Category Archives: Computer Hardware Peripherals

Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard with Hub

Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard with Hub

The Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard is a regular keyboard for your entertainment use with devices like Xbox, PlayStation and Roku.

Ease of Use, Performance:  3/5
Look & Feel:  4/5
Features:  3/5
How much I enjoy: 3/5
Recommendation:  3/5 Stars

Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard
Logitech Smart Keyboard

The Harmony Smart Keyboard from Logitech is a new way to control entertainment devices like console game systems and streaming players like the Roku. The Smart Keyboard is available with or without the Hub which is a wireless connection between your network but the hub is required to set up the keyboard.

The Harmony Smart Keyboard connects to your devices through the wireless network you have at home and through infrared using the hub or an infrared receiver. The Harmony Hub connects to your network using Wi-Fi while the keyboard connects to it using Bluetooth with the receiver for in cabinet use of the hub and other devices.

The Smart Keyboard is a great way to type on devices like the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and media streaming devices. Media streaming using the Roku and TiVo work with the Smart Keyboard for an easy way to type in search and for adding email and passwords while signing in.

Whats in the Box Harmony Smart Keyboard
Whats in the Box

The Harmony Smart Keyboard needs a smartphone with android or an iOS to set it up so you do need a smartphone or tablet at least initially. Setup works well but you need to connect a smartphone or tablet to your wifi network so you also need a home network to use the Smart Keyboard.

Once connected and working you can use the Smart Keyboard and the Hub to control your entertainment center like a television and a PlayStation 3. I did have some issues like having to reconnect my tablet every time a certain amount of time passed or when shutting off the system.

When I turned the television or the tablet back on the connection would be gone and I would have to reconnect to the Hub but they did fix this. Since receiving the Harmony Smart Keyboard and Hub I have updated the firmware and that problem is gone but others have crept in.

TV Menu
TV Menu

The system has little issues like power on and off not synching with the television and the Hub where the Hub has forgotten that the TV is on or off. This may not seem like an issue but at times the Hub thinks the TV is off but it is on so you have to navigate to the TV and turn it on or off.

Other times the issue is with the use of the system with a PC like my Windows computer that just does not have the control for watching Netflix. You can use the Smart Keyboard to control a computer but it only works as a keyboard with touchpad instead of being able to perform tasks.

Not to say that they won’t someday but the Harmony Smart Keyboard does not really do much for a computer that a standard keyboard does while the touchpad also only adds so much function. The Smart Keyboard works well with many devices but with others it still has some bugs to work out or just does not work at all.

PC Control
PC Control

The Smart Keyboard costs about $150 with the Hub which is a bit expensive when you’re talking about adding a keyboard to your entertainment system. That may seem like a bit of a pricey keyboard and I would have to agree but for some the features outweigh the price.

The Smart Keyboard does work well but you should make sure your devices work with the keyboard as well as understanding the problems inherent with it. The Smart Keyboard’s touchpad may not work with some smart TV’s as the control may not be used at all because there is no use for a cursor on that particular TV.

For many devices like the PlayStation 3 the Smart Keyboard worked very well and it is handy to use a keyboard with the gaming console. The Keyboard worked just fine for my gaming console but at $150 I had expected it to work better than it does.

The small glitches like having to reconnect and an occasional power synching should not be happening as often as it does but I do expect things to get resolved eventually. The Smart Keyboard with Hub from Logitech may be a bit of an unfinished product but does work well for the devices I tried.

If you are looking for a new keyboard device for your entertainment system the Logitech Smart Keyboard is worth a look to see if it can do what you need. Check out the Logitech Smart Keyboard with Hub for a new way to control yur entertainment system.

Smart Keyboard @ Logitech

Smart Keyboard @ Amazon

Pros
Controls over 225,000 devices
Can Control devices like gaming console and media streamers
Firmware is being updated

Cons
Requires Smartphone, Tablet or iPhone for initial setup
Software may need some upgrades
Lost what power state the TV was on

iRig MIC Cast Microphone Review

iRig MIC Cast Microphone Review

The iRig MIC Cast Voice Recording Microphone is a microphone for android and Apple devices like smartphones that boosts your devices recording ability with an external microphone.

Ease of Use, Performance:  2/5
Look & Feel:  4/5
Features:  3/5
How much I enjoy:  2/5

Recommendation:  2/5 Stars

iRig MIC Cast Microphone Review
iRig MIC Cast

The iRig MIC Cast is a handheld device microphone that is a simple plug and play microphone that can also work with computers as a regular microphone. The iRig MIC Cast comes with the microphone and a stand for your smartphone along with instructions for use.

