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Today's huge multimediafiles we either produce ourselves on our digicams, digital high resolution photocameras, or digital videorecordings from satellite, cable or terrestrial digital tv, or also happen to download from the net or even copy from family or friends, all make for a lot of data to store and ideally some of it needs to be backed up too.
That is why additional storage space is always handy and the more so if it can be easily carried around and doesn't take much hassle to be installed and connected.
Just for these needs Freecom, and numerous other manufacturers for that matter, today offer external harddrives, which basically come in two flavours : Either the regular sized 3,5 inch drives ; usually in sturdy housings with sometimes even a cooler installed but always with a separate power supply offering storage up and over 1,5 Terrabytes or the smaller 2,5 inch harddrives initially exclusively found built into laptop computers but now also available in their own housing powered through the USB port. The latter are mostly oriented for use with the said laptop computers but no one says they can't be used with desktop computers too. These types of exertnal harddrive are, until the even more portable USB-sticks catch up, the current standard for transporting a lot of data at once.
The description given that the Freecom XXS series of drives "is enclosed in a unique rubberized skin, making it the smallest and lightest 2.5" external drive in the world" is absolutely true. This because you really have nothing more than that : the harddrive which has but a mini-USB connector (so no possibility of hooking it up either true e-SATA or IDE) soldered on and then there is this rubber sleeve which serves as both as housing and protection. The easily removable rubber sleeve keeps the litle drive safe from dust, shocks and vibration but DOES NOT mean that you can use this exernal drive in wet or moist conditions !
Inside the rubber sleeve I thus discovered a SAMSUNG branded 2,5 inch harddrive, model HJM320JX with an indicated speed of 5400 rpm (typical for 2,5 inch laptop harddrives) and a theoretical capacity of 320 Gigabytes (to be really precise the size is 319.856.705.536 bytes), which after Freecom preformatted it for us in the FAT32 fileformat leaves for 298 Gigabytes to be used. This Samsung harddrive comes with 8 Megabytes of internal memory.
On the net I see that Freecom in the XXS series does already offer drives of even bigger capacity (500 Gigabytes) but obviously the race for always bigger drives rages on but you just have to weigh of storage capacity against cost to see where you get the best value for money.
I'd like to seize the occasion to express my surprise on how Samsung, almost out of nowhere, seems to have conquered a quite dominant presence on the harddrive scene. But a few years ago Samsung drives were nowhere to be found, and you only had but the great players such as Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor, IBM (who were to sell their harddrive manufacturing to Hitachi some years ago), and Fujitsu-Siemens. So how Samsung made it so quickly to the forefront I do not know.
The value added by Freecom to the Samsung drive comes from the said rubber sleeve, offering both the housing and protection for the drive and the mini USB connector they tagged onto the harddrive. Finally Freecom has preformatted the drive in the FAT32 fileformat to offer maximum compatibility with on the one hand all flavours of the Windows operating systems and on the other hand MacOS. No mentioning is made of any Linux support but I'm sure that that won't pose a problem either.
Freecom also has pre-installed some tools on the drive, the whole installation takes up 129 Megabytes of free space on the drive itself, and mainly contains the product manuals in various languages in the PDF-format. It also offers a 90 days trial version of the CA Security tool. As I do not like trial software I do not intend to use it but I suppose it is a tool allowing to secure the data stored on the drive from unwanted access. The whole package Freecom preinstalled is accessible via an .exe file found on the drive and which starts up an easy navigation menu. The drive requires no special drivers to be recognised, just plug it into a free USB port on whatever you are connecting it to, and you are in business.
For optimum data transfer speed the drive supports the USB 2.0 standard (making for 480 Megabits/second) but is also backwards compatible with the older and considerably slower USB 1.1 standard (which is 60 Megabits/second).
I bought the drive just this week for 51 GBP (59 euros) online at Pixmania.com, and upon reception and unpacking I do have some concerns. The first is that harddrives tend to get hot when in use, so how the Samsung drive really copes with heat, especially over long periods of use, while being all draped in rubber I do not know. I can only hope that Freecom has tested this thouroughly and that operation and data storage won't be compromised during prolonged use. The instruction sheet does specify that the drive should not be used with an ambient temperature in excess of 35 degrees centigrade. The lower 5400 rpm speed on these small harddrives (compared to the 7200 or sometimes even 10000 rpm found on regular desktopcomputer 3,5 inch harddrives) guarantees that they are more silent, use less power and generate less heat.
My second concern is the provided mini-USB to USB connector cable. This is quite short, nothing more than a few inches, and offers no other option than the drive being placed exactly opposite the USB port you are plugging it into.
Finally - and I did allude to the phenomenon in another review - the letter X is still very hot for use in product names for the IT industry, the XXS used for this series of Freecom drives only confirms this. But here of course Freecom refers to the size of the drive which, as for clothes, is then to be translated into eXtra eXtra Small.
isvikthere July 2009
I spotted this NAS (Network Attached Storage) box on sale, at a Belgian on-line shop's site more oriented towards laptops and of which I really only just was given the address by a friend. Even from simply reading the specifications given with the ad it really seemed to be a jack of all trades with some very surprising features, and sold at what seemed a very reasonable price, so I took the jump.
A guide here pointed out that we now are also expected to say how much money we paid, and I must admit I had already forgotten how much it really was. Checking back I now find it was a measly 70 euros, p & p included, which seems so dirt cheap I'm afraid no one will believe it. And that was on March, 23rd of this year. The GBP vs euro exchange rate has undergone some fluctuations since, so conversion into GBP is not that easy, say something between 45 to 65 GBP?
I can only guess that since the shop hasn't had any more of these on offer since, although it still seems to be in the Conceptronic products catalog, that it must have been a clearance sale for this model.
WHAT IS IT ?
Basically it is an external harddrive housing, sold without a harddisk installed, be it one with almost every possible means of connection. The CH3WNAS, seems to be the only device in Conceptronic's Grab 'n Go lineup of Network Attached Storage Devices, that offers so much. Obviously, like all of them it has an USB 2.0 connection but that just seems accessory here as it has much more than that, (although it even excels in that department, since it has not just the one but TWO of those USB connectors, see further down), the most distinguishing being WiFi, so wireless connexion capability. The purpose being that from anywhere on your network (Wifi or wired), or even through the internet for that matter, you can have access to your files without having to fire up a PC that would normally store them, or would pilot another basic type of external harddrive.
On this Wifi, I must say that the device really surprised me because the Wireless function, at a theoretical maximum speed of 54 Megabits/second (through the 802.11g-Wifi standard - but b is also supported) seems to be on as standard and the device, without my even knowing, because I was still busy exploring it through another type of connection, trying to set it all up, had already sneaked itself onto my wireless network, which I thought to be quite secure.
For its discovery Conceptronic delivers a special software tool called 'Easy Search Utililty' and it is exactly that, because it really helps you to quickly find the device on your network. This tool and an updated driver can be downloaded directly from the Conceptronic website, which is : http://www.conceptronic.net/
As for now it is installed quite near my desk, connecting to my home network through a small hub, I only use it through the standard (cable) network connexion, and for now disabled the Wifi (we wouldn't want want my neighbours or other innocent passers-by to go browsing through my files, now would we ?) and here I must underline that it really endorses the Gigabit feature, meaning that you can potentially transfer files/data at a speed of 1 Gigabit per second, which is blisteringly fast. Unfortunately that also means that to conserve this speed your whole network has to support it, which is of course still rarely the case, especially in today's SOHO (Small Office Home office) context. But I did do a speedtest by connecting the drive directly to the one computer I have which has Gigabit capability and the Gigabit feature was correctly identified and enabled by its operating system.
As already said on top of its Wifi and RJ45 network connector it has two USB 2.0 ports, one at the back and one at the front, allowing you to connect another two external harddrives, even harddisks that are only powered through the USB-bus, this because the Conceptronic does need its own powerplug to work, so it can share some of that juice with other devices, when needed.
Inside the box is a harddrive bay backed up by a small motherboard which contains the processor chip piloting the device. You really don't need to be a rocket scientist to install a harddrive in it, but you'd better not be hamfisted either as it does require some precision fixing the drive securily to the bay and in the box. The housing is cooled by a small fan installed at the rear so it isn't exactly inaudible although the fan noise is not intrusive either, I didn't measure but it is much more quiet than your average desktop PC. Do take extra care when reassembling the device and make sure nothing touches the fan blades to keep the noise down.
The housing itself is a mixture of plastic and aluminium and as you can see from the picture here it does look quite nice and classy.
The whole thing is run by a flavour of the Linux operating system, which also means that security is quite tight and you can give users exactly the access to various folders and subfolders they really need and nothing more. Setup is done through a web interface which is quite straightforward except for the user account creation part which is not really that intuitive I found. The whole of the setup is very similar to what you find on today's Modem/Routers, so people familiar with setting up internet connections on those won't feel alienated. The web interface is easily found on Windows' based computers as a shortcut to the configuration webpage is automatically created in the appropriate folder found under "My Network Places".
IDE only, not SATA!
I must admit to having lost a lot of time trying to have the device accept a SATA-drive, this because at the time the biggest harddrive I had on hand, and was really eager to use, was a 1 Terrabyte SATA (Serial ATA) device and for IDE (also so know as Parallel ATA or PATA) the biggest I had was only 400 Gigabytes. But after several unfruitful attemps, using not one but two different types of the small SATA-to-IDE converters that have become available these days, I had to give in and could only get it working with the said 400 gigabyte IDE-drive. The SATA-drive was never recognized although the LED control lights on the litle converter boards tried to have me believe that all was well but alas not so for the Conceptronic, which would have nothing to do with anything SATA.
Also beware, because for each new drive that you attempt to install in it, the Conceptronic management system insists on (re)formatting it first, so you had better backup any data you don't want to lose. But the Linux OS also means that the harddisk installed needs to be formatted in the Linux EXT2 filesystem. But this doesn't hamper exchanging files with Windows based computers one bit.
