Posts Tagged ‘Gadgets’

Inline hardware disk encryption

Written by Cornelius J. van Dyk on . Posted in Blog

If you’re like me, you’ve probably not given data encryption on your home PC a second thought. Sure, most employers use some form of data encryption or another for our corporate laptops, but at home it’s a totally different story. I’m in the process of evaluating my server hardware at home, the topic of encryption came back up.

The problem with encryption is that it’s a pain to implement and use. If you’re doing file level encryption, you have to remember to encrypt your files or you have to remember to save your files in an encrypted folder. That sounds too much like work, so most of us just won’t even bother.

The other alternative is to have whole disk encryption. The down side to that is that it adds a software abstraction layer between the hardware and operating system which takes CPU cycles to process thus taking away from your system horsepower… i.e. it slows the computer down. Now if it’s implemented in conjunction with a hardware upgrade, you may not notice it and it might be OK. Mostly though, it’s not. Nobody wants to give up CPU cycles.


The only true solution is actual hardware based encryption. Something that can encrypt the data on the fly as it’s being written to the disk, but without taking any of your CPU cycles for it. It must read, write, cache and encrypt completely self sufficient.

Enter Addonics with their new Dual CipherChain (CCM35MK2). This little beauty lives in one of your 5.25” drive bays and configuration is dead simple. Connect your SATA drives (it supports two), to the card. Connect the output port of the card to the motherboard. Insert the encryption keys and you’re good to go! The device provides real time 256-bit AES encryption and at just over $150, it’s a small price to pay for the safety of your data.

I’ll report back in the future on my experience with this device.



Finally a NAS for the masses

Written by Cornelius J. van Dyk on . Posted in Blog

I touted my love for my DROBO NAS device about 40 months ago.  I love the device’s simplicity in upgrading drives and space over time.  Though it’s an awesome little gadget, it certainly isn’t perfect.  I found that the ventilation system built in wasn’t nearly sufficient for the three stacked (closely together) 7,200 RPM Western Digital RE2 HDDs that was occupying it’s bays.  I solved it by literally cutting a hole in the front faceplate and mounting a push fan to it to help force airflow over the drives.

I’ve always been looking for a true NAS device that I can just plug into my network and map on my computers.  I’ve also been wondering why all NAS devices use 3.5” HDDs when the laptop 2.5” HDDs have come down in price so much recently.  Additionally, the smaller drives are also designed for smaller spaces with less ventilation… i.e. they’re designed for minimal residual heat production.  So why not use those kind of drives instead?

OK, OK, I hear the choir already… but, but, but… PERFORMANCE!!!    Yes, it is true that the 3.5” HDDs has better performance than the 2.5” HDDs so if I was going to put the drive into my server or a desktop, then I’d certainly opt for the bigger form factor, but let’s be serious… this is going inside a NAS device.  A device that is being read from via a common ethernet NIC port which, even with Gigabit speeds, is certainly NOT going to be waiting on the drive to read the data.

Well, Thecus just released their N0503 ComboNAS.


This little beauty, priced at $400 ( that’s Apple prices!) it’s a little expensive, but here’s what makes it stand out for me is the fact that it can hold 5 (that’s right FIVE!) HDDs, 2.5” laptop HDDs!  Given 1 TB sizes for these drives now, that’s up to 5 TB of storage.  Of course, if you insist, you can always go the 3.5” HDD route and plug 3 of those monsters in.  With 2 TB sizes there, that’ll give you up to 6 GB of space!

Add the two gigabit ethernet NICs and you have the ability to connect it to two distinct networks.  At my house, I run an internal and a guest network.  All my computers run on the internal network and all my friends and family that visit, gets to use my guest network.  Both completely separated with unique IP ranges and all.  This baby can plug into both and be used from either network.  Sweet!

Throw in the device’s support for RAID 5 with Auto Rebuild, Hot Swap and Hot Spare and it becomes something special.  With RAID 5 and hot spare (only available on the 2.5” option), it truly becomes self sustaining.  All you’d ever have to do is change a dead drive when it fails every so often.

2.5” HDDs 3.5” HDDs
Drives 5 3
RAID 5 Yes Yes
Hot Swap Yes Yes
Auto Rebuild Yes Yes
Hot Spare Yes No
Space 1 TB/drive 2 TB/drive
Total Space 5 TB 6 TB
Total RAID 5 Space 4 TB 4 TB
Total RAID 5 Hot Spare Space 3 TB NA



Making the move to SSD

Written by Cornelius J. van Dyk on . Posted in Blog

So I mentioned that I’ve taken the plunge into the world of netbooks.  I have to say, I really and truly love my Asus Eee PC, if for nothing else, the pure raw battery life it gives me (8 hrs+) is amazing!  Of course being an ubergeek when it comes to hardware, I’ve always been quick to jump in and tinker with my iron.  I’ve build my own PCs and servers for decades, so it would come as no surprise to anyone when I say I’ve already been looking at how I can soup up my netbook.

Of course the first way you soup up hardware is to upgrade the CPU.  Since my netbook runs on the Intel Atom 1.6 GHz processor, there probably isn’t much room for improvement there.  The next place we look is at memory.  My netbook runs Windows XP Home SP3.  I thought about dropping Win7 on there, but I had to weigh the advantages against my time for doing that and since I was still on a “trial run” with netbooks, I opted not to spend the time.  Maybe in the future some time, but for now, it does what I need it to do, on the go!  Anyway, having a 32 bit CPU means memory addressing is limited to just over 3 GB.  My netbook came with 1 GB so upping that would certainly help soup it up.  I checked and Crucial has a 2 GB module I can upgrade to for $50.  Sweet!

