15th August 2021
One should not do a new PC build in the middle of a heatwave if you do not want to be concerned about how fast fans are spinning and how hot things are getting. Yet, that is what I did last month after delaying the act for numerous months.
My efforts mean that I have a system built around an AMD Ryzen 9 5950X CPU and a Gigabyte X570 Aorus Pro with 64 GB of memory and things are settling down after the initial upheaval. That also meant some adjustments to the CPU fan profile in the BIOS for quieter running while the the use of Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 cooler also helps as does a Be Quiet! Silent Wings 3 case fan. All are components from trusted brands though I wonder how much abuse they got during their installation and subsequent running in.
Fan noise is a non-quantitative indicator of heat levels as much as touch so more quantitative means are in order. Aside from using a thermocouple device, there are in-built sensors too. My using Linux Mint means that I have the sensors command from the lm-sensors package for checking on CPU and other temperatures though hddtemp is what you need for checking on the same for hard drives. The latter can be used as follows:
sudo hddtemp /dev/sda /dev/sdb
This has to happen using administrator access and a list of drives needs to be provided because it cannot find them by itself. In my case, I have no mechanical hard drives installed in non-NAS systems and I even got to replacing a 6 TB Western Digital Green disk with an 8 TB SSD but I got the following when I tried checking on things with hddtemp:
WARNING: Drive /dev/sda doesn't seem to have a temperature sensor.
WARNING: This doesn't mean it hasn't got one.
WARNING: If you are sure it has one, please contact me ([email protected]).
WARNING: See --help, --debug and --drivebase options.
/dev/sda: Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB: no sensor
The cause of the message for me was that there is no entry for Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB in /etc/hddtemp.db so that needed to be added there. Before that could be rectified, I needed to get some additional information using smartmontools and these needed to be installed using the following command:
sudo apt-get install smartmontools
What I needed to do was check the drive’s SMART data output for extra information and that was achieved using the following command:
sudo smartctl /dev/sda -a | grep -i Temp
What this does is to look for the temperature information from smartctl output using the grep command with output from the first being passed to the second through a pipe. This yielded the following:
190 Airflow_Temperature_Cel 0x0032 072 050 000 Old_age Always - 28
The first number in the above (190) is the thermal sensor’s attribute identifier and that was needed in what got added to /etc/hddtemp.db. The following command added the necessary data to the aforementioned file:
echo \"Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB\" 190 C \"Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB\" | sudo tee -a /etc/hddtemp.db
Here, the output of the echo command was passed to the tee command for adding to the end of the file. In the echo command output, the first part is the name of the drive, the second is the heat sensor identifier, the third is the temperature scale (C for Celsius or F for Fahrenheit) and the last part is the label (it can be anything that you like but I kept it the same as the name). On re-running the hddtemp command, I got output like the following so all was as I needed it to be.
/dev/sda: Samsung SSD 870 QVO 8TB: 28°C
Since then, temperatures may have cooled and the weather become more like what we usually get but I am still keeping an eye on things, especially when the system is put under load using Perl, R, Python or SAS. There may be further modifications such as changing the case or even adding water cooling, not least to have a cooler power supply unit, but nothing is being rushed as I monitor things to my satisfaction.
11th August 2018
Recently, I felt the need to reduce the brightness of my monitor but did not persuade the hardware buttons to do the job so I started wondering about other means and found that the xrandr command did the trick. The first step was to find out what my display was being called so I executed the following command to retrieve the information using the -q query switch:
xrandr -q | grep " connected"
The output from this looked like this:
DVI-D-0 connected primary 1920x1080+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 521mm x 293mm
My device name appeared as the first block of characters in the above so I plugged that into the second command below to achieve the desired adjustment.
xrandr --output DVI-D-0 --brightness 0.9
Any value between 0.0 and 1.0 is acceptable but I went with 0.9 for 90% brightness. The required dimming and brightening then is only a command away.
15th November 2013
With the release of Windows 8 around this time last year, I thought that the full retail version that some of us got for fresh installations on PC’s, real or virtual, had become a thing of the past. In fact, it did seem that every respecting technology news website and magazine was saying just that. The release that you would buy from Microsft or from mainstream computer stores was labelled as an upgrade. That made it look as if you needed the OEM or System Builder edition for those PC’s that needed a new Windows installation and that the licence that you bought was then attached to the machine from when it got installed on there.
