We’ve been testing a variety of 80mm, 92mm and 120mm fans. The goal was to find the fans that moved the most amount of air while making the least amount of noise. We also only looked at PWM fans so we could dial in cooling performance while minimizing the overall decibel level of the fans. We highly recommend PWM fans if your motherboard supports it. It’s a much better way to dial in the optimal settings to maximize cooling while minimizing noise.

For example, a motherboard may offer 4 classes of cooling performance such as low noise, balanced, performance and full speed. In balanced mode you’ll start hearing the fans but it’s usually unobtrusive. As you ramp up to performance speeds and above it can get very loud, especially with more robust designs that are rated at higher RPMs.

We’ve found that well designed fans that rotate at 2700RPM or lower are generally unobtrusive and quiet. So, if you don’t have the ability to control the fan speed and will be using 3 pin connectors and noise is an issue, you should keep this in mind.

All of the fans we looked at were capable of high RPMs and if not controlled properly will operate at the highest speed. We don’t recommend this approach as it leads to more noise and more airflow than is necessary for proper cooling.

For example, when we boot a Supermicro workstation with a 92mm Delta exhaust fans, 2 Nidec CPU fans and 4 Sanyo Denki mid-case fans it sounds like a small aircraft. However, once the system completes the boot sequence and launches windows it fades into the background as the fans are operating well below the maximum rated output.

If your PC case can accommodate a 120mm fan you’re in luck because the larger the fan, the lower the RPM required to move the same amount of air compared to a smaller fan. So, generally, large 120mm fans are pretty quiet. Even when operating at high RPMs these fans do not produce the whine of smaller fans.

However, not all fans are created equal. There are ball bearing fans and sleeve bearing fans, plus various fin and housing parts that can all be tweaked for maximum performance with the least amount of noise. Ball bearing designs tend to be the most robust whle sleeve bearing designs can be quieter. There are some other design considerations but overall we were happy with the ball bearing designs from our preferred vendors.

When choosing a case fan we recommend the following brands for maximum performance and robust designs: Nidec, Delta, Skythe, Sanyo Denko and Cooljag/Everflow. These are the same suppliers you’ll find in high end workstations and telecommunications gear. The parts cost a little more but it’s worth it. You’ll get better CFM ratings with lower decibel levels and higher MTBF ratings. And that’s what we want. Lots of air, less noise, longer life.

FrozenCPU and SuperBiiz are just a couple of online sellers we’ve had a good experience with. They both offer a wide variety of parts at reasonable prices and SuperBiiz often includes shipping.

Good luck and keep it cool!

Visit Scythe for more information.
Visit Nidec for more information.
Visit Delta for more information.
Vist Sanyo Denki for more information.
Cooljag/Everflow for more information.

TP-LINK is making a good name for itself as it aspires to be one of the top three networking companies serving the SOHO market. The TL-WR1043NDT is a good example of why the company is so competitive.

The TL-WR1043ND 300Mbps billed as the “Ultimate Wireless N Gigabit Router” offers incredible value and performance in a small footprint that will be equally at home inside or outside a wiring closet. We popped it in a small Leviton box.

We replaced a D-Link DIR-655 Xtreme N Gigabit Router with the TP-LINK TL-WR1043NDT and instantly experienced more reliable performance. The two products resemble each other in design and features and we wouldn’t be surprised if TP-LINK was an OEM for D-Link.

Compared to the DIR-655 the TL-WR1043ND has a cleaner software interface and can be flashed with open source software such as DD-WRT. We tested it streaming media via a Synology NAS to a smart TV and it was noticeably faster than the D-LINK. Web browsing while moving large files via FTP was still pretty snappy. 

Primarily the biggest difference compared to the D-LINK DIR-655 wasn’t peak levels of performance but rather a consistent level of sustained and predictable performance. The TL-WR1043NDT works well and doesn’t randomly drop connections very often. We got kicked offline randomly only once during our testing and found the TL-WR1043NDT to be a very stable router.