Beides its really spectacular connection capability the device also supports some filesharing protocols such as FTP out of the box. It can also serve as an Audio/Video streaming device to devices that support uPnP (universal Plug and Play), which besides the obvious computers on your network can also be a Playstation3 or any other type of digital mediaplayer that has network capability. Can't comment on this last feature yet because I still have to purchase such a device. However I did just order a DVD-player with both cable network and WiFi capability so I am eager to find out how good it will work together with the Conceptronic.
All announced features are present and accounted for and the device does work fine, although because of Linux'security file access permissions are not that easy to set up. Really too bad also it only takes IDE-drives and the manufacturer (and resellers for that matter) don't really go to all lenghts trying to make that absolutely clear to you, so beware.
Too bad for the IDE only limitation because I think Conceptronic really had a winner on its hands here, and why they haven't brought out a model for SATA drives yet is really inexplicable and a huge shame. And no surprise the webshop no longer has the Grab 'n Go on offer since finding the 3"5 inch IDE-drives that fit into it has become nearly impossible. I know because since the end of March I have unsuccessfully been trying to still buy a new IDE-drive bigger than the 400 gigabytes drive I currently use in it.
In one of my reviews I mention this film based only on the huge pubicity campaign that accompagnied it. So because I mentionned it I felt almost compelled to review it, but it is only just recent that I managed to lay my hands on the videocassette. So I slid it in the VCR, installed myself snugly in the sofa, ajusted the lighting and waited for things to come...
On the website www.avp-movie.com I read that it was the intention of the director to build upon both the Alien and Predator "mythology", so before I delve into that here's the creme of the crew and cast :
Director = Paul W. S. Anderson of Mortal Kombat, Soldier, and Event Horizon fame
Producer = John Davis
Sanaa LATHAN plays Alexa 'Lex' Woods, explorer and survival guide
Raoul BOVA plays Sebastian De Rosa, archeaologist
Lance HENRIKSEN plays Charles Bishop Weyland, industrialist and expedition financer
Colin SALMON plays Max Strafford, Weyland's righthand
Here of course I am now compelled to comment on the cast of the film and unfortunately here we touch upon one of the first weaknesses of the film. The cast is not really composed of top actors and I have to confess to having recognised only Lance 'Millenium' HENRIKSEN who is defintely linked with the Alien movies through his appearance as the humanoid robot Bishop. Also Colin SALMON I easily pinpointed as M's assistant in the James Bond movies featuring Pierce Brosnan.
The others, and especially leading lady Sanaa Lathan, were completely unknown to me. So no one of the stature of Sigourney Weaver for the Aliens or (like him or not) Schwarzy for the Predators. Of course this needn't be a serious handicap if the movie is well made but alas .. it's all very well saying that one wants to add something to the mythology but I wasn't at all impressed with the offspring the Alien and Predator wedding produced.
I hesitated first if I should reveil anything at all on the storyline, I really don't want to be a spoilsport, but the initial lukewarm reactions on my first version of this review pushed me to divulge at least the basics :
Lex and Sebastian and a bunch of other specialists are somewhat briskly recruited by Charles Weyland and his assistant Max : It seems that a heatsign was detected by one of Weyland's spy satellites somewhere on the southpole. At the same occasion a solid structure hidden under the ice was also discovered.
So they all speed off in an icebreaker and end op in a whaler's station that was abandonned in 1904. They start their search for the hidden structure below only to find that a perfect tunnel towards it is already present in the compound.
This tunnel leads them straight to a temple that seems to be a mix of Mayan, Egyptian and Cambodjan construction. 100 years after the strange incident that emptied the whaling station, in this place of sacrifice and worship they set of a mechanism that wakens up She-Who-Drools-Alot-and-Has-Many-Sharp-Teeth and at the same time sends off an alert signal to Those-that-underneath-their-helmet-have-an-even-uglier-snout, once they uncloak that is.
So there was a sniff of Lara Croft and some Mummie and other Scorpion King added to the soup but did this really make for an outstanding film ? Well, not really, it just ended up to be another one of those typical Hollywood creations, leaving no time to develop the characters or to let the viewer get into the spirit of things. With today's technology credible special effects and convincing scenery are no longer a challenge and this movie is no exception so at least those are good. But these days a movie that relies solely on said special effects to capture the audience is absolutely nowhere. Of course the drooling Aliens and the Predator manierisms are present and accounted for but nothing really new is added to the mix. So onless you are a die hard Alien and/or Predator fan eager to know the smallest detail about them I really don't see the interest in the project. Well maybe it's because I'm not a true believer in the Alien and Predator myth, so I should be spiked to a wall for that, or better I should get my head bitten off or whatever the two monsters like to do to us mere mortals.
But this story just rushes forth making sure to kill off all deeper thoughts/feelings/reflexions that may risk to develop or grow and just quickly gets up to a very predictable and equally uninspired ending.
So a bit of a deception this "epic" fight between two of mankind's most formidable extraterrestrial threats. And unless I would stumble upon the DVD for a pound of less in a clearance sale I wouldn't even bother. Not really worth spending any hard earned cash in a cinema either although in today's large and well equiped movie theatres with the screen and sound installation you do get that litle extra which even on a home cinema you can't quite manage to recreate. This can give an added value to even a mediocre film like this one turned out to be.
I cannot review this videocard without situating it first. As you probably know there are only two main competitors left in the 3D accelerated videocard ratrace, namely Ati and Nvidia.
The Ati Radeon 9800Pro is the direct successor of the Radeon 9700Pro which in August 2002 was considered the killer of the top of the range Nvidia cards of the time. With its successor the 9800Pro ATi managed to maintain the lead throughout the following years 2003 and first half of 2004.
In this generation of videocrds, after the 9800Pro came only the 9800XT model that performs better than this 9800pro. Which should make it clear that when it came out this 9800pro was a top notch product selling for prices over £200.
In the second half of 2004 the move over to the PCI-express bus for videocards finally started. PCI-Express is a technology that was invented to replace both the brown AGP-slots and the white PCI-slots on your mainboard (motherboard). THe PCI-express technology offers larger bandwith and higher current to the installed cards. What ATI did do was to lower the prices on the older chipsets for AGP, which make them now an excellent bargain. In my view the price is now at its lowest before the cards will start disappearing completely from the shelves.
Chipset = ATI Radeon 9800 Pro
Ati Core code name = R350
Memory size = 128MB
Bus = AGP 8x
Dual Screen support = yes
Connectors = CRT, DVI, S-Video
DirectX 9.0 support = yes
Chip Technology = 256-bit
Manufacturing Process = 0.15 Micron
Transistors = 107 Million
Memory Bus = 256-bit DDR/DDR2
Memory Bandwidth = 21.8 GB/s
Pixel Fillrate = 3.04 Gigapixel/s
Anti Aliased Fillrate = 18.2 Billion AA Samples/s
Max FSAA Mode = 6x
Triangle Transform Rate = 380 M Triangles/s
AGP Bus modes supported = 1x/2x/4x/8x
Memory size = 128/256MB 1
GPU Clock = 380 MHz
Memory Clock= 340 MHz (680 DDR)
Memory speed = can vary
Pixel Pipelines = 8
Texture Units Per Pipe = 1
Textures per Texture Unit = 8
Vertex Shader Version = 2
Pixel Shader Version = 2
FSAA Mode = MultiSampling
Memory Optmizations = Hyper Z III+
Optmizations = SmartShader 2.1 and SmoothVision 2.1
Display Outputs = 2 (1 VGA + 1 DVi)
Chip Internal Ramdacs = 2 x 400 MHz
Bits per Color Channel 10
Special Featurs : TV Encoder On-Chip; FullStream Adaptive Filtering ; F-Buffer
Note : the card is also sold in versions equipped with 256MB of on-board memory. Even for today's (July 2005) games that amount of memory still isn't really called for except for the highest resolutions e.g. 1600x1200.
The launch date for the press for this card was March 2003, though cards became readily available to the public only in July 2003. This card was then a top of the range product and still is a powerhouse today, two years later. With the R350 core (an evolution of the R300 found in the previous Radeon 9700 pro) Ati improved perfomance even further forcing Nvidia even more in a corner in the period between July 2003 and August 2004 until their Geforce 6000 series of cards became readily available. As said the only limitation today is that it is destined to go on mainboards that still have the AGP slot only. Since the AGP-bus has limitations in the provision of enough current for the card to operate, there is a power connector on the upper righthand corner. So by means of a splitter you install between your power supply and either a harddisk or an optical (DVD/CD) drive you can connect the card directly to the power. The high power consumption of the card means that you must make sure that your computer's power supply provides sufficient current, so a capacity of at least 300 watts is recommended.
So what makes this card so good ? Not only the fact that it was a top of the range card in the summer of 2203 but exactly because it was aimed at this top of the range it comes with many features which make that this card still tackles all of today's 3D accelerated games with ease. It is only when very high screen resolutions and the image enhancing features of Full Screen Anti-aliasing (FSAA) and Anisotropic Filtering are put at their maximum value that the card starts showing its age and that it looses out to the current range op topcards (Radeon X800/X850 and Geforce 6800 GT/Ultra and the new Geforce 7800). Besides that the card still completely RIDICULES the 3D-performance of all on-board graphics solutions and even of today's entry-level cards with for Ati are the X300 range and for Nvidia the Geforce 6200 series. For AGP this 9800pro is now a midrange performer.
Cards with the 9800pro chipset are still sold by many manufacturers the likes of HIS, MSI, Powercolor or Sapphire. However its the noname or generic cards that will have reached the sweet spot of £70. However this price will only buy you the card, the power cable splitter and a drivers CD. In the more expensive (around £80-90 or more) offerings of the branded cards the card will come in a nice carton box, sometimes with a DVi to VGA adapter and maybe even with some full games. Branded cards are sometimes equipped with higher quality memory chips (giving better performance still) and/or a better finnish with a goodlooking radiator and cooler solution.
My card is one of the generic type, so I got it with only the splitter cable and a drivers CD. I've tested it with various games like Brothers in Arms (2005), Halflife2 (2004) FarCry (2004), Max Payne 2 (2003), etc. and performance is excellent, allowing, for the older games to push all the
image enhancing techniques of FSAA etc to the max with a resolution of 1024x782.
