Friday, November 29, 2013

New Commuter Car: Fiat 500e "electric" car

I decided to take the plunge on a new commuter car, a Fiat 500e. Voted best Electric Car for 2013 by Road and Track, this car is now in my possession for the next three years.

First of all, let's not confused the Fiat 500e from the other legendary Mercedes Porsche built 500E (capital E)  from the 90s. This is no speed rocket of a car. The "e" stands for "electric."This will be an interesting car for me as it is my first 100% electric vehicle. This post will be the first in a series of blog posts about the 500e on my blog.

There were a few reasons why I picked up this car. First, my wife's C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid proved to be economical and convenient. Her commute is the same as mine so the mileage range was feasible. Secondly, I just turned in a lease on a 2010 Mini Cooper and needed a replacement. Lastly, my main car, a Range Rover Sport was costing me around $300 a month in fuel. The Land Rover is a very thirsty vehicle and I was thinking of trading it in for a new sports car. However, for the time being, I still needed a commuter car and the Fiat 500e hit all the right notes.

The 500e is a California "Compliance" EV car. This means, it was built to meet California's strict mandate that automakers sell a percentage of zero-emission cars in order to sell in California.
So basically, my 500e subsidizes you guys who want to drive those SRT8 500 horsepower Dodge Challengers in California. As a result, most manufactures take a small loss. It has been reported that Fiat/Chrysler loses around $10,000 per 500e sold. Thus, the 500e is only sold in California. To move inventory, automakers are pushing heavy incentives and it is a win-win for consumers. At $32,500 before subsidies, the Fiat 500e is almost double the price of a base gasoline powered Fiat 500 pop. To ease the sticker shock, there are crazy lease deals for EV cars in the state of California.

Most geeks like myself would never buy a 500e as leasing is the way to go. Who knows how battery technology will progress in three years? Worst, we don't know what the battery loss will be like after thousands of recharge cycles. Hence, leasing an electric car is the smart thing to do. Worst case scenario, I can walk away in 36 months. Furthermore, the economics of leasing makes sense for my usage. "Compliance" cars get a bad rap by EV purists but it is a big plus for California consumers. $999 down and $199 (before tax/docs) a month gets you a 87 mile range EV car.

Now, lets look at some of the math:

$199 a month ($216 w/ tax) = $7776 (total lease). My particular lease is a little bit more ($225 w/tax) due to the fact I negotiated higher miles and added a $1000 sunroof option. However, the true cost of this lease is much, much, much lower. I get a California EV rebate of $2500. Subtract the EV rebate from the lease gets you total $5276 before docs, tax,etc. This equates to an effective lease of $146.55 a month over 36 months. However, there are more incentives. You get HOV stickers which gives you discount to bridge toll. Normal toll is $6 during commute, carpool rates is $2.50. This saves me $76 a month. Subtract that from the lease, the end cost to me to have this car is roughly $70-75 a month.  I would pay toll regardless of what car I have but here, I rather put that $76 a month toward a car than the transit authorities.  In the end, this is cheaper than a cellphone subscription plan for me. This doesn't account for the savings in gas by using electricity. I'll be saving close to $3600 a year in gas. I got a good deal. Chrysler/Fiat also throws in 12 free days of car rental each year (totaling 36 days) that I can use for long business trips and long drives to Tahoe or Los Angeles.

This car is insanely cheap and an incredible deal for California consumers who's driving habits align with an short/medium range electric vehicle.

Since I got this car, I'm still feeling it out and will write a bit more later.

The range after my first full charge. The car will analyze your driving habits and instantly update the range as you drive. I doubt I'll get 96 miles per charge. More likely, 90. I'll better the EPA rated 87 mile range due to my driving style. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cheap Thunderbolt eSATA solution

You can go out and spend $179 on a LaCie eSATA Thunderbolt hub or make your own with various parts for under $55-$100. I was able to jury-rig a $3.50 micro male SATA to eSATA cable with the Seagate Thunderbolt docks to make a working Thunderbolt - eSATA solution.

I used both the STAE129 Desktop Adapter (reviewed here on this blog) and the portable STAE121 Go-Flex adapter (also reviewed here on this blog). Both can be bought, heavily discounted at the Direct Seagate Store. They often go on sale for $50 and $100.

All I needed was a special cable that is $3.50 on Amazon. It is basically a male micro SATA to eSATA cable. In short, a portable set-up can cost as low as $60.

