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Robert R.

Robert R.

Joined on 06/03/10

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Product Reviews
product reviews
  • 39
Most Favorable Review

Good Companion For Desktop Systems

Seagate Backup Plus 1TB USB 3.0 3.5" Desktop Hard Drive STCA1000100 Black
Seagate Backup Plus 1TB USB 3.0 3.5" Desktop Hard Drive STCA1000100 Black

Pros: The Seagate Backup Plus 1TB USB 3.0 is the same product as the Seagate GoFlex Desk USB 3.0, simply under a new name and package. You get a 3.5" SATA 6gbps drive inside a black plastic enclosure. The drive, a ST1000DM003-9YN162 is fairly spirited, offering up max transfer speeds in excess of 180MB/s, at least on the outer tracks (when using large sequential transfers). Thanks to the laws of physics, the inner tracks drop to around 45% of that, depending on how you measure. Even at the very end, it is still more competitive than most 2.5" HDDs attached to a native SATA interface at their peak. Smaller, random accesses aren't anything to write home about, but then you probably won't be using the Seagate to run your OS. Keep your backups and media on it, and you'll be pleased with performance. I've had especially good luck with the Seagate attached to the Asmedia USB 3.0 on a couple of my motherboards, but I have had issues with USB3 devices on other, older chipsets. Hopefully, were past that stage at this point with native SuperSpeed support. Most the system drives I backed up using the included software averaged about 65MB/s. With fewer large files or more small ones, that could drop. Seagate's included software can preserve the whole file structure, so you aren't placing your backup into a large single file written in a proprietary format. The whole package is quite efficient, using about 4.4w at idle and a shade under 8w on load. That's a good thing for several reasons, but keeping temps down is probably at the top of the list. The internal thermal sensor will spend most of its time around 40c, assuming you aren't using the drive in a sauna, though long sessions will cause spikes up to 50c or so. That's still within a range which will ensure a healthy lifespan, though. By comparison, most of my old, power hungry externals spent much of their time sweltering inside enclosures without enough airflow. Consequently, they didn't last long in most cases. Fortunately, if something untoward happens you get two years of warranty coverage with the Seagate. That's of little consolation if you lose a decade worth of backups, but at least Seagate offers various data recovery services -- sadly, pricing information is difficult to come by prior to a purchase. The chassis itself is attractive enough, with few extraneous lights. Just a series of LEDs on the bottom, one to denote power and a capacity indicator composed of four vertical lights. I find the drive to be quiet enough, though it is far from inaudible. If you need a truly hushed external solution, consider one of the similar portable units with 2.5" drives. The 3.5" Backup Plus isn't noticeable next to a passively cooled desktop I use from time to time, but that mostly depends on your threshold for noise and the ambient noise where you live.

Cons: Obviously, the Backup Plus arrives with USB 3 connectivity out of the box, but Firewire and Thunderbolt are optional extras... but sticking with USB 3 is probably the way to go. Firewire is severely depreciated nowadays, and the Thunderbolt pedestal is ludicrously expensive at the moment. It could be hard to find as well, but consider that part a good thing. Thunderbolt may have its advantages, but sane pricing isn't one of them. It isn't like the interface makes HDDs spin faster or anything... most 3.5 inchers can't break 200MB/s yet. Start mixing in 4K transfers, and watch transfer speeds drop to levels best measured in KB/s, not MB/s. So save Thunderbolt for those storage applications which can benefit from the throughput.

Overall Review: Bonus! You can take the USB interface pedestal off the drive and use it with another drive if you like. It becomes handy if you need a makeshift USB 3.0 interface for a 3.5" HDD which consumes enough juice to require external power. I've been using Seagate's external products as companions for solid-state-storage-equipped systems for the past two years, and have largely been satisfied. I primarily used to roll my own external storage using USB, Firewire, and eSATA enclosures paired with whatever HDD I was fond of at the time. But now, with spinning media largely more expensive as a whole and suffering from shorter warranties, the Seagate Backup Plus begins to look far more attractive... all things considered.

12/18/2012
Most Critical Review

Decent Enough, Needs More Cowbell.

