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HighPoint Rocket 640L Review

The HighPoint Rocket 640L low profile SATA III RAID controller offers 4 SATA ports and is a good choice for adding 6.0Gb/s performance to desktops and workstations to benefit from faster performing drives.

We tested the 640L in a Supermicro 7046A-3 workstation that needed to be upgraded to SATA III in order to take advantage of faster HDD and SSD products. The hot swap feature is a must for this workstation that features 8 easily accessible drive bays on the front of the case. The Rocket 640l worked well in this scenario.  It's so nice to be able to simply pop drives in and out of the system without having to power down to do the swap.

Installation requires a little effort and could be more seamless. It's not true plug-n-play in Windows 7 but it's not difficult either. The documentation is just plain bad.  HighPoint has the latest firmware and drivers ready for download on its website which we highly recommend. The card comes with a set of SATA cables and brackets for full size and low profile installations. The ports on the card are easy to get to provided the workstation isn't fully populated with other cards. 

Performance was noticeably faster than the onboard SATA II controller and resulted in an overall better experience especially for applications that push the I/O bottlenecks such as video and other creative work.   So if you have SATA III drives in a system that doesn't support them the HighPoint Rocket 640L is a good benchmark for entry level performance.

We primarily used the 640L to provide 4 discrete SATA III ports and did not test its RAID capabilities. For our purposes, adding 4 hot swappable SATA III bays to our system was well worth the current street price of about $70 for the HighPoint Rocket 640L.

Visit HighPoint for more information.

The Best Antivirus Software - Extended Use Experience

Over the last several years we've been testing a variety of free and subscription based antivirus programs on multiple systems running Windows XP and Windows 7. This includes products from AVAST Software, AVG, ESET, Microsoft, McAfee, Panda Security, Symantec and others.

Over the years antivirus programs tend to leap frog each other in features and performance. But fundamentally they have a simple goal, to protect you from bad stuff on the web. Whether it's from malware on a website or Trojan horses in email, viruses are no fun and can make your life miserable so effective antivirus software is essential to keep your PC healthy.

Most of the products offered by the manufactures above are actually pretty good. A lot of it boils down to the end user and avoiding some obvious pitfalls of being connected in a virtual world that's not so friendly sometimes. Often, a user gets infected by simply opening the wrong email or visiting the wrong web site. Good antivirus and malware packages will protect you most of the time. Subpar products will let you down and the worst part is you often won't realize you've been compromised until it's too late.

Based on years of experience and empirical data with friends, family and lab mates we prefer AVAST and Norton Antivirus. AVAST is at the top of our list. The free version works great, it's lightweight, easy to use and has a huge user base which also helps it stay current on the most ubiquitous threats. Norton is a reasonably priced solution and is embraced by the Fortune 500 for protection.  We've never had a serious infection using either of these products on multiple machines.

The other quality we really like about these two products is the seamless installation and transparent operation.  The software gives clear information on what was found, what the risks are and recommended solutions.  The "Sandbox" feature in AVAST is very handy in that it lets you run software in a virtual sandbox without affecting the rest of the PC.   This is also useful for running beta versions of software.  Overall, on full system scans AVAST and Norton consistently delivered good performance, sometimes even finding problems the other programs missed.

As far as the other products go, your mileage may vary. We've had poor luck with AVG and Panda both from a protection and usability standpoint and would generally shy away from their offerings. We found Panda products especially bloated and somewhate ineffective.  ESET has been solid and is another good choice.  Microsoft essentials is okay for experienced and disciplined PC users that want a lightweight and ultra compatible antivirus package. For example, on one of our video editing workstations we used Mirosoft Essentials because AVAST gave us trouble activating the sotware key over the Internet.  Since the system is rarely online or used for communication we were okay with this compromise.

Like anything, the choice is not absolute.  The antivirus package you run should be a function of  how the computer is used, who will be using it and what type of professional support will be offerred.  AVAST is a very good choice in a consumer environment and Symantec for corporate use.

Visit AVAST for more information.
Visit Symantec for more information.

HP Envy 14-2135NR Laptop Review

The HP Envy 14-2136NR Laptop is a good starting point when considering a “back-to-school” laptop for students. For about $600 you get an Intel® i5 2.4GHz CPU, 6GB of memory, 1GB ATI Radeon graphics, Beats Audio™, DVD burner, SD card slot, USB 3.0 (1 port) a decent 14.5 inch screen and the whole package weighs in just over 5 pounds.

The fit and finish is quite good on the HP Envy. The full size keyboard feels good and is reasonably spaced for hands both large and small. The system boots up and loads Windows quickly. It’s not as fast as an SSD based system but reasonable nonetheless. Built-in wireless networking is fast and we had no problems jacking into the network or keeping our network connections. Networking to the HP printer on the network took literally 5 seconds. The beats audio is great for background music, streaming Pandora that kinds of thing. It sounds better than your typical laptop.

Overall, the HP Envy 14-2136NR offers solid performance for everyday computing; Web, Facebook, MS-Office, Picassa...etc., and should serve mainstream users well.

The weak links are the display and the hard drive. Both offer reasonable performance for this price range but if you plan on gaming or editing video you need to step up to a 7200RPM Hard Drive or Solid State Drive and a better video card.    The display is okay but not that vibrant and off axis viewing is poor. Again, reasonable for this price range but know that going in.

We highly recommend buying a Laptop at a retailer where you can get some quality hand-on time with the product before you make your purchase and one that offers a longer return period such as Costco. With laptops in the $500-$600 price range you’ll find a lot of the same specifications. However, the subtle differences all add up. Be sure to make sure you like the way the keyboard feels and the overall design works for you.

Costco has a special on the Envy as of this writing.

Too find out more about the Envy lineup visit HP.

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