Peripherals

Mad Catz R.A.T. 7

I have gone through several mice recently, even though I mostly use a trackball. I started with a wireless mouse, but became annoyed when it constantly failed to respond or needed batteries. Then I used the laser mouse that came with my Dell and it worked well. It even had a DPI adjustment button. But I just loved reading about and seeing the R.A.T. 7. It is so unorthodox, but surprisingly easy to use. It is very customizable, from the two sides, to the length and height of the back, to the amount of weight on it (there are several small weights that you can remove or keep until the mouse feels comfortable). The only thing that took me a few minutes to find was the tool included that you use to unscrew some screws to change things. It is actually on the end of a knob that sticks out the back of the mouse. Once you unscrew it (which also lets you get to the weights) you use the opposite side from the knob to unscrew screws. The mouse has a side scroll wheel in addition to the normal scroll wheel between the buttons. You need to download the software from the manufacturer’s web site, but there are many profiles available for different games. All in all I just like looking at the R.A.T. 7 sitting on my desk. Sure it costs more than cheapo mice (I purchased mine on sale from Best Buy) but you can’t beat the looks and the options for it. Highly recommended for gamers.

Drive Erazer Ultra

I bought this a couple of months ago and finally had a chance to use it tonight. We end up with older computers from offices and I would like to donate them but make sure any data is securely erased first from the hard drives. This little device accomplishes that with IDE and SATA drives without the use of a computer. Also, software solutions are slower and sometimes can only be used a certain amount of times. With this device I left a hard drive in a computer, unhooked the data and power cables coming from the computer, hooked in the data and power cables from the Drive Erazer Ultra, and powered on the device. I could erase the hard drive without removing it from the computer.

The Drive Erazer Ultra has an LCD screen and buttons to control options like type of erase. Once you start erasing, the device tells you what percent is done and how long until it is finished.

The device isn’t cheap (it is more than $200) but it is simple to use and works on multiple drive types. Check out the Drive Erazer Ultra on Amazon. I highly recommend it.

Razer Tiamat 7.1 Surround Sound Analog Headset

I bought the Razer Tiamat headset a few months ago based on a recommendation from Maximum PC. Before buying them I read all of the comments on Amazon. There were many negative comments and many mentioning configuration changes. I decided to buy them anyway, and I am glad I did. They are expensive at $180, they do require some configuration, but they sound great.

The two things about them I want to go through are my configuration and the issue with hearing buzzing. The buzzing comes from the fact that it uses USB for power. When I plugged it into my PC, I heard definite buzzing when there was no sound. But after I moved them to a powered USB hub, the buzzing was not noticeable. Others have plugged them into a wall jack through USB to eliminate the buzzing.

I have a Sound Blaster X-Fi card so it has all the analog jacks I needed for 7.1 surround sound. The first thing to check before buying these is that you have a 7.1 sound card or sound on the motherboard with all of the jacks you need (front, side, rear, center). Using the Creative Console, I have the following settings:

[Speakers] – 7.1, Bass Settings – Enabled, Crossover Frequency 50 Hz, Subwoofer Gain Enabled.

[EAX Effects] – Enabled, -20 dB, Theater.

[X-Fi CMSS-3D] – Enabled, Surround – Stereo Xpand.

[X-Fi Crystalizer] – Disabled

[Graphic Equalizer] – Disabled

I followed some of the Amazon review settings in the beginning and things sounded good but weird. With my current settings,  everything sounds normal and great. I also plugged my 4.1 speakers through the headset, but did run into a problem in one game where I couldn’t hear the dialog. I think it is because I have the sound set to 7.1 and I don’t have the center channel with the speakers. So be careful if you use speakers and they are not 7.1.

Razer also has a lot of information on their Tiamat FAQ page. Use that and Amazon reviewers in case you have problems (and don’t forget my info above). This is the first really expensive headset I have purchased and they sound good and are very comfortable. They actually fit over your ears and I have not had any problems with this. If you have the money and want a nice headset, the Razer Tiamat is worth checking out. Just remember you may need to do a little configuration before they sound great.

HDE Wireless XBOX 360 Receiver

I had bought a Microsoft XBOX 360 wireless receiver for my PC some time ago, but at some point it quit working. I have an XBOX wireless controller I wanted to use with my PC so I decided to try and buy another receiver. I saw many generic versions on Amazon, some that people were complaining about. However, the HDE wireless receiver had all 5 star reviews. So I took a chance and bought it. It came in a little bag with a mini CD with drivers. Instead of running the setup program from the CD, I plugged in the receiver. Windows 7 64-bit said it couldn’t find a driver for the device so I went to Device Manager, checked the device’s properties, and clicked Update Driver. I pointed the search window at the driver CD and checked to search subfolders. The driver was found and loaded successfully. I tried to connect my wireless XBOX 360 controller and had no problems. If you need to get an XBOX 360 wireless receiver for your PC, the HDE wireless receiver works just fine.

