Product Review: Cowon O2PMP

Note: to achieve the appropriate reverent tone, read this post in the same manner as a Catholic priest holding Mass in Latin

There are many, many PMP (personal media player) devices on the market today and many are pretty decent and get the job done. Good or bad, the iPod seems to be the gold standard against which all others are compared. And to be honest, the interface is pretty easy to use one-handed while driving.

That notwithstanding, there is another device that deserves serious consideration; the Cowon O2PMP.

Cowon Systems (South Korea) was started in 1995 with a primary focus on software development. The company released their first audio player in 2000, the CW100. A key component of the Cowon PMP is the JetAudio software application. The Cowon O2PMP was first produced in. Device specifications include a 4.3″ screen, flash-based storage (8GB, 16GB, 32GB), USB 2.0, TV output, SD card slot (up to 16GB), voice recorder and several other features. The device comes preloaded with a very diverse support of audio and video codecs; FLAC, MKV, MP3 among the most common in use. Advertising claims battery life of 8 hours for video playback and 18 for audio playback.

Unfortunately Cowon O2PMP production has been discontinued. This is a tragedy… However, there are still decides to be found on the used market for under $150. When you get a device, go to the Cowon website and make sure you load the latest firmware.
I have owned two of the 32GB models. Still not sure what happened to the first unit, after flawless performance for over a year I had completely drained the battery on a long red-eye flight. I ran through all the troubleshooting steps and it has not worked since. Unit #2 has been working as I expected for about six months. I travel a bit for work and this makes the flights bearable. I watch movies, TV shows and listen to music and audiobooks. For anyone used to watching video on an iPod, the Cowon screen seems huge by comparison. Much closer to an iPhone display. Battery performance is as advertised and it easily charges completely overnight while you are sleeping. Media management is as easy as you please. Unlike Apple devices which require iTunes, the Cowon devices work with any OS (I have tested various Linux and Windows). Plug the included USB cable in to any available port and the OS recognizes the device as a removable storage device. You will quickly find folders for Music and Video, and a few others. Simply copy your media to the appropriate folder, wait for the file operation to complete and eject the device. You are ready to go. The built-in speaker is good for low noise environments, but a good set of headphones will make the experience that much better.
As stated, there is amazing codec support. If you have never used the FLAC format, it is better quality that a typical MP3, by far. As for video, AVI and MKV work flawlessly. Note: resolutions above 720p will not render well and the video and audio will almost certainly be choppy and unviewable. Another big benefit over an Apple device is that you can load media from any source. No pesky messages about your library, computer not authorized, etc.
The only issue I run into form time to time is navigating on the touch screen. While the layout is very intuitive, I occasionally have a hard time scrolling through the media lists. Certainly the pros outweigh this.

Final thoughts, the device size, battery life, storage capacity, and available playback formats make this an excellent device for the frequent traveler as well as the casual home user.

– habanero_joe

Product Review: Lenovo Mini Wireless Keyboard N5091

I have a home project to replace the DirecTV satellite boxes with PCs. So far so good. To make it easy to use I needed a wireless keyboard and mouse. The first box ended up with a Gyration Media Center Remote. For the next box I found a Lenovo Mini Wireless Keyboard with trackball. I purchased it new from the local CompUSA for less than $40.

Upon opening the box I was impressed with the product. It fits in the hand well and is easy to use. The keyboard includes basic media player controls, essential for pausing the movie to grab another drink. Installation was a joke, plug in the micro dongle to an available USB port, install the two (included) AAA batteries and switch on the keyboard. In less than 15 seconds Windows 7 recognized the device and it began working. I removed the wired keyboard and mouse and put em back in the parts locker.

Holding the device in the palm of my right hand I can reach most of the keyboard with my thumb. The shape makes it very comforable to hold. The small power switch is located on the underside of the device and it out of the way so it will not be accidentally shut off. Turning the keyboard will save battery life considerably when not in use. Turn the switch back on and I reconnects immediately. My typical use is from about ten feet away and it works great. Being wireless instead of infrared makes operation painless. I did some testing and was able to use over 25 feet away from the PC in a different room. Good enough for me.

Anyone used this before? Leave a comment.

