Category Archives: Hardware

Hardware related news, reviews, tips and tutorials

Hooking up an old Xbox 360 to the Wi-Fi using a Wireless Bridge Hardware 31 MAY 2016

For the last couple of months, my shiny new Xbox One has been lounging under the TV in the lounge, while my old battered Xbox 360 has comfortably remained beside me at my work desk. However, the downside of this arrangement is that the Xbox One mostly gets used as a Netflix, YouTube and media player, somewhat of a waste for it. So a swap around was needed, but here’s the thing – my Xbox 360 is one of the older models without built in Wi-Fi – and I don’t have a network point anywhere near the lounge TV!

I could of course purchase the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Adapter, but that’s a painfully expensive purchase for a pretty old device.

Instead, I turned my attention to wireless bridge devices, eventually turning up the TRENDnet TEW-640MB Wireless 4-Port Media Bridge from loot.co.za (for R594). Although a currently discontinued product (I didn’t realise this at the time of purchase), The TEW-640MB is a four port wireless bridge, that allows me to connect to a Wi-Fi network and then share that connection to four networked devices – in this case my Xbox 360, my old Samsung Blu-ray player, and the old PC I utilize as a Kodi media server for when I want to save on the bandwidth cost of my girls incessantly watching the same old episodes of Peppa Pig on Netflix.

The best feature of this actually quite decent wireless bridge is the fact that it supports One-touch Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) wireless connection – brilliant because my relatively new TP-Link TD-W8970 modem router has WPS as a feature, meaning that setup was literally pressing a button on the router followed by a button press on the TEW-640MB!

Oh, and the Internet connection itself works like a charm. The Xbox 360 is now happily on the network thanks to it plugged into the TEW-640MB that sits all innocuous next to my TV, streaming Netflix pretty much all evening long!

Problem solved.

TRENDnet TEW-640MB Wireless 4-Port Media Bridge

Related Link: TRENDnet

So I Upgraded to a Huawei P8 Smartphone in the End Hardware 10 MAR 2016

A week or so ago I accidentally knocked my old (but awesome) Huawei Ascend P6 off my work desk here at home, with it landing neatly on its back on the screed floor. On closer inspection though, I noticed a razor thin, hairline crack across the front of the screen – the vaunted Gorilla Glass had at last given in!

At this point, I wondered to myself whether or not I was yet due a Vodacom smartphone upgrade – a quick check on their nifty My Vodacom app revealed that both Chantelle and I have been due an upgrade since August last year!

And so began the hunt for a new Vodacom contract-supported smartphone, made particularly tricky because I a) don’t particularly want to pay a premium price and b) want a reasonably good phone that is better than all these ‘lite’ mid-range phones!

huawei p8 titanium grey smartphone

As luck would have it, Chantelle spotted that Vodacom had discounted the Huawei P8 on their Smart S contract to R299 a month, more or less in my intended budget but more importantly, despite being a six months or so old model, a damn good premium phone at a very good price.

The upgrade process was of course a tedious and drawn out affair, but the end result was Chantelle and I walking out of Somerset Mall’s Vodacom branch, clutching a Mystic Champagne model for her, and a Titanium Grey model for me.

As expected, the all metal build quality is once again phenomenal, the phone is light (weighing a ridiculous 144g!), thin (6.4mm), and a beauty to behold. It comes with a 5.2″ FHD screen, boasting a 1080p (1920 x 1080), 424ppi and 16M colors display. Driven by a Hisilicon Kirin 930, 8-core 64bit, 2.0GHz CPU with 3 GB of RAM and a (slightly disappointing) 16 GB ROM, the Huawei P8 is thus far pretty snappy and runs most apps and games without any noticeable lag.

All the usual suspects in terms of connectivity are available (including LTE support), and the normal array of sensors such as Gyroscope sensor, Ambient Light Sensor, Proximity sensor, Compass, Accelerometer and GPS are all accounted for.

Sound and video quality is great, and the photo taking abilities ring in with a nice 13 Mega Pixel main camera, dual color temperature flash (great for low light photos), and a 8 mega pixel front camera for selfies. (Which the kids always love and appreciate!)

The built-in battery comes in at 2680mAh, and so far battery life seems pretty adequate – essentially at the same level as what I’m used to in any other smartphone these days. The Huawei P8 runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, and uses the pretty pleasant Emotion UI 3.1 skin overlay.

