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Computer Hardware Recommendations

People are always asking me for the “best” computer.  I am not sure there is a “best” one but here are recommendations.

Hard Drives -- See my Hard Drive Page

Printers -- See my Printer Page

Processor

The new machines are all 64-bit processors so pick your favorite.  AND do buy the 64-bit.  There are still 32-bit computers out there and you do not want one.  Many new programs are coming fast that will only operate on a 64-bit processor.

But in the 32-bit world, Just Say NO to any computer with a Celeron processor.  Your computer should have a real Pentium or an AMD Athlon processor.  If someone slips you a Celeron, you will regret it for the rest of your life.  If you are buying the computer online, the salesman will probably not know the difference and tell you that you are getting a Pentium when you only are buying a Celeron.  Intel makes Centrinos, Pentiums, and Celerons.    All of the major brands offer similar machines with any of the above processors.

Celeron

I had an entire page describing this catastrophe.  Intel wanted to compete with AMD and others by producing a scaled down Pentium.  The sad part is that the computer cycle times do not have a consistent meaning and people buying Celerons by comparing cycle times were cheated.  But this is  history now.  If you still have one of these, I shall pray for you.  With multiple 64-bit processors competing for market share, bare-boned shells of processors are not in the mix.

Memory

Windows XP: You need a minimum of 256 Megabytes of memory.  512M is better.  For most people, more than 512M is a waste of time and money.
Vista:  2 GB is a starting point.  Unless you have the Vista Premium level or better, more than 3 GB is ignored.  I have Vista Ultimate and it uses ALL of the 4 GB I have installed.  HP delivered the machine with 1 GB.  You would not believe how slow Vista is with insufficient memory (An hour to boot up!).
Windows 7: Its base is Vista although it claims to be more XP compatible.   Until they give me back a useful "search" command and make products that worked under XP work on their new system, I stay with XP as long as I can and cry when I leave it behind.  Microsoft has no motivation to makes things work between releases

Vendors and Reviews

I learned many years ago to never, ever write a letter to the editor of a newspaper.    Each time I did so, the editor rewrote the letter to match his own ideas -- the exact opposite of mine and that of my letter.  When I was the editor of the home owner association newsletter, I wrote one editorial.  The managers rewrote it to the exact opposite again, then they published it under my name, and fired me without bothering to inform me.  Their loss except for me having to take the original to the local school to water down the wrath of the teachers that the association (not me) generated.

So I should not be surprised when I submit a review to an online merchant that the same editing occurs.  I have submitted two reviews this last year.  One was for the Nero Photo Show Express.  The program is is really bad news.  It can run for hours putting little thumbs.db files all over your computer and doing nothing useful and it refuses to let you cancel it.  It then embeds itself in various programs to maintain these files.  It pops up at the strangest times wanting to do things for/to you.  I was glad for the opportunity to write about this pernicious product.  My review was accurate, concise, and precisely described the malevolent behaviors.  The following week my review was followed by a review that should not have been even permitted.  This second was obviously written by someone for the Nero company wanting to refute my review.  The problem was that his review was so generic that it could have described any product at all.  There was no description of behavior.  There was no description of the product itself.  The words were something someone might use to describe their lover and not a software product.  I was disappointed that the review page even considered placing this product advertisement in a 'review' section.

But the one that really got my goat was www.buy.com. They sent me a form to review a product I had bought.  The product was a Trendnet USB adapter (TEW-429UB) with a locator display.  This is by far the worst adapter that I have used, and as an internet consultant I have used many of them.  I had had the previous version of the same adapter and it had had some problems.  I thought the problems might be with my machine.  So I bought the 429 -- has the same poor performance.  I used it on another computer -- same problems.

When I wrote www.buy.com my review, I took time to accurately describe the failures of the product.  Again there was a glowing review in their file.  Again it said nothing about the product performance, again mine was dropped.  Up until now, I used www.buy.com for most of my purchases.  Now I will be more careful.  I cannot trust their product reviews as they drop the reviews they do not like.  I will not submit another review.  And I will certainly cannot recommend www.buy.com to others -- I do not like liars.

And again www.buy.com requested I write a review of a purchased product.  AND again they refused to publish it.

