Category : Hardware

Vista and my new Acer Aspire L100

A couple of weeks ago I purchased an Acer Aspire L100 desktop PC and have only just got a chance to set it up and get using it.

I had been looking for a small ‘machine’ (in terms of physical size), with a decent monitor for some time now, I’m past all the ‘buy a full tower so I can upgrade the components myself at some stage’ thing… Machines are powerful enough these days and (more to the point) cheap enough that I don’t care about upgrading to the degree I used to.

I found an Acer Aspire L100 here (link may expire) on eBuyer it’s an Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core with 1GB Ram, 160GB HDD, DL DVD and 19″ widescreen all for less than £450.
It was just exactly what I had been looking for, the chassis is about the size of a thick computer manual / technology book, it has a pretty decent monitor (1400 * 900) and fairly good spec. – enough for Visual Studio, web browsing, work processing, email etc – no gaming)

I replaced the 2 * 512MB ram sticks with 2 * 1GB stick from crucial and the operating system (Windows MCE 2005) with Vista Enterprise (drivers available for everything, no issues installing it).

The only pain has been that it doesn’t come with wireless built in – it does have Gigabit LAN, but wireless would have been nice. When I opened the chassis (voiding my warranty) to replace the memory I could see a miniPCI connection was available but not populated.

It runs pretty hot and the way they have fitted (stuffed/crammed) all the components in is an incredible piece of engineering, so I am reluctant to fit another card that will generate even more heat – in the end I settled for a USB wireless stick, cheap £10 job from eBuyer that does the job..

The chassis has VGA and DVI connectors, the monitor only a VGA connector, so I have that hooked up and bought a DVI to VGA adapter and plan on hooking up my other LCD monitor.

As part of this new regime I also ‘retasked’ my previous desktop PC (a full tower machine) to Windows Home Server – I had been invited to the closed beta, it had seemed pretty good and they had just released the CTP. More on that in another post…

Creative Zen AV Connection

After a bit more investigation on the AV connection front for my Creative ZEN, I found the following :

A definition of the AV pinouts for various media equipment and particularly the Creative ZEN.

I already have a Camcorder Cable, so one of the tricks I found in some AV forums is to fully insert the 3.5mm connector and then pull it out by one click. If you do the maths it means you get Video, Ground and Right Channel Audio.

Trying this on my unit (with my Camcorder Cable) it works pretty well.

Creative Zen Vision M 30GB

Isn’t Santa a nice guy.
For no other reason that I had been ‘good’ all year, he brought me a shiny new black Creative Zen Vision:M 30GB. Thank You !!


So far I have loaded it up with :

  • 200 CD’s of music
  • Just shy of 3000 photos
  • Star Wars 4, 5 and 6 (ripped from DVD)
  • Two episodes of the DotNetRocks podcast
  • One episode of DNR TV
  • All my Outlook contacts (114)

and it still has over 14GB free.

It comes in a box about the thickness of 3 DVD titles. The package includes :

  • The unit itself measuring 100mm x 60mm x 20mm (my rough measurements)
  • The obligatory install CD with 1 gem (Creative’s Zen Explorer) and a bunch of other freeloading applications (Audible Manager, Creative’s own Media Player, blah..)
  • A manual in about 18 languages
  • A small dongle (Sync Adaptor)
  • A crappy set of in-ear headphones
  • A fabric pouch to fit the unit
  • A USB cable (Sync Cable).

The dongle connects to the bottom of the unit and split out from the all-in-one connector to :

  • USB (small type B) for data transfer and charging
  • A mini DC jack (5V) for charging
  • AV out (for connecting to a TV)

Odd that there is no DC Power adaptor for it – the only supplied option is the USB charging (another purchase I suppose)

The AV out connector is a 3.5mm headphone type plug, but you have to buy a cable to split this out to video and L/R audio (my Panasonic Camcorder uses a similar cable – I plan to try this out with the Zen)

My initial reactive is that it’s a great device, lots of storage, the audio is as you’d expect from a MP3 player, the screen / photo display / video playing is very sharp and large enough (2.5 inches) to make it watchable. The user interface is clear, logical and easy to use and buttons and scroll pad are all well laid out.

The Creative Zen Explorer software basically consists of a driver and Shell Extension to allow you to browse the device from Windows Explorer, add media and play lists etc and also to sync Outlook data (Tasks, Calendar and Contacts). Audio transfers seemlessly but video is a bit more involved – if the video is not supported by the device (codec or size – the unit uses 320 by 240) then the transfer fails and you need to hit the ‘convert’ button when then converts it to the correct format / size and transfers it (this should all be hidden within the ‘transfer’ option instead of a seperate, manual, task).

There are no real instructions on any video transfer options other than “if it doesn’t work then try converting it first”. However, with a little googling I found a method of ripping and transferring DVDs etc (more on that in another post).

 

All in all – Very Impressed.

High Definition TV.

I recently persuaded Sarah to let me buy a High Definition (HD) TV, a 32″ LCD job.

After much research, I decided on a Vistron model from eBuyer – there are over 50 customer reviews on their site and it seems most of them are pretty good.

It was delivered in a couple of days (eBuyer’s delivery has always been top notch) and then sat around the house for about 3 days waiting for me to return from the States.

I have it all installed and working now and I can certainly see it is a great TV – I plugged in my Acer laptop and played some of the free HD WMV clips that Microsoft have available on their website. The screen runs at 1366 * 768 and is real sharp, the HD WMV’s look great.
There are also plenty of inputs on the unit including :

  • HDMI (720p with support for HDCP)
  • 2 SCART connectors (1 is full IN/OUT, other is IN only)
  • Component Video
  • Composite Video & Audio (YRL)
  • S-Video
  • Antenna (for the Analogue and Digital, Freeview, DVB-T signal)

That said, in the UK there is no HD content over DVB-T (Freeview), except the trial stuff for 550 user going on around London. I don’t have a Xbox 360 (yet) nor a Sky HD box nor a HD DVD player so basically I’m stuck with Standard Definition (SD) for the time being…

I knew this would be the case, but I didn’t expect the visual experience of SD on a HD TV to be quite so bad. The artifacting is really noticeable, it’s a real pain trying to get a decent (stretched) picture from 4:3 to fill the whole screen.
OK it’s not too bad with widescreen stuff, DVD’s etc, but it’s just not the experience I was expecting.

The next options are basically to spend another £300 on a Sky HD box (and £10/month subscription) or maybe a Xbox360 for he DVD aspect – there are other less expensive HD DVD options but I like the thought of using the Xbox360 as a media extender and going with Windows MCE 2005 on my PC.

In summary, I’d recommend the HD LCD TV if you have Sky HD or do lots of XBox360 gaming, otherwise I’d skip it.