Surface Pro 6

surface pro 6

Every year during back to school time (July to September), stores would have great deals on laptops and mobile devices. This year was no exception. One of the best deals I’ve seen this year is the Microsoft Surface Pro 6. Costco is currently offering a price discount plus they will include both keyboard and pen. This deal starts at $799 for the i5, 128GB version.

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Costco deal starting at $799

You would have to be a member to see this price. The higher model is also on sale for $999. I couldn’t justify the extra $200 for double the storage capacity from 128GB to 256GB plus the exclusive matte black color. I would have considered it if the storage performance was quicker. But through searching online, the performance of both for read speeds were identical. The write speeds however, is faster on the higher model. I was after the faster reads not writes though.

I have tried the Surface Pro 4 a few years ago. I love the form factor but there were some things that prevented me from keeping it. You can read about my post on the Surface Pro 4 here.

Anyway, the price made me want to check it out again. I went to a Microsoft store and checked them out. Externally, there has been no changes from the older models. All of the changes are internal. The big changes for me, are in the Intel processor. It is now using an i5-8250U chip (i7 model also available). This chip is now a quad-core processor with 8 threads running at only 15W. The base model also uses this chip and includes 8GB of RAM – unlike in the previous generations you would get a core-M with 4GB of RAM. These variants are not available for this generation. The i5 models are also fanless so you won’t hear any fans spinning.

Once again, I’m in love with the form factor. But as soon as I try to put it on my lap while in bed, the same issue occurs. What makes this form factor great is also what makes it not great – at least for my use case. That kickstand is a bit uncomfortable as it digs on my legs. The corner of the screen is now starting to be felt on my legs as well. One solution I found while using it in bed is rather than have my legs flat with the kickstand holding the device up, I raised my legs up and started to use it as the kickstand itself. I adjusted the Surface kickstand so that it’s almost 180 degrees from its normal position. This way, the kickstand is almost flat and not have to dig in to my legs. This works for some time until my legs start to get tired but it is a solution for me. This was one of the deal breakers last time I tried the Surface Pro.

I did a quick benchmark on the hard drive because I was curious to see the difference between the 256GB model. Here are my results from CrystalDiskMark.

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128GB benchmark result

According to the Windows Central article, their test on the 256GB drive resulted in a 1632MB/s read and 814MB/s write. If they’re both sequential speeds then the read speeds are identical while the write speeds are slightly faster on the higher model.

I have been playing with it for a few weeks now. I installed my usual software and set up my development environment. I mainly use it for web development. Using Virtualbox and Vagrant to run a virtual machine. My IDE of choice is PHPStorm. I also run MySQL Workbench to connect to a database server running on the VM or on a remote server. With this workflow, the Surface handles it with no issue. PHPStorm does load a little slow but once open, it’s fine. The VM uses 2GB of RAM and it runs headless. Everything runs exceptional. And I could do some coding while in bed.

The hardware, in my opinion, is acceptable. The resolution it runs in is perfect for its size. The battery life is no issue for me although I tend to plug in whenever I can. While running on battery, the device still performs as well as plugged in. You can feel the back side getting warm but not too much. The weight is perfect. It is very portable and the form factor is just the best of its kind. There are other devices that are similar but I think Microsoft’s version is the best out of all of them. This is the PC version of an Apple product. Microsoft made the hardware and software and is fully optimized.

I am still on the fence of whether I should keep it or return it. Don’t get me wrong, but the device is a great. The sale price makes it even greater. But for my workflow, I would prefer to have more RAM and USB-C that allows me to charge the device. This is a 15W CPU so it shouldn’t be that difficult to do plus the port itself is small. I’ve seen 13″ laptops with full-size HDMI. I would love to run Ubuntu on this and after searching the Reddit community, people are having driver issues. My previous Dell Inspiron was easy to run Linux. Dell devices are mostly supported.

I have a Dell Inspiron 7386 on the way. I found a really good deal but I think the battery life stinks on it. Hardware specs are better and it’s cheaper. But we’ll see which one I’ll keep. Stay tuned for that post.