As is usual with Microsoft, the situation is less clear cut than that. For instance, there was some back-pedalling to allow OEM editions of Windows to be licensed for personal use on real or virtual PC’s. With Windows & and its predecessors, it even was possible to be able to install afresh on a PC without Windows by first installing on inactivated copy on there and then upgrading that as if it was a previous version of Windows. Of course, an actual licence was of the previous version of Windows was needed for full compliance if not the actual installation. At times, Microsoft muddies waters so as to keep its support costs down.
Even with Microsoft’s track record in mind, it still did surprise me when I noticed that Amazon was selling what appeared to be full versions of both Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro. Having set up a 64-bit VirtualBox virtual machine for Windows 8.1, I got to discovering the same for software purchased from the Microsoft web site. However, unlike the DVD versions, you do need an active Windows installation if you fancy a same day installation of the downloaded software. For those without Windows on a machine, this can be as simple as downloading either the 32-bit or the 64-bit 90 day evaluation editions of Windows 8.1 Enterprise and using that as a springboard for the next steps. This not only be an actual in-situ installation but there options to create an ISO or USB image of the installation disk for later installation.
In my case, I created a 64-bit ISO image and used that to reboot the virtual machine that had Windows 8.1 Enterprise on there before continuing with the installation. By all appearances, there seemed to be little need for a pre-existing Windows instance for it to work so it looks as if upgrades have fallen by the wayside and only full editions of Windows 8.1 are available now. The OEM version saves money so long as you are happy to stick with just one machine and most users probably will do that. As for the portability of the full retail version, that is not something that I have tested and I am unsure that I will go beyond what I have done already.
My main machine has seen a change of motherboard, CPU and memory so it could have de-activated a pre-existing Windows licence. However, I run Linux as my main operating system and, apart possibly from one surmountable hiccup, this proves surprisingly resilient in the face of such major system changes. For running Windows, I turn to virtual machines and there were no messages about licence activation during the changeover either. Microsoft is anything but confiding when it comes to declaring what hardware changes inactivate a licence. Changing a virtual machine from VirtualBox to VMware or vice versa definitely so does it so I tend to avoid doing that. One item that is fundamental to either a virtual or a real PC is the mainboard and I have seen suggestions that this is the critical component for Windows licence activation and it would make sense if that was the case.
However, this rule is not hard and fast either since there appears to be room for manoeuvre should your PC break. It might be worth calling Microsoft after a motherboard replacement to see if they can help you and I have seen that it is. All in all, Microsoft often makes what appear to be simple rules only to override them when faced with what happens in the real world. Is that why they can be unclear about some matters at times? Do they still hanker after how they want things to be even when they are impossible to keep like that?
16th June 2013
Not being a gaming enthusiast, having to upgrade graphics cards in PC’s is not something that I do very often or even rate as a priority. However, two PC’s in my possession have had that very piece of hardware upgraded on them and it’s not because anything was broken either. My backup machine has seen quite a few Linux distros on there since I built it nearly four years ago. The motherboard is an ASRock K10N78 that sourced from MicroDirect and it has onboard an NVIDIA graphics chip that has performed well if not spectacularly. One glitch that always existed was a less than optimal text rendering in web browsers but that never was enough to get me to add a graphics card to the machine.
More recently, I ran into trouble with Sabayon 13.04 with only the 2D variant of the Cinnamon desktop environment working on it and things getting totally non-functional when a full re-installation of the GNOME edition was attempted. Everything went fine until I added the latest updates to the system when a reboot revealed that it was impossible to boot into a desktop environment. Some will relish this as a challenge but I need to admit that I am not one of those. In fact, I tried out two Arch-based distros on the same PC and got the same results following a system update on each. So, my explorations of Antergos and Manjaro have to continue in virtual machines instead.
