QNAP NAS storage owners – time to update your units

There is a security vulnerability that affects the QNAP NAS storage devices, and their QTS operating system. It has been fixed with a firmware update from QNAP in February, but the catch is — you need to manually install the update before it will fix things.
Because backup appliances work in the background, and we don’t have them in our faces (on our screens) like Windows and OSX, we don’t see nag notices reminding us to upgrade. But they are computers, inside, and their OS needs updating as well.

When I checked my NAS units, the firmware was at 2016 levels, that is not good. (Also, I forgot the Admin passwords to allow QFinder to actually let me upgrade.)

Here’s the steps to putting that right:
Use the QFinder Pro application ( https://www.qnap.com/en/utilities/essentials to install the latest version) to log into your QNAP device with your Administrative password.

QFinder Pro Screen

Oops. If you are like me, you set this up 4 years ago and have long since forgotten the password. No problem, since you are long overdue to change it anyway…

Locate the Reset button on the back panel of the QNAP, behind a small hole. (The location will vary with different models)

With the QNAP NAS running, using a pin or a very thin screwdriver (a Torx 5 for repairing iPhones turns out to be ideal) press this button down for three full seconds. Release when it beeps, or release after 4 seconds and it should beep once on release. This will reset the Admin password, WITHOUT destroying the shares and user access that you set up. If you hold the button down 10 seconds, then it will destroy your setup and make it difficult to get back at your data. https://www.qnap.com/en/how-to/knowledge-base/article/the-different-ways-of-resetting-your-nas-explained/

Next, after the QNAP has rebooted, use QFinder Pro to log on to the unit with the username “admin” and the password “admin”.

Note, if it persistently rejects your password: The QNAP application and Web interface both send passwords as clear text by default. If you have a security program, (Bitdefender in my case) it may block that as insecure, and you may have to create an exception in the security program to let it through.

Choose the name of your NAS in QFinder, choose Configuration, enter the username and password.
Now your first job before anything is to change that password to a secure one, because every hacker in the world knows they can access your machine with admin-admin.
In Configuration, choose the Password tab and enter the existing password, then your new password twice.

Then re-log onto the QNAP with your new, secure password (which you have safely recorded in your password manager for reference in 2024…).
Choose Login from QFinder Pro, which will launch your Web browser and then Login with admin and your new password.

Qnap login splash screen

In the web based interface, you’ll likely have several pop up windows offering Help, suggested Apps, etc. Politely decline these.

It may present a window saying that the Firmware needs updating, You can OK that one to start the process. If not, go to Control Panel, System area, Firmware Update icon

It will tell you the firmware that is ready to be downloaded and installed, just OK it and then be prepared to wait for 20 – 40 minutes as it downloads, installs and reboots the QNAP.

Once it has restarted, you are done. Well almost. In my case the firmware was old enough that it had to update to an intermediate version before it would install today’s version, that just meant another run through the Firmware Update cycle. The QFinder Pro interface will throw up a red flag after the Version number if there is another update needed.

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iPhone 5 Owners need to take action before Nov 3

Apple announced that iPhone 5 will require updating before Nov 3 or iCloud, App Store, email, web and other services will no longer work.

Starting just before 12:00 a.m. UTC on November 3, 2019,* iPhone 5 will require an iOS update to maintain accurate GPS location and to continue to use functions that rely on correct date and time including App Store, iCloud, email, and web browsing. This is due to the GPS time rollover issue that began affecting GPS-enabled products from other manufacturers on April 6, 2019. Affected Apple devices are not impacted until just before 12:00 a.m. UTC on November 3, 2019.

Apple https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT210712#925

The implication is that if you do not update before Nov 3, you will no longer be able to connect to Apple and will not be able to update the phone via the IOS updater, and you will have to restore it from ITunes on a computer. If you don’t have a current backup, that means losing data.

Apple is sending out alerts to iPhone 5 owners that their phones must be updated to iOS 10.3.4 before November 3. If the iPhone 5 is not updated in time, it will be unable to connect to the internet entirely, including web browsing in Safari, email, iCloud and App Store services. This issue is specific to the iPhone 5, which was last sold in September 2013. To keep the phone functioning normally, update to the latest iOS 10.3.4 update before November 3. If you miss that date, OTA updates and iCloud backup will no longer be possible as the phone will not be able to connect to the network. In that case, you will need to connect to a computer and restore with iTunes on a PC or Mac.

As reported by 9to5Mac

If, like me, you have an iPhone 5 sitting in a drawer as a backup phone, it would be an excellent idea to pull it out now, charge it up and get it updated.

I was a little alarmed that the updater advised that it “will have to take all the apps off the phone to update, but, trust me, I’ll put them back on again”. It seems to have kept its promise.

Why do I keep it? There’s one dodgy application that I use, for a Chinese company’s automated pet feeder. I don’t want this app on my daily phone or iPad, so I keep it on the older iPhone and only use it when I go out of town and have to set up provisions for “She who must be fed”

Posted in iPad, iPhone, iPod, Mac questions, News, Security | Leave a comment

What ports do I have on my device? Sorting out cables, USB, Thunderbolt and Firewire

USB

Host ports
A host is a computer or another device with an operating system, that has the ports and the OS support (and drivers) to control a USB device.

Where are the ports? If it is a desktop computer, there are usually several USB ports on the back panel where the motherboard’s ports come out. The Host USB ports are all Female jacks

​If it is a notebook computer, the ports may be on either side of the machine or on the back.

USB 2.0 and 3.0 host ports are rectangles about 13mm wide and 5 mm high, these are called USB A Female ports.

The ones with blue plastic inserts are USB 3.0 speed. the ones with black inserts are USB 2.0. Red inserts designate USB 3.1 high speed ports. USB peripherals generally will work with either USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 hosts, however the available 5V power and data speed on USB 2.0 ports may be limited for some devices.

​The latest USB port is Type C. It is smaller, a slender rounded port about 7mm wide.  With the correct cable, you can adapt from USB – C to USB – A type. You will see USB C ports on only the most recent machines.

​Peripheral Ports
Peripheral devices like printers, smartphones and cameras have various USB ports but these will all be Female ports.

A peripheral must be connected to a host. You can’t connect two peripherals together. A few peripherals such as smartphones and tablets, can be both a host and a peripheral using the same port (but not at the same time) – for example hooking up to a computer as a peripheral or acting as a host attaching to a USB stick to back up files.

Where are they?
The ports are located in different places, usually on the back panel or the rear section of a side panel for printers, on the bottom edge of cellphones and tablets, and behind a flap or a rubber seal on cameras.

Here’s what to look for
USB ports on printers and large external devices tend to be a squarish, 10 mm x 10 mm USB B-Type port, there are 2 versions, USB 2.0, and USB 3.0 which has an extension on one edge

USB ports on most phones, tablets and cameras are Micro USB which is about 7mm x 2 mm with one of the long edges bevelled. These are common for charging ports as well as USB data, and are a mandated charging standard in Europe. 

Older devices may have Mini USB, which was quickly passed over in favor of the Micro design.

Some devices that need more power such as external hard drives, may have a Micro USB 3.0 which is wider than the MicroUSB and has a second set of contacts. The USB 3 Micro B port will accept a Micro B connector.

There are some other rare types of USB cable connections, and some manufacturers use a non-USB standard connection. Some Olympus and Nikon cameras use the UC-E6 connector, the cable would have a standard Type A male on the other end

Very occasionally, a peripheral will use the full size Type A port, which is problematic because there are few A (male) to A (male) cables available.

Apple iPhones and iPads have never used USB to date (2019). Instead, they use proprietary connectors, first the Apple 30-pin connector, then the Apple Lightning connector. Although the Lightning connector is close to the same size as Micro USB and USB Type-C they are not compatible. The older 30 pin connector is similar to one Samsung used, but again they are mutually incompatible.

Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt comes in three versions, 1, 2 and 3.

