SSD Price Wars

There’s now talk of an SSD price war brewing. This is great as the price for SSD’s are still pretty high.

Unfortunately they still have a way to drop. Especially in recent years people have tons of video and photos, more than they can upload due to asymmetrical broadband. Most people only have one computer, meaning a 128 GB drive isn’t going to get them very far. Especially true for people who are big movie downloaders (legal or licensed via iTunes). Most people don’t have several computers and USB drives hanging about for bulk storage. What’s on their laptop is what they have.

Even when I went with an SSD in my desktop, I put a RAID 0 HDD array in. Just a game or two can occupy half that SSD. It’s more cost-effective to have this gigantic complicated setup than to get an SSD, and truthfully most of what’s on that HDD array is fast enough at RAID 0 speed. So yes, I split things up, but it performs fast and is substantially cheaper. I got the best of both worlds. I can’t wait until this isn’t necessary.

Hardware In The News

US Wireless Carriers To Start Blacklist

Wireless companies are going to start a blacklist for stolen phones. This is a long overdue move. It should have happened years ago. The downside to smart phones like the iPhone having a high resale value is that they have a high resale value. By that I mean they are targets for thieves.

Some, notably Sprint and certain wireless companies in other countries already have such blacklists. A search on ebay for “bad esn” returns quite a few phones. It’s virtually a guarantee these are all stolen phones. Some are sold for parts, some are taken to other wireless providers. Stay away from any phone marked as such if buying used or buy new. I know lots of developers buy older model new phones on eBay, and some buy used. Avoid the “bad ESN” listings so you don’t support this.

Hopefully the next step will be cooperating with overseas partners for a global blacklist. It shouldn’t be terribly difficult to accomplish. That would even further reduce the value of a stolen phone to being worth much more than it’s parts.

Apple Hardware

Screen Quality

Dustin Sklavos at AnandTech pinpointed my feelings in regard to crappy displays:

Each time I write about a notebook with a crappy display, more and more people get irate in comments, and many of you simply write off the review. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that hardware like this is still what’s prevalent in the marketplace, and that Joe Consumer either doesn’t seem to care that much about screen quality or just doesn’t know to ask for better. That tide may change with the rise of tablets, but there are people who see text on a high resolution screen, see that it’s “too small,” and just assume the screen quality is poor. So this problem persists.

I don’t understand how people can stand poor quality screen as this point. I may be a little extreme in my nitpicking, I think the glossy MacBook Pro displays are borderline unusable due to glare and over-saturation. But I think we can all agree that the typical lower end PC laptop is trash. For what it’s worth I’m staring into a Dell display that I really like right now, so this isn’t PC-bashing.

The iPad’s retina display is stunning. It’s the best display I’ve ever seen other than my iPhone. I can’t wait until that’s eventually available in a larger desktop size, and at a price we can all afford.

[Hat Tip: Jeff Atwood]


Indispensable Tools

Beyond the screwdriver, knife, scissors, everyone has one or two things in their toolbox that keeps saving the day, or at least greatly simplifying things. Mine lately has been one of these SATA/IDE to USB cables [NewEgg, Amazon].

Perfect for quickly moving data between hard drives/computers. No need to open/close enclosures which aren’t meant to be opened 100 times. No need to open up your computer, or keep a HD dock on your desk. Just plug in and go. Only the most power-hungry (mostly older IDE) drives are occasionally problematic.

They seem to almost all be based on the JMicron JM20337 chip so the only difference between brands is likely the bundled power supply and quality of plastic. My advice is get whatever is on sale.

For those of us who deal with hardware fairly often, these things are pretty awesome, and totally underrated. It saves a lot of time/effort.

Apple Hardware

Define Mute

One of the tricky things about building products is defining the details. When you say “mute switch” as you’d see on a phone like the iPhone, what exactly do you mean my “mute”? App sounds? Calls? What about an alarm? Muting an alarm sounds reasonable, but perhaps the reason for using the switch is so you can sleep until your phone wakes you up in the AM (I suspect that’s actually a very common use case).

John Gruber has a pretty good insight on the iPhones mute switch design, which doesn’t cover alarms as one New York Philharmonic audience member learned the other night. I agree that it’s an edge case, however think an alert the first time you switch it (and then never again) would be a reasonably good UX. Doing so every time as he explains wouldn’t be workable since you often do use the switch without taking your phone out of your pocket. I know I do it all the time.

In “the old days”, you’d just make that a 3 way selector: mute all sounds, mute all but alarm, all sounds on. 5% of users would figure out how it works.