To get a working system, I gave Linux Mint 15 Cinnamon a go and that worked a treat. However, I couldn’t ignore that the cutting edge distros that I tried before it all took exception to the onboard NVIDIA graphics. systemd has been implemented in all of these and it seems reasonable to think that it is coming to Linux Mint at some stage in the future so I went about getting a graphics card to add into the machine. Having had good experiences with ATi’s Radeon in the past, I stuck with it even though it now is in the hands of AMD. Not being that fussed so long there was Linux driver support, I picked up a Radeon HD 6450 card from PC World. Adding it into the PC was a simpler of switching off the machine, slotting in the card, closing it up and powering it on again. Only later on did I set the BIOS to look for PCI Express graphics before anything else and I could have got away without doing that. Then, I made use of the Linux Mint Additional Driver applet in its setting panel to add in the proprietary driver before restarting the machine to see if there were any visual benefits. To sort out the web browser font rendering, I used the Fonts applet in the same settings panel and selected full RGBA hinting. The improvement was unmissable if not still like the appearance of fonts on my main machine. Overall, there had been an improvement and a spot of future proofing too.
That tinkering with the standby machine got me wondering about what I had on my main PC. As well as onboard Radeon graphics, it also gained a Radeon 4650 card for which 3D support wasn’t being made available by Ubuntu GNOME 12.10 or 13.04 to VMware Player and it wasn’t happy about this when a virtual machine was set to have 3D support. Adding the latest fglrx driver only ensured that I got a command line instead of a graphical interface. Issuing one of the following commands and rebooting was the only remedy:
sudo apt-get remove fglrx
sudo apt-get remove fglrx-updates
Looking at the AMD website revealed that they no longer support 2000, 3000 or 4000 series Radeon cards with their latest Catalyst driver the last version that did not install on my machine since it was built for version 3.4.x of the Linux kernel. A new graphics card then was in order if I wanted 3D graphics in VWware VM’s and both GNOME and Cinnamon appear to need this capability. Another ASUS card, a Radeon HD 6670, duly was acquired and installed in a manner similar to the Radeon HD 6450 on the standby PC. Apart from not needing to alter the font rendering (there is a Font tab on Gnome Tweak Tool where this can be set), the only real exception was to add the Jockey software to my main PC for installation of the proprietary Radeon driver. The following command does this:
sudo apt-get install jockey-kde
When that was done I issue the jockey-kde command and selected the first entry on the list. The machine worked as it should on restarting apart from an AMD message at the bottom right hand corner bemoaning unrecognised hardware. There had been two entries on that Jockey list with exactly the same name so it was time to select the second of these and see how it went. On restarting, the incompatibility message had gone and all was well. VMware even started virtual machines with 3D support without any messages so the upgrade did the needful there.
Hearing of someone doing two PC graphics card upgrades in a weekend may make you see them as an enthusiast but my disinterest in computer gaming belies this. Maybe it highlights that Linux operating systems need 3D more than might be expected. The Cinnamon desktop environment now issues messages if it is operating in 2D mode with software 3D rendering and GNOME always had the tendency to fall back to classic mode, as it had been doing when Sabayon was installed on my standby PC. However, there remain cases where Linux can rejuvenate older hardware and I installed Lubuntu onto a machine with 10 year old technology on there (an 1100 MHz Athlon CPU, 1GB of RAM and 60GB of hard drive space in case dating from 1998) and it works surprisingly well too.
It seems that having fancier desktop environments like GNOME Shell and Cinnamon means having the hardware on which it could run. For a while, I have been tempted by the possibility of a new PC since even my main machine is not far from four years old either. However, I also spied a CPU, motherboard and RAM bundle featuring an Intel Core i5-4670 CPU, 8GB of Corsair Vengence Pro Blue memory and a Gigabyte Z87-HD3 ATX motherboard included as part of a pre-built bundle (with a heatsink and fan for the CPU) for around £420. Even for someone who has used AMD CPU’s since 1998, that does look tempting but I’ll hold off before making any such upgrade decisions. Apart from exercising sensible spending restraint, waiting for Linux UEFI support to mature a little more may be no bad idea either.
Update 2013-06-23: The new graphics card in my main machine is working as it should and has reduced the number of system error report messages turning up too; maybe Ubuntu GNOME 13.04 didn’t fancy the old graphics card all that much. A rogue .fonts.conf file was found in my home area on the standby machine and removing it has improved how fonts are displayed on there immeasurably. If you find one on your system, it’s worth doing the same or renaming it to see if it helps. Otherwise, tinkering with the font rendering settings is another beneficial act and it even helps on Debian 6 too and that uses GNOME 2! Seeing what happens on Debian 7.1 could be something that I go testing sometime.