The iRig MIC Cast is a simple microphone that has a passthrough for earphones and a 3.5 mm plug with four sections on the connection for the earphone and for the microphone. Your handheld device or computer needs to be compatible with this four section plug like my smartphone but tablets can be picky on this type of technology.

The first tablet I tried was a Nexus 7 tablet that does not even have a TRRS four section connection for using a microphone earphone combination cable. The Playbook worked with the iRig MIC Cast but the Blackberry tablet has some pretty good microphones and circuitry inside.

Whats in the Box
Whats in the Box

My testing showed that voice recorded with the Playbook’s internal microphone was actually better than the MIC Cast microphone. The Playbook has noise cancelling to get rid of background noise and uses its two microphones to record sound pretty well.

When using the iRig MIC Cast with the Playbook the single microphone does get rid of some of the background noise but not as much as the Playbook. The iRig MIC Cast works fairly well on my Samsung Galaxy Stellar with clearing out background noise but it does lower the sound level as well.

iRig MIC Cast Recording using Android Smartphone

iRig MIC Cast Recording using Windows PC & Adobe Soundbooth

I tried several tests and was just underwhelmed with the quality of the MIC Cast microphone with actually lower levels of sound both voice and recorded sound from speakers. The microphone worked fairly well for both my smartphone and my computer but I just did expect a little more quality when plugging in an extra microphone over my smartphone.

During my audio tests I did notice a cleaner sound with less noise but the level goes down enough that I would be concerned with loss of volume levels. The sound using the iRig MIC Cast was just not that good overall for me to consider a solid recommendation but if you have a less than adequate smartphone microphone this would surely be worth a try.

I also tested the iRig MIC Cast against a headset microphone recording directly into Adobe Soundbooth and was rather disappointed as well. The iRig MIC Cast does well at getting rid of some of the background noise and creating a cleaner audio file but it lowers the volume on the low setting.

The external MIC Cast microphone worked fairly well but not as well as I thought it should fr direct recording of voice and sound. You can also use and purchase an app form IK Multimedia called iRig Recorder that does well when paired with the iRig MIC Cast.

iRig iRecorder App
iRig iRecorder App

The iRig recorder saves audio files shows audio wave files and has a processor to clean up recordings for handy on android and apple devices. The Recorder can doa  good job of cleaning up files but the main iRig MIC Cast just did not perform for me in the way that I thought it should.

I was just not that impressed with the audio recordings delivered by the iRig MIC Cast and really would prefer to look elsewhere for a better microphone for recording.

iRig MIC Cast @ IK Multimedia

iRig Recorder @ Google Play

Pros
Compact size
Passthrough for earphones
Hi & Lo for distant and close recording

Cons
Not impressed with sound quality

iRig Voice Handheld Microphone Review

iRig Voice Handheld Microphone Review

The iRig Voice Handheld Microphone from IK Multimedia is an affordable handheld microphone for android and Apple devices as well as computers.

Ease of Use, Performance:  3/5
Look & Feel:  4/5
Features:  3/5
How much I enjoy:  4/5

Recommendation:  3.5/5 Stars

iRig Voice Microphone
iRig Voice Microphone

The IK Multimedia iRig Voice is a handheld microphone for lighter music and recording like karaoke or simple fun while using an android or apple smartphone, tablet or computer. The iRig Voice has a unique connection with a four segment 3.5 mm connection and a pass through for an earphone so you can use the microphone in combination with a headset.

Some devices of course will not allow you to use this type of connection but my Galaxy Stellar had no problem using the Voice microphone and the IK Multimedia app EZ Voice. The EZ Voice app for android and iOS works well for my android phone but my nexus 7 tablet does not allow the microphone to work at all.

The app is free while special effects cost about $1 for each one listed but you can buy a bundle with all them costing $5 for 8 effects. The main features of the EZ Voice is recording voice or recording singing while a soundtrack plays in the background but this is not a karaoke type app.

Whats in the Box
Whats in the Box

Once you have installed the app and sign in with an account if you want to simply record audio or voice you just click on the record button and start recording by pressing the red dot. The app automatically records the audio and when you stop recording will give you the options to discard the recording or save it.

The app can record as many minutes as your phones storage space allows but the more fun aspect is the singing to your favorite tunes. The EZ Voice allows you to pick a song from your smartphone and sing along to it karaoke style but without the lyrics.

You will hear the song playing depending on how loud you have the volume so after a few practice runs you can try your luck at keeping the song barely heard while you belt out your best voice. The main problem with this is you don’t get lyrics to your songs which kind of makes it hard to use as a karaoke machine type app.

