Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

December, 2009

  • Next DFW IT Pro Users Group Meeting on 1/7 – Windows Server 2008 R2

    ws2008 r2 blog logo Come learn about the great new features in Windows Server 2008 R2 with a focus on the benefits for IT Administrators. This session will cover many new features included in Windows Server 2008 R2 that improve the cost of ownership and IT administrator improvements. This overview session will cover the improvements to Active Directory, Windows PowerShell, Power Management, Group Policy enhancements, Scalability, Server Core enhancements, Windows Server Web application platform, and new Remote Desktop Services features and capabilities. You will also learn about Direct Access and Branch Cache- features enabled by using Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 together.

    Location
    Microsoft’s Las Colinas Office
    LC1 Building (Right Tower)
    7000 State Highway 161, Irving, TX

    Speaker: Kevin Saye is a Senior Technical Product Specialist at Microsoft.  His focus is on Windows Server and he covers enterprise customers in Microsoft’s South Central District, which includes: Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

    Prior to joining Microsoft, Kevin has had a long career as an Enterprise Architect.  He has experience architecting and implementing many infrastructure technologies including: UNIX, AS/400, Oracle, Netware and Active Directory.  He is versed in many development technologies, including both Microsoft (.Net, C++, VB) and Java.

    Kevin’s passion is around enabling IT organizations to realize the full potential with Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies.

    Cost: Free but please RSVP to help predict the amount of food needed.
    RSVP: http://events.linkedin.com/DFW-Pro-Jan-Meeting-Introduction-Windows/pub/181691

    Agenda:
    6-6:30: Dinner and Networking
    6:30-7:00: Announcements, and Business meeting
    7 to 8:30: Presentation and wrap up

    Give a ways: Books, Software, Shirts and more

    Website: www.dfwitprofessionals.com

  • Old Man Winter arrives in Texas for Christmas

    image

    It’s going to be interesting tomorrow on the streets in Dallas.  I’ll probably make a couple of errands first thing in the morning then hunker down for a snow ball fight.  Merry Christmas everyone !!!

  • Shark versus Octopus

  • Tell your story, get votes, win a HP Envy 15 ? Windows @ Work Contest

    image Submit an entry about your Windows 7 experiences and thoughts to the community. What are you looking forward to in Windows 7? Share a business or personal success, or cool and innovative feature. Your fellow community members will vote, so may the best story win.

    Prizes:

    1. 1st place - HP Envy 15 Laptop;
    2. 2nd place - HP Mini 311 Netbook;
    3. 3rd place - Intel 160GB Solid State Drive


    Contest Period: 11/23/09 to 02/23/10

    Get started: Click http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9702395.  If you haven’t already joined the Windows 7 Community there, you’ll be asked to create an ID.  It’s pretty painless.  After that, checkout the contest description and rules.  The contest is pretty simple.  Tell a good story and the community votes.  Good luck !!!

  • Selecting the Right Virtualization Technology – R2 IPD Guide now available

    ws2008 r2 blog logoSelecting the Right Virtualization Technology - this guide enables you to rapidly and accurately select which Microsoft virtualization technology or technologies to use for specific scenarios. There are several different forms of virtualization that need to be understood as a basis for making the right technology choice. This guide addresses the decision steps that need to be taken in order to select the best virtualization approach for specific application requirements. The most effective decision points in the sequence are presented for determining which virtualization technology should be used. When considering virtualization for multiple applications, you should iterate through the entire process individually for each type of application.

    This guide has been updated to include Windows Server 2008 R2.

    Go get it @ http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=160799.  See the rest of the Infrastructure and Planning Design Guides at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/solutionaccelerators/ee382254.aspx.

  • LAST CALL for a 28% discount on a TechNet Subscription – use code TMSAM07

    If you are an IT Pro, you’d be crazy not to have a TechNet Plus Direct subscription.  It’s a great way to test and use the latest and greatest products from Microsoft including full versions of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Office 2010 and other great products.