16th March 2013
One of the disadvantages of my Google/Asus Nexus 7 is that it needs a Wi-Fi connection to use. Most of the time this is not a problem since I also have a Huawei mobile WiFi hub from T-Mobile and this seems to work just about anywhere in the U.K. Away from the U.K. though, it won’t work because roaming is not switched on for it and that may be no bad thing with the fees that could introduce. My HTC Desire S could deputise but I need to watch costs with that too.
There’s also the factor of download caps and those apply both to the Huawei and to the HTC. Recently, I added Anquet‘s Outdoor Map Navigator (OMN) to my Nexus 7 through the Google Play store for a fee of £7 and that allows access to any walking maps that I have bought from Anquet. However, those are large downloads so the caps start to come into play. Frugality would help but I began to look at other possibilities that make use of a laptop’s Wi-Fi functionality.
Looking on the web, I found two options for this that work on Windows 7 (8 should be OK too): Connectify Hotspot and Virtual Router Manager. The first of these is commercial software but there is a Lite edition for those wanting to try it out; that it is not a time limited demo is not something that I can confirm though that did not seem to be the case since it looked as if only features were missing from it that you’d get if you paid for the Pro variant. The second option is an open source one and is free of charge apart from an invitation to donate to the project.
Though online tutorials show the usage of either of these to be straightforward, my experiences were not all that positive at the outset. In fact, there was something that I needed to do and that is why this post has come to exist at all. That happened even after the restart that Conectify Hotspot needed as part of its installation; it runs as a system service so that’s why the restart was needed. In fact, it was Virtual Router Manager that told me what the issue was and it needed no reboot. Neither did it cause network disconnection of a laptop like the Connectify offering did on me and that was the cause of its ejection from that system; limitations in favour of its paid addition aside, it may have the snazzier interface but I’ll take effective simplicity any day.
Using Virtual Router Manager turns out to be simple enough. It needs a network name (also known as an SSID), a password to restrict who accesses the network and the internet connection to be shared. In my case, the was Local Area Connection on the drop down list. With all the required information entered, I was ready to start the router using the Start Network Router button. The text on this changes to Stop Network Router when the hub is operational or at least it should have done for me on the first time that I ran it. What I got instead was the following message:
The group or resource is not in the correct state to perform the requested operation.
The above may not say all that much but it becomes more than ample information if you enter it into the likes of Google. Behind the scenes, Virtual Router Manager is using native Windows functionality is create a WiFi hub from a PC and it appears to be the Microsoft Virtual Wi-Fi Miniport Adapter from what I have seen. When I tried setting up an adhoc Wi-Fi network from a laptop to the Nexus 7 using Windows’ own network set up capability via its Control Panel, it didn’t do what I needed so there might be something that third party software can do. So, the interesting thing about the solution to my Virtual Router Manager problem was that it needed me to delve into the innards of Windows a little.
Firstly, there’s running Command Prompt (All Programs > Accessories) from the Start Menu with Administrator privileges. It helps here if the account with which you log into Windows is in the Administrators group since all you have to do then is right click on the Start Menu entry and choose Run as administrator entry in the pop-up context menu. With a command line window now open, you then need to issue the following command:
netsh wlan set hostednetwork mode=allow ssid=[network name] key=[password] keyUsage=persistent
When that had done its thing, Virtual Router Manager worked without a hitch though it did turn itself after a while and that may be no bad thing from the security standpoint. On the Android side, it was a matter of going in Settings > Wi-Fi and choose the new network that have been creating on the laptop. This sort of thing may apply to other types of tablet (Dare I mention iPads?) so you could connect anything to the hub without needing to do any more on the Windows side.
For those wanting to know what’s going on behind the scenes on Windows, there’s a useful tutorial on Instructables that shows what third party software is saving you from having to do. Even if I never go down the more DIY route, I probably have saved myself having to buy a mobile Wi-Fi hub for any trips to Éire. For now, the Irish 3G dongle that I already have should be enough.