Software

I recommend that the computer come with Microsoft Office Installed.  Oops.  The new Vista computers do not come with any software installed.  I presume there are many reasons for this.  Maybe the EU lawsuits have something to do with it.  Maybe people are pissed of at the deceptive 90-day trials.  Maybe they are tired about getting the student edition installed and then lying when they register the product about  in which school they teach.

Now you can buy Office at prices half of the old versions.  Costco and Sam's CLub have several versions.  For my needs, the Small Office version is best.  Look at the check boxes.  The latest Home version of Office does not include their mail program, Outlook.  This is OK.  You can use any of other free mail programs.  The Firefox suite has a good mail program.

Beware:

Microsoft software accounts for almost half of the price of many computers.  To reduce this cost manufacturers often do one of two things:

  1. Install sample copies that expire after 90 days.    Compaq and Gateway often do this.
  2. Install other office suites such as Word Perfect and Quattro and Corel Draw.  These are good products and very useful but if you are looking for Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook, you do not have them and buying them afterwards will be expensive.  Hint:  last I knew, you can buy the Microsoft Office Upgrade if you have the Corel Office Suite.  This will save you a few hundred dollars.

DVD vs. CD

The world is moving to blue-laser multi-layer DVDs.  Using CDs for anything but music is now obsolete.

DVD players/recorders will read and write CDs.  CD player/recorders will not read//write DVDs.

You want Nero Software installed to read/write DVDs.  If Nero is not available, Roxio is an acceptable alternative.  If one of these two is not available, you do not want the computer.  The Roxio built into WIndows is insufficient for most people's needs.

You want to have multi-layer support for writing the DVD's.  Be careful here.  I bought an HP laptop.  Like many manufacturers, they go cheap in strange places.  The HP came with Vista Ultimate and 1 gigabyte of RAM.  Microsoft advises that the Ultimate version needs at least 4 GB.  The HP took an hour to  power up.  With 4 GB the HP powers up in 15 minutes.  Sometimes it loops and I have to force reboot it.  After a few months I discovered that although the built-in DVD player/recorder reads multi-layer DVD's, it only writes single layer.  Now I have an IOMEGA portable DVD recorder that I need to carry around with me.

Floppy Disks

Nobody supports floppy disks any more.  Do not even try – if the computer has one, the computer model is probably too old and you should look elsewhere.

DVD vs. Blue Ray

Blue Ray is here.  The toys already have it.  I know nothing about it except in 5 more years, DVDs will become obsolete.  I see no Blu-Ray recorders.  WIndows 7 claims to have more software to protect you from making legal backup copies of your disks.  And you are legally permitted to make backup copies of anything.  The warnings of FBI and Interpol  may be frightening but you do have your rights -- they just want you to be afraid to exercise them.  Probably Republicans.

High Definition DVD

History. Not worth commenting upon.

Ports

Serial, PS/2, and parallel ports are now obsolete.  Everything now uses USB.  USB comes in 2 versions: 1.x and 2.0.  Insist that ALL USB ports are 2.0 and that there are at least 2 of them.  4 are better.

Blue Tooth

Blue Tooth is replacing USB.  The sooner the better I think.  Think of Blue Tooth as your own personal, local Wi-Fi.  It can handle everything from a wireless earpiece for your cell phone to the mouse or printer on your PC.  The USB still has wires and as such can power and recharge devices whereas Blue Tooth requires the device to have its own power.  The BLue Tooth device pairs must be programmed to identify each other so there is little privacy issue.  I have noticed on my cell phone that the Blue Tooth ICON appears when a neighboring car has a Blue Tooth phone -- but they do not crosstalk since we would both have to put our phones into 'find me' mode at the same time and then stay within 10 meters of each other while we talked.  You will see more of it as the tangled wire mess behind each PC becomes legacy.  I have my 7 USB ports filled on my PC and have two USB hubs.  If I had a BLue Tooth Mouse and a Blue Tooth Keyboard, That is one hub and two wires fewer.

Screen

I really like the new glass screens.  Where screens are concerned, I think bigger is better.  But remember weight is a concern with laptops and bigger is always heavier.

You want a screen with resolution of at least 1400x1080.  This is more than you probably need -- but less than this means that they have gone cheap on you with video drivers.