Make sure that when you've purchased the card to go anbd visit Ati's website to download the latest driver for your operating system. Ati and Nvidia now work for unified drivers that cover the whole of the range of their Radeon and Geforce cards respectively.
So if you are into 3D accelerated games and you come to stumble on one of these in a shop (be it on-line or not) for a price of around £ 70 and you want to give your current PC system a real boost don't hesitate for a second. Because for £70 (or a bit over) the card offers the best price/performance ratio available today. Don't forget that it will only fit in now ageing motherboards still having the brown AGP-slot.
2004 was the year where the world not only saw Alien vs. Predator but for me it was also the year of Halflife2 vs. FarCry, and thus the year where hero Gordon Freeman found himself walking the beaten trail of Jack Carver and didn't come away unscathed.
It may be onorthodox here but I'll try to compare in this one review the two PC First Person Shooter games I played last year.(A First Person Shooter game is a game you play from the viewpoint of the main character, looking through his eyes at the world as it were). And coincidence or not both games were contenders for the 2004 Game of the Year award. Together with Doom3 (which I didn't play), Halflife and Farcry were games that really set out new boundaries for graphical performance.
Whilst FarCry and Doom3 are games that really put and still put all performance hardware to the test Halflife 2 seems to be much kinder to it. But I do think the minimum sytem specifications given by Valve (the game developer) seem wildly optimistic, I makes me wonder if anyone actually tried to play the game on such a system :
Minimum / Preferred
1.2 GHz Processor / 2.4 GHz Processor
256MB RAM / 512MB RAM
DirectX 7 capable graphics card / DirectX 9 capable graphics card
Internet Connection **
CD or DVD rom drive (retail version only) *
My system :
2,43 Ghz Intel P4 Processor (Northwood)
1 Gig RAM
Geforce 4200 128 Mb videocard (not DirectX 9 capable)
Which situates it (apart from memory) below the preferred system. And there is a reason for this : If you have to go almost every year through an expensive upgrade of your hardware just to be able to play these games it is perhaps time to stop and think if you wouldn't be better off buying a game console. Because although the games themselves are roughly as expensive for all platforms (PC or console), with what you pay for one of the top consoles (X-Box, PlayStation2 or Nintendo GameCube) you can't even buy one of today's midrange videocards, let alone a complete system upgrade which would consist of motherboard, processor, memory and videocard, and then not just some entry-level stuff but the faster (read : the more expensive) the better.
Halflife2 needs an internet connection to validate and activate your game installation. Without a connection to Valve's "steam" server nothing goes. I know a person without it who discovered the game under the Christmas tree and thus found himself with an expensive but useless shiny disk. In its arrogance Valve seems to think that everyone on this planet now has an internet connection, but I think I can safely deny this. Correct me if I'm wrong but surely not 100% of people owning a PC have an internet connection ?
You can buy the game on disk (one DVD or multiple CDs) or you can download the entire thing directly from the said Steam server. Obviously this download route is only open to people with broadband internet connections. And then still broadband without stringent traffic limitation as the game installation is quite hefty taking up several gigabytes of diskspace on your harddisk. But if you have the required internet connection you should have no trouble activating your account, some people seemed to have reported trouble with this but those were the exceptions. Others having bought the CD version also complained about one of the CDs not wanting to load correctly.
By now everyone has heard about the sad series of events that caused the game to arrive late, very very late even. Six years after the original Halflife game is indeed a very long time to wait for us punters. The delay was caused by the fact that Valve decided to create its own game engine called "Source", the fact that their servers were hacked and the miscalculation of the time it would take them to finish the game.
But now it is here and yes Gordon Freeman, the G-man and the mythical crowbar are back. But a lot has happened in the gameworld since Gordon's first appearance. Other game developers have pushed the boundaries of graphical effects, image detail, storyline and vehicle control. If Valve had managed to stick to its initial release date of September 2003 the game would have won without the shadow of a doubt even more awards than the initial Halflife game. The extra year it took to publish took its toll, games like Max Payne (1&2), The Medal of Honour series, Batllefield 1942 have taken the First Person Shooter (FPS) game to a level that would be hard to surpass by even the most gifted game developper.
And then, in the beginning of 2004, there was Farcry, a FPS game that baffled everyone with first and for all its amazing graphical detail and effects in its vast tropical landscapes, the advanced lighting effects, and also the possibility to interact with almost every object in the game, kicking it, shooting it. And then there was the control of vehicles, the novel artificial intelligence of the opponents which duck, hide and regroup. And with every element in the game, the possibility of multiple approaches or ways of reaching your objectives. The major flaw of this game was maybe its storyline, which involved an uninspired mad scientist and hordes of mutants and there was also the high toll on computer hardware. FarCry really brought my computer to its knees, whilst HL2 on medium settings stayed playable throughout.
Since Halflife for me looses out to Farcry in the graphical and effects department it had to score in storyline. Valve needed to recreate the warm Halflife feeling people had when they first took control of Gordon Freeman in the Black Mesa facility. Well people, let me give to you straight : Gordon Freeman didn't do it for me here. It's true that Valve did a tremendous effort to give depth and meaning to characters that were simple but surprising sidekicks in the first Halflife game: e.g. Barry the security guard and lab scientist Dr. Kleiner, they even invented a new main character in the form of, Dr. Eli Vance's daughter Alyx. And yes, all these have come alive with their expressive faces and approach real humans in nature with serious voice actors hired in to make them even more lifelike. At different stages in the game they talk to Gordon, explaining things helping him and giving directions, but what's the point ? The storyline is straight, there aren't different scenarios you can follow, and the most frustrating of it all is that you can never talk back to them. You just stand there and listen, like a little schoolboy, what's the fun in that ? Especially if you are supposed to be Gordon The FREE Man, the big hero of all times. They even start sneering at you if you don't go about your business quickly enough after they had their say. Most sympathetic. Almost makes you wish you could shoot them too.
So is the game all bad ? Not by a long shot because the fun doesn't come from the "human" input, it comes from driving around fun vehicles in a fun surrounding, running through the houses and streets of City 17 and the scary ghosttown Ravensholm, crawling through tunnels, scooting through sewers, exploring coastlines and solving litle puzzles to be able to continue your journey. And the source game engine does have all the capabilities found in today's games to create graphical splendour, but it rivals them, it never surpasses them and for me, on many occasions, the FarCry Sandbox game engine wins hands down, be with the said high toll on hardware.
If the original Freeman struggling to get out of the Black Mesa lab and getting unexpected help under way brought a warm feeling to your heart, in this game for me the warm feeling and all my sympathy went to the non-human helpers. They were the biggest surprise in the game and I can't reveal too much about them, without spoiling things, but once they were on Gordon's side I loved them to bits and dearly missed them further down the game when apparently for the game designers they had served their purpose. Many were the times that during the calmer moments of the game I used their callsign out of pure nostalgia and it felt almost as mourning over a lost pet.
Besides this all weapons in the game are pretty straightforward and as you progress through it your choice of arms widens with pistol, grenade, shotgun, crossbow, grenade launcher, leading up to the ultimate weapon which is the Gravity Gun. But this last one is so powerful that it disturbs the balance in the game, because with it you can toss opponents around as if they were puppets or launch about every moveable object at them. In fact from the moment the game reached its grand finale and after having recovered the gravity gun after your brief capture by the evil Admnistrator, with the Gravity Gun at its full capacity, the game seemed like a bowling alley with Gordon launching energy balls recovered with the help of the gravity gun with enough curve to toggle hordes of opponents.
Lots of applause came when Valve first demonstrated this weapon a while back, but you know us gamers are easily spoilt and quickly take such novelties for granted.
It is at this stage that I regretted even more that I had put the game on its medium difficulty setting. Even before the advent of the gravity gun I wasn't too much challenged by the opponents but with it the game was like a walk through the (ball)park.
Because the game took way too long to come out Valve put itself already in a situation that was unnecessarily difficult ; but the appearance of Farcry, and then Doom3, before Halflife2's release date really necked the impact the Source game engine could have made in the gamersworld.
So as now all the weight was shifted the storyline and the reviving of the Gordon 'Hero' Freeman myth I regret having to say that where Valve put much of its time, the developement and animation of the cartonboard characters found in the original game, didn't do it for me. But the vehicle driving is simply brilliant for a First Person Shooter game and all my sympathy goes to Gordon's unexpected little helpers. Gamesites giving it a score of 97/100 were however exagerating or have played it looking through the rosetinted goggles of the past.