7th March 2013
My Epson Perfection 4490 Photo scanner has been in my possession for a while now and its impossible to justify any replacement given that it both works well and digital photography has taken over from its film predecessor for me. Every time I go installing an operating system afresh, I need to reinstate it again and last year’s installation of Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.04 only saw me do the deed recently. When I did so, it was brought back to me that I’d never gone and documented on here how this was done. Given that I sometimes use this place as a repository of stuff to which I need to refer again in the future, it seemed remiss of me so here it is for you all.
Though I had XSane and SimpleScan already installed on the system, Sane wasn’t on there so I went and added it and a few other extras using the following command:
sudo apt-get install sane sane-utils libsane-extras
Then, it was onto the Epson website for their Perfection 4490 Photo Linux drivers since Sane’s support for this scanner seemingly remains incomplete even though it pre-dates my move to Linux in 2007. Three files were needed and the following commands install them (depending on when you do this, the file names may be different so just change them to whatever they are for you; it can be done with a single command too but there is not enough girth for that here):
sudo dpkg -i iscan-data_1.22.0-1_all.deb
sudo dpkg -i iscan_2.29.1-5~usb0.1.ltdl7_i386.deb
sudo dpkg -i iscan-plugin-gt-x750_2.1.2-1_i386.deb
With those in place, there was one other task that needed doing so that scanning could be done without resorting to running scanning software using sudo privileges. To free up the access to a normal user account, I needed a HAL device information file. These normally are in /usr/share/hal/fdi/ but they change every time an installation so any modifications that you may make are going to be lost. Therefore, there is no point modifying either /usr/share/hal/fdi/preprobe/10osvendor/20-libsane.fdi or /usr/share/hal/fdi/preprobe/10osvendor/20-libsane-extras.fdi where scanner information usually is to be found.
The first task in creating an fdi file was to issue the lsusb command and look for a line corresponding to my scanner. This is the one that I got:
Bus 001 Device 004: ID 04b8:0119 Seiko Epson Corp. Perfection 4490 Photo
From this, I gleaned the manufacturer ID and model ID as 04b8 and 0119, respectively. These are needed later on. Next I needed to create the hal/fdi/preprobe/ folder structure under /etc since it was there. Then, I created epson4490photo.fdi in the bottom folder of the tree (/etc/hal/fdi/preprobe/epson4490photo.fdi) as follows:
cd /etc/hal/fdi/preprobe/ && sudo touch epson4490photo.fdi
Then, I edited the new file using the following command:
gksu gedit epson4490photo.fdi &
When open, I added in the following text:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<match key="info.subsystem" string="usb">
<!-- Epson Perfection 4490 Photo -->
<match key="usb.vendor_id" int="0x04b8">
<match key="usb.product_id" int="0x0119">
<append key="info.capabilities" type="strlist">scanner</append>
<merge key="scanner.access_method" type="string">proprietary</merge>
It’s all in XML so the place to look is immediately beneath the scanner name comment. The int attributes of the two match elements immediately following the comment line are populated using the information from the lsusb command output with 0x prefixing both the manufacturer and model identifiers. The element with a key attribute of usb.vendor_id is the former and that with a key attribute of usb.product_id is the latter. With epson4490photo.fdi saved, I rebooted the machine to restart HAL and all was as I wanted it to be apart maybe from XSane making complaints that seemed not to be of any actual consequence. With Epson’s Image Scan! and Simple Scan on the PC, there’s no need to be bothered with those messages. Choice is good when you have it, especially when you have expended some effort to get that far.
3rd August 2012
Curiosity about the graphics card on my backup PC caused me to look for ways of getting this information without opening up the machine or searching for a manual. In the end, a solitary command did the job:
If you are running it as root, the “sudo” piece can be dropped but the result is the same. As it happened, it gave me the information that I needed.
10th December 2011
A few weeks ago, I decided to address the fact that my Toshiba laptop have next to useless battery life. The arrival of an issue of PC Pro that included a review of lower cost laptops was another spur and I ended up looking on the web to see what was in stock at nearby chain stores. In the end, I plumped for an HP Pavilion dm4 and it was Argos that supplied yet another piece of computing kit to me. In fact, they seem to have a wider range of laptops than PC World!
