Author Archives: thampson

Types of SSDs and Which Ones to Buy

http://www.partitionwizard.com/images/tu30002/clone-hard-drive-ssd-1.jpg

Photo: partitionwizard.com

By now it’s likely you’ve heard of Solid State Drives, or SSDs as a blazing fast storage drive to speed up old computers, or provide reliable uptime compared to their replacement, Hard Drives, or HDDs. But there are countless options available, so what is the best drive?

https://rog.asus.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/SSDs.jpg

Photo: Asus

There are several connector types that SSDs use to interface with a computer, including SATA, PCIe, M.2, U.2, mSATA, SATA Express, and even none, as some SSDs now come soldered to the board. For a consumer, the most common options are SATA and M.2. SATA is known as the old two-connector system that hard drives used, including a SATA Power and SATA data cable. SATA-based SSDs are best for older computers that lack newer SSD connector types and have only SATA connections. A great way to boost the speed of an older computer with a spinning hard drive is to clone the drive to an SSD, and replace the Hard Drive with an SSD, increasing the computer’s ability to read/write data, possibly by tenfold. However it should be noted that these SATA drives are capped at a maximum theoretical transfer speed of 600MB/s, whereas other un-bottlenecked SSDs have recently exceeded 3GB/s, nearly five times the SATA maximum. This means SATA-based SSDs cannot utilize the speed and efficiency of newer controllers such as NVMe.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/810HxU5oNRL._SL1500_.jpg

Photo: Amazon.com

NVMe, or Non-Volatile Memory Express, is a new controller used to replace AHCI, or Advance Host Controller Interface. AHCI is the controller that Hard Drives traditionally use to interface between the SATA bus of a Hard Drive and the computer it is connected to. AHCI as a controller also provides a bottleneck to SSDs in the form of latency the same way the SATA bus provides a bandwidth bottleneck to an SSD. The AHCI controller was never intended for use with SSDs, where the NVMe controller was built specifically with SSDs only in mind. NVMe promises lower latency by operating with higher efficiency, working with Solid State’s parallelization abilities by being able to run more than two thousand times more commands to or from the drive than compared to a drive on the AHCI controller. To get the optimal performance out of an NVMe drive, make sure it uses PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) as a bus which alleviates all the bottlenecks that would come with using SATA as a bus.

http://cdn1.bigcommerce.com/server5600/5a8d4/product_images/uploaded_images/m2-sata-nvme-ssd.jpg?t=1459356161

If the latest and greatest speeds and efficiencies that come with an NVMe SSD is a must have, then there’s a couple things to keep in mind. First, make sure the computer receiving the drive has the M.2 connector type for that type of drive. Most consumer NVMe drives only support the M.2 “M” key (5 pins), which is the M.2 physical edge connector. SATA based SSDs use the “B” key (6 pins) but there are some connectors that feature “B + M” which can accept both a SATA and NVMe drive. Second, the computer needs to be compatible with supporting and booting to an NVMe drive. Many older computers and operating systems may not support booting to or even recognize an NVMe drive due to how new it is. Third, expect to pay a premium. The PCIe NVMe drives are the newest and greatest of the SSD consumer market, so cutting edge is top price. And finally, make sure an NVMe drive fits the usage case scenario. The performance improvement will only be seen with large read/writes to and from the drive or large amounts of small read/writes. Computers will boot faster, files will transfer and search faster, programs will boot faster, but it won’t make a Facebook page load any faster.

In conclusion, SSDs are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the computing world and for good reason. Their prices are plummeting, their speeds are unmatched, they’re smaller fitting into thinner systems, and they’re far less likely to fail, especially after a drop or shake of the device. If you have an old computer with slow loading times in need of a performance boost, a great speed-augmenting solution is to buy a SATA SSD. But if being cutting edge and speed is what is what you’re looking for, nothing that beats a PCIe NVMe M.2 drive.

DJI Drones – Which One Is Right for You?