Latch

Examine the latches.    Two is preferable to one.  Make sure that they are sturdy and unobtrusive.    Often there is one and it has a plastic hook.  When this breaks, there is no way to keep your computer closed.

Battery

If you are going to be very portable, make sure there is room for two batteries.  You may never need them both but having two means that you can charge both or at least one while you are using the other.  Batteries are expensive separately.

Durability

IBM has sold its ThinkPad Computer to someone else but ThinkPad and Panasonic computers advertise that they can be dropped.

Mouse or Touchpad

I hate touchpads.    They are either too sensitive or too slow or too something bad.  The reason that you see so many of these hated devices is that they are cheap.  The little eraserhead from IBM has a heavy tariff charged by its owner.

If you must get a touchpad, do not get one on a SONY.  SONY makes its own devices and their software drivers are below standard.

My SONY has a video driver that makes it crash.  SONY has refused to honor its warrantee on the computer because they claim the warrantee does not include software – even originally supplied software.  How do I know it is the video driver?  I don't -- but when it crashes and the Windows XP error report gets sent to Microsoft, the Microsoft reply is that the video driver caused the crash.  They refer me to the manufacturer web site.  The web site asks for computer maker and model to download the latest version.  For SONY, they claim that SONY does its own drivers and to go to their site.  SONY does not acknowledge this: no video driver updates.  Additionally, program windows that work just fine on other PCs only show outlines or other weird behavior on the SONY.

When you select a mouse, try it on for size.  These new giant mice are hard on your hand.  I think the owner of Logitech must have deformed hands as any Logitech device I ever used gave me cramps.  This includes the track balls.  But then I average over 4 hours every day at my computer.

Microsoft vs Logitech

In general I have found Logitech mice unusable.  I think  their president musthave deformed hands.  But the little laptop mouse (mine is red) is the same size and shape as the Microsoft laptop mouse.  They come with little USB tabs that once inserted are so flush to the laptop that they will not break off.  On the other hand you can break your nails attempting to remove them.  There is a slot on the mouse to hold the tab when you are not using it and do not want it plugged in.

Here I like the Logitech.  It actually turns itself off when not used.  I suspect the batteries last forever.  The Microsoft remains on but in a low power mode: you still need to replace the batteries.

Keyboards

Several suggestions and comments here.  The world is going wireless: buy a Blue Tooth keyboard if you can find one.  If not, buy a USB keyboard.  A keyboard that came with your computer is probably not worth the plastic.  If you have a laptop and you like the keyboard, otherwise buy a new one.

I have found many of the new keyboards to be gigantic.  While everything else is shrinking, mice and keyboards are growing and growing.  I do not have enough desktop for these giant keyboards -- and they look smaller in the box in the store than in front of you.

Another Windows Stupid

Windows keyboards previously had 84 keys, they now have 101 official keys -- and some are not even real keys.  For example, the Windows Start key is really the Control-Escape combination.  The new keyboards have another row of keys, in excess of the 101, that do Windows-specific actions.  My new Microsoft keyboard has Internet browser keys and a key to invoke the calculator program.  Here is my problem.  WIth all of these keys the keyboards have become gigantic for no obvious reason other than someplace in the world must have an overabundance of plastic.  But there is a worse problem than just resource waste.

I know I am a dinosaur. I use words nobody ever heard of and I do things that nobody remembers.  I know this but I really have difficulty believing that I am extinct.  There must be someone out there who still does programming using text and uses word processors.  For people with lazy fingers such as myself, UNIX keyboards had 4 keys that I consider essential:

  1. Copy
  2. Cut
  3. Paste
  4. Undo

Windows has removed these keys.  Gone.  The most common activities of text editing have been relegated to the old UNIX control key combinations.  We still have a set of DOS keys on the WIndows keyboard.  We have a set of keys that I shall never use: Mail, Search, Back, Forward, etc.  But essential keys?  Not a chance.  And what is the origin of: control-c, control-x, control-v, etc.?  An old UNIX program editor.

So we know that the Microsoft people once upon a time knew about the Copy/Cut/Paste/etc. operations: the functions still exist as key combinations today.  Some keyboards even have them marked..  But real keys? No.  They are gone forever and replaced by gadget keys.