EZ Voice App w/ Voice Microphone
EZ Voice App w/ Voice Microphone

I also tried the voice microphone with a free karaoke app that plays the background music and no vocals so the only thing you get for voice is your singing, I suck by the way. The microphone did a good job at recording in another app as well as the general voice recorder app used for taking notes that came on my phone.

The iRig Voice works well and can make a fun microphone and the EZ Voice app also works well but it is more for fun or for use with an actual karaoke app. The iRig Voice microphone does cost about $40 so it does come at a low enough price for a gift but is not really good enough for note taking or serious use.

I highly recommend the iRig Voice for a fun and good quality microphone that only costs about $40 and can be used with a variety of apps including the EZ Voice.

iRig Voice @ IK Multimedia

iRig Voice @ Amazon

EZ Voice @ Play

EZ Voice @ iTunes

Pros
Good quality and affordable
EZ Voice app is free
works on android and apple device
May not work with all tablets depending on design

Cons
EZ Voice app does not give lyrics

Forus FS2 Digital Voice Recorder Review

Forus FS2 Digital Voice Recorder Review

The Forus FS2 Digital Voice Recorder is an excellent voice recorder that also records directly from a telephone line for a great added feature.

Ease of Use, Performance:  4/5
Look & Feel:  5/5
Features:  5/5
How much I enjoy:  5/5

Recommendation:  5/5 Stars

Forus FS2 Digital Voice Recorder
Forus FS2 Digital Voice Recorder

The Forus FS2 Digital Voice Recorder is a great recorder for both voice and telephone recording as well as any audio recording over a mono audio line. The Forus FS2 can handle both the telephone recording and regular voice recording without much setup and includes everything you need.

The FS2 Digital Voice Recorder uses digital memory and has 4 GB of space for linear PCM audio recording with 4 folders and 24 to 270 hours of recording time depending on quality. You can record on low to ultra-high quality with 270 hours available on low quality and 24 hours 30 minutes on ultra-high quality.

The Forus FS2 voice recorder is 3/4 inch thick and about 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches with a 3/4 by 1 inch LCD display and has a small wrist strap loop on the back. The Forus FS2 comes with the recorder, a USB Mini-B cable, stereo audio cable, telephone connection cable, mono microphone, earphone, telephone recording adapter and a wrist strap.

Whats in the Box
Whats in the Box

The manual is an important part of the digital voice recorder so you can figure out how to use the recorder and understand the folder system. There are four folders that you record to and when you stop recording the recorder automatically goes to the next file number in the same folder.

Files are named using a date and time stamp that is easy to understand and is a common MP3 file format for easy use in computer programs. The files are easily found and moved around when you connect the recorder to a computer if you want to copy files.

The Forus FS2 has a low and high sensitivity setting for the microphone and can use the internal or an external microphone but it needs to be a mono microphone. The microphone connection is probably not set up for stereo which is why my two stereo microphones did not work but the internal microphone and the included mono microphone does work well.

Sides of FS2
Sides of FS2

The Forus FS2 is powered by 2 AA batteries that are also included with the recorder but you can buy a separate battery pack for additional recording time. I did some testing as well as let my wife loose with the recorder and after understanding how to use the recorder had no problems.

Switching between folders requires you to press the menu button first and then use the double arrow buttons to move between the folders. The various files that you have recorded are automatically added when you start a new recording in each folder and are available for playback using the play and stop button.

The red dot record button is easy to use and the side erase button with confirmation allows you to erase individual files or a simple process will delete all recordings and format the memory. The voice recorder can also record voice from your telephone with the telephone recording adapter to automatically record when a phone call is placed or comes in.

Headphone Microphone Connections
Headphone Microphone Connections

When you turn on the TOR or telephone operated recording the device will start recording whenever the telephone that is connected is used. You can also record from any audio device output to the input of the microphone but it will only record the mono track instead of stereo.

The voice recording is very good and when comparing it directly to a source like an MP3 music file and the same file recorded directly and recorded through the microphone there is little loss of quality. The recorder does an excellent job of picking up voices and the voice activated recording works very well along with straight recording.

I have tried several different situations like my wife recording quick notes at her day care to catch updates to their kids behavior to be transcribed to a computer later and the recorder works very well. I had no problems in all the testing I did and the recorded MP3 files are easy to manipulate and use in audio programs like Adobe Soundbooth.

The Digital Voice Recorder from Forus does an excellent job at recording conversations directly on the telephone and even with a device like my Verizon Wireless Home Phone. My home phone is a regular cell phone number on a device that simply uses wireless cell phone reception for my phone calls.

