simonmackay Archive

External or portable USB storage devices–what is the difference

Article

USB portable hard disk

An example of a portable hard disk

Portable vs external hard drive: Which one to buy | Gadgets Now

My Comments

The type of outboard storage devices is becoming differentiated in to two distinct classes – a desktop-grade “external” device and a smaller “portable” device.

Typically, a desktop-grade “external” hard disk or enclosure will house a 3.5” or larger desktop-grade storage device intended for installation in a traditional desktop computer or a server. As well, they will have their own power supply that could be provided using integrated electronics or a power brick like what you would use for a laptop computer. Better designs may offer their own USB hub that will allow you to connect more USB devices to your computer or other functions or some will even be multiple-disk RAID setups. This class of device also extends to external graphics modules or USB expansion

On the other hand, a portable hard disk or enclosure will house a 2.5” or smaller storage device and be powered from the host computer via its USB port. Here, they are being optimised for use on the road and the hard disks will implement data-protection measures to factor the unpredictable nature of this use. These units will typically be more expensive “per gigabyte” compared to the desktop-grade units.

Hard-disk-based devices will use a 3.5” drive spinning at 7200rpm for external units or a 2.5” drive spinning at 5400rpm for portable units. It is assumed that the higher-speed drives will offer better data-access performance over the lower-speed devices. There are solid-state-storage devices being released as outboard storage devices, primarily for portable use most of these devices will be more expensive per gigabyte than portable hard disks.

The desktop-grade “external” devices may be a better solution if you intend to have the device staying at one location all the time. This could be to cater towards extra storage for a desktop or laptop computer where you intend to use the data at home or the workplace, to expand a NAS’s storage capacity or to connect to a router for use as a baseline NAS.

On the other hand, the portable devices can be useful if it is very likely that you will take your data with you or move the device around. This could be to: use as external backup or offload storage for your laptop computer; to store a disk full of confidential data in a locked filing cabinet and only connect the disk to your computer on an “as-needed” basis; create a “grab and run” backup of critical data; or to have a large amount of data that could be used on other computers.

What is worth noting is that the portable devices will be designed to be able to handle unpredictable storage environments where there is a likelihood of increased movement. This is while desktop “external” hard disks are primarily useful for a normally-sessile usage environment.

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Product Review–Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook (9360)

Introduction

I have been following the Dell XPS 13 series of clamshell Ultrabooks which are an effort Dell have been undertaking to get the right mix of performance, build quality and functionality in an affordable package. It was also about not losing sight of this goal while evolving the model towards newer technologies and specifications. Now I have the chance to review the latest iteration of this series known as the “9360” series and equipped with the 8th Generation silicon in the higher-specified packages.

This computer represents the latest in the Dell XPS 13 clamshell Ultrabook dynasty and has a technical refresh with the new Intel 8th Generation silicon. There is the “9370” series which is more expensive and implements more of the USB-C connectivity in lieu of the USB-A connections and exclusively uses Intel 8th Generation silicon.

Dell has been maintaining the key features that make the XPS 13 series earn its keep as a value-for-money all-round Ultrabook rather than adding too many “bells and whistles”. As I referred to in a previous article on the XPS 13, I was describing this effort as “ticking all the boxes” for what the market expected.

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

 

Price
– this configuration
AUD $2199
Market Positioning Consumer ultraportable
Form Factor Clamshell laptop
Processor Intel Core i7-8550U
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5-7200U
Intel Core i7-7560U
RAM 8 GB
Secondary storage 256 GB SSD SD card reader
Display Subsystem Intel UHD integrated graphics
cheaper option:
Intel HD 620 integrated graphics
better option:
Intel Iris 640 integrated graphics
Can support eGPU modules
Screen 13.3” widescreen display (1920×1080)
better option
13.3” widescreen touch display
(3200×1800)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves MaxxAudio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n/ac dual stream
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.1 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or mobile-broadband modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C with Power Delivery
2 x USB 3.0 – 1 with Power Delivery
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security Fingerprint Reader
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

The Dell XPS 13 didn’t come across as being flimsy or weak in any way. Rather it maintained the similar build quality and aesthetics of a good-quality clamshell Ultrabook.

There was a situation that I noticed where the computer was slightly warmer underneath during a software update but it wasn’t uncomfortable to use when you are using it on your lap. Luckily the heat buildup occured in the centre of the laptop’s base but was dispersed thanks to the metal housing. It will be a situation to expect with most of the ultraportable computers due to their small size.

User Interface

The backlit keyboard is accurate for touch-typing and the backlighting is not too dominant when used in daylight or average room light. The backlighting also does properly turn off when you aren’t using the keyboard.

The precision multi-touch trackpad works properly with all of the advanced multi-finger gestures as well as single-finger mousing around. It doesn’t act too hair-trigger and select things it shouldn’t when you are typing even if you use the XPS 13 Ultrabook on your lap.

The integrated fingerprint reader works tightly with Windows Hello and is accurate most of the time. Having very dry fingers after, perhaps, outdoor work may cause it not to be accurate and you may have to log in with your Windows PIN. As well, during the initial setup phase, make sure that the fingerprint reader catches your fingerprint at different angles.