In order to use this, you will need to break the two retaining clips on both sides. It goes in one way since it is a L-shape connector. Since you are using eSATA, you won't need the power from the SATA connector.

Voila. Thats it!

And guess what, OS X reports it as a port multiplier. I don't know if that is true or not but that is what is reported. This means you can hook this up to those cheap $80 4 bay JBOD RAID enclosures.

I connected to both the portable and desktop Seagate Thunderbolt adapters.
Performance wise, you will hit 3 Gbps SATA.

I connected them twice to the SansDigital TOWERRAID TR4UTBPN 4 bay RAID enclosure.

For a 9TB spinning RAID 5, this is not bad. See the benchmark below.

So there you have it. A cheap make-shift solution. I make no guarantees. You can fry something up. If you don't feel safe with this, you can always go and buy the La Cie for $179-199.


Ford C-Max Energi update and Hybrid, Electric car shopping

As many of my regular readers know, about 2 months ago, my wife bought a Ford C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid.  The car that happens to have the worst 2013 year Consumer Reports reliability rating. However, it happens to have one of the highest number of owner satisfaction.
When asked, "Would you buy this vehicle again?" It ranked # 3 out 19 hybrids. It also got a high score of 83 from Consumer reports. No issues report for mechanical drive-train from their users. A majority of the complaint is from the Navigation Infotainment system, designed/powered by who else, Microsoft. Go figure, Microsoft is mostly responsible for bringing down a fairly advance, high-tech car. Yes, the Infotainment can be clunky for a non-techie person!

Well, it has been almost two months since she got the car and it has grown on me. I'm a petro gearhead and this car has pretty much help change my outlook a bit on cars. It is now shaping my opinions on cars in general. Don't get me wrong, I still love horsepower and European sports cars.  So this is my two months observation for those interested in a plug-in high tech gadget car.

In short, amazing little ride! Now, I know why this car has a high number of satisfied users.

First and foremost, the incentives are pretty much worth it. We'll be getting back more than $5,000 in tax credits/rebates which offsets the price (and I'll detail later below). But the main kicker are these green stickers.

Friday, November 8, 2013

CALDIGIT Thunderbolt Station docking review

What is it?

Well, it is one of the few shipping Thunderbolt docks. There are a few on the market, the Matrox and the Belkin but what separates this is the feature-set and price of $199.

It has three SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, audio I/O, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI and dual Thunderbolt. The second Thunderbolt port can be used for daisy chaining. This could be the first device on your chain and you can chain drives and accessories afterwords.

The competition:

Now compared to the Matrox DS1, the Matrox  has only one USB 3.0 port and two USB 2.0. It comes in either DVI-D or HDMI. It almost matches the Caldigit but comes short of only one Thunderbolt port. Meaning, it will be the last device on the chain. The Matrox retails for the same $199.

The Belkin Express Dock is a much more expensive affair. About $100 more, it comes with Firewire but lacks a dedicated video out. You can use one of the Thunderbolt ports for video (using a miniDP adapter) but that means, it will be the last device on your Thunderbolt chain.  The question now, is Firewire worth $100 to you while sacrificing a Thunderbolt port for video? I didn't think it was worth it so I ended up with the Caldigit. Moreover, the Belkin caps the USB 3.0 at 2.5 Gbps where as the Caldigit supports the full 5.0 Gbps speed along with UASP.

There is also the Apple Thunderbolt Cinema Display with it's wide array of ports. I already have a 27" monitor so $1000 for a docking station is a bit superfluous.


With a single Thunderbolt cable, you have a the ability to expand and dock a Macbook Pro/Air with ease and simplicity. The only other cable you need is a power cable and you pretty much have a complete Mac based docking solution. Everything else can be hidden from view. A very elegant solution if you are the type who does not like desk clutter.

Before, I would have something like this on my Retina 15" Macbook. Both sides cluttered with wires. Thunderbolt connected RAID drive, Thunderbolt gigabit, HDMI monitor, USB 3.0 Time machine drive, and a Kanex USB 3.0 hub for extra accessories.

Now, I have this.

Sure my desk is still cluttered but I only have two cables (power and Thunderbolt) coming out of my Macbook Pro. Now, it is just a matter of cable management.

The back USB ports are widely spread apart where you can easily add chunky USB pen drives and other girthy USB devices. This is a big plus in terms of design.