MSI 970A-G43 AM3+ AMD 970 + SB950 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX AMD Motherboard
MSI 970A-G43 AM3+ AMD 970 + SB950 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX AMD Motherboard

Pros: The MSI 970A-G43 is a perfectly workable AM3+ board. It's a budget offering, but thanks to a decent UEFI and AMD's 970 northbridge/SB950 southbridge it works well. That is, unless you're using a terrifically power-hungry AMD CPU (and most of them are). I had no complaints with the board's layout. Everything was at or near where I'd like it to be -- fan pinouts, USB, etc were all in decent places. Moving around to the back, the rear port cluster is a bit spartan, but has two USB 3 ports, six USB 2s, PS2s, ethernet, and audio. The next step up the line of MSI's AMD boards (the 970A-G46) drops 1 PS2 in favor of an optical audio out and two USB2 ports for a COM port. Depending on your needs, that might be more appropriate for you. And speaking of ports, two of the SATA III ports are vertical, while the other four stick out the side. I like that, but they could get in the way of a longer card in the second x16 PCIe slot (which signals at x4) if you want to use both at once. Probably not an issue for a board like this, but you never know. One of the best features of the board is MSI's GUI-based UEFI. If you've ever used one of their newer Intel boards, you'll know where everything is in the UEFI. It's not half bad looking, and finding options is pretty easy. It isn't as good as some, but it IS a much better UEFI implementation than most. I built the board up with an Athlon II x3 640. I also slapped on some Geil 1333 DDR3 @ 7-7-7 and 1.5v. To handle graphics duty, I used a MSI Cyclone GTX 460. All standard stuff that I used prior to January 2011 (before I kinda just gave up on AMD). To round out the install, I hooked up a Samsung 830, BD-ROM, and the X-650 PSU. I powered the system on for the first time and installed Win7, and never had an issue after. Actually, first I entered the UEFI, which was harder to do than I expected (POST is super fast). I made a few changes, especially since I looked and the system defaults to IDE, not AHCI. So definitely change that before you proceed. Installing Windows wasn't an issue, MSI's driver disk installed only the stuff I wanted and nothing I didn't. Everything was fine. I didn't run into a single issue then, and I haven't since. From a performance and usability perspective, everything was awesome. Having six 6gbps SATA III ports is also awesome, and mating a fast SSD with a newer chipset and older CPU made everything feel pretty groovy. The fact that the board doesn't look awful helps too. The unlocked fourth core really helps things out, and it doesn't require much more power either. If I were using a Phenom X6, I'd definitely pay more for something a bit beefier.

Cons: I suppose the main issue with this board is that the VRM and power delivery features aren't designed with most higher-end AMD procs in mind. The nearly identical MSI 970A-GD46 actually lists support for 125W CPUs. That includes some quad cores and most 6 core AM3. You could probably use them anyway, but (A) get lots of airflow to the VRMs and (B) don't overclock them. Actually, I've found lots of AMD CPUs can (and should) be undervolted. It's hard to actually fault a budget board for not having high end VRMs and power circuitry There are two PCI slots on the board. That might be a selling point for some hardware, but I think it's time we moved past putting old school PCI on boards. Intel's chipsets no longer support them natively, requiring PCIe to PCI bridges. AMD's chipsets do still support native PCI, but in my estimation it's high time we moved past PCI. I like the two PCIe x1 slots, but not where they're at. With a dual slot GPU in the top x16 slot, the second x1 gets covered. It might have made more sense to put one of the PCI slots below the x16 instead of the second x1. Lastly, of the two x16 PCIe slots, one is x16 while the other is only an x4. It's hard to gripe too much about these things since the board doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is. All told, these are fairly minor complaints.

Overall Review: The bottom line for this board is simply that it's hard to criticize simply because it's designed to be a simple budget offering. I actually used to prefer boards with fewer features and less fluff, but these days it's harder to find higher end quality and fewer extraneous features in one well-priced package. As for the 970A-GD43, it has the essentials, but some parts need some work. The VRMs need to be a bit better, since all the CPUs that will fit in the AM3+ socket can use a fair amount of power, even the lower end units. It'd just be safer that way. That said, the next-step up GD46 has more features and better power circuitry, and the two boards are occasionally super close on price. If you want one of MSI's 970 boards, definitely get the GD46 if you're using a Thuban or need more OCability. I suppose whether this board is really what you need is dependent on why you need it in the first place. As an upgrade for an older AMD system, it probably isn't that worthwhile coming from pre-990/970 boards -- there are other upgrades I'd do first. If you're putting together a new FX system though, this is something that you might want to look at. If you're like me and have a few old unused AM3 chips about, something like the GD43 would be great for one use or another if you have the other parts laying around. The 970/950SB turns a CPU I'd never use again into a modern platform that's updated with USB 3.0 and six SATA III ports -- which I have a perfect use for. I was actually really surprised at just how effective this setup I used with this board was. I gave up using all of my AMD stuff years ago. I only brought them out for the purpose of flashing firmware on some LSI stuff (It gets problematic on some/many/most Intel boards). Using the MSI with an Athlon II, some DDR3, and a GTX 460 made me remember that this stuff was actually pretty good over all. It's even better with something like the 970 and 990 chipsets. MSI's GD43 might be barebones, but I'm happy enough with it. It's not stellar, but it is solid. You could do a lot worse, too.