With a street price currently hovering about $50 you simply can’t go wrong with the TP-LINK TL-WR1043NDT. It offers outstanding value and upgradability with a straightforward and easy to use design.

Check out all the specs and learn mor about TP-LINK here.

Startech puts a new twist on the standard SATA dock by adding a fan to keep things cool. The SATDOCKU3SEF SATA dock includes eSATA and USB 3.0 ports and can accommodate both 2.5 and 3.5 drives.

The 80mm fan worked well to keep our drives cool including high performance 10,000 RPM models. It’s quiet and after having a drive plugged in for a while you forget it’s in an external dock.

Swapping out drives requires powering down the unit. If a similar make and model is inserted the system may recognize it instantly. If it’s a different model than it may require futzing a bit to get it to recognize the drive.

All in all, not that much different than previous docks that all seem to be OEM’d from the same factory in China anyway. The addition of USB 3.0 and eSATA is nice.

Vist StarTech for more information.

The Synology DS1511+ NAS is perfect for the small business or advanced home user. It’s packed with features that can all be accessed using an attractive web based GUI. It’s perhaps overkill for the average home user but if you want to really explore and configure all the capabilities of this NAS it can become a full time hobby and very useful once configured to your liking.

Synology has a list of hard drives that it recommends for use with its NAS lineup. All the big players have drives that will work with the DS1511+ and you can mix and match sizes if you choose. It all depends on how mission critical the data on the NAS will be. Since we were reviewing the Hitachi Ultrastar 7K3000 drives when we received the DS1511+ the timing was perfect. These are ideal enterprise level 3TB drives and a good test for a state of the art NAS installation.

The drives easily screw to removable rails that slide and lock into place. Synology includes two sets of screws for different hard drives. Once attached to the rails just a little force is required to make full contact with the power and SATA connectors and to lock the drives in place.

The DS1511+ is solidly built with two fans for cooling. It’s very quiet in sleep mode and depending on the hard drives installed fairly quiet during operation. The Hitachi Ultrastars make quite a bit of chatter when reading and writing so a strategic location where noise is not an issue may be important depending on your setup. Good airflow is a requirement as well to keep the drives running cool.

Preparing all five drives to run the Synology Hybrid RAID takes the better part of a day with full disc scan to ensure no bad sectors are encountered later. That may sound like a long time but that’s actually pretty good for preparing five 3TB drives.

We used a single volume with multiple shared folders and 3 computers synched to the DS1511+. The initial synchronization can take some time depending on the amount of data. Once synched the NAS will monitor any changes in the “watch” folders and stay current with any new files or new revisions of existing files. It’s very seamless.

We really enjoyed using the DS1511+ as a media server for music, pictures and video. Having fast hard drives helps when multiple clients are accessing the NAS at the same time. For example, a couple of PCs can be backing up data and the NAS media server is able to easily stream audio and video to a TV. Our Blu-ray player instantly recognized the NAS and quickly streamed files from all the shared folders

Synology also has smart phone apps to remotely access files on the DS1511+ if you choose to expose the NAS externally to the net. This was much more compelling before Google unveiled its ‘Music’ service. We suspect even more cloud apps of this type to proliferate for access to myriad media files. Still, having the ability to access the NAS remotely and have complete control over the experience can be very useful.

So, the DS1511+ offers way more capabilities than the average user will ever tackle and plenty more that any user will appreciate such as the "download station" and direct USB connectivity. However, if you’re looking for a full featured NAS will all the bells and whistles and are willing to put on your IT hat for a weekend your reward will be a very powerful data management and backup solution.

Visit Synology for more information.

If only we had this as kids. The iRig Mic from IK Multimedia is a drop dead easy way to punch up an app and start recording with your iPod, iPhone or iPad. It has three preamp levels for low, medium and loud sounds and can be used to capture vocals or instrument sounds.

