Handbrake -vs- RipBot264 — FIGHT!

If you’ve ever had to encode or transcode a video, then you know that it is both time consuming and difficult to get right. And if you have a lot of videos to re-encode, then it can be a massive pain in the neck.

In the A/V community, there are a bunch of popular tools that can do this for you, but the two that stand out the most are Handbrake and RipBot264. Both programs are free, but each offer something the other doesn’t. This article is meant to be a quick “compare and contrast” of the two programs.

Continue reading Handbrake -vs- RipBot264 — FIGHT!

How to get FreeNAS 9.3 to spin down your idle hard drives to Standby mode

FreeNAS is a pretty great (and free!) Network Attached Storage system. Recently, it was updated to version 9.3 which contained a lot of great improvements including automatic updates over the network. (Previously, the upgrade process was manual and kind of a pain in the neck.)


Unfortunately, FreeNAS isn’t very good at the power-saving thing. (read: spinning down your hard drives when they’re not being used.) And prior to FreeNAS 9.x, it was pretty easy to get the drives to go into Standby mode using a few commands. But again, FreeNAS has changed the default install to put the system log (which it writes somewhat regularly to) on the very drives you’re trying to spin down.

Fortunately, there is a fix.

Continue reading How to get FreeNAS 9.3 to spin down your idle hard drives to Standby mode

The best Raspberry Pi 3 starter kits compared and reviewed

Update Mar-2016: Most of the kits in the review now contain Raspberry Pi 3 models. The kits themselves haven’t changed significantly (minor SD card and power supply swaps), but the RPi2 has been swapped out for RPi 3. 🙂

Update 20-Feb-2015: All kits have been updated to include Raspberry Pi 2 models! (except for the Make kit.)

The Raspberry Pi is an amazing low-cost computer. Unlike the ever-popular Arduino microcontroller, the Raspberry Pi was designed to be a full-blown computer from the start. It can run various flavors of Linux/Unix, act as a Media Center, and even moonlight as a Microcontroller.

raspberry-pi-b+-boardAnd what better way to get started with a Raspberry Pi than with a starter kit? The question is: which one to get?

Continue reading The best Raspberry Pi 3 starter kits compared and reviewed

Adding a 1TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim HDD to my Wii U (or: How I hacked a USB 2.0 cable.)

The last article I wrote about was a review of 1TB portable USB 3.0 hard drives. During this review, I tested each drive with a variety of computers and other devices that had USB ports, including my Nintendo Wii and Wii U consoles. Part of this review was trying to answer the question of “Which is the best hard drive for the Nintendo Wii U?” — which I couldn’t definitively answer. I found that all of these slim 1TB drives worked just fine with the old Nintendo Wii (the previous generation console), but only 1 of them worked with the Wii U (the most current Nintendo console.)

wii-u+some-hard-driveWell, I should say that only 1 of the drives almost worked with the Wii U. That is, until I figured out a clever hack to get it to work reliably.

Continue reading Adding a 1TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim HDD to my Wii U (or: How I hacked a USB 2.0 cable.)

1TB Portable USB 3.0 HDD review: WD My Passport Ultra -vs- Seagate Backup Plus Slim -vs- Toshiba -vs- HGST -vs- Samsung

It is this author’s opinion that 2015 should be the ‘Year of the Backup’. It is 2015 and almost no one takes backups. And even those of us who do take backups, well, we don’t do it often enough.

Originally the problem of backing up was not having a reliable, yet automated program. (Much less an easy way to restore a backup, if needed.) But Windows 7 has a good backup system now and Windows 8 has an even better one. And Mac OS X has had its excellent TimeMachine feature for quite a while now. So these are now non-issues. This leaves only one question: Where to back up to?

Tape drives were never a good choice for consumers, CD-Rs and DVD+Rs were too small and too slow. And until recently, most external hard drives were big, bulky, and required a power brick to be plugged in just to run them. Oh, and they were somewhat slow running over the USB 2.0 port.

all-five-1tb-drivesFortunately, technology has reached a point where portable, self-powered USB 3.0 hard drives the size of a deck of cards can hold a full 1 to 2 TB! And they’re fast, too!