Audio / Video

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook - left side ports - Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C port, USB Type A port, audio jack

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook – left side ports – Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C port, USB Type A port, audio jack

The Intel integrated video chipset works smoothly with streamed content after I had viewed an overseas video through this laptop. But personally, I would see this chipset serve most ordinary computing tasks effectively. I am also pleased about Dell having the XPS 13 Ultrabook equipped with the necessary Thunderbolt 3 port for those of us who want to have that bit of extra video performance provided by an external graphics module.

The Waves MaxxAudio still is about trying to improve the integrated speakers’ sound. But it is still the same issue with ultraportable notebook computers that you have to use headphones, external speakers or a sound system to achieve better sound from these computers.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

The 256Gb solid-state drive is the only integrated secondary-storage option available across the Dell XPS 13 series. This would offer the right amount of storage for most needs but you may have to use a USB hard disk if you are wanting to offload photos and the like to keep essential data on the SSD.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook - right side ports (USB Type A port and SD card reader)

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook – right side ports (USB Type A port and SD card reader)

Speaking of which, there is an integrated standard SD-card reader which is useful for those of us who use digital cameras for our photography. As I have experienced, you don’t need to deal with USB-based SD card readers if you deal with photos from your camera.

If you are dealing with newer networking equipment, the Wi-Fi networking infrastructure performs very adequately and maintains the expected throughput. The Bluetooth functionality works very well even for streaming audio to a headset.

Dell has maintained the Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port on the XPS 13 Ultrabook to assure users of a path towards higher-performance graphics. This could allow a user to purchase an external graphics module for better graphics performance “at home” or “at work”, while it provides USB Power Delivery connectivity as an alternative power input if you use an expansion module with power-supply abilities to that standard.

Battery Life

The reviewed configuration of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook is within the expectations for a portable computer to have a long battery live and I was able to do regular computing and Internet tasks for most of the day without finding that it is going to die out quickly.

I was able to stream a video for 90 minutes with the sound coming via a Bluetooth headset and found that the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook had 87% battery capacity at the end of the video. This was assuring proper glitch-free throughput and smooth playback.

One of the factors that I see with achieving the ideal battery life is the review configuration being kitted out with an integrated screen that sticks with the ideal 1920×1080 screen resolution which I would find as being fine for most users.

Other Usage Notes

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation rear viewI have used the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook in front of other people and they have seen it as a highly portable highly viable computer to use “on the road”. Infact I was showing it in front of a man who was considering what to purchase for a “travel” laptop and he saw this as a good example of what he wanted to use. This is for soneone who maintains a desktop computer with the large screen as their main home computer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Dell would need to avoiding losing the vision of what the XPS 13 Ultrabook is about – a robust capable ultraportable computer that offers what most users want for the right price. It is similar to what Toyota have been doing with their Hiace vans and Hilux pickup trucks – improving on these vehicles without losing sight of the reputation they have earnt over the generations.

A question that will come across to Dell is whether to maintain a large range of XPS 13 configurations for all markets or not. This may be an approach to provide some affordable variants that can appeal to students and the like while offering higher-performance configurations for those who can afford them.

Dell would have to maintain at least one Thunderbolt 3 connection on all computers of the series in order to allow users to “pep up” the graphics with an external graphics module. In the same context, they could easily offer one or more of these external graphics modules as an optional accessory for these systems.

As Dell evolves the XPS 13 series, they could easily consider supplying a 512Gb SSD as an integrated storage option for some of the configurations. This would be at the time that this capacity becomes affordable to specify for the same physical size. It could then make the XPS 13 Ultrabooks earn their keep as a sole computing device. Similarly, they could offer a touchscreen with a 1920×1080 resolution as an intermediary display option so you are still able to stay with that resolution to conserve battery runtime yet benefit from touch-driven operation.

Conclusion

Dell is keeping the performance, functionality and quality to the same expectations for this generation of the XPS 13 Ultrabook as they have done for the previous generations of this Ultrabook dynasty.

Personally I would see the 9360 Series of the XPS 13 as a machine for those of us who want more value for our money. In some cases, I would recommend even looking at variants with the prior-generation Intel processor for those of us who are on a budget yet want some performance out of these machines.

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Fortnite made it with true cross-platform multiplayer gaming

Articles

Sony PS4

This Sony PS4 can now benefit from true cross-platform online gameplay thanks to Fortnite

PS4 Cross-Play Is Finally Happening; Fortnite Beta Starts Today | GameSpot

Fortnite Won | Gizmodo

Fans Forcing Sony Into ‘Fortnite’ PS4 Crossplay Is A Watershed Moment For Gaming | Forbes

From the horse’s mouth

Sony Interactive Entertainment (PlayStation)

Extended Fortnite Cross-Play Beta Launches on PS4 Starting Today (Press Release)

My Comments

Game On no matter the console! At last true multiplatform cross-play has arrived!

All off the regular-computer, console and mobile platforms that Epic Games wrote the various ports of the Fortnite battle-royale multiplayer game have supported cross-platform multiplayer gaming except for one glaring omission being Sony with their PS4 console.

It has been part of a long-time practice with games-console manufacturers who are dependent on full vertical integration which affected things like multi-player multi-machine gaming where the games-console vendor would prefer to keep that between their own products. This was against the accepted norms of what is accepted with regular personal computers where it is desirable to play the same online game no matter the computing platform that your opponents use.