+++Introduction+++ A while back here on Dooyoo I presented you my Emprex DVD-burner. Since I do work on several PCs and since a multistandard DVDrewriter is still not that cheap - although prices have come down at an astonishing rate over the last year - I felt really reluctant to buying one for each workstation I use. So when I saw this external 5"25 inch drive housing advertised at a local dealer's website I took the plunge mainly to be able to use the mentionned DVD-burner anywhere I like. +++Features+++ So what is it ? It is simply an external housing for all types of 5"25 inch drives, be it CD- or DVD-Readers and/or burners or any other devices. In fact the package comes with internal adapters so you could even fit in a 3"25 harddisk if you would wish to do so. The device communicates through the High Speed USB 2.0 protocol and comes with its own USB-cable and power adaptor. The Mentor ME-525 has an Anti-Shock design. So its main purpose is to make any kind of drive you decide to install in it a mobile storage device. But since it basically is a plastic box it is not unbreakable if dropped. But the enclosure with screwless design makes it utterly user-friendly and very easy to install. As said data is transferred through an internal IDE to USB 2.0 interface and thus it can work with both through PC & Mac Plug and Play hot-swappable connection. Therefore Win 98SE/ME/2000/XP/Mac OS 8.6 or above are supported. The case is of also of a stackable design with dimensions of : 265 x 165 x 55mm (L x W x H), so it really isn't as small as that. On top of your PC, if ever you have a tower like me, seems to be the logical place for it. +++When to buy+++ This type of external drive housing could be useful to anyone that has no more free drivebays left in his PC, who uses a laptop or someone who needs to work on several machines. The main condition to be able to use it as
intended, is that whatever you connect it to needs to have the Highspeed USB 2.0 on board or data transfer will be slow. People still having machines with only USB1.1 can forget about using this housing to install a CD- or DVD-burner as under USB1.1 the data transfer speed is too slow to provide sufficient data to today's highspeed burners. When using it with a burners inside it, make sure that the machine you connect it to has decent burning software installed. Obviously it is a Do-It-Yourself solution, but this has the advantage, contrary to those readymade solutions that are out there that you can install in it any drive you like, e.g. a spare CD-burner that was left over after a systems upgrade. As the housing is quite cheap the total cost of housing and device installed in it will work out cheaper than readymade total package solutions (e.g. Philips Jackrabbit, Maxtor, Iomega, etc.) The finish is good and the screwless design works really well. The colours, with a mixture of faint purple and silver are quite attractive (see picture). If ever you decide to install a 3"25 harddrive in it you obviously leave the frontplate - which is equipped with ventilation holes - in place. If ever you install a 5"25 drive the frontplate of the drive fills up the void. And here we come to my main concern : As this external housing has no type of mechanical cooling (no ventilator) installed and with a 5"25 burner installed there is really very litle room left for air to circulate and to cool down the drive inside. I haven't tried my luck yet but I can imagine that if ever you have a DVD (or CD)-burner in it and you would be burning disks continuously overheating problems could occur. And unfortunately there is no room left to install a small aftermarket ventilator yourself. +++Conclusion+++ So this external housing is excellent value for money, providing you with a goodlooking and
affordable external storage solution and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to be able to install a drive in it. My sole concern could be possible overheating problems when burningdisks one after another when ambient temperature is already on the high side. It is undeniably a mobile storage solution but the sheer size and weight of it will keep you from wanting to tug it along all day. Cheers, Vik
+++Introduction+++ If ever there is a breed of dogs to which the saying "looks can be deceiving" applies then it is the Boxer. Anyone who is a bit familiar with the breed knows that they are a slimmed down and very domesticated version of the bullfighters of bygone times and that boxers have their origin in Germany. To some people they may look frightening and intimidating, but know that behind that exterior hides one of most gentle characters in Canineland. Now having entered their third century of existence Boxers still are enormously popular amongst the fans. I wouldn't claim myself to be the number one expert at all but as I am now on my second friend on four legs (her picture is the one in my profile, I do feel like I've got something useful to say). Either you like the looks of a boxer or you don't, but none of the boxers I met , and I have encountered many, had any tendency to aggression, in fact about 98% of them were overfriendly even to strangers. And that is exactly their biggest plus, it's a type of dog you can take anywhere without having to fear that vicious attacks to the litle child's hand trying to caress it will occur. Obviously I have been reading articles and books on them and most of them seem to cover the breed quite well, as they do have common characteristics. But from my tales hereafter you'll see that they aren't all that alike. +++Size+++ Some people consider it to be a big dog but that's only when you're used to being around lapdogs, the likes of Pekinese or Cavalier King Charles, in reality the Boxer is just average size weighing in around 30-35 kgs, which is a lot less than a Labrador or a Rottweiler. Male boxers stand a bit taller than the females and therefore can weigh a bit more. +++More characteristics+++ The Boxer must be the number one family dog, in fact they may be harassed by children to an extent we
ourselves wouldn't tolerate but never is there a hint of aggression in their behaviour, they would rather try and hide themselves out of reach of the litle tirants than to ever show their teeth or growl. Even my first dog Watson who was a male and much more assertive than my current female Boxer Xelery never lifted a paw against children teasing and chasing him. But when he was challenged by other dogs, and here the bigger the better, he was almost impossible to hold back. Unfortunately my brother raised Watson to chase cats and that's what he did until his very last day. Xelery however was raised in a family with cats and tolerates them extraordinarily well, her interest is more in litle dogs whilst Watson, as said was furious against anything bigger than him, and considered litle dogs to be nothing more than air. +++Pedigree and illnesses+++ Besides their sex the main difference between Watson and Xelery was that the latter has a pedigree whilst Watson was basically a farmdog. Here the difference in health was and is enormous, Watson ate just about anything whilst for Xelery we found out that we need to buy special 'Royal Canin' diet food as her stomach is too sensitive for anything else. Watson thus had no genetic defects whatsoever and only in the last years of his life suffered from various afflictions: First and for all his ears collapsed meaning that both sides of this earshells got detached and filled up with blood. This happened because whilst staying at an acquaintance Watson got an ear infection that didn't get seen to, causing him to flap his ears so wildly that the walls of his ears sheared apart. As soon as Watson got back in my care I urged him to a vet which cured this by simply letting the blood out of them and then sowing the two earhalves back together, this healed very well and when the stitches were removed it was very hard to tell what had happened. Maybe that is why at a certain mo
ment in time many boxers got their ears trimmed and put upright as is also often seen on Dobermanns. In the same spirit of things it is also said that boxers get their tails cut off to avoid them having wurms that seem to have a tendency to nest under the tail and can sometimes cause fatal infections. Others say that since Boxers go through life wagging their tails almost endlessly, to avoid them wiping clean your coffeetable at every pass it is better to have it removed. Anyway it is my view that with their tails left on, Boxers should be even better at jumping than the champions they already are. I haven't had a Boxer yet that kept its tail. After the ears incident, and then Watson was already going on his twelfth year (some books attribute Boxers only 8-10 years maximum), he started having problems with his prostate, which caused him to secrete blood with his urine. This problem stayed, with some periods worse than others, until he finally died of cancer. This cancer came up all of a sudden in September, the vet did try and remove the tumor but it came back in less than three months and then bigger and meaner than ever before. In fact in his last January days the tumor was almost as big as the basketball Watson did insist on playing with until only two days before he died. That's right, Boxers remain playful until their very last breath. Even his appetite was good until the last moment but all his energy went to feeding the evil growth inside him because besides the killer lump in his side he was as skinny as never before in his life. The tumor itself was glowing to the touch and wore him out until his heart finally gave up. Now Xelery not only has stomach problems, she also has tearcanals that are not fully developed, causing her eyes to water and to be red all the time. In my view those two problems should keep the breeders from continuing to breed with the line she came from and we therefore had her sterilised as s
he most certainly would pass these genetic defects on to her offspring. Through eyesurgery the vet did manage to get the eyeproblem under control. Female boxers are also known to be very sensitive to cancers of the woomb and therefore it is advised not to keep them on contraceptives for too long if you don't intend to use them for breeding. Being the ever hungry scroungers they are they also can die through their stomach overturning should ever they be too violent shortly after a copious meal. So always make sure they take their time to rest and digest before taking them out for the energetic games they so love. But let them eat to their heart's content and they will grow into fat slobs, give them just enough and plenty of training and they will easily show Schwarzy what real muscles are like ! +++More+++ So both are very childfriendly, but in my view the females are the better watchdogs as Watson didn't even lift a paw when at one moment in time my house was broken into, I'm quite sure - although I wasn't there when it happened - he did try to lick the thieves to death. That's right, all boxers love to lick and if ever they can't get to your face - which they love to reach by simply jumping up to you as high as they can and preferably when you least expect it - no matter your size, age or sex, and if they can't get to your face they will just stand there licking the air. But Xelery does however bark and growls when strangers prawl around the house something for which Watson never bothered, in fact he even had the peculiar habit of pretending not to see me (his master!) if ever I was standing outside the window. He did dislike hot air balloons and firecrackers, those two and only those were the only occurences that could make him bark. Although they don't look it they are very clever dogs and they can very well distinguish right from wrong but they just can't help thieving thi