Apricorn Aegis NetDock

I purchased this device some time ago after reading about it in a magazine. I thought the idea of an external USB DVD-ROM plus hard drive in one package was cool. Tonight I found a great use for this device – offline imaging of hard drives. With the USB DVD-ROM and an external hard drive built-in you have all you need to boot a system and image it. In my case I imaged a netbook, which of course has no optical drive. The Aegis NetDock is still available for sale. You can by it with no hard drive or with 250 or 500 GB drives already installed (installing your own drive is a piece of cake, though). It does only support 2.5″ notebook drives, however.

Hulu and Netflix finally come to Android, but why for only phones?

When I bought my Samsung Galaxy Tab a few months ago, I didn’t know much about the Android platform, but it had some important apps I had been using on my iPhone so I was okay with buying it. I liked the 7″ form factor (much the opposite of the media) and thought the iPad, at 10″,  was too big to lug around for a guy (after purchasing an iPad for my wife, I have confirmed that my choice of the Galaxy Tab was right). I noticed at the time of purchase Hulu and Netflix were not yet available for Android, but would probably be coming soon.

After a few months of having my tablet, Netflix and Hulu have finally come to Android. Unfortunately, they are not available for my Galaxy Tab (and I think other Android tablets as well). If I can use HBOtoGo on my tablet, why not Hulu or Netflix? They work on the iPad so it can’t be a tablet issue. Maybe they wanted to make their apps work on phones first before optimizing them for tablets. I sure hope so. Although I didn’t primarily purchase a tablet to stream movies and shows to, it is a lot better than watching movies on your phone (I have had good experiences with Hulu on my iPhone, but the bigger screen of my tablet would be nice).

The Android platform is getting more apps everyday – I just hope Hulu and Netflix get their acts together and let Android tablets users enjoy their services.

HTPC Windows Remote

Last year I purchased a new gaming PC to replace the 2 1/2 year old one I currently had. My old PC wasn’t bad – AMD Athlon 64 6000+, 4 GB RAM, and a Radeon 4850. But I setup a TV in another room and I wanted DVR capabilities on it. I have been very happy with TiVo, but I did not want to purchase another one, especially since they cannot record HD from a satellite feed. So I was going to try using Windows Media Center that came with Windows 7. I swapped out my Radeon 4850 for an old ATI AIW x800 and went to work.

I hooked up the PC to the TV through the VGA port just to use the PC on the TV, but I soon found out Windows Media Center didn’t work with satellite even though I had the PC in between the satellite receiver and the TV through the AIW. I ended up moving a TiVo to the TV for my DVR needs. But I still had a PC with an Internet connection hooked up to the TV, and I already had a Kensington wireless keyboard and mouse that I had been using before with this TV and another PC. When I thought I could use Media Center I purchased a Windows Media Center compatible remote and receiver from buy.com. It was fairly inexpensive and it sounded okay, and I have since found it very useful for moving around the PC without a mouse.

Since a DVR was out for my PC, I setup Netflix instantly through Firefox so I could watch programs; later I also signed up for a Hulu Plus account (which I think is another great service). So now I leave Firefox open with Hulu on one tab and Netflix on another. With the Windows remote I bought I can usually watch programs without even using the keyboard. The remote has a nice circular thumb pad that you can use to move the mouse pointer and a button for left and a button for right mouse clicking. Setup was easy: I plugged in the receiver which Windows recognized and I was ready to go. So while I don’t have DVR functionality on this TV through Windows, and while accessing Hulu or Netflix is not as easy as doing it through my Sony Blu-Ray player, I can easily navigate Hulu and Netflix and watch programs using only this remote. I am impressed with this remote because it was inexpensive and it just plain works.

PC Video Cards Do Not Work in Macs (more or less)

Since I have been learning more about Mac desktops after purchasing a Mac Pro, I have been trying to understand why video cards for Macs said “Mac Edition.” I always thought this was some kind of driver issue; I really could not understand why Macs were always at least a generation behind on video cards (and this post does not answer this question).

