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Buy Hardware

- my computer
- headphones_microphone
- buy at low prices
- USB Flash drives and other gadgets
- buy coffee maker
- hard drives performance
- sound cards and speakers
- digital piano


My Computer

I am not talking about million dollar enterprise servers.
I am talking about a computer for personal use.
It may be either a notebook or a desktop.

Notebook:
Apple's notebooks with Mac OS X unix-like OS (www.apple.com) are the best.  It has the best of 2 worlds: unix core + smoothly working desktop/office environment (including Microsoft Internet Explorer and Office applications). And they are really cool.

If you need to go with MS Windows notebook, there are plenty to choose from, and prices went down dramatically. My priority is to have a fast hard drive (7200 RPM). Other option to look for - USB3 interface. Other than that I am just looking for a reasonable CPU/memory, etc.

Desktop:
I used to buy from DELL, then from tigerdirect.com .  Now I prefer to get computers assembled per my specs. I use only the best brands for parts.  I avoid the latest CPUs as well as lastest video or sound cards, because they tend to cause problems and lack support for Linux.

My current vendor - a very good chinese computer shop in NJ:

Micromax Computers

http://www.micromaxusa.com/

17 Leslie Court
Whippany, NJ 07981
Phone: (973)386-1538 /  386-1539 /  515-9089
Peter cell: (973)
479-7687

email: peter@micromaxusa.com

Note - Peter has lots of business clients working with video and other demanding applications. So he knows what currently is working for other people. Also, as he doesn't want things to break, he can advise you about the most reliable parts.

You can buy parts from Peter - and assemble yourself. I prefer Peter to assemble and test for me.

Note: before ordering I usually check what is available on the market using several web sites, for example:

All my latest computers have similar configuration:

desktop case BK623
Intel DH57DD M/B
I5-660 CPU
4GB DDR3 Memory
DVDRW
Western Digital VelociRaptor WD3000GLFSRTL 300GB 10000 RPM
Western Digital 2 TB Caviar Green SATA Hard Drive WD20EARS
desktop case BK623

I also use:


Headphones & Microphone

I listen to lots of education audio-s using mp3 player (iAudio Cowon) and really good isolating headphones - Etymotic ER-4P (~$270 at www.headphone.com). They are expensive - but I prefer them, because when using them I can hear every word even in noisy environment (on the street, in a subway, etc.). This adds hundreds of hours of productive learning every year (which would be lost otherwise). So it is money well spent.

- www.microphones.com - get a small microphone - Microphone Madness Lapel-2 ( www.microphones.com/miniature/lapel.cfm )
- www.speechtechnology.com - voice recording, digital processing, voice recognition

The analog input of the sound card in the computer is known to catch a lot of stray electrical noise from other computer components. So I always convert analog signal into digital (for example, Telex P-500 USB Digital Audio Converter - $22). Headset - also better to use USB models.

Software - I love Adobe Audition.

Recording of phone conversations (interviews). There are adapters sold in RadioShack and on amazon. I also like Marantz portable digital recorder.

Buy at Low Prices

Here is how to buy it at low price:
* www.computers.com - 
* www.pricescan.com -
* www.pricewatch.com -
* www.killerapp.com -
* www.bottomdollar.com -
* www.snap.com - 
* www.arstechnica.com - 
* www.techbargains.com - 
* www.salescircular.com - 
* www.compusastores.com - 
* www.anandtech.com - 
* www.outpost.com - 
* memory.com - 
* upgradebase.com - 
* netgear.com - 
* buynetgear.com - 
* www.motherboards.org - 
* www.motherboards.com - 

USB Flash drives and other gadgets

- http://www.usbshop.com/usbflaspendr.html - good starting place
- http://hardware.articlecentral.com/ -
- http://www.everythingusb.com/ -

Some fast (or relatively fast) USB or USB Flash Drives - November 20, 2007 .. present:
Year Flash Drive Name Description Write speed (my simple test of dropping a ~ 160MB file onto the drive - or writing 1.5GB file
2011 USB3 HP/WD 1TByte drive External hard drive (USB 2 & 3) USB3 ~65 MByte/sec (~4GB/min)
USB2 ~25 MByte/sec (1.5GB/min)
 

Corsair Flash Voyager GT 4GB
Corsair Flash Voyager GT 8GB

very fast (33MB/s read, 23MB/s write), comes with a short USB cable. Older blue models (without "GT") are slower ( 0.6 of the speed of GT, especially writing)