XBox One games console press photo courtesy Microsoft

The XBox One’s main archrival – the PS4 can participate in cross-platform online gameplay thanks to Fortnite

It would also affect the ability for a games studio to port a game across all platforms and assure a similar online play experience no matter the platform. Here it wouldn’t matter whether the online play was about competing with other players including earning your place on one or more leaderboards, participating in a “virtual-world” that the game is about or trading in-game goods in a game-hosted marketplace.

Gradually, Sony and Microsoft. along with most games studios allowed a limited form of “cross-play” (online play of the same game from gaming devices of different gaming platforms) by allowing for, for example, a Windows regular computer to become a player in an online game with a games console. But with Fortnite, Microsoft and Nintendo brought their latest consoles to the “cross-play” party.

Now Sony have opened up the path towards third-party game studios implementing multi-platform online and network gameplay for their games titles. This is through an open beta program where a version of Fortnite with this true multiplatform cross-play code integrated but this code is really test code that may not be stable. It will be seen by Sony to be a proving ground for true multiplayer multiplatform online gaming involving all computing devices including gams consoles with them “opening up” the PlayStation platform for more cross-platform online gameplay.

This was as a result of “people power” with Fortnite fans complaining to Sony about ignoring the large PS4 installed base when it came to cross-platform gameplay especially as other regular, mobile and console platforms allowed for this kind of gameplay with very little friction.

Personally I see this as a seachange for network and online multiple-machine gaming especially in the games-console space. Here it could be about allowing third-party game developers including indie studios to create these kind of gameplay experiences but allow users to join these experiences no matter the console that they have.

With the rise of Fortnite, it can open up the idea of porting a game that has online or network play across every gaming platform while assuring users that they can game online no matter what they use. It can even lead towards increased interest in massively-multiplayer-online games especially where they could be played on a laptop, a smartphone or a console connected to the big TV.

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Google and Amazon on the network multiroom audio game

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon intends to make the Echo smart speaker and Alexa voice-driven home assistant part of a full-blown network multiroom audio system

How to set up multi-room audio with Google Assistant & Chromecast speakers | The Ambient

How to set up multiroom music playback with Amazon Echo | The Verge

Amazon Echo speakers adding stereo pairing, better multiroom audio support | CNet

Amazon Leapfrogs Google And Apple In Home Automation | Lifehacker

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Multi-room group playback with Google Home (Support Resource)

Amazon

Play Music on Multiple Echo Devices (Support Resource)

Amazon Announces New Echo Devices—Add Alexa to Every Room and Your Car (Press Release)

My Comments

Google Home and the Chromecast platform is already running a basic network multiroom audio setup

Google recently enabled their Assistant and Chromecast platforms to support network-based multiroom audio through compliant audio devices.  This has the facility to stream selected online audio sources to the audio devices that work these platforms and permits the use of logical groups as well as party-mode playback of the same source across the multiple devices in that group.

Amazon initially let out an Alexa application-programming interface to permit multiroom audio play across multiple Echo or Alexa-compatible devices. This initially supported logical groups and party-mode playback of the same source across devices in a logical group. But they one-upped Google by adding extra functionality to their Alexa API for multiroom audio including the ability to set up a stereo speaker pair or allow a speaker to be a member of two groups. It is in conjunction with a newer Echo Show device answering the Lenovo Smart Display that is based on Google’s Home Platform.

As well, Amazon had just unveilled new hardware under their brand to take advantage of these new capabilities. One of thse is the Echo Sub subwoofer that can be set up to work alongside a single Echo speaker or a pair of Echo speakers set up to work as a stereo pair for wider stereo separation. It is about adding that bit of extra bass kick to the sound that comes out of those speakers. Then the Echo Dot and Echo Plus speakers have been revised while an Echo Input device was unveilled to put all its audio output via a a connected speaker or sound system.

To connect your favourite hi-fi system to the Amazon Alexa infrastructure, Amazon offered the Echo Link devices which just exist to stream audio content. Both of these connect to the equipment via an analogue RCA line-level connection or an SPDIF digital connection which can be coaxial or optical. They also have both a digital and analogue input connection, perhaps to pass audio devices through the connected sound system, but I am not sure if these devices can stream an audio source in to the Amazon Echo setup that you have established. The Link Amp variant has an integral power amplifier in order to play the music content through your existing passive speakers.

A question that may surface as Amazon rolls the enhanced network multiroom audio functionality across the Alexa platform is whether third-party devices could benefit from these new functions. As well, could Google answer Amazon by offering the extra feature and more for their Home platform especially if they run a range of smart speaker products under their own label? It could simply be the sign of things to come as both Amazon and Google duke it out for the voice-driven home assistant market.

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What are the full-featured desktop NAS units about?

Article

Synology DiskStation DS415play NAS with media transcoding - Press image courtesy of Synology

Synology DiskStation DS415play – an example of these full-function network-attached-storage units

Synology DSM vs. QNAP QTS: Which NAS is right for you? | Windows Central

My Comments

Increasingly Synology and QNAP have become strong rivals when it comes to full-function network-attached-storage devices that do more than what WD, Seagate and others offer. Here, they are made by two NAS specialists who are running high-end NAS-focused operating systems that can be run headless or with a screen and keyboard “head”. Some manufacturers like NETGEAR and ASUSStor are following on with Synology’s and QNAP’s efforts to join in the pack when it comes to

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – another example of what a full-function NAS is about

offering full-function NAS units for home and small-business use.