USB 3.0 Speeds

One of the issues with the Belkin Express dock was the fact it dropped USB 3.0 speed to 2.5 Gbps instead of the max theoretical 5 Gbps.  Moreover, the Caldigit dock is advertised as being UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) compliant.

How does it fare?

Surprisingly well! I tested this on my 2013 15" Macbook Pro Retina, 2012 Ivy Bridge 13" Macbook Pro, and late 2011 27 iMac (without USB 3).

An Oyen USB 3.0 enclosure housing a Samsung 830 SSD with ASMedia USB 3.0 chipset (one of the fastest on the market) produced 247 MB/sec writes and 153 MB/sec reads through the Thunderbolt dock connected to my 13" Macbook Pro.

For comparison, the same drive connected directly to the USB 3.0 host of the Macbook Pro 13.

OK, so both my Macbook Pros have USB 3.0. So what is the big deal this dock? The big deal was moving this over to my 2011 iMac which doesn't have USB 3.0. This is a Sandy Bridge iMac with just Thunderbolt.

Here is the iMac using the Caldigit Thunderbolt Station connecting to the same USB 3.0 Oyen drive.

And here is the same drive connected to just the USB 2.0 of the iMac host.

Big Difference!

Synthetic benchmarks are fine but how does this perform in the real world is what matters most. I connected two USB SSD drives (Samsung  256GB 830 and a  240GB 840) both to the Thunderbolt Station connected to the iMac.

The results were surprisingly good. Obviously, there will be some CPU overhead with USB. 20GB of MP4 movies took less than 2 minutes to copy.

On average, I was getting sustained 200-250 MB/sec transfers copies between drives.

On the iMac, it shows up a 5Gbps USB 3.0 controller.

And the proper USB Attach SCSI (UASP) kext do indeed load up when it is connected to an UASP enabled USB drive.

Multiple Displays

This subject seems to bring up some controversies and more questions. First and foremost, this device will only support whatever your GPU supports in term of maximum displays. For example, my Macbook 13" can only support one more external display whether it is HDMI (1080p) or 2560x1440 via Thunderbolt/DisplayPort.

Now when it comes to the 15" Macbook Retina, there is definitely some confusion. Out of the box, it has been stated online, it supports either HDMI or Thunderbolt. I've read that it doesn't support dual HDMI. I'm pretty confused myself with conflicting statements I've been reading.

After various tests, I was able to get 3 to 4 displays running total on a 15" Macbook Pro Retina.
As for three to four  displays, it is possible with a caveat. You either connect to the second Thunderbolt port on the Macbook or use another Thunderbolt device with daisy chain port at the end of your chain.

Sound confused? It is better to illustrate with pictures.

In this picture, I have a 27 inch 2560x1440 Dell with DisplayPort. Next, I have a 23" 1080p HDMI monitor in portrait mode. I am using a SINGLE thunderbolt cable to run both displays connected to the Caldigit Thunderbolt Station. It required another Thunderbolt device in the chain to pull this feat.

In order to get the 27" Display, I used a Seagate Thunderbolt Drive dock, It is connected to the Caldigit at the end of the chain and the Dell is connected via DisplayPort to the Seagate Dock (white cable). I could easily just plug the 27" Dell to my second Thunderbolt port on my Macbook to get the same effect.

Have in mind, the Nvidia GPU GT 650M only has a maximum output of three displays. There is no cajoling this.

Update: After a few reboots, I magically got this to run 4 displays.

The 27" is connected to the second Thunderbolt port off my Macbook. The HDMI off the Caldigit Thunderbolt station is powering the 23" Portrait monitor. My onboard HDMI is powering the 4th display. The 4th monitor is my battery powered portable HDMI GeChic  2501M which only supports 1336x768.

This is strange considering all the documentation I've read stating the Nividia only supporting 3 maximum displays. It doesn't appear the built in INTEL GPU is powering the fourth display. I had to connect both HDMI onboard (and dock) as well as use my 2nd Thunderbolt port.

Judge for yourself.

Here, you can see the System Preference reporting all the displays.

Hence, I think there is some room for the FAQ/Specs to be more clarified. I think your mileage will vary.

Do not expect to connect a 11" Macbook Air and get the same performance as my $3500 loaded 15" Macbook Retina. The number of screens you can connect is dependent on your mac's GPU's capabilities.