The sound quality is what you would expect from a $60 microphone and preamp combo, decent. It’s not a Neumann but the versatility, ease of use and small portable ‘studio’ footprint it enables is what makes it fun.

We plugged the iRig Mic into an iPad 2 and fired up Garage Band and the free app demos VocalLive, Amplitube and iRig Recorder. The free demos are kinda lame because they only have 1 track enabled. It’d be more interesting to showcase fully functioning apps and have them timeout but we get it, pay to play.

The iRig Mic allows real time monitoring of the audio signal as it’s recorded. So singers can crank up the reverb as they lay down those awesome vocal tracks. Of course, if you’re in the room next door listening to the dry signal through the wall you may not be so happy.

Our first 4-track was a Fostex 160, a great machine that still works today but didn’t include any effects, required a fresh high bias tape for each mix and certainly didn’t provide random access to anything. Now a $20 app does it all on a portable device.

There are some downsides to using music apps without real knobs, mainly the lack of real knobs. I mean would you sit around the house running your fingers up and down a regular sheet of glass? After a while we get what we call friction fatigue.

However, as a way to quickly capture song ideas, interview guests for a podcast or simply get kids involved in music making, the iRig Mic comes in super handy.

Visit IK Multimedia for more information.
The Hitachi Ultrastar 7K3000 is a robust 7200 RPM, 3TB drive with 64MB of cache that comes with a five-year warranty. It’s pricey, hovering currently around $375, but if you’re looking for a drive that’s designed to take 24x7 punishment it may be worth it. The 7K300 ha s 2M hour MTBF rating which is a first for a 7200 RPM drive.

We put five of these suckers in a Synology DS1511+ NAS. The drives spin up quietly but are fairly noisy when reading and writing data. The sound is similar to a WD VelociRaptor. So these drives are best used in an environment where noise will not be an issue.

Preparing all five drives to run the Synology Hybrid RAID takes the better part of a day with full disc scan to ensure no bad sectors are encountered later. That may sound like a long time but that’s actually pretty good for preparing five 3TB drives.

Where these drives really shine is when multiple clients are accessing the NAS at the same time. For example, a couple of PCs can be backing up data and the NAS media server is able to easily stream audio and video to a TV.

If you run Windows 7 or a Mac you should have no problem using a 3TB drive. If you’re still running XP than stick with the 2TB drives.

We’re beating up these drives as best we can and so far they’re holding up nicely. Video editors will appreciate the robust performance and the 5 year warranty should give anyone piece of mind for myriad backup solutions.

The Ultrastar 7K3000 comes in both SATA and SAS versions to accommodate any workstation or NAS. The HP Z800 filled with several of these drives would be a force to reckon with.

Visit Hitachi for more information.
The Linksys E1000 is a wireless router with 4-ports and 2 internal antennas. For this test we replaced an old Netgear WG264 in a wiring closet servicing a 3,000 SF two story home. The wiring closet is on the second floor which makes for optimal wireless coverage.

The difference is night and day. Where the old Netgear router was constantly dropping the signal and requiring a hard reboot the Linksys E1000 has been rock solid. It just shows how far we’ve come on the wireless front in just a few years. Entry level is really pretty good now.

The Linksys E1000 has a nice looking and intuitive interface that makes for a breezy setup. Novice users will appreciate the included CD with step by step instructions. For the fastest setup just punch in the IP address and customize the wireless settings and password. It only takes a couple of minutes.

Cisco is offering a 90 day guarantee on its lineup of Linksys routers. The E1000 retails for under $70 and should satisfy most homes users looking for a no frills wireless setup.

Visit Cisco for more information on the Linksys line of wireless routers.

The Seagate GoFlex family of external drives are ultraportable and versatile. The drives are ready for USB 2.0 / 3.0 right out of the box and additional connectors can be purchased for connecting to other protocols such as Firewire 800 which is more common on Macs.

