Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dell XPS 13 1080p

Ok - I'm gonna make this easy.

For those of you in the market for a new laptop, LOOK AT THE DELL XPS 13 1080P.

I've got the non 1080p version and it's the lightest laptop with the best keyboard in this class I've ever used.

My only not-really-a-complaint is the screen - and it's not a major one - as in it doesn't bother me at all to use the 1366 * 768.

My previous experience was using an Asus UX31E and Apple Macbook Air.

Before purchase of my XPS 13 I looked at every Laptop in the flesh at JB HiFi and Harvey Norman that met my requirements (the short list was Asus UX31E, Mapple Macbook Air and Toshiba Z930).

The Asus screen was great but the keyboard was crap and the Apple was, well, Apple (that means crap also).

If you're in the market for a new laptop that's light, easy to use, reasonably priced and has a shit-hot-display (let's refer to this as an SHD from now on), buy this.

When buying a laptop there's a holy trinity for requirements you should follow: 

* Hardware Specs
* Battery Life
* Price

I can tell you now - this is the best-in-balance in all three categories.

The Dell XPS 13 1080p is available in Australia for $1299 from Dell.

Runnning Win 8 this thing looks slick.

If you miss the start button, install Classic Start 8 for free :)

Full review at:

Soon as I get one I'll post up a review :)

Cheers eh.

Monday, March 25, 2013

GNS3 - Connections to the Real World through ESX

Gday again.

Well now that I'm back in Cisco land at work I thought I'd take full advantage of being able to lab things up in GNS3 now that I've exceeded the capabilities of Packet Tracer...

I remember running up GNS in the past and remembered having a horrible time getting things to work.

Well good news everyone!

It works like it's supposed to now!

It's seriously easy to install on a Windows box.

Just follow the quick start guide and you'll be up and going in no time :)

After you've got some virtual routers up and running don't forget to set your idlepc values otherwise your physical or VM guest CPU will get chewed up very quickly.

Now that's all well and good, but how do you connect a virtual router to your real network I hear you say?

Well it's not hard at all (although you'll get a bit of a bum-steer following guides floating around the net...).

There's a guide available over at the GNS3 site however I found I had to do things slightly differently to get things working...

The first step is to add a cloud to your topology and add the Local Ethernet Adapter as an interface.

Next add a router, power it on and configure an interface with an IP address in the same subnet as the adapter to which the VM guest NIC is assigned.

It's important you do the cloud first before the router otherwise the connection won't work (all you need to do is restart your router if you did it the wrong way around).

Add a link between the cloud and your router (hint: the connection tool will always choose eth 0/0 on the router first) and you're done for the GNS3 part.

Now back in your vSphere client go to the host configuration tab and click Networking.

Select the network you've setup from the Network Ports list and enable the tickbox for the option Promiscuous Mode.

Finally, get some ping action happening and see if your virtual router is now reachable from the real world (and vice-versa).

Enjoy :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Well I've been after a cheap all-singing all dancing media centre platform for a while now that could act as a complement (say on a second TV) to a full-blown Windows 7/8 Media Centre (which I personally think is hands-down the best for compatibility and features).

After looking at Pivos running XBMC on Android and not quite wanting to splash $150 on something I wasn't 100% sold on just yet, I started looking at what else was available (I also have some reservations about the input control).

After a fair whack of research I found I kept coming back to this article over at smallnetbuilder:

Apart from the low cost, another major selling point of the Raspberry Pi Model B is that it has a somewhat decent GPU that Raspbmc takes full advantage of.

From what I've read, it will handle pretty much anything you can throw at it (in terms of decoding) except super-high (say 40mbps) h.264 content - but it only just gets choppy processing that.

There's also reports that with the bleeding-edge version of Raspbmc they've added support for live TV recording using a USB DVB-T adapter.

For the super low-cost of the unit I figured, oh well, if it sucks I haven't exactly wasted a lot of money.