Storage Expansion on NAS

It’s that time again to expand my storage capacity on my Synology NAS. This is not my first time. You can check out my post when I last expanded my storage.

Recently, I swapped out my 8x 4TB NAS set up with 8TB drives. With the 4TB drives, I set up a RAID6 where 6 drives were usable and two were parity. This left me with about 22TB of drives. I was also using 3x 8TB in a RAID5 as a back up to my NAS. But hard drive prices are improving and more and more 8TB and up drives are going on sale.

I recently picked up a Western Digital Easy Store from Best Buy for about $130. Yes, it is an external but many of these can be “shuck” and used as internal. Many of these are just re-labeled red drives as well.

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Western Digital EasyStore 8TB

Upon looking online, these were one of the models that can be opened up and used as internal drives. What’s even better is there are plenty of reports that people find WD Red drives – these are NAS rated hard drives. Others have also reported of white drives which are just re-labeled red drives. You can tell by the cache size (256MB). It’s fairly easy to open. I just used my kids’ Lego brick separator to open the enclosure. Many also use putty knife.

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My trusty Lego brick extractor tool

Open it up and I find a white label, red drive.

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256MB cache WD Red Drive

My Synology DS1815+ has eight bays. Three are populated by 8TB drives in a RAID5 configuration. It’s very easy to add another drive to the existing volume. You don’t even have to turn off the NAS. Just pop it in and add the drive.

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Add the drive and wait

The process of rebuilding the RAID with a new drive does take some time. When I added a 4TB drive to my old RAID that contained 4TB drives, it took about a day. With 8TB being added to an existing volume full of 8TB drives, it took almost two days.

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About 46.5 hours to complete

Access to the NAS and shares continue to work. Supposedly, the RAID is in degraded status while this is happening – performance may be slower but I ran back ups during this time and transfer speeds were not overly affected. I was still getting the usually ~100MB/s. This also gives you an idea of how long it takes for the RAID to get rebuild when a drive fails. In a RAID5, when one drive fails, the time it takes for you to physically replace it, plus the time it takes to rebuild it, should be considered. Because if another drive fails before all this finishes, the whole RAID fails and your data will be lost. This is why many people say “A RAID is not a back up“. So it’s a good idea to back up you stuff even when using a RAID. You can also increase your fault tolerance by increasing the number of parity drives, specially when using large number of hard drives.

My Dell Inspiron is Dying

My Dell Inspiron is a little over 3 years old and it’s already dying. First the fan.

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Dell detected a failing fan

I love how Dell checks many different hardware during POST. It tried to detect the CPU fan and failed. From what I’ve noticed, this check only happens when the CPU is heating up. So when I rebooted after some use, this pops up. When I turn on the laptop from cold boot, it doesn’t check. This feature is great with Dell.

I opened up the laptop and sure enough, the fan is no longer spinning. I checked online to see how much a new fan would cost. It’s about $12-18. I considered replacing it but I’m tired of the form factor. The 15″ screen is nice but heavy. The 2 in 1 capability is nice but again, the laptop is heavy to be used that way. The bezel around the screen is also huge. I was getting tired of the laptop I guess.

While using it, I swapped out the original 5400 rpm 500GB Seagate hard drive with a 500GB SSD. I now need to put it back to its original spec. Doing so, I discovered that the original hard drive started to fail.

This is not a good sign. I shook the drive and tapped it a little haha. I was able to get it to work long enough to format and reinstall Windows 10.

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Reinstalling Windows 10

It limped along for a few days. After a few minutes, I will start hearing noises and the it would not respond.

Although it’s only three years old, I think it’s time to part ways. It has an Intel i5-6200U (dual core). It was capable for what I needed it to do but now Intel released mobile i5 processors that are quad core and 8 threads running only 15W TDP, such as the i5-8250U. Time to find a replacement.

Goodies from Amazon Prime Day 2019

Amazon has an annual sale event they call Prime Day. It’s kind of like Black Friday in the summer. But just like any annual sales event, the deals are less and less – or is it because many of us already have a lot of things we’ve purchased from past sales that we assume the deals aren’t that great because we don’t need it or have it.

