ATEN KVMP SWITCH

It's been a while since we needed a KVM switch and man have they evolved nicely. The ATEN CS1942DP 2-Port USB 3.0 4K DisplayPort Dual-Display KVMP switch is an excellent solution for a dual workstation setup that requires the ability to drive two 4K displays.

The ATEN CS1942DP is a professional level solution which includes the ability to share common peripherals and independently switch KVM. USB and audio. We used it to switch between two editing workstations where both units took advantage of dual displays and a wireless mouse. We didn't use the audio connections on the CS1942DP because each workstation's sound card was already connected to a mixer for audio so the mini stereo mic and speaker connections were unnecessary in our setup.

Our main interest was the ability to share a wireless mouse, wired keyboard and two displays between two workstations with maximum up-time. The ATEN CS1942DP works very well in this scenario. Each workstation has a Quadro graphics card with DisplayPort outputs to drive 4K displays. We used with various displays from HP and Dell and the ATEN recognized and scaled the image properly as if the computers were connected directly to the displays. The wired keyboard and wireless mouse performed as if they were connected directly to the computers without any perceivable lag. The computers were used to edit and color correct video and the color was accurate going through the ATEN CS1942DP as would be expected with quality DisplayPort connectors.

ATEN includes all the cables necessary for connection two computers to the CS1942DP KVMP switch. The cables are decent quality and on the shorter side. We used two workstations underneath an average size desk, one to the left and one to the right. The cables provided worked fined in our scenario. However, we could easily see a scenario where longer cables would be required. ATEN really has provided the bare minimum to make this work.

One of the main issues with using a KVM switch is the lag time from the moment you press the button until the other computer is active and the display live. The CS1942DP takes about 4 seconds to switch between computers. So it's not instant but we haven't used a KVM switch that is. It's not a big deal as we don't rapidly pop back and forth between workstations. More importantly when doing windows updates the monitors are accurately recognized when connected to the CS1942DP just as they would be if connected directly to the computer.

The ATEN CS1942DP has an excellent built quality with metal case and quality buttons. The lights on the front of the unit make it easy to identify the active computer and the status of the KVM. Our only gripe on the build or usability is the wall wart. We hate wall warts and would much prefer this unit to be shipped with a built in power supply.

At a typical street price of $329 the ATEN CS1942DP is not cheap. It's a premium unit designed for a professional environment. If you have a need for a 4k, dual DisplayPort cable KVMP switch the CS1942DP is an excellent choice.

Visit ATEN for more information and all the specs on the CS1942DP.

1GB COMBO MOTO TPLINK

For great performance at a reasonable price we like pairing TP Link routers with Motorola cable modems. For example, the TP AC Archer C90 router with the Motorola MB8600 cable modem. This is a good benchmark to consider when shopping for a router/modem combo to take advantage of 1GB/s internet service that needs to support fast wired and wifi speeds to multiple users in an average size 3/2 home. There are myriad cable modem and router combinations out there to provide both wired and wireless connectivity in your home. "Wifi" has become synonomous with the Internet but to get the most from your connection you need a quality direct wire connection to your router and cable modem. 5G may change all that but we still have limited rollout and the system has not been taxed by large number of users. So for now, cable internet seems like the fastet solution for most people.

With and average family all using the internet at the same time, on zoom calls, uploading/dowloading, streaming, gaming..etc. We recommend the fastest connection your budget will allow. Most cable companeis offer a 1GB option and will offer a cable modem/router you can lease from them. However, buy your own gear and it's one less thing you have to pay the cable company for over time.

We've had friends asking us about Orbi and other mesh style networks and we're not convinced their worth it. We'd recommend trying a simple combo similar to this Motorola / TP Link setup and see if it works for you. If it's bought and sold from Amazon you'll have an easy time with returns. It might take some testing to see what works best in your home. Typically we find our friends are happier with simpler and reasonably priced solutions that just work without any sort of additional ongoing fee.