20110618-165010.jpg

– habanero_joe

Update: 06212011
A couple things about this device that are lacking; 1) no backlighting of the keypad 2) no trigger finger mouse buttons 3) current trackball/mouse button configuration makes it a little difficult to ‘click and scroll’

12/3012

Still using this little guy. Battery life is pretty respectable. Would love to hear of any similar (read that as better) devices.

Alternatives to MS Windows (desktop)

I have worked with and supported just about every version of MS desktop operating systems. That is life in the corporate environment. No matter your opinion of Microsoft OS, it gets the job done for the business user. However, there are many less than desirable “features”, such as licensing costs, hardware requirements, resources used by the OS, and the list goes on…

Some of my early experience was as a sys admin for a SCO UNIX network. I was impressed with the stability and reliability of the system. If I remember correctly the server had 128MB RAM to support 100-plus users. The serial network certainly had no bells and whistles, but it was easy to maintain. Server uptimes were measured in months instead of days for a typical Windows server. Adding a NIC and TCP/IP made the server very versatile and improved performance. As is common in the corporate environment, after a few years, new software required Windows servers and the UNIX box was retired. I pretty much lost touch with *nix in general.

Fast forward five years…

At some point I began loading various Linux distros on older laptops to check it out. Red Hat, Fedora, SUSE and all the other usual suspects were checked out. CentOS seemed to be one of the more popular distros supported. Along the way I met some more-serious Linux users and began loading Ubuntu starting with the 8 series releases. By now I had converted a personal laptop and the main home computer to Ubuntu. Stayed involved and moved along with updates until 10.04 LTS. Was very pleased with how it all worked. The variety of supported hardware is excellent (except maybe audio) and the stability was always very good.

Fast forward to Thursday June 16…

My Lenovo laptop with an XP install was finally experiencing some OS corruption and general performance degradation. Time for a reload with Linux. Off to Ubuntu.com to download 11.04 ISO. I loaded it up and the process was the same simple install I had come to expect with Ubuntu. Rebooted and logged in. I immediately noted the new UI. Complete crap was my first thought. I poked around for the rest of the day and my opinion got worse. It was not intuitive at all. Played around a couple more hours and tossed it in the bag for the night.

Fast forward to the next day…

Thoroughly disappointed with Ubuntu 11.04 I looked up Debian and did a little research. Seemed pretty solid and why use a derivative when you can get the original? A couple answers later (thank you himuraken!) I was installing Debian 6. (look for a future post on using ISO files and a USB drive)
Knowing that Ubuntu is based on Debian, I expected it to be familiar and it was. Two days later and I am very happy with the decision to replace Ubuntu 11.04. I look forward to using it daily.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in Linux to check out Debian. You will not be disappointed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debian_GNU/Linux

– habanero_joe

Public WiFi – what is the cost?

Question for the readership:

What is the true cost of providing public WiFi (unsecured) in say an airport?
Leave answers in the Comment section…

In this age of 3G, MiFi, etc. does anyone really need to pay to use WiFi service to get work accomplished? Sure I’ll connect all day long if it is free. A good WiFi connection is usually faster than my 3G BlackBerry or Droid Pro connection. But I refuse to pay for this.

On a recent trip, the hotel I was staying at, charged €6 for 30 minutes of WiFi which is close to $17 per hour. The Burger King less than a block away had it for free and served beer, cheap. Another hotel on the same trip had it free in the lobby. Good enough… Based on my fairly extensive domestic travel, it seems that the ‘higher-class’ the hotel, the more it charges for what is a simple service.

I realize that there are real non-recurring and recurring costs but these days, every business needs some sort of Internet connection for daily operations.

I will now step down from the soapbox.

– habanero_Joe

Cheap Network Attached Storage Is Expensive.

The bottom line: you get what you pay for…

In my limited IT experience (~20 years), I have seen it proven over and over that low-cost hardware costs a lot in the not so long run. This post is about NAS, but this premise is not limited to that particular device. In the course of various consulting engagements, I have come across many devices that on first glance seem to be a great value. Until you really get it in production…

Before I start making sweeping generalizations, let me be clear: many manufacturers have a wide breadth of products, many of which are truly commercial-grade, enterprise ready. This is not what the common small business or non-profit chooses the first time around. For example, Iomega delivers several wonderful, relatively low-cost devices that work very well as a disk-disk backup target. The ix4-200 comes to mind.