Thunderbolt (formerly under development by Apple and Intel as “LightPeak”) is an interface that combines DisplayPort monitor signals with PCI-e high speed data communications signals. A single cable attached to a Thunderbolt 1 port provides two channels of up to 10Gb/s of data in both directions, and can support displays and hard drive storage (including large capacity RAID). Thunderbolt 1 was subsequently updated to Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3, with 20 Gb/sec and 40 Gb/sec respectively

Thunderbolt can be daisy-chained for multiple devices on one cable, and can be used with adapters to output to DisplayPort, HDMI and DVI monitors. But check that the drive does have two Thunderbolt ports. Peripherals and monitors with single Thunderbolt ports are terminal devices and can only be used on the end of the chain.

The Thunderbolt 1 and 2 cabling system uses the same connectors as MiniDisplayPort, and is compatible with MiniDP video.

The Thunderbolt 3 system uses the same connectors as USB Type-C. Because Thunderbolt 3 carries USB as well as DisplayPort and PCI-e data, a Thunderbolt 3 host is backwards compatible with USB 3.1 Type C peripherals — but not the other way around, a USB Type C host will not support a Thunderbolt peripheral.

Thunderbolt cables are active cables, they have electronics built in, so standard Mini DisplayPort and USB-C cables cannot be substituted.

Firewire

Firewire (IEEE-1394a) was introduced by Apple on their Macintosh line as a higher performance alternative to USB for external hard drives, Developed with Sony, who named it i.Link, and Panasonic, it was also used as a transfer cable for DV Video.

It and was used in two versions, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800, which doubled the performance. Firewire 400 used a 6-pin cabling system. The main connector was a D-shaped, metal shelled connector, but there was also a small 4 pin variant that was small enough to fit on a camera or camcorder. The Firewire 400 cable carried 12V power, and in an unfortunate design choice, if the connector was inserted upside down into the computer (theoretically prevented by the asymmetrical shape, but practically quite possible, due to the flimsy construction of metal of the connectors) then the 12V power would short across the data lines, burning out the peripheral’s Firewire circuitry and possibly the Macintosh’s as well.

Firewire 800 (IEEE-1394b) switched to a keyed 9 pin solid plastic connector, which was more reliable, and maintained backward compatibility with FW400 if you used appropriate adapter cables.

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Purchase Order Fraud – Impersonation scam

Every week we receive orders and quote requests from companies, universities and hospitals all over North America, requesting expensive IT equipment. Great, right? Not really, because these are fraud artists that are trying to lure companies into sending valuable goods to them, and having the bill sent to the institution that they are impersonating.

They will have all the correct logos, all the correct addresses, and the real name of a senior employee at the institution – all information that can be found online or in an annual report. But the email domain will be a lookalike; ucalgary-ca.com instead of University of Calgary’s real domain of ucalgary.ca. Or they will make a misspelling or add something to the domain , jlsmithindustries.com or jlsmiths.com or jlsmith.net instead of jlsmith.com

The criminals will want 30 day terms to pay (as normal for a large company). This gives them plenty of time to disappear before the real company sends back your invoice and tells you they never ordered anything. The variation would be if they offer to pay by credit card, and provide a stolen card number. Credit card chargebacks typically take 2 – 4 months to be reported, and the money will directly withdrawn from your bank.

If the vendor is unwary enough to go through with the quote, they will receive an official-looking purchase order, complete with company logos and signatures. If they accept the order, when it comes time to deliver the goods, invariably there will be a “new office” or “warehouse” or “client site” to ship to, rather than the main company address. That will turn out to be an anonymous mail drop. Or alternatively, the scammer will arrange their own shipping on their account to the real address, and simply redirect the parcel with an address change as soon as it is shipped.

Note: Never let an unfamiliar customer use their own shipping account, and call your own courier companies to set all outgoing parcels to “No redirect” or “No Non-Direct Delivery” for your account – otherwise the courier company will let the recipient redirect the parcel to an alternate address as long as they have the tracking number (or they can allow a neighbor to sign for the package)

Here’s the most recent example

  • The first clue is that you are receiving an order or a RFQ from a company that has never contacted you before or that is out of your territory. In the example, the fact that we are in Canada and they are in Texas makes it improbable that it is legit.
  • Second can be that they ask for strange combinations of products – network switches and printer paper, for example, or they are asking for products that you don’t normally carry or advertise, although the criminals are getting better at paying attention to this.
  • Third, they mention payment terms up front, and/or they want extra fast delivery, and/or they do not seem concerned about price.
  • Fourth of course would be grammatical and spelling errors or stilted language in the email, but that is not reliable, as criminals can hire writers and editors too.
  • In the example above, one tell is the use of a AOL email address. That is sloppy on the part of the criminal, they didn’t bother to set up email boxes at the phony domain bshwc.com they registered 39 days ago. No reputable company does business email from a free email service (gmail, hotmail, outlook, aol, yahoo, ymail, etc,).
  • The email may be excessively concerned about proving who they are. Hint: Chief Procurement Officers or any executive suite or senior staff do NOT handle routine requests for quotes.

Crucially, you must check that domain name in the From: and in the Reply To: areas of the email headers with Whois to see who it is really registered to, and when it was registered.

Look up the actual company or institution with a Google search online to see what their real domain is. Contact the purchasing department from the information on the real website to confirm if you have any lingering doubt that it may be real.

If you are like me, you will take the extra time to email the actual company and alert their security and accounting departments to the fraud attempt. They can also take action through the domain name registrar and the domain and mail hosting companies, to take the domain down for criminal activity and for trademark infringement. In the example above I got the domain registrar ENom.com to take down the bshwc.com domain within one day. Not all of them are this responsive.

University of London has been hit with this so often that they have a page dedicated to the problem. It’s worth a read.

Posted in Media and Commentary, News, Security | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is FixYa Dead? Have the scammers won?

FixYa is a site where people can post ‘how do i fix…’ questions online, and other members volunteer suggestions to solve the problem. This is similar to Quora and Yahoo Answers. While there have been debates on the quality of the answers (FixYa seems to reward speed over accuracy) and the quality of the questions (many seekers are not good at articulating their problem, or even the make and model of device they are using), or the revenue model, I have been participating from time to time on the free site, for the good feeling of helping others.

However, the FixYa site is now overrun with ‘questions’ that consist of spam. The form this is taking presently are posts that provide a phone number for support for a particular company or a particular region, such as “GMail Support for New York l8Oo.3*33`l23.5 “. You see what they are doing, interspersing characters and substituting alphabetic lookalikes for numbers, to evade a simple ###-###-#### filter that would reject the post. FixYa’s elementary algorithm is fooled by the simplest of evasions.

Is this Avast’s phone number. I . Don’t. Think. So.
The scammer reused boilerplate from a Dell support scam post, and said that Avast was founded by Michael Avast (instead of Michael Dell). Typical of the random text they insert to avoid detection.

The dark side is that these toll free numbers will connect unsuspecting users with criminal call centers,

Once a user phones, the operators will attempt to get the user to log into a poisoned website where the operator will take over the user’s computer to install viruses, spyware, ransomware, or to steal the user’s identity. Or they could use social engineering, persuasion or bullying tactics to directly extort money, charge card information, or other valuables.

CBC recently reported on a tech-support scam call centre in India, where they were pulling in $2,000-$3,000 in scammed money per operator, per day, with dozens or hundreds of operators. The BBC ran a similar article.

That FixYa permits these posts to remain on the site for more than 1 minute is inexcusable.

FixYa Support scam photo
A ‘Question’ on FixYa The scammer was sloppy with this post and one of the phone numbers got trapped and *******’ed out.
These template-generated posts are crude and easy to spot because of the nonsensical grammar and repetition but don’t be complacent. The scammers will get better writing and editing, and help-site users who are in distress with a problem are not prone to thinking all that critically.

The FixYa FAQ says this about reporting: “Click the “Report Abuse” link or icon (small flag)”.
See if you can spot the “Report Abuse” link below.

Yeah, it is hiding under the “Flag” text, no Flag icon to be found.

As of Oct 18 User “BROWN” (brown-42171) already had 658 spams and rising. Three days later they are still active and have 450 spams despite a concerted effort to delete them. User “Love Guru” (ravi-miits-31691) is posting prolifically on Oct 25 after being reported Oct 17.