Recent iterations of these devices typically have the same kind of computing power as a relatively-recent low-end regular personal computer but put this power towards file handling and serving. Most of them will support at least a two-disk RAID setup in the low-tier varieties with the mainstream models having four or five disk bays for a RAID 5 setup. The “brain” in these devices will be mostly an ARM-based CPU but higher-spec variants may use an Intel or AMD processor expected in a very low-end laptop computer. You may also find some NAS units like the Synology “play” NAS units running a graphics processor as a co-processor for media transcoding. A significant number of models will even support upgradeable RAM to allow them to work more quickly and handle more data traffic.

But the operating system is of a similar standard to one that would drive a regular personal computer. Most likely it would be a variant of a desktop Linux distribution and would be regularly updated as well as allowing users to install apps from the NAS vendor’s app store. Once you log in through a Web-based user interface or a keyboard / screen / mouse “console” attached to the NAS, you would experience a user interface similar to Windows, MacOS or desktop Linux running a graphical user interface.  But most of these user interfaces can’t allow for cut-and-paste between the host computer and the NAS user interface.

The apps will typically convey particular file-handling functions like syncing to online storage platforms, BitTorrent server functionality and DLNA-compliant media-server functionality. There is also apps that “tie” the NAS to native mobile-platform client apps supplied by the vendor to allow transfer of data between the NAS and a mobile-platform tablet or smartphone. It is typically a way to push a NAS as a “personal cloud” by working with a vendor-hosted “DNS-mapping” arrangement to allow you to upload content from your iPhone to your NAS even while you are out and about and connected to the Internet. This is in addition to various “client-backup” server tools for regular-computer platforms along with NAS-NAS backup tools.

Let’s not forget software like media-player functionality or IP-camera videosurveillance recording functionality. In some cases, there are various server apps for email or WordPress content management so you could easily purpose these units as a business information server. In some cases, adding peripherals to these NAS devices opens up paths for extra functionality with, for example, TV-tuner modules converting these NAS units in to Tivo-style PVRs that can share live or recorded TV content over the network.

QNAP’s QTS and Synology are very similar in many ways but Synology is focused towards simplified operation while QTS is focused towards taking advantage of faster better hardware. There are other similar full-featured NAS platforms like Netgear’s ReadyNAS or the ASUSStor NAS platform existing but there doesn’t seem to be the same kind of third-party developer base built up around these platforms.

But what can be done to make the full-featured NAS market better? One approach could be to allow the licensing of one or more of these NAS operating systems and app platforms to other companies on a “white-label” basis so they can launch their own full-featured NAS product range. This can avoid the need for a company who wants to develop their own NAS product to “reinvent the wheel” when building software.  As well, the creation of one or more large platform bases for NAS operating systems can give software developers the confidence to create software for these devices. Therefore it can avoid the home and small-business NAS market becoming like the games-console market which is focused towards vendor-specific solutions with a limited path for delivering additional software.

Personally, I would recommend the full-function NAS units of the Synology or QNAP ilk as being suitable for those of us who want more out of a network-storage device. In some cases, I would see it as appealing for an upgrade path for people who see their NAS device do more than just host files from your computer and share them to your Smart TV. Similarly it would appeal to those of us who want the basic abilities like DLNA media serving to be done in a more capable manner.

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BMW to use the car as a base for a European voice-driven assistant platform

Article

BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant may be the cold, distant German Siri of our dreams | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

BMW Group

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

I have been pushing for the idea of European firms answering what Silicon Valley offers but applying European values to these offerings. Here, it’s like the rise of Airbus and Arianespace from France answering the USA’s leadership in the aerospace industry.

I was calling this out because the European Commission were always worried about the way the popular Silicon-Valley-based online services, especially Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple were doing to European personal and business values like democracy, competitive markets, user privacy and transparency. Their typical answer was to either pass more regulations or litigating against them in the European court system. But they could easily encourage European companies to offer online services that underscore the European mindset through, for example, business-development assistance. 

It is something that is slowly happening with the rise of Spotify, the leading world-wide jukebox, rising from Sweden. There is also a persistent effort within France to answer YouTube with a peer-to-peer video-streaming service.

Now BMW have stepped up to the plate by working on a voice-driven assistant which will initially be focused towards the automotive space. But they intend to take it beyond the vehicle and have it as a European competitor to Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana.

But I would say that even if they don’t get it beyond the car dashboard, they could establish it as a white-label platform for other European tech firms to build upon. This could lead to the creation of smart-speaker products from the likes of Bang & Olufsen or TechniSat that don’t necessarily have to run a Silicon-Valley voice-driven assistant platform. Or Bosch or Electrolux could work on a “smart-home” control setup with a voice-driven assistant that is developed in Europe.

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What to be aware of with multiroom-capable network media players with integrated content sources

Marantz ND-8006 network CD player press picture courtesy of Qualifi Pty. Ltd

Marantz ND8006 multiroom network CD player – an example of one of these multiroom network media players with an integrated programme source

A few hi-fi equipment manufacturers who have an investment in a network-based multiroom audio platform are offering or intending to offer network-media-adaptor components with integrated traditional content sources.

