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Category Archives: Hardware

Review – Acer Iconia Tab W700 tablet – NT.L0EEH.002

Beware: It seems there are different models of the Acer Iconia Tab W700 in different regions around the world, so pricing and specs may differ. This article covers the NT.L0EEH.002 model with an I3 processor as sold in the Netherlands.

Click the image for a slide show

Click the image for a slide show

First of all, for me it was obvious my type of use would require a Windows 8 tablet. An iPad, Android or Windows RT tablet would not meet my needs. For more information about differences, please read my previous post.

Since I was looking for a Windows 8 tablet, I’ve tried many different ones intended either for consumers or companies/professionals. My favorite among all these tablets was the new Samsung Series 7 slate with a i5 processor and a S-pen for digital note taking/writing.

Still I decided to order an Acer Iconia Tab W700 tablet (NT.L0EEH.002) because of the specifications, price and all the included extras:

+Full Windows 8 (not Windows RT).
+Good specs (i3 CPU with Intel HD Graphics 3000, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD, 11.6″ screen, 1920*1080 resolution).
+Dock, keyboard and proper brown cover are included.
+No other Windows 8 tablet with similar specs and peripherals comes even close to its price (599 euros at the time I bought it).
+Micro HDMI.
+Included adapter Micro HDMI to VGA-out.
+Charges quickly.
+No proprietary stuff.

There are however some compromises I accepted as well:

-CPU is not an i5 or i7 CPU.
-No GPS.
-No built-in 3G (can use USB dongle though).
-No memory card slot (can use USB flash drive / USB disk though).
-No digitizer in the screen / pen support.
-Keyboard is separate Bluetooth device (not a docking, and therefore also no additional battery life and more difficult to carry around).
-The tablet can become warm to the touch. Not noticeable when using the included cover.
-It is not fanless and if you listen very good, you can hear the fan sometimes.
-It might be a bit on the thick and heavy side for some.
-The plastic dock is a nice extra, but the build quality could’ve been better.
-Screen is reflective (as most devices nowadays)
-The power adapter is relatively big.
-Boot from USB flash drive doesn’t seem to be supported. Reinstall requires USB CD/DVD drive.

Even though I don’t need it yet, I would have really enjoyed to be able to expand the storage using a memory card slot. I would also have liked the digitizer/pen, because this would make life easier sometimes when I have to do some stuff in the regular Windows 8 interface.

Besides the specs, I can also say that it’s not just specs. The device feels solid, looks great, boots quickly, has a beautiful screen, has a responsive touch screen and the battery life is good as well (6-10 hours depending on the use). All in all it just works great and it’s a very complete package, so you don’t need to buy any additional stuff.

After using it for about 1,5 months I can honestly say that I don’t want to be without a Windows 8 tablet anymore, because it gives me much more freedom to do stuff when and where I want.

I personally use it mainly in tablet mode to:

  • Browse the internet (mainly Facebook, Twitter, Tweakers.net but also other websites)
  • Watch video learning online / live seminars (some require flash or Silverlight, which other tablets do not support).
  • Watch 720p and 1080p movies and TV series (MKV x264).
  • Check and send e-mails.
  • Play games.
  • Chat.
  • RDP to other systems.

I also have a good desktop and laptop, but if you don’t have either … this tablet can be used as a replacement. You might however want to attach a bigger screen of course.

You might also want to check out other reviews of the Acer Iconia Tab W700. The only one of the same model I have is in Dutch: http://www.tabletguide.nl/review/acer-iconia-tab-w700-review/

You could also check these international reviews, but once again keep in mind that they review different models with another CPU, a different size SSD and also a different price:

If you still have any questions, please leave a comment and I will get back to you.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Hardware, ICT, Microsoft, Tablet, Windows, Windows 8

 

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Microsoft – Surface Pro 128GB sold out in many places despite the not overly positive reviews

Today Microsoft has released its Surface Pro and despite the not overly positive reviews, the 128GB model has apparently sold out in many places.

I personally really like the Windows 8 tablets (I own an Acer W700), but I think the pricing for the Surface Pro is still too steep at the moment for the majority of people. Still it should be enough to get people to think about all the great possibilities with Windows 8 tablets.

So let’s wait and see what 3rd parties will do and what will happen to prices over time. I do expect businesses to adopt Windows 8 tablets quite quickly though. Especially since the sales of regular PC’s aren’t doing that well.

For now, I will leave you with links to a couple of reviews so you can see what other people think:

 
 

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Gadget – portable speaker review : X-mini Max Gun Metal

Sometimes your laptop or tablet speakers just won’t do. Either because the sound quality isn’t very good or because they aren’t loud enough.

