Saturday 27 November 2010

Frustation with a non-jailbreak iPhone

I upgraded my iPhone 3GS to iOS 4.2.1 following the day it was released last week. In my previous post, I mentioned how I jailbroke the iPhone 3GS and what my opinion was about the whole jailbreak process. During the few months of using the jailbroken iPhone, I found the whole experience lot positive than expected, contrary to what I wrote in my last post. Most importantly, Cydia worked seamlessly without a hitch. I also found a few apps that weren't on the native iPhone Appstore that were very good. One of them is TVOut. TVOut is an app that allows anything on the iPhone to be displayed onto a TV screen via a component cable. It just needn't be the videos on Youtube or the photographs/videos on your iPhone.

I personally feel  TVOut app needs to make its way onto the Appstore. Period. I don't mind if it is a paid app. I would gladly pay to use it. TVOut gave me the freedom to connect my iPhone to a TV and watch the output from apps like TVU player, Skyfire and MXTube to name a few.

With the upgrade to iOS 4.2.1, I lost the jailbreak apps and with it the option to connect the iPhone to a TV. It is one of those frustations I need to endure with a non-jailbreak iPhone. 

Saturday 21 August 2010

To Jailbreak iPhone or not to?

This thought went through my mind many a times since June this year, when my iPhone 3GS's 1 year warranty expired. My son has a iPod Touch, which he jailbroke (still within its 1 year warranty period), for reasons only a teenager can understand. One thing that caught my eye was he could change the themes on the iPod Touch. He was also excited that flash could be played on iPod. As the internet has a lot of content using flash, I thought maybe the time has come to jailbreak my iPhone. 

Using the Jailbreakme website is probably the easiest way to jailbreak an iPhone. The experience of jailbreak process itself is virtually painless. However, be warned that a jailbroken iPhone may  not be beneficial for those who use their iPhone for nothing more than checking e-mails, browsing internet, playing games, listening to the iPod or taking occasional pictures or videos. 

My experience of using a jailbroken iPhone is not very positive. Though changing themes is a doodle, but getting flash (or frash) to work on iPhone is still a hit or a miss. Most of the apps on Cydia and Rock are paid, thus, I don't see a compelling reason for jailbreaking. My personal feeling is people jailbreak their iPhone/iPods for kicks and probably, it gives them the sense of freedom to try stuff that one might not be able to do with the unjailbroken iPhone.   

Monday 7 June 2010

Ubuntu no longer endearing !!!

I have been using Ubuntu (Debian based Operating System) for the past five years or so. In the past, I had problems with things like Audio not working, finding drivers for the hardware, etc. and inevitably the solution was just a click away. Ubuntu forums provide workable solutions for most problems and they probably are the reason behind why this particular variant of Linux Operating System is very successful and appealing to a user like me. Based on my experience with Ubuntu in the past, I introduced my two children to Ubuntu. However, off-late things haven’t been smooth sailing at all with Ubuntu. 

The first problem cropped with the wi-fi card on my HTPC. When I built my HTPC (mini PC), I wasn’t successful in getting the wi-fi card (model VIA VT6656) to work on Ubuntu. I tried various solutions and had to ultimately give up. I am now using a D-Link wi-fi adapter. My second major problem cropped up following the installation of Lucid Lynx (Ubuntu 10.04 LTS). The HDMI audio has stopped working following the recent Kernel Upgrade. Like in the past, I tried various solutions from the Ubuntu Forums to no avail. I even did a clean install of the operating system and the audio doesn’t work. Now comes the question, why should a basic feature like an audio (which is quintessential to any operating system), fail after an Operating System upgrade. Though Ubuntu Lucid Lynx works well on my other computers, the problems I am facing on my HTPC are making me give a serious look at whether to continue using Ubuntu or not.