The first example of this kind of unit is the Marantz ND-8006 network CD player which works with the HEOS multiroom platform at least as a multiroom audio player. Then Yamaha just premiered the MusicCast Vinyl 500 which combines a turntable for playing those vinyl records and a network media player in the one chassis, something that is intended to appeal to the hipster vibe or the 40-60-year-old who fondly remembers playing or listening to those old records from their youth. Here, this unit can play the sound from a record on its platter or an online source through an amplifier via its line-level outputs. Or it can be set up to stream the sound from that same record or an online source to a network-based multiroom system based on that manufacturer’s MusicCast platform. Let’s not forget that there are some DAB+ digital-radio / Internet-radio tuners out there that are or will be part of a network-based multiroom audio platform of some sort, most likely the UNDOK platform offered by Frontier Silicon like the Sangean WFT-3 Internet radio tuner. The same situation can also apply to those multiroom network media players that have a USB port so you can play what’s on a USB memory key or flash drive through your multiroom setup.

Eventually, more of these manufacturers will offer at least one of these devices in their product ranges, whether they have an integrated CD player, turntable or broadcast-radio tuner.

What you can do

In these cases, you will hear the online sources and the device’s integrated programme source through the same input that it is connected to on the sound system. Some of these system may allow you to stream content from another sound system that is part of your multiroom setup, including a source connected to the AUX inputs of one of the multiroom speakers in your setup.

Some of these devices will also allow you to stream the device’s integrated programme source through the multiroom system, which can be a single-box solution for bringing legacy packaged media or broadcast radio to the speakers in your multiroom setup. Depending on the device, there may be the ability to stream a source connected to an external-device input that the device is equipped with to the multiroom system. It may also apply to devices that have a Bluetooth A2DP link for use with smartphones.

Streaming sources connected to the amplifier that the multiroom device is connected to

You may find yourself exposed to a limitation caused by the other sources connected to or integrated in the sound system that this device is connected to not being available to the multiroom setup. This is more so where, for example, you have connected it to a stereo receiver or an amplifier that has a turntable connected to its PHONO input.

There may be an exception to the rule for this situation if your network media player has a line-level input for external devices and your sound system has a line-level output that is typically used for connecting a recording device. Here, you could connect the network device’s line-input to your sound system’s line-output or tape-output, perhaps wiring the device to the sound system as if you are connecting a recording device.

You may run in to problems if your amplifier’s tape loop is occupied by a recording device, perhaps a cassette deck. This is where you may not be able to make use of the amplifier’s tape output to stream what is being played in your cassette deck unless you keep switching wires around. Rather, you may end up using a switch box for this purpose to create a virtual “tape monitor” switch for your network media adaptor’s line input.

If you are using a PA or sound-reinforcement setup with a mixing desk, you cannot use the same network media device to play an online source or source integrated in that device and share the system’s output to a multiroom speaker setup. Such an arrangement can lead to acoustic feedback which results in a howling sound through the system if the line-level input is selected on the network media device while it’s connected to any of the mixer’s outputs. Rather, it would be better to use a separate network media adaptor which has a line input for the purpose of creating an audio on-ramp to your network multiroom setup.

Conclusion

Once you know what these multiroom-capable network media players that have integrated legacy content sources are capable of, you can then make sure they are able to work as part of your sound system and your multiroom speaker setup.

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NETGEAR implements a multi-tiered approach to Power-Over-Ethernet

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR GS108PP ProSafe Gigabit Unmanaged 8-port Switch with Power-Over-Ethernet Plus press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

The NETGEAR GS108PP switch is able to run with different power supplies to offer different Power-Over-Ethernet power budgets

NETGEAR

NETGEAR LAUNCHES INDUSTRY’S FIRST UNMANAGED SWITCH WITH FLEXIBLE POWER OVER ETHERNET OPTIONS {Press Release)

Flexible PoE Switch with Power Upgrade Options {Blog Post}

Product Page

Previous Coverage

NETGEAR offers an affordable 8-port Gigabit unmanaged switch with Power Over Ethernet Plus on all ports

My Comments

I had previously written up about the NETGEAR GS108PP 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switch with Power Over Ethernet Plus available on all ports as an example of this company offering an Ethernet switch with desirable features at a price that would be seen to be reasonable for small-network applications. Here, it was about each of the eight ports being “powered” to the Power-Over-Ethernet-Plus (802.3at) standard rather than half of the ports, something that was happening with affordable “few port” Power-Over-Ethernet gear that was fit for small networks.

At the time of the previous article, MWAVE, an independent online computer-parts reseller, offered this device to the Australian market for AUD$169 tax inclusive before shipping, but now this price has dropped to AUD$155 tax inclusive.

It is part of a family of 8-port and 16-port Gigabit Ethernet switches with Power Over Ethernet Plus power-supply on all ports that NETGEAR has taken an interesting approach with the overall power budget that these devices could offer.

Here, they offer different power budgets for the GS108LP / GS108PP (8 port) and GS116LP / GS116PP (16 ports) by packaging different power supplies with the different units so these have a different power budget depending on what you buy. They also offer a range of power adaptors with the same voltage (54VDC) but with different current outputs that are available through the aftermarket.

NETGEAR has established this arrangement to allow a network installer to buy an Ethernet switch with a Power-Over-Ethernet power budget that is “right-sized” for the user’s current needs. Then if these need change, they can upgrade the power supply to answer these newer needs.

