Friday, May 30, 2008

The 31 Days of the Dragon continues

I was remiss in not posting about the incredible contest sponsored by HP, and Buzzcorp before but they are in the process of giving away 31 HP Pavilion Dragon HDX Entertainment Notebook PC's. This is an extremely powerful 20 inch notebook PC with a list of specs that would make most hard core gamers smile. A sample of the system specs include Intel Core 2 Extreme Processor, 4 GBs of Ram, 512mb GeForce 8800GTS Video card and an 20.1 inch display. The giveaway also include a boatload of software in addition.
The catch, time is running out the end is June 8th so jump on over to the following sites to enter and maybe win this incredible rig.
Site Contest Starts Winner Announced On 2-May 9-May
Ars Technica 3-May 10-May 4-May 11-May 5-May 12-May
Barbs Connected World 6-May 13-May 7-May 14-May 8-May 15-May 9-May 16-May 10-May 17-May 11-May 18-May 12-May 19-May 13-May 20-May 14-May 21-May 15-May 22-May 16-May 23-May
Digital Inspiration 17-May 24-May 18-May 25-May 19-May 26-May 20-May 27-May 21-May 28-May 22-May 29-May
Planet 23-May 30-May 24-May 31-May 25-May 1-June 26-May 2-June 27-May 3-June 28-May 4-June 29-May 5-June 30-May 6-June 31-May 7-June 1-June 8-June

Please note many of these sites have already ended their contest, I included the whole list because there are some great sites here and you should check them out.
Good luck.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The New Ultra Portable Class of Laptops

Once again the marketplace has reared its head and the things which were assumed a year ago are no longer. The Asus EeePC is the driving force behind the change. Although the one laptop per child project and its creation the XO may have pre-dated the Asus laptop, it's the EeePC that is the vehicle of change. I don't think any of the big name players had any idea that the tiny 7 inch screen, with a Celeron processor, running Linux would have the impact it did. It comes in bright colors with a well finished plastic shell. Best of all it was only $299.00, for a reasonable fast and very useable little computer. With the Linux installation that includes a number of useful applications such as Skype, the Open Office suite and Firefox, for browsing. It's a fine tool for business travelers or students on a very tight budget. With a tiny keyboard and 800x480 screen, no CD/DVD drive and very limited storage (starts at 2GBs, goes up to 12GBs) it's not for full time use, at least not for big hands and adults with bad eyesight. But for kids or occasional use it works fine.

Now that the EeePC has become such a success, a number of competitors have launched similar machines, most notably the HP 2133 mini-note. The mini-note is slightly larger than the EeePC with a slightly faster processor made by the low power specialists Via, and comes in standard configuration with a 120GB hard drive. The HP has a Linux version as well as a couple that run Windows Vista Basic and Business. Prices on Amazon range from $520.00 -850.00 for the 2133 and has upgrades available for the hard drive and processor. The nicest feature of the 2133 is the keypad which is close to ¾ of a normal full sized keyboard. It has a beautiful brushed aluminum finish that gives it a very professional look to it.

As the popularity of the new mini-notebooks as spread, Microsoft has decided to offer and support Windows XP Home edition for this new class of notebook. While the end of line for XP availability is fast approaching for mainstream OEM's, the people in Redmond have seen the popularity of all these devices and seen them coming equipped with Linux, and not wanting to see this free and open sourced operating system get a toehold they've wisely (in my opinion) decided to offer XP. Since Vista is much larger and demands more powerful hardware than most of these new mini-notebooks carry, XP is a perfect fit. The EeePC is already being shipped with a larger screen, flash drive, and can be had with XP. Of course the price for the higher end EeePC is up to $549.00. The venerable XO of One Laptop Per Child fame is also switching to an dual boot option with XP and its original Sugar OS, albeit not without some controversy. It seems a core group of open source advocates got their panties in a bunch over the move to XP, there was some resignations or firings depending on who's blogging about it. I'v never used an XO although I did hear a number of reports from various sources that the Linux OS it originally shipped with was difficult to navigate. Hopefully the move to XP will accelerate the purchases of the XO and get it into the hands of the educators and children that can be helped by it.

