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Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
Robert F. Kennedy

“Impossible” is only found in the dictionary of a fool.  
Old Chinese Proverb

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

All Hail Mighty Mint!
The new King of the Linux Distro's

Back in November of 2012, I did a review of Linux Mint 13 after it had destroyed all contenders in Linux Format's Annual "War of the Distributions" - beating some of the real heavyweights like Fedora and Ubuntu.

Prior to this I really hadn't paid that much attention to Mint as it appeared to be just another Ubuntu clone among many Ubuntu clones.  Of course, it was getting some good press - especially the Cinnamon desktop - but that didn't faze me since just about every distro out there has its own legions of fan-boys.

However. . . . .

After Linux Format ran just about every major distribution through the mill, compared them feature-for-feature, and crowned Mint the winner, I started to think again about playing with Mint.  So I downloaded Mint 13, (the latest at that point), with the Cinnamon desktop and gave it a spin.  I ran the live CD, did a couple of test installations - both on real hardware and within VMware - and I was impressed out of my socks.

It wasn't full of Canonical's posturing, arm waving, and experimenting with bizarre new layouts and desktop paradigms every release.  It wasn't trying to monetize the distribution with hard-coded advertisements or forced use of Canonical's newest features.  It wasn't trying to out-Mac the Mac.  It just worked, and it worked very well. The interface was familiar, uncluttered, and easy to work with, and it was filled with a lot of nice little touches here and there, which indicated to me that someone at Mint was actually trying to give the user what they needed.

Now I don't want to completely re-write what I wrote before, you can go read all about it here.

Just this last week I picked up another copy of Linux Format, (Issue 167, February 2013), and splashed all over the front cover was a HUGE copy of Mint's logo, and the headline said "All Hail the new number one distro. . .  MIGHTY MINT"

My interest piqued, I read the article - and it really reminded me of my own review of Mint 13.  They fell all over themselves marveling at its clean interface, stability, and how it was conducive to getting real work done.

Of course, what really piqued my interest was the article titled Mint - The new Ubuntu?

And then I thought about it. . . .

Why had I jumped on the Ubuntu bandwagon in the first place?  Because I was getting tired of other distributions - Fedora among them - telling me what I could and could-not do with my own system.

Ubuntu's motto (was) being "all about choices" - and that's what I wanted.  If I wanted to make a system install jump and wave it's arms like a maniac, I could do it.  If I wanted an install that would sit and play quietly, I could do that too.

Then Canonical and Ubuntu started getting snotty.  There was a lot of moaning and griping on Ubuntu's fora about not wanting to "Dumb Down Ubuntu" - as if that was, somehow, beneath their dignity.  They started making unilateral decisions - absent user feedback - that did NOT give us the choice of using it or not.  Grub2, the Unity desktop, the sudden shift to a very Macintosh-like layout with stuff organized in a very Mac-centric way, and the way the decision makers at Canonical and Ubuntu were turning a deaf ear to the user's requests.  It was almost as if the folks at Ubuntu had developed a "F**k 'em all!" attitude - and if you don't like it, go somewhere else.

Apparently, Ubuntu got its wish.  People have been abandoning Ubuntu in droves, wanting an Ubuntu-like distribution that was willing to listen and let them get work done.

Enter Mint, stage left.

Mint's philosophy, since day one, was to provide a simple, working, usable Linux distribution that avoided all the fancy eye-candy, the bells-and-whistles that eventually destabilize a system.  Most of all, Linux Mint did not have any corporate identity pulling them this way and that.  Mint's loyalty, and the primary focus of the Mint leadership and developers has been the user and the user experience.

Back when I first fired-up Mint 13, it was an Epiphany, almost bordering on a religious experience.  Wow!  A Linux distro that did everything I wanted a distribution to do, and none of the things I didn't want it to do.  Ergo:  My glowing article about Linux Mint 13.

Not long after that, Mint released version 14, based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTE and I decided to give it a spin.  It didn't spin very fast though being a bit wonky and weird in ways that I wasn't sure I liked.  So I tossed the Mint 14 disk in the trash and went back to 13.