Hardware Tech (General)

CES And Reality

CES is always a mixed bag for me. As someone who loves gadgets, CES coverage is addictive (my coworkers at CNET do a great job covering it every year feeding my addiction, however the opinions expressed in this post are solely my own). A select few things fascinate me, a few more interest me. The rest really leaves me wanting more. From my perspective it breaks down like this:

  • 25% – Things that will never come to market – These are ideas that are either just totally impractical for technical or commercial reasons, or just products that are so poor the company comes to their senses early. I don’t mind when products are impractical to bring to market, at least at the current time. CES is a gadget geek’s auto show. Concept cars are awesome. So are concept gadgets. I like love seeing prototypes. Things that just are so poorly received they never materialize… well obviously boring.
  • 50% – Mundane – “OOh, you made a TV 0.5 mm thinner. Clearly the CEO of this company is the next Steve Jobs. A visionary that will change the world. Lets all throw out our TV’s and buy this.” I always wonder what Steve Jobs thought when he read about what was announced and demoed at CES. Lots of what gets fanfare is of the level that Apple releases silently releases with nothing more than taking the Apple Store down for maintenance and a small press release. It’s not just TV’s, phones do the same thing. Being a smartphone in 2012 is just status quo.
  • 10% – Things I’d like to try – I’d be unlikely to justify the purchase, but I wouldn’t mind playing with things in this elite category. They include the MakerBot Replicator, I’mwatch, Fujifilm X-Pro 1, Netgear Range Extender. I’d never be able to justify a MakerBot, but I’d like to play with one. I suspect I may hate the I’mwatch, but it seems like it would at least be fun to try. Teathering is a major turnoff however. The X-Pro 1 seems quite expensive for what it is, but I love this high end non-SLR level we’re seeing now. I don’t have a real (read: $90) need for it, but Netgear’s range extender sounds like a good product for those areas where WiFi signals are a little degraded.
  • 14% – Me too’s – This year’s “me too” category is the ultra portable laptop. The MacBook Air clones. Unfashionably late, and offering little imagination. Next.
  • 1% – Could eventually change the world – I love this elite category. Ion Proton Sequencer is one of these. This particular model may go nowhere, but it’s a great example of where this stuff is headed. It will eventually change and save lives. Read up on it if you haven’t. Amazing. The other device is the Raspberry Pi (they have no booth). I’ve been following it since they announced it. I’ll order a few as soon as I’m able. Being able to make a full computer that small and affordable will change the world. For $25, I can put a computer I can write real software for in a situation where it may not survive or was previously not practical. It’s a giant step forward for computers everywhere. One way or another this will change things. This could change Linux usage.

So that’s my breakdown and what interests me personally so far. I’d be curious what others think of CES announcements this year.


HP Produces More Of A Discontinued Product

John Gruber questions the point of HP’s decision to do a final run of TouchPad manufacturing. I’ll propose a likely theory:

iSuppli says the Bill of Materials for an iPad 2 (32 GB GSM) is 336.60 when you add in manufacturing. That same iPad retails for $729.00. This is common sense. There’s R&D, marketing, shipping, and of course profit. Keep this in mind. The retail price is not the break even. It’s a profit. HP is selling their Touchpad’s at $99 and $149 I believe, for 16 GB and 32 GB respectively. A loss, but not quite as substantial as comparing to retail pricing would lead you to believe.

Secondly, it’s important to keep in mind that costs aren’t incurred as products are produced. Supply chains often require commitments. HP likely spent considerable funds securing the parts for the Touchpad. They also spent money tooling the factory. This money is already spent. Contracts were signed (they might be able to get out if they pay a penalty + accept some bad will with vendors they may need in the future). Costs that exist regardless of their decision. This is like selling tickets to a sports event you can’t attend at a loss, because it’s better than being stuck with tickets you can’t use and being out 100% of the cost.

I suspect the primary purposes of this last production batch are as follows:

  • HP already incurred the majority of the cost with R&D, parts, etc. Using up the inventory they have is a way to recoup some of these funds, vs. selling back to the vendors or finding other interested parties. Given it’s a mobile device, parts may even have been custom fabricated to meet the specs and confined space.
  • HP wants to preserve it’s relationship with it’s supply chain.
  • HP isn’t giving up on tablets, they are giving up on WebOS tablets. Might as well get some tablets out there and find out how the hardware does in the wild so building v2 with new software can learn from v1. Again, most of the costs were already incurred.
  • HP isn’t (officially) giving up on WebOS, they are just giving up on WebOS tablets. Until they figure out what to do with it, either license to someone, use on other products, spin it off might as well keep the ecosystem alive so it retains some value. HP invested a lot of money in it. HP has almost 600 employees on it. Loosing a little more cash on hardware to keep demand in the ecosystem up for a few months may not be a bad investment.

Overall, it seems surprisingly logical to produce another batch. It costs HP a lot of money to cancel the product so quickly. They are taking the loss regardless. Might as well try and reap some rewards and recoup some cash from it.


The Best USB Flash Drive

I’ve always been pretty compulsive about the hardware I buy. Several times I’ve documented it on this blog, most recently keyboards, in the past flash drives.

