Category: Hardware news


New server online

I’ve recently upgraded my home connection to Gigabit fiber (1000 mbps down /500 mbps up) and, since I now have 500 mbps of upload bandwidth, I’ve set up a new server.
https://zebra.ddscentral.org/

Since this server has faster upstream connection that that of Raspis, I’ll probably move some of my stuff from Raspis to this new server in near future.

Server specs for those interested:
CPU: Intel G4600
RAM: 4 GB DDR4
NIC: 3x Realtek Gigabit NICs (separate NICs for Router, Internet and IPTV)
Storage: 6 HDDs, approx 3.33 TB of storage.

EDIT: Speedtest (that’s with IPTV and some other stuff running).
Speedtest

Again, I forgot to make a new year post… Dammit.

Let’s start with some good news first. I bought myself a Raspberry Pi 3  for Christmas.

Bought it without a case, because I wanted to buy a Kodi edition FLIRC case for it.

Now, the fun part. There are 2 suppliers of this case: The Pi Hut in the UK and FLIRC (the manufacturer) in the US.

I’m in the EU. Guess which supplier I’ve ordered from ? No, you guessed it wrong. I had to order it FROM THE USA, because the Pi Hut, despite all my attempts to convince them, refused to ship the case to my country, telling me some bull**it about too many lost parcels. Yeah, right… I’ve ordered from the UK dozens of times and had only one or two lost orders. If the US supplier CAN ship to the EU why can’t they ?

I had to wait 3 weeks for the case to arrive from the US (instead of just a week, had I ordered the case from the UK supplier). Had to run my Pi barebones during that time.

That was the good news.

———

The bad news is that the primary server is down again. But this time it seems it’s the server’s ISP (yes, an entire ISP) went offline, because their homepage and corporate page are both down too, not even DNS works. WTF ?

Will update on this.
EDIT: it seems everything is back online now. Downtime lasted about an hour.

February update

Another long story. Again, to avoid mixing up things, it consists of two parts.

  • Part one: A really cooked laptop

My cousin gave me his dead laptop to see if I can resurrect it. The system is an old but still decent Toshiba Tecra S-11 equipped with a dual core i7-640M, 8GB of RAM, Nvidia Quadro NVS 2100M video card and a 15.6 widescreen display with 1600 x 900 resolution. There was no hard drive or DVD.

The system was totally dead, not even a single LED worked. I suspected a bad mainboard. I’ve tried searching eBay and other places for a replacement board but found nothing. So I’ve decided to bring the laptop to a local computer shop (they have a service center as well) to see if they could do anything. The shop confirmed my suspicions: the system’s power IC was totally fried.

They did manage get a new (well, refurbished) board from a local Toshiba service center. I paid 100 € for a new board and re-assembly.

Since the system had no hard disk or DVD drive, I’ve also bought an 120GB SSD and a DVD burner for about 72 €.

Before installing the SSD and the DVD burner, I wanted to do some basic tests to see if the system works. So I’ve plugged in my boot flash drive and tried to boot my custom Windows PE recovery environment. It failed to boot with a BSOD. Then I’ve tried a Linux Live DVD. It also failed to boot with a kernel panic caused by a MCE (machine check exception).

I could only get anything to boot by disabling the second CPU core or limiting the OS CPU count to 3. That really smelled like a CPU problem to me…

I know my cousin did some heavy compiling on that system and it was overheating badly (the cooling system is very poor) but to damage a CPU ? How hard do you have to torture a system to not only fry the mainboard but to damage a CPU as well ?

Indeed my suspicions were confirmed. After I’ve replaced the original i7 with a slightly weaker i5-560M (which I got for 35 €), all MCE errors disappeared.

So, after paying 207 € and spending a few hours on dis-assembly and re-assembly, I had a fully functional system. Yeah, I know I paid too much, but whatever…

The complete specs:

Model: Toshiba Tecra S11-14P

CPU: Core i5-560M (Dual core with HT)

RAM: 8GB DDR 1066 (2x 4GB)

GPU: Nvidia Quadro NVS 2100M

Storage: 120 GB SanDisk Ultra 2 SSD

DVD: LG (HL-DT-ST) GTC0N

Wifi: Intel AGN 6200

Display: 15.6″ 1600 x 900

 

  • Part Two: bad luck with T100TA

I’ve smashed my T100TA AGAIN. The damn thing fell down while it was in the bag. The glass was totally smashed and unusable, way worse than my first time.

The screen on that tablet is extremely fragile. I’ve dropped my old TF300T countless times without any damage and only managed to crack the screen by accidentally pushing it against the phone charger while the tablet was in the bag.