Oh, and for a change, I now have a phone that supports NFC. (Not that anyone actually uses that mind you!)

huawei p8 smartphones

So yes, in case you can’t tell, I’m more than just a little pleased with my new phone!

Related Link: GSMArena | Huawei

Eventually even the Mighty Mega-105WR Router Needed Replacing! Hardware 28 FEB 2016

The original modem router that I received from Telkom upon first signing up for ADSL way back in our Nagua Bay days was of course the legendary Mega-105WR router. Unbelievably, it continued serving me like a relentless trooper all the way through to the end of December 2015 (since 2008), without failure or replacement even once during its lifetime!

That all ended though when it came head to head with my five year old daughter, who managed to push it off the desk and then rescue it by yanking it out from under the entanglement of wires I prefer to keep hidden behind my workspace. At that stage in December, I was still completely immobile following my operation, so I couldn’t really do anything other than advise Jessica to prop the modem up on a fabric ottoman under the desk – a bad move on my part because of course, the heat build up under there during our staggeringly hot Summer was enough to once and for all fry my dear old modem pal.

TP-Link TD-W8970 Wireless N Gigabit ADSL2+ Modem Router

Disheartened at its demise, I got stuck in searching for a suitable replacement, something in the mid-range table that would get the house up and going again in terms of connectivity, with an eye on supporting more media streaming over WiFi in the near future.

After a lot of hand wringing, I eventually settled on the TP-Link TD-W8970 Wireless N Gigabit ADSL2+ Modem Router which I then picked up at the start of January from Takealot.com for R959.

Essentially an All-in-One Device, the TD-W8970 gives me an ADSL2+ Modem, NAT Router, 4-Gigabit-Port Switch and Wireless N Access Point. It’s advertised as supporting 300Mbps 802.11n Wireless speed, with four Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections. It supports three kinds of connectivity, namely standard ADSL, Ethernet WAN or 3G/4G modem and also comes with a nifty additional feature which is a USB 2.0 port at the back, perfect for storage, printer, ftp or media server sharing.

It’s been two months so far, and I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the purchase. The dual antenna give me much better WiFi range in the house, the modem itself is sleek and sexy, the USB port works brilliantly for sharing files between all my PCs, and so far connectivity has been great. Music, video and game streaming all work pretty smoothly.

So yes, it might not have quite as catchy a name as my trusty Mega 105 once sported, but so far my TD-W8970 looks to be quite the worthy replacement!

Related Link: TP-Link TD-W8970 Wireless N Gigabit ADSL2+ Modem Router

Cheetah: The Bounding Robot that now Jumps over Obstacles! Hardware | Tech News 31 MAY 2015

Building robots that mimic animal behaviour is pretty common these days it would seem, and in 2014 the team making up the MIT Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory group (Massachusetts Institute of Technology in case you’re not familiar with the famous MIT abbreviation) unveiled their entry in the form of the Cheetah, a robot set apart by its bounding movement action.

Needless to say, the robot was glorious to see in action:

Fast forward a year, and the team has announced improved algorithms that now allows their Cheetah robot to hurdle over obstacles as it runs – making it the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously.

To get a running jump, the robot plans out its path going through the following sequence: As it detects an approaching obstacle (using LIDAR), it estimates that object’s height and distance. The robot then gauges the best position from which to jump, and adjusts its stride to land just short of the obstacle, before exerting enough force to push up and over. Based on the obstacle’s height, the robot then applies a certain amount of force to land safely, before resuming its initial pace.

In experiments on a treadmill and an indoor track, the cheetah robot successfully cleared obstacles up to 18 inches tall – more than half of the robot’s own height – while maintaining an average running speed of 5 miles per hour.

To see this in action is pretty amazing:

An incredible feat and yet another big step closer to that terrifying fear of being chased down by a killer robot becoming a reality!

mit cheetah robot jumping over hurdle

Related Link: MIT | Bounding Cheetah | Hurdling Cheetah

Boston Dynamic’s Spot: A Robot that You can’t Kick Over Hardware | Tech News 14 FEB 2015

Boston Dynamics (whom I’ve highlighted before) is an engineering and robotics design company that is best known for the development of BigDog, a quadruped robot designed for the U.S. military with funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and DI-Guy, software for realistic human simulation.

