Summary: Looking for gadgets for your PC to spend your holiday cash on? In this article, we take a look at six different products from ATI, D-Link, OCZ, Seagate, Shuttle, and X-Micro, ranging from external TV tuner solutions, to portable storage, and even a little MP3 action as well. Perhaps you'll see something that catches your eye inside!
ATI TV WONDER USB 2.0
Would you like to watch TV programming on your notebook PC, or perhaps youíd like an external TV tuner solution for watching on multiple PCs? (Say for instance, you have computers setup in multiple rooms, or youíd also just like to watch TV on your buddyís PC down the street.) Some of you may even be reluctant to open up the innards of your PC.
The TV WONDER USB 2.0 incorporates the latest advancements in technology, many of you may not know this, but itís been over four years since ATI last changed the TV WONDER. Sure, ATI has introduced revised TV WONDER SKUs with different feature sets since then, but the core technology itself hasnít changed. As you can imagine, a lot has changed in the past four years.
At the heart of the TV WONDER USB 2.0 is ATIís THEATER 200 chip. If you recall, THEATER 200 was first introduced in ATIís ALL-IN-WONDER 9700 line and features ATIís third generation adaptive 2D 3-Line comb filter. By moving to three lines, THEATER 200 can more accurately process composite video signals, resulting in a cleaner, sharper picture. In comparison, many competing solutions use 2 lines for NTSC, and 4 lines for PAL. THEATER 200 also features dual 12-bit analog-to-digital converters. By moving up to 12-bits, audio quality is increased. Other products on the market only offer 9-bits or less with their offerings.
The second major change ATI has implemented in TV WONDER USB 2.0 is its USB 2.0 interface. USB 2.0 provides peak transfer rates of up to 480 Mbps, whereas USB 1.1 is limited to just 10 Mbps. This ensures the best video quality possible at high resolutions as the TV WONDER USB 2.0 delivers the raw, uncompressed video directly to your computer (USB 1.1 solutions often have to use compression in order to not saturate the USB bus).
Besides the obvious hardware differences, ATI has also added new capabilities to the TV WONDER USB 2.0ís repertoire. Like ATIís newer ALL-IN-WONDER products, TV WONDER USB 2.0 supports ATIís Multimedia Center 9.02. This gives you Gemstarís excellent (and free) GUIDE PLUS software, VIDEOSOAP, TV-ON-DEMAND, EAZYSHARE, THRUVIEW, and EAZYLOOK, although you will need a system equipped with an ATI RADEON chip to get the last two features. ATIís previous TV WONDER products were limited to older versions of Multimedia Center, which didnít support features such as TV-ON-DEMAND, which allows you to pause live TV at any time, return later, and resume watching the TV program right where you left off.
Setting everything up is a snap. Simply insert your TV WONDER USB 2.0 driver CD in your optical drive and kick back. When prompted by the setup routine, simply connect the USB 2.0 cable to the TV WONDER USB 2.0 and connect it to your computer. Attach the power cable to the TV WONDER USB 2.0 and plug it into your wall outlet. Then reboot the computer, and youíre good to go!
The TV WONDER USB 2.0 officially retails for $99, but street prices in the upper $80 range arenít out of the ordinary. You may also want to pick up ATIís REMOTE WONDER as well, as the TV WONDER USB 2.0 ships without a remote control unit.
The networking gurus over at D-Link have earned a reputation for building solid networking devices at a competitive price, now theyíre looking to capture the hearts and minds of gamers with their DGL-4300 and DGL-4100 routers.
The DGL-4100 and DGL-4300 arenít your everyday standard routers that have been repackaged and branded as ďgamingĒ routers, D-Link has gone much further than that.