But the glass on T100TA’s screen is nothing like that of TF300T: it’s thin. Really thin. Seems like you could crack it by just pushing your finger harder against the screen.

I haven’t yet decided whether I will replace the screen. I can get an used T100TA for about the same price as a new screen. But then again, I’m not sure I even want another T100TA.

I will try bringing the tablet to a local computer shop to see if they can repair the screen for less that what Asus service charges. If they can’t, I will probably just get a new tablet.

Will update.

 

 

January 2016 – News

First post this year (OK, second if you count the NY post). To avoid mixing up things, it consists of two parts.

  • Part One: my G751JY

My G751JY returned from Asus service center. They have replaced the mainboard. The good news is that the M.2 slot is still there. The bad news is that my Windows 10 Pro installation refused to activate on the new board. MS says you have to reinstall 8 and re-upgrade to 10. Windows 8 key will not work on Windows 10.

I AM NOT reinstalling the whole system and all my software…  So I’ve just tossed in a KMS activator and called it a day. I hate having to resort to such things, considering I have a legit Windows 8 Pro key, but I do not want to waste time reinstalling all my stuff because of M$’s upgrade policies.

Also, I’ve replaced my SM951 with a 500 GB EVO 850. I’ve decided that SSD space is more important to me than speed.

 

  • Part Two: PC service adventures.

I’m amazed how some PC vendors cheap out on parts. A new PC has arrived for service (built by a local computer shop), owner wanted me to install Windows 10. Since I did not have Windows 10 image prepared, I had to prepare it. I have installed Windows 10 to a VM, installed some commonly used programs and then sysprepped the system. I then imaged VMs hard drive to create the final installation image, which could then be used to install Windows 10 (along with my installed programs) on any system.

I did choose EFI boot when preparing the image, because that is what is most commonly used for new systems. But when I went to actually installing my Windows 10 image on client’s system, I was amazed. That system had a 6-core AMD CPU, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, a GT 750 Ti GPU and a 1 TB hard disk. Not a monster system but should be enough for an average gamer.

What suprised me was the mainboard. When I accessed the BIOS setup, I could not find any options for EFI boot… Strange, I thought (even my 2012 P67 board has EFI bios). Another strange thing was the BIOS date, 2013… WTF ?

Then I’ve checked the board model. It was an Asus board, but it was a 2013 (!!!) model, based on an ancient AMD 7 series chipset… Are you kidding me ? AMD 7 series chipset board ON A NEW PC ? That chipset is on legacy support mode already…

That means: no USB 3.0, no SATA 6.0, no PCI-E 3.0 and not even a UEFI BIOS…

 

And the vendor even managed to put a 500 euro price tag on that system. For extra 100 euros, the owner could have purchased a modern system with a last generation i5, 8GB RAM and a Geforce 950 GPU.

I do know that the computer shop which built that system is known to cheap out on parts on prebuilt systems (a Codegen PSU for example, is a common sight), but I really did not expect this… Using an old mainboard on a new PC ? Where did they even find that board ? Had it in unsold inventory pile ?

But let’s return to the EFI part. Since the system had no EFI BIOS, I had to convert my image to legacy boot. Fortunately this is doable easily. For those interested, here’s how it’s done:

1. Deploy your EFI system image as usual (I used Paragon HDM for creating and deploying images, but any other imaging tool will do).

2. Convert GPT partition table to MBR.

3. Delete EFI partitions: usually, there will be 3 of them: Recovery, EFI and Service. After deleting, resize OS partition to fill the empty space.

4. Mark OS partition as active (this is important for legacy MBR boot).

5. Boot from Windows 10 installation media (a DVD or USB flash drive will do), choose the Repair option.

6. Enter the following commands:

bootrec /fixmbr
bootrec /fixboot
bootrec /rebuildbcd

Then reboot. The system should now boot using legacy mode.

 

New year (with rant…)

Another year of our existence has passed. Was it a good year or a bad one – you decide. Let’s hope the next year will be better than the previous one. But I think every year should have it’s dose of good things and bad things. That’s what makes life interesting.

Happy 2016 everyone !

 

Now, the actual news.

I normally would never write bad things in a new years post, but this year, I’ll make an exception.

My G751JY suprised me this Christmas… by dropping dead. No boot, just 1 minute of fan humming and then automatic poweroff. Tried removing all parts I could access by removing the bottom cover – didn’t help (didn’t want to go further to avoid losing warranty). BIOS recovery didn’t help either. I suspect it’s a mainboard failure.

