New MacBook Air has Arrived

On 14/08/2013, in Featured, Technology, by BW

Well I finally got my hands on one of the new breed of MacBook Airs on offer from Apple.The new Haswell processor kicking in with a simple i5 with 4GB Ram with a slightly up revved solid state drive to 256 GB will do me for now.  Please don’t forget that this is my first entry into the world of Mac. I have always been a PC boy and feel very comfortable in that ecosystem. Also purchased was a USB Optical drive and some ethernet adaptors and HDMI output leads. Also just added Microsoft Office for Mac as well, just to cover off on my need to have something familiar with me as I go forward.

Lightweight but yet so solid in design

Lightweight but yet so solid in design

First thing that I loved was the weight and speed of the unit. Boot time is fantastic and being solid state the lack of noise and heat was very very noticeable to me.

Once in I did the obligatory install of Office, set up my email, downloaded my favourite web browsers. Not that there is anything wrong with Safari, its just that I am far more comfortable with Chrome etc etc.Spent the next 6 hours learning how to drive around and use the OSX environment, which is quite different that that of the good old windows environment.

Now I bought some of my work files over which primarily consist of Office documents, presentations and project and Visio files. This is where the I experienced a little bit of regret with regards to the the supportability of microsoft project and visio vsd files. There seems to be no support at all. If someone out there knows of something please let me know.

T combat this I used the BootCamp capability that the Mac offers allowing me to install as a partition and then allow me to boot into either OSX orWindows as I wish. The process took me a little while to get correct as I had to make an iso image of windows 7 and then add the apple support software to this to make and install disk on a thumb drive. For some reason I was unable to do this by simply adding a install disk and downloading the support files as Bootcamp first suggested.

I simply allocated 60GB to the partition and installed windows 7 Ultimate and Office 2013, Chrome, an antivirus package and microsoft project and Visio. This simple install only consumes about 20GB of space but does allow me to access, manipulate and complete all of my files as required. I was very impressed that I could see both sets of documents and files on the Mac and Windows side and was capable of simple cutting and pasting or copying data from one to the other very easily.airpic2

Now that I have my work needs covered I made the decision to stay in the Mac world as much as possible, and I did this by ensuring that I boot into OSX and not windows. All of my mail and clients are represented on the OSX side and not the windows side and all of my shortcuts and useful links are only associated with the OSX platform and have not been replicated on the windows side.

Screen and Battery life are outstanding with the benchmark of 12 hours use being surpassed by me not wanting to put it down and learning more and more as I went along. As I have previously posted I started to move away from the apple products with my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 purchase. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that the Samsung device is superior to the Iphone 5, but in the world of laptops this Macbook Air outstrips the Samsung Ultrabook equivalent just for now.

Heres looking forward to more competition in the technology arena, because out of the backend of these advances comes great products at reasonable prices for us the consumer to use.

 

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Well I finally did it. I weighed up the options and decided to step away from my beloved IPhone and give the Android ecosystem a go. Well that’s not the full story, I have always had an android tablet but it had consistently played second favourite to my IPad. imgres

To enter into this environment I wanted something that I thought would be a game changer, and I found it with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. This hardware and size of interface intrigued me and after examining the device for approximately 30 minutes, I took the plunge. That was 2 months ago and guess what I have no regrets.

The device is fantastic and the android environment really did not leave me feeling as though I was missing out on goodies. This was an issue a few years back when I would always compare my IOS environment to the developing Android equivalent.

The note 2 4G version came pre installed with 2 years of Navigon GPS use and updates, and believe it has been well worth it. I even played around having Google maps and Navigon running at the same time. Google maps is very helpful, but Navigon is a dedicated application that is up to date and functions extremely well.

There is so much that I am learning with this device but after many years of existing within the apple environment the biggest and best difference that I found was my ability to have flexibility in loading video and music. Yes people NO MORE ITUNES. I have fallen back in love with the simple drag and drop, and there it is ready to play for me. I know it sounds silly but it was a breath of fresh air.

anyway I shall do some more playing around and update posts when I can. I am sure there is a lot more that I ma going to say about the power and usefulness of this device and its ecosystem, but all in good time. stand by for more updates to follow.

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OK,

Part 1 dealt with the hardware selection and the very basics of the OS and software installed to get things going.

 

Recap

Remember the initial goal:

With a family and therefore numerous listening and viewing tastes I wanted to set up a Home Media Server that would act as a single reference point for all. I wanted to be able to serve data to a number of clients ranging from Android devices, IOS devices, networked PC’s, Home Theatre Systems and Televisions. Obviously this unit would need to be able to push and use data required by such software as ITunes, XBMC, Windows Media Player, and Air Video Server just to name a few.