Note: Once an answering user (a FixYa Expert) has passed a certain score threshold (for answers, “helpful” ratings, etc.), they are able to use additional links to delete posts or edit the post. I am using this new-found Expert power to post warnings and delete 800 numbers.

I am trying to warn FixYa readers to never use these 1-800 numbers. Ironically, answers are subject to automatic censorship at posting – the word “Fraud” is **** ‘ed out, and if you try to post the same answer to more than one question, then FixYa says “Oops” and blocks posting of the answer. (This results in having to manipulate each answer by changing some punctuation or wording to be able to post the next one.)

In the past three weeks I have edited, flagged or deleted more than 4000 scam posts and reported over 450 users. And they come in faster than I can copy and paste the reports – at least hundreds of spam posts per hour. As far as I can tell there are about four other FixYa Experts doing the same, I am estimating volunteer Experts are deleting 5,000 – 10,000 spam per day. Some of these Experts report that this has been going on for weeks.

FixYa, which was originally based in California, is now owned by VerticalScope, a content and advertising company based in Toronto who operates numerous websites, which is in turn majority owned by Torstar, publisher and owner of the Toronto Star newspaper among others. VerticalScope went through a downsizing in staff in 2018, although it is recruiting for staff in Community Growth, Business Development and Ad Operations and Programmatic Performance.

FixYa gets revenue from onsite advertising (there are a lot of intrusive ads) and from their paid service, 6Ya, which sells subscriptions and recruits Gig-economy freelance ‘Experts’ to make money delivering phone support.

Torstar recently reported a sharp downturn in revenues, the lowest stock price in their history, and suspended their dividends til at least 2020

I have consolidated reports to the FixYa support mailbox outlining the offending usernames and the numbers (hundreds) of spam posts per username.
I have yet to receive a reply of any kind from FixYa or any evidence that any of these reported users have been deleted for spamming.
Or any evidence, frankly, that there is any staff moderation going on at all.

It is at the stage where scam ‘questions’ and answers outnumber legitimate how-to questions more than 100 : 1 in some categories, notably printers, computers, software and cellphones (and oddly, Carrier Air Conditioners, presumably a misapplication of the search term Cell Network Carrier, and probably assigned by an algorithm). If you are trying to work in an affected category the site is mostly unusable.

Update Nov 8: Today I checked the Unanswered Questions list. It takes scrolling down over 50 pages (147 scam questions) before you can reach the first real question. The Computer and Internet Unanswered Questions has about 600 scam posts before you get to a real question. This really raises the concern, is the FixYa site usable at all?

Note: Oct 18 The FixYa site is suffering major slowdowns and frequent Bad Gateway errors. Is it possible that the posting volume of scammers is actually causing a Denial of Service attack?

Update: Oct 20 the site is back to medium performance, and the efforts of the volunteer users is making some headway against the bulkage of spam so some questions can be found between the spams. But new spammer accounts keep appearing, and ‘vintage’ spammer accounts are still active despite being reported.

Doing a deeper dive, I see posts from over a year ago where six different answers are posted to a question, each with a different 1-800 number and or web link for (example) “Canon Printer Support” – none of which are the actual Canon number or website.

Answer scams: Checking these users’ answer histories, they have used their same 1-800 number and or website for ‘support’ for every question from Apple to Dell to Zebra. It is beyond the realm of possibility that these posts are anything other than;
at best – stealth advertising for paid support sites,
or
at worst – scam / criminal tech support fraud.
Both are in direct contravention of FixYa Terms and Conditions, yet these scam answers are still online over a year later.

The question is, will FixYa do what it takes to turn the tide on this inundation of dangerous spam? Will they continue to rely on the volunteer moderator community, or will they dedicate staff effort to fix this quickly and effectively? Will they give it only a quick fix, or should it provoke a deep-think about the structure of the site?

FixYa:
If you run an online forum you have to moderate it. And if you can’t train an algorithm to see how they are scrambling the information to evade simple filters, then you need to have direct human moderation. And not just volunteer moderators.

You are providing a platform for criminals and lending them your credibility. Unsuspecting consumers are getting hurt.

I can spot these scammers; why can’t you, FixYa.

FixYa owners, FixYourself.

Posted in Internet and Networking, Web News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can I build a gaming computer under $1000? Sept 2019 edition

Posted on March 15, 2018 by quill

It’s September 2019 and we are revisiting our exercise in budget computing: Can we build a computer that will give acceptable gaming performance for under $1000 Canadian?

There’s a whole lot of new to look at compared to last year’s article. New video cards, new processors, cheaper SSDs and faster RAM. DDR4 RAM prices moderated somewhat, and the stranglehold that cryptocurrency mining had on graphic cards has faded away.

NVidia have introduced new GPUs, a range of RTX cards with additional real time ray-tracing hardware acceleration, but for budget gamers the value standouts are the GTX1660 and GTX1660TI series. You give up the proprietary ray tracing features but you get a reasonably priced card that can stand up in the ring with last year’s heavyweight cards at 1080p and 1440p resolutions.

AMD has replied with the Radeon RX5700 which goes head to head with last year’s GTX2070 for less money.

At the top end, the AMD RX5700XT and the nVidia RTX2060 Super and RTX2070 Super cards are excellent choices but are well off the top of our budget charts for this build.

One note: if you are buying up the pricing ladder do not be seduced by sales of the RTX20x0 Non-“Super” models which are sell offs of the year old design and are usually not discounted low enough compared to their replacements. The Super series of cards are, well, superior in every way. Hold out for the latest model.

As usual the component that has the most impact on performance in a gaming computer is the video card, so budget compromises have to be made between the relative costs of the video card (GPU) vs processor (CPU) vs SSD drives. As long as it is basically competent performer, CPU speed for games isn’t usually a limiting factor for most games until you have installed a high end video card.

Video card comparison:
Older cards
AMD R7 570 (Passmark GPU score 6,726)
AMD R9 580 4GB (8,284)
GTX1060 6GB (8,899 $430) 
GTX 1060 3GB (8,872 $335)
GTX 1070 (11,369 $740)
RTX2060 (12,903 $480-550)
RTX2070 (14,118 $720)

Current cards and approximate entry prices, OC models may be more
GTX1660 6GB (10,761, $299)
GTX1660TI 6GB (11,552, $375)
AMD RX5700 (12,055 $480)
AMD RX5700XT (13,456 $550)
RTX2060 Super (13,829 $600)
RTX2070 Super (14,696 $715)

CPU Comparison
AMD RyZen 3 3200G (Passmark CPUMark score 8,147)
Intel Core i3-9100F (8,992)
AMD RyZen 5 3400G (9,984)
Intel Core i5-9500F (12,956)
AMD RyZen 5 3600 (19,980)

Low Price Left Field Winner: To get a lowest price machine, get a quad-core, 3.6 GHz/4 GHz boost Ryzen 3 3200G CPU based machine which comes with AMD Radeon Vega 8 graphics processor onboard and a competent cooling fan, 250 GB of SSD, 8 GB RAM and plan to upgrade to a video card later. This can be done for $600, or for under $725 with the better Ryzen 5 3400G quadcore with hyperthreading, and upgraded to 16 GB RAM. That is crazy good pricing for a machine that can handle most any office task, moderate video editing, and competent gaming at lower resolutions and detail.

The best bang for the buck on CPUs is the new AMD Ryzen 5 3600 6-core / 12 thread CPU. Unfortunately, the more expensive motherboards for the Ryzen and increases in Windows, case and power supply costs, means that the 3600 breaks our budget. The alternative is the Ryzen 5 3400G which gives you 4 cores / 8 threads at 4200 MHz – plus a graphics core which will be ignored in favor of the video card, although it could be used for a 2nd or 3rd monitor. We have listed the Ryzen 5 3600 as an upgrade option.

The dark horse is the Intel Coffee Lake i3-9xxx series, which has 4 cores, no hyperthreading or overclocking, but delivers a decent base clock speed for the price compared to the Intel i5. 

RAM and SSD prices are the one thing that brings a smile. Not only have they dropped substantially compared to last year, there are now choices for M.2 PCI-e SSDs which mount on the motherboard and offer twice the data throughput compared to SATA connected SSD drive. So we can invest in a faster and larger 500 GB flash based primary drive in our build. A spinning hard drive in a desktop computer is now the place for system backups, and for massive storage of non-interactive data such as music and movies.