As the consumer drone market becomes increasingly competitive, DJI has emerged as an industry leader of drones and related technologies both on the consumer end, as well as the professional and industrial markets. Today we’re taking a look at DJI’s three newest drones.

https://www4.djicdn.com/assets/images/products/spark/s3/detail1-ac31681ce5417ef8495c58b99d7687ae.png?from=cdnMap

First up is the DJI Spark, DJI’s cheapest consumer drone available at time of writing. The drone is a very small package, using Wi-Fi and the DJI GO Smartphone app to control the drone. The drone features a 12-megapixel camera, capable of 1080p video at 30 fps. The DJI Spark features a 16 minute runtime removable battery. Starting at $399, this drone is best for simple amateur backyard style learners just getting into the drone market. User-friendly and ultra-portable, this drone is limited in advanced functionality and is prone to distance and connectivity problems, but is an essential travel item for the casual and amateur drone user looking to take some photos from the sky without dealing with the hassle of advanced photography and flying skills that are required on some of DJI’s other offerings.

https://petapixel.com/assets/uploads/2018/01/djimavicairfeat-800x420.jpg

DJI’s most recent offering is the DJI Mavic Air, DJI’s intermediate offering for drone enthusiasts. The drone is a compact, foldable package, using Wi-Fi and the DJI GO Smartphone app in conjunction with a controller to control the drone. The drone features a 12-megapixel camera, capable of 4K video at 30 fps. The DJI Mavic Air features a 21-minute runtime removable battery. Starting at $799, this drone is a step up from DJI’s lower priced offerings but bundles a package of features that crater to both the amateur drone photographer and hobbyist/enthusiast drone flyer such as advanced collision avoidance sensors, panorama mode, and internal storage. While heavier and bigger than its smaller brother the DJI Spark, the DJI Mavic Air’s foldability creates an unbelievably portable package with user-friendly features and one of DJI’s best camera sensors to ship in their consumer drone lineup. Also plagued with Wi-Fi limitations, the DJI Mavic Air is an excellent travel drone for more serious photographers and videographers if you don’t venture out too far.

https://product4.djicdn.com/uploads/photos/114/medium_4058afad-4331-40ab-9a4e-30b49c72447b.jpg

One of DJI’s most ambitious and most popular consumer drones is the DJI Mavic Pro, a well-rounded, no compromise consumer drone with advanced photography and flying abilities. The drone is a compact, foldable package like the DJI Mavic Air, using the DJI GO Smartphone app in conjunction with a controller using OcuSync Transmission technology to provide a clear, long range, live feedback video system usually free of interference. The drone features a 12-megapixel camera, capable of 4K video at 30 fps. The DJI Mavic Pro features a 30 minute runtime removable battery. Starting at $999, this drone is not cheap, but is an essential tool for the photographer or drone enthusiast requiring the best flying and photography capture features in DJI’s best portable drone offering.

My DJI Mavic Pro Sample Footage:

Sample 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kI1hoIO4x4
Sample 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQgX5J9WOII
Sample 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1mDUZWwwxI
Sample 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWiHPu-ld78
Sample 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOcKi1xRNoE

Disclaimer: Operation of a drone, regardless of recreational or commercial intent, is subject to rules and regulations outlined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). All drone operators should operate aircraft in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. Compliant and suggested practices include operating aircraft with the presence of a spotter, maintaining line of sight on your aircraft, registering your aircraft with the FAA, sharing airspace with other recreational and commercial aircraft, knowing your aircraft and its impact when operating around people & animals, and not flying your aircraft in FAA restricted zones. For more information, please visit the FAA website on Unmanned Aerial Systems as it pertains to you: https://www.faa.gov/uas/faqs/

Thinkpad is known throughout the enterprise and consumer markets as Lenovo’s rugged, minimalistic, and business-oriented laptops, tablets, and mobile workstations division. Started under International Business Machines (IBM) in 1992, Lenovo acquired the division in 2005 and has owned the company ever since.  For 25 years, Thinkpads have been beloved by power users, demanding businesses & corporate environments, enthusiasts and even astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). Today we take a brief look at the Thinkpad 25 Anniversary Edition, and the features that have persisted through the years of one of the longest continual laptop series.