Test your current Internet speed
Learn more about Motorola Cable Modems
Learn more about TP Link Wireless Routers

HP 420 Laster printer

Laser printers are usually found in the office while inkjets are more common in the home.  However, with everyone at home these days it's nice to have a fast, networked laser printer for basic printing tasks.  We worked this HP 420 unit pretty hard and it's been great for everyday printing tasks.  It's fast, efficient with toner, quiet and a good value.  HP no longer offers this unit new but has plenty of similar offerings. 

The image, pretty much says it all.  Look for a printer that has these qualitites:
 - Wirelessis and wired LAN connectivity
- 350 Sheet input capacity or similar
- Auto 2-sided printing, you'll save on paper
- iOS and Android app friendly printing
- some kind of LCD display, so it can tell you what's up
- Fast startup and printing
- Toner from third pary suppliers.  This is important, read up on the printer and reviews of third party toner suppliers to make sure
there is nothing quirky about the printer you are considering
- budget $200-$300, you'll be able to get a decent machine

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sata dock1
This USB 3.1 Gen 2 SATA drive dock is one of the better made USB docks we've tested that can realize the full speed of two hard drives or SSDs connected via a USB 3.1 Type C port. Type C is that small port you see on current smart phones.

Previous docks we've tested all looked like they came from the same factory with different stickers attached for different brands. They all used an external power supply and the power buttons were flimsy on all of them. We really haven't seen a decent, well made, SATA dock until we came across the OWC units.

This dock is well made with a built in power supply and lights that indicate which drive is being accessed. We mostly tested it with 1 drive but can confirm it works with two. It also supports larger capacity drives. We tested it with the WD 12TB gold drives and achieved max published speeds of the drives while reading and writing. sata dock 2

There's no fan and the solid aluminum case keeps things running cool. The 12TB helium based Gold drives run cool and since it's a dock there's plenty of surface area exposed to keep it running cool. Working with the drive in the dock gave us pretty much the same performance as working with the drive installed inside the PC.

Our primary use for a dock is to back up large video projects. The OWC is a good solution for this because we can quickly access bare drives and swap them in and out as needed. It's also handy for 2 backups of the same content on identical drives.

Each of the drive bays that are compatible with 2.5" and 3.5" SATA drives and capable of read speeds up to 698 MB/s and write speeds up to 918 MB/s, the Drive Dock allows for simultaneous drive bay operation, and it's compatible with both Mac and Windows systems. We only tested with Windows 10 workstations. We were very pleased with the seamless performance. Recommended.

throne purpleSecret Lab makes a variety of gaming chairs. These are essentially very nice office style chairs with attractive and ergonomic designs. The chairs come shipped in a big box with the color of the chair on the outside of the box. It would be very difficult to ship the wrong item.

Secret Lab does a really nice job of packaging the chair and making it dead simple to assemble. They recommend getting the help of a friend to assemble the chair which we didn't find necessary. There are some excellent assembly videos available too for those tackling their first chair. This video by Secret Lab really shows how easy it is to put together. Everything is well organized and there's also an excellent 1 sheet in the box if the wifi is down.



The trickiest part of the assembly is dealing with the plastic wrap of the seat cushion and avoiding the recline mechanism. Secret Lab does a good job of making sure you know not to touch the mechanism until the the back of the chair is attached to the base. They really make you deathly afraid and we can't help but wonder if there's another way to achieve this assembly without the added stress and warning when you first open the box.

Once assembled the Secret Lab Throne chair is a very comfortable chair. It comes with two small pillows for lumbar and neck support. These are nice but we didn't find we needed them. The Throne is considered the small chair in the Secret Lab lineup but we found it comfortable for funkyfresh staffers of all shapes and sizes.

The Throne sells in the $250-$300 range. It's well made, looks good and easy to assemble. We'll decide if it's a good value based on how it holds up over time.

ravpower
The RAVPower RP-PC029 6-Port Desktop Charger is sturdy and well made. It can charge any combination of smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, generally any rechargeable USB device.