Monday 17 May 2010

Upgrading from Ubuntu's Karmic Koala to Lucid Lynx on MacBook

I had Ubuntu's Karmic Koala installed as a triple boot option on my MacBook. Following the release of Lucid Lynx (Ubuntu 10.04 LTS), I promptly upgraded using the Alternate Install CD. Though the upgrade was fairly smooth there were a few glitches. The things that didn't work out of the box were Awn (Avant Window Navigator), Screenlets and wicd. To make Awn work, I had to enable the Compiz Visual Effects, which was set to None by default. For this you have to go to System>Preferences>Appearance and then to go to Visual Effects and switch to Normal or Extra. For Screenlets to work I had to reinstall them. In case of wicd, it was a simple case of uninstalling the default Gnome Network Manager and installing wicd. 

Here is a screenshot of Ubuntu's Lucid Lynx on MacBook in all its glory....

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Ultimate Video Converter

The proverb "Necessity is the mother of invention", is quite apt for what I intend to write about in this post.

My son has a Sansa E200 MP3 player, which can play only a few restricted video formats. There are multitude of video converters on the internet. The only downside is most of the good ones aren't FREE.

He is learning Visual Basic Programming and he thought why not write a program using Visual Basic to build a Video Converter that best suits his needs. So he diligently wrote a program titled "Ultimate Video Converter", which converts videos from the most common file formats like avi, mp4, wmv, divx to a compatible file format usable by both portable and PC/laptop based multimedia players. The results of this personal project are quite commendable. Here is the link to his Ultimate Video Converter home page (Click Here) on Sourceforge. His effort has been commended by Softpedia and his program now finds a place on their Website.

From a personal perspective, I did a bit of testing, wherein I converted a High Definition wmv file to mp4 file to play on my iPhone and was impressed with the results. There is absolutely no noticeable difference in quality in the two file formats. As Steve Jobs said in his presentation whilst unveiling the iPad, "It just works".

Any suggestions on improving the program are most welcome, which I will pass on to my son.

Here is a video of the program "Ultimate Video Converter" in operation.

Sunday 14 March 2010

How to build a mini PC?

For the past month or two, I spent on planning and building my first Mini PC. It wasn’t smooth sailing by any means, though the only hiccup I had was to do with the motherboard, which needed replacement because of graphics artefacts.

At home, we have a desktop PC, an old laptop and a MacBook. Two questions might immediately come to one's mind. Why do I need a Mini PC and what are the reasons behind wanting to build one? Here is why?

I needed a PC in my living room for the simple reason that there is so much multimedia content on the internet (like movies, Youtube, BBC iPlayer, Hulu ...), which are better off watching on a larger screen in the comfort of a sofa, rather than watching on a desktop PC or even a laptop. Spending hours in front of a PC to watch movies doesn’t sound appealing, especially if it involves an entire family wanting to watch the same movie. Furthermore, I needed a device to record digital TV programs which could be edited and used for personal use. Though Sky+ is an alternative in the UK, it is not easy to transfer the recordings onto a PC.

Next comes the question, why build one? I initially was tempted to buy a Acer Revo R3610. It was costing around £250. However, reading buyers views, it became apparent that this machine with its small foot print wouldn't be able to deliver the graphics capability I was looking for. Furthermore, I wanted a device with a DVD-RW to play and record media content. I looked at few other alternatives and the one which caught my eye was Dell Zino HD. Though Dell Zino HD's spec looked great, its processor capability was below par. The buyers views weren't positive either. Even if I were to overlook its shortcomings, the device would cost a cool £530.

As it costs upward of £500 for a half decent mini PC, I thought I may as well build something that was more powerful, but cheaper. I looked around on the internet and found online store, which was selling various components needed to build a mini PC. It also gave suggestions on aspects like which cases would fit a particular mini-itx motherboard, etc,. Gleaning through the website, I found Zotac GF9300 I-E LGA 775 motherboard, which I felt was the perfect choice for building a mini PC, especially with its capability to deliver high-definition video playback. Here is a picture of the Motherboard, courtesy Zotac Website.

