Friday, June 29, 2012

Crucial M4 512GB SSD Review

Prices of SSDs are in a free-for-all. The Crucial M4 line of SSDs are my favorite due to their reliability and SATA6 speed. I recently got myself a 512GB unit and it is fast. Have in mind, I am not a professional reviewer. I am just a pro user with specific needs. So this review is in the perspective of a normal end-user.

The first thing I did was pop it into my SATA6Gb/s capable ultrabay of my Thinkpad. It has the same speed and throughput as the primary SATA on-board. The operating system drive is on another Crucial M4 256GB drive. The OS is Ubuntu 12.04

So how fast is this drive? Insanely fast. Most benchmarks will give you 500Mb/s reads and 350Mb/s writes. That is what I experienced in my synthetic benchmarks.

Have in mind, most benchmarks are purely synthetic. They are either writing from memory or reading into memory.

Most day-to-day operations are copy and backups. Most setups I've seen are SSD as the boot/OS and a HDD as a secondary drive for media and other files. For example, in laptops, it is usually the SSD in the main bay and a swapped HDD in the CD bay.

If you have a SSD/HDD platter setup, your speeds will be determined by the lowest common denominator. That common denominator is most likely the traditional platter HDD. So if your platter HDD is only reading 60Mb/s, your copies will only be 60Mb/s even to a SSD.

Well, I happen to have a SSD to SSD setup. My Thinkpad is equipped with 3 SSDs. Copying Virtual Machine images from drive to drive is insanely fast. See below. I am getting 300 plus copy speeds. That is the full maximum speed of both drives (500Mb read and 350 Mb writes) with some minor overhead.

That is smoking fast! Gigabytes of files copy almost instantly. 10Gb of files takes less than a minute.

Just for fun, I tried to see what the USB3/USB2 speeds are like. I attached a USB3 Seagate Go Flex SATA to USB3 adapter.

Here are the results.

In USB 3, I can sustain 225Mb/s average speeds. USB 2 is pretty pathetic at 29 Mb/s. Also, pay close attention to the seek times. In native SATA mode, the seek times are very fast and USB3 is quite usable. USB3 is slightly slower than what I am getting with eSATA to SATA. See my eSATA-to-SATA cable post.

This just goes to show that buying a SSD and putting it inside an external enclosure is not worth it. If you do use an external enclosure, an older SATA3 SSD will more than suffice as you will never saturate the bandwidth. I have not seen a good USB 3.0 controller that is fast enough to keep up with the fastest SATA speeds.

There you have it and that is the reason why I stick with SSDs despite their high costs.
I hope you enjoyed the reading. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nexus 7

Google today announce the Kindle fire beating $199 Nexus 7.

It sure has some impressive specs but the onboard 8GB/16GB kills it for me.

I have a 8GB 7" Galaxy Tab 2 and it only has 400MB of free use able space. I had to delete apps like Google Earth and Firefox because they were taking up too much space. The Galaxy Tab 2 at least has a micro-sd and USB OTG (on-the-go) which allows me to offload my media files.

This has no option for external storage.

I think I'm gonna pass on this device.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Retina MacBook QUAD-head 14 million pixel display

I nearly had a nerdgasm when I saw this picture. Impressive. The Macbook Pro Retina is pushing about 14 million pixels right there. All of those monitors are greater than 1080p resolution.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

True Retina on the New MacBook Pro

I am waiting for accounting to clear my order of the new MacBook Pro with Retina screen to be approved. In the meantime, I've been doing some research and notice a lot of confusion in the internet and blogosphere. The confusion mostly arises from the misunderstanding of HiDPI scaling. As resolutions get insanely higher, the typical native resolution = display resolution no longer applies.

Apple released the first 2880x1800 display laptop that runs in Retina mode. The native display resolution is 2880x1800 but the system runs in various scaled display resolutions.  There is a difference between native resolution and display resolution. Apple employs a HiDPI mode for the normal usage. This is called Retina mode. Retina mode gives you the real estate of the previous MacBook Pro at 1440x900.