Looking at the Thinkpad 25, there appear to be more similarities with modern Thinkpad laptops than the older era of Thinkpads it is supposed to be reminiscent of. The Thinkpad 25 comes with ULV 15w 7th gen Intel Processors, NVMe storage, a 1080p display, Nvidia 940MX dedicated graphics, the beloved trackpoint, and the distinctive minimalist black matte finish. The Thinkpad 25 also comes with a separate box of documentation and items that look back upon the series’ history and development, 25 years of such.

https://www.laptopmag.com/images/uploads/5280/g/lenovo-thinkpad-25-004.jpg
Source: laptopmag.com

The biggest difference in the Thinkpad 25 has to be the keyboard. The inclusion of a seven-row keyboard in the Thinkpad 25 when almost all modern computers are six row keyboards is nothing short an industry nod to when the seven-row keyboard reigned supreme. The Thinkpad 25 keyboard also has other references to earlier models, such as the blue enter key, dedicated page up and down keys, the delete “reference” key and traditional, non-island styled/chiclet keys. Omitted from the Thinkpad 25 are several antiquated technologies from over the years, such as the Thinklight, legacy ports (Serial, VGA, expresscard), and handle batteries.

To many enthusiasts, the Thinkpad 25 was a letdown; essentially a T470 with a seven-row backlit illuminated row keyboard.  The Thinkpad 25 is also expensive, at nearly $2,000 fully configured, and with such minimal specifications, many businesses will shy away from these devices. So, who is the Thinkpad 25 meant for then? This device was nothing but a limited-quantity device, for enthusiasts and collectors who yearn for a nostalgic legacy; for those who stubbornly resist modern design and technology implementations such as shiny plastic or brushed aluminum with a certain illuminated fruit. For those that have stood by the Thinkpad line through two and a half decades of cutting-edge innovation and performance, and are willing to pay the price for a computer that nods to this era of computing, then the Thinkpad 25 may be a worthwhile investment.

What is S.M.A.R.T?

Have you ever thought your computer might be dying but you don’t know what? Symptoms that people might be familiar with may include slowing down, increased startup time, programs freezing, constant disk usage, and audible clicking. While these symptoms may happen to a lot of people, they don’t necessarily mean the hard drive is circling the drain. With a practically unlimited number of other things that could make the computer slow down and become unusable, how are you supposed to find out exactly what the problem is? Fortunately, the most common part to fail in a computer, the hard drive (or data drive), has a built-in testing technology that even users can use to diagnose their machines without handing over big bucks to a computer repair store or having to buy an entire new computer if their computer is out of warranty.

Enter SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology). SMART is a monitoring suite that checks computer drives for a list of parameters that would indicate drive failure. SMART collects and stores data about the drive including errors, failures, times to spin up, reallocated sectors, and read/write abilities. While many of these attributes may be confusing in definition and even more confusing in their recorded numerical values, SMART software can predict a drive failure and even notify the user of the computer that the software has detected a failing drive. The user can then look at the results to verify, or in unsure, bring to a computer repair store for a verification and drive replacement.

So how does one get access to SMART? Many computers include built in diagnostic suites that can be accessed via a boot option when the computer first turns on. Others manufacturers require that you download an application without your operating system that can run a diagnostic test. These diagnostic suites will usually check the SMART status, and if the drive is in fact failing, the diagnostic suite will report a drive is failing or has failed. However, most of these manufacturer diagnostics will simply only say passed or failed, if you want access to the specific SMART data you will have to use a Windows program such as CrystalDiskInfo, a Linux program such as GSmartControl, or SMART Utility for Mac OS.

These SMART monitoring programs are intelligent enough to detect when a drive is failing, to give you ample time to back up your data. Remember, computer parts can always be replaced, lost data is lost forever. However, it should be noted that SMART doesn’t always detect when a drive fails. If a drive suffers a catastrophic failure like a physical drop or water damage while on SMART cannot predict these and the manufacturer is not at fault. Therefore, while SMART is best to be used as a tool to assess whether a drive is healthy or not, it is used most strongly in tandem with a good reliable backup system and not as a standalone protection against data failure.

SU-MIMO vs. MU-MIMO

 

If you’ve been in the market recently for a new router, gateway, or access point, you may have noticed the terms “SU-MIMO” or “MU-MIMO” being tossed around as a hot new feature. But what exactly do these terms means? And how important are these to making my wireless better?

To understand how these new wireless technologies work, it’s important to first understand how wireless traditionally works. Wireless, whether it be in a home, dorm, or office is a shared medium, many different wireless devices are all “talking”, sending and receiving packets of data, to a single piece of wireless antenna hardware at a time. Traditionally, access points could only send or receive packets to one device at a time. The wireless hardware can send and receive packets so fast however, that many times you may not even notice a slowdown when loading your favorite website or watching a Netflix stream, even when it’s shared among others in a household.