Their GameFuel technology flags data packets from games such as Counter-Strike as high priority, while packets from other programs are tagged low priority. What this means is that these routers are optimized to give you better network performance in games, while other data communications such as FTP are given lower priority, ensuring that you always get the lowest ping possible, even while you (or someone else on your network) may be downloading large files. Chris had this to say about the DGL-4300:
ďFrom first glance, D-Linkís DGL-4300 principal appeal is Gigabit Ethernet with 802.11g wireless--ideal for home networks with a mixture of both technologies. However, the gaming router features several other technologies that actually improve performance on that same network, where one client might be downloading audio files, another might be streaming video, and a third is trying to get reasonable response from a Counter-Strike server. The DGL-4300 delivers on its specification sheet and makes it possible to competitively play games on an otherwise utilized network. In fact, I set up a small LAN with two wireless clients and two systems connected through the Gigabit ports. During the course of a 10GB file transfer between the wired systems and a series of BitTorrent transfers, I still managed to play a game of Half-Life 2: Deathmatch and garner a first place finish (the alias is crazipper, in case youíd care for a thorough beating). Moreover, the router is relatively easy to configure for beginners and flexible enough for more advanced users. The one-click firmware update function is also pretty spiffy.Ē
But GameFuel isnít the only unique feature that D-Linkís new routers boast. The DGL-4100 and 4300 also feature four Gigabit Ethernet ports, making them the first SOHO routers to support this feature. With the proliferation of GigE on most newer motherboards, these users can finally take advantage of Gigabit Ethernet without having to opt for a switch. The DGL-4300 also features 108Mbps 802.11g Wi-Fi with a 200mW transmitter.
As Chris mentioned, configuration of the router is a snap. Gamers can even create custom Game Fuel rules for opening up specific ports, say for instance, youíd like to host a game server but the game wonít work through the routerís firewall.
With ModStream, you can install the power cables you need right now, saving the others for later use. Say for instance, you want to build a very basic system with a DVD-ROM drive, hard drive, and a graphics card like the RADEON 9600 XT, which doesnít require an external power connection. With this setup, youíd only need to plug in one power cable (with dual connectors) into the ModStream PSU. The rest can be saved until youíre ready to upgrade to that GeForce 6800 Ultra youíve been drooling over, or add a DVD burner or second hard drive. OCZ includes the following cables with the ModStream:
All of the EZMod power cables feature copper-shielded power leads which are also specially sheathed, this delivers cleaner power. OCZ then adds clear plastic tubing on top of this. For added flair, the cables glow in a light shade of blue when used with UV lighting.
The power supply unit itself features very solid construction, the power rails arenít adjustable like they are on OCZís PowerStream line, but with up to 28 amps on the 12V rail for the 520-watt model, still quite capable of powering the latest processors and video cards. The PSU sports a distinctive mirror finish, and even features blue LEDs that light up the inside of the PSU when active. For cooling, one 120mm fan is used. OCZ refers to this as their PowerWhisper technology; one ultra quiet fan is used as an intake fan, and is located on the underside of the PSU. The fan sucks up the hot air within your case and expels it out the back of the PSU, which consists of one large grille. For compatibility with future motherboards, OCZ even adds BTX support to the ModStreamís list of features, and finally, as an added touch the PSU also ships with extra zip ties and Velcro strips for bundling everything together.
OCZ provides two ModStream SKUs as of right now, a 450-watt PSU, and a 520-watt model. Currently, ModStream PSUs sell for about $20 less than similar OCZ PowerStream units on Newegg.
These pocket hard drives utilize your computers USB 2.0 interface, just like a USB thumb drive, and if youíre a Windows XP/2000/ME user, donít require a driver for use. Simply plug the drive into your systemís USB port, and the system recognizes it instantly!
The beauty of all this isnít just the convenience though, the price is also pretty remarkable. Street prices for the 5.0GB ST650211USB hover in the $130-$160 price range.
The ST650211USB is pretty durable. The 1Ē drive itself features Seagateís G-Force technology, which has been used on their high-end Cheetah line for years. Meanwhile, the USB cable itself can be neatly tucked away within the ST650211USBís plastic enclosure. Seagate even decks the unit out with a blue LED on the top of the enclosure to indicate disk activity.
