Archive for category Hardware

Corsair Vengeance K90 – First Impression

I just received my new Corsair Vengeance K90 keyboard. It was a Christmas present from my sister. She bought my wife and I both one. Of course, she let me pick them out. I'm using mine to type this post and I can say that I'm pleasantly surprised by the board. I'm experiencing some weird behavior from it in Linux, but it really is designed for Windows and gaming.

The keyboard has the strangest feel to it that I've ever experienced. The top of the keys have a rubber coating which doesn't feel anything like the hard plastic of most keyboards. The linear Cherry MX Red switches don't have the tactile feedback or click that one would find on Cherry MX Blue switches. I'm coming from a buckling spring keyboard so the keyboard is very different from it.

I feel that the action on the keyboard is much faster than the buckling spring design, however. Once I get used to it, I'm sure I'll be able to type faster. I hammer on keys pretty hard typically and that went along well with the buckling springs. They require a lot more force to depress than these Cherry MX Reds. I will need to retrain myself on typing with this keyboard. I shouldn't bottom out as much as I presently do. However one of the bad things about the Cherry MX Reds is that they don't have the tactile bump that lets you know that the key is engaged. However, it takes very little actuation of the key to engage it. So, you can barely touch the keys and they will register.

On Linux, you lose a few of the features that the keyboard comes with, from what I can tell. I'm not sure there's a way to get the macros to work with it. Also, the caps lock and num lock indicators don't seem to work correctly in Linux. I may just need to reboot, as I plugged the keyboard in and started using it. I'll revise this post if that fixes the problem.


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Best Mechanical Keyboard

I've recently started searching for a new keyboard. I don't really need one but I've been wanting a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches. I have three mechanical keyboards already, a Dell AT101W (with Alps key switches), an IBM Model M (buckling spring switches), and a Unicomp Enduro Pro (buckling spring switches). I'm currently using the Unicomp and I've been pretty satisfied with it. First I'd like to talk about some of the cons with each of the keyboards I own.

The IBM Model M is a classic. I've had mine for a few years. I purchased it on eBay for around 50 bucks. I love the feel of it. That was my reason for purchasing the Unicomp. The IBM doesn't have Windows/Super keys because it was made before those became standard. This isn't a big deal because I use Linux primarily and don't need the Windows keys (at least I can get by without them). However, I was cleaning the keyboard one day and messed up a spring on the left control key. I purchased some replacement springs but in the process of trying to replace the spring, I inadvertently broke some plastic rivets on the board. This didn't cause any immediate problems, but I never got the control key working correctly. It doesn't always register when I press it. As a frequent user of this particular control key, I can no longer use that keyboard.

As a replacement, I bought a Dell AT101W on eBay for around $40. I actually have no complaints about this keyboard. It's has a great feel and sounds real good while typing. The only reason I don't it any longer is because I bought the Unicomp.

I bought the Unicomp because I love the buckling springs of the Model M design, and since Unicomp has the rights for the Model M design, they make a modern version of it. I opted for the more expensive Enduro Pro model because it came with a handy track point reminiscent of the IBM ThinkPad series of Laptop. However, this track point was actually a con. The track point is unusable. I mean it's terrible. You could use it if your mouse went out, but it's not something you would want to use all the time. Trust me, the track point on the Enduro Pro is awful. Not only is it useless, but it also gets in your way when you are typing. I used to hit it all the time when reaching for the G, H, and B keys. I've learned to type around it pretty well over the last year, but I would love if it were just gone. If you get a Unicomp, get their plain Model M version. Stay away from the track point. Other than that, the Unicomp is basically an IBM Model M keyboard with Windows/Super keys. There are three other things I'll add that aren't really cons but things I've noticed about the Enduro.

First, the keys don't have the same design as the original Model M. On the original, there is a key and on it is a key cap. You can remove the key from the spring assembly, and you can remove the key cap from the key itself. Most of the old IBM keyboards were like this. The Unicomp's key caps are one piece.

Secondly, the keys themselves have a slight amount of glitter on the sides. I don't care for this really. It's in the plastic and makes the plastic itself look a little cheap.

