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Tag Archives: Review

How much power does your IT equipment use?

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Product Review:
Belkin Conserve Insight
RRP: $49.95

Tech devices use power — that much is quite obvious — but over time the amount of work that’s been put into power conservation has been considerable. Today’s laptops and desktops are more power efficient than ever before, but this is mostly so that vendors can talk up the battery life figures of systems.  With (at the time of writing) Earth Hour fast approaching, the subject of sensible power usage is at the forefront. The actual power and CO2 savings of Earth Hour are debatable (especially if you do things like light lots of candles to mitigate the loss of light), but it’s what you do with the knowledge gained going forwards that could make a difference.

If you’re not of a mind to be worried about the effect of power usage on the planet, you should at least see that the use of power when it’s not needed is an unnecessary drain on your own personal resources, namely the money that’s in your wallet. Power prices have risen in recent years, and it’s unlikely they’ll become any cheaper any time soon.

Belkin recently sent me a number of review samples from its Conserve range, including the Conserve Insight, a plug-in power meter. Belkin’s not alone in this field — many hardware stores will sell this type of simple power meter, and if you’re really keen, it’s possible to have whole-of-house (or office) meters installed as well.

The Conserve Insight is  a chunky standard pass-through plug with a meter attached, and the claim that it’ll help you work out your real energy costs by plugging your devices into it. This obviously isn’t limited to IT-style technology power metering, but for the purposes of experimentation, I used it to measure power draw in my office, which connects up surge protected power boards to a single wall socket plug. The idea with the Insight is pretty simple; as you plug in any electricity drawing device, the display shows the choice of cost, watts or CO2 production for that device. The cost and C02 production costs can be varied if you’ve got access to that kind of information; your power bill should certainly at least show you the kW/hr cost you’re paying.

With nothing plugged in, not surprisingly the cost and power draw were negligible. A single power board with a backup drive and a couple of attached chargers saw it spring up to between $26-$60 per annum. Belkin’s claim is that over time the Insight will “average out” your usage based on actual full power draw, which is reasonable enough; many devices draw a lot of power in the startup phase but less in operation, and some more efficient IT devices have very low hibernation power draw. Adding a second power board running some speakers and an office TV on standby saw it stick resolutely just above $60, but no longer down in the $20 range at all. Plugging in a PC, however, saw the figure jump very quickly up to $295, and a second PC saw that hop up to a scary $610 per annum. That fluctuated quite a bit, but again most PCs are pretty power hungry when they’re first starting up, and over a short while things settled down a touch.

Those are annual figures for cost, although I later worked out its inbuilt charging rate was a little lower than the price I actually pay; a 20% premium or so over those figures is more in line with actual usage.

The Insight (or any similar plug in charger) won’t save you a single cent or a single square centimetre of the planet without actually acting on the information you give it. In my case, that involved wandering around the thick layers of dusty cables to spot those things I could easily leave unplugged until absolutely needed, even if it seemed like they weren’t on or might only have a minor amount of standby power usage. Devices you’ll constantly be firing up and down might not need to apply, but it’s quite likely in the average office or home there are mobile phone chargers sitting around doing little but heating the room gently, speakers that aren’t doing much speaking to speak of and even laptops lying dormant waiting for your command. There’s a convenience to having a laptop spring to life at your command, but is it equal to the convenience of having air you can breathe or more money in your wallet at the end of the year?


iPad vs Kindle

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On the surface, Apple’s soon to be released iPad and Amazon’s already available Kindle appear to service the same market: eBook readers.

Amazon’s Kindle is available in two varieties. There’s the smaller screen US$259 6″ (15cm) Kindle, and the larger US$489 9.7″ (25cm) Kindle DX. Both have the same feature set, so the US$230 price difference just buys you more screen real estate. I’ve listed the prices there in US dollars because that’s what Amazon will charge you for them even though you’re shipping them to Australia. As such, depending on how the currency conversion goes, the price of the Kindle may fluctuate on a daily basis.

The local iPad prices have finally been set in stone. Pricing for the WiFi-only models starts at $629 (16GB), $759 (32GB) or $879 (64GB), while the 3G and GPS equipped version costs $799 (16GB), $928 (32GB) or $1,049 (64GB). As yet, unlike the iPhone, no carrier has said they’ll sell the iPad on a phone-style contract basis, but data plans have popped up starting at $20 for a 30 day expiry period. That’ll get you 1GB of usage from Telstra and 2GB from Optus. At the time of writing, Vodafone had yet to commit pricing, but it’s not a great stretch to suggest they’ll fall somewhere in line with Telstra and Optus anyway.