Instead of having multiple wall warts on the kitchen counter this unit takes just 1 AC outlet to power 6 devices. It's much easier to create an organized charging station and all devices charge quickly and it comes with a 1.5m power cord to give you a little extra wiggle room.

The RAVPower RP-PC029 includes Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 technology and claims it can charge devices up to 4x as fast as conventional chargers. We didn't measure as there's just too many variables with all the devices and battery health etc. We can tell you this unit seemed to charge everything as fast or faster than OEM chargers they came with. This includes iPads, iPhones, Sony Phones, Samsung Phones and SanDisk MP3 players.

Not that we get all excited about charging units but yes this is a good device and well worth the $30. It feels solid, works well and will not end up in the drunk drawer with the sub-par chargers. You'll get a lot of use out of this.

startech DVI 512You've got a new video card and an older monitor and now your monitor isn't working at full resolution. You normally run it at 2560x1600 but now it only works at 1280x800. What's going on?

You need a DisplayPort to DVI Dual Link Active Adapter Converter. Basically, you need this Startech device or something similar that you pick up for under $100. This is a well built unit with a metal housing. And it works seamlessly. 

We tested it using a Dell 3007WFP 30inch monitor and Quadro P4000 GPU. Esentially any new video card that does not have a DVI Dual Link connection will require an adapter like this to work with older monitors that may not support Display Port at full resolution. You simply plug the Startech adapter into the DVI Dual Link connector and a USB connector for power. Plug your monitor into the Startech and you're back in business.

If you spent big money on your monitor years ago and you're pefectly happy with its performance you should consider getting an adapter like this. We recently tested a new 30inch HP Z display and the older 30inch Dell 3007WFP side by side and we have to tell you they both look fantastic when driven by the Quadro P4000 at 2560x1600 resolution.  So if you still like that old monitor use it with your new rig and keep it out of the ecycle for a while longer.

Find out more here.

TS9120 RED 1 xlFinally a decent inkjet printer that has all the capabilities you need in smart compact design. The Canon TS9120 is a great little printer that can serve the whole family.  It's quiet, relatively quick and produces great photos.  From unboxing to first print took about 20 minutes.  Plus this printer is smart and knows when to use the different paper sources without demanding I ok the choice each time. 

We've tested printers in the past that a complete pain to use, looking at you Epson, because the machine was too stupid to figure out it had 4x6 stock in 1 slot and 8x10 in the other.  The first test we did was exactly that. We loaded regular paper in the front and 4x6 glossy in the back.  Then using the iPad, macbook, PC and phones from Sony, Samsung and Apple we sent mutiple images and documents to the printer.  So yes, mom can printer photos form the phone and junior can printer homework from the iPad.  As long as you keep the proper types of paper stocked and an eye on the ink it couldn't be easier and we'll keep everyone happy.

The quality produced by this little printer is great.   We did a test comparing phots from the Costco lab to photos printed by the TS9120 on Glossy Canon paper.  It's really hard to see any difference.  And with a little color and saturation tweaking you get really emulate lab results on 4x6 paper.  Bigger prints look great too.  It's actually amazing the quality this little unit can crank out.  

At first the design seemed a little funky.  But it's actually quite smart and allows this printer to take up minimal space.  It folds up into a neat little box when necessary and automatically extends the output tray as needed when printing.  The angle of the display in front is adjustable and easy to figure out.  The scanner and copier features are just a bonus in this case and work fine as well.  

But not all is sweetness and light.  This printer has a sensor issue.  Several times it claimed there was a paper jam when there was no paper jam and refused to print.  Like a scene our of "Office Space" we nearly took a bat to this printer in frustration.  So while we love this little guy for the functionality and low price we hope our paper jam experience is just an anomaly.