As far as the shopping list goes, here's a quick break-down of costs:

Raspberry Pi Model 2 inc. delivery: $56
Case: $10 delivered from ebay
WiFi Adapter: $12 delivered from ebay
MC Remote: $19 delivered from ebay
SD Card:$16 from UMart
2A Micro USB Charger: $11 delivered from ebay

As far as getting Raspbmc on there goes, it looks quite painless.

All you need to do is download this handy utility which will make a boot SD card that the unit boots from and then downloads the setup files live.

The only remaining thing is to purchase licensed codecs (MPEG2 and VC-1) codecs from the Raspberry Pi store and you're good to go.

Very excited and will post mini review soon :)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

ntop: Don't bother with CentOS 6 (or ntop)

Well I recently needed to look at alternative Netflow collectors of the free variety as our Fluke netflow collector has ridiculous license limitations.

I hadn't looked at ntop for a while and, well, I'll save you some time: Don't bother.

It hasn't improved in a long time.

The simple fact of the matter is nothing even touches Manage Engine Netflow Analyzer.

Now just something I noticed in my travels attempting to get ntop running on good old CentOS 64: It's virtually impossible to upgrade PERL on this distro.

Following one of the many guides out there such as:


resulted in the same errors message:
Please install python 2.6 or newer.

So I upgraded python to 3.3 using a variety of methods (yum install as well as wget / compile / tar / make / make install) and it simply won't upgrade.

Long story short, it just works on Ubuntu Server Edition.

And after ALL that you're greeted with one of the most lack lustre traffic monitoring platforms you've seen in a long time.

Oh well - hope I saved you some time :)

Remove Android SMS MMS Size Limit

Hey - just a quick one for those of you with Android phones that might have encountered a problem where you can't send or receive SMS attachments...

As it turns out, Android is a well-behaved little platform that sticks to carrier standards of keeping multimedia message attachments to a limit of 300K.

Other vendors totally ignore this standard and will send attachments of any size.

As it's Android, anything is possible and this is a prime example.

To remove limits to MMS attachment sizes, install Chomp SMS from the Play Store.

Now don't worry - you can still just keep using your normal messaging app and Chomp will just fix the attachment size issue for you and not bother you (if you follow these steps).

First, open Chomp and press the phone menu button then select Settings.
Next, select Mobile Carrier Settings and then select MMS Network Settings.
Finally, click on MMS Send Size Limit and select No Limit and select OK.

Next, to stop Chomp notifying you when you receive a message, go back to the settings menu and select Notifications and uncheck Notification.

Done and done.

Unified Comms Research

Well I've recently been looking at Unified Comms solutions and as you'll quickly realise there's two big players in this market - Microsoft Lync and Cisco (yeah...we-don't-really-have-any-specific-branding-for-the-whole-solution).

As I get started with my research it's becoming apparent that Microsoft has made a concerted effort to make clear exactly what is required (server infrastructure-wise) to build out an environment for a set of given requirements - they've actually released a server planning tool that specs exactly what you will need.

From quickly running through it I can see that for a 200 user environment with all features enabled (voice, video conferencing both internal and external, mobile device support, calendar presence sync and well everything really) I will need:

With Lync I can get my hands on preview versions of all products straight off the web and they even provide guides on how to set it all up.

I can run them all as virtual servers and it's all looks very straight forward to install.

The videos I've watched on what it's like to actually use the client are impressive - every office sloths dream come true really...

With Cisco it's a whole other story.

I have to go through a vendor to get our hands on some kit, then I'll have them hassling me for a sale for the next few months...

Cisco's not even clear really on which of their products make up a "UC solution" (hell, they've re-branded and abandoned half of their voice and VC solutions over the last couple of years so why should anything change).

Can't find any clear info on their website either that says "if you want a, b and c, then you need products x, y and z.

