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das keyboard

das leds

Input devices are one thing that not many people think about. People go for the nice widescreen monitors, and they might not think about viewing angles or colour accuracy. People will go for a bling-bling case with fancy lights, and they might not think about how noisy it is. People will then go for the cheapest mouse and keyboard they can find.

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Linksys AE2500

AE2500 Box

After a wicked sale and an itch to buy a new gadget, I bit the bullet and purchased a 3×3 simultaneous dual band router.  With much deliberation I chose the Linksys E4200.  It is a powerful 2.4/5.0 simultaneous dual band router, with a 3×3 antenna on 5 GHz (2×3 on 2.4 GHz), and is Broadcom based.  This means I can flash it with Tomato!

Experimenting with my TRENDnet 673GRU had me run into a problem with client-bridge (routed) mode in DD-WRT where I could only access LAN and not Internet.  It has something to do with the number of MAC address fields in the packet (three vs four if WDS is used, see the Limitations section here: http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Wireless_Bridge).  Seeing as WDS between two different chipsets is not recommended, and the fact that the E4200 stock firmware does not support WDS, I had to look for another route.

One strange tidbit: The E4200 with Tomato did not co-operate with my 673GRU w/DD-WRT bridged.  Throughput was great, but for some reason streaming my high bitrate movies was a stuttery slideshow.  On the stock Linksys firmware it was free of problems (besides the client bridge issue I noted above).

I was thinking about purchasing the TrendNET 450 Mbps adapter, either USB (about $50) or Ethernet ($80).  However, I had $35 worth of vouchers that I could use towards a $40 USB adapter that is available at a local big box store.  $10 and change later, I had a Linksys AE2500 USB Wifi adapter in my hands.  It supports 5 GHz, and has a 2×2 antenna design for “300 Mbps”.

The first thing I noticed is that the box is pretty large for a USB adapter.  When I opened it up, I was actually appalled by the amount of excess material used in the packaging.  Take a look below – the card is there to give you a size reference.  It was such a waste that I just had to share.

 

After getting the E4200, I also purchased a T420s with a 3×3 Wifi card.  That thing lets me pull about 15 MB/sec sustained.  Pretty fast, and more than enough for high bitrate movies.  With my 2×2 673GRU bridge, I can pull 9 MB/sec.  With my 1×1 Rosewill 2.4 GHz N USB adapter I can pull about 4 MB/sec.  I would say that Wifi scales pretty well with each added antenna.

This Linksys AE2500 did not disappoint.  I can pull about 9 MB/sec sustained.  No issues with internet routing since it’s no longer a hack, and now my HTPC can stream without any issues.  Install was fast and simple – insert CD, run setup, insert USB adapter, select network, and input wireless password.

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Gigabyte GTX560 Ti SOC 1 GHz BIOS flash to 950 MHz

A while back I purchased a Gigabyte GTX560 Ti SOC “Super Overclock” that has a 1 GHz core.  This card is a monster and had amazing reviews, so I picked one up.  Unfortunately timing wasn’t great and I left for a three week business trip.  I switched to this card for lower power consumption, before letting my computer run Folding@Home for the duration I was away.

About one week into my trip I noticed that my PC stopped producing work units.  Curious, I did a bit of research and found that they changed the core required for bigadv units.  OK, so that explained my PPD drop, but not the total halt.

When I returned home, my PC was stuck at a black screen, fans/etc still whirring away.

Reboot, and it froze at the Windows logon screen.  Consistently after every reboot.  I uninstalled the video drivers in safe mode and it worked fine.  Re-install and same crashing behaviour.

I shut the PC down to go unpack and let it stir around in my mind for a bit.

When I returned, I powered on the PC and it worked no problem.  That is, until I fired up Crysis 2.  I could not get past the intro portion where you need to run through the train being filled with water.

Only after lowering the clock speeds to 950Mhz did it function properly.  This has been reported on a number of forums, and is likely the reason why Gigabyte stopped producing this 1GHz SKU.

For the last few months I had been using MSI Afterburner to manually adjust the clocks.  But now that I am trying to settle everything, I’ve finally decided to perform a BIOS edit.

This proved to be a little bit tricky, as my BIOS size is actually 62,464 bytes instead of the ones found on TechPowerUp being 65,535 bytes.

To perform the edit:

  1. Dump the BIOS using GPU-Z
  2. Grab a BIOS from TechPowerUp with the desired clock speeds and load it in NiBiTor
  3. Tools -> Fermi Clocks.  Here I am matching with the Gigabyte GTX560 Ti SC 950 Mhz version.  The numbers that changed are 1900 (core), and 2019 (no clue!)
  4. Load your BIOS dump into NiBiTor and edit the clocks.
  5. Boot to your USB and flash with nvflash
  6. Remove protection: nvflash -r
  7. Erase existing programming: nvflash –eraseeeprom
  8. Flash new BIOS: nvflash -4 -5 -6 new.rom
  9. Reboot and enjoy!
You can use this to overclock/overvolt your cards too.  I always suggest modifying your original BIOS to keep memory timings/etc intact, and only modify the clock speed and voltages.

