upgraded to ASUS RT-AC56U router – speed tests

As per my router troubles earlier, I have finally upgraded to the Asus RT-AC56U. I’ve been using an old Linksys WRT54GL as an access point for legacy 802.11g connections, so here is the baseline for comparison, using a desktop machine located two feet away, using built-in wifi antennas:

Linksys WRT54GL, 802.11g, 2.4 Ghz

here’s the result from using the new router:

ASUS RT-AC56U, 802.11n, 2.4 Ghz

here’s the result from using the new router on my main workstation PC in the basement, using a PCI wifi adapter:

Linksys WRT54GL, 802.11g, 2.4 Ghz

and using the new router, with a USB AC-1200 wifi adapter (ASUS USB-AC56):

ASUS RT-AC56U, 802.11ac, 5.0 Ghz

my Netgear WNDR3700 (v1) router’s 5 Ghz network just went missing – bad antenna?

As this is a geekblog, I might as well document my woes here in public. Here is the support ticket I filed with Netgear just now.


I purchased a WNDR3700 on 1/11/2011 – serial number 21840B550A390. I have registered the router on my.netgear.com.

this week the 5 Ghz wireless network stopped working entirely. I have updated to latest firmware, and also:

– the 5 Ghz blue light is on
– the settings on the configuration dashboard ( indicate the 5Ghz network is active
– SSID for 5 Ghz is set to “broadcast SSID name: on”
– the 2.4 Ghz network works fine, computers connected can access internet
– computers attached to the router via ethernet also can also access the internet normally

however no device capable of 5Ghz is able to detect the 5Ghz SSID. the scanning software inSSIDer does not detect any 5Ghz network being broadcast either.

Logically, maybe the antenna or antenna amplifier has burned out, I can think of no other explanation in software for why 5Ghz is missing – the router itself is convinced that 5Ghz is indeed working, but it isnt. That suggests a hardware problem to me.

The router is only 2 1/2 years old and my previous Netgear routers are still going strong at my relatives’ homes after 5-6 years so this is very surprising. I am hoping Netgear support will not disappoint me.

It looks like other users have reported similar issues with the 2.4 Ghz network also mysteriously vanishing, which is why I think my diagnosis of a bad antenna is correct. To be honest I was never enamoured of the speed of this router to begin with, as my initial tests showed.

ASUS RT N66U router

I am skeptical that Netgear will be willing to replace the unit but if they make some kind of gesture that will go a long way towards persuading me to buy a Netgear replacement. I’m not going to bother with a draft 11ac router, all I need is a solid 11abgn machine with some MIMO and I’ll be happy. Unless they make me a good deal, I am very tempted to ditch Netgear. For example, that ASUS RT-N66U “Dark Knight” got a nice review. External antennas, too!

Budget Gaming PC build for spring 2013

Corsair Carbide 400R (upgrade)
Corsair Carbide 400R (upgrade)
One of my hobbies here at Haibane is blogging about computer hardware, and I’ve decided to put some of that hobbyist energy towards creating my own spec sheets for PC builds, mainly because I’ve been asked to do that a few times recently for friends and family anyway. I’ve created a page here at Haibane called the Budget Gamer Build that specs out an entry-level box that should be capable of running most modern games at medium resolution, at a target price of $800. There’s also an upgraded version of the build that comes in at $1200 which offers better graphics performance, audio and an SSD drive.

The writeup goes into detail about why I chose each component, but I also have direct links to Lists at Amazon to facilitate ordering:

(I get a few percent back from any purchase at Amazon via those links or the affiliate links on the spec page here at haibane.)

I will probably update that page every quarter so I stay within the price envelope and add new components as applicable. Hopefully I will also find time to spec out a higher-end build in the $2000 range and a home-theater build in the $1000 as well. If you are looking to build a PC, I’d appreciate the opportunity to advise you as well, just drop me a line or comment.

Bizarro-Moore’s Law for SSDs?