In the old days when keyboards resembled typewriter keyboards, common functions were implemented with control-letter combinations.  Every letter had a corresponding control key action.  Many dinosaurs still remember them.  But then dinosaurs needed to know them as they also needed to know much about their system operation.  Today we have total graphics displays and printouts.  I do not even know if printers are still capable of printing text.  These days you can get university computer science degrees without ever knowing anything at all about a computer, just how some applications operate.

I do not understand the mentality that replaces common operations with gadgets.

Microsoft

I like the Microsoft ergonomic USB keyboard with the rise in the middle and a separator between left and right hands.  My gripe with any Microsoft Keyboard are the little tabs on the bottom for elevating the far side.  These will break off with any lateral pressure.  Mostly I live with these keyboards on one leg and something stuffed under the other end.  Other manufacturers seem to have solved this problem.  Other MS keyboards are gigantic.

Micro Innovations -- Mi keyboards

This one caught me off guard.  It is the first non-split keyboard I have used in years.  I bought it as an exchange for an MS monster.  My fingers still get lost on the standard, non-split Mi layout.  But the keyboard is bad:  Skip Mi keyboards.

Thirty years ago I wrote hardware driver programs for many different devices: videos, disk drives, serial ports, and keyboards.  The most difficult were the keyboards because they were what you call HIDs -- human interface devices.  It sounds easy, like a telephone: push a '9' and get a '9'.  It is far more complex than that.  You must deal with multiple key down and key up events occurring in various combinations -- some desirable, some not.  For example, any key down with the Control key down is probably a good combination.  A key down 'r' followed by a key down 'e' followed by a key up 'e' and then the 'r' probably wants to be sent as 'er' although the 'r' went down first.  Then you must tell a desired key down from a key flash -- probably a rollover from one key to another.  But a key down for a longer time may be a request for a repeated key.  Separating flashes from manual repeats can drive your program into paranoia.

This is the problem with the Mi keyboard.  I dealt with these problems 30 years ago.  I thought by now there was nothing more to learn:  I was wrong.  My Mi keyboard regularly skips letters and regularly sends duplicates when I know I have pressed the keys in a normal manner.  I do not type fast -- it is not a matter of dealing with a professional typist: I still look at the keys I press.  And my high school typing teacher would still give me a failing grade.

The Mi key pressure is excessive.  A manufacturer increases key pressure for several reasons.  One of them is because you want to reduce flashes by forcing the typist to press the key down harder and longer.  The Mi still misses keys even when I know the key button hit the bottom of its stroke. A professional typist would balk at high pressure unless they wanted to seriously strengthen their finger muscles -- and this is the wrong way to do that.

13 July 2009

After 3 months of fighting the Mi keyboard, I bought a $20 Microsoft keyboard (also at Staples) and discarded the MI keyboard.  Life is too short to let $20 stand in the way getting your work done without fighting junk products.  The new keys work.  Repeat works.   It will take a while to get used to the Home/End keys being in the right place again.

Extended Warrantee

Don't waste your money -- except on a laptop -- then buy the extended warrantee!

Brand Names

I do not want to make a brand recommendation.  But I want to list some things to be aware of.

SONY

My current computer is a SONY.  I hate it for many reasons.  I shall never own a SONY anything ever again.  The new computer was returned to the factory twice just to get it to power up.    They claim the freezing and crashing that have always been there are not their problems as they fixed their problem.

IBM

The sold out to another company.  Look for ThinkPad under some other name.  They are OK but many are Celerons.

Compaq

The original IBM PC clone.  Now owned by Hewlett Packard and sold as their second line.  The primary difference between a Compaq and an HP is the value of the installed software and the HP will have more expensive devices.    Personally, I buy the Compaq if it comes with a full version of MS Office.  If it has only 90-day copies, I buy the HP.

eMachines

This is Gateways second line and has the same issues as Compaq.  This makes them a good buy if they meet all of your requirements.

Dell

These as made to order.    The major problem with Dell is you are buying a pig in a poke.  Tell the salesperson what you want and he tries to match it.  Since he is trying to keep your price low, he is sneaking cheap things into areas you do not specify or insist upon.  You will get what you ask for but what you do not ask for may be critical.

Getting service from Dell is impossible.  You can spend literally days on the phone listening to music and talking to total incompetents.  After this, if you have a problem, you will either send it back for a refund or for repairs.  This can take a month or more. To get a refund you must threaten the president  with death or a lawsuit.