Recently, I found myself with a spare ATI Radeon 4850. Since my Mac Pro came with the default nvidia120 (I did not want to splurge for the Radeon 4870), I looked into putting the 4850 into the Mac. That is when I came across posts from people talking about flashing the BIOS of the video cards to make them work in a Mac. From what I understand, since the Intel Macs use EFI instead of a traditional PC-like BIOS, the video card has to have a different BIOS to support the boot process before the OS loads. Therefore, you cannot drop a PC video card into a Mac (well you can, but it won’t work by itself).

I read many posts about some people getting a Radeon 4870 PC card to work in a Mac after a BIOS flash and some driver manipulation. It is too bad there is not an easier process since Apple is not selling these “Mac” video cards cheap and there is a market out there, particularly it seems for people with older Mac Pros.

HP Laserjet 2035N and 2055N

We needed a new printer at one of the offices because the Dell 1700 we had been using for 3-4 years was having lots of paper jams. I found the HP 2055N on sale at Office Depot so I bought it. It had 128 MB RAM (expandable to 384MB), built-in networking and duplexing, support for an additional paper tray, and an LCD display. It also had many good reviews. Unfortunately, the unit I received jammed on the first print and I could not clear the jam error from the printer so I had to return it. Since Office Depot was not setup to make an exchange and the printer was no longer on sale, I bought the lower model (2035N) from Staples since it was on sale. The 2035N did not have as good of reviews as the 2055N, but I had already bought toner for the 2055N and I needed a printer asap so I went with the 2035N.

The 2035N only has 16MB RAM which I do not think is expandable. It does not have duplexing or an LCD display, but it does have built-in networking. Since it didn’t have the display, I had to use the HP software to find the printer an give it a static IP address. That was pretty simple. With the IP address set, I bypassed the HP software setup and went through Windows to setup IP printing using the IP address I had given to the printer. When asked for the driver, I pointed the wizard to the printer inf file in the root of the CD and the printer was setup successfully.

The 2035N has been working good for us for the last few weeks. The employees like it better than the Dell printer and we have not had any problems with it. I think I received a bum 2055N unit, so I would recommend either of these printers to small businesses looking for a decent black and white laser printer. If you want more features and expandability, go with the 2055; otherwise, save some money and try the 2035.

HP Laserjet 2420D Upgrades

I recently had a D-Link 300U print server die on me. It’s been fairly reliable for a few years; every now and again I would have to power cycle it to make it work. I liked the fact that you could share up to 3 printers from it – 2 Parallel Port and 1 USB. I looked for something similar that just had USB but could not find any print servers that supported more than 1 printer, and most of these were for wireless not wired networking. D-Link still sells the 300U but the 2 Parallel Port thing was not good for the future.

I had had an HP Laserjet 1200 and HP Laserjet 2420D printer attached to the print server when it died. They were both using Parallel Port connections, although both support USB as well. The 1200 does not have an internal HP Jetdirect option (they recommend you use the HP Jetdirect 175X with it which is a single USB print server). I have setup one of these before, but opted instead to use a USB hub and switch the 1200 to USB. The 1200 is next to a Canon All-In-One on USB so it was easy enough to add the USB hub and put both the Canon and the HP 1200 on the hub.

This left me with the 2420D to address. I knew I could install an EIO card in it, but it took some time to figure out which one. Resellers do not list every printer that a particular EIO card works with (sometimes they do not list any). After looking at the Jetdirect 620n and confirming it worked with the 2420D, I had to decide where to buy it. I found the card for $300 – $400 on some retail sites, but some online sites were selling OEM/bulk versions for around $100. Then I found there were 2 different models of the 620n – J7934A or J7934G. After more research I found that the only difference was the “G” model had a built-in web server – very nice. So I opted for the “G” model.

On buy.com I found several sites that sold the 620n, and I bought the card from entercomputers.com. I had never used them before and there were some negative reviews on them, but they looked okay and they also sold a 500 sheet tray for the 2420D in new condition for around $120. So I purchased both the card and tray from them – they even had free ground shipping. I received both items in about a week and both worked just fine. The EIO card came in a static bag, but it was worth it to save $200+ over the retail version. Anyway, it was just a matter of removing a cover from the printer, sliding the card in and screwing it down, and configuring the card through the printer’s menu. The tray was a plug and play affair – remove printer, set down tray, set printer carefully on top of tray in the proper position. The printer recognized both and both work without problems.

Like my old friend Robert Langford used to say, if you have an empty slot fill it. For the 2420D, I think I’ve filled every slot between these upgrades and a previous memory installation. I am glad most new printers come with built-in networking now – print servers are okay, but built-in networking is a lot less hassle.