Well this year I wanted to check out the Amazon devices. I’ve been using Amazon devices for awhile now. Many are aging so this would be a good time to trade them in for newer versions.

One of the most frustrating thing about the Amazon Fire Stick is the remote. It has no power button or volume control – until recently. I find myself multiple remotes.

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Old remote vs new remote

They should have released the new remote to begin with. If you were to buy the remote by itself, it’s $29. During Prime Day, the Fire Stick 4K was being sold for $25. I also I applied the following discounts.

I used $1.71 worth of points. I practically got the device for free plus tax.

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The Echo Show 5 is small

The next Amazon device I picked up was the Amazon Echo Show 5. I didn’t even know this existed but figured I’ll pick it up. I traded in my parents’ old Echo Dot since they don’t use it anymore. By trading this in I was able to get $5 credit plus $22.50 off the already discounted price. The regular price for this device is $89.99. Prime Day reduced it to $49.99. With recycling fee and tax it was just over $34. I have yet to open it because I don’t know where to put it. Maybe in the guest room. Here’s the break down.

  • Prime Day price of Echo Show 5: $49.99
  • Traded in old Echo Dot: $5
  • Discounted another $22.50 for trading in old Echo device
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1st gen on the left, 2nd gen on the right

I didn’t plan to pick up the 2nd gen Echo Show. We have two of the 1st gen. The one in the kitchen is starting to look like it’s going to break. For whatever reason, the screen was no longer getting bright. I decided to trade it in and pick up the 2nd gen.

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Lego 75220 Sandcrawler

I’ve been wanting to get the Lego 75220 Sandcrawler but didn’t feel the regular price of $139.99 was fair. This set was discounted to $99 so I gladly picked it up. There have been reports of this set being clearanced at Walmart but YMMV. It is a better price. I’ve done the wild goose chase with Walmart clearance items in the past and I just wasted my time and patience.

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Lego 21311 Voltron

I was debating on the Lego 21311 Voltron but regular price was $175. I’m a huge fan of this show – the old one, not the Netflix version. But I just couldn’t talk myself to paying regular price. Luckily, they sold it for $138 and I picked it up. Many may say it’s not a big discount, but to me it’s still a discount.

Not a bad haul during Prime Day. I’m happy with what I was able to get.

Adobe Photoshop Elements Works For Me

It’s been many years since Adobe switched over to a subscription platform. I’m not a big Adobe user but I do use Photoshop. But I only use Photoshop to do simple modifications such as resizing, cropping, and auto coloring. I mainly use it for images I use for blogging or posting on social media. I’m not an expert at it but for my use, the subscription fee seems a bit high.

You are able to get the Photography Plan that starts at $9.99 a month. It comes with Photoshop and Lightroom. I have moved away from Lightroom and switched over to Google Photos and Apple Photos. I mainly used Lightroom for simple edits – anything that has “auto” I click on it. I also use it for organizing. I felt that Google and Apple photos does these fine. It’s free but I do pay for the storage/back up.

But what about Photoshop. What will I use for the most basic functionality? I looked at a handful of alternatives. There are a couple I tried on iOS on my iPad but it did not match my workflow and the interface did not make any sense. Again, I’m not a photographer. I just need to resize, crop, and maybe add a few text or blur. This didn’t seem possible with the iOS apps I found.

On the desktop, I always give Gimp a try but I waste so much time trying to figure out how to do the things I need to do. I’ve been so spoiled with Photoshop’s interface and short cuts that any other software does not make sense.

I pretty much gave up and logged in to my Adobe account to sign up for the subscription. For some reason, I ended up in my list of purchased apps. I found that I bought an old copy of Adobe Elements 15 from 2016. I can’t find the CD but it does give me the serial number. After a few minutes of chatting with support, they gave me the install files for both Windows and macOS.

I installed it and was surprised that it did what I needed it to do. I couldn’t remember why I never used it. My work always provided me a copy of Photoshop even before CS (Creative Suite). It’s just when they switched over to Creative Cloud that I stopped since it limits it to two devices.