    This deal expires on 12/31/2009 but our contest reporting ends on 12/20/2009 and I am trying to beat the pants off Blain Barton in sunny Florida.  So if you really hate the fact he has a nice boat and house, gets to wear shorts year round, and is a Tampa Bay Bucks fan, buy a subscription with promotion code TMSAM07 now !!!

  • Windows 7 AVATAR theme – now available for download

    image

     

    Go get it @ http://download.microsoft.com/download/4/1/B/41b95bca-cb54-4a6c-83ea-7a9e6e2fadef/Avatar_Windows7.themepack.  See more themes @ http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/downloads/personalize.

  • My personal Lenovo ThinkPad T61p is FOR SALE !!!

    t61p Want a great Lenovo ThinkPad?  The T61p is still the machine to be beat in many ways and offers a stellar balance between form, function, power and battery life.  The machine I have for sale is the T61p I purchased out of my own pocket a couple of years ago.  I used it for the first year, and my wife used it for the second year.

    I rarely used the machine the first year because as you might guess, I use my work ThinkPads nearly full time.  My wife is a pretty normal user and only used the machine for email, website updates, surfing the web, etc.  In other words it’s seen pretty light duty.

    The LCD screen is the 1680x1050 native resolution screen and I had Lenovo replace it this week because over the last year it seemed dimmer than it should be.  It now compares side-by-side with all of my other machines.  Turnaround time for the replacement was nearly overnight. 

    The warranty on this machine is good through August 30, 2010 so you can buy with confidence.  The warranty is transferrable. USA shipping and transfer only.

    Specifications for the machine

    Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.0GHz, 4GB RAM, NVidia Quadro FX570M w/ 256mb Memory, 100GB 7200RPM Hard Drive, 15.4" WSXGA+ Display 1680x1050, Wi-Fi & Bluetooth Built-In, DVD±RW, CDRW, 4-in-1 SD card reader, Built-in Firewire (IEEE 1394), 3 USB 2.0 ports, ethernet & modem, Fingerprint reader swipe sensor.

    Width: 357.5 mm (14.1 in), Depth: 255 mm (10.0 in), Height: 29.7 to 33.5 mm (1.2 to 1.4 in), Weight: Starting at 2.7kg (5.9 lb).

    Where to purchase

    My wife has an ecommerce site she uses for her costume business.  I have a small little corner of the site at “Keith’s Gadgets and Electronics”.  Merry Christmas!

    [UPDATE for 1/6/2010] SOLD to a nice lady in Minnesota I know.

  • Miss the Quick Launch toolbar in Windows 7 ?

    My wife was just commenting to me this morning that she needs some veteran help with Windows 7.  I already know some of what she’s going to ask me.  She’s going to ask me about desktop real estate, and the precious real estate on the Windows 7 taskbar.

    This is primarily because she is using a 14” screen instead of a 15.4” screen now.  She is also running 1440x900 as opposed to 1680x1050 or 1920x1200.  To make matters worse, she also cranked up the DPI setting to 125%.  The net result is that she is having a little bit of a hard time coping with the taskbar, determining which email or website to select, etc.  A task preview doesn’t always cut it when juggling email and I don’t think she’s effectively using Aero Peek for tasks.  In fact, I rarely see anyone that is, even at Microsoft.

    Coincidentally I stumbled across the article, “Restore the Quick Launch toolbar in Windows 7” by Bill Detwiler. Nicely written with good screenshots. I decided to experiment some so that I could compare and contrast the effectiveness.  

    Here’s my resulting desktop. Click the pic for the full sized image.

    QuickLaunch

    There are a couple of interesting aspects when implementing a Quick Launch toolbar.  First, you’ll notice I have moved the QL bar to the far left and turned off text and titles.  Second, you’ll notice I have locked the taskbar and covered part of the QL bar.  This is indicated by the >> symbol.  Third, I set the taskbar buttons to “Never Combine” for the moment to highlight what some might consider a UI issue.