ngs be it food or objects to tear apart. Here Watson was the worst of the two as he alone must have devoured a whole library with the contents of Al Bundy's shoeshop thrown in. But this is mostly to blame on boredom, as one other reviewer clearly points out Boxers are very physical and the best thing to do is to wear them out to the bone by making them run endless laps and performing ever higher jumps, which is the best way to make sure that they will be to exhausted to even think of touching your stuff. But unfortunatley we in our hectic lives do not always have the time or the means for extended walks morning noon and night. +++Price+++ Can't say anything useful here as we got Watson for cheap (no pedigree), with just having paid the breeding expenses and a litle bit extra. Xelery we got for nought as she was already two years old and becoming too much of a handful once she grew up to be as big (and now even bigger!) than her mother. That's right they had kept her on thinking she and her mother in one household would still be manageable. Boy were they wrong :) Cheers, Vik
+++Introduction+++ One evening starting up the machines I almost immediately noticed something was amiss. I couldn't quite lay my finger on it until it dawned : the familiar green light blinking on the scanner wasn't there. I checked the current which was there and suspected the power adaptor to be faulty. But no, not even a replacement power adaptor managed to revive the poor thing. And that was the last for my Acer Vuego Prisa 310S SCSI scanner I owned for some six years. It wasn't at all a cheap scanner, at roughly 100 pounds (without the SCSI adaptor card !) it was even quite an expensive purchase that over the years didn't seem to have contributed as much as it should have to my productivity. But not more than two days after the incident I needed an urgent copy of a document and, you guessed it, the scanner was already sorely missed. I felt even silly having to turn to a nearby copy center for the few copies I needed, so my mind was soon made up to look for a replacement scanner. Therefore I started browsing the site of my favourite online hardware vendor and then looked up comments on his offerings on Dooyoo and similar reviewer sites. You all know by now I was very pleased with the i850 Canon bubblejet printer I bought in the begiinning of last year and so happens my dealer had many Canon scanners on offer. Looking back at the average to low use I made of my Acer scanner and not wanting to have to weigh off against each other the 10 (!) diferent Canon scanners that were there, I decided to go for the cheapest model they had on offer and that was of course the Lide20 I now will be reviewing. +++What is it+++ The Canon CanoScan Lide20 scanner is a flatbed scannner, which means that you have still have to expose the documents you want to store on your computer on the scanner's glass plate and not feed it through a machine like you would in a faxmachine or a photocopier, -> so no a
utomatic paper feed ! It is even rather tiny, Dimensions of 256 x 383 x 34 mm, which makes it just a tad bigger than an A4 paper sheet and about one inch thick: Nice ! It has some nifty features : ++ "Advanced Z-lid"++ This means that without having to remove the lid you still can scan items like a page in a thick book, without your having to tear the page out, the lid simply hinges high enough for a book to be put betwen it and the scanning plate. ++Upright Scanning++ That's right, the LiDE 20 comes with a stand which allows you to put it up on its side, allowing to save some deskspace. However in this position you can forget about scanning the bulky items mentionned above. For scanning loose pages this feature does work althought you have to be quick to close the lid otherwise the page or picture follows the laws of gravity and tries to slide out. ++Three EZ (= easy) buttons++ On the frontside of the scanner are three quick access buttons allowing you to immediattely activate the device for a quick scan, making a digital copy or scanning directly to e-mail. ++Canon's Fast Multi-Photo Mode++ Which translates into the possibility of scanning several photos in one go and the Canon software will separate them for you and automatically straighten scewed photos. +++Technical specifications+++ What distinguishes the different LiDE models (there is LiDE20, 30, 50 and 80) offered by Canon, which all look more or less alike, is their opticial resolution. - For this LiDE20 the optical (real resolution) is 600x1200 dots per inch (dpi) although through software this can be raised to 9600 dpi. - The scanner has 48-bit input (this relates to the number of colours the device can faithfully reproduce) but only 24-bit output. - It is a USB device, which means you plug it into a USB port on your PC. As it isn't stated anywhere on the
package I can safely assume that is only a USB 1.1 device and therefore cannot use the USB2 speeds. Here I have to stress once again that all USB 1.1 devices can be used with USB 2.0 hardware and vice versa. Of course the final speed will be limited by the slowest device in the chain. - Canon assures that the scanner can be used with both the Microsoft Windows operating systems (XP/2000/Millenium/98) and Apple's MacOS 9 and X. I have installed it on a Windows XP Professional system. The whole of the system requirements are: a computer with 150 MHz or higher processor (CPU), USB port (excluding add on USB port), CD ROM drive (x2 or faster), Display: 65,000 or more colours, 800 x 600 or more pixels, RAM 64MB or more (128 MB or more for Win XP) For Mac OS: Mac OS 9.0 or above / OS X v10.1 or above, Mac with USB support, Display: 32,000 or more colours, CPU: PowerPC G3 or higher, RAM: 64MB or more (OS X requires 128MB or more) - Speeds according to Canon themselves : ° Preview speed is Approx. 15 sec (excluding processing time) ° Colour scanning speed 16 msec/line (600 dpi) and Black and White 5.3 msec/line (600 dpi) From rest it does take the Lide20 some time to jump in action. But Power consumption is really low with 2.5W Operation power and 1.25W Standby power : Wonderful ! +++The Package+++ The scanner comes in a carton box which besides the machine itself contains two manuals (fullblown paper manuals tend to be rare these days), each covering a number of languages, a USB-cable and two CDs containing the software. Now I hear some of you ask : Wot ? No power adaptor ? Yes, that's right it doesn't need one as it takes its power through the USB-bus so there is only the USB-cable needed for it to work : Lovely ! The two CD's are almost identical except that one contains the English, French and Spanish versions of the setup software and the other contains the
Dutch, Italian and Greek setup software, mine came in its version 1.04. So besides the driver, which makes sure that your operating system recognizes the device and installs it correctly there is some other sofware. - Scangear CS - - CanoSCan Toolbox - containing the utilities to configure and tune the scanner - ArcSoft PhotoStudio 5 - a slimline image editor, which allows you to work over the images you scanned, resizing them or tuning them a bit, of course not to be compared with the major wellknown suites like Adobe PhotoShop or Jasc Paintshop pro - ArcSoft PhotoBase - a lightweight image suite, mainly allowing you to manage, bundle and store the images you scan - Scansoft Omnipage SE - a basic version of the Omnipage OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software needed to convert a scanned textdocument, which is in fact initially just an image to your PC, into a textfile you can use, edit, modify or copy and paste into your own documents and, finally, the Adobe Acrobat Reader which you need to read the manuals stored on the CDs in the PDF-format you now find everywhere (safes people without broadband connection the hefty but free download from the Adobe website) Here I have to note one weird thing I encountered while trying to install the Omnipage SE software ; the installation couldn't finalize because the setup routine complained it couldn't find a file which after checking was indeed on the CD. I solved this by copying the whole Omnipage directory from the Canon CD onto my harddrive and then launching the setup procedure from there, only then all went well. Make sure to install the Canon software before connecting the scanner to your PC, if not you'll be sure for the installation to go wrong. So the right order of doing things is to put the software CD with contains the language of your choice in your CD-player, launch the setup procedure from it, install the driver, the utilities and the s
oftware you think you will be needing. Then restart your computer and plug in the scanner in a free USB-port. After the (Windows) logon procedure your scanner is ready for use. +++The Final Verdict+++ Becoming more and more of a Canonfan by the day, I must say I like this device, not only its size, the fact that it has only one cable and no more power adaptor taking up one of my wall sockets, but also because I wonder how on earth for such a small price they can deliver such a package. With the scanner, USB-cable and the necessary software to do basic scanning and editing of both text and images. And then they still even throw in a decent manual in 16 languages. And the Lide20 even looks good too, with its darkblue cover and grey body,not at all out of place in any modern office. Obviously for the price you can't expect Canon to include the full Adobe Photoshop Suite for the image editing or even OmnipagePro for the OCR but the software they do provide you with allows you to get started on what ever scannning job you fancy. The sole drawback I discovered to this date is that six years further down the line this LiDE20 is not faster than my Acer 310S was, but here you have to keep in mind that it only costs one third of the price I paid for the now deceased 310S and did I forget to mention that the Acer was one of the fastest SCSI-scanners of its time ? On the other hand the litle Lide20 also has the advantage of being much quieter while scanning than the Acer was when it was still in good working order. Cheers, Vik
Introduction Obviously "The Fall of Max Payne" is a sequel to the original Max Payne third person shooter game which was a big hit in the summer of 2001. It was a success mostly because it added something new to adventure gaming with, a true movielike storyline, the film noir setting with storyboard breaks and dreamscenes and of course the famous "bullet time" feature where the rest of the world goes in slow motion while you can have a go at the bad guys in realtime. But to be perfectly honest I never got the hang of the bullet time feature because my hero never quite behaved like I wanted him to so in the end I gave up on bullet time altogether and I just whacked the bandits in realtime which, except for when there were really many of them shooting at poor Max from all corners, never gave me any serious trouble. The Fall This sequel keeps all the characteristics of the original game, so you find yourself once again running around in the dark streets of New York in a drizzling rain trying to find out who's behind what and why in that city full of crime. The whole surroundings in which Payne evolves ooze an atmosphere of gloom and destruction through the broken up streets, the derelict buildings and such. All of this just like in the orginal game and once again you have to exterminate hords and hords of vilains. To add to this gloomy ambiance Max never knows who are his friends and who are his ennemies, not even amongst his fellow police officers. However and this is really new, from time to time there is someone there to lend you a hand, I can't develop too much on this as it would spoil the surprise but let's just say that the game developers added in a nice touch of Lara Croft. The Weapons Max starts off at the beginning of a chapter with either nothing at all or with a handgun but as he progresses trough the storyline he collects an arsenal of weapon