I had no problems recording conversations from cell phones and regular land line phones on the Forus recorder so it does add a great feature for home use as well as a digital voice recorder. Forus may not be a major brand but it gets the job done and makes an excellent note taking recorder or for recording conversations from your home phone.

I highly recommend the Forus FS2 Digital Voice Recorder as an excellent voice recorder with plenty of features that costs about $120.

Forus FS2 @ KJB Security Products

Forus FS2 @ Forus Website

Forus FS2 @ Newegg.com

 

Pros
Good quality digital voice recorder
Records low to high quality MP3 files
Uses four folders for organizing files
Records calls directly from telephone line
Voice Operated Recording available

Cons
Earphones are a bit cheap

Raidmax Scorpio V Computer Chassis

Raidmax Scorpio V Computer Chassis

The Raidmax Scorpio V is a great looking computer chassis at an affordable price with all the features you need including space for water cooling and USB 3.0 connections.

Ease of Use, Performance:  4/5
Look & Feel:  5/5
Features:  4/5
How much I enjoy:  5/5

Recommendation:  5/5 Stars

Scorpio V Computer Chassis
Raidmax Scorpio V Computer Chassis

 

The Raidmax Scorpio V is a great looking case that has a lot of features you could expect in a more expensive case but at an affordable price. The Scorpio V has room for eight hard drives and 3 optical drives while the case can hold an ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX and EATX motherboard.

The top of the computer chassis has a slanted spot and connection for a 2.5” HDD that is hot swappable while the top also holds the power, reset buttons, indicators and USB connections. The top USB connections include two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 connections leaving the front panel for the optical drives and grill.

The top also has the usual front panel audio stereo and microphone connections as well as two fan speed switches for the two internal fan controllers. The front panel has a right hinged door to hide the three 3.5 inch optical drives bays with a black grill with the front fan behind it.

inside the scorpio v Computer Chassis
Inside the Scorpio V

There is also a rear fan but spaces inside for other fans include space on the top panel for fans or water cooling like a 240mm radiator. The top panel does come off easily for installing fans and radiators which is a nice feature for installing a system.

The motherboard area has plenty of room for longer video cards and there is plenty of space for installing your motherboard as well as other components. I put my Asus Sabertooth 990FX with a Noctua NH-D14 cooler that just fits the computer chassis with a little room to spare.

The larger CPU cooler has enough room for you to close the side panel and the interior fans kept the system cool during gaming and testing. There is more room for fans if you need additional cooling and with the top and side spaces there should be enough if you fill the system with more hard drives or video cards.

system installed
System Installed

The bottom mounted PSU space has a bottom filter screen at the power supply space as well as the empty spot between the PSU and the drive cage. There is plenty of space when I have my system installed and even an Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus would fit with enough room for the extra-long cooler on a video card.

The Scorpio V does have enough room but things would get a bit crowded if you installed three video cards or other cards on an ATX or EATX motherboard. I had no problems fitting the Sabertooth ATX motherboard but a few features make the motherboard installation nice.

motherboard tray
Motherboard Tray

There is a large 6.5 by 5.25 inch hole behind the CPU area so you can access and remove the CPU cooler mounts on an ATX motherboard without removing the motherboard. There are three rubber grommet holes on the motherboard tray so you can get your top panel wires and hard drive cables routed without worry.

There is also a smaller slot without a rubber grommet near the top rear for passing the wires for a water cooling radiator if that is where the wires need to be routed. The Scorpio V Computer Chassis does have a lot of nice features and installing a system is pretty easy as well as good looking.

top panel
Top Panel Controls & Connections

The mid-sized tower has performed well and even at full load using both CPU and video card load programs I did not have any temperatures above normal. The two fans offer enough cooling for a single graphics card system but if you do install more cards you may need more fans.

The two fan controllers each have connections for two fans apiece so you can control four fans using the two controllers with decently long cables. The top panel USB 3.0 cable is the usual newer header cable for connecting directly to a motherboard and easily reaches the motherboard header.

side with system installed
Side Panel w/ System Installed

I had no problems using the Raidmax Scorpio V and the stunning white color inside and out really highlights this enthusiast quality case at the affordable price of $70. I highly recommend the Scorpio V Computer Chassis from Raidmax as a fantastic computer case with plenty of great features.

Scorpio V @ Raidmax

Scorpio V @ Newegg

Pros
Mid-sized tower with room for water cooling
Room for extra-long video cards
Nice cable management
Top panel connections and controls
Top panel 2.5” HDD slot

Cons
Only comes with 2 fans

Skullcandy Crusher Review

The Crusher makes for a good all-around headset while the bass driver may seem a bit of a gimmick but it actually sounds pretty good so check out my Skullcandy Crusher Review for more.