The drives are handy for backing up and moving files between Macs and PCs. We sometimes take them on our Video shoots as backup drives. We’ll connect with Firewire 800 to backup from the Macs in the field and then dump it in using USB or eSata back in the studio where we mostly use PCs.

The GoFlex family is not ruggedized in any way. In fact, the drives are in a plastic case which feels quite flimsy and squishy. However, if taken care of properly and not drop kicked around the drives have performed reliably. We’ve had 3 500GB units in use for a few months without any problems.

The biggest attraction of course is the flexibility implied in the name. The additional connectors for Firewire, eSata...etc., cost $30. That’s too high. If you purchase multiple connectors all of sudden you’re at a price point where you could have purchased an Iomega or Laci product with all of the connectors built in already. So it’s kind of silly to by a GoFlex drive and all the connectors.

However, if you primarily only use 1 or 2 connectors and ultra portability is a factor, the GoFlex series becomes much more attractive. We’d like to see the additional connectors drop to the $10-$20 range which is much more reasonable.

Visit Seagate for more information.
The Lenovo Idea Center, Model: K300-53162FU, desktop is a good basic computer for everyday tasks. We tested the Best Buy version that sells for about $450. It includes Windows 7 64-bit home edition, 640GB hard drive (Western Digital Blue), 4GB of memory, plenty of USB ports and a multicard reader. The power button is conveniently located on the top of the unit. It’s a nicer button than the delicate rectangle on similar priced HP units.

The inside of the computer is nice and neat with space to work. The 280 watt power supply is anemic but quiet and good enough for the intended use. You could still add another hard drive and various cards if need be without taxing it too much. We were presently surprised to find snap-on hard drive rails that would make it really painless to drop in another drive. That’s pretty rare in value based systems that often are very cumbersome to upgrade. Any novice could open up this box and add a hard drive or card.

The case is a little chunky but it works with good airflow. It’s nice and quiet too. We like how Lenovo placed the card reader and power button on the top of the tower. This makes it easier to see what you’re doing especially when the computer is placed underneath a desk or in low light situations. If your parents need a new PC this is worth considering. They won’t have to hunt around the front of the computer for the power button. It also has a nice handle built into the top which makes it easy to move.

Performance wise, the Idea Center, Model: K300-53162FU, is perfect for everyday computer use. It was plenty fast for using Office, Picassa, web browsing, streaming media…etc. It’s not the most attractive box but the functionality is there and it’s friendly enough to work on for some minor upgrades. At $450 you’d be hard pressed to build your own with better performance. This is a good choice for the technically challenged or anyone that that just wants a basic system for under $500.

The keyboard and mouse that come with the unit are very cheap and uncomfortable to use. This decision lowered the BOM but really, why bother? So count on springing for a decent keyboard and mouse. All in all not a bad effort from Lenovo for an entry level PC.

Visit Lenovo for more information.
We’ve been using ASUS motherboards for many years and have been very impressed with the company’s engineering prowess. Having heard nothing but good things about its lineup of thin and light notebooks with extended battery life we figured it was time to take a look.

The ASUS UL30Vt-A1 (seriously, can we work on simpler naming conventions please) packs a lot of power into a very small and lightweight footprint, can handle most computing tasks with aplomb and has very good battery life. However, it suffers ergonomically from too much screen glare, a cheap feeling keyboard and a trackpad/button combination we just couldn’t get comfortable with.

When we first opened the box we were impressed with the silver body of the UL30Vt-A1. Doing the initial setup of Windows 7 and removing all the crapware takes some time. ASUS has loads of stuff installed and it’s not entirely clear what all of it does. We left the ASUS ware and removed the other free trial and useless utilities. Having worked in product management we’re familiar with the kickbacks companies get as a result of customers signing up for some of these bundled services but when it starts to seriously interfere with the OOBE (out of box experience) it’s time trim things down a bit.

