 (2013)

I have had my current Nexus 7 for almost a year now and it has been my go-to tablet that I carry with me all the time. Works great. So when Google announced the new Nexus 7 tablet shipping with Android 4.3, I debated whether or to get one to replace my current model. The only limiting factor to my current version was that it was the 8GB model. After much debating, I went ahead and picked up the 32GB model from Best Buy and I can say that it was a good decision. 

Original (left) and new Nexus 7
First, let me thank Google, ASUS or whomever for making it much, much easier to take it out of the box. Those who bought the original Nexus 7 know what I am talking about. Once out of the box, I found it even more comfortable to hold in one hand and its performance much better than the original. I immediately noticed the snappiness of opening and using my everyday apps such as Evernote, Pocket, SkyDrive, Amazon Cloud Player, TweetCaster Pro and Chrome. This performance boost is provided by a 1.5GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, an Adreno 320 400MHz GPU, and 2GB of RAM. 

New Nexus 7 (top), Nexus 7 and iPad Mini

The display on the new Nexus 7 is 1920x1200 HD display (323 ppi) capable of 1080p HD playback and it is made of scratch resistant Corning glass. The picture was gorgeous from watching both Enter the Dragon from the Google Play store and streaming anime from the Crunchyroll app. Along with the highest-resolution seven-inch tablet on the market, other noteworthy hardware features of the new Nexus 7 include:
  • 1.2MP front facing and 5MP rear facing cameras
  • Stereo speakers capable of Fraunhofer powered surround sound
  • Battery life of up to 9 hours with active use
  • Wireless charging
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G) 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • NFC (Android Beam)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
Bottom line, I found the Nexus 7 to be the best 7-inch tablet on the market today. You get the most bang for your buck. It has a great processor, beautiful display, and it's smaller and lighter than the previous model. What's not to like? You're getting a lot more for $100 less than the iPad mini, at least until Apple decides to release a new model. The only thing I have now is to decide on what do with my old Nexus 7. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Building a Computer for A+ Study Part VI: The Optical Drive

Part six in a series on the basics of building a computer to prepare for the A+ certification exams.

The Optical Drive

An optical drive, also known as an optical disk drive (ODD), reads and writes data from optical disks using laser beaming technology. Optical drives work by rotating the inserted disk at a constant speed, which is calculated in revolutions per minute (RPM). The rotating disk in an optical drive utilizes the lasers to read data from, or write data to, CD (Compact Disc), DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) or BD (Blu-ray Disc). While optical drives can spin discs at very high speeds, they are still significantly slower than hard drives. The back end of the optical drive contains a port for a cable that connects to the motherboard. An internal optical drive can interface with the motherboard using an PATA (IDE) or SATA connection.

Optical Drive Media

While media for an optical drive consist of 120 mm (12 cm) diameter discs, they can come in different formats so it is important to know which formats the optical drive you purchase will support. Popular optical drive formats include CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-R DL, DVD+R DL, BD-R, and BD-RE.

The writing of data to a disc is called burning. Read only media (ROM), such as in CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs, do not allow anything to be written to to the media, only reads it. Media that you are able to write to has either a -R, -RW, +R, +RW, or -RE after the type of disc ('R' means that the disc is Recordable, 'RW' means that the disc is Rewritable and 'RE', which is only used with Blu-ray discs, means that it is Recordable Erasable).

A standard CD can hold between 650MB and 700MB of data on it. While data is written to only one side of a CD, data can be written to either one or both sides of DVD and BD discs. DVDs and BDs can be any combination of single and double sides and layers, which determines the amount of data that can be stored on a single disc. 

  • Single-sided, single-layer DVD can hold 4.7GB of data
  • Single-sided, dual-layer DVD can hold 8.5GB of data
  • Double-sided, single-layer DVD can hold 9.4GB of data
  • Double-sided, dual-layer DVD can hold 15.9GB of data
  • Double-sided, single-layer BD can hold 25GB of data
  • Double-sided, dual-layer BD can hold 50GB of data

It is also worth noting that recordable discs also come in different speed ratings. The speed ratings of blank discs should match the speed ratings of the optical drives because you'll get the best results by using discs that are rated at or above the speed of your drive. For example, if you have a 8x drive, you should use 8x or faster discs. Matching the speed rating of the disc to the speed rating you burn at will give the best results.

What I Picked

I chose the Lite-On iHAS124-04 DVD burner. It enables users to burn any DVD+R/-R, DVD+RW/-RW disc and supports the dual-layer function allowing up to 8.5GB data to be burned and saved on a single dual-layer disc. The speeds for reading and writing to the different are as follows: 24X DVD+R, 8X DVD+RW,  12X DVD+R DL,  24X DVD-R, 6X DVD-RW, 16X DVD-ROM, 48X CD-R, 32X CD-RW, 48X CD-ROM.

The decision to include an optical drive as you are building your computer is based on your own personal needs. Because a large majority of software is downloadable or can be saved onto USB flash drives, optical drives are becoming obsolete. However, since optical drives are relatively cheap these days it does not hurt to install one especially if you will have a bunch of installation discs to use.