Not that it matters, but we like the red color.  We have enough black plastic in our lives and this little printer looks nice in red.  Over the years we've tested countless injet printers from Epson, HP, Brother and Canon.  This is a good one.  When it's error free it works well.  Simple to set up, has great connectivity, produces really nice photos and the price is right at $99.  Canon is going to sell a whole lot of these.  

crucialmx500

The Crucial MX500 is a 2.5 inch SSD designed to be installed inside a notebook computer. We tested it by upgrading the hard drive in a Dell Precision 7720.

The internal style of SSD has a smaller profile than an SSD you might install inside a desktop computer. It can be used in both but is designed for tighter installations than you typically see with a desktop computer. That's why the MX500 includes a 7mm to 9.5mm spacer. By making the SSD profile smaller and including the spacer this SSD allows for more installation options. We did not need the spacer for installation in the Dell Precision 7720, but we did use it for a better fit.

Crucial includes a download link optimization software and Acronis for easy imaging of existing drives you'll be replacing.

It took less than 10 minutes to replace the Hitachi HDD in the Dell Precision 7720. Simply remove 4 screws to release the HDD bracket from inside the computer and another 4 screws to remove the existing HDD from the bracket. Replace the HDD with the Crucial MX500, put everything back together and your ready to format.

We originally had an SSD for Windows 10 and our Apps and a 1TB 7200RPM Hitachi HDD for our data. This is a pretty typical setup for many users that want a fast boot time and maybe don't have the need to move large amounts of data. For us, our laptop is often used for video production and media management so speed is a priority.

Moving files to and from the internal 7200 HDD was too slow for our needs. For example, we recently tested copying 84GB of media files, 472 total files, from the internal SSD to the internal HDD and took 11:48. After replacing the HDD with the Crucial MX500 into our system we were able to move that same batch of data in 3:06 about a 4X improvement. The 420 MB/s speed was a welcome improvement over the 125MB/s we were getting with the mechanical HDD.

Check out the full lineup of Crucial 2.5 SSDs here

gdrive ssd r series
The G-Drive SSD R-Series includes a USB-C port and is USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 3 compatible. It includes a couple really short cables. The R stands for rugged and it comes in a very attractive case that feel plenty sturdy. The R-Series also boasts P67 water and dust resistance, 3-meter drop protection3, and a 1000lb crush-proof rating. Although we would advise pushing any of these claims. Keep it in your backpack.

We love this little drive. It's small, lightweight but sturdy and really fast. We absolutely love this for backing up media in the field. If you think USB 3 was slowing you down, you're wrong. It's plenty fast. The problem has been the slow external media you've been using. 7200RPM drives just don't cut it anymore.

For example, compared to a 7200 RPM G-Drive mobile HDD the Mobile SSD R-Series, the SSD was nearly 4X faster. For example, on a video shoot you have to manage media throughout the day. We recently did a shoot where each break we were moving about 100GB to and from our laptop. We dump the media to the laptop, back up to the internal SSD and then to external media. So at any given time the media is on 3 storage devices. We tested transferring 84GB of media this way using the G-Drive SSD compared to the G-Drive 7200RPM HDD.

Moving 472 files totaling 84GB took 11:48, let's call it 12 minutes, to backup to an external 7200 RPM G-Drive Mobile. Backing up that same batch of data to the G-Drive Mobile SSD R-Series took just 3:19, let's call it 3 minutes, so you're looking at roughly a 4X speed difference. Since we do media management throughout the shoot day. That time savings really adds up since we do media management a few times a day. Plus when we get back to the edit suite it's a lot faster to ingest the media into our NLE system.

Over the years, we've only had a couple of issues with flash memory where we experienced catastrophic failure, both with 64GB compact flash cards and not SSDs, however we're always mindful of having our media on multiple storage devices to minimize the risk of loss.

The G-Drive SSD R-Series has a very attractive design and it's smaller than anticipated, about ¾ the size of typical SSD. The 1TB series works well as a shuttle drive moving files from our field laptop to the NLE system in the studio. It rarely push this capacity because we're not using it as a storage drive and this extra headroom should allow for long term performance.