It looks like SSDs are going to get worse over time, unlike hard drives:

SSDs are seemingly doomed. Why? Because as circuitry of NAND flash-based SSDs shrinks, densities increase. But that also means issues relating to read and write latency and data errors will increase as well.
The group discovered that write speed for pages in a flash block suffered “dramatic and predictable variations” in latency. Even more, the tests showed that as the NAND flash wore out, error rates varied widely between devices. Single-level cell NAND produced the best test results whereas multi-level cell and triple-level cell NAND produced less than spectacular results.

This suggests to me that SSDs are never going to break out of the boot-disk niche for hardware builds. I get equivalent read-speads on my striped hard drives as my boot SSD, for that matter.

time to buy an SSD: 128GB C300 for $200

judge me by my size, do you? No! And well you should not! For my ally is SATA3, and a powerful ally it is! (Use the code CRUCIAL4455, Luke...)
The SSD market is providing a rare opportunity for anyone not intent on building at the bleeding edge. The newest generation of SSDs like Crucial’s RealSSD C400, OCZ Vertex 3, and Intel’s SSD 320 are out and have been reviewed, but offer incremental performance upgrades at best (mainly from refinements of the controllers’ firmware, and also some further power consumption efficiency from moving to a 25 nm die). This means that the prior generation’s performance leaders are a real bargain at reduced prices.

For example, if you use the code CRUCIAL4455 at NewEgg (valid until tomorrow) you can get a C300 for $200, and free 2-day shipping. That’s $40 cheaper than I paid for it just a few weeks ago (and you can see my benchmarks here on PREFECT). I expect that the Vertex 2 and Intel’s SSD 510, also previous generation, will see some major rebates or discounts soon, but the C300 is really the best SSD of the 34nm generation. .

UPDATE: The 120 GB Intel 510 Series is also on sale at NewEgg until 4/7.

The bottom line is that the upgrade to an SSD packs better punch than upgrading RAM and is a far cheaper alternative to upgrading a mobo and CPU (Sandy Bridge is still not compelling an upgrade IMHO, which I can elucidate on in thread if anyone cares). The advantage of the form factor is that its compatible with any SATA laptop or any desktop (unfortunately, my old T42 is just outside that generation, still using ULTRA-ATA. And it has a broken LCD backlight, but I digress…). These things even come with simple utilities to clone your current drive, OS, apps, etc without a hitch to the SSD. This is the best bang for your buck. I think that the $200 price point for 128 GB is a price floor, however – it won’t go lower, because all the inventory of the old generation drives like the C300 will sell out at that price. Once the old generation drives (which as I mentioned, offer largely comparable performance) sell out, then the only SSD options will be the new generation which are about $100 more expensive. After that, your best window to buy an SSD again will be 6 months to a year from now, when the current “next” generation is again replaced by a new crop and the cycle repeats.

Filco Majestouch tenkeyless with RED switches at Amazon

UPDATE – There are a number of other Filco Majestouch keyboards available on Amazon right now – supplied probably limited as these are no longer in production.

This is a real rarity – a Filco Majestouch keyboard, of the 87-key layout (tenkeyless), and with the linear Cherry MX Red switches, in stock at Amazon.com. In my earlier post on keyboards I noted that reds were pretty much impossible to find. And here they are, in stock and free shipping. The keyboard is a little pricey but I think it’s worth snapping this up.

Filco Majestouch 87-key (tenkeyless) mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Red switches - $165 at Amazon

Red switches are linear like blacks, but lighter force for actuation. The result should be an ideal hybrid between gaming and typing. My only complaint is that it isn’t a blank keyset, but that’s ok 🙂 There’s a thread at geekhack with some initial reviews of this board and I think I am going to enjoy it.

benchmarking the SSD vs striped drives

I’ve got the storage system all sorted out now. Here’s my disk manager:

Disk0 (E: – BACKUP) is the 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green, formatted as one large basic volume. Disk 1 and Disk 2 are the 1TB Samsung Spinpoints, where the first 128 GB of each have been striped together to create a single 256 GB striped volume (Y: – FASTDATA) and the latter 800 GB are mirrored (Z: – USERDATA). There’s also a strange unallocated block on one of the Spinpoints, which is relatively tiny (130 MB). Odd, that. Finally, Disk3 is the 128 GB Crucial RealSSD C300. I’ve moved all the user data directories to the mirrored partition and kept the Windows OS and application data on the SSD, with plenty of room to spare.