Ease of Use, Performance: 4/5
Look & Feel:  5/5
Features:  4/5
How much I enjoy:  5/5

Recommendation:  4.5/5 Stars

Skullcandy Crusher Review
Skullcandy Crusher Review

The Skullcandy Crusher is a stereo headset with microphone that has two drivers in each ear for extra bass while the inline control allows for easy mute of the microphone. The Skullcandy Crusher is a unique headphone that has a separate bass driver which can be adjusted for the amount of bass you want while the other driver delivers the medium and high notes.

Inside the Skullcandy Crusher there are two drivers per ear piece with acoustical porting to allow free movement of the drivers. The drivers in each ear allow separate bass from the mids and highs but the overall sound suffers just a little so there is a tradeoff.

whats in the box
Whats in the Box

The bass sounds good and does have an adjustment on the left ear piece so you can adjust it to your liking which is a great feature of the extra bass. If you could not adjust the bass it would be terrible as each person would want a bit different amount depending on their choice.

The bass is good but the overall sound quality lacks good clear highs so the bass does take away from overall sound quality when listening. The stereo cable is removable from the headset so you can use a different cable while the microphone is an integral part of the cable.

Crusher Ear Piece
Crusher Ear Piece

The inline control does not change volume but does mute the microphone that is also part of the control with microphone control about six inches from the headset. The stereo connections on the left ear piece along with the bass control while the AA battery is under the right ear piece cushion.

The bass is powered by the AA battery so devices like tablets or smartphones will not be drained too much from listening or communicating. You can completely shut off the bass amplifier by sliding the bass adjust down till a red dot shows at the top of the slide.

Skullcandy Crusher Review
Skullcandy Crusher

Listening to music I did not have any problems but the sound quality is just a bit less than I would like when trying to enjoy myself. The highs and mids are a bit less clear but not distorted at all, just not as pronounced when listening to some songs.

The bass at high does not sound nearly as good and it does take some getting used to having your head bounced with bass but at medium it is fun for some music and gaming. I tried the headset during some of my favorite gaming sessions and had no problems wearing the headset for hours on end.

crusher bass control
Crusher Bass Control

The ear cushions are comfortable and the headset does not pinch or squeeze my head more than necessary to keep them on so you can wear them for longer times. I did also try the Razer surround sound and had no problems with 5.1 surround sound virtually without any problems even with bass on full.

The microphone sounds pretty good and using my Skype test I had no problems with understanding and clear chat from one computer to another. Chat in games worked well without distortion and people could clearly hear me so the microphone makes a good feature.

Of course when you don’t want to use it the mute on the inline control works just fine but there is no volume control on the controller. The Skullcandy Crusher is a good headset while the bass is a really decent feature instead of a gimmick which does add a unique feature.

I recommend the Skullcandy Crusher as a good all-around headset for music, movies and video games while the bass drivers do add your desired amount of extra skull thump.

Crushers @ Skullcandy

Crushers @ Amazon

Pros
Good sound and bass
Separate bass driver with control
Inline microphone and mute
Very comfortable

Cons
Overall quality is just a little lacking

Crucial M550 SSD Test & Review

Crucial M550 SSD Test & Review

I put the Crucial M550 through its paces with SSD Test benchmarks of the solid state drive that makes a fantastic replacement to traditional computer hard disk drives.

Ease of Use, Performance:  4/5
Look & Feel:  5/5
Features:  5/5
How much I enjoy:  5/5

Recommendation:  5/5 Stars

Crucial M550 SSD Test & Review

It is now time to abandon those hard drives and switch to solid state drives for faster startup, quicker response and better performance. Solid state drives have now come down in price while prices of hard disk drives have remained high due to flooding in Thailand back in 2011.

Solid state drives have continued to improve in performance with better hardware and firmware that manages data much better now that solid state drives have become a standard in computers. When people hear solid state drives they think of faster performance but often they are not sure of exactly what is faster or better.

A solid state drive performs faster than a conventional hard disk drive but this does not always mean better performance in every area of a computer. The drive controls startup and general program speed but for things like gaming and website surfing speed is increased in specific ways.

A solid state drive will make startup faster because any time the processor or program is doing things it accesses the programs on the hard drive or solid state drive. When you have a better drive programs start or work faster and even levels of games will load faster.