Not as fast as you'd be led to believe, but more than adequate in most cases

TRENDnet TPL-308E2K Powerline AV200 Nano Adapter Kit, Up to 200Mbps
TRENDnet TPL-308E2K Powerline AV200 Nano Adapter Kit, Up to 200Mbps

Pros: I never had really considered using powerline networking equipment. I suppose in an alternate universe where WiFi never materialized, powerline Ethernet might have become far more popular. All the same, now that I've spent some quality time with it, I think it definitely has it's place(s). It's flexible, and newer versions of the technology definitely have worked out some of the kinks which marred earlier attempts. Giving the urban setting in which I live, surrounded by high rise office buildings each with tons of WiFi devices, I used to have difficulty with some devices over WiFi. Migrating to 5Ghz helped, but I now realize that something like the Nanos might have made my life easier, and sooner. At any given time I have one or two systems which must be connected at all times. In the past few years, 5Ghz N and now AC standards have improved my home networking situation greatly but there is still room for powerline networking in the world at large. Set up is dead simple. Don't even bother with the included disk, just plug the adapters in the wall socket. Connect Ethernet from device to adapter. Done. Just don't put a power strip/power conditioner/surge protector in the way and you'll be good to go. I tested through a beefy surge protector on one end, and it did work, but at half the throughput I was getting when properly connected (see other thoughts).

Cons: There aren't really any negative points here. As long as your domicile is up to your local electrical code, you'll be fine. If you have some sketchy wiring inside the walls, there could be issues. I suppose if you're all about max throughput for certain home applications, high end wireless and/or long runs of Ethernet are probably still your best bet. For most home applications, this set provides most all the speed you'll need. If you require the ultimate in low latency and high throughput, then you are in all likelihood aware that this value set isn't what you were looking for anyway.

Overall Review: I spent some time testing the Nanos at various outlets in my not-so-big apartment. Testing with TDP at variable sizes was fairly conlusive that no, you aren't going to get 200mbit/s of throughput. On average, I was able to pull down about 36mbits, occasionally getting as high as 39mbits. I also did some testing with one adapter running through a surge protector. Sure enough, the amber signal light flashed, and I just assumed it wouldn't work (or work well) Much to my surprise, it worked fine (albeit at 16mbits/s)... as another reviewer noted, latency is slightly higher like this. After toying with this setup for a while, I turned off the WiFi on a PS3 and used the TRENDnet's to connect the router GbE to the PS3 in the next room. I streamed eight hours of HD content without a hiccup. It's probably that this won't always work, but in a pinch, give it a try anyway. One place this set could conceivably be extremely useful is for connecting a router to a cable modem. If you need the Ethernet ports on the back of the router in a place that isn't convenient (across a large room, on another floor, etc) this might be a good compromise.

Pretty Darn Good

Vantec EZ Swap F4 MRK-425ST-BK 4 Bay 2.5" SATA 6Gb/s SSD/HDD Removable Rack, SATA III ready (Supports 9.5 & 12.5mm height SSD/HDD)
Vantec EZ Swap F4 MRK-425ST-BK 4 Bay 2.5" SATA 6Gb/s SSD/HDD Removable Rack, SATA III ready (Supports 9.5 & 12.5mm height SSD/HDD)

Pros: It's true that the Vantec isn't super high tech. Or aesthetically pleasing for that matter. It's not particularly well built or made of nice materials. I love it. First, it's basically a straight SATA passthrough. There's no overhead or bandwidth limitations, because it's just passing the SATA through unmolested.` Second, it works off of one molex power. I hated this at first, but when you really think about it PSUs SATA power strands aren't really made with SSDs in mind. I find this to be its main convienience... but that might just be me. It's a product that makes my life easier and keeps cable management in check for my applications.