If you're still using mechanical HDDs in the field for media management we highly recommend considering moving to an SSS solution like the the G-Drive SSD R-Series. We love this little drive.

Check out the full lineup of G-Drive R-Series SSDs here.



The HP Z230 is a single CPU workstation that looks similar to other workstations in the Z family but is much smaller and less expandable. It's quiet and can fit into tighter spaces. The Z230 has an aesthetically pleasing facade but flimsy case that makes it feel like a cheap PC clone. We were expecting a much more substantial feel even in the smaller form factor. In fact, most of the noise that emanates from the Z230 is a low frequency hum of the cheap metal case.

Our test unit featured a 3.4 Ghz i7-4770, 8GB DDR3 RAM, Intel 4600 graphics, 1TB Seagate 7200 HDD and Win 7 pro. Out of the box we found it severely handicapped and immediately upgraded it with a SanDisk Extreme SSD and Quadro card plus a Velociraptor for data. We could easily add two in RAID 0 for even better performance or even go all SSD. The HP Z230 makes it east with one 2.5 bay for an SSD and two 3.5 bays for HDDs. Add a Thunderbolt 2 card and you have even more storage options.

It's kind of silly to sell anything as a workstation for creative professionals that has a hard drive for the OS and program data. After our upgrade the performance was much better in our NLEs and other creative programs.

Like other HP workstations, upgrading the Z230 is very easy. No tools are required and you can be in and out of the case with cards and drives installed in just a couple of minutes. It's tight but there's enough room for a full length video card. There's also a PCI slot to support any legacy products or audio cards you might have. For example our Lynx Two studio card is PCI based and it's still our favorite for laying down tracks.

The HP Z230 is a decent entry level workstation in a small package. It's quiet, performs well and is easy to upgrade. We're disappointed in the cheap feeling case but like the overall design and ease of use. For situations where the budget is tight but a 3 year warranty is attractive, the Z230 makes sense. 

Visit HP for more information and all the specs.



Samsung 840 EVO 1TB SSD is one of the best values in a high performance SSD. We used it to upgrade a workstation class notebook in two ways. First, we used the included Samsung software to migrate from the existing SSD to the 840 EVO. Next we swapped out the Seagate Momentus drive for the Samsung 840 EVO.

We run multiple video editing programs and the entire Adobe CC suite on our portable workstation. As anticipated the biggest impact was seen after we replaced the 7200RPM with the 840 EVO. A typical editing project may range from a 200GB-600GB. Having the speed of the 840 EVO to more rapidly open, preview and jump around the timeline was certainly worth the added expense.

The 840 EVO does get fairly warm to the touch in operation. Nothing that impacted performance but that speed generates heat. The 1TB features sequential read/write speeds of 540/520 MB/s which is very good and competitive with the highest performing consumer drives available.

Flash memory technology is maturing and manufactures are using creative ways to cram more memory in the same amount of physical space. The 840 EVO uses triple level cell memory. Think of it as an apartment complex with more people living in each apartment. More people in each apartment means more light switches can be turned on and off simultaneously. Of course when you have so many people living so close together things can sometimes go wrong. There's less room to breathe so to speak. That's kind of the argument of why 3D memory might not be as robust SLC or single level cell memory.

The argument is becoming moot as all manufactures are on this tack to reduce costs and stay competitive. Basically, Samsung has found a way for those people, or Bytes of data to peacefully coexist and even thrive in the same amount of space. The 1TB 840 EVO offers a 3 year warranty which is decent for non critical use. With over provisioning and using less of the drive's actual capacity we anticipate good reliability.

Visit Samsung for more information and all the specs on the 1TB 840 EVO SSD.  

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The iGrand Piano is a $20 app and great stocking stuffer from IK Multimedia that consists of roughly 200MB of piano samples resulting in a very playable instrument across multiple octaves.