Taking further cues from the mini-itx website, I homed in on the following components for my mini PC:
Component Model
Manufacturer's Website
Mini-ITX Case
Jou Jye NU-528i-B Mini-ITX Chassis
Zotac GeForce® 9300-ITX WiFi
CCL Computers
Intel Q8300 Core2 Quad
Amazon UK
Crucial 2GB DDR2 800 PC6400 SDRAM
for Socket LGA775 Boards
BT Shop
Hard Drive
Seagate Momentus
500GB SATA 8mb Cache 2.5 inch Internal Hard Drive
Amazon UK
Optiarc (Sony/NEC) 8x Slimline Black
BT Shop
Keyboard and Mouse
Keysonic ACK-540RF Wireless Mini Keyboard with Built in Touchpad
BT Shop
Cable for DVD-RW
SATA / Serial ATA Combo Power Data
Amazon UK

It costed me approximately £490 to source the components. Let me remind that the above cost is minus the operating system. If one were to go with a free operating system like Linux, then that is the price one would have to shelve out to build a mini-ITX PC with above build. The above build is as good as one could expect in the small foot print of a mini-ITX with a LGA775 board.

Now let's come to the actual build process itself.

Order the components as suggested above. It is likely that you could source the components from just one seller like Scan Computers, to optimize the price.

Things you need:
  1. A mini Screwdriver set (non magnetic type) 
  2. Anti-static wrist strap 
  3. Clean rubber gloves 
The steps for building the mini PC are:

Step 1:
Find a large enough desk with plenty of room around it to build the mini-ITX PC. Ensure that there is sufficient light over the table. Put on your Anti-static wrist strap.

Step 2:
Prepare the case. Jou-Jye website contains instructions for Standard Assembly which are quite useful on how to prepare the case. Ensure that all the components in the case, except the in-built PSU are removed. This includes the I/O plate at the back and the front panel cover. Put the I/O plate supplied by the motherboard in the case. Place the case aside for the moment.

Step 3:
Take out the Zotac Motherboard and place it on the Anti Static bag it comes with. Now take out the Intel Processor from its box and by following the instructions on the Intel website place it on the motherboard in its designated location. Take care not to touch the gold contacts on the bottom side. Retain the protective covering from the load plate, in case you need to take the processor out in the future. Screw the Wifi card onto the motherboard.

Step 4:
Place the Zotac Motherboard into the case and screw it. Jou Jye case is quite a compact case and could take some dexterity to place the motherboard. Punch holes on the I/O Plate need to be removed to enable the Wifi kit to fit in. Once in place, screw in the Wifi aerial.

Step 5:
Following the instructions on the Intel website mentioned above in Step 3 and place the fan onto the processor. Take care to place the fan in a manner that the plastic tab holding the power cable doesn't face the GPU cooler. The experience from other users is, this may lead to heating of the plastic tab causing abnormal rise in the GPU temperature.

Placing the fan correctly is the second most important step (after placing the processor) in the process of building a mini PC. Improper alignment of the fan could lead to rapid increase in processor temperatures, which could eventually cause failure. Once the fan is slotted in twist and turn to see whether the fan is secured properly. If properly secured, it is possible to remove and place the motherboard with the fan, in case any problem arises in the future.

Step 6:
Slot in the Memory module onto the motherboard, taking care not to force it in. The retainer clips will give a click sound once it is slotted in properly.

Step 7:
Screw the Slimline DVD-RW and Hard Drive onto the support plates, using the Standard Assembly instructions mentioned in Step 2. Do not screw them just yet onto the case.

Step 8:
Now connect the power connectors to the motherboard. This includes the 20+4 ATX power connector to supply power to the motherboard, 4 pin ATX 12V Power connector to supply power to the processor and the CPU fan connector to supply power to the fan. Also connect the Wifi card to the USB connector. Following the instructions in the Zotac manual to make connections to the Front Panel header. This includes, Power switch, Power LED, HDD LED and Speaker header. Also connect the AC97 front audio header.

