The Haphazard Blog

Computer Hardware

Quick Format or Regular Format

by on Feb.07, 2010, under Computer Hardware, Technology

It has been a while since I had installed a new hard drive. I bought a 2 TB hard drive for media. In Windows I initialized the disk, partitioned and formatted it. Well, as the formatting was taking longer and longer I thought I’d check if that was normal. (It ended up taking 7 hours.)

Some people were recommending a quick format for new drives. That would’ve taken no time at all. I think I got to the bottom of it, and despite taking so long (I would’ve done it overnight to save time had I known), I think the regular format is best.

The quick format basically sets up the disk for use. The thinking of some is that since the disk is new and empty, there’s no need to do a full format (writing to the entire drive).

The regular format checks for bad sectors. This is what ends up taking so long. On the surface, it may seem like modern hard drives don’t have bad sectors (unless they are going bad), but in reality they do. The manufacturers set aside space to re-map bad sectors to so that from Windows perspective, the drive has no bad sectors. So the regular format makes that initial sweep of a new drive to discover any bad sectors before you put it to use. Quick format is better suited for a drive that was fully formatted previously.

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Tablet Follow-Up

by on Feb.06, 2010, under Computer Hardware, Technology

Following up on my last post on the iPad, I came across some tablet related items that I liked.

The first was an announcement of an iPad look-alike that runs Windows 7 from a company called ExoPC. The slate is quick to point out that it will have “full support of all formats including Flash and Silverlight”. I’m not sure how the performance of it will be, but if it is smooth, I think it will deliver a good experience. The screen resolution is lower, which does hurt it. Fortunately, it is only reduced in one direction, so it should not hurt the web experience. The integrated web cam makes a lot of sense but it doesn’t mention a microphone. If it includes that, then you can run Skype on it. Weaker battery life and no 3G, but it has USB. Since it is running Windows 7, you will have full control of the tablet and won’t be locked in to Apple everything.

The second was a semi-critique of the iPad. I thought it was a good way to explain why the product seems like such a disappointment. I also like the simplicity in the statement “”With this, you can finally…” to determine how innovative a product is.

The final item was concept UI that Google put up a couple days before the iPad announcement. After the ipad announcement, my brother and I felt that Google was best positioned to directly challenge the iPad because they have their own mobile OS (Android) and are working on their own Chrome OS. A couple days later, it was reported Steve Jobs said “We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone.” in reference to Google during a company town hall meeting. He then tossed in “I want to go back to that other question first and say one more thing, he says. This don’t be evil mantra: ‘It’s bullshit.'” for good measure. I don’t think he’d waste his time talking about Google if he didn’t see them as a real threat.

All this talk of tablets also has me thinking. Multi-touch is not the best friend of people with physical disabilities. The gestures should really have an ability to be customized to allow those with limitations to decide what gestures are most important or maybe even different ways to perform the gesture to enable the same action.

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Using the Flex Bay in a Dell Precision T5500

by on Feb.06, 2010, under Computer Hardware, Technology

I wanted to add a hard drive to my PC for additional storage of media. I plan to mirror my primary drive and I don’t want to clutter it up with media. I want to use it only for applications and work. The Dell Precision T5500 in a mini-tower configuration has what Dell calls a flex bay. You can have an internal drive or an external drive in that bay.

I’ve had good luck with Dell service manuals in the past, but the one for the T5500 is of no real help when it comes to the drive bays, especially the flex bay. It took a little bit of figuring out, but I managed to get the hard drive installed, so I thought it might help others to explain how I did it.

Dell has good instructions in their service manual for the T5500 for some of the steps. I will also make use of some of their pictures as well. So here we go.

  1. Follow the service manual for removing the Cover (pulling the panel completely away makes it easy to lift out).
  2. Follow the service manual for removing the Front Bezel (this requires force and it helps to have someone hold the switch so you can hold the case and slide the bezel).
  3. Follow the service manual for removing the Drives Bezel.

Dell Precision T5500 - Drives Bezel Removed

  1. My machine had only one optical drive, so there were metal covers over the second optical bay (5.25″) and the flex bay (3.5″). Pull on the “tab” (it’s the blue sticker attached to the metal covers in the picture above) to remove the metal cover. It’s in there pretty tight. My “tab” was not placed correctly and broke. If that happens, you can remove the one above it in the optical bay and then pull out the flex bay cover by getting your hand behind it. Worst case, both “tabs” break and you can remove the optical drive and then remove the two covers by hand. They all are set into grooves that act as rails for the screws.

Dell Precision T5500 - Drives Bezel

  1. On the back of the drives bezel there are screws that you need to use on the hard drive. Remove the four at the bottom around the flex bay grill. Screw those into the the forward most holes on your hard drive (2 on each side) leaving the rear ones (closest to the power/data connectors) empty.
  2. Slide the hard drive into the flex bay grooves while holding down the sliding plate that locks the drives in place. If everything is done right, the hard drive will be locked into place and you can connect the power/data cables (it is helpful to disconnect the power cable from the optical drive to make it easier to connect the power cable to the hard drive, just be sure to reconnect the power cable to the optical drive). I bought a 0.4m (~16″) SATA cable which was way longer than needed. A 6″ cable would be long enough.
  3. Slide the metal cover(s) back into place to cover up the bay(s).
  4. Follow the service manual for replacing the Drives Bezel (the left side needs to be put in place first and the right side near the USB ports will not snap into anything, the front bezel will hold it down).
  5. Follow the service manual for replacing the Front Bezel (make sure everything is aligned and in their grooves before sliding it in place, if you don’t, remember that there is a release switch to remove it).
  6. Follow the service manual for replacing the Cover.
  7. Hook your PC back up and when you turn it on, hit F2 to enter setup and make sure that the SATA port that you connected the drive to is enabled.
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Apple iPad

by on Jan.30, 2010, under Computer Hardware, Technology

A couple people have asked me what I thought about the iPad, so I figured I’d throw my thoughts out here.