s w hich is almost too good to be true. At a certain point he, in the real world, would need a small van to transport them all. But no, it is all there ready for him to use : handguns, shotguns, small machineguns, big machineguns, sniper guns, grenades, molotov cocktails etc. Clips of ammo are to be found readily in the map. The opponents I didn't quite keep score but there are hundreds for Max to kill, it gives the notion mass murderer a new perspective. If you get in a fix a quick gamesave at a secure point is the best way to get through the maps. However in its initial level of difficulty the bad guys don't pose that much of a threat, especially not to a one man army composed of a police detective armed to the Max. Health issues What keeps Max going through these showers of bullets on the NY streets are his faithful painkillers which bring him with four pops from an almost dead stage back to full health. Painkillers too are to be found scattered over the maps and it sometimes helps to be inquisitive and do some searching in rooms you pass through. This is maybe a good moment to underline how vital it is for you to configure your controls just right so you will intuitively switch between weapons, reload, duck and jump, pop a painkiller when needed and so on as in hectic fights this is a matter of life or death. The game menu allows you to define all these actions and binding them to either keyboard or mouse buttons just like you prefer them. Especially the quicksave button is one you should be able to find blindly. System Requirements and General Comments Taken directly from the website here are the MINIMUM SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS 1Ghz PIII/Athlon or 1.2Ghz Celeron/Duron processor 32MB AGP graphics card with hardware transform & lighting support 256MB RAM 1.5 GB hard drive space Windows 98/ME/2000/XP DirectX 9.0 Keyboard and mouse Obvio
usly this is a bare minimum, which would force you to turn the settings down, playing with lower resolution and less detail, to run the game with all the bells and whistles you'd better have something more powerful still like a PentiumIV or AMD 2Ghz or higher processor and a 64Mb or even a 128Mb videocard, preferably even with full DirectX 9 features as only to be found in the latest of the Nvidia Geforce and ATi Radeon series of videocards. The game is developed by a group of Finnish game developers going by the name "Remedy entertainment" that some years ago (1998/1999) developed one of the first free 3D graphics cards benchmarks called Final Reality which at the time I used to measure up my then new Voodoo Banshee card. When Final Reality was dropped, the game developers regrouped themselves under the Futuremark banner, which is the author of the now wellknown benchmark called 3Dmark. All this just to illustrate that these people know their business when it comes down to creating astonishing animation scenes with realistic detail, all of which you find in both of the Max Payne games. The Finns called upon some genuine American voice actors for all the voice comments and there is not a bad note to be found there as it really is all very well done. Final comments I didn't quite like the Fall of Max Payne as much as the original game, as by now it was all covered territory and the few new features weren't enough to revive my enthusiasm. The few actions you have to undertake besides blasting your guns in all directions are very intuitive and unlike in the original game where I got stuck in the burning restaurant having to call upon the internet for help, in the Fall of Max Payne I never got in a fix as every action to be undertaken seemed to be selfexplaining. As the game follows a strict and unique scenario you really can't go wrong anywhere. It's a question of one event leadin
g to another. I was glad they decided to drop the annoyingly long dreamscenes found in the original game, they are still there but a lot shorter and less painstaking, I also loved what they did with the Lara Croft adaptation. However the fact that you still have to start at the game's lowest difficulty level and only after finishing it can go to a more challenging level was and still is a bad thing, the game is simply too long for you to play it all over again against tougher opponents and with less resources. But once you finish the game you do have the option to go directly to and relive the more crucial scenes, where you had to fight your way out of a real fix, through this option you can check if there was a better way of doing them than you had done. Another option that opens up once you finish the game is called the New York minute, where in a fixed arena you have to try and survive for as long as possible against respawning opponents with only a limited amount of ammo and painkillers. Unfortunately this can't make up for the lack of multiplayer mode, that even in this sequel is still sorely missed. Cheers, Vik
* * * UPDATE AUGUST 2004 : This Taiwanese hardware manufacturer finally seems to be back on-line. Their site is now simply http://www.emprex.com. Firmware updates for their optical drives are available for download and now there's even a small FAQ section. * * * ---Introduction In one of my other contributions here on dooyoo.uk I've been rambling on about the advent of DVD-rewriters. So a short while back I bit the bullet and purchased such a device. ---The Emprex In fact buying this exact DVD-burner was a bit of a gamble as I was completely unfamiliar with the brand and not much info was even to be found about it on the net. I'm not saying that any comments you find on the net about something are 100% trustworthy - e.g. my reviews ;-) - but it's always a good indication nevertheless. One thing that puzzles me however is that the own EMPREX homepage (http://www.emprex.com.tw) seems to be unavailable at the time I'm writing this, I hope this is not a bad sign. If I would have really wanted to play it safe I could simply have gone for one of the bigger brands e.g. Pioneer, Sony, Plextor, and others, which by now all now have their multistandard DVDrewriters on the market, with prices just a bit over the price of the Emprex. However, I did discover that this dvdrewriter is in fact a clone of a model sold by a less unfamiliar brand namely BTC (http://www.btceurope.nl/english/2-2-dvd_rw.htm#1004). ---Features: - 4x DVD+/-R Write, 4X DVD+RW / 2X DVD-RW, 12X DVD-ROM Read - 40x CD-R Write, 24x CD-RW Rewrite, 40x CD-ROM Read - Supports easy drag & drop function - Software for audio/video authoring and editing included - Includes MTKSuperLink buffer underrun error prevention technology ---Specifications: Model name EDW4020 Interface E-IDE/ATAPI Disc data capacity (CD) 74min/650MB, 80mi
n/700MB (DVD) 4.7GB Supported media for writing DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD+RW, DVD-RW, CD-R, CD-RW Writing formats (DVD+/-R, DVD+/-RW) DVD-ROM, DVD-Video(CD) CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-Extra, CD-I, Mixed-Mode CD, Video CD, Photo CD, CD-TEXT, Bootable CD, CD-R, CD-RW, Multi-Session Writing methods (DVD+/-R, DVD+/-RW) Random Access Write, Sequential Write(CD-R/RW) Track at Once, Disc at Once, Session at Once, Multi-Session, Packet Writing Writing speed (DVD+/-R, DVD+RW) 1x, 2x, 4x (DVD-RW) 1x, 2x (CD-R) 16x, 24x, 32x, 40x (CD-RW) 4x, 10x, 16x, 24x Reading speed (DVD+/-R, DVD+/-RW) max. 6x (CD-R) max. 40x, (CD-RW) max. 32x (CD-ROM) max. 40x, (DVD-ROM) max. 12x Data transfer rate Max. 33MB/sec Access time (DVD) 160 ms (12X) (CD) 130 ms (40X) Data buffer 2 MB Disc loading Tray (motorized) Dimensions (WxHxD) 148.6 x 41.8 x 193.3 mm Weight 1 Kg Mounting method Horizontal As you can see this baby can read and write on almost anything and it really does all that. For now I've already tested it with CD-R (Silvercircle), DVD-R (Princo), DVD-RW (Philips) and DVD+R (generic). It takes it about fifteen minutes to fill a blank DVD-R, lead-in and lead-out included. ---Warning However one thing you need to do to avoid all problems is flashing it with the latest firmware. (Firmware is a sort of hardware driver that resides on the burner in a flashable memory chip.) This may sound intimidating but it's really not that hard to do. How to proceed for this is very well explained here : http://www.btceurope.nl/english/3-1-4driver_download_dvd_dual.htm This is normally also indicated on the own EMPREX homepage, but since it seems to be unavailable now.. ---Included soft- and hardware My DVDburner came with Ahead Nero in its version 5.5.10, which in the meantime I upgraded
to version 22.214.171.124. Another nice addition is that the Emprex burner (and not the BTC version) is sold with both the classic beige and a neat BLACK frontplate, so you can choose the one which blends in best with your PC. The frontplate on the burner is easily changed, first remove the tray frontplate and then the big frontplate. Also included are a sound cable, screws, an IDE cable, Nero Burning and a blank DVD+RW disc. I did see on a US-forum that some models are sold with Roxio version 6 instead of Nero. ---Conclusion I am pleased with my purchase but with the 8x DVD-/+R models already out I do feel a should have waited just a tad longer to either get this Emprex 4x DVD-/+R device for even less dinero or the faster 8X model for the same price. The newer 8X DVDwrite models give you a full DVD in about 8 minutes ! My choice was based on three criteria : the resale price, the fact that an additional black frontplate came with it and finally because it also had good speeds for CD(re)writing. But all in all my gamble paid off well as I am quite pleased with the result and feel I am ready to tackle any silvery disc that is tossed in my direction. Cheers, Vik
Introduction In my continuous search for more storage I struck it lucky when all of a sudden I found myself the owner of a spare hard disk drive. Read my IBM 75 GXP review to know more. Now I could have either installed this as an extra drive in one of my PCs or I could push things further by doing something more creative with it and making this extra storage readily available almost anywhere I like. Q-tec 750H In comes Q-tec which proposes an external housing for just such a hard disk drive. Those of you that have followed my reviews will know that by now I'm fully up-to-date with USB 2.0 in my PC and oh what a coincidence this is exactly the interface this Q-tec external harddisk drive housing uses ! Technical specifications of the 750H USB 2.0 interface guaranteeing speeds of up to 480Mbps and which is backwards compatible with USB 1.1 Has room for one 3.5" size harddisk - Q-tec supports drives up to 120 Gigabytes in size Two light emitting diodes (LEDs) for Power, Data and USB status indications Built-in cooler fan Plug & Play compliant Windows and Mac compatible Product size (HxWxD in mm): 51 x 135 x 217 mm Gross weight: 1,25 kg What's in the box ? External HDD case USB 2.0 cable Power cable Power supply Mounting material (screws+rubber feet) CD-ROM with drivers User's manual System requirements CPU Pentium 266 USB port (USB 2.0 Recomended) CD-ROM drive WIN 98,ME,2000,XP / MAC OS 8.6 - OS X 230VAC power 3.5" harddisk Harddisk drive installation If you are the least bit handy with a Philips screwdriver you have quickly opened up the drive by unscrewing two screws located underneath. This allows you to split the housing in two and reveals the blue box' internals. Nothing spectacular there just a small
printplate (PCB plate) with the USB2.0 controller to IDE convertor and equipped with the connectors for both USB and power and two protruding LEDs. At the bottom of the case sits the cooler fan which is central on a ribbed plate. You plug the short IDE cable and the power connector coming out of this PCB plate the right way up in the rear of your harddisk drive and then wriggle the disk and its cables with the PCB plate in its place back in the drive and screw the whole lot back together and you're in business. The cooler fan mentionned in the specifications is located in the underside of the housing sucking in air and pushing it out over the drive trough small openings in the topside. THE GOOD + This housing gives you a wealth of external storage to play with, you are limited only by the storage capacity of the harddisk drive you decide to put in it. Q-tec supports up to 120 Gigabytes harddrives. This gives you the edge over complete packages (case with a harddisk preinstalled) that are also on the market. With current harddisk prices this is definitely the cheaper solution. + The case has its own cooler fan, making sure that all types and brands of harddrives run cool in all conditions + The case has its own external power feed, making you independent of the USB bus power as is sometimes found in other models of external harddrive casings. + And it's not a bad looker either. THE BAD - The cooler fan is relatively noisy. - You need to feel up to installing a harddisk drive in the Q-tec case yourself - The PCs to which you wish to connect it had better have USB 2.0 on board or datatransfer will be very slow - Because it has its own powerfeed through an adaptor this makes for an extra cable and the need for a free power socket. Similar external drives exist that take their power through the USB-bus and thus can do with just the one (USB)