I’m now revisiting flash drives as my current one, a SanDisk Cruzer Titanium is 4+ years old and tiny by today’s standards (2GB). It’s also not exactly speedy. Here’s why I choose the one I did back in 2006:

  • It’s made with “Liquidmetal”, which is insanely tough and can be driven over by a car.
  • Retractable means no cap to loose
  • Reasonable size for what it offers.
  • SanDisk is generally pretty reliable.

Now my needs are generally unchanged. Keep in mind I keep my main flash drive in my backpack which I carry with me most of the time. Last year my travel had me doing 40,916.4 miles. Cheap plastic is out of the question. Same goes for a cap. I use it virtually every day so memory quality is important too.

So my requirements are roughly:

  • Rugged.
  • No cap! Why they aren’t all retractable is beyond me.
  • Reasonable read/write performance.
  • Small size.
  • 8GB+ capacity.
  • Good memory quality. I use it regularly.
  • Did I mention rugged?

SanDisk at least until recently still sells the Cruzer Titanium though it’s no longer using Liquidmetal, and overall is cheaper in quality based on all the reviews I’ve seen. Presumably since Apple now has exclusive rights to Liquidmetal in electronics, it was discontinued. Availability is also limited as well making this not a viable upgrade.

IronKey is way to expensive for what it is, but I like the rugged hardware with the exception of having a cap. Seriously, why aren’t they all retractable? Lexar has the JumpDrive SAFE lineup but it’s got pretty much the same problems. I don’t need the security stuff from either, so it’s not worth it.

Corsair has the affordable Voyager series, but “rugged” to me means more than a rubberized coating on a plastic drive. They also have a Survivor series but that doesn’t really work for me either due to it being fat and somewhat heavy which puts stress on USB ports. That’s also a pain to carry. Being water resistant to 200M is nice, but for practical purposes not really necessary. On the plus side, it’s rather affordable.

So far the leader is the Corsair Survivor. I can’t believe I’m the only one who requires a more rugged flash drive than the typical $5 plastic toys commonly found. I don’t want to be replacing it every few weeks, and want to rely on it. Anyone else in this group? Suggestions?

Hardware Personal

A Mortician Repair Man

I never throw anything out just because it’s “broken” without attempting to fix it. Generally speaking I’m handy enough that I can get things back up and running. Given my family history I had a 50/50 chance of inheriting this trait. I’ve done this from a very young age. It’s clearly something deep inside my psyche.

One odd thing I’ve noticed is that even when I come to the realization something can’t be repaired because of either cost, ability, parts, whatever, I’m still obsessively inclined to reassemble as if I completed a successful repair. Every screw exactly as it was fully assembled from the factory. It’s similar to a mortician dressing up the diseased before burial. I’m not sure if it’s an intellectual challenge (do I recall where everything goes) or just some sort of OCD. I suspect the former slight more than the latter. I can’t recall ever just sweeping something off the table into the trash.

I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, or if it’s common amongst those who repair their own gadgets.

Hardware Security

In Search Of Fireproof/Waterproof Backup

Every year or two, I like to audit how I backup and store my data. I’ve got a pretty good routine of backing up my hard drive for my primary and secondary computers. It’s part of my weekly routine. I also remotely backup some files just in case of a site compromising situation (fire, flood, theft). I’d like to continue that process to move my primary backups to something more secure for site compromising situations. Remote backups either need physical transportation, or adequate bandwidth, both of which are limiting and not exactly cost efficient. I’d like to bypass that.

I’m aware of but not really fond of iosafe’s line of fire/water proof hard drives because it’s a high investment in 1 drive. This doesn’t seem very practical to me in the long run as data storage needs change and drives get bigger/faster. I also don’t need that level of simplicity. I just want someplace safe to store backups.

What I’m really looking for is a lockbox style safe that meets the following requirements:

  • Just large enough to hold 1-2 3.5″ hard drive enclosures.
  • Fireproof and Waterproof
  • UL 125 rated for 1 hr or more.
  • Solid locking mechanism and hinges that can handle many cycles. Combo is preferred since keys either get lost, or leaving them in the lock results in them getting bent.

There doesn’t seem to be anything on the market that meets these seemingly simple requirements. Almost everything in this size range (which isn’t much) is UL 125 for 30 minutes at best. Reviews for everything in this class is very mixed regarding the quality of the hinges and locking mechanism. Truthfully I’d rather no lock and reliable opening/closing than a failed lock. Unless all computers are physically secured in a safe, it’s false security anyway. USB pass-through isn’t ideal either since who wants to keep something like this that close to their desk and not in a closet or someplace more convenient?

Oh yea, I’d also like to keep this somewhat economical. Truthfully a safe/lockbox of this size generally is, though they don’t meet the other two requirements. I’d be curious if anyone has found something that meets all my requirements. I can’t be the first to go down this path. Maybe I’m just the first who wants to do it right and doesn’t want a 300 lb walk-in safe.