The advent of a new form factor is here. The new ultra-portables showed that the market place will respond to a reasonably priced small computer, WITH A KEYBOARD! Unlike some of the earlier UMPC's that were pushed out a few years ago I believe this trend has legs, time will tell.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Using Vista Backup and Restore Utility

I recently blogged about my daughters laptop getting infected with one of the many phoney anti-spyware programs out there today PC-Antispyware. In the end we ended up having to reformat reinstall Windows Vista to finally free the machine once and for all of this malady. I would also like to point out an excellent blog I found when trying to research the PC-Antispyware, Bill Mullins blog post on rogue Antispyware programs was very informative about rogue programs out there now and can be found here Bills blog is quite informative and very well done. I recommend you check it out for a number of helpful hints, tools and software programs his homepage is here,

Now back to the system restore,that went better than I had originally hoped. In some ways it turned out to be a bit of a Godsend. First let me explain, this computer is not the highest powered machine out there. It was basically a bargain buy at Christmas time from Best Buy, for $599.00 we got a 14.1 inch Gateway 1616 running the AMD mobile Turion at 1.9x2 Ghz, it came with integrated graphics which will use up to 256 MBs of system ram for video use. I upgraded the ram from a pathetic 1 GB to 4Gbs. Ram is cheap and even if the 32 bit system won't see all 4 Gigs so what, its far better than a stock 1 GB. So performance wasn't great, although it wasn't horrible on this machine.

Now however the machine was infected and I doubted it could be fixed by traditional methods. To fix it, I believe I used the term "nuke the bastards" a frustrated comment from one exhausted father, dealing with child's computer. Fortunately the machine came with a system restore disk, but no disks for drivers or pre-installed software, strange but no big deal. Note I choose to install from the OEM Vista OS disk provided rather than use the restore partition, I wanted a clean install, you see I didn't want the pre-installed trialware or more accurately crapware that comes with new computer these days. So the re-install went fine, Vista installs fast compared to XP, and in half hour it was done. Next the drivers, I was surprised that more drivers weren't included with Vista install, as was the case when I installed Vista for the first time on my desktop. So I plugged in the Ethernet from my router and went to the Gateway site were I found a fairly intuitive, and easy to use driver download section. Within an hour or so I had the machine loaded with the latest drivers so then time for service pack 1, which went without a hitch. So now it was time to reinstall the data. Fortunately we had been making incremental backups using Vista's native backup and restore utility, as would turn out, very fortunate indeed.

I wish I could say this went perfect, but it really didn't, even though I have 2 excellent books on Vista, I did manage to screw things up the first few tries. First I wanted to restore her precious itunes library. I download the latest version of itunes as I had a data backup on a DVD of her songs , play lists and ratings. Doing this had always worked fine before, when moving to a new computer. So with the fresh install of itunes I tried the DVD and it only installed about one third of the songs, even though I could see all of them. Not good, no not at all. I tried to install the backup on another PC with itunes, same result.

So now my last chance, the backup on an external hard drive, I had made using Vista's Backup and Restore Center. At first my main problem was trying to be too specific in giving instructions to the program. I tried to restore only specific data, by searching the program and installing all things with the keyword itunes. I got another small amount of songs and metadata but not nearly all of it. I tried the same for pictures with similar results. Frustrated, I was beginning to think this was headed for a total disaster. I tried again, this time selecting to restore the entire contents to the desired drive(c) and let it go. I immediately was queried by the program on how to handle a duplicate file, I told it to just keep the original and not save the second version. This kept happening, I finally noticed the little box to check,"do this with all duplicates" . Now, we were finally getting somewhere!

I took a while, maybe an hour, but in the end after a re-boot, Vista's Backup and Restore Center had done it. Even her desktop icons were back in place. All photos were restored as well as her entire itunes library, with play list and ratings intact, very cool indeed! A program actually performed as it was supposed to.

As for the Godsend, well that's a bit of an exaggeration, but with the latest drivers, combined with no crapware, makes for a far better performing machine. It boots quicker than when it was brand new, and is much snappier opening and running programs even after the ram upgrade. It also illustrates one of the older axioms of computing. Unless you have multiple backups, you aren't backed up. It also highlights a new rule for my daughter and her computer, no passwords for you! I'll control the administrator account on her machine from now on, I'll let UAC handle the rest.