Here are suggested configurations at about the $1000 price point (before tax, Canadian dollars, current to Sept 10 2019). 

In all of the configurations, we have gone with motherboards that have:

  • one PCI-e video card slot x16
  • USB 3.1 on board
  • SATA III (6.0 Gb/s) on board
  • Gigabit Ethernet (1000BT), no WiFi
  • On the AMD build we have gone to a micro-ATX board with 4 RAM slots for a max of 64 GB of memory, a single video card PCI-e x16 slot, and a single M.2 SSD socket on the motherboard.
  • SLI and Crossfire are fading in popularity, so the advantage of two video card x16 slots is diminishing, so we have settled for a single x16 slot.
  • Optical drive has been dropped this year, because the majority of installations are now done with downloads and USB sticks.
  • We have moved RAM up to the 2666 MHz level because the Zen architecture is sensitive to RAM speed
  • We have moved up to a 500 GB SSD drive as a primary drive on the main machine, for the speed of booting and loading.  Its easy to add an extra hard drive if you need the space for file storage

Please note that we have costed-in a System Builder Windows 10 license which is necessary unless you have a retail license of Windows 10, (since manufacturer-bundled Windows versions can’t be transferred from one machine to another), or unless you run with Linux

So here are our contenders:

AMD Ryzen 5 – 4 core system – By dropping to a cheap case and powersupply, a single RAM DIMM we can get it to $1010.  Of course if you already have a keyboard and mouse and a retail version of Windows, you can save there.  The downside of this is that you should plan to invest in more RAM later, and a new power supply if you upgrade to a higher end video card.

CaseEpower Case  Mid Tower with 450W PSUTP-2001BB-45067
MotherboardGigabyte Motherboard B450M DS3H AMD AM4 B450 4xDDR4 up to 64GB , SATA, 1xM.2 socket NVMe PCI-e x4, USB 3.1/3.0, mATX, HDMI, DVI103
Power supply included with case
 SSD driveKingston 500 GB 500G A2000 M.2 2280 NVMe PCIe Gen 3.0 x491
MemoryDDR4-2666 8 GBKINGSTON 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 Non-ECC CL19 DIMM 1Rx849
CPUAMD Ryzen 5 3400G 4Cores/8 Threads 4200MHz 6MB cache 65W TDP AM4 Radeon RX Vega11 graphics and Wraith Spire cooler199
Keyboard and MouseThermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear ComboKB-CMC-PLBLUS-0138
Additional Fan120mm (one 80 mm included with case)15
Video cardGTX1660 6 GBAsus Phoenix Overclock PH-GTX1660-O6G299
OSWindows 10 OEMKW9-00140140
CoolerStock coolerIncluded with CPU
PCI-eG PowerPower cable for Video card8 pin adapter cable 9
 TOTALbefore tax, shipping and assembly $1,010
Options / substitutionsAdd a second RAM DIMMto a total of 16GB and dual channel modeAdd $49
AMD Ryzen 5 3600  6 cores 12 threads with fanLarger cache and more cores for multi-threaded appsAdd $78
GTX1660TI Overclocked Asus PH-GTX1660TI-O6GHigher performance GPUAdd$76

AMD No Graphics Card Ryzen 3 G

The Ryzen / Radeon Vega system makes use of system RAM for the graphics, so its important to have enough RAM. But also, it makes the performance of the graphics more than usually dependent on the memory speed, so this is one instance where you’d consider dropping some extra memory into DDR4-3000 or even 3200 MHz RAM. Here is a list of high performance DDR4 memory

CaseEpower Case  Mid Tower with 400W PSUTP-2001BB-40062
MotherboardGigabyte Motherboard B450M DS3H AMD AM4 B450 4xDDR4 up to 64GB , SATA, 1xM.2 socket NVMe PCI-e x4, USB 3.1/3.0, mATX, HDMI, DVI103
Power supply400W included with case
 SSD driveKingston 250 GBKingston 250G A2000 M.2 2280 NVMe PCIe Gen 3.0 x460
MemoryDDR4-2666 8 GBKINGSTON 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 Non-ECC CL19 DIMM 1Rx849
CPURyzen 3 3200G 4C 4000MHz 6MB cache 65W TDP AM4 Radeon RX Vega 8 graphics and Wraith cooler132
Keyboard and MouseThermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear ComboKB-CMC-PLBLUS-0138
Additional Fan120mm (one 80mm included with case)15
Video cardNone
OSWindows 10 OEMKW9-00140140
CoolerStock coolerIncluded with CPU
 TOTALbefore tax, shipping and assembly$598
Options/ SubstitutionsAdd a second 8GB RAM DIMM

For 16 GB total
Add $49


Ryzen 5 3400G 4C 8T 4200MHz 6MB cache 65W TDP AM4 Radeon RX Vega11 graphics and Wraith Spire cooler
Add $67

Intel 4-core system – This combo is interesting. Last year’s build had an i3-8100 in a fairly expensive Z370 motherboard. For today’s system we are moving to the Coffee Lake i3-9100F at 3.6 GHz (4.1 GHz Turbo boost) which is a similar CPU but without the integrated graphics. As of Sept 10 2019 it is also on promotional pricing with a substantial discount (which is subject to change). With this discount and availablity of moderately priced B360 chipset motherboards, we can choose a bit better case and power supply and still bring the Intel system in under $950. (The H310 motherboard are even cheaper, but do not support 4 RAM DIMMs so they didn’t make the cut).

Upgrading to the Intel CPU BX80684I59500F Core i5-9500F with 6 cores / 6 threads and 3.0 GHz / 4.4 GHz Turbo would add $126

CaseCoolerMaster Case Elite 350 ATX Mid Tower 500W Power Supply 4/1/(6) Bay USB Audio BlackRC-350-KKR500-GP 88
MotherboardGigabyte B360M DS3HB360 4xDDR4 up to 64GB , SATA, 1xM.2 socket NVMe PCI-e x4, USB 3.1/3.0, mATX, HDMI, DVI103
Power supply500W included with case
SSD DriveKingston 500 GB500G A2000 M.2 2280 NVMe PCIe Gen 3.0 x491
MemoryDDR4-2666 8 GBKINGSTON 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 Non-ECC CL19 DIMM 1Rx849
CPUIntel CPU BX80684I39100F Core i3-9100F Box 6M Cache 3.6 GHz 4.1 GHz burst 4 Cores/ 4 Threads LGA1151 No integrated graphics, no overclocking118
Keyboard and MouseThermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear ComboKB-CMC-PLBLUS-0138
Additional Fan120mm (one included with case)15
Video cardOverclocked, 2 GB of video memoryGTX1660 6 GBAsus Phoenix Overclock PH-GTX1660-O6G299
OSWindows 10 OEM140
 TOTALbefore tax, shipping and assembly $942

Options / substitutions
Add a second RAM DIMM
to a total of 16GB dual channel
Add $49
Upgrade Video card
GTX0660TI Overclocked Asus PH-GTX1660TI-O6G
Add $76

Other upgrades:

Gaming Mouse: (note that you don’t want a wireless mouse or keyboard for gaming)

Keyboard: Mechanical keyboards go for $120 and up

Previous posts

March 2018
April 2015
Feb 2014

Posted in General Computer, How-To, PC Gaming, Performance | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

RyZen and DDR4 Memory – what to look for

AMD’s RyZen and RyZen third generation (Zen2) CPUs have rewritten the conventional wisdom around computer processors, the one that goes “Intel is the performance and innovation leader, and AMD follows behind with lower performance chips for the budget market”. The RyZen 3xxx processors are beating Intel in the market, with advanced process manufacturing and high performance, while still maintaining their value proposition.

The other script that needs revising is this one “Computer CPUs are not particularly sensitive to RAM memory speed, over-clocking RAM is a frill that results in marginal performance gains”

Well, the AMD RyZen architecture is built to take advantage of memory speed, and increasing the speed of the DDR4 memory in these machines does make an appreciable difference in the performance of the computer overall.