Apparently I wasn't the only person who tossed that distribution.  Though I was not on the Mint fora and didn't hear any of the discussions, it was remarkable how quickly Mint 14.1 came out.

With 14.1, they got it right.  It's just like 13, only more so.  Clean, uncluttered, and easy to work with.  In fact, if it weren't for the changed desktop background saying "14" instead of "Maya", you'd be hard pressed to tell the distributions apart just by looking at them.  And frankly, I like that.  I don't want to re-learn a distribution's interface every time they cut a release.  I want everything that worked in the one distribution to work in the next, and work the same way if not better.

Like I used to say about Ubuntu way, way back:  This is a distribution that I would feel comfortable loading up on my wife's computer, or even my sainted mother's.

Bottom line:

Mint is a distribution that "just works", and it has leadership and maintainers who actually want to listen to the users suggestions.  With that kind of an attitude toward the distribution and their user-base, it's easy to see why people say:

All Hail the new number one distro. . . .
What say ye?

Jim (JR)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: Samsung's ATIV Smart PC 500T
Is it worth the money?

Recently I had an opportunity to take a peek at one of Samsung's newest tablets, the ATIV Smart PC, and frankly, I thought it was an interesting piece.  Looking at it, you are immediately aware of how this can function as both a tablet PC and a fairly good sized netbook.

The version I messed with was the XE500T1C-HA1US model with a "64 gig" internal SSD hard drive, 2 gigs of internal system memory, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wireless connectivity. mini-HDMI, microSD, and a standard-sized headphone jack.

The Samsung XE500T1C-HA1US

The nice thing about this particular tablet is that it comes with the keyboard/docking station right out of the box - whereas with many tablets, the keyboard and/or dock is an extra-cost accessory.

As tablets go, it's rather big - 11.6" x 7.2", and maybe just a tad more than a half-inch thick when it's closed on the keyboard.

Here are the full spec's for this system at Samsung's site

I have read other reviews who complain that the 12 x 7 form-factor is too big and clumsy.  Of course, that all depends on what you're looking for in a tablet.  If you want something that will run Android or iOS apps, surf the web, play tunes and videos, then maybe they're right.

However, if you are looking for something a little more substantial - something with a big enough screen to let you actually see what you're doing, and actually do something useful, like word processing, e-mail, and other office-type apps, then this tablet might just be your man.

One place where I can see something like this being really handy is in the "mobile office" scenario.  Say you're a Real Estate agent, or someone who takes notes or fills out forms "on the road" - a tablet like this that's almost the size of a full sheet of paper could be really handy.

The included accessories comprise the keyboard / dock, as well as a charging adapter which works with both American and European voltages.  The power module has the (somewhat) standard triangular three-pin plug that allows you to find cords that will fit whatever sockets you may have to use.

(Reviewer's note:  Having been overseas on a number of occasions, I find the ability to use an actual power cord designed for the sockets you are going to be using a far better choice than trying to futz around with a bunch of stupid little plug-adapters.)

They are also thoughtful enough to include several, (five!), extra pen tips for their S-Pen, and a small metal removal tool that makes changing the plastic tips reasonably simple.  Even though they supply five extra tips, each of which is reversible, the tips themselves look to be quite rugged.  With five extras, you will outgrow the tablet long before you use up the pen's tips.  That is unless you chew them, or drag them on concrete.

Before I go on to tell you what I think about this beast, I want to make a very substantial caveat:  This tablet shipped with Windows 8 installed, which, as I have already said, is an absolute PIG of an operating system.

There were performance issues that may not have had anything at all to do with the underlying hardware, such as sluggish response at times, or choppy video.  I could not compare this system with Windows 8 installed to anything else as Microsoft's SecureBoot mandate makes it literally impossible to use this hardware with any other operating system, even if it's on a bootable CD.

I want to place this right out on the table, up front, since I have had similar issues with installations of Windows Vista - another ill-conceived operating system - even on hardware that was known to be rock-solid with performance to burn.  I would like to suggest that you take the performance issues raised in this review with a pretty large chunk of salt.  That is, until it is possible to review this with some other operating system.