Finally, the key action is a bit different from the old Model M. The click is not the same pitch. There's more of a ringing in the original Model M click. It's hard to describe but the click sound just isn't the same. It's closer than you'll find in any other keyboard, however.

So I started looking at the various other keyboards on the market. My friend Lynn really likes Cherry MX key switches. He recently purchased a WASD keyboard. It's an awesome keyboard. WASD allows you to customize the keys in many ways. You can change the lettering and upload your own images to be etched into the key caps. He ordered his keyboard with Cherry MX Blue key switches, which he prefers. Those were also the key switches I was looking for as well, but I've changed my mind a few times upon reading various reviews. Here are some of the keyboards I've looked at:

Corsair Vengeance K90

The K90 uses Cherry MX Red key switches, which are linear. They don't have the tactile "bump" or an audible click. These are quieter than the MX Blue keyswitches. However, I think this is the keyboard I'm going to go with. The reason is in the construction and features it offers. It's a beautiful brushed alumimun and black plastic keyboard. It has a rubber coating on the keys and comes with a rubber coated wrist rest. It also features one of the coolest volume controls I've ever seen on a keyboard. Besides those features, it has a nice blue LED back light on every key. If you are looking for a quieter mechanical keyboard with a backlight and great macro support, this is the only one to check out. I'll probably be getting two of these, one for my wife and one for myself.

Razor Black Widow Ultimate

This was originally the keyboard I planned on purchasing. It also has blue LED back lights behind every key, macro support, and media keys, but it has a super shiny plastic finish which collects fingerprint and smudges. I also read many bad reviews of it on Most of the complaints dealt with bad key placement. One review said that he tried three of the keyboards and all of them had a defect. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to drop $120 on a keyboard that may be flawed from the factory. Overall, this looked like a very promising keyboard, but there were just too many complaints about the quality control.

XArmor U9Plus

The U9Plus looked like a good deal at $89 on Amazon, but I watched a few reviews on it and one complained about the backspace and spacebar keys being wobbly. This keyboard, like the Black Widow, features Cherry MX Blue key switches. Another complaint about this keyboard was that the LED lights behind the num lock, scroll lock, and caps lock indicators bled over onto one another. So when the num lock is on, it almost appears like the caps lock is on as well. There were also a few reviews stating that the overall sturdiness of the keyboard wasn't all that great. This and the Black Widow are probably very good keyboards, but I get spooked easily when shopping for new peripherals.

In conclusion, I'll probably buy the Corsair Vengeance K90 keyboards, even though I'm not quite sure if I'll like the Cherry MX Red key switches. If this keyboard came with a MX Blue option, I'd be all over it. That's the only thing that kept me from making this my first choice right off the bat. I think the most important thing to take away from this is that you should read reviews and make sure that the keyboard is as good as the price. Mechanical keyboards are expensive. Some are better than others. The key switches themselves may all be the same, but everything else about the keyboards can be a deal breaker.

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Best Samsung Galaxy Tablet Deals

When it comes to tablets many people have rushed to get their hands on a new iPad, but there are many tablets which offer better hardware. Most of the other tablets run Android. The Android platform has advantages over the iOS platform used for iPads, iPods, and iPhones. The Android Marketplace is a lot more open. You'll have just as many app and game choices through it, if not more than you would have with the Apple app store.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is an awesome tablet that beats the iPad in many ways. First, it has a real GPS receiver, that doesn't require a wireless network provider. It supports more file types for video playback and image display. The Galaxy Tab is lighter. It also has full Adobe Flash support.

So if you are looking for a tablet, you may really want to give the Samsung a look-see. I've found some great deals here:

Best Samsung Galaxy Tablet Deals

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Hard Drives and Rice

In 2008 there was a major rice shortage in the world. Prices surged, and people were hurt/killed. This year (2011) we had another rice shortage, except this time it wasn't a shortage. The world had a surplus of rice, yet the supply was cut off from the consumer. Governments refused to export rice, mainly from fear that they wouldn't have enough for their citizens, but some also stopped exports because they knew they could profit from a shortage under-the-table. Some government officials in Southeast Asia profited by selling their stockpiled rice at very high prices. By stopping their exports, they created a fake shortage. There was plenty of rice to go around. Yet many people couldn't buy rice for their family.