Early in the company’s history, it worked with the American Systems Corporation under a contract from the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD) to replace naval training videos for aircraft launch operations with interactive 3D computer simulations featuring DI-Guy characters.

National Academy of Engineering member Marc Raibert is the company’s president and project manager. He spun the company off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, in order to continue their work in developing robots that run and maneuver like animals.

On 13 December 2013, the company was acquired by Google.

google boston dynamics spot running robot

Well now Google and Boston Dynamics have a new metal friend in the mix.

On the 9th of February they unveiled Spot, a four-legged robot designed for indoor and outdoor operation. It is electrically powered (in other words can operate in both inside and outside conditions), hydraulically actuated, and has a sensor head (Lidar by the look of it) that helps it navigate and negotiate rough terrain. It also weighs about 72 kg, more than 30 kg lighter than BigDog. (In other words, it is smaller, more agile and faster than its big brother).

The robot, can walk, trot and climb across all types of terrain, and can even survive attempts to destabilize it by unfeeling humans eager with their kicks. (Which is a bad thing because we probably shouldn’t be antagonizing these things!)

Right. So here’s Spot’s unveiling video:

SkyNet will be well pleased with this latest addition…

Related Link: http://www.bostondynamics.com/

The Robots of Boston Dynamics Hardware | Military 08 OCT 2013

If the Terminator timeline Skynet evolves from anything already here, then chances are pretty damn good that it is simply a rename of current robotics company Boston Dynamics. Famed for their animal-like robotics funded by DARPA and intended for use by the American military, the things that Boston Dynamics creates is enough to put the fear of robots in any sane human being!

The latest release is the WildCat, the sequel to 2012’s fast running Cheetah robot, and seeing it in action is pretty terrifying – at the moment it’s only travelling at about 25 km/h, though if you remember correctly, it’s daddy set the world robotic speed record by running at nearly double that!

It gallops, it bounds and despite the Americans telling you that it would be great for “emergency response, firefighting, advanced agriculture and vehicular travel”, just imagine this thing kitted out with some scythe blades or a laser or two, busy chasing you down!

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Awesome Win: Me and Afrihost Mobile Data Hardware | My Life 11 SEP 2013

So I was a pretty lucky boy recently – entered a Twitter competition and won a prize: A free Afrihost-branded Huawei MiFi device with a 5 GB of mobile data thrown in for a couple of months as well!

If you’re an Afrihost fan like I am, then undoubtedly you will by now know all about their leap into the world of mobile data – basically they’ve extended their already significant use of MTN infrastructure by now offering Afrihost-branded SIM cards for mobile data use, jumping into the mobile connectivity pie with some very attractively priced packages and devices – for those of us looking for decent Internet connectivity anytime and anywhere.

Anyway, after a short wait after first hearing the news, I received a call from one of the Milkrun courier drivers informing that they were on their way – so I got together the requisite RICA documents (basically a copy of your ID book and latest proof of address) and awaited their arrival.

After handing over my documents for verification and receiving in return my cardboard clad package, I walked back inside, plonked down on the couch and unboxed my very welcome prize, yielding the following contents:

afrihost mobile data mifi huawei 3g modem device

I have to say, getting it up and running is ridiculously simple. Snap the provided SIM card and the battery into the device, close it up and hit the power button – that’s it, nothing else to do. Enable WiFi on your phone or tablet and connect to the Afrihost access point (the password is printed on the inside of the device casing) – right, and that’s it.

Dead simple.

The device is a Huawei E5331 MiFi, basically a 3G Wi-Fi device that sports a five hour battery life (if you don’t want to connect to a power source), capable of supporting 8 device WiFi connections and with a maximum supported download speed of 21 mbps. It’s sleek, it’s pretty, and it works like a charm.

And the network connection is pretty usable as well I might add. I’m getting between 5 and 10 mbps download here in Gordon’s Bay, much faster than the 1 mbps uncapped Afrihost/Telkom line I currently have installed here at home.

So overall I have to say I’m impressed. Afrihost’s Clientzone makes managing your package a breeze and the device plus network really deliver in terms of connectivity, just as they are advertised to.

In other words, a damn nice prize to have won! :)

Related Link: http://www.afrihost.com/landing/mobile_data/

What is the Lock on a MicroSD Adapter Card? Hardware 20 AUG 2013

lock switch on a microSD adaptor casingBecause it is not painfully obvious as to what that little lock slide switch on the top left of a MicroSD adapter card is, I thought it worthwhile to drop a quick note for those of you who might be wondering just why your newly purchased MicroSD card appears to be read-only.