  • While keeping up with the live event through Engadget’s live blog of the event I was underwhelmed and just got a general feeling that Apple (and Steve Jobs) thinks everything they do is revolutionary and amazing. I think it’s a trait you certainly want a company and CEO to have, but a sense of reality would be good too. You can introduce a new product with the proper amount of enthusiasm.
  • My immediate impression was it is a big iPhone. After further reflection, it’s a big iPhone without calling features.
  • I think it is essentially Apple’s netbook. They aren’t going to be making a laptop below $1k.
  • I think it is an OK product. The weight at 1.5 lbs and battery life of 10 hours are excellent features. The simplicity of use is also very good. I’m assuming the keyboard will be very well engineered like the iPhone keyboard.
  • It seems to be perfect for people to use around the house or on the go. Web surfing, e-mail, calendar and applications. I assume you can put it in standby instead of having to shut it down which basically gives you instant on access. Want to check something online real quick, it’s ready right away.
  • Apple decided to use the iPhone OS instead of OS X. Without “jail breaking” it, you have a limited world. App Store programs and built-in programs. There is no flash support (likely because Adobe hasn’t decided to make the resource usage anywhere near reasonable for its functionality). Everyone isn’t going to make their site work with the iPhone like YouTube did. This does open the door for Microsoft’s SilverLight.

I decided it wasn’t for me pretty fast. I’d rather have something running a real OS. In the $500-$830 range, you’re looking at Windows 7 or you can build a Hackintosh. However, you’re not going to find anything nearly that light or with that kind of battery life. There are some trade-offs in either direction. From my standpoint, the iPad would’ve been a much better product if it ran OS X instead of the iPhone OS. However, this is also why the iPad is different from tablet PCs. Tablet PCs run Windows instead of a mobile OS. The only difference from a laptop is a user interface that wasn’t designed specifically for a tablet PC.

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Rebuilding a PC and J2EE Standalone

by on Sep.16, 2009, under Computer Hardware, Software Development, Technology

It looks like the hard drive controller also went bad on my PC. I can’t get it to boot in any way. I tried to create a bootable USB flash drive loaded with Windows XP.  It worked on my laptop, but no matter what I tried on the other PC it would crash on the same driver. I tried new cables and different drives. So I think it’s just a giant paper weight. Replacement Dell main boards are quite expensive, so that was an unlikely way to go. My company offered to try and put together a temporary machine and send it out to me, but I just decided to use an old machine I have. It will only be temporary though. Looks like I’ll be getting a new PC.

So I’ve installed Windows XP and have been installing all the applications I need to get by. This takes a lot of time. Reboots, updates, configuring. I definitely need to push for a RAID 1 setup on my new machine. Storage is so cheap, an extra $100 is well worth avoiding data loss from a drive failure and having to rebuild a machine.

This brings me to J2EE. My Java IDE (IntelliJ IDEA) uses libraries to help with syntax checking, auto-complete, etc. I don’t understand why Sun does not make J2EE available as a standalone download. I have to download and install a J2EE application server to get theJ2EE JAR file. Given that, Jet Brains should bundle it with the IDE. I use Apache Tomcat as the application server and it does not require or come with J2EE.

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I Think My PC Died

by on Sep.13, 2009, under Computer Hardware, Technology

It appears my PC has decided to blow up. I was doing some work yesterday evening and went to eat dinner. I came back to find the dreaded BSoD. These are a very uncommon occurrence for me. I think the last one I had was 4 years ago.

I rebooted and the PC just wasn’t going into Windows. I tried a lot of things with no luck. Of course, I didn’t have a Windows XP CD to run the recovery console (I didn’t get one with the machine, Dell Dimension 8300) so I had to use other methods. I used the built in Dell diagnostics and all signs pointed to a bad hard drive. Just to be sure, I tried the hard drive in another older PC I had. No luck, so it looked like my primary hard drive was dead and I likely lost about a week of data. (I try and backup my data every Sunday morning.) So I put a working drive into the machine and was still having problems.

Now I really have no idea what the problem is. It’s my work PC and the warranty ran out over 2 years ago. I’m going to have to talk to our company’s IT people and see where to go from here. I’m starting to think that heat finally destroyed the thing. When I first got it, it was so quiet, even under full load. Over the years, the CPU fan would get going under load, and eventually it got to the point in the Summer where if the temperature in the room was 80, it was ready for lift-off regardless of the actual load on the CPU. If it really is finished, I’d like to see if the thermal compound or pad was destroyed. I saw some users on the Dell forums complain about the noise levels going up over time. Some people recommended replacing the fan. Oh well. If it’s dead, it has worked well for me for over 5 years. I only had to upgrade the RAM (added 2 GB) in all that time. Not too bad all things considered. In hindsight, I probably should have replaced the PC before the 5 year mark.

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