Category Archives: Hardware

New used laptop: Thinkpad T430

I meant to post this ages ago: I got my first Thinkpad – an old T430. Very nice.

I had been looking for my first Thinkpad; an upgrade off a slow Lenovo (non-Thinkpad) laptop, and I thought I might splash out on a new one.

But then I discovered my sister had an ex-work T430 she didn’t want. Sold it to me for what she got it for: AUD $100.

Specs: i5-3320M (2.6 GHz), 4 Gb RAM, 1600 x 900 display, SSD. With a dock (that I’m not sure I’ll ever use)

Some scuffing on the case, but overall it’s in very nice condition.

And I found I could still upgrade it from Win7 to Win10 for free, using the Media Creation Tool.

I added another 4 Gb of RAM.

The keyboard is lovely, but I never did get used to the Fn/Ctrl key locations being backwards from most layouts, so I ended up swapping them in the BIOS.

Problems

One oddity after upgrading to Win10: Microsoft Edge was extremely slow to respond to clicks. The solution was a clean Win10 install – via the “reset your PC” feature.

I also found that under Win10, the trackpad would sometimes freeze up for a few seconds, particularly after two-finger scrolling. This turns out to be an issue with the Lenovo trackpad “palm check” feature. Set this to the minimum setting (or turn it off) and it seems to go away. The same problem occurs for some other Lenovo laptops.

Modding

More reading for myself when I get the chance: Modding guide

But I hope this old laptop will keep me going for a while for my on-the-go computing needs.

Sanden Heat Pump water tank outlet size

The outlet size on a Sanden Heat Pump’s water tank is 3/4 inch (DIN20) with a BSP thread, so be aware you’ll have to use a reducer to get down to the normal 1/2 inch (DIN15) copper pipes. At least, that’s what I was told on the phone. The Sanden specification sheet, which has legible diagrams and writing compared to the installation instructions for an Australian Sanden, says the thread is NPT – but admittedly the model numbers are different (GAU-315EQTE on the clearly Australian installation instructions, GAUS-315EQTD on the American spec sheet). It also gives the dimensions, which when turned into SI units are 756mm H x 883mm W x 362mm D for the compressor and 1490mm H x 678mm W diameter for the 315L tank. For further fun, the installation manual includes a photo of an installed system on the first page – the system is installed too close together, according to the instructions.

However, 3/4″ pipes are able to transport a greater volume of water per unit time. If you’re running warm water down them for bathing, rather than hot for subsequent mixing, greater carrying capacity means better water pressure when running multiple showers, for example. If one was replumbing a whole house, and doing so with pre-mixed warm water, replumbing with 3/4″ copper would be a reasonable thing to do.

Be aware that the cold water inlet has a maximum pressure of 650 kpa.

Motorola Moto G5 Plus “camera restart” error

My current phone is a Motorola G5 Plus. I really like it.

Except for one thing: sometimes it won’t start the camera. It pauses for a few seconds, then comes up with a camera restart error; you have to try it again. Sometimes it takes several goes to get it to work.

By the time the camera actually opens, whatever you wanted to snap may have gone.

It’s a widespread problem. Some people think it’s a heat issue, but I have my doubts.

There is a partial workaround: clear the cache partition.

This removes some temporary files, but no user files.

This page on the Motorola web site explains how to do it — but I’m going to post the text here, as it keeps disappearing off their site. Dodgy.

To perform a wipe cache partition:

1. With the phone powered off, press and hold the Volume Down button and the Power button at the same time until the device turns on.
2. Press the Volume Down button until the flag next to the power button reads “Recovery mode”
3. Press the Power button to restart into Recovery mode.
You’ll see an image of an Android robot with the words “No Command”
4. Holding the Power button, tap Volume Up once and then release the Power button.
5. Use the volume buttons to scroll to “wipe cache partition” and press the Power button to select it.
6. Use volume down to scroll to YES and power to confirm.
7. At the bottom of the screen, you will see your device go through the process. Once it says “Cache Wipe Complete” the reboot system now option will appear at the top.
8. Press the power button to confirm the reboot.