The basic DDR4 memory speed has settled out at 2400 MHz There are choices at 2666 MHz, 2933 MHz, 3000 MHz, 3200 MHz and other more expensive models up to 4400 MHz.

Digression: to be more accurate, DDR4-2400 has a 1200 MHz memory bus speed which at Double Data Rates (DDR) of two operations per clock tick translates to 2400 million transactions per second (MT/s), but lets now ignore that and return to the MHz labeling that everybody uses)

Setting the speed and timings for RAM in your machine is not necessarily automatic. You can buy expensive RAM rated for fast speeds, plunk it in and assume you’re going to get better performance, only to have your motherboard decide to run it at the standard 2133 or 2400 MHz. So to get the most out of your memory, you have to dive into your motherboard’s BIOS settings and make the changes, then test, then test again. Every motherboard and BIOS is going to be a bit different. Every RAM kit will come with some basic values programmed in, but not necessarily the fastest ones. And every motherboard-RAM combination will be stable up to a certain speed, and unreliable above that.

The main features are the Frequency (MHz or MT/s) and the Latency, There are many Latency parameters, the main one that is used for RAM marketing is the CAS latency, which in DDR4 could be anywhere from CL12 to CL19 (with latency, the lower the number the better). In general, as the MHz speed goes up, the CAS Latency also goes up and the price goes up. Your goal is to find the ‘sweet spot’ between high MHz, low latency and affordable price.

For RyZen processors, the sweet spot at the moment seems to be sitting around 3200 MHz and CAS Latency 16. This may change over time as yields of higher performance, smaller process DRAM chips become available.

CanadaRAM High Performance DDR4 memory pricing

Single Rank memory modules are easier to overclock than dual rank modules, but that means staying with 8 GB modules (as it is harder to build single rank 16 GB and above modules). That means a limit of 16 or 32 GB memory if your motherboard has 2 slots or 4 slots, respectively. You’ll have to decide if expandability to more than 32 GB is more important than ultimate speed. As always, check the memory compatibility charts for your particular motherboard, and follow the manufacturers guidance for Ranks, capacity and installation order.

The ratings on modules that you purchase are the memory manufacturers claims of how high a speed that they will support on the modules. You may be able to overclock the modules above the top rated speed, and conversely, some motherboard and memory combinations will not be able to reach the rated speed stably. Also note that many higher performance modules require that the voltage of the memory bus be increased beyond the 1.2V standard to 1.35V (over standard but generally acceptable) or even 1.5 V (not recommended) in order to reach the highest rated speeds. Excessive voltage increase creates higher heat and can lead to premature component breakdown.


Here is a link that covers the basics of setting RAM frequencies and latency.

https://www.howtogeek.com/439140/how-to-overclock-your-computers-ram/

And here is a DRAM calculator for RyZen chips that takes some of the guesswork out.
https://www.techpowerup.com/download/ryzen-dram-calculator/

And if you want a deep, deep dive into the specifics,
https://www.techpowerup.com/review/amd-ryzen-memory-tweaking-overclocking-guide/

Posted in General Computer, Memory, Performance, Upgrading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mac Pro Refresh 2019 – Expansion and memory

Apple finally brought a new Mac Pro design to the table. It is a return to the tower format, with some serious expandability and options.

Mac Pro 2019 front view

The CPU(s) are still Xeon workstation class processors, which means far higher expandability and bandwidth to interface with the world than the consumer Core i-series CPUs. Available Xeons go from a base of 8 cores to 28 cores, each with Hyperthreading for 2x the number.

Twelve memory sockets in 6 banks means a maximum of 768 GB on the 8 – 16 core machines and 1.5 TB of memory in the top-end 24 and 28 core models. Memory is DDR4-2666 MHz or 2933MHz ECC Registered or Load Reduced DIMMs

CanadaRAM has memory for this specification, compatibility will be confirmed after the Mac Pro ships.

Bringing back the PCI-e slot is huge. This is one of the things that killed the Cylindrical MacPro design, lack of ability to install upgrades. Well they are back in a big way, eight PCI-e slots to be exact, fed by 64 lanes of PCI-e communications from the Xeon CPU. Four of the PCI-e 3.0 slots are double-width, full length so they can accommodate large video cards. Apple announced proprietary single and dual GPU (AMD Vega II and Vega II Duo) graphics accelerators for rendering and support of multiple high resolution monitors. Up to 2 of the Vega cards can be installed for up to 4 GPUs. Apple is using MPX, a proprietary extension to the slot, to provide power and additional PCI-e lanes to these modules.

Mac Pro 2019 side (open) showing 2 x Vega II modules and one Afterburner module installed

Also announced is something else we haven’t seen for some time, a PCI-e hardware co-processor module (Afterburner) for high end video rendering. Apple software (Final Cut Pro X and QuickTime Player X) exploit the Afterburner module, we will have to wait and see which other software manufacturers get on board with it.

Four Thunderbolt 3 ports (on the USB-C connector style) are included, (two of them on the top of the tower) and internal storage is on two M.2-style SSD blades encrypted by the onboard T2 chip (no spinning hard drives inside this machine). These SSD slots are likely to be proprietary Apple modifications to the M.2 standard, we will see when the MacPro ships.

Expansion strategies for content producers will be two to four M.2 SSD blades on a PCI-e card, plus multidrive Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C RAID arrays. We expect OWC to come out of the gate with replacement SSD blades, PCI-e cards, plus they already have an array of Thunderbolt 3 RAID drives under their OWC and Akitio brand names.

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iMac 2019 Memory configuration

The 27 inch iMac for 2019 (5K, 2019) introduced DDR4 memory at the 2666 MHz speed, and an upper limit of 128 GB RAM. DDR4-2666 (PC4-21300) non ECC SODIMMs. Apple originally stated a 64 GB limit, however 32 GB modules have been tested and work in a 128 GB configuration.

(As usual, the 21.5 inch (4K, 2019) machine is not user-upgradeable in RAM, although a professional installed can strip the machine down to access the needlessly buried sockets.)

The 27 inch iMac remains at four memory sockets, which should be installed in pairs of memory. The standard configuration is 2 x 4 GB SODIMMs for 8 GB total (which today is the absolute minimum that a machine needs to run, 16 GB is the practical starting point for running applications)

You can install 2 pairs with different capacities, so you could add 2 x 8 GB to the stock 2 x 4 GB for 24 GB of RAM. Later you could take out the 2 x 4 GB and add 2 x 16 GB for 48 GB total

CanadaRAM memory for iMac 2019

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Can I build a gaming computer under $1000 March 2018 edition

It’s March 2018 and we are revisiting our exercise in budget computing: Can we build a computer that will give acceptable gaming performance for under $1000 Canadian?

Here’s what’s new: DDR4 RAM has doubled in price, and dragged SSD pricing higher along with, it due to shortages in chip production. The demand from cryptocurrency miners has played Hob with video card prices and availability, which means to get a gaming system under $1000 some serious trade-offs have to be made in video card performance.

NVidia still have the 10xx series GeForce cards, which came out in 2016. However the 1070 and 1080 cards are almost impossible to get.  AMD’s Radeon RX 5xx series is competitive and the price point / hash rates of the RX 580 card has proven irresistible to miners, so they are similarly unavailable, and prices have skyrocketed on both brands of high end cards.

The component that has the most impact on performance in a gaming computer is the video card, so budget compromises have to be made between the relative costs of the GPU video card vs CPU processor vs SSD drives.

And here is where we have our problem, because the GTX 1060 6GB (Passmark score 8,899, average cost about $500) GTX 1060 3G (8,872, $409), RX 570 (6,726, $460) and R9 580 4GB (8,284, $522) were the price-performance choices but this price equation has been severely skewed.  The NVidia GTX 1070 (11,113, $800+) breaks the bank thoroughly and none of these cards are readily available.

The GTX 1050TI (5,858, $308)  and the RX 560 (4,497, $245) gain us some savings, but we give up a substantial amount of speed.

An off-the-wall way to get a lowest price machine is to get a Ryzen 3-1300G based machine with AMD Radeon Vega graphics onboard, and plan to upgrade to a video card later. This can be done under $800, or for $963 with the better Ryzen 5 2400G and 16 GB RAM.