I had this lappy for only 3 months and it died… Dammit ASUS, I really expected better build quality from a high-end laptop costing 1.7K €!!! I RMA’ed the lappy and waiting for it to be repaired.

Didn’t even have the chance to test my new SM951. I did ask the service center to make sure the replacement board has the M.2 slot (I know some later G751JY models lack it). I’d really hate to have to return my SM951 due to lack of a slot.

Now I’m thinking about buying a warranty extension. This lappy costs 1.7K € and only has a 2 year warranty. I definitely would NOT want to trash that system after only 2 years !

 

Christmas upgrades

I have purchased a version of Asus G751JY (T7370H) laptop back in September. A really nice system, with specs comparable to my desktop.

Unfortunately, the T7370H variant is a stripped down version which only has 8GB RAM and lacks the PCI-E SSD (only 1TB HDD, fortunately, the M.2 slot is still there). I had been using a Samsung Evo 850 120 GB SSD for some time, and, while it’s fast, it’s too small for my needs.

I’ve found an SSD which would be perfect for this laptop – Samsung SM951 M.2 SSD. The SM951 is a direct successor of  XP941 SSD which is included in some G751JY models. I’ve bought the 256 GB AHCI version for about 190 €. While the SM951 is almost twice as expensive as SATA SSDs of comparable size (I could’ve bought a 512 GB SATA SSD for the same price), it’s also several times faster.

I’ve also bought an additional 8 GB stick of RAM, as I like to run VMs and stock 8 GB is a little smallish for me.

 

Now, the fun stuff…

There’s a small problem: G751JY’s M.2 slot is blocked by the SATA 3 bay, where my 120 GB 850 is currently installed. Some members from ROG forums have found a way of using both M.2 and SATA SSDs by installing the SATA SSD without it’s 2.5″ case. But this would void the SSDs warranty.

You say: why not just install the SATA SSD in the second bay (G751JY has 2 HDD bays) ? Well, the second bay is only SATA 2 (Hard-wired. I’ve even tried enabling SATA 3 by modding the BIOS – didn’t work), so the SSD would be capped to about a half of it’s normal speed – not good enough for me.

Why did Asus chose to limit the second port to SATA 2 (the chipset itself is capable of 4 SATA 3 ports) is a mystery to me.

I haven’t decided yet whether I will keep my 120GB 850  or sell it.

Will update this post later.

Hardware horror.

Bad news from hardware front.

1. One of my hard drives connected to my router NAS (Asus RT-N66U based) had failed. Fortunately, there wasn’t any important data on that drive, and the drive itself already had problems (like not spinning up properly or suddenly disappearing from the system), so failure wasn’t exactly unexpected.

2. The screen of my tablet, Asus T100TA, somehow got cracked (yes, just like my previous tablet, the TF300T) and this, of course, killed the touch digitizer. The repairs will cost me about 160 €. That’s less that buying an used tablet, so I’ve decided to repair mine instead of replacing.

There are some good news also:

I’ve bought a network controlled power socket, the Aviosys IP Power 9255 – Single Port Remote Power Switch.

This little device (which is most likely just a small embedded Linux computer, controlling a relay) will allow me to power cycle the server remotely in case if it crashes again. The device is not cheap (125  €), but, since my server runs public services used by others, I want to avoid downtime as much as possible.

That’s all for now.

No new years post this year…

My current interest is Asus T100TA Windows 8 tablet. More precisely: newer Z3775 powered version with a 500GB HDD inside keyboard dock and 32 GB internal (couldn’t find a 64 GB version).
A very nice and very capable piece of hardware with only one problem: Windows 8
While Windows 8 runs very nicely on this tablet (except for buggy Broadcom Wifi/Bluetooth drivers) there aren’t many good touch friendly apps available for it.

Windows Store you say ?
Most of my favorite apps aren’t there. And there are only about 200K Apps in Windows Store. The competitors Google Play and App Store have about 1.4 million (according to Wikipedia).

That’s where Android x86 comes to the rescue.
I won’t go into details of porting (that would require several posts) and just tell you that I’ve built a version of Android x86 4.4.4 KitKat which works on T100TA.
Not everything works yet (bluetooth, rotation, camera), but otherwise Android is fast and runs quite well on T100TA.

You can download my T100TA0 Android build, as well as some development files, from here:
http://raspis.ddscentral.org/pub/downloads/android-x86/

P.S. If you wonder about my old TF300T’s fate, I accidentally dropped it and damaged the touch digitizer… This requires a screen replacement and isn’t worth fixing as the new screen would cost as much as a new tablet. There’s another TF300T in my family. It isn’t mine, but I’m allowed to use it if I need to. It runs KitKat Cyanogenmod. Didn’t install Ubuntu there yet.