Cons: The fan. The fan is awful. Just.... terrible. That's why I snipped the power leads to it. No fuss, no muss - problem solved. I'm just using it for SSDs, but you might want to reconsider if you're rocking some hot HDDs. The trays aren't that awesome. They're plastic and break easily. Be careful.

Overall Review: If you're running a few SSDs, this might not be for you. If you're running eight, it's awesome. Two 8087 SAS breakout cables running to a pair of these would work well and only cost you two molex power. If you can help it, running direct from disks to controller is the way to go. The Vantec helps facilitate that.

Awesome, but probably overkill for most applications

CORSAIR Hydro Series H110 Extreme Performance Water/Liquid CPU Cooler. 280mm (CW-9060014-WW)
CORSAIR Hydro Series H110 Extreme Performance Water/Liquid CPU Cooler. 280mm (CW-9060014-WW)

Pros: Sometimes, you just need a bigger hammer. I've always preferred good air cooling to other solutions, and I haven't been let down all that often. Despite the attractive closed loop, self contained coolers out there, air is still the way to go for most users. Most, but not all. There are times when you need something with a bit more juice, and the H110 certainly fits that bill. The H110 is a simple package, consisting of the 280mm radiatior/pump head, two 140mm fans, and some mounting hardware. The entire setup is well thought out, and while I didn't try out every platform mounting system, setup for LGA 2011 is supremely easy. Just snap the retention and mounting rings together over the pump head and thumb-screw in to the socket threads. Assuming the radiator and fans are easily mountable with your case, you're good to go. In my scenario I had a bit more trouble, but it wasn't the H110s fault. I was putting the H110 on an open air test bench, and the radiator's dimensions clashed a bit. I found a good work around, but you should really use the H110 with a good modern case with lots of airflow anyway. Depending on what cooling setup you were previously using, you might not be getting the right amount of airflow over the socket area and VRMs. I think it's worth pointing out that the fans are quite good too. Some previous Corsair Hxx systems I've encountered had fans with less than awesome characteristics, but I find the two that shipped with my H110 are quiet at lower RPMs (~900RPM) and don't sound awful at full-tilt (1500RPM). But how does it perform? All told, better than I was expecting. I did most of my testing with a i7-3930k, and at stock clocks the H110 is enough to keep the CPU idling in the mid 20's, even with the fans turning rather slowly. So, how does it perform? My i7-3930k clocked at 4.7GHz (@1.4v) idles at: H110 -- Cores 1 through 6: Idle: 32c 31c 14c 30c 30c 23c (CPU T sensor: 28c) Load: 65c 62c 50c 63c 64c 64c (CPU T sensor: 51c) All in all, temps are kept well in check with a heavy overclock. At stock clocks, 100% load, the H110 keeps the 3930k at temps on parity with some air coolers at idle. I've been using a high end dual tower HSF with dual 140mm/120mm fans. It weighs a ton and dwarfs the socket area on a X79 board. At the same fan speed (1500RPM), this is what I get with the same 1.4v/4.7GHz using it: Air -- Cores 1 through 6: Idle: 43c 42c 29c 42c 39c 34c (CPU T sensor: 34c) Load: 77c 72c 65c 73c 72c 74c (CPU T sensor: 58c) That's a massive difference. Core 3 is as much as 15c hotter, but on average we're running 72c on air vs. 62c on the H110 after 30 mins of load testing, at similar noise levels.

Cons: The H110 does probably beat the best the air cooling world has to offer, but it gets progressively harder to justify based solely on performance. Only you can decide whether it's a good value or not, but I suppose it largely depends on whether you already have a case that supports a 280mm radiator. Even if you do, there are some motherboard setups which might not leave much slack in the tubing from head to radiator, so do your research ahead of time. In terms of installation, it's super easy, as simple or better than most air solutions.

Overall Review: Do you really need something like the H110? Probably not if you're using an 1155 CPU. If you're using an X58/X79 or AMD Phenom/Bulldozer platform, this might be a good option if you already have the case to mount it in (or, if you're putting together a whole new system). On an absolute cost per degree of cooling basis, it's hard to justify. In terms of ease of installation, it's hard to beat, and in overall quality it seems to be better put together than some of the older self contained systems I've used. For me, even if it weren't a better cooler, I still like it just for the fact that I have easy access to the socket area. That might not sound like much, but when you swap components out as much as I do, it's a great thing to have.