The best bang for the buck on CPUs is still an entry level Intel Core i5 CPU or the new AMD Ryzen 5 1600 6-core CPU. The dark horse is the Intel Coffee Lake i3-8xxx series, which has 4 cores, no hyperthreading or overclocking, but delivers excellent base clock speed.  At the moment it still requires a bit more expensive of a motherboard.

Here are suggested configurations at about the $1000 price point (before tax, Canadian dollars, current to Mar 1 2018).  We have had to stretch the definition of “about” and the definition of “gaming performance”

In all of the configurations, we have gone with motherboards that have:

  • one PCI-e video card slot x16
  • USB 3.1 on board
  • SATA III (6.0 Gb/s) on board
  • Gigabit Ethernet (1000BT), no WiFi
  • On the AMD build we have dropped down to a micro-ATX board with 2 RAM slots and a single video card PCI-e x16 slot to save some cash, as long as you are willing to live with 32 GB max memory.  Upgrading to an ATX board with four RAM slots, additional PCI-e lanes, and 64 GB of RAM capacity would add about $100 more.  SLI and Crossfire are fading in popularity, so the advantage of two video card x16 slots is diminishing.

We have gone with a 240 GB SSD drive as a primary drive on each machine, for the speed of booting and loading.  Its easy to add an extra hard drive if you need the space for file storage. Please note that we have costed-in a retail Windows 10 license (which is necessary unless you have a retail license of Windows 10, because manufacturer-bundled Windows versions can’t be transferred from one machine to another)

So here are our contenders:

AMD Ryzen 5 – 4 core system – the costs of video cards, DDR4 RAM and SSD has blown the budget on a discrete video card system.  By dropping to a cheap case and powersupply, a 2-RAM socket entry level motherboard, a single RAM DIMM and a lower end graphics card, just about powerful enough for gaming, we can get it to $1100.  Of course if you already have a keyboard and mouse and a retail version of Windows, you can save there.  The downside of this is that you will need to invest in more RAM later, and in a new power supply if you upgrade to a higher end video card.

Case Epower Case  Mid Tower with 450W PSU TP-2001BB-450 $54
Motherboard Asus Motherboard PRIME A320M-K AMD AM4 A320 DDR4 up to 32GB 3200MHz, SATA, M.2, USB 3.0 uATX, HDMI, DVI $86
Power supply  included with case
 SSD drive Kingston 240 GB  UV400 Series SSD $135
Memory DDR4-2400 8GB DIMM $130
CPU AMD Ryzen 5 1400  4 cores 8 threads with fan YD1400BBAEBOX $231
Optical drive Asus DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS $20
Keyboard and Mouse Thermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear Combo KB-CMC-PLBLUS-01 $39
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case) $15
Video card Asus GTX 1050TI 4 GB

or

AMD RX560 4GB

CERBERUS-GTX1050TI-O4G

or

RX560-O4G-EVO

$308

or

$243

OS Windows 10 OEM KW9-00140 $131
Cooler Stock cooler Included with CPU
PCI-eG Power Power cable for Video card 8 pin adapter cable  $10
 TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly  AMD RX560

or

NVidia 1050TI

$1094 

or

$1159

 Options / substitutions more RAM

Ryzen 5 1800X 6 core/ 12 thread chip

GTX 1060 6GB video card

to a total of 16GB

faster clock speed and more powerful for multi-threaded apps

Higher performance GPU

Add $120

Add
$76

Add
$250

 

AMD No Graphics Card Ryzen 3 G

The Ryzen / Radeon Vega system makes use of system RAM for the graphics, so its important to have enough RAM. But also, it makes the performance of the graphics more than usually dependent on the memory speed, so this is one instance where you’d consider dropping some extra memory into DDR4-3000 or even 3200 MHz RAM.

Case Epower Case  Mid Tower with 450W PSU TP-2001BB-450 $54
Motherboard Asus Motherboard PRIME A320M-K AMD AM4 A320 DDR4 up to 32GB 3200MHz, SATA, M.2, USB 3.0 uATX, HDMI, DVI $86
Power supply 450W  included with case
 SSD drive Kingston 240 GB  UV400 Series SSD $135
Memory DDR4-2400 8 Gb $130
CPU  AMD AM4 Ryzen3 2200G BOX 65W with Wraith Stealth cooler YD2200C5FBBOX $146
Optical drive Asus DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS $20
Keyboard and Mouse Thermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear Combo KB-CMC-PLBLUS-01 $39
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case) $15
Video card None
OS Windows 10 OEM KW9-00140 $131
Cooler Stock cooler Included with CPU
 TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly $756
Options/ Substitutions Ryzen 5 2400G 4 core 8 thread 3.2GHz/3.9 Turbo

16 GB RAM (2x8GB) 2400 MHz

Upgrade to 16 GB RAM, 3000 MHz

 with Radeon Vega 11, 11-core GPU graphics onboard

 

Dual channel. Add to base price

 

Add to base price

 

 

Add $87

 

Add $120

Add
$188

 

Intel 4-core system – here’s where things get interesting. Last year’s build had an i5-4460 in a B85 motherboard. For today’s system we are moving to the Coffee Lake i3-8100 at 3.6 GHz. To bring it below $1200, we will have to compromise with a lower video card, as budget-priced motherboards for the Coffee Lake CPUs haven’t shipped yet.

 

Case CoolerMaster Case Elite 350 ATX Mid Tower 500W Power Supply 4/1/(6) Bay USB Audio Black RC-350-KKR500-GP  89
Motherboard MSI ATX Intel Z370 up to 64GB DDR4 2 x PCI Express x16, SATA, GB LAN, M.2 Z370-A PRO 179
Power supply 500W included with case
SSD Drive Kingston UV400 240 GB 135
Memory DDR4-2400 8GB DIMM 130
CPU Intel i3-81000 4 core  3.6 GHz, 6MB cache BX80684I38100 170
Optical drive Asus DVD-RW DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS  20
Keyboard and Mouse Thermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear Combo KB-CMC-PLBLUS-01  39
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case) 15
Video card

Overclocked, 2 GB of video memory

NVidia GTX 1050TI 4 GB

or

AMD RX560 4GB

CERBERUS-GTX1050TI-O4G

or

RX560-O4G-EVO

$308

or

$245

OS Windows 10 OEM 131
 TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly  AMD RX560

or

NVidia GTX 1050TI 4 GB

$1163

or

$1226

 Options / substitutions more RAM

Intel i3 4 core CPU 4GHz and cooler

GTX 1060 6GB video card

to a total of 16GB dual channel

BX80684I38350K faster clock speed and 8MB cache

Higher performance GPU

Add $120

Add
$129

Add
$250

Other upgrades:

Gaming Mouse: (note that you don’t want a wireless mouse or keyboard for gaming)

Keyboard: Logitech Gaming Keyboard G110 12 programmable keys, backlighting, USB audio $96 or mechanical keyboard, $150 and up

Previous posts

April 2015
Feb 2014

Posted in General Computer, How-To, PC Gaming, Performance, Upgrading | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where did the screw holes go? 8 and 10 TB hard drive mounting issue

So you’ve got your shiny new Seagate IronWolf or Western Digital Red Pro 10 TB hard drive and your’re itching to install it in your MacPro or NAS appliance.  You pull out the drive tray and grab your screwdriver and…  There’s 4 screw holes on the bottom of the drive, widely spaced, and only the end two line up with your drive tray.  What’s  going on?

The newest large capacity hard drives have add an extra data platter (or two) in order to fit a gargantuan amount of data in the 3.5 inch form factor.  In order to make room for this, they have had to move two of the screw holes on the bottom surface of the drive. The side mounting holes are present and accounted for, so mounting in most PC cases is no problem.  But, for machines that use a tray for the hard drive, (also known as a carrier or a sled), if that tray relies on the older narrow bolt pattern for bottom mounting, you are in a pickle.

From Western Digital http://products.wdc.com/library/other/2579-771970.pdf
in this example, the older narrow pattern is called ‘Current’ and the wide pattern is called ‘Alternate’.