2014

2014. Another year of our existence.

I know, I should have posted this more than a month ago, but I guess now is better than never.

There have been some changes since I last posted. I’ll mention a few:

I upgraded my system with a new GPU, the R9 290x. Great GPU except for cooling. Have to ramp up the fan to get acceptable temperatures under load.

Another thing worth mentioning is my experiments with Ubuntu on ARM processor (no, not Ubuntu Touch, but the full desktop version).

The target system is my Asus TF300T.

Here’s the story.

———

If I haven’t mentioned previously, I’ve bought a convertible tablet, the Asus TF300T with Android 4.1 some time ago. It ran OK, but the keyboard dock was not of much use in Android (except for being a great alternative to onscreen keyboard) as not many apps have support for the keyboard dock, let alone the touchpad.

I’ve deciced that this little machine needs a OS which can truly make use of the keyboard dock.

At first, I have tried an easy solution: Ubuntu in a chroot container on top of Android with VNC for UI. This solution worked, but it was REALLY SLOW, even with a quad core Tegra 3.

Then I found out that Nvidia does provide Tegra 2/3 drivers for normal Linux distros. So I have started searching, maybe someone already got native desktop Linux to run on TF300T.

And indeed, I did find a working port of Xubuntu 12.10 on XDA. It was for TF300TG, but I got it to work on my TF300T with some tweaking (mainly, to get Bluetooth and Audio working).

Later, my TF300T went through 2 Ubuntu upgrades and some kernel rebuilds (mainly to add more drivers, but I’ve also applied the kernel patch to enable running of some Windows RT programs).

It now runs Ubuntu 13.10 (with MATE for desktop) from a 32GB SD card in the keyboard dock. The system runs fast enough for internet browsing and some light work. It’s not as fast as a fully fledged laptop, but It’s good enough as a netbook.
Batteries last for about 8 hours, sometimes shorter, depending on use.
There’s also a hardware video decoder for playing videos without using CPU for decoding but it only works with old versions of Totem and Parole media players and it’s not perfect with these programs either. There’s also a command line based Nvgstplayer from Nvidia themselves, but it’s not easy to use and it’s not bug free either.

More details about my ARM adventures in the next post (can’t fit everything in a single post 🙂 )

Router update

I have recently replaced my TP-LINK (used as a temporary replacement for my old Linksys, which has met it’s demise) router with Asus RT-N66U and added a Gigabit switch to upgrade my home network to Gigabit.
RT-N66U is a really decent router. It’s OF (called AsusWrt) seems to be based on Tomato and is open source. The OF also supports Optware OOB (uses Oleg feed) and can install apps directly from WebUI.
Another great feature is Telnet access, which enables to directly control the underlying Linux OS without using the WebUI (most routers do not have this feature, even though they run Linux as their OS).
I am currently using a slightly modified version of OF, which enables some nice features, like a writable flash partition (separate 13MB JFFS partition), startup applications, etc.
Since this router has enough power to run both my routing and my network apps (BT, Samba, etc.), I have retired my custom modded Belkin modem-router (which ran a modified version of DD-WRT) and moved all my network apps to RT-N66U.

Although the Web UI is nice, I have setup most of my apps from Linux terminal because I needed a greater degree of customization than that offered by the web interface.
Using a terminal allows you to customize all configurations directly and allows you to do more than just routing and running network apps. I have even installed Debian’s MIPS port (in chroot) which, with it’s wast collection of apps, offers endless possibilities (heck, I can even install gcc and build apps from source directly on the router).
I have even tried TightVNC with LXDE desktop ! (Just for fun. The desktop is pretty slow though, too slow for anything more than playing solitaire and light web browsing).

On the hardware side, the WiFi range is also great, much better than I expected. 5Ghz WiFi is nice too (especially combined with my 5Ghz capable Linksys AE3000 dongle), too bad it’s range is very short.
I also like 256MB RAM, dual radio WiFi (with three antennas) and onboard MicroSD slot (too bad it’s installed in a way that it cannot be used without voiding the warranty).

Technical specs of RT-N66U:
CPU: Broadcom BCM4706 @ 600 MHz MIPS
RAM: 256MB
LAN: 4xGigabit LAN, 1xGigabit WAN
WLAN: 2x Broadcom BCM4733, 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz capable.
USB: 2x USB 2.0
Storage: 32MB onboard flash, internal MicroSD card slot.

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