The above workaround clears it for a little while… then it comes back a few days or weeks later.

Hopefully eventually there’ll be a permanent fix for it.

Netgear Stora upgrade v3: 2-disk-JBOD to 1-disk-JBOD

So, we’re butting heads up against the storage capacity of our Netgear Stora again (93% full). The NAS currently has 2 x 2TB drives and no more free bays to drop drives into, so whatever the next arrangement is it has to involve getting rid of at least one of the current drives. The Stora is currently backed up to an external drive enclosure with a 4TB drive mounted in it. Other things are also backed up on that external drive, so it’s more pressed for space than the Stora.

So here’s the plan:

  • collect underpants
    This was a flippant comment, but it’s upgrade season and we recently acquired a computer second hand, which had an i5-3470S CPU, the most powerful thing in the house by a significant margin. I wanted the dual Display Port outputs, but unfortunately it could only be upgraded to 8GB of RAM, so instead the CPU got swapped into our primary desktop (and a graphics card acquired to run dual digital displays). Dropping in a replacement CPU required replacing the thermal grease, and that meant a rag to wipe off the old grease, thus the underpants.
  • backup the Stora to the 4TB drive
  • acquire a cheap 8TB disk because this is for backing up, not primary storage
  • clone the 4TB drive onto it using Clonezilla
  • expand the cloned 4TB partition to the full 8TB of drive space
    Well, that didn’t work.  Clonezilla didn’t seem to copy the data reliably, but admittedly I was running a stupidly old version.  Several hours of mucking around with SATA connectors and Ubuntu NTFS drivers later, I gave up and copied the disk using Windows.  It took several days, even using USB3 HDD enclosures, which is why I spent so much time mucking around trying to avoid it.
  • backup the Stora to the 8TB drive
  • remove the 2 x 2TB drives from the Stora
  • insert the 4TB drive into the Stora
  • allow the Stora to format the 4TB drive
  • pull the 4TB drive
  • mount the 4TB and 2 x 2TB drives in a not-otherwise-busy machine
  • copy the data from the 2 x 2TB drives onto the 4TB drive
  • reinsert the 4TB drive into the Stora
  • profit!

And, by profit, I mean cascade the 2TB drives into desktop machines that have 90% full 1TB drives… further rounds of disk duplication ensue. 1TB drives then cascade to other desktop machines, further rounds of disk duplication ensue.

At the end of this process, the entire fleet will have been upgraded. But the original problem of butting heads against the Stora will not have been addressed; this will hopefully a simple matter of dropping another drive in.

The last time we did this, we paid $49.50/TB for storage.  This time around, it was $44.35; a 10% drop in storage prices isn’t anything to write home about in a four-and-a-half year window.

Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote

Logitech Harmony 650 universal remoteI bought myself a Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote, $59 at Officeworks (RRP $89.95).

The packaging and some of the promotional material says it replaces 5 remotes, but it’s had a firmware upgrade and now replaces 8, so I think it’s pretty good value.

Although Logitech sells a range of remotes, I decided $59 was a sweet spot for what I wanted to do. This model can’t control Bluetooth devices such as the Wii U, or those controlled via WiFi/LAN such as Sonos — you’ll need to spend up on a more complex model for that, but personally I couldn’t justify the $240+ investment.

To set it up you plug it into a PC/Mac and install a setup program which guides you through it. All pretty easy, and even works with my obscure no-name PVR.

Curiously it didn’t recognise my Panasonic Blu-ray player, but it made an educated guess as to what IR sequences would match, and that worked well.

It lets you set up Devices, then group them into Actions (eg Watch a Blu-ray: turn on the Blu-ray player, turn on the TV, switch it to AV, turn on the Receiver, switch it to HDMI1/Blu-ray).