Because of this, I decided to buy the X-mini MAX Gun Metal

X-mini MAX Gun Metal

X-mini MAX Gun Metal

X-mini UNO Gun Metal

X-mini UNO Gun Metal

X-mini MAX Gun Metal:

  • Contains 2 small speakers that produce stereo sound.
  • Costs about 65 euro.
  • Provides great sound and volume considering its small size.
  • Contains a built-in battery that can be charged using micro USB (similar to a lot of smartphones).
  • When it’s charged you can use it with any device you’d like as long as it has a 3.5mm jack plug.
  • Allows for speakers to be used separately as well (mono).
  • Allows for linking / daisy chaining even more X-mini devices.

I’ve been looking for a good video that gives you an idea of the sound quality, but none really do it justice. You really have to hear it by yourself. I know (some) MediaMarkt shops in the Netherlands have them, so if you’re interested you might want to test it there. For those that still want to have an impression, check out this youtube video of another version of the X-mini speaker:

Even though I really like the X-mini MAX Gun Metal, there is still room for improvement. By example:

  • At a higher volume, the speaker is distorting and still moving (because of the vibrations).
  • The included usb micro charging cable assumes your laptop/tablet USB and jack port are close to each other. If this is not the case you would need to extend by example the jack plug.
  • The built-in jack cable is too short in my opinion and is only useful for daisy chaining / interconnecting with other X-mini speakers.
  • The price for the MAX version might be too steep for some. The mono versions might suffice though, depending on what you want to use it for.

X-mini also has a lot of cool other versions of their speakers like by example a Bluetooth version, a version with a built-in mp3 player and a version with a built-in radio tuner. So be sure to check out their website.

On a closing note, Fujifilm has unveiled bendable foldable roll-up speakers. So there’s still much more cool stuff coming for portable speakers.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Hardware

 

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Home LAB Setup guide – 03 VM guest considerations and preparations

In the first part of this LAB setup guide, I described the hardware selection process.
In the second part I described the hypervisor selection and installation.

In this post I will describe the VM guest considerations and preparations.

VM guest considerations

Considerations for your VM guests:

  • Use legacy network adapter ? Could be necessary for by example PXE boot.
    • In most cases the regular network adapters will be the best choice.
  • How much memory to assign ? Should I use dynamic memory in Hyper-V  ? Should I overcommit using VMware ?
    • In most cases for your home lab it is probably best to use dynamic memory / overcommit. Some applications however might not work correctly, or you might not have the desired outcome.
  • How many virtual CPUs should I assign ?
  • Should I store my VMs on a single physical disk or on multiple physical disks ?
  • Should I use virtual disks or pass-through disks ?
    • For VMs that I use for testing, I use virtual disks because they provide more flexibility.
    • For my file server I choose to use pass-through disks so I can simply remove the disk from my server and place them in another system. I’m also afraid that should you encounter an issue when using a virtual disk, that the chance is greater that you lose everything because the virtual disk will break.
  • When I use virtual disks, should I use thin provisioned disks or thick provisioned disks ?
    • Thick provisioned disks are supposed to deliver better performance, but at the cost of more disk space. Also for a home LAB I doubt the performance loss is minimal and acceptable, so I would go with thin provisioned disks. Also when using SSD disks, space is costly and limited. Be sure to monitor disk space usage though.
  • Should I use differencing disks in Hyper-V / linked clones in VMWare ?
    • When you plan to use multiple VMs running the same operating system, you can save space by using differencing disks / linked clones. This also impacts the disk I/O however, so monitor it to see if it fits your needs. Since I use SSD disks and run multiple VMs with the same OS, I use differencing disks.

VM guest preparations

An home LAB is not complete without VM guests ofcourse. The basic methods for provisioning are:

  1. Using pre-prepped VMs that are provided by third parties like by example Microsoft and VMWare. For VMWare there is even a virtual appliance Marketplace.
  2. Installing VMs manually every time.
  3. Using 3rd party deployment tools to provision operating systems to VMs. By example System Center Configuration Manager.
  4. Deploying VMs from templates you create manually.

Often you’ll use a combination of the methods. In my case I’ll deploy many instances of the same guest OS versions for my test lab. I’ll often deploy various versions of Windows multiple times. Therefore I create my own templates for my test lab.

Basic actions for template creation are:

  1. Installation of the operating system
  2. Installing the Hyper-V Integration Component (or VMWare tools).
  3. Adding roles and features I expect to be using in (the majority of) my VMs.
  4. Downloading and installing the latest updates.
  5. Performing sysprep to generalize the installation and choosing to turn off the system afterwards.
    DO NOT TURN ON THE SYSTEM, otherwise you need to run sysprep again.
  6. Saving the virtual disk files for future use.
  7. If you’re going to be using differencing disks, you will use this disk as the parent disk. Make sure you set it to read-only.