Recently I've been reading about the upcoming hard drive shortage. Thailand, one of the world's largest manufacturers of hard drives has been suffering from heavy flooding. This has created a shortage. There's no doubt about it. However, that shortage was projected to increase prices by around 10%. Instead, tech merchants started sounding an alarm that there was about to be a major shortage, and prices have jumped by as much as 180%. Many people I know are rushing to buy hard drives that they don't actually need, just to avoid paying much higher prices for them later. This is a terrible time to buy hard drives. Sure their prices will be higher for a few quarters but eventually they'll drop back down to what they are now. In fact, they'll probably plummet as soon as production kicks back in to top gear. There will be a huge surplus of drives as everyone realizes they don't really need as many as they bought. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Vintage Keyboards

A few years ago I had a slight obsession with old keyboards, especially the IBM Model M. I bought one on eBay for around $20. At the time, I was also messing around with Compiz/Beryl for Linux. I found that the missing "Super"/"Windows" keys on the Model M were a downside. So I stopped using it and switched to a newer non-mechanical keyboard.

Again, recently I started wanting more from my keyboard. I didn't enjoy the typing experience on the rubber dome keyboards. I wanted my Model M. So I hooked it back up and realized that I didn't need the Windows keys any more. The novelty of Compiz/Beryl had wore off and I just needed something to code on now.

So for the last few weeks I've been using the Model M. I should mention that I also messed up the spring in the left shift button when I first bought the Model M. I ordered some replacement key assemblies, and thought I could fix it. While I waiting on the key assemblies to arrive, I bandaged the shift key using the Pause button's spring. I found the correct way to remove and install the spring itself.

When the spring assemblies arrived I pulled the keyboard apart and gave it a good cleaning. I also tried to get down to the key assemblies. I found that they are difficult to replace. In the process I messed up my left ctrl button. The spring is no longer aligned properly.

I feel I can eventually fix the key, but while I'm working on it I'll need another keyboard. This led me to look for a replacement for the Model M. I wanted to save money at first so I bought a cheap old vintage Dell at101w on eBay. I got it for $20. I wasn't sure about it so I also purchased a modern Model M, the Unicomp EnduraPro. The EnduraPro also has a built-in trackpoint.

I received my at101w today. I immediately hooked it up and started testing it out. This is probably the first time I've typed on one of these. While I like it, it feels much different than the Model M. Since I'm now used to the Model M, this one feels "muddy" for lack of a better word. It sounds and functions great. It just isn't the same. I can't wait to get that EnduroPro Monday. It will actually have the feeling of a Model M. It also has functioning Windows/Super keys. That's a plus.

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Driver Scanning Scammers

I was trying to locate a simple audio driver for a Windows XP VM I have. Basically, I'm in Linux and I want to watch Netflix but my main VM is having trouble with SilverLight for some strange reason, and rather than deal with that, I decided to use a spare VM. The movies play but I don't have sound in that VM. I realized that the VM was an N-Lite created image, which means that most of the drivers were stripped out of it. So I decided to find the driver and install it.

This is when I started getting furious. The problem is, when you search Google for driver downloads, you will undoubtedly run into nothing but scams. This is the same for Bing and Yahoo. The entire first page of just about any driver download search will have nothing but scams. By scams I mean people trying to get you to download software that costs money, just so you can download and install FREE drivers for you hardware that you've already bought.

So, looking through these scams I realized that there are at least three different pieces of software everyone is trying to sell. The first one I ran into was Driver Detective. This seemed to be the most spammed software out there. Tons of fake sites with fake "Thanks" comments on them, but no true download for your driver, blanket the first page of search results. These sites don't actually have the driver, only a download link for the DriverDetective software. Whether or not the driver detective software works isn't even the questions. The tactics used to sell this software make it nearly impossible for even a very computer-literate person to find the driver they need.