Pretty Full Featured, Good Management, Pseudo High End Looks

Linksys EA6500 V2 AC1750 Wi-Fi Wireless Dual-Band+ Router with Gigabit, Smart Wi-Fi App Enabled, Open Source supported
Linksys EA6500 V2 AC1750 Wi-Fi Wireless Dual-Band+ Router with Gigabit, Smart Wi-Fi App Enabled, Open Source supported

Pros: The more I thought about the EA6500 while waiting for it to arrive on my doorstep, the less liked it. It sounded gimmicky, with NFC and cloud-based management, and in short, it didn't really seem like the sort of router I was looking for. As it turns out, I was completely wrong, and with the exception of the NFC (still seems like a useless marketing feature), I can't find much to complain about. I think it's important to use a router for a longer length of time before rendering final judgement, and after five weeks with the EA6500/AC1750, I'm fairy well pleased. I won't go into all the features, as they're well documented, but it has everything I want (and some things I had no clue I even wanted) without a lot of fluff, useless features, or aggravating caveats. Needless to say, I don't find it that gimmicky anymore. The chassis is attractive, though still clad in black plastic. The center is punctuated with a silver insert, which may or may not be more than just aesthetic (I think its the NFC receiver, too). The Cisco logo is rendered in a subtle white LED, which I fancy. It looks a lot classier than many competing products, and even the rear ports' LEDs can be disabled if you're trying to keep it low key while the router sits in the open. It's a nice touch, and exemplifies some of the detail that went into the design. One of the most important features is the management portal, which is by far the slickest firmware/management interface around... not just for routers, even. The whole affair is well-thought out, and easy enough for everyone to use without hamstringing more knowledgeable users. Firmware updates are painless on auto, and presumably Cisco/Linksys will supply frequent updates as needed. At first, I was hesitant about the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app for mobile devices as a means of managing features and usage, but I found it useful and full featured, and most importantly, it didn't annoy me. Early attempts at this sort of thing were shoddy and irritating. Cisco/Linksys has got it worked out. Adding parental controls, changing guest access, and adding devices to the network (via manual, WiFi protected, and even QR code) are all easy, and router management/status is a breeze from a cell phone or tablet. Even if the app was useful, failing to make the interface workable would have rendered it worthless. Thankfully, I feel Cisco got it right. I have the AC1750 broadcasting three separate SSIDs at the moment: one for 5ghz, one for 2.4ghz, and one guest network. Changing the configuration on the fly is easy, even if you're hundreds of miles away (this came in handy for me, but you need to sign up for a UID/password if you want the cloud management stuff). I keep a 2TB portable USB3 drive on the Cisco's USB ports as well for on network and remote FTP access, both of which work flawlessly for me, but local file transfers over GbE or wireless are limited to just a few MB/s, which is pretty much par for the course.

Cons: The Smart Tap (near field communtications) system just seems a bit goofy to me. You can use the supplied NFC-card to tap your phone/other NFC wifi device on to your network. Honestly, it seems a bit more trouble than it's wort (hence, why I felt it more a marketing ploy than something people actually want/need). On the other hand, it could be that this is something people are going to want/need in the future, and just because I can't see that it's much of a feature now doesn't mean I won't be glad I have it in two years (but, probably not). There aren't really any cons to speak of. Whether the EA6500 is a good value is something only you can decide though. The feature set comes with a price, but without any glaring oversights or decisions that make me face-palm, I found it worthy. Of course, most people don't need a high end home router, and the management features are available on some more economical models, but I'd consider the EA6500 even if you don't need the 802.11AC yet.

Overall Review: You get support for draft AC, so max throughput could hit a theoretical 1750Mbits/s. That's fast, though if you're interested in wringing every last KB/s out of your setup, there are other AC routers which can probably manage better speeds at better ranges than the EA6500. It's not an issue for me, though. Ironically, the faster my home networking has become over the years, the less I've actually needed the speed. I've found the range to be excellent though, certainly more than adequate for my humble abode. I've seen some other reviewers gripe about one feature or another (or lack thereof), but most of those features are in there, somewhere. Or aren't really useful or relevant in other circumstances. Not to say that it's perfect, but I think it merits four and a half eggs. I rounded down to four. What can I say? I like the cut of this router's jib, and after years of staying away from anything with the word Linksys emblazoned upon it, I'm happy that I've had such a good experience with the Cisco EA6500. I even thought that the extra transmit power and fancy features would result in a power hog that stayed toasty at all times, but Cisco was able to keep power consumption low. I see an average of 8.9w measured at the wall for the EA6500, and that makes me happy -- as does the rest of the router.