    If you look closely at the Internet Explorer 8 thumbnails at the bottom of the pic, you can see I have two tabs opened in IE8, but there is no indication of that on the running task button.  That’s a bit odd and it was certainly introduced by turning on the QL toolbar.

    And lastly, you can see that we get a new icon for each open email in Outlook.  I’m pretty sure this is what my wife wants, and will be her main complaint with her current Windows 7 settings. 

    If you want the individual email message icons, you can get that affect without turning on the QL toolbar.  Just use the “Never Combine” taskbar setting.  It’s going to get unwieldy fast with the other Windows 7 defaults.  She is going to need to switch back to 100% DPI to make that work.

    So I’ll show her the trade-offs most likely tomorrow and she what she prefers.  Should be interesting.

  • Who is pulling the trigger on the Dell Vostro v13 ?

    DellVostroV13 I don’t often look over the fence at the Dell offerings with any sort of lust, but you have to admit the dudes at Dell are cranking out some interesting tech.  The Adamo line is pretty interesting.  This is especially true for the Dell Adamo XPS.  Unbelievably thin.  But that cool thinness comes with a $1998 price tag.  That’s too rich for my blood. 

    Enter the Dell Vostro v13 pictured at right.  This little baby has some pretty impressive specs for the price.  Here’s part of the marketing from the dell website:

    • Equally Slim & Striking : As thin as 0.65 inches (16.5mm) and starting at 3.5 pounds (1.6kg) the Vostro V13 delivers a full-sized laptop experience that won’t weigh you down.
    • Robust Design for Outstanding Durability : Why settle for plastic? The Vostro V13’s brushed-aluminum casing and reinforced zinc hinges offer durability you’re not likely to find in similarly priced ultra-compact business laptops.
    • Power to Do More : Ultra-low-voltage Intel®  processors help to manage energy efficiency while providing ample power for everyday computing.
    • Full Laptop Experience : A full-sized keyboard and generous 13.3" display let you power through work without sacrificing comfort or visibility.

    Looks like a cool little laptop to me.  But what is this baby going to set you back?  The base machine with Ubuntu Linux is $449.  Of course that’s with the 1.3GHz Celeron M processor.  If you want to trick it out with a Core 2 Duo processor (ULV SU7300), slightly bigger hard drive, Intel wireless, the base model is $649.  I’d much rather have this than a 10” screen netbook.

    So who’s rushing out to buy one?  Good luck trying to get Santa to deliver it.

  • The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs

    fs I rarely wade into the affairs of politics or religion.  But this morning is one of those rare occasions and in some respects it has attributes of both.  No, we aren’t talking about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Instead, we are talking about the sad state of affairs in the USA.

    Daniel Lyons, the author of “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs” puts some of the problems in the USA on full display in a rant that is very worth reading.  The subject of the rant is AT&T and you can read the article at http://www.fakesteve.net/2009/12/a-not-so-brief-chat-with-randall-stephenson-of-att.html.

    Daniel highlights one of the reasons I don’t have an iPhone.  The day another carrier in the USA starts selling the iPhone, is the day my wife will probably ask me to get her one.  I will probably seriously consider it as well.  I wonder what kind of a deal Apple and AT&T really have and I wonder when the contract expires.

    In the meantime, I wait for the HTC HD2 to come to the shores of the USA.  Should be soon.  I just hope the carrier that has the device has a decent network.  3G would be good.  4G would be better. Edge or GPRS isn’t going to cut it.  Neither will dropped calls. 

    WARNING: There are a lot of cuss words and F bombs in the article. 

  • There is no such thing as a low fat Bacon Explosion

    bacon-12

    be-banner

    Hurts my heart just thinking about it. Grin. Click the pic for a cardio workout.

  • VMM 2008 R2 documentation – now available

    Haven’t had a chance to download and install System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 yet?  No worries, get a head start by looking at the relevant documentation for the product.

    File Name: File Size

    VMM08R2_Deployment.docx

    150 KB

    VMM08R2_OMIntegration.docx

    110 KB

    VMM08R2_Operations.docx

    379 KB

    VMM08R2_Scripting.docx

    143 KB

    VMM08R2_Security.docx

    196 KB

    Go get the docs @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=e547b676-112f-419e-8d8f-6920beca0845.