I was curious as to the performance of the striped volume versus the SSD. Note that I allocated the beginning of the spinpoints to the stripe, to “short-stroke” it (ie, the data is on the start of the disks, meaning the read heads have to travel less physical distance). Unfortunately, HD Tune does not seem to like partitions, only treats disks as single entities, so I used CrystalDiskMark 3.01 instead. The results were intriguing! Here are the runs for each partition – each run had 4 averages, 1000MB test data size:

2TB Western Digital Caviar Green

800GB mirrored partition, Samsung Spinpoint F3 (pair)

128 GB Crucial RealSSD C300

256GB striped partition (short-stroke), Samsung Spinpoint F3 (pair)

What is kind of amazing is that in sequential reads, the striped volume actually matches the SSD in read speed, and outperforms by a factor of 2 on write! However, when it comes to random 512K and 4K sectors, the SSD completely smokes the striped volume. This suggests that the striped volume would be just as good as an SSD for things like video other multimedia. In fact I might just rename my striped volume VIDEO and move the My Video folder to there instead of on USERDATA. Actually I should rename USERDATA just DATA as well 🙂

I’m not really sure why I created the striped volume, other than simply because I could. I didnt need a full terabyte for mirroring once the OS and apps are excluded. At some point in the future i can move to 2TB disks if necessary, but this setup shuold last me for a few years at minimum, if not longer – especially since I’m also segregating video. The only downside is that the striped volume not only lacks redundancy, it’s doubly vulnerable to disk failure. But that’s why I have my backup volume E, after all, and backblaze. (Though backblaze doesn’t backup data files over a certain size… need to check into that)

I’ve put a huge amount of overthought into this, but I think I am finally happy with how it all turned out. I need to do my final wrap up post on PREFECT now, with photos and cost estimate. Since the only game I run is WoW I think I am basically futureproof for a long time.

and now, let’s talk about mechanical keyboards

UPDATE – There are a number of other Filco Majestouch keyboards available on Amazon right now – supplied probably limited as these are no longer in production.

Anyone following my hardware posts as I build my new workstation (named PREFECT, for reasons which are unlikely to become clear again at the moment), will notice a pattern: each and every single component was chosen after agonizing and masochistic research into trying to determine the optimal choice, balancing performance, cost, and my projected usage pattern – mainly WoW, MATLAB, and Office. (Though I also will be dabbling in programming and web apps development).

At any rate, the few components I have not had to research were monitors, mouse and keyboard. I actually did look into new monitors, but was flummoxed by the fact it’s nearly impossible to find 1920×1200 widescreens anymore – almost all new monitors are 1900×1080, to fit the HDTV aspect ratio of 16:9. I really want my 120 lines of vertical real estate, so i took my father’s old pair of Sceptre X24WG Naga 16:10 screens while he went out and bought himself a honking 32inch HDTV monitor. My wireless keyboard and mouse were also hand-me-downs, a Logitech media set which worked well enough but weren’t the greatest thing in the world to type on (especially in comparison to my Thinkpad T42).

However, I’ve been having intermittent issues with that aging keyboard – first of all, it runs on 2 AAA batteries, which it positively devours. Lately I’ve also been having issues where keys pressed don’t always register which makes my already-high typo rate even worse. And the keyboard is flat as a board, which is another obstacle to me finally learning how to type. Like most keyboards, it’s a rubber-dome mechanism which is essentially a throwaway technology. Given that 99% of my interaction with my computer is via the keyboard, I’ve decided to make the switch to a mechanical keyboard instead. Overclock.net has a great primer to mechanical keyboard technology which really makes the case. It turns out that one of the best switches made is by a German company called Cherry, whose MX-series key-switches are used in virtually all the mechanical keyboards on the market. But these switches come in different variants, which vary in their tactile response and audible sound. The main issue then boils down to what type of profile I want, and then find a vendor who makes that type.