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Hitachi 3TB Deskstar 5400 RPM

Just picked up a couple of these Hitachi 3TB Deskstar 5400RPM drives from a sale over at Newegg.ca to test.  These drives are NICE.  I have been using WD drives since they switched over to using fluid dynamic bearings (FDB).  They brought the idle noise down to something bearable.  My previous silent drive benchmark was the Seagate Barracuda IV 80GB which is one of the most quiet drives I’ve ever owned.

Up until this point, my large drive of choice has been the Western Digital 2TB Green, model WD20EADS.  I purchased a set after testing out a few drives to ensure I could set the TLER and WDIDLE parameters on the drive that make it essentially a cheap version of their RAID Edition enterprise class drives.  Their newer drives no longer support this feature so I’ve been on the lookout for something in the event I want to expand my capacity.  I’m currently at the maximum 8 drives that my ARECA ARC-1220 supports, so the only reasonable option is to move to larger capacity drives.

hitachi_3tb_a

After testing a single drive, this Hitachi 3TB 5400RPM is QUIET.  The idle noise is gentle and the seeks are unobtrusive and difficult to hear even when mounted in my Antec Easy SATA drive bay dock.  Above is a quick test showing transfer rates.  Temperature reached approximately 39 C after this test with no active cooling, and an ambient temperature of approximately 29 C (I’m cheap with my air conditioning).

I am very tempted to purchase another 8 of these to migrate my RAID volume.  The problem is, my current array of 8×2 in RAID6 is nearly full.  I would need several extra drives to complete a proper migration.  Or I could purchase a larger RAID controller.

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lines

lines

sometimes, that’s just how it is.

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The continual Wifi-N struggle

So I’ve received and setup both 673GRU’s using DD-WRT on 5GHz N (Channel 153/40Mhz/Short preamble).  Even with the two routers separated by 1 meter, the signal strength doesn’t report that high in the status screen (only about 60%).   Apparently it’s an issue on DD-WRT, where it under-reports the strength.

I managed to have my routers negotiate a 120 Mbps connection in the short distance from the base router to the client bridge.  It will pull approximately 6 MB/sec peak, but unfortunately still not enough for high bitrate MKVs.  I figure it might have something to do with signal strength, so I did some research.

Later in the same evening, the winds blew in a strange direction and my routers were reporting 0% signal strength, though the connection was still there but resulted in even low bitrate divx having buffering issues.

According to the DD-WRT Wiki, the DIR-825 (basically identical to the 673GRU) has the following specs:

Antenna Gain (2.4 GHz): 2 dBi
Antenna Gain (5 GHz): 2 dBi

Max TX Power (2.4 GHz): 18dBm
Max TX Power (5 GHz): 17dBm

FCC ID: KA2DIR825B1
FCC ID: XU8TEW673GRU

The 673GRU has 3 dBi antennas, so that is one setting you need to change.

Those are the max TX power settings I can set in DD-WRT, however the FCC documentation shows that 5 GHz band can get up to 25.8 dBm as long as you use the higher channels.  The lower channels cap out at 15 dBm.

I need to do some more research and figure out how to unlock the extra antenna power.

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Confirmed WNDR3700V1 degradation

My coworker graciously lent me his brand new Realtek 8188 USB bgn wifi adapter so that I could test throughput at speeds >54Mbps.

Results?

WNDR3700-100NAS 01R15 -> 8188 = Link speed of 65 Mbps, ~6 Mbps throughput
TEW-673GRU -> 8188 = Link speed of 65 Mbps, ~49 Mbps throughput

What is interesting to note, the 6 Mbps throughput is what my 673GRU was reporting while bridged to the 3700.I’m hesitant to try flashing my 3700 to DD-WRT as many report radio issues even when flashed back to the Netgear firmware: https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=0As5olSHZWDA7dDhYLTI1WW5HVWxtdUtYdHh5WWhnMUE&hl=de&single=true&gid=0&output=html

I’ve concluded that my Netgear WNDR3700 is no longer suitable, so I purchased another 673GRU.  Hopefully the pair of these will perform well otherwise they’ll make gifts for my family members.

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Building A Cheap Wireless N Bridge

Having a blast figuring out  Wireless N bridging.  The idea is to bridge two wireless routers together so that I don’t have to run an ethernet cable to my entertainment area so that my HTPC and Xbox 360 can get on to my LAN with minimal cost.

