Friday, July 12, 2013

Systems Upgrade

I haven't done anything with my home computer systems for several years and it seemed like time for some upgrades and some preventative maintenance.

My Time Capsule is getting older and I knew sooner or later it would fail. It's nice having wireless router and network storage all in one unit. On the other hand, if it fails you're in trouble. Being paranoid about backups, I also decided I should have some kind of redundant storage.

So I replaced the Time Capsule with an ASUS RT-AC66U wireless router and a Synology DS413 4 bay NAS server with three 2tb Western Digital Red drives. The default setup for the Synology NAS will handle a single drive failure without losing any data. It combines the capacity of all the drives so I ended up with about 4tb of storage from the three 2tb drives. I can add a fourth drive at any time (of any size) if I need more space. This was a pretty painless upgrade and improved both wireless and storage speed and space.

I've been mildly tempted by a new iMac, but mostly for more memory and an SSD, which I decided I could get without replacing the whole machine, since it's got a decent i7 and is otherwise fine. (USB 3 and Thunderbolt would be nice, but not essential.) One advantage of the older iMac over the newer models is that it has the SD memory card slot on the side whereas the new "skinny" machines have it on the back where it would be a lot more awkward to use.

The trick was that I need more space (mostly for photos) than I can reasonably get with an SSD, which meant an SSD plus a hard drive. But since my model of iMac doesn't have space for a second drive, that meant removing the optical drive and putting the SSD there (using a "data doubler"). I didn't really mind losing the optical drive - I can't remember the last time I used it. A new iMac wouldn't have had one anyway. And I can always get an external one.

I could have kept the existing 2tb hard drive since it wasn't full, but I decided to set up a "Fusion" drive which combines the hard drive and SSD and automatically migrates data to the appropriate drive. This requires wiping out the hard drive and I was nervous about depending on my backups. So I bought a new 3tb Seagate Barracuda drive and kept the old drive as an extra backup.

I also upgraded the memory from 8gb to 16gb.

Having been in the computer business through the whole progression from 5mb hard drives to 500mb, to gigabytes, and now to terabytes, I sometimes have to think twice about the sizes I'm talking about. Is that backup 1000mb or 1000gb? I know everyone's tired of hearing it from us old timers, but it's still mind boggling that the current drives have grown something like a million times bigger over the course of one working career.

If it had been a PC I probably would have done the upgrade myself (although my hardware days are long past), but to get inside an iMac you have to take the glass off the front which seemed a little scary to me so I got our local Apple dealer to do it.

I had made an OS X installer USB thumb drive beforehand and I had no problems booting from this, setting up the Fusion drive, and installing OS X. Then I used the Migration Assistant to restore from my Time Machine backup. This took roughly 4 hours for about a terabyte of data and restored all my files and applications. It was nice not having to re-install applications.

The only thing I missed was my Parallels Windows VM. For some reason this wasn't included in my Time Machine backup. I had previously excluded it, but I was sure I had started including it. I'm not sure what happened.

I put my old hard drive into an external USB 3 / Firewire 800 enclosure and retrieved the VM with no problems.

The iMac definitely seems faster. If I watch the drive activity (using iStat Menus) it appears the Fusion drive is working properly. The only concern I have is that the new hard disk seems to be running quite hot, even when the machine has been "sleeping". The preferences are set to power down the drive but it maybe that isn't working.

All in all it went quite smoothly and hopefully will keep me happy for a few more years.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Of Mice and Keyboards

At home, on my iMac, I use the Apple full size wired keyboard and magic (touch) mouse. (In addition to not having to worry about batteries, the wired keyboard also has USB ports at either end which are much more accessible than the back of the computer.) I have a magic trackpad too, but I don't find I use it much.

At work, on my Windows PC, I wanted a similar keyboard. For a while I used the same Apple keyboard, but it wasn't ideal because it's missing Windows specific keys.

So I switched to the Logitech Wireless Solar keyboard, which has a similar look and feel but with a Windows layout. I've been pretty happy with it. The solar has worked great and it's nice not to have to change batteries. We've ended up with quite a few of these around the office.

Unlike many people, I actually liked it when Apple switched the default direction of mouse scrolling. Partly, I guess, because it was similar to iPhone and iPad.

But I had a hard time switching between one direction of scrolling at home, and another at work. I also quite liked the Apple magic touch mouse, so I bought the Logitech t620 Touch Mouse which is quite similar.

At first, I thought it was pretty good. But after a while it started to drive me crazy. It was way too sensitive and I would end up scrolling all over the place unintentionally. I stuck with it, thinking I'd get used to it, but if anything it got worse after a driver update. I occasionally have the same problem with the Apple mouse, but nowhere near as bad.

I finally got fed up and shopped for a new mouse. (Hopefully someone else in the office will have better luck with it.) I wanted another Logitech one so I could share the same dongle. I could have gone back to a traditional mouse wheel, but I decided to try the Logitech t400 Zone Touch Mouse.

But things are never simple with computers - I couldn't get the reverse scrolling to work. Logitech's Set Point software has a check box for this, but it had no effect. I did the usual incantations of uninstall, reinstall, reboot, etc. but no luck.

When I started searching the web, I remembered that originally I had used a registry hack to switch scrolling direction. Even better, someone had supplied a Powershell command line to do it, rather than manually editing the registry.  (It would be nice if the Windows control panel had a way to change this setting.) But it still didn't work! I ended up uninstalling the Logitech Set Point software. The mouse works fine without it, and now the scrolling works the way I want.

So far I've been pretty happy with this compromise. I occasionally find myself trying to scroll with my finger not on the touch part, but other than that it seems fine. It still has the ability to scroll horizontally, which is occasionally useful, but because the touch sensitive area is limited, I don't find I trigger it accidentally. The smallish size, and rubber sides feel quite comfortable.

Hopefully this combo will keep me happy for a while!