If the computer has no problems, it will probably be your favorite computer for a long time – unless they stuck you with a Celeron – and they like to do this claiming that the Celeron is just another model of Pentium.  If you hear them say this, hang up and go elsewhere.


Stores

In general I shop around.    If you want to say time and get a good computer, go to Costco or Sam's Club.  They do sell computers with trial software and Celeron processors -- so beware.

I like the www.buy.com web site.  If you get there through www.yub.com, you can save an extra 3%.  Buy.com will ship for free and often does not charge tax.  Ignore their product reviews: they drop the ones they do not like and you only see the 4-stars or better.

Staples

Staples relies on repeated sales to keep prices competitive.  For example, you returned ink cartridges get store credits.  You get store credits for various reasons.  You may -- just may -- get a slight discount if you use one of their cards.  Bottom line: their initial prices are too high but they have a generous selection of products and their employees are slightly above average in the help department.  Slightly.  Do not bother with ink at Staples. Walmart beats their prices and you do even better at Sam's or Costco.

Bad Stores:

Stores with which I have had bad sales experiences are:
CompUSA: (they prefer Apple)

Circuit City (refund problems). 

Fry's: You have heard of plague?  Treat Fry's as infected.   I may buy junk and known sale things from Fry’s computer but I shall never buy any serious investment from them again.  Their return policies sound good but they are not.  The quality of merchandise is poor.  The sale items are on sale for a reason: there is something wrong with each of  them.  The ‘wrong’ may be as easy as not having enough memory or ports.  It might be something like compatibility to its own devices.  Why take the chance?  Never buy things from Fry’s unless you recognize the brand, read the specifications well, and are prepared to stand in long Customer Service lines when you want to return it.  For example, a friend bought some GQ CDs for recording.  They recorded just fine.  One week later, the CDs were blank.

Quality

You always want quality at a low price.  Never go cheap as you will live to regret it.  You can tell by handling many things the general quality.  In general you will not go wrong at Costco or Sam's Club for supplies and devices.

I have had good luck with Staples but sometimes I think it is really just luck.

My experiences with Best Buy are mixed.  The last guy I asked for a Wi-Fi Repeater referred me to two other people and none knew what a repeater was and they had none – but their web page has them.

Serial Interfaces

Data Transmission

Data transmission is a series of electric pulses on and off.  A single picture can be 1 million bytes.  A byte is 8 data bits with surrounding control bits.  You want to see this picture within a second or so.  This means each bit is one 10 millionth of a second or less.  Today even the best of electronic devices has trouble at this speed. "Pushing" this number of transitions down a metal wire is a nightmare.

For the old parallel world, there was one such series for each data pin and a steady signal for each control pin.  A data bit is one on and one off.  Data bits can be surrounded by control bits and timed or random delays.  But the bottom line is that you have electric pulses going up and down a wire.  To the higher the speed, the shorter the pulse and the more of them.  As you increase the speed, you decrease the data width or duration of the bit.  The timing becomes more critical as you need to know the difference between a one signal, a zero signal, and a space.  For the speeds we are talking about, the bits are becoming radio signal frequencies.  This means many problems.  The first is that the cable must be protected from outside noise.  Metal shielding of the data lines becomes necessary.  And the metal shielding itself must not conduct signals.  The second is that the line itself could generate noise.  The shielding prevents this.  But shielding is bulky and expensive.  You have seen the high speed wires for HDTV?  They are not skinny. They are not cheap. They have the shielding.

Then there is the signal loss problem.  We are dealing with electric pulses traveling from one atom to the next in a metal wire.  Each atom introduces a little friction and a little delay.  Obviously not much or we would not be in the data transmission business.  It is the reason that we have gone to light transmissions instead of wire transmissions for really high speeds.  The wire transmission has sort of a ripple effect.  The signal grows weaker on longer lines.  With the speeds were are using, the time the signal travels is critical.  A longer line makes a serious difference.  As the signal gets weaker on longer lines, the signal is more available to corruption by outside sources or line erosion.  You had better believe that the people who are designing these signal protocols, lines, and devices are what we twenty years ago called "rocket scientists".