In day to day use the ASUS UL30Vt-A1 is actually a pretty good machine. Office runs great, wireless access was nice and fast, editing photos in Picasa was seamless, videos ran well, HDMI is nice…etc., but we just couldn’t quite come to grips with the keyboard and touchpad. Maybe we’re just not ready for a thin and light notebook if this is the compromise we have to make. We also didn’t like having to use a tethered USB DVD drive to load software. Yes, most anything can be downloaded these days but it would be nice to squeeze in an optical drive. Again, maybe thin and light just isn’t our thing.

When it comes to notebooks and laptops it’s really subjective. A lot of it boils down to what you think is comfortable. For example, we still much prefer the TrackPoint on Lenovo (IBM) ThinkPads and some Dell products to any trackpad on any machine. The ASUS UL30Vt-A1 trackpad is funky. It has some multitouch features but the texture takes some getting used to. If portability and battery life are high priorities you may not find this trackpad acceptable. We anticipate a lot of users will just plug in a mouse and problem solved. However, on a plane that’s not going to cut it.

If you’re in the market for a thin and light notebook with great battery life the ASUS UL30Vt-A1 is certainly a contender. The specs are here and the design is appealing. This notebook is more than competent and very competitively priced in the sub $700 price range. Just make sure you get your hands on one before making the purchase.

Visit ASUS for more information.
The SanDisk Blade is an ultra portable USB Flash memory drive that comes in capacities up to 16GB. The Blade has a curvy indentation that makes it easy to grab and insert or remove from PCs and other electronics. It’s perfect for students or anyone else that wants a solid portable flash drive and doesn’t require the highest capacity or speed available.

The SanDisk Blade is built sturdy enough but don’t step on it. It will survive a tumble in the washing machine but not a crushing as it’s made of nearly all plastic.

Our favorite use of the SanDisk Blade is for moving movies and music from the computer to the TV and car. Many DVD and Blu-ray players include a USB port on the front of the device and support myriad codecs of pictures, video and audio. Ford, Hyundai and other tech savvy car manufacturers are all including USB ports in its vehicles.

The SanDisk Blade is perfect for this. The reason is the Blade is nice and short so it doesn’t stick out too far when connected to the front of a DVD player or in the console of a car. Most USB Flash drives are too big and cumbersome and can easily be broken or damage USB ports when accidentally bumped into while sticking out of the port. The SanDisk blade can be connected to the front of a DVD or Blu-ray player and still allow you to close the media cabinet door and you don’t have to worry about it being snapped off.

Visit SanDisk for more information for more information.
The Samsung S2 is a super sleek 2.5 inch that weighs just 0.34 pounds. We tested the 5400 RPM, 250GB version that sells for under $50.

The S2 comes with a short USB cable just long enough to connect the device and place it next to a compact desktop machine. It gets power from the USB port so no additional power supply is required. The S2 worked fine with both legacy and USB 2.0 systems. It's extremely quiet and emits very little heat.

We also used it as a local drive as part of a Mozy backup scheme. The S2 worked great and would be a good solution for someone without massive storage needs. By the way, the new version of Mozy works good too.

The Samsung S2 comes with a little carrying case but we don't recommend using it because you may end up dropping the drive when sliding it out of the case. Just use it for the warranty period of 3 years and change it out when the time comes.

These little drives come in handy for all kinds of things. With this super slim form factor this drive can go just about anywhere a USB flash drive can go and you’ll get a lot more storage for the money.

Visit Samsung for more information.
The HP P6310Y is a great choice for an everyday computer. The P6310Y comes loaded with Windows 7 Home Premium, Norton Antivirus, Microsoft Works 9.0 and a 90 day trial version of Microsoft Office. So it’s ready for the home office right out of the box. We we’re up and running with multiple applications and Pandora streaming music in the background in no time.