The specs on the ST650211USB ST1 hard drive are pretty impressive for a 1Ē drive. It features a 2MB buffer and spins at 3600 RPMs. According to Seagate, the ST650211USB is just 2.7 inches in diameter and weighs in at 2.3 ounces. Seagate also ships the drive with a CD which contains drivers for older operating systems as well as the drive toolkit, which can be used to setup partitions on the disk, to write protect the disk, or to make it bootable. All in all this is a pretty impressive package, especially for audio/video enthusiasts or anyone else who needs a large amount of storage in a very small space. The affordable price tag is only icing on the cake.
After successfully launching their XP17 flat panel display, Shuttle is now expanding into another market: DVD burning. Their CR40 is a dual-layer DVD burner offering 16X DVD write speeds for DVD+/-R and rewrite (as well as dual-layer) speeds of 4X.
Itís styling changes like this that set the CR40 apart from conventional DVD burners. The drive sports a minimalist design, with smooth corners rather than the sharp edges you see on most drives, as well as an elongated eject button. The only feature thatís really missing is Serial ATA support.
Shuttle markets these drives as XPC accessories, as the drives colors match those of Shuttleís XPC line, but theyíll work just fine with more conventional desktop PCs. Those of you with aluminum cases may want to look into picking up a silver CR40 sometime soon. Itís these unique colors that really allow the CR40 to stand out from the competition in our opinion.
The MusePod by X-Micro, a Taiwanese company that also makes portable MP3 players, USB flash disks, Bluetooth cellphone headsets, portable HDDs, and WLAN network hardware, pays homage to the iPod, while surpassing it in features and beating it on price. The MusePod comes in a 20 GB version that also offers voice recording, text file storage/retrieval and an FM radio, all for the relatively low price of between US$250-270, about $75 cheaper than the 20 GB iPod. As far as looks go, itís not quite as slick looking, but it doesnít look too shabby either, with a nice purple metallic-silver color theme and a blue backlit 1.5Ē LCD screen.
The MusePod has a 4-directional toggle button, with a 5th center Menu button, as well as Play, Stop, Mode and Record buttons. The buttons make easy navigation of the 6 Modes (Music menu, Playlist, Voice Record, FM Radio, Text Viewer and Data Backup) as long as you remember to use the +/- keys instead of the >, which will activate a mode rather than switching to the next one. The MusePod could have been just as functional with 4 less buttons-I think the Stop, Play, Mode and Record buttons could have been incorporated into the system using just the 4 directional buttons plus the center menu button. For example, when scrolling the music library, either >, Play or Menu opens an artist or album file and will also begin to play, so as you can imagine there is a bit of redundancy. However, this is a minor quibble and doesnít detract too much from the MusePod, which seems solidly built: in a week of taking it almost everywhere, it hasnít skipped or crashed.
In terms of recording or copying files, the MusePod is pretty straightforward. For copying music from a computer, it plugs right in without any drivers for Windows 2000 and XP, showing up as a hard disc that you can easily trade files back and forth with, although this basic information was not really in the instruction manual. Itís also just as easy to copy from another USB device, weather it be a flash disk, MP3 player or another portable hard drive player. For copying from a CD player, a line-in cable is provided. Voice recording is also a breeze with the built-in mic. Now you can record those amazing conversations for posterity.
X-Micro has also made sure that users are well taken care of by including all the cables and adaptors you could ever possibly need, as well as a nifty leatherette carrying case with a belt clip. Sound quality is excellent in both radio and player format, especially with WMA files. Overall, this is a very solid first effort at a portable hard drive player for X-Micro and we look forward to seeing more products from them in the future.
So there you have it, our thoughts on a few gadgets you may want to consider to accessorize your PC with. Hope you enjoyed it!
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