Hard Drive Screw Holes

As far as we can tell, all 4 TB drives are fine with the narrow pattern, and starting with Seagate 5 and 6 TB drives, some drives use the new wide pattern, including all of the current 10 TB drives. Western Digital produced some 4 and 5 platter larger drives with the old pattern but with shallower side screw holes, meaning that shorter screws have to be used or a washer has to be employed. Later WD high capacity drives went to the new wide hole pattern.

What’s confusing is that, even within the same model line, such as the 8 TB Red series from WD, newer Reds (rebadged Hitachi drives) use the wide pattern while older 8 TB Reds used the narrow pattern with shallow holes.

Some Seagate large capacity drives have also done away with the center screws on the sides, which is a problem for some tool-less trays that have studs in the center position.

For the Mac Pro tower machines (2006-2012), there is a solution, OWC has a replacement drive tray which is compatible with both of the hard drive screw patterns

OWCMPRODBKTLG6  CAN$39
Canadaram.com purchase link
http://canadaram.com/cart/shopping_cart.php?action=buy_now&products_id=2425300

OWC Mac Pro Drive Bracket

For some PC cases, and for many NAS and RAID multi-drive enclosures, you’ll want to inspect your unit before purchasing drives to ensure they use the side-mounting screws, and/or modify your existing drive trays to suit the new pattern.

Posted in Hard Drive News, Hard Drives and SSD, Mac questions, Windows questions | 1 Comment

The king is dead, long live the king – iMac Pro announced

Apple announced the release in December 2017 of the iMac Pro, a multicore Xeon based iMac all in one machine.

Its hard to see this as anything other than the death-knell for the cylindrical MacPro platform – the same processor, the same connectivity.  Sales of the MacPro slumped when Apple went from the aluminum tower to the cylindrical  MacPro – in my opinion for the very simple reason that video and audio production environments eat hard drives for breakfast, the MacPro tower had a generous four hard drive bays (plus two optical drive bays). The rotating-diskless format 2013 MacPro forced users to invest heavily in external Thunderbolt storage enclosures.

So what differentiates the MacPro from the iMac Pro? The screen. Apple has basically taken a Xeon server architecture, juiced up with a proprietary Apple T2 controller chip, a new SSD RAID format, swapped out the dual Fire GPUs for a single Radeon Pro Vega 56 or 64 GPU with 8 GB GDDR, rolled it flat, and glued it into the iMac 27 inch chassis behind a Retina 5K screen.

Does this mean that Apple no longer wants video and engineering professionals to choose their own monitor screens?  You’ll be able to add another two 5K screens by Thunderbolt 3 / Displayport (or more, if you can live with lower resolution), but you are married to the 27 inch screen purchase whether you like it or not.

By pre-announcing the iMac Pro by 6 months, (which if I recall correctly is unprecedented in Apple marketing history), Apple has chilled sales of the MacPro 2013 machine, and all but announced there will be no further updating of that platform as we now know it.

Transcript: Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi and John Ternus on the state of Apple’s pro Macs

The iMac Pro was announced with 8- 10- and 18-core versions of the Intel Xeon processor (a 14 core config was added later), 1TB, 2TB or 4TB of SSD, and DDR4-2666 ECC memory that is ‘Configurable’ to 64 or 128 GB.  If you have been following, ‘configurable’ is Applespeak for “You cannot upgrade the memory or the SSD yourself”, so you are locked into the configuration that you order from the factory.  There are some indications that the memory does have sockets, so an Apple authorized service centre can add RAM,

This means that you cannot get the base level machine (if you can consider US$4999 to be basic) and then upgrade RAM and SSD as the budget allows. You have to make the spending commitment up front.

The following are in Canadian dollars, comparing the Jan 2018 to the Sept 2019 pricing

Basic 8-Core machine 32 GB RAM 1 GB SSD
2018-01 $6,299  same price in 2019-09
Configure 32 GB to 64 GB: 2018-01 $960 2019-09 $480
Configure 32 GB to 128 GB: 2018-01 $2,880 2019-09 $2,400

(Of course you can get your upgrade memory from CanadaRAM for a considerable savings iMac Pro memory )

Configure 1 TB SSD to 2 TB SSD 2018-01: $960  2019-09 $480
Configure 1 TB SSD to 4 TB SSD 2018-01: $3,360 2019-09 $1,440

Xeon 8 core to 10 core:  $960 same price in 2019
Xeon 8 core to 14 core:  $1,920 same price
Xeon 8 core to 18 core:  $2,880 same price

So the envelope says… the real buy-in is $8,219 to $15,419 for an upgraded machine.

For their part, Apple has said they are ‘completely rethinking’ the MacPro design – “our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers” – and may have an announcement this year. https://www.macworld.co.uk/news/mac/new-mac-pro-2018-3536364/

Posted in General Computer, Mac questions, News | Leave a comment

2017 iMac machines use DDR4 memory

Apple released a refresh to the iMac lineup June 5 2017.

The iMac machines are noted for their all in one desktop design with high-quality ‘Retina’ LCD screens (5K resolution on the 27 inch, 4K resolution on the 21.5 inch).  These latest iMacs use the Intel Kaby Lake series processors, which are faster and cooler than their predecessors.

The biggest change on the memory front is that they have switched to DDR4 memory from the earlier DDR3.

As we have seen before, the iMac 21.5 inch models are not upgradeable, you can choose a pre-installed RAM amount from the factory only (Configurable to 16 GB, or to 32 GB on the top 3.4GHz model). These machines are glued together, and are not accessible to someone other than a technician.

The new 27 inch machines have a 4-SODIMM slot configuration like earlier models, and the 3.6 GHz and 3.8 GHz machines can go to 64 GB RAM with four DDR4 16 GB SODIMM modules.  The modules are specified at 2400 MHz (PC4-19600), which is one step up from the entry level 2133 MHz that most DDR4 machines use.

One puzzle is that the 27 inch 3.4 GHz i5 machine is limited to 32 GB total RAM in the Apple Technical Specifications.  This may be a hardware limitation, or purely a marketing decision on Apple’s part.  There’s no technical reason the memory controller in the Kaby Lake CPU can’t handle 64 GB.

Canadaram.com stocks DDR4  memory for the iMac 2017 models  http://canadaram.com/apple_imac_intel.htm#iMac2017

Apple’s other claims for the new machines include faster graphic performance with Radeon Pro 500-series discrete graphic chips, and faster performing SSD drives (claiming 50% faster). Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean the machine will run 50% faster, these figures are a bit of specsmanship – raw theoretical bandwidth numbers are several steps removed from real-world performance improvement.

All of the 27 inch models come standard Quadcore i5 CPUs and with 1TB or 2TB Fusion drives (a hybrid of a small SSD and a larger spinning hard drive, ‘spliced’ together by the operating system).  Fusion drive sets are faster than standard hard drives but slower than straight SSD drives. Apple is choosing this approach to bridge between the high storage demands of media (all those iTunes Movies and Photos libraries) and the high cost of large SSD drives.

The standard configurations can be customized with larger Fusion drives, or 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD drives, and the 3.6GHz and 3.8 GHz models with Quadcore i7 processors (note that 8 core i7s are not offered)

Apple claims that their latest Retina screens are brighter and have more accurate color that the previous models, partially due to the use of red-green LED backlighting.

The iMacs come standard with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which share the same connector form factor as USB C.  With the correct Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.1 peripherals, this enables high speed storage as well as connection of multiple displays. Owners of Thunderbolt 1 and 2 peripherals will have to get a TB3 to TB2 converter. The iMacs retain 4 standard USB 3.0 A-Type ports for peripherals like keyboard, mice and printers.

Posted in Mac questions, Memory News, News | Leave a comment

New MacBook Pros and USB C (and Thunderbolt and video, and network, and power)

The new MacBook Pros announced October 27 2016 have taken the plunge that we guessed was coming: All USB Type C ports, all the time.  (for a refresher on Type C, see our article here)

Following on after the opening salvo of the 2015 MacBook Retina, Apple has jettisoned all other digital ports in favour of the small USB Type-C 3.1 port for power, video, storage, networking and peripherals.  The first and most obvious effect is that your USB printers, mice, USB memory sticks, scanners and external hard drives have nowhere to plug in, and neither do your cabled network connection and expensive new Thunderbolt drives.  That’s more than a little inconvenient.