Whats in the Box SSD Test

Solid state drives have really been brought into the main stream of computers and now with better hardware that handles transfers of data faster they are really much better than when they first came out. Crucial has been at the forefront of solid state drives with their past experience in memory giving them a solid foot in the door of this emerging market.

The Crucial M550 is the bigger brother to the flagship of Crucial SSD the M500 and comes in 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB sizes. The Crucial M550 is a slightly better performance at a little higher price but still trying to keep the cost low enough to entice buyers.

Crucial sent me the M550 in the 256GB size and I put the SSD test benchmarks up against the Intel 520 SSD as well as a conventional Seagate 1 terabyte hard drive. The SSD test benchmarks were pretty conclusive when comparing the solid state drives and the hard disk drive while the Crucial SSD did better than the Intel SSD.

The most telling and obvious SSD test I performed was the boot time and game level loading where you can really see the difference by being able to use the computer and start gaming much faster. Boot times for Windows 7 on my desktop starts at a snail paced minute and 20 seconds for the Seagate hard disc drive while the Intel SSD comes in at a respectable 30 seconds or so.

Inside the Crucial M550 SSD Test & Review

The Crucial M550 beats the Intel SSD test with a good 23 to 24 seconds for the average boot time using the BootRacer program to measure boot times. Boot times are measured using the BootRacer program that starts as a service when windows is first running and starts a clock that stops when the logon is registered.

Other tests I ran were Futuremark’s PCMark7 storage to give a definite score for storage performance between the three drives using read and write times for a variety of files. The Seagate HDD received an average score of 1711 while the Intel SSD test had an average of 5203 and the Crucial M550 scored 5414.

The higher the score the better the performance for both the Futuremark PCMark7 and the 3DMark11 tests I performed but the graphics performance tests were pretty much the same for all three drives. The Seagate HDD was only about 30 points behind the Intel SSD Test and the Crucial only beat the Intel SSD by about 18 points.

Graphics performance did not improve that much and just performing some simple computer cleaning and maintenance could easily get scores up that much in any of the configurations I used for testing. The main difference and reason for using a solid state drive is the speed advantage of read and write to a hardware device that does not spin.

The SSD test I performed using AS SSD Benchmark reads and writes to the drives and produces a score for both as well as a combined score showed better results for the Crucial SSD over the Intel SSD. The Seagate drive was abysmal in the test and took more than an hour and a half while the Crucial and Intel tests took less than two minutes.

The time it took for the tests shows the difference in read and write between a solid state drive and a hard disk drive with the much longer time showing how slow a hard drive is. The tests used by AS SSD simply read and write files to the drive and time how long they take and the same tests took an hour and a half versus minutes.

The Intel SSD had an average read of 210 megabytes per second while the write speed was 211 MB/s and the Crucial SSD had a read speed of 352 MB/s and a write speed of 351 MB/s. The Seagate HDD had an average read speed of 12 MB/s and a write speed of 10 MB/s which is about right for the much slower drive.

The Crucial SSD test shows that it is slightly faster than the Intel SSD and this is why on all my testing it did perform better than the Intel SSD. Adding a solid state drive will improve your computers startup time and improve the response time from programs and games by speeding up how fast the program responds and opens.

In programs like Photoshop and Premiere Elements the program responds faster to commands and takes less time to render images and videos. When rendering videos the time difference can be substantial so using the solid state drive as the scratch drive that stores video information is important.

While graphics operations like gaming are not much faster as they depend more on memory and your processor the solid state drive makes the programs themselves able to respond faster. Scores on all my tests show that Crucial M550 does perform better than Intel’s 520 SSD and is far superior than a hard disc drive of any brand.

Buying and installing a good solid state drive can make the difference between working on a computer and enjoying the work you have to do. I truly enjoy the time saved using a solid state drive and the Crucial M550 does make an excellent choice for a fast and responsive drive that will speed up your computer.

I highly recommend the Crucial M550 solid state drive and my SSD test confirms that it does perform better than comparable drives in the same price range. The Crucial M550 256GB SSD is available from Crucial and sites like Newegg for about $170 that comes with a three year warranty.

Crucial M550 Website

Crucial M550 @ Newegg.com

Pros
Fast performance for a boot drive
Better read and write speeds than previous Crucial models
Above average scores when compared to other brands

Cons
Higher capacities cost more per GB

Lounge-tek Lounge-book Ecodesign Laptop Table

Lounge-tek Lounge-book Ecodesign Laptop Table

The Lounge-book Ecodesign is a unique laptop table made from recycled materials for a true ecofriendly stand that fits tablets and laptops in numerous configurations.