There are other switch technologies like Alps and Topre but for simplicity I am sticking with Cherry-based keyboards (which are also a little cheaper generally, though not always). Let’s go through the various Cherry switches again (I am assuming the Reader is familiar with mechanical keyboard technology or has read the primer I linked earlier).

Cherry MX Blue – a tactile, “clicky” switch. The audible sound is a very loud click, which gives you auditory feedback but may not be the best thing for a quiet environment. The tactile and audible feedback let you move on to your next keypress quickly, which is optimal for typing. These have moderate actuation force (50g) meaning you can rest your fingers on the keys but still easy to initiate a keypress – this is the switch to get if you’re a high-speed typist. However it is not optimal for gaming since the release point is above the actuation point, which means if you are double-tapping a key or pressing the same key a number of times in quick succession, it may not register.

The Das Keyboard and the Razer BlackWidow series both use Cherry MX blues. The BlackWidow comes in a regular version for $70 or an Ultimate version for $120 with backlighting and a USB hub. The Das Keyboard is $130, for both a standard lettered version and also a blank, featureless version, both of which have USB hubs.

UPDATE – You can also get Filco Majestouch 104-key blues at Amazon for $149 – these are no longer manufactured so supplies are limited.

However, I’m pretty certain I’m not interested in a blue-based keyboard because I don’t want a loud “click”. Also, I’m not going to be using it exclusively for typing, so I do want a bit more linear response. So that rules out the Razer for me. Moving on…

Cherry MX Black – basically the opposite of the Blue, with no tactile feedback and no audible clicky sound. The black switches have a linear response where the point of activation is the same as the point of release, which makes it optimal for gaming where you might be pushing the same key a number of times in succession. These are reported to have a very smooth feel, but are supposedly not as great for extended typing. They also have a very high actuation force – 60g, which means a keypress must be very deliberate (minimizing accidental keypresses).

A lot of mechanical gaming keyboards out there use blacks, the most notable of these being the Steelseries 6GV2 for $100 and it’s big brother the Steelseries 7G which adds audio ports and a ginormous palmrest. These keyboards have superior NKRO and make the deliberate decision to exclude a Windows key. Deck Legend keyboards fetauring backlighting can also be found using blacks, in the Fire ($149), Toxic ($159) and Ice ($159) variants.

UPDATE – Amazon has tenkeyless Filco Majestouch keyboards with black MX switches available now for $139.

The silent non-clicky nature of the MX black appeals to me. However, since I am not exclusively a gamer, I’m not sure if a black-based keyboard would be ideal for me. Fortunately there are other options, such as…

Cherry MX Brown, Cherry MX Clear – These are hybrids of blacks and blues, both with a tactile response, but no clicky sound. The main difference between them is that browns have less actuation force than blues (45g) whereas clears have actuation force in between blues and blacks (55g). Thus browns are for warp-speed typists and clears are a good hybrid for gaming and typing. Neither have the linear response of blacks.

You can order Deck Legend keyboards with clears, in Frost ($176) and Ice ($169) variants.

Das Keyboard also comes in a “silent” variant using browns, again in lettered or non-lettered variants, both $135.

UPDATEFilco Majestouch 104-key Brown keyboards are also in stock for $149 at Amazon. As mentioned above, these are discontinued boards so supplies are limited.

Cherry MX Red – these have the same linear response as the blacks, but with lower actuation force of 45g akin to browns. No tactile response and no audible click.

I actually could not find any keyboards for sale at the usual retail outlets or online using these switches.

UPDATE87-key (tenkeyless) Filco Majestouch with red switches is available at Amazon for $165 and free shipping – extremely rare, worth snapping up if you have even passing interest. Possibly the ideal hybrid keyboard for typing and gaming.

UPDATE 2 – the tenkeyless Filco Reds are out of stock now but they have full-size 104-key Filco Reds instead for $179. Still worth snapping up!

All of the keyboards above with the exception of the Decks have sculpted keys, where different rows have different height, to accomodate the different distances fingers must travel from the home row. And all of them support n-key rollover, where multiple keypresses will register without the “beep” (also called anti-ghosting), to varying extent. You always get better NKRO using the PS/2 port than if you use USB, so you should use a USB to PS2 adapter (which is included with the Steelseries, unsure about the others).