However, when you start to add more users on a single wireless antenna, and/or add latency specific network packets such as a skype call, or loading an online multiplayer games, in which packets are very dependent to be sent and received with urgency, or otherwise the user might encounter “lag”. This sort of lag occurs when packets aren’t being able to be sent or received from the devices fast enough, as the hardware can only send or receive to one device at a time, and has to switch around from device to device sending or receiving their packets, while others are put on a shared waitlist.

In come SU-MIMO and MU-MIMO, a way to help alleviate lag on an overcrowded network. The MIMO part stands for Multi-Input, Multi-Output, with the SU and MU standing for Single-User and Multi-User respectively. These wireless standards work to alleviate the traditional wireless bottleneck, the ability to only send or receive packets from one device at a time. With SU-MIMO, a single device can now both send AND receive packets at a time, with MU-MIMO being able to send and receive data from multiple devices at a time, effectively working to cut down on the waitlist to send data to devices requesting data on a network.

MU-MIMO is the future of wireless technology: it costs very little as a standard to implement, and has a noticeable impact on a clogged network without having to modify anything else. Devices now must wait a lot shorter of a time to get and send their packets, and overall creates a more efficient wireless network. You will have to make sure your next home or enterprise’s installation include support for MU-MIMO wireless equipment, but it should also be noted that it won’t solve all your problems. Wireless is and always will be a shared medium, they can be dependent on others factors such as wavelength congestion, interference, and pure overcrowded-ness if your equipment was not rated for the workload.

Organic Light-Emitting Diode Displays

The screen you’re reading this on is most likely a Twisted Nematic, or TN for short, screen. TN screens are the most ubiquitous and oldest screens still used today. TN panels tend to be cheap to produce, have terrible viewing angles where colors quickly become distorted at an angle. But these types of panels generally have low power draw and the ability to produce high frame rates, which make them a popular choice for laptops and gaming screens respectively.

If you’re viewing this on a higher quality screen, or a computer or phone where you’ve spent more than the average price tag, you probably have an In-Plane Switching display, or IPS. These panels offer a wider range of accurate and vibrant colors, and offer them more consistently at angles, making them a good choice for viewing photos, or sharing images or videos with friends all watching on one screen.

However, both these screen technologies share similar inherent disadvantages. Both screens function similiarly, utilizing a backlight to display a colored image to the display. This takes up valuable space, produces more weight, and can be less efficient to display certain ranges of colors.

In come Organic Light-Emitting Diode Displays, or OLED for short. Working without a backlight, OLED displays individually can light up each pixel on an array, creating richer colors and a more vibrant display. For example, to display the color black, the pixel tasked would not turn on at all, creating a much richer black color (instead of it being backlit). Not only can OLED displays can be smaller, but they can be more power efficient when viewing darker colors and blacks, as the pixels don’t have to be on at all. Additionally, OLED displays will be thinner, more power efficient, have better viewing angles, and will have a better response time than any other type of LCD panel.

OLED panels aren’t quite where we want them yet though, as manufactures still work out problems. OLED panels are very expensive, because only a handful of manufacturer’s produce them. Once more manufacturers start seeing the need for a future of OLED panels, manufacturing prices will go down and companies start to invest in the materials and machinery needed to produce such panels. The other issue is battery life in a negative sense. When displaying images that are all black, OLED panels are incredibly power efficient. But with screens that are all white, that require the most amount of power to produce, OLED panels can up to twice as much power to power the screen than a comparable LCD screen. Finally, OLED panels have significant problems with their longevity, as problems such as ghosting, burn-ins, and consistency to display a certain brightness all become problems as the panels age.

Overall, OLED panels will be the future of displays. They have several advantages over modern LCD panels such as TN or IPS displays, but as a relatively new technology, there are many bugs that still must be worked out. Many laptops such as the Thinkpad X1 Yoga, HP Spectre x360, and Dell Alienware 15 all have options for them, there are also a few TVs available with such panels, the Apple Watch and Touchbar on the new MacBook Pro also feature OLED components. So as OLED panels become more ubiquitous in life, you may want to think about spending the extra cash to include one in your newest technology gadget, and enjoy its advantages.