The Pavillion dm4 seems to come in two editions and I opted for the heavier of these though it still is lighter than my Toshiba Equium as I found on a recent trip away from home. Its battery life is a revelation for someone who never has got anything better than three hours from a netbook. Having more than five hours certainly makes it suitable for those longer train journeys away from home and I have seen remaining battery life being quoted as exceeding seven hours from time to time though I wouldn’t depend on that.
Of course, having longer battery life would be pointless if the machine didn’t do what else was asked of it. It comes with the 64-bit of Windows 7 and this thought me that this edition of the operating system also runs 32-bit software, a reassuring discovering. There’s a trial version of Office 2010 on there too and, having a licence key for the Home and Student edition, I fully activated it. Otherwise, I added a few extras to make myself at home such as Dropbox and VirtuaWin (for virtual desktops as I would in Linux). While I playing with the idea of adding Ubuntu using Wubi, I am not planning to set up dual booting of Windows and Linux like I have on the Toshiba. Little developments like this can wait.
Regarding the hardware, the CPU is an Intel Core i3 affair and there’s 4 MB of memory on board. The screen is a 14″ one and that makes for a more compact machine without making it too diminutive. The keyboard is of the scrabble-key variety and works well too as does the trackpad. There’s a fingerprint scanner for logging in and out without using a password but I haven’t got to checking how this works so far. It all zips along without any delays and that’s all that anyone can ask of a computer.
There is one eccentricity in my eyes though and it seems that the functions need to be used in combination with Fn for them to work like they would on a desktop machine. That makes functions like changing the brightness of the screen, adjusting the sound of the speakers and turning the WiFi on and off more accessible. My Asus Eee PC netbook and the Toshiba Equium both have things the other way around so I found this set of affairs unusual but it’s just a point to remember rather than being a nuisance.
HP may have had its wobbles regarding its future in the PC making business but the Pavilion feels well put together and very solidly built. It commanded a little premium over the others on my shortlist but it seems to have been worth it. If HP does go down the premium laptop route as has been reported recently, this is the kind of quality that they would need to deliver to just higher prices. Saying that, is this the time to do such a thing would other devices challenging the PC’s place in consumer computing? It would be a shame to lose the likes of the Pavilion dm4 from the market to an act of folly.
1st June 2011
The combination of curiosity and a little spare time had me browsing online computing technology stores recently. A spot of CD and DVD burning brought on by a flurry of Linux distribution testing reminded me of the possibility. Because I have built up a sizeable library of digital photos, ensuring that I have backups of them is something that needs doing. A 2 GB Samsung external hard drive is brought to life every now and again for that purpose but the prospect of using Blu-Ray discs has appealed to me. After all capacities of 25 GB for single layer discs and 50 GB for dual layer ones sound not inappropriate for my purposes. However, they aren’t a cheap option at the time of writing with each disc costing in the region of £3-4 at one place where I was looking. The cost of BD writers themselves seems not to be so bad though with a few in the £60-100 bracket; any lower than this and you could end up with a combo drive that reads Blu-Ray discs and writes to DVD’s and CD’s so a modicum of concentration is needed. As attractive as the idea might be, the cost of BD media means that I’ll wait a little while before deciding to take the plunge. The price premium at the moment is a reminder of the way that things used to be when CD and DVD writers first came on the market. It is very telling when discs come packaged in jewel cases, something that you won’t see too often with CD’s or DVD’s.
Another piece of storage excitement that hasn’t escaped me is the advent of SSD hard drives. With no moving parts like in conventional hard drives, they bring a speed boost. Concerns about their lifetimes and the numbers of read/write events per drive would stall me when it comes to storing personal data on them but using them for the likes of operating system files sounds attractive, especially with my partiality to Linux perhaps not hammering drives so much. As with any new technology, there is a price premium though a drive big enough for hosting an operating system can be acquired for less than £100. As with many of my hardware purchase brainwaves, there’s no rush but this is an option that I’ll keep at the back of my mind.