In retina mode, the OS runs in HiDPi mode where certain elements like text are running natively and everything looks extra sharp. This is how the iPad3 works. Everything is extra sharp but you don't get the extra display real estate. Your icons, browser window all looks the same as before. Hence, this is where the upset and confusion arises. Many are accusing Apple of misleading because they can't see the extra icons on the desktop.

Well, you can run at a higher "display resolution." In fact, you can even unlock the full native resolution to be your display resolution.

Anandtech does a great analysis on the screen and scaling. You can run retina mode (1440x900),  display resolution of 1680x1050,  or 1920x1200. Even in scaled mode, the screen looks incredibly sharp due to high dot pitch. At scaled mode display resolution 1680x1080 and 1920x1200, it still looks sharper than screens with those native resolution.

Still confused? Well running full native mode would be painful for many people with mid to poor eye sight because everything would be extra small. I think the hiDPI methodology was the best way to go. It gives you many great options for the majority of users. Yet, this still fuels the flames for anti-apple folks to swipe Apple at any given chance.

It was only a matter of time but many people have already unlocked the full resolution for OSX. You can read it on various blogs and forums like this one: HOWTO: 2880x1800 Without Scaling in OS X . Here is an example below of running 2880x1800 natively.


Now, I am more excited than ever. I've played with it in 1920x1200 and I think that is the resolution I will  most likely be using it at.

Monday, June 18, 2012

USB shared ESATA to SATA cable.

I recently went on a SSD buying spree and ended up with a bunch of 2.5" drives. I even got some 7200 rpm 750GB hybrid SSD drives pretty cheap too.

There is only so much I can put in my Thinkpad. I already have 3 SSDs in it (msata,main drive, and ultrabay).

So what do I do with all my extra drives? USB2 and USB3 is way too slow.  I didn't want to put a SSD in a USB drive enclosure. They top at 70MB-150MB a second transfer. I already have a hard drive dock that takes 2.5 & 3.5 drives but it is not a portable solution.

Well, Amazon came to the rescue.   For $20, you can get a usb/esata to sata cable.
This is not just any esata cable. It uses the combo USB/esata port on your machine to power the 2.5" drives. It only works with laptops that have combo ports. It channels both USB's power and routes the data via esata to sata.

How does it work? Surprisingly well.  I plugged it into my Thinkpad T420 and did some before and after benchmarks in Linux. This is with a 120GB OWC Mercury Electra 6G (SATA6) SSD drive.

Here it is externally connected to the esata cable. Average read rate of 261.8 Mb/s. This is 2-3 times faster than using USB2/USB3.

For comparison sakes, if you were to plug the drive in internally, it averages 394.9 Mb/s with a maximum read of 560.6 Mb/s. Note, this is with the native internal SATA6.

Here are some real-life pictures of how it is setup. In Linux, you need to rescan-scsi-bus for the esata to pick up the drive. Once scanned and mounted, it works as good as an internal drive by most standards. With some protective HDD caddies, I can now use SSDs as portable drives.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pimp your OM-D EM5

I got some great accessories for my Olympus OM-D EM-5 micro four third camera -  leather case and camera bag. Here are some pictures and comments.

The leather case is a 1/2 case with full 12-50mm lens cover. Half cases can get pretty pricey (up to $200) but I decided to risk my luck with a $22 case from Hong Kong. You can usually find them on eBay. It usually takes 2 weeks to arrive but it was well worth it. The more expensive cases usually have better stitching and a cut-out for the bottom access panel. Sure, they are nice but they normally don't come with the top cover and they cost a lot more.

Here are some pictures of my $22 half case and top cover.

Overall, I like the case. It is rather sturdy. I think the seller makes a bunch of other cases for other camera because the case for my GF3 is also sold from Hong Kong.

In general, I like half cases. They give the camera a very cool look and give the camera some great protection. Here are some of my micro four third cameras pimped with leather half cases.