Power Supply
Bold text is “in-box” option
GS108LP GS108PP GS116LP GS116PP
54VDC 1.25A (67.5W) 60W 60W
54VDC 1.66A (90W) 83W 83W 76W 76W
54VDC 2.4A (130W) 123W 123W 115W 115W
54VDC 3.7A (200W) 183W 183W

This could suit a reality with installations where you are running one or two Power-Over-Ethernet devices to see how you go with this new idea. It may include you upgrading an older device powered by its own “wall-wart” to a simplified Power-Over-Ethernet setup thanks to an active splitter box. Then you decide to add on more Power-Over-Ethernet devices or upgrade extant devices to those with better capabilities while giving them the same kind of treatment as a typical fridge or TV – “bumping” the older unit down to a secondary role in the installation.

Here, you simply switch out the not-so-powerful power supply with one that is more powerful when you are wanting to add more power to the installation rather than junking a perfectly-good Power-Over-Ethernet switch and replacing it with something more powerful. The NETGEAR Ethernet switch can exist in your network for a longer time, serving the higher power load, until newer needs come about such as to head towards a managed switch or something better. Typically this is a plug-and-play upgrade but you may have to flick a slider on the NETGEAR switch to allow it to work with the different power load.

Network installers who sell these switches can also find it useful to keep more of the power supplies as well as these switches so that they can “right-size” their installations through the installation’s life. It can also allow for the ability for them to retain the lower-output power supplies from an “upsized” installation to use on another lower-power-demand installation if the original power supply at that installation burnt out.

What I like about this approach that NETGEAR took with these unmanaged Power-Over-Ethernet switches is the idea of providing an upgrade path for people who own an existing unit but have different needs. It also avoids the need to throw away perfectly-working equipment just because you have a different power requirement.

As well, the NETGEAR GS108LP Power-Over-Ethernet switch could be offered at a two-figure price for people and businesses who want to get their feet wet with a Power-Over-Ethernet setup. This is especially if they are seeing the idea of using active splitters to power existing devices like access points or 5-port Ethernet switches “down the line” before going “full steam” with new devices.

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An ideal home network for an apartment

Apartment blockIncreasingly, as the cities become more dense, most of us will be either living in an apartment or looking towards doing so. In some cases, some of you may be living in a larger house in a rural or peri-urban area but maintain an apartment as a city-based “family house” if you or your family are making frequent trips downtown.

There will be issues that will impact how you set up your personal IT and home network in these apartments in order to make sure that it can coexist with your neighbours’ networks. Let’s not forget that those of you who are active in your building’s management committee may face discussions and questions about building-wide IT including the Internet Of Things. Here, I will be regularly publishing articles that may be of relevance to you and your situation.

When you are thinking of “downsizing” towards that small apartment, you may find that your needs change as far as your home network is concerned. As well, you may have to set things up so that your network coexists properly with your neighbours’ home networks especially as far as data privacy / security and network performance is concerned.

In most cases, setting up your home network and Internet connection at your apartment may be a simple task with you just installing a wireless router to use with your portable devices and, in most cases, a HomePlug AV500 powerline network segment for desktop computers and home-entertainment equipment.

But not all apartments may come across as a simple setup. For example, you may come across places with internal walls or plenums that are constructed of dense materials like double-brick, cinderblock or reinforced concrete or use metal as part of their construction, which can impede reliable Wi-Fi wireless signal reception.

As well, you need to be sure with HomePlug powerline or Wi-Fi wireless technologies that your operation of these technologies doesn’t impede on your neighbours’ use of them. This includes being sure that your data on your network stays private while theirs also stays private.

Equipment

Wireless Router

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

Most recent-spec Wi-Fi routers may serve you well for apartment-based networks

You can get by with most Internet routers, whether you buy them yourself or have them supplied as part of your Internet service. This may be true for a studio, one-bedroom or small two-bedroom location but you may have to consider something with improved Wi-Fi wireless performance for larger two-bedroom or three-bedroom spaces.

It is more so if your apartment follows the typical path of having the Internet connection like the telephone socket installed at one end of the dwelling which is opposite to another end where a lot of your living takes place.

Wireless connectivity

But you need to be sure that the Wi-Fi wireless functionality is of current specification. You may not need to worry about whether the router uses external high-gain antennas because of the smaller area that it is expected to cover. But I would make sure that this functionality works across two bands simultaneously especially as the 5GHz band is still seen as “new territory” for network coverage and can facilitate high throughput. Such a router will be described as 802.11a/b/g/n simultaneous dual-band or the routers that have 802.11ac functionality will be simultaneous dual-band devices.

Internet (WAN) connectivity for next-generation services

If your building is provisioned with next-generation broadband Internet service, find out whether the equipment supplied in your apartment includes router functionality or is simply a modem or optical-network terminator. In the latter situation, you would just need to use a broadband router with an Ethernet WAN (Internet) connection. It is also worth noting that a lot of FTTB (fibre-to-the-building / fibre-to-the-basement) setups will implement VDSL2 for the copper path to your apartment so you would need to use a modem router that supports this technology on the WAN side. This is a feature that is becoming available with newer mid-range and high-end DSL modem routers and is slowly trickling to economy equipment as this technology becomes more common.

In some cases, you may be lucky enough to have an FTTB setup which implements Cat5 Ethernet wiring to all of the apartments like with Spirit Telecom in Australia. The same would hold true for an FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) setup which simply uses an optical-network terminator. Such setups would simply use a broadband router with an Ethernet WAN connection.