  • Why are Service Packs important to you, or are they?

    Let’s throw out history for a second and let me pose a couple of questions around the subject of Service Packs.  For now, let’s focus the discussion on operating system service packs as opposed to applications or server services like SQL that might run on top of a server.

    How good are your imaging processes and management of desktop or server images?  For those of you running large corporate IT shops with 100’s of 1000’s of desktops, image management is science.  Part of that science must include good imaging and patch management tools.  Are you keeping your corporate desktop and server base images up-to-date with tools like DISM?  How often do you make updates?

    If you aren’t updating your existing images, how often do you create a new set of base images.  I would assume you would do something like that when a Service Pack comes out, or at regular calendar or fiscal intervals.  What drives your process?

  • Hypervisorlaunchtype not set after BCD changes – here is the fix

    I recently received the new Hitachi Travelstar 500GB 7200rpm 2.5” hard drive.  I moved my virtual machine data to it and fixed the BCD entries so I could boot from the Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual hard disk file.  Unfortunately I always forget to add the parameter to the R2 entry so that the Hyper-V hypervisor will also start.

    The fix is pretty simple.  You need to add Hypervisorlaunchtype key and value to the entry for Windows Server 2008 R2.  Here is the view of my BCD store (before and after) with the relevant change (bold red) below.  Make sure to run the cmd console elevated before working with the BCD store.  It’s also a good idea to backup the BCD store before making changes.

    Microsoft Windows [Version 6.1.7600]
    Copyright (c) 2009 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.

    C:\Windows\system32>bcdedit

    Windows Boot Manager
    --------------------
    identifier              {bootmgr}
    device                  partition=\Device\HarddiskVolume2
    description             Windows Boot Manager
    locale                  en-us
    inherit                 {globalsettings}
    default                 {current}
    resumeobject            {79ec30c6-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    displayorder            {79ec30c7-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
                            {79ec30c5-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
                            {current}
    toolsdisplayorder       {memdiag}
    timeout                 15

    Windows Boot Loader
    -------------------
    identifier              {79ec30c7-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    device                  vhd=[D:]\r2\WindowsR2.vhd
    path                    \windows\system32\winload.exe
    description             Windows Server 2008 R2
    locale                  en-us
    inherit                 {bootloadersettings}
    osdevice                vhd=[D:]\r2\WindowsR2.vhd
    systemroot              \windows
    resumeobject            {79ec30c6-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    nx                      OptOut
    detecthal               Yes

    Windows Boot Loader
    -------------------
    identifier              {79ec30c5-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    device                  vhd=[D:]\wdt vm\wdt.vhd
    path                    \windows\system32\winload.exe
    description             Windows 7 WDT
    locale                  en-us
    inherit                 {bootloadersettings}
    osdevice                vhd=[D:]\wdt vm\wdt.vhd
    systemroot              \windows
    resumeobject            {79ec30c4-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    nx                      OptIn
    detecthal               Yes

    Windows Boot Loader
    -------------------
    identifier              {current}
    device                  partition=C:
    path                    \Windows\system32\winload.exe
    description             Windows 7 Production
    locale                  en-US
    inherit                 {bootloadersettings}
    recoveryenabled         No
    osdevice                partition=C:
    systemroot              \Windows
    resumeobject            {79ec30bc-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    nx                      OptIn

    C:\Windows\system32>bcdedit /set {79ec30c7-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482} hypervisorlaunchtype auto
    The operation completed successfully.