I also got an Olympus bag from Amazon. It is the messenger bag sold by Cameta.  Interior dimensions are  (WxHxD): 10 x 6 x 4 in. It sells for $25 and well worth it. I can place the OMD with the full leather case, two lens (Voigtlander 40mm, Panny 20mm), and a second camera body (GF3) all in one bag.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Practical iTunes backup with Rsync

If you are a mac user with a large iTunes collection, backups can be a chore. Some people use Time Machine, carbon-cloner/super-duper, or the traditional method of simple drag-n-drop. Well, I suggest you embrace the built-in *NIX way of doing things and just use rsync. 

It is natively built in the operating system and many of the cloner type apps are just pretty GUI skins on top of Rsync. Time machine is notorious at making duplicates when you don't need to. Who needs to revert back 4-5 revisions of the same file?

Since I started iTunes Match (review coming), I've been updating my music collection and re-tagging my mp3s quite a bit. For example, I would update artist and genre one week. Another week, I would swap out my album art for higher resolution ones that will look nice on the retina iPad. Time Machine will store the 3 different iterations in my example.

Also, rsync is more intuitive than simply drag-n-dropping files. I have over 20,000 files in a music folder. I may be updating or changing 3-4 files at any given time. I may not know the location of the files but I've made updates within iTunes. Instead of looking for the files or copying the entire folder, rsync will simply match up what needs to be synchronized. This is a real time saver.

I won't go into the details of Rsync. You can google and read the man page.  Here is a very simple usage example with options explained:

 rsync -auvp --progress /Users/username/Music/ /Volumes/MUSIC_BK/Music/  
 -a archive  
 -u update only (don't update newer files)  
 -v verbose  
 -p preserve permissions  
 --progress = show progress  

Here, I am simply copying updates from my Music folder to a USB drive. In fact, you can simply write a shell script and leave it on the USB/Firewire drive. When I need to synch, I simply drag the script over to a Terminal window to start my rsync session.

Rsync is also good in multi-platform environments and cloud. I always rsync files to my DropBox or my PogoPlug. When I have a bunch of shell scripts or excel files, I use rsync to synchronize files between OSX and Linux.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pansonic GF3 review

The GF3 does not get much love from Camera enthusiasts. The original retail price in kit form was $599. At that price, it seemed to be a big let down from Panasonic. It was a bit of a disappointment from the original Panasonic GF1. Rightly so, at that price point, I wouldn't even consider it. The G3/GX1 would be better buys. However, with the right discounts, it is an awesome street camera.

This post will be about how awesome the camera is at $24.00. Let me explain in my post as you read along. I'm not going to post technical details, sample picts or give a professional review. You can find those pixel peeping reviews at dpreview and judge quality by photos posted on Flickr. The camera is competent in the right hands.

Now for my take.

Most camera gear-heads buy kit cameras with the intention of unloading the kit lens and keeping the body. I did quite the opposite last month. I bought a Panasonic GF3 kit with the intention of keeping the lens and selling the body to recoup my purchase on the lens.

The 14mm  f/2.5 Panasonic micro 4/3 lens has been getting some decently good reviews. In particular, I was sold on Steve Huff's review.

The 14mm lens by itself sells for $290-$299. (Yes, I know you can get it way cheaper in Singapore but this post is tailored toward US readers).

The normal kit (camera and lens) retails for $599. Prices have since dropped with the introduction of the GF5. At that price, I would never touch the camera. It is now cratering at $399 which makes it a good buy.

However, one day in May. Amazon had a "Gold Box" special for $314. I am an avid slickdeals reader and when the deal went live, I could not resist.
Cost of Kit from Amazon $314 - lens $290 = $24.00 added for an extra camera body I had no intention of keeping.

I only bought the kit for the lens and the camera was just a freebie extra body. At $24, it is a screaming deal. Have in mind, I was already intending to buy the lens. At first, I was going to sell the camera body to offset the purchases. I already had a EP1 and an Olympus OM-D EM5 on order.

Something changed my mind. Size. This camera may not compete with other micro four third cameras but it obliterates all the high-end P&S bridge cameras.

Most notably, it will perform better than cameras such as the highly touted Panasonic LX5, Olympus XZ-1 and Fuji X10 due to sheer sensor size. It's sensor is five times the size of those cameras as well as the newer prosumer point and shoots like the SonyRX100/Nikon CX.