The defaults for some of the actions are a bit odd, for instance the menu navigation for Watch a Blu-ray turned out to default to navigating the TV menus. This can be overridden to a more logical setting.

One issue I’ve noted: the TV takes a really long time to start up… easily 10-15 seconds to be ready for viewing. It looks like the remote doesn’t allow enough time before changing to the appropriate input/channel, and the TV misses this step. You can insert delays in some parts of Activity sequences, but it appears not here.

Clone to a bigger drive, and convert MBR to GPT

I wanted to partly upgrade Windows to a new drive.

Currently, Windows itself and Program Files are on C: drive, which is an SSD (which I meant to blog about in detail, but never got around to) and documents are on D: drive (which was the tricky bit of the SSD upgrade — to do it properly involves using SysPrep with an Unattend.xml configuration file that tells Windows that documents will live on D: not C:. This article describes it in detail.

Anyway that’s really irrelevant to the problem at hand, which is that D: drive had run out of space. Here’s a brief description of what I did:

  • The new drive is a 4 Tb drive, replacing a 1 Tb drive.
  • Plug the new drive in, use Clonezilla to clone the old D: onto the new drive. Following the detailed instructions, this all went pretty smoothly.
  • But… the catch is the old drive was formatted in MBR, which has a limitation of 2 Tb. For beyond that, you need GPT.
  • I looked around for tools to convert the drive. It’s easy if you’re prepared to wipe it, but I wanted to preserve the data I’d just moved across. Finding ways to do it without wiping everything was tricky, but I settled on the free version of Minitools Partition Wizard — this has an easy-to-understand interface, and did the job
  • Once that MBR is converted to GPT, you can enlarge the partition to make the whole drive available.
  • Unplug the old drive, move the new one into the same slot as the old (this is on a Mac Pro booting in Windows Bootcamp) and it works. Done!

PS. Similar exercise afterwards shuffling the OS X partition from a 320 Gb drive to the old 1 Tb. That required GParted, as it seems the GPT partition couldn’t be expanded due to a formatting issue (which GParted helpfully offered to fix as it started up) and another small 600 Mb partition being in the way — not sure what it is, but it seems to be essential for booting OS X — GParted was able to move it to the end of the disk.

Viali VCCG90SS and VCCG60SS rangehood installation instuctions

As the current home reno project is a kitchen rebuild (walls added and removed, nothing left behind – it’s dramatically more than a remodel) the first step followed was to acquire all the appliances (constructing the kitchen and then finding the oven that you’ve got a very specific sized hole made for is “no longer available” would be… disappointing).

One of the acquisitions was two Viali VCCG90SS rangehood extractor units, one for each cooktop. Noise during operation, rated capacity and acquisition cost all seem acceptable. The instruction manual seems, at first glance, fabulous: large, clear font, line drawings giving unit dimensions, step-by-step installation images and all in a matte A4-sized, easy-to-read format.

When you actually read the instruction manual with the intent of following the instructions for installation, that’s when you run into some difficulties. Let’s be clear: I’ve installed a couple of ducted extractor fans in the past, so rangehoods are not some unknown quantity for me. This is not my first rodeo. I consider myself handy, I’ve installed kitchens from the ground up. I’ve spent quite some time puzzling over this booklet, I’ve searched the Interwebs, I’ve really battled with this.

I will now try to explain how the heck you’re meant to install this Viali rangehood, because the shipped instructions sure don’t. Perhaps I’ll do it via annotation. Continue reading

LG TV insists on turning itself off

We’ve got an LG TV being used in the office for displaying system information from a Raspberry Pi plugged into the back. The Pi is powered via USB from the TV.

We’ve used the timer to get it to switch on at 6am on weekdays, off at 5:45pm, reflecting the hours people are in the office.

It was consistently switching itself off at the wrong time, exactly two hours after it came on.