cable. - with its size, weight and need for a power adaptor not really the ideal portable storage solution Conclusion Let's just say that this is a somewhat portable storage solution. It's biggest advantage being that there is virtually no limit to the amount of data you can carry around. The drive is easily recognized by all modern operating systems the moment it is under power and plugged into one of your PC's USB ports. So the next time someone shows off his 128 megabytes USB-key you can smack him your mobile 120 GIGABYTES (or less) drive in the face. Just try to picture how much movies, mp3s and other fun stuff that is ! Cheers, Vik
Introduction TacticalOps or 'Tactical Operations - Assault on Terror' for full, is a spin-off of the famous and very successful 1998 game called UnrealTournament or UT for short. UT drew its success from the brilliant on-line gaming experience it gave. With the game UT came an editor programme which allowed you to create your own gamemaps, playerskins, weapons, etc. So a group of people not really pleased with the way the UT-world looked and worked developed their own universe using the game editor and the game engine. These people found each other under the banner of 'Kamehan Studios' which is thus the official author of the game and that was how TacticalOps came to be. History Initially it was called SWAT Operations or something similar but as there already was a game published by Sierra with a similar name they had to change it to TacticalOperations - Assault on Terror (TO-AoT). It is also referred to as TacOps or simply TO. Also because it was at first just a mutator to the UT-game like some others (e.g. Infiltration), the gamemod was freely downloadable and you just installed it with your UT-game. Some claim TO to be a Counterstrike clone, I'm not sure about this, I think both Counterstrike and TO were independent developments where the first used the Halflife game engine and TO the one from UnrealTournament. However as with TacOps there is still the possibility to create your own maps some map creaters used the map editor to recreate in TO the Counterstrike maps they liked and maybe this is where the confusion stems from. Thus over the years the game went through different updates until at one point, with the ironing out of bugs and improvements to graphics and maps and refining of the weapons characteristics at its version 3.1.5 the game became a fullblown standalone First Person Shooter-game to be purchased and that no longer required the game UnrealTournament to be installed fir
st. However people still playing with the UT-add on could still download patch 3.1.5 to upgrade their version to play on-line against people with the retail version. Finally from patch 3.4.0 on all access to the game for people using the UT-add in was cut off, with from then on only the retail version allowing you to play the game on-line on servers running version 3.4.0. The number of on-line servers still running the 'free' version 3.1.5 is diminishing by the day. The Game TacticalOps is a policemen versus terrorists game scenario, with two teams fighting each other and each team having a specific mission to accomplish in time to win the round. Policemen have either to defend positions and dismantle bombs, free hostages, or simply eliminate all terrorists in the map. Terrorists do exactly the opposite, they plant bombs and guard them until they explode, they guard hossies and keep the police from freeing them, they make their escape from the map, or they simply murder all policemen they bump into. Hardware requirements As this game is based on a rapidly ageing game engine the requirements aren't too steep Operating system : 95/98/2000/NT 4.0/XP Processor (CPU): Minimum: Pentium 200 MHz but recommended: PII 450 MHz or more Memory (RAM)Minimum: 64 MB Recommended: 128 MB or more Hard disk space : 120 MB (650 MB for full install) CD-ROM drive :4x or higher Audio system : DirectX 8.0a compatible sound card Video system: Minimum: 8 MB 3D video card - Recommended: 16 MB or more (DirectX 8.0a & OpenGL included Network & internet play via TCP/IP (56k minimum speed) Realism A map is played over different rounds and each round has a fixed duration, if you get killed in a round you are not respawned but have to sit out the round as a spectator where you can either hover over the maps (if the gameserver has this option activated) to see the ongoin
g action or jump from teammate to teammate and see through their eyes what they are doing. As this is a first person shooter game (FPS) you see the world through the eyes of the shooter and besides your friends and opponents you only see the tip of your own gun. Each team has some six skin types you can choose from. Each team also has its own type of weapons and at the beginning of a map you have a basis amount of cash to purchase a small weapon, the weapons range from a basic knife to a sophisticated sniper rifle or a machinegun/grenade launcher combination for the policemen and combatknife to M60 machine gun for the terrorists. The more money you earn in each round the better the weapons you can buy. You earn money by killing off opponents or picking up money or drugs scattered over the map. Your team is financially rewarded or punished at the end of the round according to the success of the mission. For each weapon you can only buy a limited amount of ammo at the start of the map and you can only combine the use of weapons of different calibres. So after a few rounds your typical equipment would be: - body armour - a smoke-, flash-, splinter- or handgrenade - combatknife - handgun - light machinegun - heavy machinegun or snipergun - nightvision or binoculars (if you are very rich) If you run out of ammo you can only replenish by returning to your starting point or picking up clips from the dead. With the selection of realworld weapons, the damage they can do, and the limited amount of ammo TacOps provides a great amount of realism, which is what the authors strived for and which is less the case in UnrealTournament. The realism is increased by the fact that if you get injured there is no way of healing, and once you've sustained 100% damage you're dead. It is as simple as that. (Note : How 'realistic' the fact is that you are still as lively with only 1% health lef
t as with full health is questionable.) There aren't any exotic powerups either, but at the start of each round you can buy body armour to protect your head, chest and legs. The armour's protection also diminishes with the amount of hits you take until its protection is completely depleted. If you manage to get back to your starting point and have the cash you can however buy new body armour. Through the in-game menu you can define shortcuts or attribute functions to all your mouse- and keyboard buttons. The online server administrators have a wealth of options they can use to define the game : -is friendly fire harmful and to what degree ? -how many players can join the game -how long does a round last -how many rounds for each map -what maps can be played etc. Standalone gameplay As a standalone game TacticalOps is useless except for training purposes and for familiarizing yourself with the game. This because artificial intelligence in the game is non-existent, which unfortunately even has its effect on the on-line game where, if you are working in a hostage scenario, the hostages are more annoying than helpful if ever you are a policemen trying to free them. The hossies you are escorting can pick up arms and use them but they are dangerous too none but the most unaware terrorist. Both terrorists and policemen are punished for wounding or killing the hostages as a considerable amount of cash is drawn from your credit if you shoot them or blow them up. Experience As I've played the game since its version 2.2 up to the retail version 3.4.0 I've seen some changes to the game but those were mostly cosmetical with some fine tuning of the weapons balance and didn't affect the overall experience much. Just like the infamous Counterstrike on-line gaming is plagued by cheaters that through hacking the programme obtained access to unlimited ammo or unlimi
ted cash or other unfair advantages like artificial aid in their aiming with what is called 'aimbots' : tools allowing you to automatically zoom in on the heads of the opponents and to kill them with one shot. Other cheats are also radars showing you the position of the opponents on the map or skinhacks allowing you to see through objects. As a countermeasure Servertools have been developped to detect these cheaters and to kick them out off the game. The latest tools against cheating are grouped under what is called TOST - TO Server Tools, whereby Tost verifies the games files installed on your PC and checks if these haven't been hacked and altered. An additional tool called TOprotect is created this year, whereby a small executable on your PC verifies and identifies you as an unique client. Cheating and anticheating is an ongoing battle where new versions of TOST have to be developped as soon as cheaters find new ways around TOST's protection. Suspected cheaters can be kicked by the players because players can be voted out, if ever a majority (half + 1) of votes against him in each team is reached, the player in question is kicked from the server. Just like UT, UT2003, Counterstrike and other similar games TO is kept alive by Clans: people playing the game grouping themselves in teams that challenge other teams. It's these clans that often run their own servers on-line allowing outsiders to play on-line as long as the clan doesn't reserve the server for their own use (wars against other clans, trainings). If they reserve their server, access to it is blocked with a password. Clans actively recruit members amongst regular on-line players that manage to impress them with their skill. Finding on-line servers running TacticalOps is quite easy through the in-game menu, similar to the one used by UT, where you have to click just a few buttons to get the list with all the active servers throughout the wo
rld. The game allows for teamspeak, whereby through a console you can type comments either to all other players or to your teammembers only, once you're killed you can communicate only to the other dead. For obvious reasons the dead can't communicate with the players still alive in the game. Add-ons that allow for direct voice input like Roger Wilco and such can be integrated in TO. Conclusion Tactical Ops is an Unrealtournament spin-off that evolved over the years in a pleasant first person shooter teamgame that is primiraly destined for network play (local or over the internet). It can become very addictive although the dozen or so standard maps could get boring in the long run. The solution for this is to go to servers that run new maps, which however involves a tedious download before you can play them. However if, by chance, and by pure coincidence you find yourself in a team of people you do not know but that somehow do manage to work as one entity the game experience can be magic resulting in your team crushing the opposition. The reward is even greater when your team composed of random players manages to exterminate opponents belonging to the same clan. I must admit however that this is very rare as mostly people play like the individuals they are and thus will be picked off one by one if the adversaries do work like a team following common tactics. Of course this is how the game was intended to be played. The game was initially published by Infogrames, now Atari.