The Good News:

  • It runs the Windows operating system, which means that the majority of the apps that you will need to use, will slide right in with 'nary a squeak.
  • It's big.  The screen is big, bright, and easy to work with.  Just as important in my opinion, the screen is large enough so that you can see what you're doing.  Even if your eyes aren't exactly twenty years old anymore.
  • The touch features are clever and interesting.  Though you can use your fingers for many tasks, you will probably want to keep the included "S-Pen" in your pocket as well.  One nice feature is that when you get the pen close to the screen, a small target-like cursor pops up showing you where the screen thinks you're pointing - damn handy if you ask me.  Likewise, on the side of the pen is a small plastic hinged button of sorts that - when pressed - displays a circle around the target that's easy to see, indicating that you are about to right-click instead of left-click.  Also pretty darn handy.
  • The included keyboard, though a bit small by laptop standards, is still a comfortable size and even my fat fingers had no trouble using it.
  • Attaching the tablet screen to the keyboard is accomplished by two hook-clips in the keyboard's track where the tablet docks.  When they snap in, it's a nice solid attachment.
  • Likewise, once docked, the "dock" part of the keyboard is hinged so you can close it like a laptop.
  • It has one USB slot on the "top" of the tablet, along with a micro-SD card slot and - depending on model - there is also a place where you can slip in a GSM SIM card for broadband internet access.
  • On the left side, there's a small (ahem!) HDMI port, though I am not sure that this little beast would be my choice as a source of HDMI video.
  • There is a charging port on both the keyboard and the tablet itself, so you can either charge it as a tablet, or have it recharge when docked.  (You only get one charger though, to effectively use both, you will probably want to get a second one.)
  • The keyboard also adds two extra USB ports, so if you want an external hard drive, or a mouse, attached to the keyboard dock, you can set it up and just leave it that way.

The Bad News:
  • It comes with Windows 8 - which as I discussed in a previous article - isn't exactly the operating system I'd want to see on a PC - though to be honest, I have no idea how you'd use Win-7 on a tablet either.
  • It's big.  It won't fit into a pocketbook or pocket - if you want to tote it around you will probably want some kind of a cover or netbook bag for it.
  • Though the keyboard latches tightly to the tablet when docked - you have to be really careful about how well it has snapped into place.  On a few occasions, after I thought I had a good solid attachment, I discovered that only one of the two hook-latches had engaged.
  • There is a little button just below the center of the tablet's screen on the keyboard's dock that releases the tablet.  I found it a bit clumsy to use, often struggling to get the tablet undocked, worrying if I was grabbing the tablet hard enough to damage the screen when trying to separate the two pieces.
  • Though the keyboard dock is clever and useful, the combination touch-pad and button is absolutely awful - there is only one button, which you press by pushing down on the touch-pad itself.  Trying to right-click with the touch-pad involves a somewhat complicated two-finger move while pressing the touch pad to engage the button.
    • Recommendation:  Get yourself a wireless mouse that has the teeny-tiny dongle that barely pokes out the side and use that.  Also, unless you are a lot more coordinated than I am, you will probably want to turn off tapping as well.  I found it way too easy to inadvertently move the mouse cursor and select things just by typing if my palm brushed the touch-pad.
  • The dual-core 32 bit Atom processor is powerful enough for most every-day tasks, but I'd save the heavy lifting for something more substantial.
  • In my case, I had some trouble using the pen and touch features.  This may not be the fault of the tablet, as anyone that has enough of a tremor that they can rent themselves out as a paint-shaker, isn't the best candidate for something that requires a modicum of eye-hand coordination.  However I was a bit disappointed; after all Microsoft's posturing about "accessibility" they didn't include some kind of anti-tremor feature.  Of course, even Ubuntu Linux doesn't have that, and I'm pretty darn sure that Apple isn't paying too much attention to those of us with unsteady hands either.
  • It comes with Microsoft's newest abomination - SecureBoot - which makes any kind of modification or update to the system pretty much impossible.  Though I will admit that this isn't Samsung's fault, as Microsoft has mandated certain very specific requirements to tablet manufacturers before they can ship Windows 8.  The Microsoft mandated features of the EFI bios makes it virtually impossible to boot using external media.  I tried booting with a bootable USB thumb-drive as well as an external CD drive, and though both were detected during boot-up, (I could tell by the way the lights flashed that it obviously had mounted the device and read from it), the EFI bios refused to list them as potential boot sources and would not touch them.  Maybe it only works if they are properly SecureBoot blessed?  I don't know, but I do know that I could not boot anything I had externally, even with SecureBoot marked as "disabled" in the bios itself.  Ergo, if you decide you want to transform this into a hot-smokin' Linux tablet - fuggeddaboutit.