Friday, July 5, 2013

What I Use: Acer Aspire S3-391

A few months ago, I wrote an article about the good, the bad and the ugly of buying a laptop from Walmart. The good is that Walmart regularly has various laptops on clearance. Deep clearance if new models are going to be shipping soon. During one of recent trips to "Wally World", I noticed some laptops being placed on clearance. One of which was the Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook. This particular model comes with a second generation Intel Core i3-2367M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive and 20GB SSD for speed. An inexpensive, lightweight ultrabook marked down to $266. Hard to resist.

The other specs were pretty decent too:
  • 802.11b/g/n Wireless
  • 13.3" HD widescreen CineCrystal LED-backlit display with a 1,366-by-768 resolution (720p) 
  • Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 128MB of dedicated system memory
  • 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • 2-in-1 memory card reader
  • Bluetooth 4.0 HS
  • 2  USB 3.0 ports
  • Combo headphone/microphone-in jack 
  • Full-sized HDMI port
  • 3-cell lithium-polymer battery for up to 5.5 hours battery life

When you first take the Aspire S3 out of the box, you immediately notice that the lid is a brushed aluminum, but unfortunately when you open the lid it becomes obvious that the rest is made of a silver-colored plastic.  It's definitely not a all-metal unibody design like a MacBook Air.

The keys were large and well spaced. The only exception are the arrow keys, which are smaller than those on other laptops. I am not a fan of the trackpad. It feels very cheap and "clicks". I eventually paired it with a Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse to make things a bit more usable on my desk. 

Upgrade options for the Aspire S3 are pretty much limited to the hard drive. It has a 20GB SSD that is only used as a hibernation partition for saving memory to disk to enable quick resumes, while booting and loading applications occurs on the mechanical 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive. Needless to say, that configuration wasn't too impressive.  If you know my love for solid-state drives, I immediately replaced the installed Seagate Momentus Thin 320GB hard drive with a 128GB Samsung 840 Pro Series SSD. Because this is an ultrabook, only 7mm thick 2.5-inch drives would fit, making a Samsung SSD the obvious choice. Plus with sequential Read/Write speeds of 530 MB/s and 390 MB/s, this would provide a noticeable performance boost.

Out with the old... with the new

One could say that I have become an "Acer fanboy" these days based upon the number of Acer computers that I have purchased over the past few months from my Aspire V3-551-8887 to my C7 Chromebook to even using Veriton N281G nettops for a project at work. I fell in love with the Aspire S7 and even my wife thought the Aspire R7 was cool (which is not normal). Interesting products at reasonable prices is what has led me to take a look at Acer more closely. The Acer Aspire S3 is not a MacBook Air or Lenovo ThinkPad  X1 Carbon, but it is in a price range for the average person looking for an entry-level ultrabook.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

R.I.P. Microsoft TechNet Subscriptions

As I was enjoying my day yesterday, I received an email with the subject "TechNet Subscriptions retirement". As I read further, I discovered that Microsoft was actually retiring the TechNet Subscription service on August 31, 2013. That was the first time anyone in the office heard me literally yell out an explicit word.

Microsoft TechNet subscriptions were an inexpensive way (TechNet subscriptions ranged from $199 to $599 per year) for IT professionals to get free access to a very long list of Microsoft software for evaluation purposes. In addition, all subscriptions get some access to Microsoft E-Learning products and priority support in TechNet Forums. The higher-priced subscriptions even include two complimentary tech-support calls. This was perfect for serious IT professionals like myself who considered it an investment.

In place of the TechNet subscription services, Microsoft is providing free services that will include Microsoft Virtual Academy, TechNet Forums, and a new TechNet Evaluation Center offering free evaluation software for limited periods of 30 to 180 days (depending on the application). I don't know how that will work out because a time-specific trial for software is not adequate in some cases. Trial software is often limited in both functionality and time. That is why it is hard for me to believe Microsoft's claim that TechNet was now "redundant" and that more IT professionals were shifting away from paid to free, limited-trial copies of applications for evaluations. Not buying it.

Alternatively, Microsoft will still offer MDSN subscriptions (Microsoft Developer Network) but their costs start at $699 ($499 annual renewal) and go up to $13, 299 ($4,249 annual renewal). The other, lesser known, option for getting downloadable software is the Microsoft Action Pack subscription that is available only to registered members of the Microsoft Partner Network (and pass an assessment). Neither are viable options for the average IT professional to consider.

Fortunately, all subscribers with active accounts may continue to access their subscriptions until their current subscription period concludes. If you still want to purchase a subscription, IT professionals have until August 31st to do so and must activate the accounts by September 30th. Microsoft created an FAQ to explain the reasons why they are ending the service and how it will affect you if you are currently subscribed.

Who knows, Microsoft has been known to reverse certain decisions recently after getting feedback from the public. Look at what happened with Windows 8 and the Xbox One. Because TechNet effects such as small group of individuals, I'm not going to hold my breath. A guy can dream can't he?