    C:\Windows\system32>bcdedit

    Windows Boot Manager
    --------------------
    identifier              {bootmgr}
    device                  partition=\Device\HarddiskVolume2
    description             Windows Boot Manager
    locale                  en-us
    inherit                 {globalsettings}
    default                 {current}
    resumeobject            {79ec30c6-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    displayorder            {79ec30c7-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
                            {79ec30c5-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
                            {current}
    toolsdisplayorder       {memdiag}
    timeout                 15

    Windows Boot Loader
    -------------------
    identifier              {79ec30c7-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    device                  vhd=[D:]\r2\WindowsR2.vhd
    path                    \windows\system32\winload.exe
    description             Windows Server 2008 R2
    locale                  en-us
    inherit                 {bootloadersettings}
    osdevice                vhd=[D:]\r2\WindowsR2.vhd
    systemroot              \windows
    resumeobject            {79ec30c6-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    nx                      OptOut
    hypervisorlaunchtype    Auto
    detecthal               Yes

    Windows Boot Loader
    -------------------
    identifier              {79ec30c5-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    device                  vhd=[D:]\wdt vm\wdt.vhd
    path                    \windows\system32\winload.exe
    description             Windows 7 WDT
    locale                  en-us
    inherit                 {bootloadersettings}
    osdevice                vhd=[D:]\wdt vm\wdt.vhd
    systemroot              \windows
    resumeobject            {79ec30c4-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    nx                      OptIn
    detecthal               Yes

    Windows Boot Loader
    -------------------
    identifier              {current}
    device                  partition=C:
    path                    \Windows\system32\winload.exe
    description             Windows 7 Production
    locale                  en-US
    inherit                 {bootloadersettings}
    recoveryenabled         No
    osdevice                partition=C:
    systemroot              \Windows
    resumeobject            {79ec30bc-8799-11de-becd-c6b9ceffc482}
    nx                      OptIn

    C:\Windows\system32>

  • How do you get update information?

    We are re-organizing and streamlining technet.microsoft.com and you will see some really big changes right after the new year.  As we progress towards those milestones, I thought I would ask you a few questions around the topic of Update Management.

    The first question is, “How do you get information about updates?”  I know there are many sources of information for updates.  You can go to the microsoft.com/downloads area and run searches.  You can receive information via Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). 

    You can of course find out about updates in the press, social networks, forums, etc.  So how do you find out about updates?

  • Here’s a new Windows Server 2008 R2 poster for your cube or office

    Someone has been busy drawing with Visio.  They managed to draw some of the top Windows Server 2008 R2 features and create a poster.  I love a quick reference like this for job interviews.  Here’s a snip from part of the poster.

    poster

    Get the entire poster @  http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=64a5cc28-f8a1-4b30-a4a2-455c65bda8d7.

  • Microsoft and Cisco: Joint UC Interoperability Support Statement

    I am often asked about various interop scenarios for a variety of products.  So when I saw this pop up on the download center, I thought I’d bring this to your attention.

    See http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=78814f28-2df5-4cff-a166-73622c7830bb for the document and contents.  The contents are posted below.

    ===========

    Direct SIP Interoperability

    Microsoft has tested and supports Direct SIP interoperability between Cisco Unified Communications Manager versions 4.x and 5.x and Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2, as documented on the Microsoft Unified Communications Open Interoperability Program website[1]. While Cisco offers and supports a SIP interface with Cisco Unified Communications Manager versions 4.x and 5.x, interoperability using this interface is only supported for systems that have been tested and documented on the Cisco Interoperability Portal[2]. Cisco has not tested Direct SIP interoperability between Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and Cisco Unified Communications Manager versions 4.x and 5.x.

    Cisco has tested and supports Direct SIP interoperability between Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Cisco Unified Communications Manager versions 6.1 and 7.02. Microsoft has tested and supports Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2 with Cisco Unified Communications Manager version 6.11.

    To facilitate interoperability support for our joint customers, both Cisco and Microsoft are members of TSANet, an independent third-party organization that helps coordinate multi-vendor support.

    Cisco UC Integration for Microsoft Office Communicator

    Microsoft provides support for its published APIs[3] for Microsoft Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator to all its ISV partners.  Cisco, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, uses these published APIs to develop the Cisco UC IntegrationÔ for Microsoft Office Communicator product.  Microsoft is pleased that Cisco has chosen to leverage Microsoft API’s to provide functionality for our mutual customers as an ISV. 