The bottom line:

It's a nice piece and I can see how it could be pretty darn useful, especially in a student or mobile-office scenario, but it's no laptop.  The fact that it comes with a docking keyboard that - in essence - turns it into a "convertible" tablet / netbook system, is one of it's strongest points.

It has plenty of USB ports, and if you need more than the 32 gigs of drive space left over after Windows 8 claims the first half, you can use either external USB drives, or slip a microSD card into it to add an additional on-board drive to store stuff in.  I should also note that they have other versions of this tablet that include larger amounts of SSD storage, and perhaps other interesting features built in.

Since the model I reviewed only came with wireless internet capability, it wasn't the best choice for watching streaming video, as on my local wireless network the video I streamed to it was a bit choppy at times.

Though I will qualify that statement by saying that I had similar problems with Windows Vista - even on a hard-wired network connection - so it may not be the tablet's fault.  Again, there are other models that include hard-wired Gigabit LAN connectivity if that's something you want.

The fact that it has an Atom processor - even though it's dual core - it still seems a bit under-powered at times.  Though - another caveat is that this will be strongly influenced by what you want to do with it, and again this may be due to Windows 8 instead of the hardware.

The list price of $750 may not endear it to many people either - especially since a bit of judicious web-sniffing brings up alternatives for much less money.  Prior to writing this review, I made a quick web-search looking for other Windows 8 tablets, and it wasn't long before I found a strong contender from Acer - another brand I like - in their W510-1422 Tablet - that has virtually identical specs to the Samsung, including screen size and keyboard, for $600.  And this is from Acer's own on-line store.  You might be able to find it cheaper at other reputable on-line retailers like Amazon or B&H.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Windows 8 - Behind the "8" Ball?

Today I got the chance to play with a Samsung tablet with Windows 8 on it, and though the tablet itself was nice, Windows 8 failed to impress me at all.

My first impression with Windows 8 aligns it more with Vista or Windows ME, than XP or 7, as it is a flaky, wonky beast at best.

It reminds me of Vista, since it appears to be a half-baked, cobbled-together O/S that shouldn’t have made it past beta.  Or, to be more accurate, it appears that Windows 8 IS the beta.  They just decided to release it before it was finished, the same way they released Windows ME and Vista earlier than they should have.

It seems that Windows 8 doesn’t know if it wants to be a Windows box or an iPad, and as a result it doesn’t do that good a job as either one.

It’s almost like Microsoft decided to create a touch enabled tablet O/S by cobbling up a tablet/touch-screen type interface, then they went and slapped it on whatever they had laying around.  The result is an operating system that doesn't really know which way it wants to go, and does a poor job of guiding you to whatever tool you may need to accomplish a particular task.

One thing you notice right away is that you cannot force the system to boot to the desktop.  You always get a home screen which is filled with more useless applet icons than you can possibly believe.  This is particularly unfortunate since if you want to do anything useful or important, (like setting up a wireless connection, changing your display preferences, or finding something in your home folder), you are forced to go to the desktop as there is no “tablet” way to do it.

When you finally get to the desktop you're in deep sneakers, unless you have a keyboard and mouse installed, because the underlying desktop applications have not been updated to meet the requirements of a touch-screen environment.  So, trying to use the desktop on an un-docked tablet is a challenge to say the least.

Microsoft also had the bright idea of actually and physically removing from Windows 8 a lot of what made Windows 7 useful.

For example the start menu, and it's associated button, has been completely ripped out of the O/S to prevent any “back-rev” wannabes from using it like 7.  (Though there are some 3rd party payware apps that restore it.)