The Cisco UC platform appears to be essentially composed of the following server platforms:

  • Unified Call Manager Servers (Publisher and Subscriber)
  • WebEx (shudder) Service
  • Unified Presence Server
  • Jabber Client
  • Voice Gateway Hardware (CME)
  • More I haven't found yet...
Gotta say Cisco really seems to be giving off this vibe when it comes to UC:

Entry barrier is definitely lower with Microsoft....

Asus C8HM70-I/HDMI ITX Motherboard Pseudo Review

Well I'm putting together a Win 7 HTPC for someone and went through all the pain of seeing what integrated Mini ITX boards are around these days...

I looked at the AMD offerings (which was AMD-350, then AMD-450 which seem to have dried up and now they are doing the C60) but the CPU performance when compared with Intel's offerings is pretty average.

Intel seem to have re-categorized their Atom CPUs and have gone back to the Celeron naming for integrated CPUs aimed at the desktop (Atom seems to be their mobile device offering now).

The board I found has an Intel Celeron 847 which is a cut-down Sandy Bridge CPU with integrated graphics (which the reviews say, software decoding on CPU is good enough for 1080p MKV and if you're using a player that supports DXVA then the CPU usage is less than 10%) coupled with an Intel HM70 chipset.

If you check out the Intel ARK for this CPU you'll see it's actually been around since Q2 2011.
The difference is that this is the first time it has appeared on a Mini ITX board (and not in a laptop).

Even though it's not super-new, it's spec is bang on for what I wanted.

The things that really made this board stand out for me were:

  • SATA 3 6GB/S Support (Although SATA2 is usually quick enough for an SSD with bandwidth of 375MB/s, you might as well give yourself some headroom).
  • 2 * USB 3.0 Ports (Ever had to copy large files to an external HDD on your way out the door? USB 3.0 is a must-have).
  • PCI Express Slot (USB TV Tuners tend to overheat and can be prone to power issues - I much prefer a PCI Express card-based twin tuner).
  • Active Cooling (Some people complain about the noise but in Australia active cooling in Summer is a must-have, even if it's purely to extend the life of the product).
With these features it makes the perfect board for a HTPC.
The only immediate drawback I can see is the lack of SPDIF out.
There are two things you can do to get around this however (if you need this type of audio connection - e.g. your amp doesn't support HDMI).

The first is to simply use your tv as a pass-through device and use the SPDIF out on your TV (if it has one) and pass the sound through to the amp.

This method is quite good as whatever AV input you have selected on the TV will be passed through with no amp changes required.

The other is a HDMI to HDMI + SPDIF splitter which goes for about $30 on ebay.

So, being that the board ticked all the boxes on paper I thought this would be ideal for use in a HTPC I was putting together for a friend.

Although I couldn't find too much info from independent sites regarding those board, I was pretty confident that it would function no problems.

I'm happy to report that this board does everything I expected it to perfectly and the onboard Celeron 847 CPU in conjunction with 8GB RAM has more than enough grunt to run Windows 7 Media Center perfectly.

Installation was a breeze and fit nicely inside a Coolermaster Elite 120 Advanced:

When designing the system my intention was to offload as much decoding as possible to the onboard GPU (Intel HD 2000) and I'm happy to report this worked flawlessly for both MP4 containers (divx / xvid) and MKV (h264) up to ~25mbps with CPU not creeping above roughly 30% using standard MatroskaSplitter and XVID codecs.

Blu-ray playback was also flawless using TotalMedia Theatre 6, again with CPU only just reaching over 30%.

SATA3 and USB3 performance was also excellent with file transfers from an external USB3 2.5" 7200RPM hard drive to the internal Seagate ST3000DM001 7200RPM 64MB SATA 3 hard drive averaging around 70mbps for large transfers.

Dual DVB-T recording also works nicely using an Avermedia Twinstar A188D PCI-Express TV Tuner Card.

This board is highly recommended for HTPC builds.