Fortunately there are some adapters on the market to make things connectible.  Cable adapters are available for USB C to:

  • USB 3.0 A Female (this is the one for using your existing peripherals with)
  • USB 3.0 A Male (this will be little used but can be used for charging. Reportedly, this can be used in Target Disk Mode between two Macs)
  • HDMI video (in both 1080p and 4K versions)
  • VGA video (carry this if you have to hook up to other peoples projectors for meetings and presentations
  • DVI Video and DVI video plus USB C charging port
  • RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet (for wired networks when WiFi won’t do)
  • USB 3.o Micro B and USB 2.0 Micro B and USB 2.0 Mini B (for phones, tablets, cameras, etc., choose the right one(s) for your devices)
  • Lightning (for iPhones and iPads)
  • USB C to USB C for charging and for connecting USB C peripherals.

usb-c_cables

There are also combination adapters that give multiple USB 3.0 Female ports, and/or video and network outputs.  One key thing to look for in a combo adapter is the presence of a USB C Female port for charging power.  If you have a combo adapter with video & or network out, plus an extra charger and a C to C cable, then you have a functional desktop dock that you can leave at your desk and plug into your laptop with just one connection when you sit down. Combo adapters are available in

  • 4 x USB 3.0 A Female plus USB C charging port
  • 1 x USB 3.o A Female,1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x HDMI video plus USB C charging port
  • 3 x USB 3.0 A Female 1 x Gigabit Ethernet plus USB C charging port

Link to CanadaRAM’s USB 3.1/Type C cables, adapters and hubs page

OWC has a full blown USB C docking station with 4 x USB 3.1 A Female (Gen 1) . HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm audio out, SD card reader, 2 x USB C 3.1 Female and has its own 80W power input to charge the MacBook Pro and power the USB A ports.

owc_usb-c_dock

But what about Thunderbolt?

The new Thunderbolt 3 specification uses the USB Type C, connector, so Thunderbolt is included in the USB C ports of the new Macs, which means you can potentially have four Thunderbolt drive daisy-chains (but read more later*).  As of this writing, the only game in town for Thunderbolt 1 and 2 devices is the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter.

apple_usbc_tb2_adapter

So if you are keeping track, there was the DisplayPort video interface, which Apple implemented using the Mini DisplayPort connector, then Thunderbolt was introduced using the same connector as MiniDisplay port, so you had storage+video. Now the USB bus + Thunderbolt storage + DisplayPort video protocol are all embedded in the new USB C / Thunderbolt 3 port.

Those of us still using Firewire drives, video cameras and audio interfaces may be at the end of the road, as it is yet to be seen if the triple shuffle of Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter then an Apple Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter will work.

* For more details, the USB C ports on the Late 2016 machines do implement the full Gen 2 10 Gbps bandwidth USB 3.1 protocol, as opposed to the MacBook Retina (which ran Gen 1 at half the potential speed), and all ports on the new MacBook Pros support Thunderbolt 3.  However the MacBook Pro 13 inch models with the TouchBar do not implement the full Thunderbolt 3 throughput on 2 of the 4 ports, the ones on the right hand side have reduced PCI-e performance.  The USB C port on the 2015 Retina MacBook does not support Thunderbolt.

Apple has done this before, abandoning 3.5in floppy drives long before the rest of the industry, dropping Firewire from their Pro models for Thunderbolt, dropping optical drives and abandoning SATA internal drive connections and hard drives in the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro models entirely for frustratingly proprietary SSD interfaces.

 

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I have lousy WiFi reception – what can I do?

I can’t get good WiFi reception in my living room, my router is in the basement on the opposite side of the house

In order to achieve reliable WiFi performance, you have to get a strong radio signal from the router to your computer, tablet or TV streaming device. There  are a variety of things that can degrade the wireless signal:

  • Distance – radio waves follow the inverse square power law: if you are twice as far away from the source, the power of the signal will drop to 25% of what it was.  The closer you are to the router, the better the signal – and the signal drops off precipitously as you get further away.
  • Blocking – the construction of the building and furnishings can block the transmission of the radio signals.  Prime problems are brick, marble, rock or concrete (doubly so if reinforced), 1950’s plaster or stucco on wire mesh, large metal appliances, water and mirrors.
  • Interference – microwave ovens, other wireless devices such as cordless phones, game controllers, Bluetooth devices (especially older ones), garage door openers, fluorescent lights, improperly installed satellite dishes and particularly -all your neighbors’ wireless networks – can interfere by creating noise on the frequencies that your router uses.

WiFi is designed to be resilient, if it can’t get the data packet through the first time, it will keep trying. Unfortunately, while this means that your network is still showing as “working”, it also means that the performance is slowed down, and sometimes too slow to be usable for timing-critical applications like streaming video and Skype calls.

Things you can do right away

  • Re-position the router and or the device so that they are closer together and/or avoid being blocked. Occasionally all that is needed is to move a machine a few feet.
  • Change the frequency band on a dual-band router (and on the device to match) – if you have a problem with interference on the 2.4 GHz band, switching the router to the 5 GHz band may help by moving the WiFi signal away from the frequencies of the interference.
  • Change the channel of the router – in the administrative settings of the router, you should be able to find a setting for the channel, which is probably set to one default, or automatic. Typically you will see channels 1 – 11 as options.  Try different channels until you find the one that gives the most reliable reception.
  • If all of your wireless devices are Wireless N standard, set the router to work on N only, not “automatic” or B/G/N mode.

Longer term fixes

  • Run a cable. Yes, it is a big one-time effort, but wired Ethernet will always be more reliable than wireless.  See if you can utilize a crawlspace, attic, or interior closets to help run CAT6 (Category 6 unshielded twisted pair) Ethernet cable, or consult with a low-voltage cabling contractor.

    I couldn’t get acceptable NetFlix performance on my AppleTV until I ran a cable from the router to the AppleTV directly.

  • Get a more powerful router, and one with dual band capability that can operate in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
  • Add stronger antennas to your existing router if it has the standard RP-SMA antenna connectors. Your standard router antennas are probably 2dB gain, replacement antennas can be 5dB or 8dB. Some aftermarket antennas are free-standing and come with a length of cable, allowing you to re-position the antennas independently from the router.
  • Get a better WiFi adapter for your laptop or desktop.  If your laptop machine has built in WiFi, it will be using an antenna that is typically looped around the LCD screen in the machines top.  You might get better results with a USB connected WiFi adapter that has its own external antenna.
  • Add a range extender (also called a repeater or an access point). A range extender is typically positioned mid-way between the router and your problem location. It picks up the radio signal from the router, and rebroadcasts it at full power for the devices in its area.The range extender can only work as well as the signal it gets, so  you have to position it where it gets some reliable reception from the main router.  If there are zero or 1 “bars” of WiFi reception at the range extender’s location, then it won’t be able to help much. Re-position the range extender where it can get a better signal.

    This technique was used for one client who had a massive stone fireplace in the center of the house, with literally zero reception 20 feet from the router on the other side of the fireplace. We used a range extender to do a triangle around the fireplace, putting it where it was line of sight to both the router and the device.

  • Or even better, run an Ethernet cable from the router to the range extender – check the specifications of the range extender first, not all of them accept a wired connection. Some routers such as the Asus RT-N series have AP/Range extender modes, so can be configured to work together with another router.
  • If there is no possibility of installing Ethernet cable, you could investigate Powerline Ethernet, which uses pairs of adapters to send a signal over the building’s AC power wires.  There are some limitations with this approach, and the electrical outlets being used have to be on the same circuit panel.  This approach is highly variable, it sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t.
  • If you are setting up outdoor WiFi, or trying to send a signal from one building to another, there are specialized antennas and access points that are made for outdoor mounting, and with the option of directional antennas.  The normal router antenna broadcasts the signal in a 360 degree circle (omnidirectional).  A directional antenna takes the radio signal power, and focuses it all in one direction, which allows for longer distances.

 

 

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