Removing the "Start" button functionality is an absolute disaster because there are a number of applications that have separate configuration or installation update features that are only found in that application's start menu folder.  You need to update or configure something?  Hey! It just stinks being you.

Following that lead, Microsoft decided to modify the Windows 8 "First Boot" experience in ways that all but force you to do things "The Microsoft Way", or not at all.  A classic example is the initial setup for Windows Update.

In previous Windows installations you were given the choice of automagic installation of updates, or electing to set these options later.

The Windows 8 startup experience gives you two choices:  Do it the Microsoft way, or don't do it at all.  Period.  Oh, you can set Windows Update to notify you prior to downloading and installing, but you have to dig into the control panel to use the Windows Update tool located there to set it that way.  And even getting to the Control Panel is not made all that obvious.

To make a bad situation even worse, Windows 8 does not ship with sensible choices enabled by default.  An example I ran into really early on is that the out-of-the-box default media player is not Windows Media Player; instead it is some wonky "media center/player" type app.

To make the poor choice of defaults even MORE obvious, when you start a media file a little tool-tip like box pops up to tell you that "There is other software installed that might do a better job of. . . ."  If you click on the box, it gives you a list of things that really should have been default choices from the start, and lets you choose one.

Likewise, the application icons offered on the default home screen look like the kind of apps you'd expect to see on some smartphone, not on a tablet that wants to do something useful.

Many of the apps are scrolling boxes that display various things.  The weather app keeps scrolling various weather reports from all over Hell and Half of Texas; and quite frankly, I really am not all that interested in what the current weather is in Istanbul, Zaire, Uzbekistan, or Sydney.  There is a stock-ticker app, a news feed app, along with enough cruft to make actually finding something useful a challenge in itself.

The way I would describe most of these apps is that Microsoft appeared to take everything that I absolutely HATE about the MSN web-site, chopped the noisy little Java applet pieces up, and placed them on the primary startup screen.  Since they decided that the background color of the home screen should be a dark blue instead of some pleasant neutral color, it just makes the applet icons appear even more garish.

Like they tried to do with Vista, they are trying to impress everyone with lots of eye-candy.  As a result the default startup screen is ugly, it's way, way too visually noisy, and it's about as useful as Teats on a Boar Hog.  The few applets that are actually useful are buried in such a mountain of Gagh!, that it's almost impossible to find them.

What they should have done is to follow the example of Windows 7 by placing a few essential applets on a more cheerfully colored background, allowing the user to choose - like Windows 7's gadgets - what other applets they might want to have on their home screen.

Summary of Windows 8:

As a tablet based operating system, Windows 8 leaves a lot to be desired.

On a desktop system Windows 8 is absolute insanity as you end up with the worst of both worlds:  A touch-enabled operating system that functions more like a smartphone than a desktop, with a lot of the useful desktop functionality ripped out of it, installed on inexpensive desktop systems without touch-screens and tossed to an unsuspecting public.

If Microsoft is “betting the farm” on Windows 8 as some have said, then they’re doomed.

I did learn one important lesson about tablets and touch-screens though:

If you have any kind of tremor or palsy, (as I do), using a stylus on a touch-enabled device gets “interesting” to say the least.  I’m surprised that they didn’t include some kind of “jitter” compensation in their
“accessibility options”.  On the other hand, maybe I am not so surprised.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Really HUGE "Thumb Drives"?

We've all had the problem:  You haul out your trusty USB thumb-drive to put something on it. . .  And there's no more space.  So, you look to see what you can delete, and - damn it all! - there's nothing you can toss.

Or, you want to transfer a LARGE file or data object from point "A" to point "B" and it's just too big to put in your pocket.  Uploading to an on-line file repository is an option, but that will take forever.

How would you like to have thumb-drives in the multi-terabyte size range?

The answer is "Hard Drive Docking Stations"

For those of you who are going "Wazzit?", a hard drive docking station is a (relatively) small plug-in device that you can put on your desk that has a slot in the top for a hard drive to fit.  Though usually for SATA drives, there are IDE (PATA) options as well.

Here are a couple of examples:

This one is a NexStar caddy that fits two laptop size or two desktop size SATA drives.  On the back, (not shown), are ports for both eSATA and USB.  If you have an eSATA port on your computer that supports "Port Multiplier" functionality, you can put two drives in it, and access both of them at the same time.