The real problem comes from the low end hardware in the low-cost NAS devices. This includes home PC quality hard drives, incorrectly sized power supplies, improper cooling, lack of standard storage protocols available, no redundant drives, no hot-spare, and generally poor user management interfaces. A “good” device will provide a non-proprietary way to access the data if the rest of the network (servers/PCs) fail.

When purchasing any type of network storage (or rolling your own), carefully consider all of the components before making a purchase. Look at the MTBF (mean time between failure) or CDL (component design life) of the drives. The difference between a true RAID-quality drive and a PC drive can be staggering. Remember that your NAS runs 24/7-365. That Is 8760 hours per year. Often the better equipment is only a few dollars more and will save you considerably less in the long-run.

How much is your company’s data worth to you? Industry statistics have shown that 60% of companies that lose their data shut down within six months. Over 90% of companies that lost their data center for ten days or more file for bankruptcy within one year. Every week there are over 14,000 hard drive crashes in the United States. Don’t let your company become a statistic…

– habanero_Joe

ZFS Performance Testing: P4 Clone using WD Raptors

In my previous post on ZFS performance testing I ran through various tests on a particular test system that I had running at the time. This time round, we are testing a Intel motherboard with a Pentium 4 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 6x74GB drives. This system was literally thrown together with spare parts laying around the home office. This is the ultimate in home made, commodity parts, down and dirty NAS setups. Using seven (6) Western Digital Raptor drives attached to three different SATA II non-RAID controllers. For the uninitiated, Raptors are SATA drives that spin at 10K RPM. So here we go….

*Note*
My intention was to run this with seven (7) disks so that it would be a WD Raptor vs WD Blue test. Unfortunately, my seventh, and last WD Raptor died during configuration. With that in mind, it is interesting nonetheless to compare the 7 disk WD Blue results with the 6 WD Raptor results.

Test rig:

  • Custom Build
  • Intel Pentium 4 @ 3.0GHz Hyper Threading Enabled
  • 2GB RAM
  • Onboard SATA II
  • 6x74GB SATA II 10000 RPM – Six (6) independent drives with no RAID. Model: Western Digital Raptor
  • FreeNAS 0.7.2 Sabanda (revision 5543)-ZFS v13

GNU dd:
Tests performed from the CLI using good ole’ GNU dd. The following command was used to first write, and then read back:

dd if=/dev/zero of=foo bs=2M count=10000 ; dd if=foo of=/dev/null bs=2M

Results:
Results are listed as configuration, write, then read.

  • ZFS stripe pool utilizing six (6) SATA disks
    • 150 MB/s
    • 239 MB/s

  • ZFS stripe pool utilizing six (6) SATA disks with dataset compression set to “On”
    • 302 MB/s
    • 515 MB/s

    • ZFS raidz pool utilizing six (6) SATA disks
      • 99 MB/s
      • 165 MB/s

    • ZFS raidz pool utilizing six (6) SATA disks with dataset compression set to “On”
      • 299 MB/s
      • 516 MB/s

    • ZFS raidz2 pool utilizing six (6) SATA disks
      • 76 MB/s
      • 164 MB/s

    • ZFS raidz2 pool utilizing six (6) SATA disks with dataset compression set to “On”
      • 301 MB/s
      • 514 MB/s

      Notes, Thoughts & Mentionables:
      There are a few things worth mentioning about this system:
      This is a truly down and dirty quick and ugly build using used parts. As such, you get what you pay for and the performance data here proves that. Possibly more influential to the performance scores here could and likely is the storage controllers. The motherboard only has four ports so used/cheap/old SATA II PCI controller was used to gain the additional three ports.

      As always, the tests involving compression provide interesting insight into the limitations of various processors. While running the compression off tests, the CPU load was relatively low and the systems audible sound was unchanged. While running compression on tests, the CPU was of course showing a heavy load, but it also prompted the CPU cooler to spin at a higher (more audible) rate. Guess those old P4’s still cook 🙂

      –himuraken

ZFS Performance Testing: Intel P4 Clone using WD Blue Drives

In my previous post on ZFS performance testing I ran through various tests on a particular test system that I had running at the time. This time round, we are testing a Intel motherboard with a Pentium 4 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 7x500GB drives. This system was literally thrown together with spare parts laying around the home office. This is the ultimate in home made, commodity parts, down and dirty NAS setups. Using seven (7) Western Digital WD5000AAKS (Known as WD Blue) drives attached to three different SATA II non-RAID controllers. Historically, these drives have been used in low cost and all around cheap builds up until the WD Green drives came out. Essentially, better than Green, worse than Black, but a good mix of price/GB. So here we go….

