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Technology Today June 2006
Robert Sanborn

Ahh, talk about a strange spring time, had the heat on this morning, and the air-conditioning on this afternoon.  Summer is here and with that I am still finding cool stuff from the CES show back in the middle of winter. 

Personal servers are really coming into their own these days as very small businesses and home users are discovering that with more than one computer in the house, you have a whole new set of problems making sure you are secure and backed up. And that is where these boxes come in. Made by a very large number of companies these days, these machines are popping up everywhere. Makers include Big name companies like Seagate to one brand companies like my Yellow Machine that I have been using and testing for the past two years. 

So what follows are some of the boxes I saw at the CES show.   

Chili Systems, www.chilisystems.com, makes their Chili Box as an internet sharing system with firewall built in, 120 Gig file storage, backup, web proxy server, VPN, and email server. About $649. 

Yellow Machine, which I have mentioned before, www.yellowmachine.com has slots for four physical drives that you can configure into a raid format for more secure and automated backup. It is also a firewall router with 8 ports and also has VPN capabilities. You can get a terabyte for less than $959.  

Another box that I have tried and works quite well is the Mirra Personal Server, now by Seagate. www.mirra.com. I like their technology and how they get it done. You tag certain files and folders and designate them as either being shared with another computer (and it is done dynamically and it works great), or backed up on the server. Another really neat feature is that you can have internet access to those files you back up.  A 250 gig model is around $400. 

At the higher end is the Buffalo www.buffalotech.com, TeraStation Home Servers. You get 1 gigabyte of storage configured as you want in Raid configuration if you like, four USB2 ports for add on storage and backup, and gigabit Ethernet for high speed access. Backup software and a slick design make this a popular system. $759. 

Want a personal file server but are too cheap to buy one? How about using Google’s Gmail service. With several gigabytes available to you online, just email your files to yourself. Of course, your upload speeds will be quite a bit slower than downloading and you do have to go through some hoops to get the large files up there but it is being done.   Here is the link: http://www.engadget.com/2005/03/01/how-to-use-your-gmail-account-as-a-personal-file-server/ 

Finally, Intel, www.intel.com has its own storage solution, the SS4000-E Entry Storage System. You can get up to 2 gigabytes of storage on this one with gigabit Ethernet access and an easy to use setup system for backup as well. With four drives, you can also set it up as a RAID system for secure backups. About $700 plus additional drives.

 Short Takes 

Got a yen to study and the stars again, and I don’t mean on the small tube. Celestron, www.celestron.com, makers of telescopes and other astronomy related gear, came out with a really cool tool to help you figure out what is were. Called the SkyScout Personal Planetarium, uses GPS technology to instantly identify thousands of stars in the sky. You point the SkyScout to any star, hit the target button, and it will tell you what object you are looking at. Conversely, to locate a star or planet, select the objects from the menu list and follow the directional arrows through the viewfinder to locate it. Not cheap but wow, what a way to find things, $400. 

They are putting lights into everything.  Got a really cool USB retractable connector cable with bright LED lights in them, mine is green, but you can get them in red and blue as well, from www.microcom-inc.com for about $20. 

More Cool Stuff for the Traveler 

Netgear, www.netgear.com came out with a new WiFi Finder that is small and easy to move around. Rather than unpacking your laptop and plugging it in to see if you are near a hot spot, just hit the button, and the bright red, yellow, and green LEDs will tell you whether there is a good signal Wireless B or G signal. 

More from the traveler comes from Saitek, www.saitekusa.com and their really cool notebook optical mice. Got mine in a really wild orange but with 800 dpi optical sensor, does the job just fine, $20. 

Charge 2 Go is pretty cool for those of you with a cell phone battery problem. It claims to offer up to three extra hours of talk time but I have found you need to be careful as I got no where near that in my test but it did work. It is a small canister that holds a AA battery and you connect it to the power connector on your phone.  For $25 from www.chargetogo.com.  

Coolest press release was from Blackstone International, the makers of MFuel. The products they have allow you to nearly plug anything into anything. The trinket they gave out is actually a universal plug converter for different countries, while not handling different voltages, this gizmo at least allows me to plug my notebook power connector into nearly any countries wall outlet. Their World Power Pak has in one package power and connector solutions for you notebook, phone, PDA, camera, DVD, MP3, and host of other devices so for a wired business traveler, a great package. www.mfueldirect.com  

If you need a compact battery charger to take with you, look at the Lenmar Egg. It is a stylish compact overnight charger selling for just $8. www.lenmar.com Of course, if you need quicker charging, look at their Lightning Mach 1 model that will charge 4 batteries in as little as 15 minutes.  A quick tip for you on batteries, look for higher power batteries as they really make a difference in the life when using them in high power users like digital cameras. I have seen AA batteries with an amp rating of from 1300 to over 2500 mAh. Sometimes those marked “Ultra High Capacity” are not necessarily that high.  

More Cool Stuff 

Want to see some pretty cool computers? Take a look at Kick Butt Computers, www.kickbuttcomputers.com. They have a very unique line of computers suited to some interesting tastes including flames, guitars, drums, and other themes. 

How about a great looking and sounding boom tube for your Ipod or other MP3 Player? Think Outside, www.thinkoutside.com, has just the box for you, It is really the ultimate portable speaker system at just $200. If a little too pricey, take a look at their Bluetooth keyboard for your PDA, fir $149, you get a stowaway keyboard that looks sharp and works great. 

Cool It Systems, www.coolitsystems.com has some very unique approaches to getting you a cooler system. Their Free Zone CPU Cooler system is water based in that it really cools off the system for you. This is designed for people that naturally run hotter systems like overclockers who boost their processor beyond the recommended limits of the manufacturer to get that one more ounce of speed out of the computer. Around $399. 

They also have a USB Beverage chiller that is perfect for cooling that 12 ounce can of soda or whatever. Can’t use it for anything larger but it works great according to my testers who enjoyed several cool Cokes at my expense. About $20. 

For Do It Yourself Builders 

CoolerMaster has come out with new IDE cables that are just great for small sized computers, instead of flat cables that can block airflow, these are rounded with industrial strength connectors. 

Want to give Linux a try without having to install anything on your computer? You can with the new versions that you can load directly from a CD drive. Linspire Live is such a package that really works pretty well. Tried it on my test system, just pop the CD in the drive, start up the computer and you also can be running Linux. Try it from www.linspire.com/freeaisle. On my test system, sound worked, DVD worked, recognized the CD burner, and connected immediately to the web. Great way to test things out. 


USB ports are everywhere now and what I am starting to see are broken USB connectors either on the back of computer or on the little drives themselves. Ok if it is just a plain old USB cable but if it is that brand new 4 gig drive you just bought, that can get to be a pain. One tip would be to use those USB extension cables. They come with many of the odd shaped drives and I keep one plugged into my computer and just plug the USB drive into it. Saves some wear and tear and as you already know, you don’t know from one computer to another whether the drive is upside down or not.  So I carry one of these with my little Swissbit USB Army Knife. 

Stay tuned, more stuff to come.

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

Last Update:06/26/2007


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