Creating a good quality piano sample requires capturing the full range of the piano at multiple velocities. IK Multimedia provides several pianos to choose from in a variety of timbres that are all impressive, especially for a $20 app.

We plugged our iPad directly into our Mackie mixer and DAW to capture this raw recording. We wanted to hear what the piano sounded like pumping through the JBLs. The pianos are panned left to right and include some reverb to make the sound a little more lush. This recording is straight from the iPad. As you listen you can hear us toggle through the various pianos and octaves.

We tested it using the iRig Keys portable MIDI keyboard controller connected to an iPad 2. The iRig Keys provides 37 velocity sensitive mini keys and requires no technical knowledge. Just plug it in and it works. This could be very handy for kids to practice with headphones when noise is an issue or if a real piano or full size MIDI controller is not available.

The iRig Keys is cheaply made. The keys and buttons are spongy, certainly not what we would expect in a $100 unit. A better option would be the M-Audio Axiom AIR Mini 32 or something similar with an adapter to connect to an iOS device.

The iGrand Piano is a great gift for the musicians in your life, especially kids. The samples are very good and there's a variety of pianos to keep things interesting. Plus there's more to the app than just playing piano. Lots more. It's well worth the 20 bucks. The iRig Keys MIDI controller, not so much.

Visit IK Multimedia to find out more about the iGrand Piano app.



Western Digital’s VelociRaptor has been one of our preferred SATA drives for video editing for many years. This time around Western Digital improved the performance and raised the capacity to 1TB while maintaining low noise levels for a 10,000 RPM drive. We swapped out a 7200RPM HDD in our workstation with the 1TB VelociRaptor model #WD1000CHTZ and could not discern any change in overall noise levels coming from our system.

The increased capacity of the VelociRaptor will be welcomed by video editing professionals everywhere. We commonly edit multiple tracks of HD video in P2 format, MPEG4, Avid DNxHD and QuickTime ProRes. These projects balloon in size quickly even when using aggressive HD codecs so it’s critical to have enough capacity and overhead on a drive to confidently work on a few projects. RAID arrays are required for more extreme bit rates but we were happy with the performance of the 1TB VelociRaptor when editing DNxHD and ProRes timelines.

A few years ago we had a 300GB 3.5 inch form factor VelociRaptor fail on us and that was very disappointing. We were not even 1 year into using the product. However, since the move to the 2.5 inch form factor wrapped in the 3.5 inch heat sink not one VelociRaptor has failed on us. It’s been a rock solid “online” drive and we’re very happy to see Western Digital continue to make it.

However, we have to wonder if this is the last pure HDD version of the VelociRaptor that will be brought to market. SSDs and hybrid drives are the future and it’s only a matter of time before SSDs replace HDDs, especially at the lower capacities.

For now, the VelociRaptor remains the best price/performance option in a 1TB drive for video editing professionals.

Visit Western Digital for more information.



The G-DRIVE is a 7200RPM hard drive packaged in an attractive aluminum case / heat sink with USB 3.0 and Firewire 400/800 connectivity. We love most everything about the design except the incredibly cheap power supply. The wall wart doesn’t do this product justice.

We’re currently working on a project with about 500GB worth of files that we needed to transfer to a vendor for additional work. The 2TB G-DRIVE was a good choice for the project. It had enough space to get things started and adding additional files and master edits won’t be an issue. It’s also helpful that the 7200 RPM drive is fast enough to preview with and even work on directly without having to move the entire data set on and off the drive. Plus with USB 3.0 and Firewire connections it drops right in to any PC or Mac NLE. We would like to see eSATA on the back panel too but this will be less of issue as USB 3.0 becomes more common.

The G-DRIVE comes formatted for the Mac OS and that’s fine. We typically run Mac Drive on our PCs to access Mac disks when we need to and many of our vendors still edit on Macs so reformatting the drive wasn’t an issue.



