16 MByte/sec
17 MByte/sec

  OCZ ATV Turbo 4GB very fast (33MB/s read, 23MB/s write), a bit bulky due to protective coating  
  Lexar JumpDrive Lightning 4GB fast ( 30MB/s read, 21 MB/s write )  
  Kingston DataTraveler 4GB average speed (15 MB/s read, 4MB/s write) - very common and convenient 9.3 MByte/sec
  SanDisk 4GB Cruzer Titanium 15MB/s read, 9MB/s write 8.4 MByte/sec
  SanDisk 2GB Cruzer Titanium 15MB/s read, 9MB/s write 6.7 MByte/sec
  Lexar JumpDrive Mercury 2GB half te speed of "Lightning" - 15MB/s read, 10 MB/s write  
  PQI Cool Drive 1GB (2005) small 6.3 MByte/sec
  OCZ Rally small, slower than OCZ ATV Turbo (0.6 of its speed)  
  Lexar Jumpdrive 1 GB
(old, not available any more)
Blue, medium size 5.6 MByte/sec
       

Note:

USB 2 interface can make 40 MByte/sec (raw throughput of the interface ~ 60 MBytes/sec)

USB 3.0 interface allows up to 400 MByte/sec, which us 10x more than USB 2. But in real life the increase is only ~ x3 - it is limited by the speed of the hard drive itself.

Speed of flash memory by itself (without limitations of USB) is ~30 MBytes/sec which is slower than regular hard drives (~ 120 MBytes/sec).
Currently (March 2010) there are internal solid-state hard drives writing at up to 135..170 MBytes/sec, which is the same as regular hard drives,
and this is faster than USB 2. So with USB 3.0 we can expect to see USB flash drives with 100 BMytes/sec and more.

Although generally SSD hard drives are slower (or the same speed) as regular hard drives, there is one case when SSD drives are much faster ( ~ 25x), namely when it is necessary to access many small files. Reason - SSD can jump from file to file immediately, no mechanical movement is required, whereas regular hard drive has to mechanically move the head betwen tracks from one file to another which slows it down.

Buy a coffee maker

If you want to make yourself good coffe - you need right hardware. Personally I prefer to cook coffe on the stove, using either ibrik (also called briki or jesvah ), or Italian moka pot (stovetop espresso). Some people like traditional french press.

Look at pictures of different coffee brewers here:
- www.sweetmarias.com/prod.brewers.shtml - misc. stove-top brewers
- www.sweetmarias.com/prod.brewers.vacuum.shtml - vacuum coffee brewers
- www.sweetmarias.com/brewing.inst.chemex.html - Chemex Brewers

- www.gevalia.com/ - our favorite place to buy good coffee. They havve some good coffe-makers too.

Hard Drive Performance

I was thinking about upgrading hard drives to SCSI (for a computer having 1.2Ghz CPU and 0.5GB 266 MHz DDR RAM).
So I compared IBM SCSI hard drive at 10,000 RPM with a standard Western Digital IDE hard drive (ATA100 7,200 RPM).
I used special software like "WinBench 99" on Windows or hdparm (e.g. "hdparm -t /dev/hda7") on linux.
I also made my own simple script (see below). It gives a ball-park value. When using it just make sure to select the $count large enough so that time will be more than 10 sec (and small enough for file junk_mytest.txt to fit on the disk). Also note, that it may show different results fo Linux and Windows because of different ways they do cashing.

Here is the latest modified version:disk_pl.txt

Here is the original script:
 
#!/usr/local/bin/perl5

use strict;

my $unixflag = "";  #  set for unix, empty for dos
my @drives = ();
if ($unixflag) {
  @drives = qw(   /tmp   )
} else {
  @drives = qw(  D: G: H: I: )
  # @drives = ();
}

my $delete_flag = 0;
$delete_flag = 1 if @ARGV; # with arguments it just deletes the junk file

my $count = 10000;
my $count_cpu = 1000;
my $str = "0123456789ABCDEF" x 1024 . "\n";
my $bytes_in_mb = 1024*1024;

my $drive;
print "Start\n";

# ---------------------
# main work is done here
# ---------------------

test_cpu();
test_disks();

# ---------------------

print "Finished\n";
exit(0);
# ---------------------------------------------
# end of the main part
# ---------------------------------------------
 
 

# ---------------------------------------------
# mysync
# ---------------------------------------------
sub mysync { 
  system "sync" if $unixflag 
}

# ---------------------------------------------
# test_cpu()
# ---------------------------------------------
sub test_cpu {
  use Benchmark;
  print "  Testing CPU\n";

  Benchmark::timethis (
    $count_cpu,
    sub {
        my $ss = 1;
        for (1..10000) { $ss = ($ss + $_) % 10.0 }
        return $ss;
    }
  );