    Cisco, as the developer of the Cisco UC IntegrationÔ for Microsoft Office Communicator, provides support for this product.  Microsoft will provide ongoing support for the published APIs for Microsoft Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator to our ISV’s, including Cisco.   Microsoft does not provide direct support for the Cisco UC IntegrationÔ for Microsoft Office Communicator.  The Microsoft UC platform will continue to evolve as the industry evolves and customer requirements change, and as with our broader ISV community, Microsoft is fully committed to working with Cisco so they can provide quality support for our mutual customers with future versions of Microsoft Office Communications Server and Office Communicator.   

    As Microsoft’s UC platform capabilities evolve, customer and ISV feedback is actively encouraged regarding UC platform evolution and announcing changes well in advance of shipping product.  In doing so, Microsoft follows a consistent process that allows lead time for customers and ISVs to make required changes to their applications that rely on Microsoft software. In addition, Microsoft has specific technology adopter programs available for ISVs, including Cisco, where Microsoft provides support and roadmap information to help ISVs effectively build on the UC platform.

    Remote Call Control

    Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005 SP1, Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 offer an interface to third-party PBXs based on ECMA TR/87[4] called Remote Call Control. This capability allows Microsoft Office Communicator to control a PBX station set and to have station set presence reflected in Office Communicator. Microsoft generically supports the TR/87 interface, without requiring specific PBX vendor or version support.

    Cisco supports Remote Call Control between Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005 and Office Communications Server 2007 and Cisco Unified Communications Manager versions 5.x, 6.x and 7.0 via Cisco Unified Presence 6.x and 7.0[5]. Cisco supports Remote Call Control between Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and Cisco Unified Communications Manager 7.1.3 via Cisco Unified Presence 7.0.55.

    Remote Call Control is supported by Microsoft in Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and will continue to be supported for customers upgrading their Remote Call Control deployments to the next release of Office Communications Server. Microsoft has announced the deprecation of Remote Call Control in Office Communications Server. As a result, in the next release of Office Communications Server, new deployments of Remote Call Control will not be supported by Microsoft.


    [1] http://technet.microsoft.com/UCOIP

    [2] http://www.cisco.com/en/US/netsol/ns728/networking_solutions_program_category_home.html

    [3] http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb758719.aspx

    [4] http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/techreports/E-TR-087.htm

    [5] http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps6837/tsd_products_support_series_home.html

  • FCC admits CableCARD a failure

    The Genachowski-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seems to delight in dropping bombshells on a weekly basis, but we didn't see this one coming: the FCC admits that its CableCARD mandate has been an abysmal failure. That doesn't mean it's giving up the fight to encourage set-box box innovation; instead, the FCC wants ideas for a new set of rules that will bust open access to video streams from cable and IPTV operators.

    Call it "Son of CableCARD"... and rest assured, the cable industry ain't gonna like it.

    Full article at http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/12/fcc-admits-cablecard-a-failure-vows-to-try-something-else.ars.

  • TechNet Plus Subscription 28% discount – Use TMSAM07 promo code

    If you are an IT Pro, you’d be crazy not to have a TechNet Plus Direct subscription.  It’s a great way to test and use the latest and greatest products from Microsoft including full versions of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Office 2010 and other great products.

    And for a limited time, my promo code is good for a 28% discount on new subscriptions so jump on this deal!!!

  • Acer AspireRevo 3610 ATOM 330 Dual Core – first impressions

    revo Yesterday afternoon I received the Acer AspireRevo 3610-U9012. It’s classified as a consumer desktop or nettop but HDTV and media center enthusiasts like myself are looking at this device for a different purpose.  In fact, I want the Revo for one purpose and only one purpose.  To replace my TiVo Series 3 with a small form factor Windows 7 machine. In other words, HDTV recording and playback. Period.

    Can the Acer handle it?

    Yes. For my purposes it’s clear this little machine will do what I want.  Thank heavens for the amazing NVIDIA ION graphics chipset in this machine.

