Gigabyte m1405 review

I purchased a nifty little laptop last month, and could find no review on the web, so I thought I would remedy that.

First up, my requirements. I need a notebook light enough to cart around on the train (I have a long commute) but with a big enough display to be able to do some work. A requirement I didn’t realise until last year is I need a Directx compatible video card to play a few undemanding games (Humble Bundle, I’m looking at you).

These were pretty well met with my BenQ u121, but it’s 11.6″ screen was on the smaller side, and the graphics chip was not up to scratch for the games I want to play once in a while (it did have awesome battery life and was super light).

I saw the ‘thin and light’ notebooks emerge a couple of years ago, and suspected one would be in my future – they have the feature set of past top of the range portables (I’ve had several Toshiba Porteges) but much less expensive by shipping a value processor.

The Gigabyte m1405 is one of these. You have probably seen Gigabyte before as a supplier of motherboards and other PC ‘guts’, but they seem to be new at complete laptops. The m1405 has a core duo chip, a generation behind intel’s current “i” family, but quite speedy compared to netbook Atom chips I had been using. Mine shipped with 2Gb of ram in a single DDR3 SODIMM, but there is a second slot free to install a 4Gb chip, which I expect to do soon.

The 320Gb HDD is on the smaller side, but it is a standard esata, so can be upgraded later if it gets cramped. Note it has some odd partitioning – there is a Windows 7 32-bit install, a separate Win7 64-bit install and a third partition for data. This is to allow you the choice to boot into 32 or 64bit windows, should you need to for compatibility reasons. Except for an old laser printer, everything I have tried has been fine in 64bit, so I plan to scrub the 32bit partition and reclaim the space.

This 32/64bit dual personality could be quite handy, though, if you have something you need to run under 32bit regularly. Another curious feature is the USB/eSata port on the right side. It accepts either cable, although I have yet to use it with an eSata drive. The system also powers the USB ports while asleep, allowing a phone or ipod to charge, even if the laptop is unplugged (you can configure a lower charge percentage when this will stop, say 50%, so your phone won’t drain your laptop if you mistakenly leave it charging via USB but not plugged into the wall).

Nice to have features are 3 USB ports (but all on the right side, urgh!) HDMI and VGA out, SD multi card reader, 1.3mb webcam and a fingerprint reader. I’ve been using the last for my Windows login (as opposed to no password) and it is fairly reliable once you have learnt the speed it likes to read at.

Battery life is a little over 3 hours with a 3G wireless stick in use, and the unit is a nice, light 1.6kg – not bad for a 14in screen and built in DVD writer.

There is a slot and internal antenna for a 3g wireless modem, but I haven’t played with this, similarly, there is a second battery available to replace the optical drive, but the only source I have found so far wants $150 for it, so I’ll pass. The accompanying documentation and original press releases show a nifty docking station which in meant to hold an nVidia graphics card – the idea being you can play demanding games when you are docked to a bigger monitor. I like the idea, but as far as I can tell, the device never got released to retail (correct me if you find one!).

In the box comes a fake leather slipcase and a screen cleaning cloth (the screen is shiny and does pick up prints). It has a 3.42a 18v 110-240v universal power supply, the same type used by BenQ and Acer laptops we have around, and readily available as a non-OEM purchase for about $20 on ebay. The outer case has a bright red metallic surface on top, with sort of a brushed matte finish – quite attractive, but a matter of personal taste. The underside is matte black plastic and the screen and keyboard bezel are brushed aluminium. Build quality is good, and the unit feels solid, but the aluminium bezel is not precisely flush around the base so it flexes a little bit. Not a big drama.

The keyboard is fair. It is close to full size, but the keys aren’t raked at an angle, they all sit flat, and they don’t have much travel. There are real home, pgup and pgdn and arrow keys, a pet hate of mine is when these are lost to function keys.

The built in speakers are quite good, as these things go, and boast some sort of THX signal processing. The result is they are loud enough to use for watching a DVD, a feature not always good enough on many notebooks.

Overall, I find this a great laptop, and extremely good value. I could be convinced to add a second battery if the price was more reasonable, but the current power is adequate. It is pretty snappy with Win7 and the plethora of little value add features make it a nice versatile machine. The screen is nice and large for a very portable machine.  I got mine at http://www.onlinecomputer.com.au for about $500, but I have seen them since for $50 less on Catch of the Day.