Test rig:

  • Custom Build
  • Intel Pentium 4 @ 3.0GHz Hyper Threading Enabled
  • 2GB RAM
  • Onboard SATA II
  • 7x500GB SATA II 7200 RPM – Seven (7) independent drives with no RAID. Model: Western Digital WD5000AAKS
  • FreeNAS 0.7.2 Sabanda (revision 5543)-ZFS v13

GNU dd:
Tests performed from the CLI using good ole’ GNU dd. The following command was used to first write, and then read back:

dd if=/dev/zero of=foo bs=2M count=10000 ; dd if=foo of=/dev/null bs=2M

Results:
Results are listed as configuration, write, then read.

  • ZFS stripe pool utilizing seven (7) SATA disks
    • 130 MB/s
    • 228 MB/s

  • ZFS stripe pool utilizing seven (7) SATA disks with dataset compression set to “On”
    • 301 MB/s
    • 508 MB/s

    • ZFS raidz pool utilizing seven (7) SATA disks
      • 81 MB/s
      • 149 MB/s

    • ZFS raidz pool utilizing seven (7) SATA disks with dataset compression set to “On”
      • 302 MB/s
      • 512 MB/s

    • ZFS raidz2 pool utilizing seven (7) SATA disks
      • 66 MB/s
      • 144 MB/s

    • ZFS raidz2 pool utilizing seven (7) SATA disks with dataset compression set to “On”
      • 298 MB/s
      • 515 MB/s

      Notes, Thoughts & Mentionables:
      There are a few things worth mentioning about this system:
      This is a truly down and dirty quick and ugly build using used parts. As such, you get what you pay for and the performance data here proves that. Possibly more influential to the performance scores here could and likely is the storage controllers. The motherboard only has four ports so used/cheap/old SATA II PCI controller was used to gain the additional three ports.

      As always, the tests involving compression provide interesting insight into the limitations of various processors. While running the compression off tests, the CPU load was relatively low and the systems audible sound was unchanged. While running compression on tests, the CPU was of course showing a heavy load, but it also prompted the CPU cooler to spin at a higher (more audible) rate. Guess those old P4’s still cook 🙂

      –himuraken

ZFS Performance Testing: AMD Dual Core w/ 6GB DDR2 & 5x2TB SATA in raidz

In my previous post on ZFS performance testing I ran through various tests on a particular test system that I had running at the time. This time round, I have a MSI motherboard with an AMD dual core CPU, 6GB of DDR2, and 5x2TB drives. With this build we went with the HITACHI Deskstar 7K3000 HDS723020BLA642 drive which is currently available on NewEgg for $119.99 plus shipping. These drives have been strong performers and are slowly making me forget the “DeathStar” era, but only time will tell… These are in fact SATA III drives but the onboard controller that we tested through only supports SATA II. So here we go….

Test rig:

  • Custom Build
  • AMD Athlon Phenom II Dual Core
  • 6GB DDR2 RAM
  • Onboard SATA II
  • 5x2TB SATA II 7200 RPM – Five (5) independent drives with no RAID. Model: HITACHI Deskstar 7K3000
  • FreeNAS 0.7.2 Sabanda (revision 5543)-ZFS v13

GNU dd:
Tests performed from the CLI using good ole’ GNU dd. The following command was used to first write, and then read back:

dd if=/dev/zero of=foo bs=2M count=10000 ; dd if=foo of=/dev/null bs=2M

Results:
Results are listed as configuration, write, then read.

  • ZFS raidz pool utilizing five (5) SATA disks
    • 232 MB/s
    • 336 MB/s

  • ZFS raidz pool utilizing five (5) SATA disks with dataset compression set to “On”
    • 455 MB/s
    • 582 MB/s

    Notes, Thoughts & Mentionables:
    There are a few things worth mentioning about this system:
    Due to time restrictions, I was only able to test on the raidz vdev type. I look forward to testing again with varying vdev types/configs if and when possible.

    –himuraken