Elements allows me to install and use in more than two devices. So I installed it on my PC and iMac at home and I have it on my MacBook Pro. How I miss these days. Now I can continue to use my workflow and shortcuts. I don’t need the other amazing features Photoshop has. Elements works great for what I need. And even though this software was released in 2016, it still is compatible with Windows 10. It works on macOS Mojave but it gives me a warning that the code base should be updated.

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Adobe Photoshop Elements 15

If you’re in a similar situation and feel that the subscription based Adobe Cloud is more than what you need, look for this alternative. It’s cheaper, works with multiple devices, and you don’t have to change your workflow. They usually have a sale, specially when a new version is coming out. Or maybe you can find an old version at the flea market.

Update – October 31, 2019: I recently upgrade to MacOS Catalina and Adobe Photoshop Elements 15 won’t launch. I tried the shortcut on my dock. I opened the app from the Applications directory. The icon just bounces and stops but does not open. I may have reached the end life of this product.

Upgrading Ram on Late 2015 iMac Retina

Back in 2017 I purchased a refurbished late 2015 iMac MK482LL. It’s still going on strong for what I use it for – mainly development. It came with a 27″ screen, 2TB Fusion drive, and an Intel i5 3.3GHz quad-core CPU. The Fusion drive truly makes a difference and the 2TB model has a larger 128GB Flash component over the 1TB version which only has 24GB. It’s not as fast as a SSD hard drive but better than HDD. There isn’t much you can upgrade. Ram is probably the most accessible part that can be upgraded. So I did.

I picked up a 16GB (2x8GB) kit from Amazon. Ram has been crazy expensive for a while. I’m not sure if the $99 price for DDR3 SODIMM PC3-14900 (1867MHz) is a good price. I mean it is DDR3 but the laptop size. Though the OWC brand is a reputable brand.

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OWC 16GB DDR3 kit

The iMac came configured with 8GB of Ram installed (2x4GB). The specs are pretty much what I mentioned above – DDR3 SODIMM PC3-14900 (1867MHz). The iMac model I have seems to go as high as 64GB. It has 4 DIMM slots. I’ve seen people report of 16GB per slot to work.

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8GB (2x4GB) kit

The 16GB price was within budget considering I didn’t need the upgrade, but it would be nice to add some more Ram. I run VMs for development. Currently, they are configured to use 2GB of Ram per VM. I want to start running more than 1 at a time or increase the Ram of the VM and have it do more.

Initially, I was only going to get another 8GB (2x4GB) kit to match what was already installed. Generally, you shouldn’t have issues with mismatching Ram kit sizes so I went for the larger kit. The main thing to remember is if the performance is different, it will run on the lowest spec – the entire series. This should work mainly on consumer hardware. You may get different results with enterprise or if using some obscure hardware.

Unplug you iMac and lay it on its front. In the back you’ll find a button right above the power plug.

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Press the button above the outlet.

Right above that you’ll see the Ram compartment. When you press that button the compartment lifts up. Just remove it.

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Ram compartment

Behind the Ram compartment you’ll see a diagram for the next step. Essentially, you just move the lever on each side outward and it will move the Ram slots up so you can slide the new Ram in. You will notice that the Ram sticks installed skip a slot. That is done on purpose. Do not move them next to each other. Just leave it as is and install the new Ram in the available slot.IMG_1652.jpeg

Push the Ram holder back in and make sure the levers lock in. Replace the cover and that should be it. Plug in the iMac and check the About This Mac and the new Ram should register. In my case 8GB + 16GB = 24GB.

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24GB total Ram.

Fairly easy to do. I am unsure of the new iMac and if the Ram is upgradeable. Apple tends to change their design and remove features like hardware upgradeability.

I found my old PSP Go

I was digging around the house and found my old PSP Go. I charged it up and found out that it uses old network security settings that my current router does not support. The PSP Go supports WEP and WPA (version 1). I wanted to see if it had any updates but it needed to connect to the internet but I can’t. I could download the patch but this uses M2 memory cards which I don’t have. So how can get it online?