The motherboard leaves very little room for expansion but the good news is the P6310Y is loaded plenty of features to handle just about any application. There’s a 15-in-1 media for various types of flash memory, a dual layer DVD burner with LightScribe so you can etch labels into the discs your burn, 6GB or PC3-10600 memory, an Athlon II 630 quad-core processor, 1TB hard drive and NVIDIA GeForce 9100 graphics.

If you’re a hard core gamer or in need of 3D rendering power obviously this isn’t going to cut it but for casual gaming the P6310Y can hold its own. There’s plenty of power for editing home movies and making DVDs.

The HP P6310Y is a good choice for anyone that needs a new PC for all around computing tasks in the $600 price range. You may be able to find other systems with slightly better specifications for the money but HPs online support and frequently updated drivers make their systems worth considering.

Visit HP for more information.
The Motorola SB6120 cable modem is the next generation DOCSIS 3.0 compatible modem which provides a 4x speed improvement over DOCSIS 2.0 cable modems such as the original Surfboard series from Motorola.

We replaced a Motorola Surfboard SB5101 for this test. On the SB6120 Motorola moved the status lights to the side of the modem so when it’s placed in a wiring closet of a house it’s easy to check if it’s online or not without removing it. The older SB5101 requires you to remove it to check the status and the reset button could easiy be accidentally pressed. The SB6120 is a boxier design but only takes up slightly more space than the SB5101. It’s pretty much a straight swap although the SB5101 was easier to slide into tight spaces because of its wedge like shape.

The Initial setup took a bit longer than anticipated. The Motorola Extreme SB6120 takes longer to restart and get online but once it’s up and running is rock solid. The control panel and status indicators are very similar to previous designs. Basically, get it up and running and forget it.

At lower service speeds the improvement over the SB5101 is marginal. Of course, the real reason to upgrade the modem is to take advantage of the upper tiered Internet service offered by Comcast and others. After we had Comcast turn up the speed the SB6120 came to life.

If you frequently move large files via FTP, like to stream HD video,  or have lots of data on your systems you’re backing up via an online service such as Mozy than the SB6120 combined with a faster level of access is certainly worth considering. For general web use, email and sending the occasional photo…etc., you won’t see that much benefit.

Visit Motorola for more information.
The Hawking HWREN1 Hi-Gain Wireless-300N Range Extender works well to eliminate wireless dead zones in a home. Let’s say you have a wireless access point located centrally in your home but the signal strength is weak to some corners of the building such as the garage.

We tested the HWREN1 in an average size home and were impressed with the results. Systems that previously showed low quality connections before installing the HWREN1 reported good to excellent connectivity. FTP, audio/video streaming and sharing files on the network approached the performance and throughput of wired systems on the network. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Setup requires the included CD and is easy enough but there should have been more information about wireless channel selection and strategy when extending a wireless network. Having a quality wireless card in each PC accessing the network makes a big difference as well. We found dramatically different results with several cards so like anything else your wireless network is only as good as your weakest link.

The WHREN1 looks and feels very cheap but once it’s installed and out of sight you’ll quickly forget about that. It’s a good option for improving the wireless access in your home without a lot of cost.

Visit Hawking Technologies for more information.
The Corsair P256 SSD is a SATA-II compatible 2.5 inch drive. Like other SSDs it offers faster performance and potentially better endurance. However, unlike high performance hard drives that include a 5 year warranty the P256 only includes a 2 year warranty which we found odd considering “toughness” is one of the selling points of SSDs in general.

Unwrapping the P256 is a bit like unwrapping air. SSDs are deceiving in that they don’t feel like much, just a little brick of silicon with some connectors. But in this case the featherweight is actually the heavyweight. The Corsair P256 SSD has all of the performance minus the bulk, noise, power consumption and heat of a traditional high performance drive. Of course, it’s a lot more expensive and offers only a fraction of the capacity but its responsive and stable performance will be attractive to many.

When we received the Corsair Performance Series P256 SSD we decided to test it a couple of ways. First as a dedicated drive for HD video editing and second as a system drive with OS and apps. What would have a bigger impact? What would we notice more? What would we simply enjoy more?