And this little beastie is my Thermaltake BlacX caddy that fits one 2.5 / 3.5 SATA drive.  It also has back panel connections for both eSATA and USB.  In fact, I'm using this with a 1T drive in it - right now - to back up a customer's laptop before I rebuild it.

Now, granted, these little monsters are not cheap.  But they're not all that expensive either, especially if you can get them on sale.


They're damned handy.  I've had situations where I had to work with a hard drive in a computer that would not boot, (the MoBo was fried, etc.), and with these things I can mount the hard drive under Windows or Linux, verify drive integrity, and suck the customers data off of it.

Likewise, if you remember the article I wrote about getting hard drives exchanged for (nearly) free, something like this is a great way to take a drive, test it, and get it ready for that all so important warranty return.  Or to test the NEW drive they sent you, to verify they didn't send you someone else's crappy drive.  (And yes, that does happen.)

If you want to take a lot of data somewhere, all you have to do is load the beastie up, slip it in an anti-static bag, tape it shut, and be on your way.  (Don't forget to bring your caddy if the guy at the other end doesn't have one.)

A couple of important points:

First of all, eSATA is way, WAY faster than USB.  However, if you are going to use an eSATA card and cable to hook the monster up to your computer, you may not be given the option to "disconnect" the drive in the same way you get that option to disconnect a USB device.  The solution?  Go to the Device Manager, find the external drive, "uninstall" it, and then you're set to go.

Second, if you are REALLY interested in using in the same way you'd use a USB thumb-drive, you should use a real eSATA port that supports AHCI.  This allows you to remove the drive you uninstalled thirty seconds ago, slap another drive in the caddy, and have it come on-line automagically, without a reboot.

If you are desperate, you can use either the USB connection - which does allow disconnect - or one of the SATA ports on your system's motherboard.  Unfortunately, most of the motherboards *I* have messed with get real annoyed if you unplug hard drives on 'em.  As in frozen solid, or doing bizarre things.  So, if you don't have an eSATA port, either bite the bullet and get one, or use USB.

Now you may say that an external USB/eSATA hard drive, or hard drive enclosure, will do the same thing.

I disagree.  There is a qualitative difference between using a hot-swap dock and an external hard drive.

With the drive dock, you are not limited to the size of the one drive - or if you want to swap drives - you don't have to disassemble the little bastid.

Of course, there are a few caveats:

One:  You don't have the shock-resistance of an enclosed drive, so don't go playing deck hockey with 'em.
Two:  You probably want to invest in at least one or two anti-static wrist straps.  That's assuming you really don't want to be zapping hundred-dollar-plus hard drives with the static electricity you built up walking across the carpet.
Three:  Save the anti-static bags the drives come in.  You'll use them to store and/or transport the drive.

The conclusion?

If you are a little bit careful, and a little bit inventive, you can use normal, plain-vanilla hard drives as REALLY HUGE thumb drives.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Internet Explorer 10
Prevent Automatic Install


Hey! Microsoft! Yes, YOU over there!!!  What's with this IE-10 as an Important Update stuff!!

Sigh. . . .

Yep, it's that time again.  IE-10, (the Windows 8 version of IE), has now been released for Windows 7 et.al., and, as usual, we need to patch the registry to prevent it from being automagically installed.

Here's the patch.  Copy this to notepad, and save it as Do Not Allow IE-10.reg

Double click the newly created file, dismiss the UAC by selecting "yes", let it do it's nefarious task, and reboot.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Setup\10.0]
And that's it.

This file should update the registry properly - however it didn't work at first on my Win7 Home Premium and Professional boxes.  I installed the key manually, and then exported it.  Even though there was no visible difference, the newly exported file would properly install the key.  Your Mileage May Vary.

If you want to read more about it, here is the TechNet article that explains it.

Note that they're offering a "toolkit" executable that (supposedly) does this for you, though I'd rather do the registry hack myself if you don't mind!

What I'd really like to see, is for Microsoft to stop releasing IE updates as "Important" updates. . .

What say ye?