BenQ u121 Eco Joybook and Option GTM378 – playing nicely now

So my new netbook is a BenQ u121. It has a lovely 11.6″ screen, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD and great battery life, all in a 1.3kg package. In a step forward for the environment, it also uses the same power supply as my old Acer netbook, so I didn’t need to buy an extra one (19V 3.42A)! A bargain at $399.
In Australia, these machines don’t come with 3G installed, as they do in some markets, but under the sticker that says removing it voids my warranty is a mini PCI-E slot laying empty along with two antenna pigtails. Talk about taunting me.
The problem is, there is almost no information about making use of it. I followed some tips from a forum around installing a 3G modem on an Acer netbook, and figured I would give it a go.
A trip to Ebay got me a second hand Option GTM378 3G modem – it does HSDPA at 7.2Mbps on a bunch of network frequencies, including the Voda/Optus and Telstra ones. $50 and a 7 day airmail trip from Hong Kong and it was mine.
Plugged it in and XP recognises the device. Pointed it to the drivers downloaded from Option’s site (version 4.0.17.0) and … nothing happens. Installation fails with a message stating appropriate drivers couldn’t be found.
Very aggravating. I spent several hours searching and trying different things, to no avail.
I even emailed Option support, although they publish no contact details and claim to offer no end user support, just OEM. Needless to say, no reply.
Eventually, I tracked down an older driver – version 3.313 and like magic it works. So, thumbs down to Option’s support and website for providing the wrong drivers, but a big thumbs up to BenQ for supporting on board 3G!

Vivitar K mount lens with Pentax digital SLR k100d

Old manual focus lenses are super cheap, and very compatible with current Pentax digital SLRs.
Because the CMOS sensor in digital SLRs are not as larger as a 35mm film cell, you end up with the lens delivering 1.5x the focal length it would on a film camera, which is kind of nice on a telephoto lens, but a hassle with wide angle.
Anyway, some old Vivitar lenses won’t fit on new Pentax digitals, the little guard for the aperture pin is too wide. I got myself a very cheap ($20!) Vivitar 70-210mm zoom off ebay, and needed to trim down the guard so it would fit.

1) here is a pic showing the enlarged guard. The kit lens with my k100d is about a third the length, only a centimeter or so.
I am going to cut the guard back to just after it reaches its full height.

2) Remove the two *tiny* screws that hold the ring in place. Don’t lose them!
You might want to do this in an environment less dusty than my workshop, but I like to live dangerously.
3) Clamp the ring securely in a vise. Be careful, the metal is quite brittle and more likely to snap than bend.4) Carefully saw away the superfluous guard metal. I found the waste piece easily snapped off when the cut was long enough. It is necessary to support the ring while you are sawing – I held it firmly with my fingers next to where the blade was cutting. I also only used the draw stroke so the cutting was more gentle.

5) Re-attach the ring. You can see the silver arc where the guard was cut away. I was intending to file the rough edge, but it is not too bad, so didn’t bother. Now would be the time to find the screws you lost earlier.

7) All done. Here are some snaps showing the zoom range:

For more details on using manual lenses with Pentax digital SLRs see here.

0x0000007B Inaccessible_boot_device fixed

I spent most of Sunday trying to sort out a super weird error.
I was trying to get some info back off a dead disk (and the DVD back-ups are showing errors too – grrrr) so I added the dead disk as a slave off my desktop.
It took me a couple of attempts to get the jumpers right on my main disk as it was ambiguous about which setting to use for master, and whether that setting would limit total drive capacity to 32GB. So after a few reboots I get the bootloader screen that says loading windows, but then bang!, BSOD with the error 0x0000007B Inaccessible_boot_device and a load of advice around disk management, viruses and hardware conflicts.
My first thought was I had booted off the dead disk, so I removed it but got the same error. Now my dead disk was poisoning others!
Lots of frustration followed, taking the disk out and checking it in another PC, flipping jumper and bios settings, as that had been the last things I touched, but eventually the system booted fine. Hmmm. No errors to be found on checking the disk.
Later, I decided to try a final time to get the data off that dead drive. I knew the jumper settings now so it would be fast. I plugged in the dead slave again, hit thepower, both drives show up fine in the BIOS check, but BANG! 0x0000007B Inaccessible_boot_device.
The conversation went something like this “I thought you had fixed that computer” “I did, but now I’ve fixed it a little bit more and its broken again.”
Removing the slave didn’t fix it this time, nothing would, but the disk checked out fine in another system.
Eventually, I decided to pack it up and come back to it. I slid the drive back into the chassis, which requires taking out the system RAM,and gave it one last flick of the switch – SUCCESS! I discovered that the IDE ribbon must have a dry joint somewhere. When it was twisted with the drive not in the chassis – like when I was trying the dead slave, the contact is good enough to load the MBR, but dies straight after. Very non-intuitive. So it might be worth eliminating hardware as a potential failure if you hit this error yourself.