Update concerning multiple displays: Please Read Apple's FAQ ( on number of displays possible given your machine. Again, the CalDigit Station will not output more than what your machine is capable of.


This dock uses a USB sound DAC. I have nothing to report on this. It works and it appears to be a TI based DAC that supports 2 channels.


I was a bit worried that the Gigabit may be USB 3.0 driven as well. However, it is good to know it is PCI based.

It does requires drivers for Mountain Lion which I assume is on the CD-ROM supplied. Since my Macbook Retina lacks an optical drive, I downloaded the drivers from the web. Note, the driver is not necessary when running 10.9 Mavericks. In fact, if you are running Mavericks, do not install any drivers.

The Caldigit's Ethernet port is a full 1Gbps true Gigabit network card.

Compared to the Apple Thunderbolt Gigabit adapter, it performs the same.
iPerf reports it hitting the Gigabit limits. Both devices hit 110-112 MB/sec which is the upper threshold of maximum Gigabit throughput after network overhead.

I am more than satisfied with the performance  Time will tell if there are any issues.


Overall, this is a handy device for owners of 2011/2012 Macbook Air owners. Those owners who have a single Thunderbolt port with no USB 3.0 ports. It allows those owners to have instant Gigabit and video with this handy device. Those owners would probably benefit the most from this device. It might be a tougher sell for others. For example, I have a 27" iMac with dual thunderbolt and no USB 3.0. I can't justify the purchase of this for just USB 3.0 on my iMac.

However for my Macbook Pros, I really like the convenience factor. The Caldigit Thunderbolt Station replaces all of these: USB 3.0 hub, HDMI, Ethernet, and sound DAC.

Importantly, I don't have tangling spiderweb of wires and to me, that is what makes this product worth it. Unlike dedicated docking solutions (like the ones found on my Thinkpads), this device won't easily be out-dated. It is not married to a specific computer or device. Future computers will be able to use it as long as Thunderbolt is a viable technology. As you can see below, it clearly help cleans up the clutter.

After cleaning up and better cable management, this is a much cleaner look.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Plug for my new blog

I started a new blog. I want to keep it separate from this blog which is more gaget, tech related.

It is called the archetype dad. It is more of a fashion,style blog for those who have interests outside of gadgets!


Saturday, November 2, 2013

OSX 10.9 Thunderbolt Bridging Follow-up. Three Way Bridge

A few post back, I broke the news about IP Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt bridging. This is a follow-up post. I decided to see if a multi-computer, multi Thunderbolt bridge was possible using just cables.

I finally installed Mavericks on my 27" iMac and decided to do a multiple Thunderbolt bridge tests.
Here is the set-up.

In short, "it WORKS!" It is really plug-n-play. In my initial trial, I assigned IPs. It is not necessary to manually assign IPs.

I connected a 2012 13" MacBook Pro, 2013 15" Macbook Pro Retina, 2012 27" iMac. Both the Retina   Macbook and iMac have dual Thunderbolt ports.

The Retina MBP acted as the hub for both the 13" and iMac. Once connected, all the machines can see each other. The 13" with it's single Thunderbolt connected to the 15" could see and access the iMac.

13" Macbook Pro

15" Retina

The 15" shows both my Thunderbolt ports active

Now for the tests.

On the 13" Macbook Pro, I could ping, mount and connect to my 27" iMac which was connected via the Retina 15".

As I mentioned above, I didn't need to assign any IP addresses. I called the machines up by their host names and IP address. So, for the 13", all I had to do was type in afp:// or afp://iMac27.local and I was accessing the iMac.

Unfortunately, there is a small penalty loss when you go through another machine.

The first two iPerfs were the 13" connecting to the iMac.
5.24 Gbits/sec and 650 MB/sec.

When accessing the 15" Retina Macbook directly, iPerf jumped up to 7.16 Gbit/sec and 859 MB/sec.

I then pulled one of the cables off from the Macbook Retina and connected it to the iMac's second Thunderbolt port. Voila. It works. However, both the 13" and iMac's IP address re-assigned themselves. This was completely plug-n-play. I did not have to assign routes or anything to get the machines to see one another.

Still, these are impressive numbers no matter how you look at them. Now, this is definite proof a multi-user Thunderbolt IP network is viable.

Someone needs to make a Thunderbolt IP switch, hub, router ASAP! Lastly, Thunderbolt cables are dropping in price. I've gotten a few for under $25-30.