I also wanted a device that would minimise my power consumption, as I intended to leave this unit on and running 24/7. This is of course possible from my current home PC’s, but with their power usage ranging from 230W  up, I needed something better. Currently this HP unit usage runs between 35 and 40W offering an excellent solution.

Finally I was after a unit that would minimise my time spent gathering aired television content. Automation is the key!!!!!

 

Current software I am running at time of Post for Automation

Sick Beard alpha build 497 Link: Sickbeard

SABnzbd 0.7.4 Link: SABNZBD

CouchPotato (Latest as of 10 Nov 2012) Link: CouchPotato

XBMC 11.0 Eden Link: XBMC

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subscriptions needing to be Setup prior to following next Paragraph 

astraweb subscription (I just go a Pay by Download subscription of 180GB to initially test it out approx $25) link: news.astraweb.com

NZBMatrix  VIP Account (approx $11) link: nzbmatrix.com

Current ISP Newsgroup allocation (if you have or need one)

 

How to Manage your Media

All in all its pretty easy to manage you TV and movie files, but I will suggest that you do undertake this activity prior to setting up the automation detailed within the following steps.

Ensure that you use a standard and known naming convention and that files are placed in their appropriate folders. Things can get messed up really easily, so take a little time and do some house keeping before you get into it. I utilise the naming conventions promoted and detailed on the XBMC website (within their WIKI). If you stick to this all will be good.

 

Automation Software Setup (This is where the really good information is)

To save us all a heap of time I have added a link to a Tekforums guide. The individual has done a brilliant job at detailing the steps involved to integrate Sickbeard, SABnzbd, CouchPotato and XBMC and deserves full credit for his work. I have no  intention of rewriting this work and can state that for the current software versions that I am running, his write up still hold as being correct and usable.

 

Now that you have done that

Ensure that all software you want to start when windows starts is placed within the Startup folder.

Bounce the server a few times to ensure that you are comfortable with this occurring and that everything performs as a solid start. Don’t be in too much of a rush, because if you end up with a set up like mine. you will have ITunes, Sickbeard, SABnzbd and CouchPotato all start in order with ITunes minimising to the tray with the other software staying present within your internet browser. Just for completeness I am running Google Chrome here.

As a side note

For my configuration I have XBMC installed and set up on Home Theatre PC’s throughout the house, not on the HP Micro Server itself. I am not using the HP device for this function. What it is doing is simply serving the media to the clients which have XBMC installed onto them. The client XBMC simply looks back to the server as the repository for this data, thereby I keep a single library that the automation tool can go off and collect the media then reconfigure, post process and deposit in a known location waiting for the XBMC clients to pick it up and display.

So if the Home Theatre PC’c are on they will get the signal from Sickbeard and update. If they are off they get updated as XBMC starts. This only takes the units a mater of seconds to complete depending on how much data you have added since the last update.

Throughput

After testing I can confirm that this unit can handle the needs of a busy family. I have had this unit serving across my network playing HD video content onto 2 PC’s and one home entertainment system TV, whilst streaming ITunes music content as well as family holiday pictures via 2 separate Apple TV’s throughout the house. The whole set up did not skip a beat and the network consisted of both wired and wireless devices.

 

 

Conclusion

All in all it was a very successful project made easy with the work done and previously posted by the individuals mentioned above. In total it took me about 3 hours to set this system up, and I have reasonable but still general level of computing skill and before doing this little to no knowledge of the inner workings of Newsgroups.  Enjoy and let the machines do the work.

 

 

 

 

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Hey all,

HP’s Proliant Microserver is a great little unit, very well suited for the small office and nowadays even more importantly, the “Home”. In an ever increasing mass and multi media hungry environment. This server fits the bill in simplicity, power usage, expandability and acoustics (especially for the home).

I managed to get the  server for approximately $299 delivered to my door within a week (Sensational). Check staticice.com.au  for price comparison within Australia.

Unit Specification can be found at following link: HP Specification Link

My Main Goal

With a family and therefore numerous listening and viewing tastes I wanted to set up a Home Media Server that would act as a single reference point for all. I wanted to be able to serve data to a number of clients ranging from Android devices, IOS devices, networked PC’s, Home Theatre Systems and Televisions. Obviously this unit would need to be able to push and use data required by such software as ITunes, XBMC, Windows Media Player, and Air Video Server just to name a few.

I also wanted a device that would minimise my power consumption, as I intended to leave this unit on and running 24/7. This is of course possible from my current home PC’s, but with their power usage ranging from 230W  up, I needed something better. Currently this HP unit usage runs between 35 and 40W offering an excellent solution.