    I like to net this stuff out early in a write-up but you should pay close attention to my requirements and compare them to yours. My main requirement is recording premium cable content on Verizon FIOS TV.  I am not using this machine for Netflix downloads, Hulu, or anything else.  I might later, but for now it’s main role in life is to record FIOS programming I specify.

    First impressions count but as I discovered testing smartphones, things can add up later.  This is just the first 24 hours of use so some show stopper could crop up later.  Let’s dig into the details of prepping and testing the Revo.

    Unpacking and prepping

    You can see the full specifications and all of the software that is loaded at the factory on the Acer website.  Unpacking was easy but I didn’t use the wireless keyboard, mouse or speakers that came with the PC.  Instead, I hooked the machine up to my KVM switch in order to prep the machine for my needs.

    Within a few minutes of me powering the machine on and logging in for the first time, a program launched and asked if I wanted to create a factory recovery disk set.  Of course I answered yes and plugged in my external Sony DVD burner.  It took about thirty minutes to burn the three DVD’s.  I wish every OEM did this. 

    After creating the factory disk set, I started uninstalling all of the software I didn’t intend to use.  This was pretty much everything but Windows 7.  That took about 75 minutes and it wasn’t fun at all. MyWinLocker was a particular pain in the ass.  It’s beyond me why the OEM’s install all of this software.  I know it’s a revenue stream for them but they should seriously ask their customers BEFORE installing it.

    Show Time

    After removing everything but Windows 7, it only took fifteen minutes to go through the Media Center Setup, let the MCE shell update and sync, then run the Digital Cable Advisor.  The Revo passed the test so I plugged two external ATI Digital Cable Tuners into the Revo and ran the MCE setup again to define the FIOS TV service for North Texas.  Both of my ATI tuners have been paired to the FIOS TV system for some time so as expected I was able to tune in all of the channels right away.  It takes a little while to sync all of the guide data.

    mce_remoteWhile the guide data was downloading and populating, I hit a few channels to see how live TV looked.  The first channel I hit was ABC and President Obama was giving the State of the Union address.  Actually, now that I think about it, I looked at FOX first and noticed the audio was out-of-sync with the video.  Then I switched to the other national channels.  ABC was in perfect sync so I left it there for a few minutes to gauge how well things were working.

    I wanted to get a better idea of how well the Revo was handling motion so I surfed through some of the movie channels and watched various programs.  The HDTV playback was smooth as silk.  This is a very good sign.

    Time to Sleep

    The next thing I wanted to test was some basic power management stuff.  I really just wanted to verify the device would turn off the monitor on time, suspend, resume on a recording event, then go back to sleep.  I also wanted to make sure I could wake the machine with nothing but the remote control. It does that flawlessly.

    In fact, the Revo has recorded over twenty programs and has not missed a wakeup event yet.  In order to do that, the device needs to make sure all of the drives are spun up, tuners alive and kicking, etc.  That orchestra is working very nicely.

    Storage

    The Revo comes with a 160GB 5400rpm hard drive inside the case.  This is perfectly fine for the operating system and any applications, but it not sufficient for high definition recording storage.  You can record 160GB in one day and in fact I did.

    Instead of recording to the internal drive, I recorded all of the HDTV programming to an external drive.  The external drive is a 3.5” Hitachi 1TB 7200rpm drive in a Nextstar 3 enclosure.  The enclosure is connected to the Revo via the Revo’s eSATA port.  The SATA chipset is NVIDIA nForce.  It’s the first time I’ve used NVIDIA SATA and it’s working very well.

    By the way, my long term solution is not the Nexstar 3 case.  I use a better enclosure for HDTV recording that has a much better fan and ventilation for cooling.

    Oldies but Goodies

    Several of the peripherals I connected to the Revo are pretty ancient by technology standards.  For instance, I didn’t use the included keyboard and mouse.  Instead, I am using a standard issue circa 2005 Windows XP Media Center Edition Remote and IR Receiver (see pic above), and Windows XP MCE Remote keyboard (also pictured below).

    mce_keyboard_lgI have no plans to use a keyboard or a mouse with the machine on a day-to-day basis but it’s nice to mess around with some oldies to see how they work with the new kid on the block.  As expected, the IR receiver, remote control and keyboard all worked very well.