Despite the fact that you are slipping in a teensy weensy little MicroSD card into the gaping hole at the bottom of a much bigger SD adapter card (basically turning your MicroSD into a standard-sized SD card), the lock switch is in fact not there to give you ease of mind by ‘locking’ the smaller MicroSD card in place in the adapter card. (To be fair, the little micro card sits pretty snug in there anyway.)

Instead, the lock switch is used to toggle the read-only state of the MicroSD card, meaning that if the lock is slid down into the ‘locked’ position, no device into which the adapter card is now plugged can write back to the MicroSD card, thereby protecting your MicroSD card from having any data changed or removed. (It also helps against viruses inadvertently being added to the card.)

In other words, if you card appears to be ‘read only’, simply slide the lock switch back up into the ‘unlocked’ position and you should be able to happily write to your little piece of data storage.

And now you know.

(In case you’re wondering what the lock switch physically does, it simply bridges two contacts together, which then instructs the SD port that the device is in a read-only state).

Goodbye Canon IP4500, Hello Canon MG3240 Hardware | My Life 30 JUL 2013

Canon PIXMA MG3250 printerSo the other day I got a rather amusing e-mail in my inbox from my beloved Chantelle, which pretty much went along the lines of “f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*cking printer not printing, die, die, die, f*cking f*ck f*ck f*ck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.

Needless to say, I chuckled out aloud, shared the e-mail’s contents with my colleagues who had inquired as to why I was chuckling out aloud, and then shot back a reply saying that it was probably the Ubuntu desktop machine playing up again and I’ll have a look when I get home after work.

So Chantelle went off on her delivery without a printed invoice and I got home after work and looked at the printer.

Sure enough, just as she had described it in her e-mail, my trusty old Canon PIXMA IP4500 printer that I had received as a going away present from the UCTRF (University of Cape Town Retirement Fund) back when I left the employ of Commerce I.T. in 2008 was as dead as a doornail. No power, indicating that the power supply unit had most likely gone.

But hey, the printer IS five years old, which is pretty ancient in terms of personal computing then.

Taking this fact into account, I immediately decided that I would rather buy a new printer than sink money into getting the old one repaired, and so took to the Internet to source something new – and it didn’t take very long before I found what I was looking for: the gorgeous beast that is the Canon PIXMA MG3240!

Going for the ridiculously cheap price of R650 at Chaos Computers (I had to get it from the Willowbridge branch, seeing as the Somerset Mall branch has recently closed down), the Canon MG3240 is a multi-function desktop printer, which basically means that it is a lovechild born from the holy union between a printer and a scanner, in other words, it prints, it scans and it copies.

Even better, it is a wireless printer, meaning that once you’ve connected it to your home’s wireless network using the software supplied, pretty much any device with printing capabilities can send a print job over to it, meaning that my Windows laptop, Ubuntu desktop and even Android tablet (it comes with built in AirPrint support) can happily all print on the same printer – borderless if you want and without any annoying cables to get in the way!

Another pretty cool feature is its Auto Duplex Print capability, which basically means it prints the first page, sucks the page back in, and then automatically prints on the other side, without any intervention from you whatsoever! (Seriously cool, it had me giggling out aloud when I realized that you could set it up to do this and then did it for the very first time).

The only real negative that I can mark against the nifty little home inkjet printer is the fact that it only uses two cartridges, namely a black and a multi-colour, which obviously means wastage as you can’t replace individual colours as they run out.

Nevertheless, given the fact that the only printing we ever do is for Chantelle’s invoices, they ought to last long enough as it is, and like I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really have anything against switching to generics or just a refill service if the proper stuff proves to be too expensive (it’s the old razors and razorblades story after all).

Anyway, all in all this is a great little printer for home usage, and the extra functionality of the scanner and wireless printing makes it an excellent addition if you don’t exactly have lots of space on your working desk in the first place.

Definitely a product which I can recommend, and I guess I can now finally pawn off my standalone Canon LiDE 100 scanner – which basically sits all by itself, packed away in an unused cupboard anyway…

Related link: http://www.canon.co.za/For_Home/Product_Finder/Multifunctionals/Inkjet/PIXMA_MG3240/