Step 9:
You are now almost on the home stretch. Connect the SATA/Serial ATA Combo Power Data Cable Molex end to the Molex connector. Connect the SATA end of the cable to the 2nd SATA connector, leaving the first one for the Hard Drive. Using the SATA cable provided with the Motherboard connect one end to the 1st SATA connector. Place the plate for supporting the DVD-RW and Hard Drive. Now slowly place the DVD-RW and Hard Drive Support Plate into the Case. Screw them securely.

Step 10:
Connect the other end of SATA connector of the 1st SATA into the Hard Drive. Next connect the power supply to the Hard Disk. Also connect the Combo Power Data Cable into the DVD-RW. It is advisable to remove the front panel of the Slimline DVD-RW while putting in the case. Once the whole thing is in place, put the top cover of the case and screw it. Put the front panel for the Slimline DVD-RW. Finally, place the front panel for the case. You are now ready to power the mini PC.

If things are followed as per the instructions above, you will once powered and connected to the LCD TV via a HDMI cable, you will see the ZOTAC POST. Enter the BIOS settings and change the Boot order to let the DVD-RW to be the primary Boot device. Save and exit.

You PC is now ready for OS installation.

I am really happy with this build of the mini PC. At the end of it all it gives immense satisfaction to see the thing work like a treat.

Here are a few pictures of the completely Assembled system.

The Windows Experience Index of the system in Windows 7 is 4.6, which is quite creditable for a mini PC.
The temperatures of the CPU and the GPU are as follows:

The chart shows that the temperatures are quite ok, indicating that the air flow through the case is good.

Lessons Learnt:
How much ever planning you do, there will still be something unexpected that could happen. The motherboard I got was faulty. When I tried to install the operating system (Windows 7 and Ubuntu Karmic), the graphics froze on more than a few occasions. I spent atleast a week troubleshooting. My two children, who were keenly following the progress of the build process were on the verge of giving up the whole thing. The various forums I went onto were of little help. Ultimately, Zotac support informed that the problem could be due to graphics artefacts. I sent back the Motherboard to CCL computers, who promptly replaced it with a new motherboard, which, touchwood is still working.

One thing that came up on the forums was 220W PSU may not be sufficient. Though Intel Q8300 Core2 Quad processor power consumption is a touch on the higher side, I can now say for sure that 220W is more than adequate for a similar build mini PC.

While reinstalling the processor and the fan, it is likely that the thermal interface material (TIM) on the bottom of the fan would be inadequate for a second use. I called up Intel support to get the thermal interface material for free. I followed the instructions on the Intel website on how to clean the existing TIM and reapply it.

Friday 1 January 2010

Do we need Surge Protection for Computers?

Couple of weeks back the unthinkable happened. Whilst my son was  working on the Desktop PC, there was a power surge and the hard disk electronics got fried, essentially rendering the hard disk unusable (unless you have the money and time to recover the data). Luckily, I backed up the two resident Windows operating systems (XP and 7) on the disk a day before, which made the task of reinstating them a bit easier. But I lost the music files stored on another partition, which I didn't backup.

Now comes the question, do we need Surge Protection for Computers? I didn't think about this question until I lost the hard disk. I also discovered that it is not cheap to recover data from a failed hard disk, especially if it is to do with its electronics. The cost would run into hundreds of pounds (in excess of £400).

A typical Belkin Surge Protector costs upward of £20. I recommend anyone with a desktop computer to invest in a Surge Protector, as it would save the agony of replacing a hard disk (which costs about £60 for 1 TB and £85 for 1.5 TB)  if one doesn't have the habit of backing up their hard disk regularly and there is power surge (a rare occurence, in countries like UK).

As fate had it that day, I only lost a hard disk. It could have been lot worse.

Now comes the next question, do we need to backup our hard disks regularly? I would say atleast a monthly backup (if not weekly backup) is an absolute must, if one does not want to loose their life time work stored on their computers.