Here is a chart showing the size advantage of the Micro 4/3 over the other $400-600 point and shoot bridge cameras. The closest competitor is the new Sony RX100 with its 1" sensor depicted in yellow.

Okay, we all know micro 4/3 camera sensors are way better than the Fuji X10 and Oly XZ-1. But what about size? Aren't those cameras a lot smaller. Well, I'll post some screen grabs from for comparison:,160,129,180

With the 14mm lens, the camera is quite small. It can be the perfect walk-around camera. Those size comparison completely change my outlook on this camera.

It shoots RAW, does 1080p video, and even has a flash. So they took out the hot-shoe, there are no manual dials and it doesn't have an EVF option. Hence, the fuss and disappointment from GF1 owners.

However, despite those missing features, it is still better than most of its competitors. You don't have a dial for your A/S settings but you can still manually set aperture/shutter/iso and have full control via the touchscreen menus. Yes, it feels like playing with a smart phone and it is not the most intuitive. Still, it is better than a camera without ANY manual controls.

It also takes all the same lenses as my $1300 Olympus OM-D.

This could be my backup body. Instead of swapping out lenses all the times, I can now use the camera as a spare back when I need to.

So, for many of you existing micro 4/3 owners who are looking to get the 14mm lens, you can get the benefit of a spare camera back. This makes an excellent "beater" camera to have around that will give you better than prosumer results from its competitors (LX5/XZ-1/X10).

Have in mind, $314 was an awesome deal and it may never happen again. However, it is a discontinued model so I expect prices to drop. I've seen it for $330-$360. So, major discounts are not far off.

So how does it fair? Quite nice. I may be starting to question the major price difference between this and the OM-D.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thinkpad T420 Impressions

Right about now, manufactures are releasing a bunch of new Ivy Bridge laptop models. With that said, it is a great time to get major discounts on last generation Sandy Bridge models. Ivy Bridge promises to be 10-20% faster but is it worth the 40% premium when there are significant savings on the last gen core Sandy Bridge?

I recently took advantage of those major discounts during the Memorial Day close-outs and picked out a Thinkpad T420 with a corporate discount. I'm glad I got the T420 over waiting for the newer T430.
Most notable change in the newer models that will infuriate traditional Thinkpad loyalists, Lenovo is abandoning the traditional keyboard for the island chicklet style. With that change and the major discounts ($800 or so w/ tax and shipping), I could not resist.

I intend to run a Linux workstation with multiple virtual machines so I had the following requirements:

  • Higher than 1366x768 resolution screen. Check! The T420 comes with a 1600x900 display.
  • More than 8GB of RAM. Check! My T420 runs 16GB.
  • Processor support for advance virtualization. Check! i5-2540M has VT-D/VT-X support for hypervisors.
  • The ability to run WQHD (2560x1440) monitors or higher. Or the ability to run two FHD(1980x1080). Check! T420 has displayport and I wanted to avoid HDMI and its limitations.
  • Expansion, docking, and modular drive expansion bays. Check! The Thinkpad can use a docking station that has multiple video outs. The Ultrabay allows me to swap out drive caddies.I intend to run three SSD drives on the machine. 256GB SSD in the main drive bay for the OS, 32GB mSATA in the PCIe slot for swap/VM,  750GB Seagate Momentus Hybrid in the ultraboy.The 34mm express port will allow me to attached a eGPU (external GPU card via express-to-PCIe) to power even bigger and more monitors.

When you look at all my requirements, the Lenovo Thinkpads hit all the right notes. Ultrabooks were out of the question.

The beefier workstation class laptops like the W520 are nice all and with their FHD screens but I explicity wanted the easiest Linux laptop to run multiple 27" and higher displays.
The W520 can run 32GB of RAM in a quad-core configuration but the discreete optimus switching graphics is problematic with Linux and multi-monitor setups involving displayport/dual dvi.
Furthermore, the weight,enormous girth,and bricky 170 watt power supply, and short battery life of the W520 turned me back to the T420. And on a surprising note and unexpected advantage, the T420 is easily hackintoshable if that matters.