SUMMARY – So, as usual, I need to make a decision. I don’t like the lack of sculpting and higher cost of the Decks. And I don’t want a blue, as I’m not a warp-speed typist and am not interested in clicky sound, ruling out the Razer. All things being equal I’d lean towards a clear-based board, but only Deck makes those. Brown might also work, if I can live with accidental keypresses, but Das Keyboard is expensive. The Steelseries seems to be the best balance of features and cost, but it’s only available with black switches. However as I am not a great typist so maybe that would be ok. I’m just not sure. Probably any of these boards (well, apart from the blue – just not a fan of loud click) would be a dramatic improvement for all my writing and gaming over my current membrane-based Logitech. There are some comparative reviews of mechanical keyboards from BenchmarkReviews and from Tom’s Guide, but these aren’t much help.

Sigh. Decisions, decisions. I think the Steelseries is probably my best bet. Any advice?

hard drive and storage woes

Figuring out the optimal solution for backup and storage has been really difficult for PREFECT, not least because both the original WD Caviar Black and then the replacement Samsung Spinpoint F3 drives I purchased as main drive seemingly failed. In the former case it was BSOD after BSOD, and then the latter it was repeated disk read errors. The WD was from NewEgg, the Samsung from Amazon, so yesterday in frustration I drove to best Buy and bought an overpriced Seagate Barracuda. If this drive starts throwing disk read errors then I know its a software issue as I’ve cycled through all the major retailers and vendors at this point.

I had earlier decided against RAID, but now I wonder is that might be a solution again. I have this Barracuda in place, which gives me some breathing room (and a 30-day return window). Given that Spinpoints are on sale for $55 apiece right now at NewEgg, what if I bought two of them and set them up in RAID-1? That would be about the same price as this single barracuda, and it’s a faster drive (see HD Tune benchmarks for the Samsung, the Barracuda, and also the 2TB Caviar Green I am using as a data store, below).

My backup strategy is to have a 2TB drive in the system (the Caviar Green) where I store Windows backup files, a copy of all my backups of the other PCs in the house, and assorted files like VDI and ISO and torrents. I also have a 1 TB external drive, where I also store a copy of the old backups. And then my primary drive has my OS, apps, and documents in current use. I also am evaluating Backblaze which seems to be a little more robust than Carbonite and less expensive than Mozy, for off-site cloud storage.

If I replace the primary TB drive (currently the Barracuda) with two Spinpoints in RAID-1, then if I understand it correctly, I might even see some slight read-speed advantages, while gaining redundancy from disk failure. My biggest fear is that a disk failure leads me to lose some short-term data which isn’t captured by my backups or by Backblaze.

Am I being overly paranoid? I’d like to solicit some opinions from you all. I’m not interested in spending more money aside from potentially replacing the Barracuda with the pair of spinpoints. I could see an argument for buying a single SSD for just the OS, however (though not right now, later). What do you think? go for the spinpoints? do RAID or not?

benchmarks from HDTune below the fold… Continue reading “hard drive and storage woes”

I dodged a bullet…

Thank god I pulled the trigger on my new build in December prior to Sandy Bridge. Had I waited, I’d probably have convinced myself to do a Sandy Bridge build instead, and then I’d be facing this:

Intel has today announced that its 6-series chipset, for use with the Sandy Bridge processors released earlier this year, has a serious flaw and that the company is recalling and replacing the affected parts. The chipsets, which provide PCI Express, USB, and other connectivity to the processor, have a problem in their SATA controllers causing performance to degrade over time.

In its statement, the company states that customers who have taken delivery of systems with the P67 and H67 “Cougar Point” chipsets can continue to use their systems “with confidence,” suggesting that the flaw is restricted to a performance issue and cannot cause data loss. Nonetheless, such users should contact their computer manufacturers to obtain a fixed system.

bottom line, anyone who has a Sandy Bridge motherboard and CPU is going to need to return their components for new ones.

Anandtech has way more detail. I’m quite happy to have dodged this bullet, and that I ignored lots of advice to wait for SB.

Sharikou is going to gloat like crazy about this one!