}
 

# ---------------------------------------------
# test_a_disk()
# ---------------------------------------------
sub test_a_disk {
  my $myfile = shift;
  my $action = shift;
  print "  $action - ";
  mysync();
  my $t0 = time();
  my $ii=0;
  if ($action eq 'write') {
    open (FF, ">$myfile") or die "can't open file $myfile for writing: $!";
    for $ii (1..$count) { print FF $str }
    close(FF);
  } else {
    open (FF, "<$myfile") or die "can't open file $myfile for writing: $!";
    my $yy=0;
    while ($ii = <FF>) { $yy += $ii }
    close(FF);
  }
  mysync();
  my $t1 = time();
  my $dt = $t1-$t0;
  my $filesize = sprintf "%.2f", ${[stat($myfile)]}[7]/$bytes_in_mb;
  my $speed = ( $t1-$t0 >=1 )? sprintf "%.2f", $filesize / $dt : "too fast";
  print "$dt sec, $filesize MB, $speed MB/sec\n";
  return $dt, $filesize;
}

# ---------------------------------------------
# test_disks()
# ---------------------------------------------
sub test_disks {
  my $myfile;
  for $drive (@drives) {
    $myfile = "$drive/junk_mytest.txt";
    print "$myfile:\n";
    my $dt;
    my $filesize;
    my $average=0;
    if (! $delete_flag) {
      my @actions = qw/ write read write read /;
      for (@actions) {
        ($dt, $filesize) = test_a_disk($myfile, $_ );
        $average +=$dt;
      }
      $average = $average / @actions;
      printf "  Average %.2f sec, %.2f MB/sec\n", $average, $filesize / $average;
    }
    print "  deleting $myfile\n";
    unlink $myfile if -e $myfile;
  }
}

Here are examples of results (speed in MB/sec, that is MegaBytes/sec):
 
=======================
Typical Windows PC (500MHz Pentium, 5,400 RPM hard drives, 300MB RAM)
Note: speed can go down to 1..3 MB/sec if the PC is a part of a corporate network
Note: speed can go up to ~30..40MB/sec on a new SCSI/RAID  NT server.
=======================
D:/junk_mytest.txt:
  write - 15 sec, 156.27 MB, 10.42 MB/sec
  read - 49 sec, 156.27 MB, 3.19 MB/sec
  write - 12 sec, 156.27 MB, 13.02 MB/sec
  read - 49 sec, 156.27 MB, 3.19 MB/sec
  Average 31.25 sec, 5.00 MB/sec
  deleting D:/junk_mytest.txt
Finished
=======================
Linux on a similar computer:
Note: sudo hdparm -t /dev/hdb5 - show close value of ~ 11 MB/sec.
=======================
Start
/tmp/junk_mytest.txt:
  write - 9 sec, 78.13 MB, 8.68 MB/sec
  read - 10 sec, 78.13 MB, 7.81 MB/sec
  write - 8 sec, 78.13 MB, 9.77 MB/sec
  read - 11 sec, 78.13 MB, 7.10 MB/sec
  Average 9.50 sec, 8.22 MB/sec
  deleting /tmp/junk_mytest.txt
Finished
=======================
Sun Solaris Ultra-5 with SCSI:
=======================
Start
/tmp/junk_mytest.txt:
  write - 3 sec, 156.26 MB, 52.09 MB/sec
  read - 3 sec, 156.26 MB, 52.09 MB/sec
  write - 3 sec, 156.26 MB, 52.09 MB/sec
  read - 4 sec, 156.26 MB, 39.06 MB/sec
  Average 3.25 sec, 48.08 MB/sec
  deleting /tmp/junk_mytest.txt
Finished

Sound Card and Speakers

Portable - I use LG Portable Stereo Speaker - great small speakers. When folded it looks like a small cell phone. Gets power via USB cable, and audio via 2.5mm or 3.5mm audio connector. Volume and sound are good enough.

Quality - search for "best sound cards". You will find "Asus Xonar DX", or "ASUS Xonar Essence STX", or Sound Blaster from Creative.
    http://compreviews.about.com/od/multimedia/tp/SoundCards.htm

Speakers - I really like Boston Acoustics Horizon MM220.

Another option - Gateway G-MAX 2000 - suprisingly good - and cheap.

Digital Piano

Digital pianos appeared on the market in ~ 1985. I bought my first Digital Piano in 1994. It was Yamaha Clavinova CLP 260 - the model which was introduced in 1990, only 5 years since Yamaha started to make digital pianos. Today, in 2010, Yamaha has 25 years of experience, and modern digital pianos are much better. So I decided that may be it came time to buy a better piano instead of our 16-year old veteran.

But which one to choose? This is a tough question.

There are several famous brands - Yamaha, Roland, Casio, Kawai, Korg, Kurzweil. They have different lines of instruments: portable, stage pianos, home pianos, concert pianos, etc. Prices may range from under 1K to 5..7K and more. The keyboard touch may be shallow and light, or may be deeper mimicking real piano. There are keyboards with many sounds and effects - and pianos which don't have many voices and tricks, but have good-quality sound and touch.

My requirements:

Here are some links for initial review:

The solution I liked so far is Roland Design Piano DP-990. There are several variations. The cheapest model is ~2K - and it is good enough.