Ease of Use, Performance:  5/5
Look & Feel:  5/5
Features:  5/5
How much I enjoy:  5/5

Recommendation:  5/5 Stars

Lounge-tek Lounge-book Ecodesign Laptop Table

Lounge-tek is a small company founded in 2007 to bring tradition and innovation together in the new digital age with several stylish laptop tables. Lounge-tek has several table designs and the newest is the Lounge-book Ecodesign that is made from 90 percent recycled materials.

The Lounge-book Ecodesign is a laptop table that has an adjustable and swiveling laptop platform that is about 16 by 12 inches. The laptop stand adjusts from 24 inches to a height of 34 inches and has a smaller platform for mouse use that is horizontal to the floor.

The smaller platform is about 10 by 6.5 inches and simply pulls off the top of the upright for easy transferring from one orientation to the other. The small platform is perfect for mouse use or for keeping important objects like remotes when using the laptop table.

Whats in the Box

The Ecodesign laptop platform adjusts about 35 degrees from horizontal and swivels 360 degrees for the best viewing and work angle. The two legs are about 20 inches long and extend out from the upright for a good stable base while the ends are capped in a flexible rubber tip to protect floors.

The upright has a large knob to tighten the two sections and is easy to adjust to get the right height for your particular needs. The height adjusts about 10 inches and is the perfect height for recliners, couches and chairs as well as beds for use in a bedroom.

My common use for the Ecodesign is next to the recliner in my living room where my wife watches TV while working on lesson plans or crafting. Even with the legs not out at 90 degrees the table works well and is plenty stable when using the laptop at any angle.

Laptop Table Platform Adjustment

My wife does a lot of work while sitting in her recliner watching TV or streaming Netflix but not because she is lazy she works all day long,. She works during the day chasing after children at a daycare and helps out with our craft website as well as volunteers for 4-H.

She is on the expressive arts committee for our local county 4-H so between planning craft events and photography as well as our websites she gets plenty of time for working on her laptop. The Ecodesign keeps your laptop at a comfortable position for ease of use and protects it as well.

The Ecodesign comes with two rubber bumpers to protect the bottom of your laptop as well as provide space under the laptop for cooling. The Coolfit feet add a final nice feature to the laptop table that has plenty going for it including ease of assembly and use.

Ecodesign Laptop Table at Lowest Position

It took me a few minutes to assemble the Ecodesign using the instructions and the included allen wrench but it might require an additional tool. I did need a wrench to hold the nuts but you could also use a pair of pliers to tighten the bolts for the legs along with the included allen wrench.

The Ecodesign is very easy to put together while it works extremely well for holding your laptop or even tablet at just the right position. The recycled plastic and metal parts are sturdy while the adjustable height and rotating platform makes adjustment for comfort simple.

I had no problems using the Ecodesign but more importantly my wife has really enjoyed using the laptop table for a convenient way to keep her laptop at the ready. I highly recommend the Lounge-Book Ecodesign Laptop Table as the perfect solution for holding your laptop or tablet at the ready.

Lounge-book Ecodesign Website

Lounge-book Ecodesign @ Etsy

Pros
Easy to assemble and position
Sturdy platform for laptop or tablets
90 percent recycled
Cons
Additional tool may be required

RAVPower Luster External Battery Pack

RAVPower Luster External Battery Pack

The RAVPower Luster External Battery Pack is a 6000 mAh smartphone and device charger that connects using USB that includes a handy coiled USB cable and a carry pouch.

Ease of Use, Performance:  5/5
Look & Feel:  5/5
Features:  4/5
How much I enjoy:  5/5

Recommendation:  5/5 Stars

RAVPower Luster External Battery Pack

The RAVPower Luster External Battery Pack is a 6000 mAh USB charger with 2.1 amps of power that includes the handy coiled USB cable and a carry pouch. The RAVPower Luster has enough power to charge a smartphone or other mobile device several times with enough amperage to charge higher draw devices like the iPad.

The RAVPower Luster is about 3.67 by 1.61 by .85 inches and has the power button on one side while the connections are on the end. The micro USB connection is for charging your devices while the male USB connection is for charging the external battery pack.

The RAVPower Luster also has an LED light on the end for help in finding your way in the dark that turns on and off using the power button. To charge your devices you simply connect them to the male USB connection and press the power button but you do have to remember to press the power button.

Whats in the Box

You do need to power the pack on in order to charge your devices and you can use the four blue LED lights under the silver band to tell how much power the pack has. The four blue led lights are not very bright and in full sunlight may be a bit difficult to see but it works well enough for an indicator.