My setup currently consists of:

  • Netgear WNDR3700 v1 01R15 v1.07.98NA
  • Trendnet TEW-673GRU flashed w/DD-WRT v24-sp2 build 17201

The Netgear I purchased immediately after it was available from launch.  The Trendnet was a recent impulse buy after I discovered you can flash it to DD-WRT.  Both, incidentally, are from Dell days-of-deals (oh how many countless dollars have been spent on those).

The TEW-673GRU is identical to the D-Link DIR-825 router, sporting an Atheros AR7161 680MHz CPU, 8 MB of flash, and 64 MB of RAM.  Pretty impressive specs. In fact, the same as my Netgear which cost twice as much!  After flashing to DD-WRT the LCD on the top is rendered useless.  You will be without port LED indicators, but that’s the least of my concerns.

I first struggled with flashing the 673GRU to DD-WRT.  Little did I know, just flash directly using the modded DIR-825 DD-WRT found here.  I was trying to flash using the recovery mode which just didn’t want to work.  Afterwards, you can upgrade directly to the latest version for the DIR-825.  Make sure to set the Antenna dbi to 3 to match the stock antennas, otherwise your signal quality will be garbage.

Second, follow these instructions for setting up Client Bridge mode.   I struggled here, and was finally able to get it working with WPA-TKIP.  You also have to be patient and wait for it to negotiate.  I found that I had to disable/renable my computer NIC whenever I made changes to the wireless configuration.  It’s renewing the routing table or something, I suppose.

But then I realized, what the heck, why am I only getting 54Mbps throughput on Wireless N 5GHz???  I tried upgraded to the latest WNDR3700 firmware (1.07.98NA), and then realized that you can only select 150 or 300 Mbps using WPA2-AES.

“GREAT!”  I thought.

Flipped everything over, saw my 673GRU negotiate a 300M/300M link.  Excellent.  Ping test to my router results in 1ms response.  So far so good.

Copy a file… and BAM.  RX mode drops to 6 Mbps.  TX stays at around 270-300.

Then I remembered reading about the WNDR3700 antenna issues.  Great.  My device is a 01R15 – one of the original release units.  No wonder my Belkin Wireless N PCMCIA card choked.  I thought it was because it was a cheap $5 clearance item.

Next step, test my 673GRU with the Belkin Wireless N card and see if I can negotiate and sustain a 150 Mbps connection.  If this works, I’ll be picking up another 673GRU.  The value of these things is incredible.  My only wish is that Tomato router firmwares supported Atheros chipsets and not just Broadcom.

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Intel Cougar Point Bug

In case you haven’t already heard, the 6-series chipset used on launch motherboards for their new Sandy Bridge CPUs has a bug with its SATA3 implementation.  It’s expected to cost Intel $700M to repair or replace the boards.

You can read more about the details over at Anandtech:
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4142/intel-discovers-bug-in-6series-chipset-begins-recall
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4143/the-source-of-intels-cougar-point-sata-bug

As an early adopter always on the bleeding edge, there are bound to be some kind of teething problems sooner or later.  And just my luck, when I’m deciding on a motherboard for my second i7 2600K this announcement comes out!

NCIX is proactive and seems to be sending out e-mails directly to their affected customers:

Dear xxxxx,

Thank you for your recent purchase of theAsus P8P67 Deluxe Motherboard.

Intel announced there is an issue with their P67/H67 chipsets that can cause the SATA 3.0Gb/s controller to fail over time. NCIX has put in place the following measures to ensure that our customers who have already bought standalone motherboards are appropriately cared for.

For additional information and updates on the issue, please visit our forum at the link provided below.

http://forums.ncix.com/forums/topic.php?id=2309652

Thanks,
NCIX.com Customer Care Team

At least now I have a couple of more months to decide on which mITX board to purchase!

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nVidia GeForce 310 512MB

Geforce 310 Card

Been toying around with some cheapo nVidia Geforce 310 cards. They’re something to toss in if you just need to output video, with a DisplayPort and VGA ports. It’s also slightly better than the GT210’s that the old Mac Pro models embarrassingly came with.  It’s not noisy, but it’s not silent either.  The non-standard mounting holes doesn’t make it easy for aftermarket cooling either!

After a bit of tinkering and some more searching, I managed to get dual display out of this thing using the following NVCAP:

VGA / DVI-I – BAAAAAAAAQAGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA=

Here are a couple of other ones that may be of use depending on the configuration of your own card:

DVI-I / DVI-I - BAAAAAAAAwAMAAAAAAAABwAAAAA=
DVI-I / VGA - BAAAAAAAAwAEAAAAAAAABwAAAAA=

(Sourced from: http://www.insanelymac.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=205995)

Using the VGA/DVI-I NVCAP and EFI Studio to generate a string for the 8400GS  512MB (with a bit of tweaking), it now detects perfectly!

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