First we swamped out a Hitachi 7200 RPM 1TB drive we were using for video storage. We copied over 1 hour of HD footage and resumed editing a project to see if the response would be any different with the P256. We also repeated the process with a Western Digital VelociRaptor 10K RPM drive. These are real world tests where we use the product versus running arbitrary benchmarks. The P256 was noticeable improvement over the 7200 RPM hard drive but not so much with the 10K RPM VelociRaptor. However, the P256 did reduce the noise in the editing room with one less hard drive spinning.

Next we cloned the VelociRaptor system drive and replaced it with the P256. Our boot up and shut down times weren’t noticeably different. However, opening and closing applications was snappier. Lean apps like Saw Studio were truly instant on while chubbier apps such as Sony Vegas still take some time. Firefox and Fireworks were instant on. So it depends on the app but in general we noticed the improvement even compared to a very fast 2.5 inch version of Western Digital’s 10k RPM VelociRaptor. Some changes were dramatic in unexpected ways. For example, we often experienced a several second delay opening Winamp. With the P256 it was instant.

The Corsair P256 is an excellent way to add performance and stability to a system that’s a couple of years old or to use as the foundation for a new high performance system. The most noticeable improvement for us was when we installed it as the main system drive. It made the system feel more like hardware and less like software. Is it worth the premium over the 2.5 inch VelciRaptor? It absolutely is for a work system where uptime is critical. For a home system with an online backup system such as Mozy in place, it’s hard to justify.

In the last several years we’ve seen hard drives fail in our systems after only 1 year of use and usually at the worst possible moment. Yes, SSDs are very expensive but we’re getting very close to the price point where that extra performance and piece of mind will be worth the premium. It’s very early in this game but it’s easy to imagine a near silent PC with almost no moving parts besides a few fans whirring inside. 2010 is shaping up to be the year where the silent SSD starts making some serious noise.

Visit Corsair for more information.
The BDR-205 from Pioneer is an internal Blu-ray Disc/DVD/CD burner with write speeds up to 12x on BD-R (25GB) and BD-RL (50GB) media. So to put that in perspective 1 dual layer disc is the equivalent of 10 separate DVDs.

Pioneer has been at the forefront of DVD and Blu-ray technology and the BDR-205 is a good example of this tradition to produce quality, leading edge products. The BDR-205 is made in Japan which is usually a sign of quality when it comes to electronics. (opportunity here to make joke about drive by wire systems in Toyota cars but we'll pass).

We installed the BDR-205 in an HP workstation that already had several hard drives and optical drives installed. Since we were out of SATA ports we used an open SAS port instead without any problems. Pioneer bundles a bloated software package called BD Solutions from Cyberlink that takes forever to install. It’s okay for watching Blu-ray movies but we found it slow, cumbersome and marginally useful for mostly everything else. We preferred our own authoring tools that we’ve grown accustomed to. Newbies may appreciate the Cyberlink package but boy is it a hog.

We recently completed a high def product for a client that wanted both DVDs and Blu-ray discs duplicated. We have a disc duplicator for CDs/DVDs but have had very little demand for Blu-rays. So in this case we manually loaded the discs in and out of the BDR-205. The small run of 25 discs went smoothly without any coasters. The drive is smooth, quiet and works as advertised.

Prices have really come down on Blu-ray burners with the BDR-205 currently hovering around $200. The price of blank media is still pricey compared to DVDs but much more reasonable than just a year ago and the quality and consistency of discs has gotten better as well. Premium, printable media however is still hovering close to $5 a disc.

If you’ve finally decided to take the Blu-ray plunge our current recommendation is the BD-R 205 and we expect Pioneer to remain at the head of the pack based on its pedigree in the optical drive business.

Visit Pioneer Electronics for more information.
KIDO’Z is a new website for kids that aggregates safe content and presents it in a very friendly way using Adobe Air. It’s great for parents who want to give their kids access to the best content on the web without worrying about them stumbling on inappropriate material. The software installs quickly and is spyware and adware free. Really nicely done.