So, the T420 or the T520 seems to be the most ideal laptop for my usage. If you are a power user with similar requirements, look no further than the Thinkpads.

 Pictured: Ubuntu 12.04 running a Apple 30" Cinema Displat at 2560x1600

What can I say? In a nutshell, it is a "real" Thinkpad. You either like the looks or you don't. If you think the machine looks dated or old school, then this is not the laptop for you.
To me, it has an intangible elegance to it. The spartan, all black, matte professional appearance screams enterprise ready.
This is a professional workhorse and it makes no excuses for it. The only visual cues that separates this from a 10 year old Thinkpad are the video display port, e-sata jack, and the various inside Intel stickers.
So far, Lenovo has done a good job of not messing  up IBM's iconic design.

I'm currently working on various deadlines so I haven't had time to set it up and play with it. In the coming days/weeks, I will follow up on my experiences with it running Linux.
I have the mini dock 3 (433710U ThinkPad Mini Dock Series 3), various ultrabay caddies, monitors, and various drives ready to go. I'm most interested in seeing hack together an eGPU (external graphics card) to it.

It will be interesting to see how well it compares with the upcoming, revised quad core Ivy Bridge Retina Macbook Pro 15" that I will be getting from work.
Between 4/5 high res monitors and 2 powerful laptops on my desk, it will be computing nirvana this year.

Post blog notes:

I got it running the 30" Cinema Display using display-port from the laptop and the dock with the basic install of Ubuntu 12.04. No hassles, No xorg config files. It was able to play a 720p MKV on the 2560x1600 display while running a Virtual Machine, compiling, and cloning DD the Windows partition. Impressive and hassle free Linux experience.

(pictured above is the dock with the various ports)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Silver Unicorn in the house - Olympus OM-D EM5

I was lucky and just got the Olympus OM-D EM5 in silver kit 12-50mm form.  I'm a happy camper. This mythical beast has been a long wait. Luckily Amazon did its job once again...

I've been playing with all my lens and mounts. The Canon 55mm f/1.2 now has a great digital companion.

Here it is with my EP-1 PEN, the first Oly Micro Four Third small camera.

The interior of the Zenbook Prime vs Macbook Air

Need I say any more:




You can clearly see the attention to detail.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Olympus Micro Four Thirds

After a long wait, I will be upgrading my "main" camera rig to an Olympus OM-D EM5 Micro 4/3 camera. I am big fan of Micro 4/3. In fact, I just picked up a Panasonic GF3 just a few weeks ago due to an incredible deal on on the 14mm f/2.5 combo. I can't wait to get the OM-D to add to my stable of Micro 4/3.

I've been a the micro four third fan since the original PEN EP-1. I've had that camera since 2009. Four years and counting. It was revolutionary in the way it changed my photography. People will deride the camera as slow focusing but I don't care.  The best camera is the one that you have with you and I've taken that camera with me on various overseas trips. I love the portability factor over my Canon Rebel dSLR.

I've used it mostly with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 along with a host of manual lenses from Pentax M42, Leica M-Mount, OM, Canon FD, and even the small Pentax 110 mounts.

With a Pentax 110 mount

The PEN looks stylish with a leather strap and 1/2 case (not pictured).
The 20mm Panasonic is a great piece of optics.

So, I am definitely looking forward to the OM-D and what it offers. I will put away the PEN into away into a display cabinet because it is such a beautiful piece of machinery. I was debating about getting another PEN body. Best Buy has them for $150 online.

I wished Olympus stuck with the rangefinder style and made a camera similar to the FUJU x100.  The OM-D looks to much like a 70's SLR to me with the triangle viewfinder hump.

It is funny that the new "OM-D" looks like the my old OM-1 camera (that I have in storage somewhere). Here are some beauty shots with my digital PEN. I look forward to re-doing a beauty shot with my new OM-D, PEN and OM-1.

Some photographs taken with a "low-end" micro four third camera. Using manual focus and a Voigtlander 40mm  f/1.4 Leica M-Mount lens.