It's days like this that make me appreciate some of the OEMs like Dell, which make it very easy for customers to find drivers. Undoubtedly the adsense to the right of this post will have links to driver software, but that is expected, those are ads. They clearly say so. They are required to disclose what they are selling.

If you run into this problem, here's probably the easiest way to find the correct driver for your system. Open up device manager. This is usually accomplished through the Windows Control Panel. Once there, find the problem device, with the exclamation point beside it, and right click on it. Choose "Properties". Go to the details and look for the VEN and DEV ids. These should each be four characters long. Pull up on your browser. Search for those ids. You should get the manufacturer and device from that. This will at least help narrow down what driver you need. Get the drivers from the manufacturers website. Don't even bother Googling it.

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Adventures in analog video recording on Linux

Linux does many things well, but the multimedia experience can be lacking without the correct bit of hackery. I mean, some cool things can be done with Linux on the multimedia side, but typically it'll take a lot of work to learn how it's done. Mac and Windows make complex things simple, while Linux makes simple things complex.

Back when I purchased my TV tuner card for my PC, I was using Linux as my main OS. I still use it daily but not on my main PC. Only occasionally do I boot to Linux on it. I typically run Windows Server 2008 as I've talked about on previous posts. When I bought the tuner I wanted to make sure that it worked under Linux. So, I purchased one that was made specifically for Linux, a PCHDTV 5500.

It has served its purpose as a TV tuner, since I watched a year or so of cable TV in analog on it prior to the digital switch. I have never been able to get the HD side of things to work on it. Either it's beyond me or my cable company just had all of the channels encrypted. I didn't spend enough time on it to find out.

Recording analog video in Linux can be FUN. By "fun" I mean the type of fun one has pulling their own toe hairs. Be forewarned, getting a good recording is best done from the command line. I tried many ways. I ended up going with mencoder.

That being said, there's not much you can't do with mencoder and ffmpeg from the command line.

I have some VHS recordings I'm converting to AVI and then later on to DVD. I first had to purchase a VCR because, wouldn't you know it, I didn't have one that worked.

After that I had to come up with a good way to connect it to my capture card. The card has coax and component inputs. The new VCR didn't come with any coaxial connections. The capture card had a yellow RCA connection for video. I could use that but then there was the problem with audio. The capture card had a 1/8" jack for audio. Luckily I had an RCA-to-1/8" adapter for one of my gadgets (not sure which). I ended up using two sets of RCA's.

I was amazed I actually got audio and video from it. Here's where more fun came in. I was running virtualbox in the background. Everything I tried to use to record the video told me that /dev/dsp could not be opened. I went through many hoops trying to troubleshoot that issue. I should have realized it sooner but it was all virtualbox's fault. Next time I'll make sure it's not running when I'm dealing with audio.

After all of those problems were worked out, I was able to use:

mencoder tv:///1 -tv driver=v4l2:width=640:height=480:forceaudio:adevice=/dev/dsp -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=-750:threads=2 -oac mp3lame -lameopts cbr:br=64:mode=3 -o /home/five/homevid.avi

I'll try to explain some of what is going on in that command. Mencoder is the program itself. There's little to be said there. The next part is interesting: tv:///1  That tells mencoder we are using the tv card and that we want to use the composite1 input. Typically it defaults to input=0 or tv:///0, which is the coax TV input. There are three inputs on the card: tv, composite, and s-video. The next part (driver=v4l2) tells mencoder that we want to use Video4Linux2. Then we specify the width and height of the capture. The forceaudio bit was placed there during my troubleshooting. It just forces the use of audio device /dev/dsp. I had tried a couple other devices during my troubleshooting, thus the addition of that option. Then we have the option for output video codec (xvid). I set the bitrate and the number of threads. I actually upped that bitrate considerably later to around 2048. I believe I'll end up upping it even more for the next vid. I did the same with the audio output bitrate. I set it up to 256.

That should help anyone experiencing some of the pain I went through.

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