Hayes Modems

Talk about the good old days.  Wow.  I have worked on everything from 5-bit Baudot code paper tape to 300 BAUD telephone receiver attachments to all sorts of high speed (?!) modems.  Hayes was a big name in modems.  The 25-pin connector was reduced to 15 and then 9.  The problem was that every line connection and every software/hardware configuration used a different set of configurable options.  You needed a Sherpa guide to get anything to work.  There were letters from A to Z with options and sub options.  Pluses and minuses and I forget what else.  Impossible.

Firewire

This is a great invention by Apple.  It is a very high speed serial line connection interface.    It has a cord plug connector that is reversible and can only be plugged in properly.  The 5-sided plug guarantees this.  Hooray for Apple.  No more Hayes configurations.  No more male-female adapters.  No more 25-to-15 pin connectors.  All gone.  Now we get to the downside.  This is Apple.  It is not universal.  You need an Apple computer to use Firewire.  I presume license fees are high.  Maybe they need to be.  Apple lives in its own world.  The other downside is that the Firewire devices need to be daisy-chained.  Every device has two pugs.  One for in and one for out.  The last one in the chain has an empty hole as their is no "in".  Bu t it is fast.

SATA

I am not sure the motivation for SATA.  It is a serial interface and the only connectors I have seen are orange and about a foot long.  I have a SATA hard drive inside my desktop.  The motherboard has a couple of plugs  for SATA.  But the desktop box is one of the special on-sale boxes.  It is too big and actually has bright lights on the front and side.  I am not that Mexican that I appreciate garishly lighting up my room with my PC.  But then the motherboard that came with this special may also have a n abnormal configuration. So I cannot tell you much about the growth of SATA in the hardware world.  Personally I think it is a waste of time and money.  We have USB (with its stupid plug configuration) and Firewire -- that should be enough for serial interfaces.

USB

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) is an industry response to the Apple Firewire and the need to replace the RS-232 interfaces.  Several companies got together and defined the USB protocol and hardware.    Unlike Firewire, USB uses a network configuration:

Power

The PC USB port supplies power to the line.  This is great except some devices draw all of their power from the line and will heavily load the port.  Most devices only need signal-level power and are not a problem.

I actually have an Iomega DVD player that draws so much power that the cable with two port plugs.  This saves Iomega from needing to supply a DC adapter with their drive.  There is a hole in the back for an adapter but no such adapter is available from Iomega with the DVD player.  Then you have to tell your PC that the second plug is not a device so the PC will stop attempting to configure it.

Just because we have entered the electronic age does not mean that everyone just got smarter.

Hubs

If you have more devices than ports, you buy a hub.  A hub has 4 ports.  This means you need one hub for each 3 more devices than you have ports.  You can buy a 7-plug hub but internally this is just two 4-plug hubs chained internally.  Since USB ports are internally powered by your PC, a large number of devices will overload the port.  This means you need a self-powered hub.  I like self-powered hubs.

USB Versions

1.0: The first version lasted a couple of years.  Not too fast but it works and eliminated the Hayes modem and gave PC's the same kind of connectivity that Apple introduced with Firewire.

2.0: In general compatible to USB 1.0 but much, mush faster.  Faster than Firewire.  The industry has entered the mix and match mode of external devices.

3.0:   Again backward compatible at least to version 2.0.  Again faster.  The world is moving on.   I think, and this is only conjecture, that 3.0 was created to compete with SATA and to give others a target out of reach.

<>until the version 2.0 was released. 

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USB is now the interface of choice for many devices.  It must be good or it would not be universal.

USB Plug Configuration

Commentary: If you examine the Firewire connectors, you see that the connector is asymmetric.  This means that anyone will look at the plug and the jack and connect them properly on the first try.  After all, not many people would try to push a square end into a triangular slot.  But the USB people did a really stupid thing: the A-end of the cable is indistinguishable from the A-plug.  It is exceedingly difficult to tell which end is up when trying to connect them.  Worse off, it is possible to plug in the jack inverted.  You will only do this once per connector since this will permanently break either or both pieces.  Oh yes.  There is (usually, not always) an insignia printed on one side of the plastic case.  You can barely see this insignia in the daylight let alone in the shadows of the back of a PC.  And the insignia goes "on top" -- if you can determine a "top".