Turns out it’s a long-running bug in LG televisions.

In the forum, some found if they could get into the service menu, they could remove the 2 hour sleep setting.

Others found setting it to “hotel mode” would disable all timers – in our case this would waste a lot of power though.

Panasonic DMR-PWT520 disc tray won’t open/eject

This model seems to have an issue whereby the disc tray won’t open, even if the front panel flap is correctly open. You press the Open button and nothing happens, though on the screen it’ll say Open.

Some recommend putting it into Standby mode (off) then holding down Stop and Channel Up. That didn’t work for me.

Putting it in Standby and holding down Open did work… it first started up, then after about 10 seconds, the disc tray opened.

(Possibly it needs a firmware upgrade… I’ll check that out eventually, though it’s not my unit.)

Nature strip computer For The Win!

I found a computer on the nature strip; it was enormous, but had a couple of DVD-RWs, dual DVI connectors and USB3, so I figured it was reasonably modern.

When I got it home and inspected it closely, I realised it wasn’t USB3 but eSATA instead, and my hopes deflated. Booting it up showed a BIOS from 2006 and I figured I just bought myself another trip to the council’s transfer station. However, checking out the CPU (Intel i7 920), full-height full-length graphics card (MSI R4870X2) and RAM (6Gb of DDR3) I realised I had found something special. Dropping in a SATA drive that I salvaged from a machine we decided was past it’s use-by date, I built it into a Linux Mint box.

Yet again, the most powerful machine in the house was found in hard rubbish.  It’s twice as powerful as the last computer we bought, and nearly twice as powerful as the most recent desktop machine.  The RAM is a bit light-on, but DDR3 is still widely available.  The TPD (power consumed by the CPU) is 130 watts, which is… a lot.  Not a machine to run in a small room on a hot day.  Add in the graphics card that consumes between 120 and 220 watts depending on load, and a meaty power supply is needed; the one in the case has 1000W written on it, whatever that really means.

At the end of last year I found my local primary school had unceremoniously tossed about a dozen PCs into a dumpster filled with detritus such as broken plastic tubs, desks without legs and out-of-favour books (like a perfectly good Macquarie dictionary). Figuring I could cannibalize multiple machines into a single working machine, I pulled a half dozen monitors and three computers out and loaded them into the car. When tested at home, everything worked just fine. Everything. Confronting the authorities the next day, I was told that the PCs were “broken”, but after some haranguing I got a concession that next time the machines would be donated to a computing charity. As a result of this find I have a three-computer cluster of dedicated Minecraft machines, which now provide adequate performance after extensive tweaking.

Have you found anything good, or would you never take home strange hardware?

Medion MD 86162 Media Player remote codes

I’ve got a Medion MD 86162 Media Player (AKA e85015, or MD86162) and I couldn’t find the remote codes anywhere on the Internet. I cobbled up some hardware and discovered that it uses the NEC protocol when I coaxed these codes out of my dying infrared remote control, and I got the following IR codes for it:

Continue reading

Low spec notebooks can’t handle large amounts of RAM

Cathy and I are seeing increasing contention for the grunty computer in the house not dedicated to playing computer games. It’s used for a combination of recreational programming, web surfing and media encoding tasks. We decided to acquire a second, and after comparing the costs decided that the premium for laptop portability wasn’t too great (about $100; in fact that seems to be about the price of the OS we were forced to buy with the hardware). In out usage profile, “grunty” isn’t defined by CPU, but responsiveness which really comes down to how often an arm has to venture out across a spinning sheet of rust. Unfortunately, bottom-end systems (i3 class CPUs) can’t handle our base-level RAM requirement of 16Gb, so yet again a portable computer is the most powerful thing in the house – the new system’s specs are:

Processor: AMD Quad-Core Processor A6-5200 (2.0GHz, 2MB L2 Cache)

25W of power consumption right there. Existing grunty computer pegs its CPU for about ten hours a year, in sustained encoding runs. We weren’t CPU bound, and yet the only way to get that RAM in an i3 lappy was to spend an extra $100 on a Toshiba with worse specs – so we got a quad core.

