computers

Cheap Solid State Drives Are, In Fact, Cheap

As of the last year or two, SSDs stopped being expensive, enthusiast-level components. The prices fell dramatically, and new players joined the game. Companies like ADATA, Patriot, and Sillicon Power undercut the prices of all major brands like Corsair, Samsung, and Intel.

How is it possible for those budget-friendly brands to sell a $70 drive that matches the speed, IOPS, and capacity of a $150 big-brand drive?

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I’ve spent money on both kinds, and it seems the answer lies in changes under the hood that the average user won’t notice.

Let’s take a look at the ADATA SX900, compared with the Patriot Blast and a cameo by the ADATA SP550.

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Thursday, June 16th, 2016 computers No Comments

STEVE – New chassis, 3D printing, fresh electronics!

IMG_20151122_133544Plenty has happened since our last post, and most of it can be summarized with the following picture.

Yup, lots of wires. New body, too. With my 3D printer back in service, cases were printed for the electronics, along with new wheels all around. These new wheels add around an inch of ground clearance, and better off-road traction.

As well, the first shipment of new parts has arrived: a USB WiFi adapter, an ultrasonic range sensor, H-Bridge motor controller, 9-DOF IMU and a temperature probe.

There are a lot of really cool developments in this post; let’s dive in.

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Saturday, December 12th, 2015 3d printing, electronics, networking, software, steve No Comments

Seagate Expansion 3TB External HDD – What’s Inside?

The majority of external hard drives are nothing more than a case, a USB-SATA adapter, and a standard 3.5″ or 2.5″ hard drive. Despite having this extra hardware, they sometimes actually cost less than their bare counterparts. Why might this be? External drives usually only carry a 1 year warranty, while the average desktop drive today might get 2 years of coverage.

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Above is a 3TB Seagate Expansion external hard drive. It has a USB 3.0 interface, and accepts 12VDC for power. I bought this a few years ago for $10 less than a bare 3TB SATA desktop drive.

Western Digital released a line of external hard drives where, when you take it apart, you don’t find a normal drive inside. Instead, the control board is actually a USB interface, not SATA.

Out of curiosity, and because I might put this drive inside my server in the future, I decided to tear it apart to see what I was working with.

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Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 computers, electronics No Comments

Hacking a Laptop Battery – Increase Runtime

Do you have an old laptop whose battery struggles to reach 30 minutes? I used to.

An aftermarket 6-cell pack would have cost me around $40, which isn’t expensive, but the laptop was old (circa 2006) and not worth putting money into.  I happened to have a fair number of Lithium-Ion battery cells “lying around”, and decided to upgrade my pack, not just with new cells, but with more cells.

IMAG0680

This project was completed about a year ago, and I’m surprised I never posted it before!

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Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 computers, electronics, projects 1 Comment

Creating a Private + Guest WiFi Access Point (DD-WRT)

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Recently I was asked to configure a WiFi access point for a small business, who needed to have both a private internal network, and a public guest network.

There are many privacy concerns when having guests share your network. Specifically, it is desirable to:

  • Disallow access to any computers on the private network
  • Prevent network abuse (such as P2P file sharing)
  • Secure the access point itself from tampering or unauthorized access

Of course, all this needs to be done without impacting the desired service: Internet access.

Although I found many guides online for setting up a guest network when the access point was also the primary router, I didn’t find any that worked for the intended network. So, after some trial, error, and research, I managed to get it to work.

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Tuesday, December 31st, 2013 computers, networking, work 87 Comments

Bell Aliant FibreOP with a DD-WRT Router

This has been a long time coming. To summarize, Bell Aliant’s FibreOP Internet service includes a wireless router that has proprietary, limited firmware. It tends to suffer from latency and WiFi issues. So, I sought to replace it with my own wireless router! I ended up first building an overpowered but very functional pfSense Linux Firewall/Router.

Downstairs

Despite my monstrous UPS, I was not happy with the 1 hour run-time. The whole reason for the pfSense router was that FibreOP “hides” its Internet on a VLAN, which means a standard, consumer router will not be able to access the Internet. And from some forum posts I had read, it seemed DD-WRT was also incapable of it.

Finally, today, I pushed through and realized it takes only 4 simple steps to connect a DD-WRT router directly to the FibreOP modem.

Upstairs AP

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Saturday, November 16th, 2013 computers, networking, software 33 Comments

Making Bell FibreOP Work With a pfSense Router

Atlantic Canada is very fortunate to have access to Bell Aliant FibreOP Internet. It is a legitimate Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) service, in the same price range as cable and DSL offerings. Speeds start at 50/30 (download/upload in Mbps) for $70/month without any promotions.

FibreOP Plans

As great as the Internet itself is, the wireless router they include is the bottleneck. It is an Actiontec R1000H. Our biggest headaches with it were low WiFi throughput and frequent WiFi drop, but the interface was a little lacking in advanced features.

Actiontec

The logical solution is to use another router. Unfortunately, Bell has configured the service in a way that simply swapping in a new router will not work at all!

Through some research and my own trial and error, I was able to install pfSense to a spare computer, and take control of my Internet.

Disclaimer: Do not follow these steps if you have Bell’s IPTV service, as it will no longer work. There are other sites that describe how to keep those services working, but mine does not. As well, though there should be no impact, I advise against doing this if you have FiberOP Home Phone and rely on it for emergency communications.

This is not an easy task. It requires a very good understanding of computer networking, basic understanding of Linux networking terminology, and availability of network equipment (switches, wireless access points, cables, NICs). Chances are you found this page because you meet some of that description. Just know that if it isn’t working out, you can plug in the Actiontec and pretend it never happened.

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Friday, August 23rd, 2013 computers, networking, software 18 Comments

ATX Power Supplies – Negative Voltages

Computer power supply units (PSUs) provides all the voltages the computer needs to function. Most computers use the ATX form factor, a standard that describes which voltages and connectors a PSU should have to be compatible with other hardware.

The ATX standard has three main voltages (3.3V, 5V, and 12V), and two, almost never used, negative voltages (-5V and -12V). Recently, I was thinking about how I could make a computer power supply that accepted a 12VDC input, while still providing the range of voltages needed. Indeed, regulating 12V down to 5V and 3.3V is not so difficult, but obtaining negative voltages along side these positive ones was a challenge for my mind.

Looking online I found that almost all examples of dual polarity power supplies involved the use of a center tapped transformer and AC voltages. This was not the most practical method if my input were to be a DC source. So, rather than begin complicating the idea, why not find out if these negative voltages are even needed at all.

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Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 computers, electronics No Comments

Photo Blog – Serious Server Setup

The next many pictures will go through transferring good old BIGBLUE to a new 4U Rosewill RSV-R4000 case, and the installation of two new Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB Drives!

From start to finish:

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Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 computers 1 Comment

Font Gone Missing: Arial

The other day, while helping a friend set up his new computer, I came across a bizarre and irritating problem. I installed Google Chrome, and was on the internet, and noticed that everything was in italics. It was difficult on the eyes. I tried to change some settings in the Page Font menu in Chrome, but to no avail. I found other people had this problem, and after digging in the system’s Fonts folder, I found the issue.

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Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 computers, life, software 2 Comments