Finally I was after a unit that would minimise my time spent gathering aired television content. Automation was the key and I will discuss the solution that I integrated onto the system in Part 2 of this post.

First Impressions

Unit was well packaged and delivered safely to my door. Upon opening I was very impressed with the build quality offered by the unit, even down the additional screws and tightening tool embedded within the door of the unit. This was perfect for when I added my storage drives, but more on that in a minute.

The unit ships with 2G of Ram and a 250G hard drive. So I went out and purchased an additional 6TB  (3x2TB) Seagate SATA3 HDD’s for approx $310.  I initially thought that I would have to juice up the RAM but decided to wait and see the performance of the unit before going down that path. Basically I would use the 250G disk for my OS ad the 6TB as the data container. RAID configurations were also an option but once again I have alternate back up means, so I didn’t bother.  There are many posts and websites detailing people ploughing up to 16TB of data storage into these units, so if you feel the need, go ahead and fill your boots.   The one last addition I made to the unit was an optical drive $12. Really not necessary but for some of the work I am wanting this unit to do it was appropriate at the time (did make initial set up easier as well).

So in total my hardware costs added up to just over $600, with me making use of an old USB mouse and keyboard (once again for initial set up). This can actually be removed for 99% of usage with remote desktop etc being invoked on the unit.

 

Upon opening the unit, you will find that the cabling and PCB’s packed in with manipulation of several cables required to get to the RAM location. I am not suggesting that this is painful  but just shows that HP have packed a lot into this form factor. Mounting the additional drives was a breeze using the supplied tool  and screws, with the quick snapping action of the drive bays providing a robust design solution. The integration of the optical drive was also a very simple with this well designed unit and instructions supplied with the product. In total, it probably took about 20 minutes to install all the hardware.

Operating System (Decisions Decisions)

This was one area I struggled in. The choice of an operating system for the new unit. There is a heap of useful help out there for Linux and Windows Home Server WHS, but after talking to a few guys at work, I settled on something simple and familiar, “Windows 7 Ultimate”. This OS offered me all the functionality that I was after, I was familiar with it and the big plus was that driver support is abundant. (Driver Support a sometimes overlooked requirement. Lack of it can turn something simple into a nightmare)

 

Post OS Installation and Handy Hints

The windows 7 install was quite straight forward as you would expect. My networked connection allowed drivers to be gathered from the internet simply and easily. Service packs and security updates applied and my antivirus and firewall applications added and updated.

At the completion of this I simply added the device to my home network and begun the adventure of loading additional software. First stop was installing ITunes. Once again, a follow the bouncing ball operation to install and point it to the correct directory so that is can see my music library. Also you will need to set up Home Sharing in ITunes, but this too is a very simple activity. Rememeber to also place ITunes in your Start up folder so that it kicks off and opens when windows starts.

One handy tip that I can offer here is that the HP device does not come with a sound card. ITunes upon start up realises this and generates and error and prompt window telling you this every single time. Not so much of a problem if you are sitting at the device and can click the go away button, but is painful when you have ITunes set to start up when windows starts and you have walked away from the device. To get around this I discovered a clever bit of software called a “Virtual Audio Cable”  (VAC). What this software does is described on the link below. I only downloaded the trial version as it is not time based but connection limited. So for the purposes of the media server this trial version far exceeds what is required.

I downloaded the software from the following link. Clicked on install and have done nothing with it since then. VAC Download Page . It just works.

The unit itself is very quiet indeed. During installation and set up I had the unit placed at desk level, with only the gentle and very low whir of the internal fan able to be heard. Actually it is so quiet I can actually hear the hard drives clicking click into gear when particular operations are under way.

 

Whats next

My following posts will start to detail the software build up that I utilised on the HP unit. It will detail the use of Newsgroups, Sickbeard, SABnzbd, CouchPotato and XBMC and how you can achieve a high level of automation from your machine, with little effort.

Part 1 Conclusion

HP Proliant N40L Microserver is an excellent device perfectly suited for the changing home environment. It offers a true networked solution for an excellent price, opening up the digitised data that families collect and enabling it to be brought out into the living areas for it to be enjoyed.  More on how to do this in the next post

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It was a great day for Aussie Xoom users a couple of weeks back, with an OTA update from honeycomb occurring. To my delight the update was worthwhile with the Xoom interface working smoother and feeling more responsive. Finally i get to have folders instead of having a million apps spread across the user interface real estate. overall happy with the progress, but the fragmented android space having to cater for such a wide range of hardware is always going to be painful unless something is done sooner rather than later.  Anyway just a quick update for the blog.

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