Memory: 4GB DDR3 1600MHz (max support 16GB)

That 4GB came straight out and was replaced by the most RAM that could be stuffed in there. Existing grunty machine had 8Gb and was paging a lot. Why are web browsers so memory hungry? This upgrade cost $160.

Storage: 500GB (5400RPM) Hard Drive

This came straight out before the machine was even powered up once. It was replaced by a Plextor M5-Pro 128GB SSD; this unit was selected for its fast random write speed, and the common-for-all-SSDs 0.1ms seek time. Back in the day (about ten years ago) I advocated that when building a machine, you should get drives with the fastest seek times and screw everything else, plus all the RAM you could afford – to use as disk cache. How little things change. This upgrade cost $129.

After Linux Mint 12.04 Maya (LTS) was installed (consuming 6Gb) there was 110Gb free on the replacement device. Paging has been disabled due to the SSD write limitations, and tmpfs is used for various directories to further minimise our impact on the longevity of the drive.

Graphics Card: Onboard (Integrated)

The contention for the memory bus is troubling, but at least there’s no extra juice being sucked down to power a fancy-pants GPU. This is not a gaming machine, 2D acceleration is useful, 3D not.

Operating System: Windows 8 64 Bit

That went with the rotating media. We’re going to see if we can boot a desktop machine off of it and still have the OS believe everything is okay. The laptop didn’t like the new OS, saying “Selected boot image did not Authenticate. Press Enter to Continue”, but the solution was to disable Secure Boot.

Screen: 15.6-inch diagonal HD BrightView LED-backlit Display (1366×768)

It took some fiddling for Cathy to figure out how to dim the damn thing under Mint. Turned out the answer was to install the proprietary AMD drivers.

Audio: Dual Speakers Stereo DTS Sound+

If you’re using a laptop for A/V reproduction, you’re doing it wrong.

Connectivity: Gigabit LAN (RJ-45 connector), 802.11b/g/n WLAN, Bluetooth

The Toshiba only had 100Mb, in this day and age! The Ralink wireless adapator wasn’t picked up automatically by the installer, so Cathy got down and followed the instructions off AskUbuntu

Built-In Devices: 1x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, RJ45 Ethernet, Headphone-out/microphone-in combo jack, SD/SDHC/SDxC Card reader

USB3 was important in picking the unit, as I’ve seem just how much faster it is. HDMI is necessary for twin-monitor development; MSY had a 21.5″ Full HD IPS on sale for $118.

Webcam: HP TrueVision HD Webcam with integrated dual array digital microphone

I’d just paint over it, but there’s a chance that we’ll have a use for videoconferencing. It stays, but it better mind it’s Ps and Qs or else it’s black electrical tape for it.

Optical Drive: DVD Burner

Yeah, like that’s ever getting used.

Weight: 2.33 Kg

I’m more used to computers that weigh 1Kg, not two and a half.

Dimensions: 56cm (L) x 13cm (W) x 34.5cm (D)

This thing has a widescreen display, it’s freaky big compared by my 10” netbook.

Other observations: the keyboard sucks balls, with the trackpad positioned such that you physically can’t touch-type on it because doing so places your palms on the trackpad, moving the mouse and screwing up your input (I think this is happening because gestures have been turned on; they might find themselves getting turned off again). For some messed up reason they’ve included a numeric keypad, so touch-typing is doubly hard – again with the palms. This thing’s going to find itself plugged into a USB hub with a real keyboard and mouse quite a lot I think.

Anyways, the HP Pavilion 15-E001AU was purchased from MLN for the low, low price of $500. Total system cost was $907, and at the end we had a 4GB lappy stick and a 500GB lappy drive laying around.