Another appealing notion is the idea of getting a NAS so that files can be shared between a few computers. While I have seen prices starting at just above £70 for single disk enclosures, these generally are a more expensive option than external drives and that’s before you consider the cost of any hard drives. Nevertheless, the advantages of a unit containing more than a single hard drive while operating as a print server for any compatible printer too. When you get to 4 or 5 hard drive trays, then the cost has mounted but that could be when they pay their way too. What reminded me of these was a bookazine on home networking that I recently found at a branch of WHSmith’s and their attractions are subject to the networking side of things being made to work without a drama. Once that’s out of the way, then their usefulness really does appeal.
Mulling over all these brainwaves is one thing but it doesn’t mean that the purse strings will become too loose in this age of economic constraint. In fact, pondering them may serve to staunch any impulse purchases. Sometimes, a spot of virtual shopping serves to control things rather than losing the run of oneself.
23rd February 2010
A recent bit of thinking has caused me to cast my mind back over all the screens that have sat in front of me while working with computers over the years. Well, things have come a long way from the spare television that I used with a Commodore 64 that I occasionally got to exploring the thing. Needless to say, a variety of dedicated CRT screens ensued as I started to make use of Apple and IBM compatible PC’s provided in computing labs and other such places before I bought an example of the latter as my first ever PC of my own. That sported a 15″ display that stood out a little in times when 14″ ones were mainstream but a 17″ Iiyama followed it when its operational quality deteriorated. That Iiyama came south with me from Edinburgh as I moved to where the work was and offered sterling service before it too started to succumb to aging.
During the time that the Iiyama CRT screen was my mainstay at home, there were changes afoot in the world of computer displays. A weighty 21″ Philips screen was what greeted me on a first day at work but 21″ Eizo LCD displays were set to replace those behemoths and remain in use as if to prove the longevity of LCD panels and the validity of using what had been sufficient for laptops for a decade or so. In fact, the same comment regarding reliability applies to the screen that now is what I use at home, a 17″ Iiyama LCD panel (yes, I stuck with the same brand when I changed technologies longer ago than I like to remember).
However, that hasn’t stopped me wondering about my display needs and it’s screen size that is making me think rather than the reliability of the current panel. That is a reflection on how my home computing needs have changed over time and they show how my non-computing interests have evolved too. Photography is but one of these and the move the digital capture has brought with a greater deal of image processing, so much that I wonder if I need to make less photos rather than bringing home so many that it can be hard to pick out the ones that are deserving of a wider viewing. That is but one area where a bigger screen would help but there is another and it arises from my interest in exploring countryside on foot or on my bike: digital mapping. When planning outings, it would be nice to have a wider field of view to be able to see more at a larger scale.
None of the above is a showstopper that would be the case if the screen itself was unreliable so I am going to take my time on this one. The prospect of sharing desktops across two screens is another idea but that needs some thought about where it all would fit; the room that I have set aside for working at my computer isn’t the largest but it’ll need to do. After the space side of things, then there’s the matter of setting up the hardware. Quite how a dual display is going to work with a KVM setup is something to explore as is the adding of extra video cards to existing machines. After the hardware fiddling, the software side of things is not a concern that I have because of when I used laptop as my main machine for a while last year. That confirmed that Windows (Vista but it has been possible since 2000 anyway…) and Ubuntu (other modern Linux distributions should work too…) can cope with desktop sharing out of the box.
Apart from the nice thoughts of having more desktop space, the other tempting side to all of this is what you can get for not much outlay. It isn’t impossible to get a 22″ display for less than £200 and the prices for 24″ ones are tempting too. That’s a far cry from paying next to £300 (if my memory serves me correctly) for that 17″ Iiyama and I’d hope that the quality is as good as ever.
It’s all very well talking about pricing but you need to sit down and choose a make and model when you get to deciding on a purchase. There is plenty of choice so that would take a while but magazine reviews will come in handy here. Saying that, last year’s computing misadventures have me questioning the sense of going for what a magazine places on its A-list. They also have me minded to go to a nearby computer shop to make a purchase rather than choosing a supplier on the web; it is easier to take back a faulty unit if you don’t have far to go. Speaking of faulty units, last year has left me contemplating waiting until the year is older before making any acquisitions of computer kit. All of that has put the idea of buying a new screen on the low priority list, nice to have but not essential. For now, that is where it stays but you never know what the attractions of a shiny new thing can do…