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Technology Today – March 2010
by Robert Sanborn

With the proliferation of netbooks out there and the need to load software from CD or DVD, I needed to get an external drive to test out and so I picked the Liteon 8X External drive, model ETAU-208.  I like this one because it is light, and really portable.  All it needs to connect to your computer is a USB cable which they provide and in fact, it is a very short cable that fits into slots on the bottom of the drive when not in use to keep it out of the way. That way, you just have one piece to grab when sticking it in your travel case with the netbook. It is also very light weight and in fact, weighs far less than other external drives I have used and it covers nearly everything you need.  It will write to DVD + and – R, + and – RW, + and – Dual Layer discs, CD & CD-RW discs, and even the old format DVD RAM. And did I mention LightScribe for those wanting an instant label solution. And of course, it is compatible with everything.  To add to the coolness factor, it is a top loading drive so no worries about getting a disc stuck inside the drive either or struggling to find the button to eject it. One quick swipe of your finger across the front of the unit and you easily find the eject/open switch. Quick, easy, and very stylish in a black, slimline package.

So, to try it out, I just built an Asus netbook, stuck in a brand new drive, attached the Liteon burner, and the netbook found it instantly and started to load a new copy of Windows 7 for me. It worked like a charm, easy, unobtrusive, and quick.

The software that comes with it is one of my favorites, Nero and it also comes with a Linux version of Nero.  With Windows 7, you don’t really need any software installed on the computer for playing music, DVDs, or loading software, but if you want to burn anything to the burner, then you really need more software and Nero is a great place to start. You also need to install the software to use the LightScribe feature as well. Like most of these software packages, you get trial version of much of the add on software (like the DVD Player) but if you use Windows7, you can just go to Media Player.  When playing a DVD movie using the Liteon drive, it worked just fine, no noise, no skips, just a nice consistent performance from the drive.  Since I needed to dump some files for saving I much rather use a DVD disc than the USB sticks for long term storage and the burner worked quickly and flawlessly.  I had it verify the data and while it takes longer, gives you the peace of mind when archiving information.

Only quibble might be to get yourself an extension USB cable in case you need to park it some distance from your computer while you are working but if you are like most netbook users, you won’t need it because you don’t really use the drive all that much. But having it around for the peace of mind for doing the backups and installing the occasional software package makes it a real handy device to have for only $60. It also comes in both black and white.

It is a surprisingly lightweight unit and I sometimes worry about how much abuse it will stand bouncing around in the travel bag but it does come with a typical one year warranty so it should survive just fine. So, cool, lightweight, and works like a charm.

Windows 7

More fun with Windows 7.  I am getting used to the Library concept though if you don’t think too hard about it, it really is interesting and works well.  Windows 7 keeps all of your information in libraries compared to what we used to use with “My Documents”, and that is just fine with me. I was looking at one of my computers the other day and the “My Documents” folder had more other junk in it than it did my documents.  Delete some of that stuff and you discover that many of your programs stop working because they also decided to stash stuff there and unfortunately, with Windows 7, it does get worse. If you click Start (or the new Windows 7 Icon in the lower left of the screen where Start used to be), go to Documents, the Library for Documents opens up and one of the first things you will see is the note that Documents Library includes multiple locations.  Now click on the link for the locations and it will tell you not only where it is pulling the files from, but the fact you can add folders to the library and when you do that, the folders remain in their original location but are just have a link to the library. It used to be that some of the applications would stash their own files elsewhere under “Documents and Settings” rather than in “My Documents” and I really wish they would go back to it especially for files that I really don’t need to look at.

I have been using this test machine to run the “RC” or Release Candidate version of Windows 7 for several months and you know what happens with test machines, all sorts of people use them so I have several user accounts, tons of files and music, and videos all over the place on it. And so far, it has worked very well but time to nuke it because Microsoft tells me that starting in a few days (March 1), the RC version that I had been using will stop working.  Time to install a real version. But you know, one of the main problems lately with Windows has been the activations that keep getting bounced as not being able to communicate with the server.

Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d - Backing Up Your Systems

Because I run a business, a household, write all these wonderful columns, and am involved in other organizations completely unrelated to computers, I have a lot of stuff on my computer. So I get worried that things don’t get backed up on a regular basis and for me that means every day.  And In the many moons that have come and gone since I started to tinker with computers, that has been a lot of backups. My current backup system includes an external network attached storage device (because of multiple computers to keep track of), and had been using Norton Ghost. Now granted, I have been using Norton Ghost 14 while 15 is now available but I tell you, having gone through several versions of Ghost in the past, I am not happy with it.

So, while out at CES, I did a bunch of research on new backup systems.  What I wanted was a network attached unit that is at least a gigabit connection speed. Also need more than a Terabyte of backed up storage and needed probably that much of additional file storage. I also want a highly regarded backup solution to go with it. So after looking, talking, and wandering the show floors, I decided to purchase for my own use an Iomega StorCenter unit that has a so far whopping 4 Terabytes of storage in it. Comes in a nice small compact design and the startup is very simple. Plug it in, fire up the unit, start the software.

One reason I picked the Iomega unit was that Iomega was purchased by EMC and so they use the EMC Retrospect software which is highly rated. It also, can be installed on all of the computers attached to the storage unit. The software installs very quickly and seems to go through the process easily. Once the software is installed, it bounces right into a web browser to talk to the storage unit. Unfortunately, if you are running Windows 7, you need to download an updated Storage manager software to do that. In fact, looking at the help files, there is no mention of Windows 7 nor is there any mention of Vista and that has been around for quite a while now. And even that didn’t seem to really do the trick. So back to the Iomega website which does have a lot of new information for Windows 7 users, and the online manual that is buried on the CD. But before I did that, I used the old tried and true technique of just pulling the plug on the storage unit, wait a minute, plug it and back in.  That did the trick. Fire up the storage manager program, I needed to change the ip address because it seemed to have a hard time finding one from the router (which probably needs to be replaced as well), and then into the setup program.

There is a lot to the backup unit and once it is installed, you find two new drives connected to your computer. The “Y” Drive is a public storage drive, and the “Z” drive is the backup drive where the EMC Retrospect software will automatically backup your system to it.  Setting the Retrospect up is pretty easy in that you fire up the program, tell it to backup the entire computer, and set a time to do it.  The first time you back up your system, it goes pretty slow because it is both backing up your system and rebuilding the raid system on the storage unit.

One of the things I begin to appreciate with Windows 7 is the user account control regarding how programs install but I find so many don’t install cleanly. For instance, I don’t need the Storage Manager appearing as a program Icon on my daughter’s user account. Another quibble I have with the Retrospect is that it is not obvious which version I have and the help files seem a bit limited.

Installing it on the second computer sails along pretty well if you are used to the odd messages now and again. I kind of knew what to look for but you would have thought that the software would have installed on the second computer (running Vista) would have worked a little better. For instance, what isn’t clear is that do I need to go into the Iomega box and set up additional accounts for the different users on the computer or for the storage box itself?  I think EMC could make the software a bit more user friendly but then again, that is the same complaint I have always had with Symantec’s Ghost.

The good news is that both my test Windows 7 computer and my main Vista machine are now backed up on the Iomega storage unit and are scheduled to do the backups in the middle of the night.  The storage unit uses Seagate hard drives which have a very long warranty so that makes me feel much better about the backups.  With 4 Terabytes of storage, the drive is less than $700 and will back up as many computers as you probably have sitting around.

More CES Notes

I didn’t believe that people could be losing as many notebook computers as was reported until I was coming back from Las Vegas and I heard several announcements at the airport of laptops that had gone missing or that were left behind at the security section. Are people that stressed about going through security that they forget their notebooks? If you are one of them, then look into LoJack for Laptops from Absolute Software. www.absolute.com  For just $40 per year (less if you sign up for 3 years) you can get their Theft Recovery Service. For another $20, you get the ability to remotely delete personal files and a service guarantee worth up to $1000. Definitely worth a look.

I love my radar detector when traveling around the country but now you can have your own pocket sized radar gun for around $249. One of the Innovations award winners at CES, Pocket Radar is just what you need for what I wonder but if you are a race car enthusiast, you can track your favorite car on or off the track with a simple touch of a button. Would liked to have had one of these at the Olympics to see how fast those skiers were really going, or better yet, the luge or skeleton. Available in March. www.pocketradar.com

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com



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