Update 15-Feb-2015! Two new drives have been added to the review: The HGST Touro Mobile vs the Samsung P3 Portable.

For this review, we picked out a portable USB 3.0 hard drive from 5 major manufacturers, WD, Seagate, Toshiba, HGST, and Samsung and put each drive through its paces.

Continue reading 1TB Portable USB 3.0 HDD review: WD My Passport Ultra -vs- Seagate Backup Plus Slim -vs- Toshiba -vs- HGST -vs- Samsung

Three Entry-Level GoPro-type action cameras reviewed

Small action cameras like the GoPro have been around for awhile, but these cameras have traditionally only attracted the attention of those involved in “extreme” sports. As such, the price of such cameras has been kept in the $250 to $500 range.

GoProHero-PolaroidCube-SJ40As technology has become cheaper, other manufacturers have realized that there is now an opportunity to make cheap, entry-level action cams for around $100. This review picks out 3 of the most recent models and compares them to see how they perform.

Continue reading Three Entry-Level GoPro-type action cameras reviewed

A list of UHS-II SD cards, readers, and cameras

For those of you not in the know, most current SD cards implement an Ultra High Speed bus (which is abbreviated UHS-I or UHS-1) because it is the 1st version of this bus. It has a maximum transfer rate of 104MB/sec. Since there are some cases which require higher transfer speeds, the SD card consortium has created a new bus called UHS-II (or UHS-2.) The difference is two-fold:

  1. UHS-II raises the maximum transfer rate up to 312MB/s.
  2. UHS-II uses an additional row of pins/contacts to get there.

uhs-i-vs-uhs-iiThis means that UHS-II cards can only be fully utilized if the device using it has physical support for these extra pins/contacts. If the device does not have these extra pins (and that’s pretty much all devices as of 2014), then the SD card will fall back to UHS-I mode. Continue reading A list of UHS-II SD cards, readers, and cameras

The best Arduino starter kits compared and reviewed

The Arduino is arguably one of the best things to come to the “Maker” Renaissance that we are currently experiencing. The Arduino is a simple microcontroller that can allow the one who wields it great power and programmatic control over their electronic circuits and systems. Yet to be a great wizard of such things, one must start at the humble beginnings of the very basics.arduino-angledWhat better way to get started than with an Arduino starter kit? That’s the trick, though, isn’t it? There’s more than one starter kit out there!

Continue reading The best Arduino starter kits compared and reviewed

SanDisk Ultra Fit (SDCZ43) -vs- Leef Supra USB 3.0

In the 16GB USB 3.0 Flash Drives for under $20 review last month, it was noted that the incredibly small Leef Supra 3.0 was a blazing fast contender. The only thing faster was the large SanDisk Extreme and that was the funny thing: SanDisk didn’t have a tiny USB 3.0 drive! Up until now, the only thing SanDisk had in this category was the Cruzer Fit, a USB 2.0 drive.

sandisk-ultra-fit-vs-leef-sWell, SanDisk just released the Ultra Fit USB 3.0 drive which appears to be positioned exactly to compete against the Leef Supra 3.0. The question is “How does it perform?”

Continue reading SanDisk Ultra Fit (SDCZ43) -vs- Leef Supra USB 3.0

Which portable USB 3.0 SD / MicroSD card reader is the best?

After reviewing the whole SanDisk SD card line-up recently, it seems obvious that we all need to move more and more data around, faster and faster. So how to choose which SD card reader for getting pictures and videos off our cameras?

Looking on Amazon.com reveals a whole mess of USB 3.0 SD card readers. Some as cheap as $5, others are more expensive costing $10 and $15. But how do you really know what you’re getting? The average Amazon.com review isn’t all that comprehensive.

Three USB 3.0 SD card readers were picked from the pile (all around $10), put under the microscope, and then a bunch of SD cards were thrown at them to see what happened. Surprisingly, each SD reader had its own advantages and disadvantages with no clear winner. Choosing which one will come down to personal preference, mostly.

Continue reading Which portable USB 3.0 SD / MicroSD card reader is the best?