Archive for February, 2011


A great (and affordable) MacBook Air Sleeve

My new MacBook Air sleeve arrived today from ebay:

Leather envelope sleeve for the MacBook Air


MacBook Air and envelope sleeve
The MacBook Air safely tucked away

It was $5 plus $6.50 shipping.  I’d have happily paid double or triple that if I’d been able to find something locally.  The only downside is that it took about a month to deliver.  Still, not bad coming all the way from China.


SSDs: A great upgrade for any laptop

One of my favourite things about the now-ancient Asus EeePC 701 was the tiny 4GB SSD that it shipped with.  It meant that the EeePC could be completely silent – something that I think is underrated in general.

Now, I’m fussy about system noise, I realize this.  But if you haven’t used a completely silent computer, you owe it to yourself to try.  They are a joy to use.  Maybe it’s just the amount of time I spend in our noisy server room at work, but I find the noise (if any) of a computer to be absolutely key to how much I enjoy using it.

My HP 2710p sold me on the value of SSDs.  Here’s a computer with pretty low-end specs:  Core 2 Duo at 1.2GHz, 1.8″ PATA 4200 RPM drive, nothing special.  Add an SSD into the mix and suddenly you have a much faster – and silent machine.  The end result:  The HP 2710p is pretty much still my favourite all-around PC.

The MacBook Air, though, was what really sold me on the idea.  Again, this machine is now great shakes spec-wise:  1.4GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB of RAM.  Still, with the super-fast SSD that Apple ships with, the machine just flies.  In day-to-day use, I find the little MacBook Air to be faster than both a current-model 13″ MacBook Pro and an older 15″ MacBook Pro, both of which have better CPUs and more RAM.

Now I have added SSDs to my old HP Mini-Note 2133 and my ancient but still-mighty IBM ThinkPad R50p.  The R50p, off the assembly line in April 2004, is worth keeping around because it has a 15″ 1600×1200 IPS screen.  This makes it perfect for print production.  The 5400RPM drive in it has now been replaced with a KingSpec 64GB PATA SSD and already the machine is faster, and silent under light load.

If you’re not convinced that the upgrade to an SSD is worthwhile and need the space of traditional drives, the Seagate Momentus XT line is an interesting option:  They pair a 500GB SATA drive with a 4GB SSD buffer.  The result is performance approaching that of an SSD but with a standard HD capacity, all at only about $40 more than a traditional 500GB SATA drive.  If hard drive noise doesn’t bother you, this is a great upgrade.


Since they asked… My survey submission to Seagate

At work we have a boatload of Seagate ST3500320AS drives. They’re all failing. On a recent RMA submission of 4, and then 6 such drives, Seagate asked me for my feedback. Here it is:

Every one of our approximately 100 Seagate 500GB SATA drives appear to be failing.  Of the approximately 20 drives that I have RMAd, about 5 have already failed a second time.  Due to the sensitive nature of the data on some of these drives, I am forced to destroy them rather than RMA them a first or second time.

This not only causes major work disruptions, but it has left me with no confidence in the AS line of drives, or in Seagate’s RMA returns.  I still buy Seagate NS series drives (one of which I have just RMAd) and Seagate’s XT line of laptop drives, but overall I am now having to move to other brands of replacement drives, just to ensure that I don’t interrupt peoples work twice.

Seagate has not handled these failures well, and I am now moving to WD or Hitachi drives in workstation machines.

On the positive side, I was quite impressed with my recent telephone experience with Seagate.  Your drives may be failing repeatedly at alarmingly high rates but at least your service people are nice and competent.

Ben Hall
School of Computing
Queen’s University

Do yourself a favour, don’t buy Seagate 3.5″ AS-series SATA drives.  As alternatives, I’ve been buying WD Blue or Black series for the same price.  I’m also very impressed with Seagate 2.5″ Momentus XT drives.  These platter/SSD hybrid drives are very fast and quite reasonably priced.  I have 4 now, all are performing well.  Of course, so were these AS-series drives for the first year or two…


Living with Lucid: Monochrome Dropbox icons

Here’s a quick little one:  If you’ve upgraded to Dropbox 1.0.10 or newer, you can download and use monochrome icons.  The .deb package is available here.


Living with Lucid: HP 2133 Lucid Setup

I have an HP Mini-Note 2133. Despite the flaws, I really like this little netbook. In yet another vain attempt at making it fast enough to do the job of a machine with a decent CPU, I have added a screaming SSD to the machine. (What the heck, it worked for the MacBook Air, right?)

Well, the SSD isn’t all that I’d hoped, but it did give me the opportunity to go over what is involved in setting the 2133 up with Ubuntu 10.04:

  1. Install Ubuntu.  (I chose the Netbook release)
  2. Patch it completely, using wired LAN for the network; reboot
  3. Activate the restricted Broadcom STA drivers; reboot
  4. Download and install the closed Via drivers found here
  5. Before rebooting, download this xorg.conf file
  6. sudo cp 2133.xorg.conf /etc/x11/xorg.conf
  7. Now you can reboot and X11 will start with some degree of acceleration.

That’s pretty much it.  Any way you dress it up, this is still a 1.2GHz Via C7 CPU with a dog-slow S3 GPU.  The SSD helps quite a bit but there’s just no getting around the specs.  MacBook Air, this ain’t.  Still, it’s a lovely keyboard.  Sure the 1280×768 display is too small for a 8.9″ screen but I’m the one that normally likes high ppi.  Serves me rice for supper.