I must repeat this: the USB plug/jack is the most stupid design error in the history of computing.  I had a customer today who said his printer stopped working.  He was correct.  When he had a problem, he had pulled the USB plug and reinserted it -- upside down.  He has broken both the cable connector and the jack in his computer.  The cable can be replaced.  The jack, not so easily.  His computer now has 5 jacks where before it had 6.  I have such a broken jack on the front of my Compaq.  The USB 'designers' after they had discovered their poor design could have at least told manufacturing to make them unbreakable.  If any of you people out there contributed to this abortion, please die before you do more harm.

The B-Side is a little better but not really better enough.  At least you will only end up frustrated as you rotate and retry as opposed to breaking anything.  Oh.  the plug looks good but when you are sitting in front of your printer and attempting to insert the jack in a hidden recess in the back, the little beveled edges are not enough.  Take it from me: pull the printer out and watch what you are doing.  The USB "engineers" were relentless in making your life miserable.

Someone has figured out that if you bevel the plastic piece inside the A-Side of the cable, you reduce cable breakage.  Maybe this will also reduce computer plug breakage.  Maybe the computer plugs will start coming beveled.  Making this internal plastic piece black seems to be the ultimate in stupidity.  Especially with the bevel it is absolutely impossible to determine which side is up.

Obviously I am not the only one with this opinion of USB but in ANY industry "fixes" will never replace proper engineering and initial product testing.   A USB hint: make the internal plastic piece yellow and make the external marking visible, I also suggest a bright colored emblem with the top and bottom of the plug different colors so you can tell top from bottom with your hand hidden to the side or in back of the laptop.

The B-Plug has evolved into smaller and smaller plugs.  The best of these is the connector that you see on the side of Motorola (and other) cell phones.  It has a more obvious direction but you still need to be close enough to see what you are doing.  The super-micro USB connectors like in my camera are small enough that you gently try both directions and see which one works.

Brand Names

Sabrent

I had really thought that the "U" in USB meant universal.  That is the intent.  So when I needed a couple of new USB hubs, I just ordered the cheapest self-powered 7-port hubs I could find.  This was the Sabrent brand at Walmart.  They had another brand at the same price but I just ordered the first on on the list.  The Sabrent is the first USB hub that I have found that is defective in design.  I tried both of my new hubs with the same results.  Some USB devices did not power up at all.  Some devices came and went.  I shall make another trip to Walmart to return this junk.  I plugged in my old hubs and they worked just fine.  At least the Sabrent did not damage my PC.

Wi-Fi

I think I have bought from every Wi-Fi vendor out there.  In general, you can not go wrong with Cisco/Linksys.

Linksys:  Pedestrian division of Cisco.  Pricey but reliable.

TrendNet:   Cisco knockoffs.  I mean even the software looks like Cisco.  Same colors even.  Same problem as with most knockoffs: Unreliable hardware and software routers and adapters both.

D-Link

These guys make my blood boil.  They offer a lot of rebates (mostly through www.buy.com).  Most of these get me a reply stating why I got no rebate.  Usually they say I submitted too late.  Their reply comes two months after I submitted the rebate -- and I did submit it on time.

Their products remind you of the "Does not play well with other children" comments from kindergarten.  You will not mix modes with DLink well.

Their Repeaters are worse than useless: when the repeater hangs up, as they do frequently, they take the entire router with them.

The routers are hit and miss.  I sort of like them.  Always download the latest firmware.  I found the cheaper ones work better than the more expensive ones.

The USB hubs are disasters.  4 or 7 port.  Generics are much better.   The DLink hubs look nice and are hefty so that you think you are getting something good.  Every DLink hub I have bought causes the same processor hang-up.  This means that periodically, like once every couple of hours, I need to hard reboot the system (hold the power switch until it powers down).  And they refused my $10 rebate.  Shoot -- you can buy a generic for $15.  I suspect internally  the 7 port is just two 4 port chips piggy backed.  Twice the fun, twice the problem.


Web Pages.

I like www.yub.com, www.buy.com (Their reviews are lies), and www.pricegrabber.com.

There are many others.  Shop around.  I also use Google a lot to find specialty items.

I hope all of this helps.

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Written:  2003          Updated:  July 5, 2011          Back To Top