It is also worth noting that a lot of premium DSL modem routers including some equipment offered by carriers are offering a “dual-WAN” or “multiple-WAN” functionality where they have two different paths for connection to the Internet. This is typically an Ethernet and a DSL connection with the ability for you to select between these connection types using the configuration Web interface that they provide. Some of these modem routers have one of the Ethernet ports able to be switched between a LAN (home network) connection or a WAN (Internet) connection rather than a dedicated WAN Ethernet port and you would have to make sure you select the right type of connection for the purpose in mind.

When you move in to a new building as part of your downsizing efforts, you may need to find out from whoever is in charge of the building such as the owners corporation whether it has been provisioned for a fibre-based next-generation broadband service. Here, you would need to know what technology is being used along with whoever is providing the Internet service. This is so you can be sure you have the right equipment for the service.

That headline Wi-Fi Internet service offered by your building

Android main interactive lock screen

Those headline Wi-Fi Internet services offered by the apartment building will work well with smartphones, tablets and computers only and are best used for casual Internet use

Avoid the temptation to use for your main Internet service that free Wi-Fi service that your building offers as a headline amenity. The kind of developments that typically offer this kind of service are “resort” apartment developments, retirement villages or so-called “residence” apartments let out on a similar business model to a hotel. It also includes hotels that have rooms and apartments available to let for long-term residence but in the same “inn-style” business context with rent; light, heat and power; telecommunications, food and similar living expenses as one payment to that hotel.

This is because of the fact that most of these networks aren’t secure, typically being set up as open wireless networks with a Web-based login experience and intended for casual login. If these networks are properly set up as a public-access network, they will be set up with client isolation so that client devices cannot discover each other across the network.

Therefure, they don’t play well with anything other than a regular (desktop or laptop) or mobile (smartphone or tablet) computing device. I encountered this problem through an online conversation from someone who bought the Sony CMT-MX750Ni network-capable micro music system that I reviewed and couldn’t run its integrated Internet radio and online content functionality and further correspondence that I had with the commenter revealed that this stereo was installed in a “resort” apartment which had this kind of free Wi-Fi Internet access. They ended up having to use it with an iOS device connected to the Wi-Fi network and running a content app for online content.

There is still the security risk of having all the network traffic associated with everyone in the building using that network being “sniffed out” especially in an improperly-configured network, along with the risk of a commonly-known password that is rarely changed.

These Wi-Fi internet services are best used when you want to use Internet-based services from your laptop, tablet or smartphone while in a common space. But you won’t be able to use your home network’s resources from a device connected to one of these Wi-Fi Internet services.

Your home network

Wired-network segment

NETGEAR GS108PP ProSafe Gigabit Unmanaged 8-port Switch with Power-Over-Ethernet Plus press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

It may be worth having your apartment wired for Ethernet if you are buying “off the plan”

It is important to consider establishing a wired-network segment alongside your Wi-Fi wireless network segment. This is more important with the arrival of Smart TVs and network-connected video peripherals so you can be sure that they work properly and provide enjoyable viewing. In some cases, if you are locating a desktop computer or network-capable printer away from the router, you may find that a wired network segment may do the job.

If your apartment is being newly built such as when you buy one “off the plan”, it may be worth considering having an Ethernet connection installed if you can afford it. Here, you could have it set up to link to the main living area, the bedrooms and / or study / office space. Here, this is important for larger spaces like two-bedroom or larger apartments, dual-level maisonettes and the like. In this context, the areas you will need to cover are where the router will be and where you will be watching TV or using games consoles or similar equipment.

HomePlug AV adaptor

HomePlug networks can work well with apartment setups as a “wired no-new-wires” network

On the other hand, you can set up a HomePlug AV500 or better powerline network segment to cover your apartment. This is more important if you are on a tight budget or are dealing with a small apartment, and would earn its keep with existing developments.

Some of you may think that you could use a HomePlug powerline network segment to temporarily extend your home network from your apartment out to a common area or your neighbour’s apartment. You wouldn’t see reliable operation if you are doing this in a larger building due to the way the building is wired for many households or the fact that the building’s electrical subsystem is also serving various pieces of  “big-time” electrical equipment like lifts or building-wide heating / air-conditioning equipment which can yield electrical interference.

Wireless access point

You may find that your your home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment can cover your apartment easily but there are some situations where these places can yield patchy coverage especially for smartphones and tablets.

For example, your apartment may have one or more interior walls made of a dense material like double-brick or concrete and these could impede the Wi-Fi coverage. This can also include where a building uses metal ducts or plenums running from floor to ceiling in the apartment for central heating and air-conditioning, garbage disposal or other purposes. It also includes where you are dealing with pre-1960s buildings where fireplaces used to exist or still exist but in a cosmetic manner. Similarly, you may be living in a “maisonette” or similar-styled apartment where your apartment is across two levels and your network’s coverage may not span both levels properly.

Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi HomePlug AV500 access point press picture courtesy of Devolo AG

The compact Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi HomePlug wireless access point – fills in the Wi-Fi gaps

Here, you may have to consider implementing an extension wireless access point to improve your network’s reception in those patchy areas. Typically the HomePlug wireless access points that use your apartment’s AC wiring as the backbone can answer this need very easily, providing just the right amount of coverage to fill in that dead-spot. Similarly, some wireless range extenders that can be set up to become access points for a wired backbone can provide that same level of coverage. At the most, you will typically end up with using two wireless access points in your setup – one that is part of the router as well as one extension access point.

How do I set this up?