Using this approach I’ve created my own templates consuming 180GB and covering most of the operating systems I (can) encounter and want to test with:

Windows2003-Enterprise-R2-SP2-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows2003-Enterprise-R2-SP2-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows2008-SP2-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx.vhdx
Windows2008-SP2-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx.vhdx
Windows2008R2-SP1-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows2012-Datacenter-Core-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows2012-Datacenter-GUI-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows7-Enterprise-SP1-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows7-Enterprise-SP1-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows8-Enterprise-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows8-Enterprise-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
WindowsVista-Enterprise-SP2-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
WindowsVista-Enterprise-SP2-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
WindowsXP-Pro-SP3-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
WindowsXP-Pro-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx

Storing backups and ISO files

When you have files that have lots of similar data, they are very suitable for deduplication. Also read this great blog post if you want to know how it works.. With for example ISO files and powered-off VMs you can save a lot of space. You should however not configure this for files that change on a regular basis like by example actively running VMs. With Server 2012, you can easily enable deduplication for volumes. Also keep in mind that these files do not require high IOPS, so you can store them on slower disks.

If you want to check how much space you can save without installing Server 2012 and its deduplication feature, you can also run the deduplication evalutation tool (ddpeval.exe) on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012. You can even “hack” Windows 8 Pro to allow deduplication.

I was able to reduce the used disk space with 75% from 215 GB to 50 GB. This was with ISO files and the backups of the parent disks I created earlier (not the ones in use).

 

In the next post I will describe configuring Server 2012 VM as DC with DNS and DHCP using PowerShell.

 

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Home LAB Setup guide – 02 Hypervisor selection and installation

In the first part of this LAB setup guide, I described the hardware selection process. In this second part I will be describing the hypervisor selection and installation.

Hypervisor selection

First of all, you have to decide on which bare metal hypervisor(s) you wish to use. Personally I prefer Microsoft Hyper-V and VMWare ESXi. Alternatives include but are not limited to Citrix XenServer, Xen, KVM, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. I don’t have much experience with these hypervisors though.

Characteristics that could influence your choice of hypervisor:

  • Supported hardware.
  • Performance of the hypervisor.
  • Features of the hypervisor. By example when using Transparent Memory Page Sharing, it requires less memory when you run many highly identical systems on a host.
  • Footprint / attack surface.
  • Supported methods for running the OS. By example run from USB stick.
  • Price (many hypervisors have free versions available, compare features).
  • Support (for a home lab probably not that important).
  • Available documentation / study resources.
  • How active the community behind it is.
  • Supported VM / guest operating systems.
  • Ease-of-use.
  • Availabilty of downloadable virtual appliances (VMWare) or pre-prepped environments (Microsoft) without having to (try and) convert them.

Everyone needs to determine which hypervisor best meets their needs. Personally I mainly work with Microsoft software and decided to use Hyper-V 3.0 in Windows Server 2012. It’s convenient for me to be able to easily load pre-prepped environments that are provided by Microsoft (in Hyper-V format). I also run Client Hyper-V on my Windows 8 laptop, which makes it easier for me to take my VM’s with me. I do plan to keep up with VMWare developments as well though, so I will create a bootable USB flash drive to boot in VMWare from time to time.

Hypervisor installation

  • Before installing the hypervisor, make sure that virtualization related settings are enabled. The names of these settings may differ. Examples are Intel VT (Virtualization Technology), AMD-V and Hardware DEP (Data Execution Prevention), EM64T, Execute Disable Bit. During installation you will get prompted normally though if you have forgotten to enable these.
  • There are often many options with regards to the installation. By example do a GUI install or a scripted/CLI install. Or install/run from normal harddisk or flash drive. With Server 2012 Hyper-V you can choose to run it in Windows Server 2012 core or in the GUI version. I chose to use the Server 2012 GUI Hyper-V installation because I’m not sure if my raid management software will work from within the core version.
  • Installation of the hypervisor is normally pretty straight forward. But before you install, read the documentation.
  • After you’re done installing, you still need to configure the settings to meet your requirements. Preferrably you’ve already created and documented your own design.
  • Don’t forget to configure hardware monitoring if possible. In my case I’ve configured my raid controller management software to send e-mails when storage related issues are detected.
  • Think about and implement a strategy for backing up and recovering your hypervisor. There are numerous programs for backing up and most are free for personal use. I have no personal experience with specific products, but VeeAm has a good reputation and I’ll be trying if for my lab. Also if you’re a Microsoft Certified Professional, you can get a free NFR license for Veeam Backup & Replication v6.5 for Hyper-V. The same is true if you’re a VMWare Certified Professional (VCP).

In the next post I will describe the VM guest preparations, installations and storage strategy.

 

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Home LAB Setup guide – 01 Hardware selection

As you will probably know by now, I’m really into ICT. I mainly focus on virtualization and Microsoft technoIogies. As such, I try to:

  • Keep up with new ICT developments
  • Improve my knowledge and skills for both old and new ICT technologies
  • Get certified in many different areas of ICT.