The G-DRIVE features a big white light under the G on the front chassis that we find incredibly annoying. We just don’t need that much blinking light in an edit suite to know the drive is working. The product team should update this with a more subtle ice blue LED. We’d advise testing this in a fairly dark edit suite environment where a little bit of blinking light goes a long way.

We’re glad we finally got our hands on a G-DRIVE. It’s a solid, quiet design with good connectivity. The G-DRIVE worked great with our editing programs and we passed it around to a couple of vendors without any issues. That’s basically what we need and expect from an external hard drive.

Next, we want to see some SSD based solutions with integrated power supplies and Thunderbolt connectivity. It’s about to get crazy with external designs for creative work and we can’t wait.

 

Visit G-Technology for more information.



Dell does a good job of making quiet powerful workstations. The T7600 is the flagship of Dell’s workstation lineup targeted at professional users. It’s smaller and lighter than the previous T7500. However, the case is less spacious and we’re not entirely sold on the new industrial design.

Dell T7600 promotional video touts the design of its latest workstation which is very modular and clean. We like the built in handles and removable power supply. However, we prefer horizontal orientation for our optical drives. The compartment for HDDs/SSDs makes it easy to swap drives in and out but the release mechanism is a bit flimsy and could easily be broken.




















Also the front cover is not on hinges and takes more time than it should to replace. We find it much simpler to just pop the side off of our T7500 and swap drives in and out.

Performance wise the T7600 is a great machine for video editing and it’s very quiet. Dell has really mastered the art of cooling and airflow with large fans and efficient designs. You can have the T7600 right next to you under a desk and barely notice it’s there.

Overall, the T7600 didn’t have quite the quality feel we were expecting. It’s like that “soft-touch” experience you expect from today’s new cars. Not a huge deal, it just feels less expensive than the price tag, which adds up quickly. However, what puts Dell on our list every time we consider a new workstation is the combination of computing power and acoustic performance. The T7600 is one powerful church mouse of a workstation.



























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.


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.























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.


























Echo 3 from NTI is an easy to use disk cloning application that also includes the ability to select and omit specific files in the cloning process. Echo 3 calls this “Filter Cloning” and it can be handy when you want to clone a drive as fast as possible by eliminating any unnecessary data from the cloning process.

Echo 3 also includes a simple performance utility which will test the read/write capabilities of your HDDs and SSDs before or after you proceed with any drive changes in your PC. It’s helpful to get a perspective on the different performance levels of your drives. We used a system with several Western Digital HDDs and one Corsair SSD.

To test, we simply made a clone of the Corsair SSD to a Western Digital Velociraptor. Normally you would clone an HDD to an SSD or SSD to another SSD for better performance but in this case we’re temporarily replacing the Corsair SSD because the write speeds have become so slow and we didn’t have the new SSD in house yet.

























The cloning process just takes a couple of mouse clicks to run. Then it’s a matter of how much data you’re copying. More data = more wait time. But, it really couldn’t be any simpler. Grab a cup of coffee, relax and your clone is complete.

However, it’s important to go into the BIOS before booting with the new drive to make sure it’s now set as the boot drive for the system. Otherwise you may get the following boot manager error. By the way, you’ll get the same error with Acronis, Ghost and other cloning software if the BIOS is confused about which drive is the proper boot drive. So be sure and check this to avoid any frustration.
























We created two separate clones of the Corsair SSD. 1 worked and 1 didn’t. Both examples ended with a successful confirmation screen. However, one of the drives would not boot regardless of BIOS settings or simply making it the only drive in the system

Echo 3 is an affordable and extremely easy to use solution for cloning your computer drives. The interface is clean and the process was painless . We still don’t know why the first drive didn’t clone properly because the software did not give us any error messages. However, we experienced no problems with our second attempt. 

Our next order of business is to replace this slow Corsair drive with something much faster. We’ll provide an update with our SSD to SSD clone.

Visit NTI to get more information about Echo 3 and system requirements.