    I also tested several bluetooth mice.  I am currently using the Presenter Mouse 8000 but my all time favorite is the Wireless Laser Mouse 8000.  I tested several just to make sure in a pinch I could connect one and do some stuff on the machine.

    TiVo Replacement?

    Is the Acer AspireRevo a TiVo replacement?  In the strictest sense the answer is really no.  The TiVo is for the most part a single purpose device.  The Revo is really a general purpose device that just happens to fulfill the HD DVR role really nicely with Windows 7.

    The Revo is nearly silent and has an abundance of connectivity options. I am using the HDMI port on the Revo to display on a Dell LCD panel right now via a HDMI->DVI adaptor.  Unlike the TiVo, the Revo does not have built in tuners and slots for the CableCards I am using.  Therefore, when you compare the cost of a TiVo solution to the Revo plus the other components you need to buy, the TiVo solution is cheaper.

    But I like the UI in the media center shell for Windows 7 so I wanted to try this solution. A couple of critical transitions are coming. First, I need to see how my Wife likes this solution.  After using the TiVo for several years now, change is hard and lets face it, the TiVo Series 3 works darn well.  Then there is my acceptance.  The jury is out right now.  I need to fully explore the interface.  One thing I haven’t discovered on the Revo is how to search and filter movies that are only HD.  New user stuff like that will start to get discovered this weekend as I plan to move the unit from my office to the entertainment center here in the den.  Then the real testing begins…

    Summary

    The Acer AspireRevo is meeting my expectations so far.  I’ll come back and update this post later with more findings and discoveries.  I figure I’ll have formed a solid opinion on the device in a couple of weeks.  Right now I give this a solid thumbs up.  I wish I had the Dell Zino sitting here for a side-by-side comparison.  If the Revo fails the critical WAF, it probably won’t be the hardware so the Zino probably won’t make the difference.  The WAF test is going to boil down to software.  As it should be.

    [12/6 FINAL UPDATE] The Acer AspireRevo 3610-U9012 is not going to get to the all important WAF. It didn’t pass the more stringent KAF and I’ll be setting up a return.

    For the uninitiated, WAF stands for Wife Acceptance Factor and it’s critical to integration of any technology into the family.  The Keith Acceptance Factor is a strict filter that is imposed on all incoming tech that will be used by the family.  New tech has to get by me first.

    Where did the Revo fall down?  There were three key areas.  The first place was the speed of the Media Center Shell UI.  When the machine was on my desk for the initial check out, UI navigation and speed wasn’t super apparent. I was using a keyboard and mouse a lot.  When I put the Revo in the entertainment center and started comparing it to the TiVo Series 3 side-by-side, frustration started to set in.  It was just too slow.  There was a big difference in the remote control operation and responsiveness.

    Second, and really the kiss of death were the lockups that happened in the MCE UI.  Any lockup or halt is unacceptable.  This simply doesn’t happen in the TiVo so the bar is high.  Having the Revo lockup and force a shutdown of the unit simply won’t work.  It isn’t apparent if it’s the hardware or software and I won’t be troubleshooting it.

    Lastly is the comparison of the required integration of the Windows based solution compared to a TiVo appliance.  The TiVo contains the internal tuners and has slots for the CableCards built right into the unit.  The TiVo is a single purpose appliance and it really shows.  Does one thing great as opposed to the Windows 7 unit and all of the added peripherals that were needed.  I held up all of the power, USB, SATA and other cords needed to connect the Revo and showed my wife.  She said, “I could not connect that”.  Exactly.

    If you want to record HDTV from cable or fiber, and don’t want to use the cable companies rental HD DVR, then the TiVo is still king.  I still love the Windows Media Center Shell UI but we really need a single purpose appliance to perfect the experience.  Unfortunately the Revo isn’t it.