A proper lab environment is a prerequisite to do so. Because of virtualization however, this has become so much easier (and cheaper) than before.

In the next couple of blog posts I will try to document the steps I’m taking to build my lab. Today I’m staring the series with the hardware selection. The important part of the hardware I use for my environment is as follows:

  • Mainboard: Gigabyte GA-H77M-D3H
  • CPU: Intel Core i5 3570 quadcore
  • Memory: 32GB
  • SATA controller : IBM M1015 (flashed to LSI9211-8i)
  • VM storage: 2 * 512GB SSD Samsung 830 series
  • Non VM storage: 2 * 2TB SATA

To me it was important that my machine would be able to run both Microsoft Hyper-V 3.0 as well as VMware ESXi 5.1 properly. Both have hardware requirements, but VMware ESXi 5.1 is generally more restrictive with regards to supported hardware. Very simply put, it means that the mainboard, CPU, network and storage controller need to be compatible with the features you require.

Normally you would check supported hardware on the official hardware compatibility list (HCL) of the vendor, but these are generally aimed at real server hardware and do not support/contain consumer hardware. So before buying hardware, check on forums to see what combinations of hardware are working for other people and choose the one that matches your desires best. You can also google for ESXi whitebox.

Furthermore, I plan to run many systems at the same time, hence the 32GB of memory and the 2 fast 512GB SSD disks. Besides the fast, but small SSD you generally also need more storage to store other files like by example operating system images and tools.

The next post is about the Hypervisor selection and installation.

 

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Newer versions are not always better

People who know me, know I love my mediaplayer, so much even that barely watch regular TV nowadays. I’ve been using Popcorn Hour mediaplayers for a long time now and even though they’re not the cheapest ones, I’ve always been very happy with them. I’ve even recommended them to many people who bought them as well.

Yesterday however, one of my friends was having an issue with his Popcorn Hour A-200 mediaplayer. I suggested he should check for and install the latest firmware version (August 10, 2012). Because I hadn’t updated mine in quite some time either I decided to upgrade it together with him even though I did not really have a need to upgrade mine.

After the update, my PCH-A200 couldn’t connect to my samba(SMB) / CIFS network shares on Windows Server 2012 anymore. For the shares that worked previously I got an error stating:
“Unable to resolve the host name. Press [return] key to return to the previous screen”.
The network itself was working since I was able to use internet radio.

As it turns out, many problems have been introduced with the latest firmware versions. I did try using NFS shares, but even though I could browse them I was not able to playback videos.

Ultimately I decided to go back two firmware versions. After installing the firmware of May 25th, 2011 everything was working fine again.

Conclusion: Newer versions are not always better !!!!

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Entertainment, Hardware, Mediaplayer, Movies, TV

 

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Microsoft Surface Pro coming in early 2013. Starting at $899

Microsoft just released some more information regarding the Microsoft Surface Pro. It is coming in early 2013 and its price is starting at $899 for the 64GB standalone version with a pen, but without a Touch Cover ($120) or Type Cover($130). The standalone 128GB version will be $999.

For more information about the Surface Pro, check the Microsoft website and this blog post:

If you want to know more about Windows RT tablets (b.e. Microsoft Surface) and Windows 8 tablets (b.e. Microsoft Surface Pro) read my previous blog post. It describes how both differ from each other, but also how they differ from Android and iOS (Apple) tablets.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Hardware, ICT, Microsoft, Tablet, Windows 8, Windows RT

 

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EMC Elect program nominate those who you think deserve it most

About a week ago EMC announced its EMC Elect program. It is a community-driven, peer-nominated recognition program for enthusiastic EMC storage professionals like my colleagues from Open Line:

Read further details in the FAQ and charter and/or nominate a peer. Also keep track of what’s happening using twitter #EMCElect.

Don’t forget to nominate the people you think deserve it most. You can nominate more than one person if you want to. Also please spread the word about the EMC Elect program.

 

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nzbget on Popcorn Hour A-400 not unrarring

Normally when you install nzbget on your Popcorn Hour A-400 or any other NMT (Networked Media Tank), it should download your files, but should also download additional pars, repair and unrar.

With the nzbget that came installed with the NMT apps it did not unrar for me unfortunately. So I went looking for a solution and found that many people recommended installing Oversight using NMT CSI (Community Service Installer) because it had a better postprocessing / unpacking script.

After installing Oversight (and rebooting), the nzbget web interface was not reachable on port 8066 anymore however. After deinstallation of Oversight in CSI it started working again.

To get it all working I installed Oversight again using CSI and then (again using CSI) I stopped Oversight and configured it not to start on boot. Then everything worked as desired. Note that your completed downloads will be moved from the Downloads folder to the Completed

 

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