The next in line for upgrade is of course the hard drive.  Now, I’m not dissatisfied with the 160 GB HDD in my netbook at all.  Truth is that I wanted to get it with SSD, but the only models available has a mere 16 GB of space and that won’t cut it.  I use the netbook for a small amount of very specific, non space intensive tasks and don’t need much storage, but 16 GB just won’t cut it.  Enter Kingston with their SSDNow V-Series 40 GB Drive.  At $85 and with speeds (170 MB/s read, 40 MB/s write) that improve on the platter HDD, it’s an upgrade I’m ready to make.  I’d really want better write performance, but it’ll do since SSD provides awesome stability for on the go usage.  Who knows, if it performs well, I might even consider moving to SSD on some of my other computers.

Stay tuned… I’ll keep you posted as to how my souped up netbook is performing.



I have taken the plunge to Netbook

Written by Cornelius J. van Dyk on . Posted in Blog

I have to admit when I first saw the concept of netbooks, I just couldn’t figure why anyone would want one.  Of course, at the time, SSD wasn’t really around yet and most importantly, I wasn’t traveling as frequently as I do now.  With the coming of SharePoint 2010, I’ve had to consider my options on my old laptop.  I had an IBM Thinkpad T-60 which had served me very well.  The only problem is that it’s 32 bit CPU won’t run SharePoint 2010 which is coming in all 64 bit format next year.  (Yes, yes, I know VMWare can fake it…) So in order to be able to deal with my VMs, I decided to upgrade.

I looked at all my options and wanted to get a new laptop that had enough iron to run all my VMs and more.  Since the latest Paradox Interactive release, Hearts of Iron III, was coming (I love that game!) and it had a hefty hardware, especially graphics, requirement, I decided to get a total monster laptop that would could handle everything I threw at it.  A desktop replacement or luggable to be sure.  I didn’t care.  I wanted the power.

I investigated all the options and even considered buying an Apple Macbook Pro for the job.  In the end there were three options I had to decide between.  A Dell XPS, an Apple Macbook Pro and an Alienware machine.  OK, I admit, the Alienware laptop wasn’t really realistic, but while you’re looking, you may as well dream, right?

Of course price always plays into the equation so the Alienware laptop was eliminated right off the bat.  I wasn’t really ready to make a switch to Apple hardware because of the premium they put on their name.  The same hardware as the Dell, would end up being almost $1,000.00 more expensive!    I never quite understood that.  Still don’t.  Nevertheless, as I was getting ready to order the Dell, it occurred to me to check one more thing.  Back in 2002, I ordered a powerful off brand laptop (Sager) from a little company called  Even today it was a decent machine and back then it was top of the line.  It had a 2.4 GHz CPU with 1 GB of RAM and 128 MB of dedicated video.  It served me very well, only recently dying on me in the form of the power supply finally giving out.  I wasn’t sure if Donald Stratton (CEO) and his crew was still in business, but I decided to give it a try.  Imagine my delight when I found they were still booming along.  I customized a Sager with Intel i7 quad core processor and 6 GB of RAM (capable of holding 12, but again, cost of the top memory was just not justifiable) as well as 1 GB of dedicated video.  This monster would do it all!  The cost came in almost $1,000.00 cheaper than the XPS from Dell so I took the plunge and bought the monster Sager laptop.

Alas, on my travels where I was flying American Airlines (with who I have Platinum status) and was able to get the First Class upgrade, there was plenty of space for my new laptop.  Any other time though, the thing was almost bigger than my seat!    Of course, if you’ve had the “pleasure” of being seated in any of today’s airline economy seats, then you’d know that really doesn’t take much, but my laptop truly is huge and I’m not able to work on it comfortably in flight.  In addition, the monster power comes at a price and that price is battery life.  Total battery life is usually around 1.5 hours or so if I’m lucky which makes it even less useful in flight.

Right around then was when I decided to look at netbooks.  I started at Best Buy and wanted a model with SSD, but the 3 cell battery only offered 3 hours of life which really didn’t seem too good to me either.  I wanted a 6 cell battery and eventually ended up ordering a Dell.  What a catastrophe that was!

After four weeks of delayed shipping notices, I finally gave up waiting on Dell.  I checked back with Best Buy who was running a special on the Asus Eee 1005HAB netbook PC.  The wine red one was going for $299 right BEFORE Black Friday. (You won’t ever catch me dead at Black Friday ever again!)  Of course it came in other colors too, but they were $330.  So for the $30 difference, I didn’t care about color and I scooped one up.

Right from the get go I was super impressed with the thing.  I’ve installed Office 2007 Professional as well as even Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2 and now RC on it and it runs just fine.  The only place where it slows down a little bit is if you have multiple browser tabs open and you’re trying to scroll a browser window with lots of rich content on it.  Other than that though, I’ve had absolutely no complaints and am ever so happy with it!  Of course the battery life is simply awesome!  As I’m typing this, we’re headed into Boston after a 1.5 hour flight and my battery is only at 83%!

Of course it doesn’t run my Hearts of Iron III game, but it does in fact run my Hearts of Iron II Doomsday – Armageddon expansion game just fine!  So needless to say, I’ve taken the plunge and have not been sorry… except maybe that I didn’t take the plunge earlier!