The site automatically customizes the material based on your child’s age. If it’s kid friendly you’ll find it at  KIDO’Z. The main categories of content include websites, videos and games. And you can sort by what’s new, popular or parent favorites. The site is free but they do offer additional services for $50/year. 

If you got kids or nieces and nephews you’ll love KIDO’Z, especially with the holidays and wet and rainy weather on the way.

Visit Kido’z for more information.
There are no shortages of reviews about Windows 7 so we’ll keep it nice and short. If you’re a “PC” and your system can handle it you should be running Windows 7. We recommend the OEM version of Windows 7 Professional. You should be able to find it for $129 or so.

The only reason not to run Windows 7 is if your system is simply too old or you currently have a business app that generates money for you that runs better on XP. For example, some audio and video applications have not been fully vetted on Windows 7. So the funkyfresh studio is still running XP. The rest of our systems will be upgraded to Windows 7.

When in doubt go fresh. A new install on a new hard drive is well worth it. We did not even consider the upgrade/migrate patch. Just back up all your important files and start fresh. Windows 7 installed faster and with less mouse clicks compared to previous installations of Windows XP. We did a fresh installation on 3 systems; an aging Dell P4, a dual core ASUS based AMD system, and a modern HP workstation. Windows 7 automatically installed all the drivers except for the high end sound card and video card drivers. All in all, we have to say it was very smooth. We're very happy with the latest Samsung 7200RPM Spinpoint drives by the way.

Once Windows 7 is up and running your next stop is a web site that can automate all the applications any decent system should not be without. Ninite.com is extremely handy for installing a bunch of free and essential apps such as Picassa, Filezilla, Adobe Reader, Firefox, Winamp, Spotify, Hulu, Flash , Microsoft Security Essentials and more. What a treat it is to select all these great apps and install them with 1 click. This alone will save you hours when outfitting a new PC with all these great apps

Windows 7 starts faster, sleeps faster and generally feels better. We have not run into an application we regularly use on XP that doesn’t run well on Windows 7. We like simple things like being able to “pin” apps to the taskbar and “snip” and crop whatever’s currently displayed on the screen, no more need to “control print screen”. Connecting and removing USB devices is faster and takes less clicks. Search is much better. Certain utilities and tools that you had to hunt for are easier to find such as restore. In general, it’s the upgrade XP users have been waiting for. If you’re a “PC” Windows 7 is a good place to be.

Go for 64bit if you're apps and hardware drivers support it. It'll give you access to all your RAM. The SSD experience is also improved on WIndows 7. A good benchmark system for the small office is the HP Z800. Load it up with an SSD for the system drive, several Samsung Spinpoints for data, a new single slot Quadro card from Nvidia and you'll be more than happy with the performance. If you want to build your own, start with one of the new Supermicro cases and a 1000 watt power supply and go from there. Windows 7 finally offers a Windows platform that is stable, fast and, dare we say, fun to use on a state of the art workstation.

Visit Microsoft for more information.
This Linksys WMP600N wireless network card is a Dual-Band Wireless-N (Draft 802.11n) card that comes with regular and low profile brackets for installation on just about any PC. Set up could not have been faster and the spartan wireless utility offered a very simple and effortless configuration.

The WMP600N shines best of course with a nice strong signal. We were expecting better signal given are relatively short distance to the D-Link 655 router. However, in spite of 5 sheets of drywall and an elevation change, throughput was actually pretty good considering the inconvenience of running Cat-6 to this remote location.

When we inserted a range extender performance was much better of course. Our test workstation has seen some flaky cards that hog resources and frequently drop signals. The Linksys WMP600N was very stable and played nice with the rest of the hardware and software in the system. Certainly worth considering if you're looking to expand or improve your wireless network.

Visit Linksys for more information.