---Introduction---- Recently I wrote a comment on the IBM Deskstar 75GXP series of harddrives to be found here : http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/computers/hard_disk_drives/ibm_deskstar_75gxp/_review/ 423529/ You can either read it or not but if you do you'll understand that currently I am quite sensitive when it comes to buying harddrives. So this time my bad experiences with the IBMs made me turn to another manufacturer to satisfy my need for bigger a bigger harddrive. Especially that since the purchase of my Leadtek TV capturecard I am using my PC as a digital videorecorder and therefore my needs for more storage capacity have grown considerably. And if this review turns into a bit of a rant it can only be attributed to the above mentionned sensitivity, which is helped in no way by the fact that only last monday my "replacement" IBM DTLA307045 had in its turn to be sent off after only nine months of dubious duty and I have every chance of receiving the exact same type of "re-serviced useable part" under IBM's warranty policy. --- Now Why the Seagate ST3120022A Barracuda ? --- For no particular reason really, only that I have bought several Seagates in the past and that when you search for comments on it on the web, on the whole Seagate seems to have a reasonable general trackrecord when it comes to reliability. Also with the Seagates I myself never (and i really mean never) had the kind of nightmare experiences the IBM Deathstars made me go through. The choice of the 120Gb capacity was based solely on the fact that at my usual dealer's it seemed to be size of harddrive that offered the best value for money. Quick technical overview : Theoretical storage capacity : 120Gigabytes Real world storage capacity (formatted under NTFS) : 111,8 gigabytes (*) Spindle Speed : 7200 rounds per minute Cache buffer : 2 megabytes Average
access times : seek 8.5milliseconds /read 8.5 milliseconds /write 9.5 milliseconds Interface : Ultra ATA/100 Of course I'm fully aware that is not the best (in terms of performance) Seagate harddrive money can buy today, in its catalogue Seagate has drives of much higher specifications on offer. This Seagate ST3120022A Barracuda is member of the Barracuda 7200.7 family of harddrives, which is really their budget line. Besides that there is also the Barracuda ATA V - series with ATA133 interface and 8 megabytes of cache and even further up the scale there are the Cheetahs. But since my misadventures with the IBMs, which were at the time highly praised in the press for their top performance, I think I have learned my lesson and I simply no longer care about that. I am already quite satisfied settling for just plain "good" performance if it will increase my chances of not having to say bye bye to my precious data at the next hiccup. I've also now learned the hard way that a harddrive product can only really be evaluated over a longer period of time, let's say up to and over a year of regular use. Only then you can start claiming that a harddrive is good. Therefore I was fairly angry when I recently saw Tomshardware.com praising the latest Hitachi Deskstar product skyhigh. Exactly what happened now three years ago with the 75GXP series and see where that got me. Also, in the meantime, all major harddrive manufacturers have reduced the warranty period for all but their topmodels from three to just one year (!). This gives you really something to think about as I interpret this as they themselves having litle confidence in their new products. Maybe it is a questionof murderous competition : price per gigabyte seems to be tumpbling down at an astonishing rate. But from us the consumer's point of view it is a move that inspires very litle reassurance indeed. ---Conclusion--- Therefore I will be very careful in rating this Seagate product : I'll start by giving it just three stars since it works as expected, it is quite silent in operation (although this is hard to evaluate when installed in today's noisy high performance PCs) and hasn't reported any errors yet. With Seagate's own installation software, called "DiscWizard", freely downloadable from the Seagate website, installing the harddrive in a new (via a bootdiskette) or adding it to an existing system (via an application running under Windows) is a breeze. Much much easier than when you have to call upon Microsoft's own akward and antiquated fdisk programme. (*) Note : when it comes to storage capacity we are being tricked (and swallowing it) in the same way as with CRT Monitors, where a 17 inch monitor never gave you 17 inches of viewable surface - you were lucky if you got 16 !- such is the fact that in harddrives the mentionned capacity is never the real amount of data you can store. After formatting one of today's large capacity drives several gigabytes seem to have vanished into thin air. Or have they been sacrificed on the altar of the Hardware Gods ? Cheers, Vik
Introduction Those of you that have been following my september review output will maybe have noticed that there is a certain system to my madness as I've reviewed here recently both an add-in USB2 controller card and my digital photocamera, the minolta dîmage 2300. If you put two and two together you'll agree with me that to combine the use of both devices a six-in-one multislots memorycardreader can be a big help. What is it ? This is a very small external USB-device, made by Pocketreader (I haven't managed to find anmore information on this manufacturer) - and the device does easily fit in a breastpocket - that can read all kind of flash memory cards currently available on the market: -Compact Flash (CF1), -Multimedia Card (MMC) -Memory stick, -Secure digital (SD), -Smart media (SM), -Microdisk (CF2) What am I using it for ? As the said Minolta Digital photocamera came with no power adapter of its own, each time I wanted to transfer my photos, it was a hit and miss thing to transfer the shots from the camera to the PC, depending on the charging state of the camera's batteries. As I'm currently using the Minolta with a 128 Megabytes Compactflash type I-card to store the images, mostly there are more often than not over a hundred photos to transfer, so this takes a while using the cameras's onboard USB-connector that only supports the slow old USB 1.1-transfer speeds. On one or two occasions I had the camera giving an alarming 'battery low' warning while the transfer was in progress. As powercuts during file transfer can put my precious pictures at risk this was a situation I was looking to avoid. Also the proprietary transfer software that came with the Minolta is only certified to work with Windows98 so as since a while I switched to Windows2000 I obviously was in a fix and had to look for other ways of getting my photographi
c "masterpieces" safely onto the PC. So in comes this 6-in-1 cardreader that without the need for any external power source connects to one of your PCs USB-ports. As both my computer (with the controller card upgrade) and this cardreader support the USB2-technology a maximum transfer rate of up to 480 Megabits per second is possible. In fact the cardreader takes its power from the USB-Bus itself, limiting the cables to a bare minimum. The reader is sold with the correct USB-cable, that is however not too long, around two feet (60cm), so you have to keep the PC and the cardreader near to one another. Why did I buy it ? Being aware that a cardreader that supports only four types of memorycards was the cheaper option, I did lay out a bit more money on this device which can read 6 types of memorycards thinking that maybe it would be a bit more futureproof and if ever someone called upon me to transfer some files I wouldn't have to be embarassed by saying that I can't oblige because his type of memorycard wouldn't be recognised by my cardreader. However as in this crazy hardware world there are new technologies jumping out of the woodwork (or so it seems) every other day it could be that just tomorrow yet another type of memorycard will be launched so one is never safe from the harm that comes out of the dark hardware laboratories. Installation Installing this litle wonder couldn't be easier as you just plug the USB-cable in a USB-port and you're in business. Windows2000 and the other MS-Windows operating systems recognize this device almost instantly and add four more drives in the Windows explorer window, so that's one drive for each slot on the reader. "Hey!" I here you say "why only four drives and not six, thought this was a 6-in-1 reader?". The answer is simple : some types of cards use the same slot. And physically, as you can see from the pictur
e, there are only four slots that however do take six different types of memorycards. Conclusion All in all this type of external cardreader could be an alternative to the fancy portable USB-storage solutions you now see everywhere in the form of keyholders and other dongles, pluggable in your USB-ports and that can hold various amounts of data according to the price you are willing to pay for them. I have to agree with you that the combination of this cardreader and a memorycard is both less sexy, more vulnerable, and bigger than those dongles. But it is more flexible as the dongle can only hold a predefined quantity of data whilst in the reader you can plug in just any memorycard you like. And, as a bonus, the litle Pocketreader's looks aren't that bad either. Cheers, Vik
Introduction On some of my recent reviews some fellow dooyoo members commented that I was being too technical. But since most of my reviews focus on computer hardware and therefore technical products I find it quite hard to point out and compare their weak and strong points without touching upon the technical side of things. Still I try to do this the best way I possibly can so normally somebody with basic knowledge on the topic should understand what I am talking about. So here we go again, and the product under the spotlights today is a broadband router, which although physically quite small is, in a way, quite a sophisticated device to the novice. What is a router? Well let me vulgarize it in saying that a router is a network traffic nerve center and dispatcher in the form of a litle boxy device. It connects devices (mostly MACs or PCs that are linked to it through network cables, but it could also be an X-box or Playstation2 that is networked) and it connects them to either another router/hub/switch, a cable modem or an ADSL-modem. Al these connections are made with UTP-networkcables that plug into the router with plugs of the RJ45-type. Unlike a simple hub a router is an intelligent device. It really manages traffic by giving all devices connected to it their own local networkaddress, allowing them to communicate amongst them and the outside world. What does this Sweex router have ? This broadband router has four ports for four devices on your home network and two ports for connection to either a cable-or ADSL modem (or any other network). Is has a built-in NAT-firewall and a DHCP-server that gives your devices their home network IP-address. It also acts as a switch, which means that not all traffic is sent to all machines all the time but only to the device really concerned. This also means that maximum speed - 10mbits or 100mbits depending on your network cards and cables - is always guaranteed
and not split up over every connection like it would be when you are using a simple hub. What do you need it for then ? Those of you that have broadband internet must know that your internet service provider allows you to communicate with the world by giving you an internet protocol (IP)-networkaddress. In a way this IP-address is like a phonenumber by which your computer is identified. On a standard broadband subscription you'll normally have just the one IP-address allowing for only one device to connect to the outside world. Now people that still want to use more than one PC or other networked devices over this broadband connection can either connect to the main PC that has the broadband connection by using the internet connection sharing software present in many operating systems. This does mean however that for connecting to the internet both or more PCs have to be up and running and that the PC that has the broadband connection must have at least two network cards in it. Now people that like me still would like to use several computers or gameconsoles on this single IP-address can make use of a router because the router will translate all in-and outgoing traffic between the PCs and the broadband modem, and it will only be the router that will need to be switched on an no other PC besides the one you are using. The outside world will only see the router and as said the router acts as a dispatcher for all incoming andoutgoing traffic. Sweet Sweex ? The Sweex router has a nice silvery look with two Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) for each port, showing if there is something connected to it and at what speed (10mbits or 100mbits) and if there is traffic on the port, this wealth of LEDS give you a quick hint at what's going on on your home network. It is physically quite small and has two orifices which allow it to be hung up on a wall if you would like to do so. As the LEDS
are on the top and not on the side hanging it up would allow you to quickly check the LEDs even better. The device draws its power from its own AC adaptor plugged into a wall socket. Setting up the Sweex router is quite easy, once you've made the cable connection between the router and your PC you get to the router's configuration settings by opening up a webpage for it in your browser. The address for this webpage is given in you manual and it is of the - http://126.96.36.199 - form. From this webpage you are led to all kinds of settings to configure, e.g. it allows you to indicate by which means you connect to the internet (cable or ADSL), firewall settings, if needed it can clone the MAC-address of your PC's network card unto the router, etc. All these settings and thus access to the configuration webpages themselves can be protected by an administrator password. If ever you mess your settings up or you are not sure that you selected the right options you can start from scratch as on the router there is a reset button you can push through a pencil tip or a paper clip. There are other router brands (D-link, Linksys, DMC-Barricade) on the market but I went for this Sweex because of its very low price. The retail price even went down with some 50 % (!!) since I purchased it, and is now as low as 25,5 pounds coming from some 40 pounds. I must admit to having had some trouble with it initially with webpages loading slowly or timing out. As a matter of precaution I downloaded the latest firmware of the Sweexsite and installed it. At the time I had also sent Sweex through email an inquiry to what might be wrong to which I never received a reply, so the support isn't too brilliant. Also on the Sweex-site the FAQ for the device remained quite empty which surprised me. In fact on the whole the information throughout the site is quite skimpy. However, looking back, I think that in fact it was my broad
bandconnection and my ISP acting up at the time. But now all those problems have been ironed out and for months now the device has been giving me a flawless service. Benefits Before I had this router I used a gateway PC running the Linux operating system to allow up to four (also vistor's) computers to co nnect to the internet. The gateway PC had two network cards, one that was connected to the cable modem and the other to my home network through a hub. The gateway PC gave my other PCs their home network address and translated all incoming- and outgoing traffic. Of course the gateway PC always had to be on to allow my other computers to connect which was not very energy saving. Also as the gateway PC was located in another room that most of my other PCs if I didn't want to leave it running continuously some legwork was required. This Sweex router, which I now leave on 24/24hours and 7/7days uses only a fraction of the energy my gateway PC used and at a fraction of the cost of a PC, also unlike a PC the sweex broadband router does its work in complete silence since there are no ventilators installed in it. Also through its built-in firewall it gives me to a certain degree shelter for the malicious hackers out there trying to break into my machines and stealing my documents or wrecking my PCs. Conclusion I only gave this broadband router four stars because, although it works as intended, the support from Sweex is rather awful, their website http://www.sweexeurope.com/ is quite misty and even the manual doesn't say much about all the possible settings so the user is mostly left to figure things out for himself, just like I did, eventually. Cheers, Vik