In the Kindle’s favour, the cost of the device includes lifetime wireless data access for browsing and buying books from Amazon’s Kindle bookstore. Pick a title, and pretty much anywhere in Australia it’ll be sent to your Kindle for quick and easy reading. In the US, the Kindle also offers limited web browsing, and will shortly offer Twitter and Facebook compatibility, but the “International” model doesn’t offer web browsing, so it seems unlikely we’ll get Twitter or Facebook either. The Kindle uses an e-ink solution that mimics the look of real paper — to a certain extent — and uses very little power. Charge your Kindle up, and it’ll last a number of weeks.

The iPad, on the other hand, uses a more traditional LCD display, as you’d find in a notebook or netbook. This has the downside that power consumption is much higher, but it’s readable by itself without any external light source. It’s also a much more capable device, somewhat akin to — but not quite like — a notebook or netbook. It doesn’t come with free lifetime data, but then what you can do with that data is far more wide reaching.

The iPad is somewhat akin to an iPod Touch with a touch of Frankenstein to it, and as such most iPod Touch/iPhone Apps will run on it, save those that need phone or camera functionality. It’s a more complete device in that it’ll handle a lot of simple computing tasks, but only one at a time. Like the iPod Touch/iPhone, there’s no multi-tasking capability out of the box, although the promised 4.0 iPhone software update due later this year may deal with some of those woes.

The iPad’s likely to be more expensive than the Kindle for the foreseeable future, although the difference between the Kindle DX and iPad 16GB isn’t that great after currency conversion and GST are taken into consideration. The Kindle hits the eBook market quite hard and with focus, and if all you’re after is an eBook reader, it’s the one to beat in single use terms. There are plenty of competitors in the wings. The iPad’s an eBook reader, but also quite a bit more, and it’s priced somewhat accordingly.


What will your next digital camera be?

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Digital cameras have rendered the humble old box brownie all but obsolete. You probably own multiple digital cameras, especially once your mobile phone is taken into consideration. Beyond the race to cram more and more megapixels into compact cameras — a fairly useless activity once you get beyond around 8 megapixels unless you need to shoot outdoor advertising posters — there are limits to what a compact camera can do.  The compact digital you most likely own is fine for taking happy snap style shots, and if you’re lucky, you may end up with some really nice photos. But what do you do if you want a little bit more control over your images?

The traditional answer would have been to step up from the box brownie style of a compact digital to a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. These allow for discrete image processing steps, multiple lenses — both for zoom/macro/fixed focus work and for specific effects such as fisheye or tilt shift lens photography — but have always had a few particular problems for novices wanting a little more power. For a start, DSLRs are pretty expensive. This has changed in recent years; you can typically pick up a DSLR body from companies such as Nikon or Canon for under a thousand dollars, but lenses can often cost a great deal more. The learning curve on a DSLR is pretty sharp, and most DSLRs are solidly built and therefore heavy, which limits their portability. You’re much less likely to take a DSLR out for a quick shot of your nephews on a swing if it takes five minutes to set up and take the shot.

There is a middle way emerging that promises some of the fine control and lens swapping ability of DSLRs without all of the challenging complexity or higher price of a DSLR. These mini DSLRs — often referred to as micro 4/3rds cameras (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_Four_Thirds_system) are cheaper and smaller than a DSLR with a reasonable amount of the power that DSLRs offer. Not all of these compact DSLRs are actually Micro 4/3rds cameras, though. I recently had a chance to have a field test at Taronga Zoo with Samsung’s recently released $899 NX10 camera, which uses a full APS-C sensor, such as you’d find on a “full” DSLR, but with a mirror-less design that makes the camera body a lot smaller, and therefore a lot more portable. I do know my way around a DSLR to a fair extent, but even I came away impressed with the quick and easy shots I could take.

So they’re typically cheaper than DSLRs and more powerful than compact digital models. What’s the downside of opting for a Micro 4/3rds style camera? Well, you do get the flexibility of being able to change lenses that are typically going to be a lot cheaper than their DSLR equivalents, but in most cases you’re limited to the lenses produced for that camera series. Some Micro 4/3rds cameras do allow for additional lens types to be fitted via adaptors, but often with some specific features such as auto focusing removed. By contrast, if you buy a “Full” DSLR, you’ll be able to change out the main camera “body” but keep using the same lenses year in and year out, taking advantage of the new body features each time. As a stepping stone up in your photographic knowledge, or a gift for somebody wanting a little more than a compact can offer, they’re a good alternative.


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