The LED lights do give you some idea of the charge of the external battery pack and the 6000 mAh charge can last for a really long time. According to RAVPower the 6000 mAh Luster will run your iPhone for 15 hours plus 40 hours of extra talk time and an additional 150 hours of music play.

The Luster External Battery Pack also has short circuit, overload and over current protection for a safer device as well as a handy one. I have had the RAVPower Luster for a month and had no problems charging my numerous mobile devices including a Samsung smartphone, Nexus 7 tablet and my BlackBerry Playbook.

Luster Connections

The only thing I had any concern with was remembering to press the power button to start charging my device which is common on some of the external battery packs. The RAVPower External Battery Pack is a great pack that has plenty of power to charge your mobile devices several times and is handy in a compact size.

The RAVPower Luster comes in four colors, costs about $30 and is available from Amazon, Newegg and other websites as well as RAVPower. I highly recommend the RAVPower Luster 6000 mAh as a powerful external battery pack that works well and is a very handy size for pocket or briefcase.

RAVPower Luster Website

RAVPower Luster @ Amazon

Pros
Power to charge iPad and other high draw devices
Convenient size
Easy to use

Cons
You have to press power button to begin charging

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire comes to Blu-ray with plenty of action but first the plot thickens and the people become restless as the powers that be tighten the screws.

Film making 3/5
Video 5/5
Audio 5/5
Bonus Features 3/5

Recommendation 3/5

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray

Katness Everdeen played by Jennifer Lawrence returns as the previous winner of the Hunger Games in the sequel Catching Fire. Fellow winner Peeta Mellark played by Josh Hutcherson is still interested in Katniss but she still has the hots for friend Gale Hawthorne played by Liam Hemsworth.

Katniss thinks she has everything under control except for the occasional nightmare which doesn’t really hurt her image. A visit by President Snow played by Donald Sutherland shows how wrong she is when he tells Katniss her family is in jeopardy.

The public has fallen in love with the romance between Peeta and Katniss and it is an important distraction for the government to help quell the rioting. President Snow warns Katniss that if she does not make the public really believe she is in love with Peeta her family will suffer.

Wanting a better solution to public outrage Gamemaker Heavensbee played by Philip Seymour Hoffman has a plan and plots with President Snow to carry it out. The 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games will have previous winners returning to the arena to kill each other.

Catching Fire is a good movie but just does not rise to the heights of the book and its critical reception but it does continue the story and fun of The Hunger Games. The series has a good plot but the second movie is a bit of a killer when it comes to plot and continuing the story as it basically rehashes the need for revolution.

The film is pretty redundant in the scope of the plot but it does make sense that three books and films give more suspense and longing for a conclusion. Don’t get me wrong that I didn’t enjoy the film but it just seemed a bit of an anticlimax to learn that a bigger plot is behind Katniss and what she stands for.

I just thought they took her independence away and gave her more of a superficial role in the second film that just makes her less of a leader. I was disappointed in how they presented Katniss as more of a follower getting a lot of help from friends than the leader of a revolution ready to get things rolling.

Video and audio quality is excellent as you would expect from such a top film and the Blu-ray release has no problems in any area I could see or hear. I did feel the original tones of the films video were a bit too determined to make the mood of each scene but this doesn’t reflect badly on the videos overall quality.

Surround sound is great and the DTS-HD Master Audio track in 7.1 is really good if you have the speaker count but a 5.1 setup also sounds very good. Overall the quality of the film is well done and no problems surface that are noticeable during The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Bonus content is surprisingly a mixed bag with a six plus minute preview for Divergent deleted scenes an audio commentary and a making of feature. Audio commentary is pretty typical while the deleted scenes are simply fodder for the Blu-ray edition but the two and a half hour making of feature is really worthwhile.

Catching Fire in both book and film form just seems like money makers without much real substance and the bonus content also stresses this. There is one worthwhile piece in the bonus content that really parallels the series and begs the question was the middle book/film even necessary. Other than to make money that is.

Catching Fire just seemed so repetitive in plot and basic idea that I found it disappointing not to get to the actual revolution sooner. It just seemed like the author wanted to just sit back and make more money from her idea than to get to the meat of her story.

The first movie shows that a revolution is needed while the second film just harps on the same idea of how far the dictator will go to push the people toward it. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that odd film you have to include in the series but really is unnecessary to the actual story.

To sum up my recommendation for the film in words is pretty redundant; a scene from the movie does it for me and does it pretty well.  Effie Trinket reaches into a bowl where a lone slip of paper sits; she is choosing the next female tribute for the Hunger Games and Katniss is the only candidate to choose from.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Website