Jim (JR)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The New "NAS" Rated Hard Drives
What's The Difference?

Western Digital has announced a "new" series of hard drives specifically rated for NAS, (Network Attached Storage), devices called "Red" drives.  (See the WD product page here.)  Micro Center has begun selling them, and you can see the web-site ad for them here.  At $114 for a 2 Tb, 7200 rpm, 64 meg cache, 6 Gb/second drive, the price is also reasonable compared to other "advanced" drives - and should come down.

As these gain traction, you can expect other manufacturers to follow suit with their own "NAS" rated drives.

The addition of a new "color" to the current hard drive rainbow is not surprising.  However, the current cacophony of hard drive types, names, colors, and designations can be confusing - so this article hopes to sort some of this confusion into a reasonable order.

Seagate has their Barracuda, Momentus, (etc.), and just plain-vanilla branded hard drives.
Western Digital also has their "vanilla" branded drive, as well as the Green, Black, Blue, "Caviar," "Scorpio," and now their new "Red" drives.

Up until now, the differentiating factor among all these consumer level drives has been power consumption, speed, (including cache size and rpm rating), and retail price-point.

All of these drives, (except for the Red drive), have one thing in common:  They are designed for use in personal computer applications; either desktop, laptop, tablet, netbook, or some other consumer computer product.

In contrast, the new Western Digital "Red" drives are designed to compete with higher-priced Enterprise class drives - at least the Enterprise class SATA drives - in array or RAID configurations, at a much lower price-per-unit.

Hard drives come in two basic flavors:  Consumer drives, intended for the personal computer application, and Enterprise drives that are intended for heavy-duty array based usage.

So, what's the difference?  (Besides the fact that "Enterprise" class drive can be hugely expensive!)

Basically, it's the firmware loaded into the drive.  (At least in the SATA based drives.  Fiber-channel, and other advanced interface technologies are a Horse of a Different Hue altogether.)

Consumer level drives have firmware that assumes that the drive is in an application with little to zero redundancy.

As a consequence, if the drive has trouble reading a sector/cluster on the platter it vigorously attempts to read - and recover - the data, which can take extended amounts of time.  And this is reasonable.  With one, (or at most a few), drives in the system, each one being independent of the others, reading the data - come hell or high water - is of paramount importance.

Enterprise level drive firmware takes an entirely different approach.

Enterprise drive firmware assumes that the drive is in an array or other type of RAID arrangement where data integrity is handled externally to each individual drive - via hardware error recovery, parity, or whatever.  And as a consequence, the firmware on an Enterprise level drive is designed to be less anal about digging for the data.

In other words, it gives up and returns a "data fail" message sooner, (in some cases much sooner), the emphasis being on data throughput speed.  Since there are other drives, or hardware, to handle the, (hopefully!), occasional data error issue, the drive isn't so eager to dig for data.

Additionally - at least in some cases - the drive's reliability and warranty is more highly rated.  (Though there is a white-paper released by Google that claims that the MTBF and speed of the Enterprise level SATA drive is often no better than that of their consumer level counterparts.  Despite their greatly advanced prices.)

So, what does this mean to you?

If you are using the drive in a NAS device, where there is some kind of data-recovery mechanism involved,  the new NAS rated drives might be the best choice.

Though be careful.  If you have a multiple-drive NAS device where the drives are arranged in a RAID-1, RAID-0 or Linear arrangement, (where there is simple mirroring, or all the drives are combined together as one huge drive),"red" drives are not for you, as you still need the built-in aggressive error recovery of the normal consumer rated drive.

Likewise, in a single, (or group of independent drives), arrangement - the NAS rated devices are not the best choice.  If it's performance you want in an independent drive scenario, it's better to spend your money on the performance rated drives.

The big telling point is this:

How important is the ability to recover data on an individual drive?  If there is no external redundancy, then it's absolutely critical.  Otherwise the NAS rated drives might be a better choice.

Note:  No matter how aggressive the error recovery may be, or how advanced the RAID technology, there is no substitute for regular backups.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)

(Stupid Disclaimer:  The names and other descriptive attributes of the drives and manufacturers mentioned above may well be trademarks belonging to their respective manufacturers.)