Office Overhaul: Hitachi 500 GB Deskstar SATA Hard Drive

I have a groovy 2 terabyte RAID array on order, and as part of that, I had ordered a nice Hitachi Deskstar 7200 RPM, 500 GB (actually more like 465 GB) Serial ATA drive, featuring a 16 MB data buffer, and (especially!) a three-year warranty.

But then my old friend, Industry Figure Curt Welch, who has apparently owned and operated hundreds of such drives, issued stern warnings to only use similar drives in RAID arrays, and I already had two Seagate Baracudas and this Hitachi Deskstar on order. Rats!

On the other hand, the Users drive on my PowerMac was almost full, so it was a great excuse to swap in the new Deskstar there. It actually replaced an earlier, smaller Deskstar, which had given perfect service.

The PowerMac and the drive are both so well designed that the whole operation was pretty effortless.

Actually, this is perfect, because I trust the Hitachis a little more than I do the Seagates, so it’s nice that the Hitachi is being used in the non-redundant application, whereas, if one of the Seagates fails in the RAID 5 array, I’ll just pop another one in.

Office Overhaul: LinkSys 10/100/1000 Gigabit Switch (SD2008)

As the second part of a major office overhaul, I’ve replaced the 10 MHz hub that used to infest my office with a Gigabit Switch from LinkSys.

For those of you who don’t know, a switch is much more than a hub. Hubs are basically a big piece a wire: they immediately retransmit any electrical signal that comes in from one port onto all the other ports. But a switch is essentially an active bridge between each of its ports: it has all kinds of smarts.

First of all, each port can operate at a different speed than the others, so if you have a mixture of slow and fast networking devices, you can just merrily plug each one into the switch and be happy — each port will operate at maximum speed.

Secondly, this switch autosenses everything: speed, wire polarity (you don’t have to worry about wether or not you should be using a crossover cable), and whether or not the other end supports full-duplex transmission (if it does, you can carry up to twice as much information).

It has source learning: it notices which MAC addresses are on which ports, and when a packet is received which is destined for a particular MAC address, it only sends the packet to the appropriate port, thus reducing needless data collisions.

And it’s fast! (“non-blocking”, to use the term of art): it can transmit gigabit streams without pause on all ports simultaneously. And if it’s transferring data to other slow devices, it doesn’t block I/O to fast devices just because I/O to a slow device hasn’t finished yet.

LinkSys is Cisco’s home and home office brand, and is incredibly solid. It’s working great for me so far.

You have to use at least Category 5e cables to get the gigabit speed, Category 5 cables on 100 MHz ports, or Category 3 cables on 10 Mhz ports.

A happy result: I wasn’t sure whether or not my PowerMac supported gigabit speeds, and the report from “About this Mac…” was not encouraging; it reported a 100 MHz port. But I said to myself, “I’m almost sure that it was supposed to have a gigabit port — it’s probably just reporting its current active setting.” And sure enough, tonight, when I set up the new network and rebooted, the Macintosh is happily reporting a full gigabit.

All that is to the good. The bad? Allow me to quote my review: “Geez, the unbelievable fan noise! It really is, as another reviewer put it, as loud as a 10-year-old PC. I’d actually put it as loud as a 20-year-old PC.”

Right now the switch and the PowerMac are the only two devices on the network that can talk to each other at gigabit speeds. (But mark the sequel!)

$84.99 from Tiger Direct at

18 March 2006 – Hey, the fan noise on this unit has diminished substantially; it’s a completely blameless and happy unit right now. And the box is still cool, really cool (as in, not even warm).

2008 – The original switch above died on me in late 2006. I replaced it with the five-port version (SD2005), and that switch is great! No noise. I guess there are some thermal trade-offs to trying to put 8 ports into a little box.

Office Overhaul: IOGEAR MiniView Micro ‘USB PLUS’ KVM (GCS632U)

I have two computers in my office, a Mac and a PC, and for a long, long time now, I’ve been making do with a dual-ported display that is shared between the two computers, and entirely redundant keyboards and mice. But it’s a big hassle, and I only had amplified sound with one computer, while the other was left to fester with its built-in speaker.

All that has changed. I’ve installed the IOGEAR MiniView Micro ‘USB PLUS’ KVM (keyboard / video / mouse) Switch [plus audio!], and it’s working great! With a double-click on my keyboard, my screen, USB keyboard, USB mouse, and audio all flip to the other computer. I really didn’t have room for two keyboards on my desktop; this is so much nicer!

IOGEAR makes all different kinds of flavors of this device, so be sure to look at all your options before you pick one.

UPDATE (21 Feb 2006): Wow, a lot of people on Amazon are complaining of poor audio quality and lockups with this unit! I haven’t noticed either yet, but I’ve only had the thing for a day or two. Check back at this space for a report after I’ve had it a month.

UPDATE (23 Feb 2006): Well, it’s locked up (ignoring the keyboard) after only a few days’ use, so that’s remarkably cruddy. Serves me right for buying something spur-of-the-moment from an end-cap display at Fry’s.

UPDATE (25 Feb 2006): I checked out their support site, where they mentioned that keyboard lock-ups on KVM switches that are powered by the USB port’s power could be due to not receiving sufficient power over the USB bus. I had had the KVM switch plugged into a USB hub, rather than a main USB port on the Power Mac, so I rectified that, powered off all of the computers involved, powered them up again, and it’s working again. We’ll see how it works, now that I’ve made its life simpler.

UPDATE (02 Mar 2006): No, it’s locked up again; it’s garbage.