The Wi-Fi wireless network

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

Distributed Wi-Fi setups like this NETGEAR Orbi can assure coverage across that large apartment, penthouse or two-level maisonette

In this area, you may have to identify a vacant operating frequency for the network using a Wi-Fi finder app, available for most regular-computer platforms and Android mobile platforms. Here, the channel you use would be the one where there is the lowest signal strength because no nearby networks are using that channel.

But you may find that some wireless routers, access points or distributed-Wi-Fi systems may offer this functionality as part of their setup procedure or may even automatically tune themselves as part of an “easy-setup” routine.

Then you determine a unique SSID (wireless network name) and passphrase for your network and configure your router and other wireless-network equipment to work to these specifications. Some of the routers, especially those offered by ISPs, may have a unique pre-defined SSID and passphrase, but it may be worth changing the SSID on these devices or. if you are comfortable with it, connecting your client devices to this new SSID configuration.

Shared-Internet-access setups

Some of you may use FON, Telstra Air or similar “shared Internet access” setups which require your home network router to be part of a wireless public-access network. Such services have it that you offer bandwidth to other users that aren’t part of your household, then are able to get bandwidth for free due to you offering that bandwidth to others.

This is achieved by it maintains the Wi-Fi access for your home network along with a separate Wi-Fi local network for this public-access network, typically by having two SSIDs on the same frequency – one for the public-access network and the other for your home network.

You may find that other people in the street can’t use the public-access network as expected because your router is located high up and away from street level. This can manifest with the remote device used by the person on the street acting as though it is in a fringe area and exhibiting patchy reception. It is something I have experienced in Docklands where it was a hit-and-miss affair to use the Telstra Air service offered by an apartment dweller living in one of the buildings that was facing a public walkway from my smartphone outside the building.

On the other hand, the only people who would benefit are others who are walking up and down the corridor outside your apartment.

The HomePlug powerline network

Western Digital LiveWire HomePlug AV Ethernet switch

You may have to use the SYNC or SimpleConnect buttons on your home network devices like this WD LiveWire HomePlug AV switch to assure reliable secure connectivity in your apartment-based HomePlug setup

Here, this network may be a simpler affair where you just use the SimpleConnect buttons on the HomePlug adaptors to create a new network segment with its own encryption. This is a procedure that I bad described in this IT assistance article where I was instructing my former pastor over the phone about how to set up a HomePlug segment for his desktop computer when he moved to a new location. But it is imperative to perform this process when you are setting up a HomePlug segment for the first time so as to avoid your data “creeping on” to your neighbour’s HomePlug segment or vice versa.

If you are adding other HomePlug devices, you need to follow the routine for using SimpleConnect buttons to add these devices – press the button on the new device then on the existing device while watching for the lights to flicker in a certain way.

When it comes to connecting a cluster of co-located network-capable equipment together like a home-entertainment system, you can either purchase a HomePlug-Ethernet switch that has multiple Ethernet connections. On the other hand, you can simply get by with a desktop Ethernet switch connected to a HomePlug adaptor to bring all the equipment in that cluster online – most of these desktop Ethernet switches do cost very little to purchase for a five-port Gigabit type.

Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor press picture courtesy of Devolo

HomePlug AV2 like what is offered by this Devolo dLAN 1200+ adaptor may provide more stable operation when competing with large motors in the building (European setup)

Most apartment setups may be able to get by with the HomePlug AV500 powerline networks but you may find that HomePlug AV2 1200 MIMO-based technology may suit your needs better. This may be of relevance for those of you who may benefit from the extra bandwidth or who find that the highly-robust technology may cope with the high concentration of heavy-duty motors used in these buildings for things like air-conditioning or lifts better.

Other notes

If you are using a network-attached storage device or something similar, it may be preferable to connect it directly to the router rather than via a Wi-FI or HomePlug network because this assures a more reliable connection when it comes to making sure files arrive at the NAS complete.

Conclusion

An apartment can come across as a simple place to set up a home network within but there are some issues to work out so that you have a reliable secure home network that coexists with your neighbours’ home networks easily.

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Google Assistant has the ability to break the bad news cycle

Article

Google’s Assistant is here to give you a break from the horrible news cycle | FastCompany

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Hey Google, tell me something good (Blog Post)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

The news cycle that you hear in the USA has been primarily focused on bad news especially with what President Trump is up to or some natural disaster somewhere around the world. It is a very similar issue that is happening around the world. A common issue that is drawn out regarding this oversaturation of bad news is that it can bring about fear, uncertainty and doubt regarding our lives with some entities taking advantage of it to effectively manipulate us.

Some of us follow particular blogs or Facebook pages that contain curated examples of good news that can break this monotony and see solutions for the highlighted problems. But Google is extending this to a function they are building in to the Google Assistant platform with stories that are curated by people rather than machines and, in a lot of cases, derived from a variety of media sources. But this is facilitated by the Solutions Journalism Network non-profit which is more about solution-focused media coverage.

Of course, there will be the doubters and skeptics who will think that we aren’t facing reality and are dwelling in the “Hippie Days” and the “Jesus People” era of the 1960s and early 1970s. But being able to come across positive solutions for the various problems being put forward, including people working “outside the box” to solve that problem can inspire us.

This is a feature is offering on an experimental basis through the USA only and can be used on your Google Home or other Google-Assistant devices. But as this application is assessed further, it could be easily made available across more countries.

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