Well, you can do internet sharing from another device. If it supports the older wifi security, use those. Otherwise, you can temporarily set no security. In my case, I will be using my 2016 MacBook Pro. Of course, I will be using a dongle just to plug in an ethernet cable to connect the internet.

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The dongle life as a Macbook Pro user

Next, go into settings and share your internet that’s coming from the ethernet and share it using your WiFi.

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Internet Sharing settings

Click on Wi-Fi Options to set your security to None. Make sure you’re sharing it to Wi-Fi and the source is from your ethernet. When ready, click on Internet Sharing checkbox.

Now I go in my PSP Go and connect to it. You can get more details at Sony’s website https://www.playstation.com/en-us/support/system-updates/psp/.

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Connect to the shared unsecure network
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Test the connection
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Download the updates (if any) and install it.

Now I’m “up to date” on the software. Time to see what games I have for this system. It’s been so long since I used it.

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The joys of waiting for files to download on console…

Well, I have the Nintendo Switch as a portable console but there are Sony exclusive titles that I’d like to share with my kids. My youngest loves racing games so let’s see if he will enjoy this version of Gran Turismo – once the download ends.

Network Closet Makeover

We recently purchased a house, our first house, ever and are very excited. It’s a brand new home that has been recently built. During construction, I wanted to find out if I can get Cat5 cables ran to different areas of the house. Unfortunately, this was not possible for many reasons. I tried to even talk to the wire company wiring up the house but they wouldn’t do it. Now the house is built and we moved in.

There are only three places in the house that has Cat5 – master bedroom, loft, and living room. And it’s only one port. Now as a temporary solution, I hooked up switches to expand the ports in those places. The master bedroom, however, was in a spot I didn’t like. The network closet is also not an ideal design for me. Check out what I had to do for a few months until I got it cleaned up.

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So as you can see, this will not fit inside the communication panel. Here’s what I have.

  • AT&T Fiber 1Gbps modem/router
  • Google Home router
  • TP-Link 16 port switch
  • Synology DS1815+ NAS

I wanted this area cleaned up and regain the space in my closet. I started to buy the items I wanted to use.

I started to check the attic to see where the existing cables are ran. As I was looking around, I realized that it’s best if I get someone else to do it. This will take too much time and I haven’t done a project like this before. I want to be up and running sooner than later.

I ended up hiring Inland Empire IT Services to run my cables and set up the network rack. It took about 2 days to run 6 drops in the master bedroom and cleaned up my closet.

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6 drops of Cat6

I’ve pretty much used all six already. I wish I would’ve added more. But this will do for now. I have two PC desktops with three NICs, I have a dangling cable for when I dock a laptop on the desk, and I have a network color laser printer. I also have an iMac on the desk.

So here’s a photo of the managed switch and PDU. I don’t know if you can tell but one of the ears on the PDU came bent. I just took it outside and banged it with a hammer to straightened it out. Works without issues.

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24-port managed switch and PDU

They used a plywood to mount the network rack in that spot. I wanted to paint it first but I needed this project done ASAP. Besides, this is in the closet and hardly anyone will see it. It still came out good even without it painted.

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The wires were moved up from the panel. So now I can close the panel up. The PDU is plugged in inside the old panel and the wire is ran off along with the other cables.

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The result

I’m very happy with the results. It’s clean and I get space back in the closet. I originally had the NAS on the shelf but it was heavy and the shelf started to bend. The weight capacity is 20 lbs. The NAS has 8 hard drives so it’s pretty heavy. I decided to just put it under the rack. I haven’t labeled the patch panel yet. I just wrote on the wire. There’s things I still want to do. I want to add more drops in the loft and the kids’ bedroom.

I did a speed test right after the project was completed and I’m getting good numbers.

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Hate AT&T but I have fiber with them

I have plenty of cable left over so I tried to crimp my own.

No thanks! It took me some time to crimp both sides properly. Lots of mistakes. I’ll just measure and buy already-made cables. They’re inexpensive anyway.