Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review: TP-Link TL-WN722N USB Wifi Adapter

Yesterday a friend from work lent me his TP-Link TL-WN722N USB wireless adapter to try out.

I plugged it into a machine running Linux Mint 15 (Cinnamon) 64-bit. At first everything seemed fine: it connected to the router flawlessly, and started getting data as fast as the internet could provide it.

Then I moved the machine into another room, to see how it would go through walls. It was about 8 metres away, going through two brick walls. It could no longer connect.

You mad bro? (Definitely didn't like being moved away from the router)

I gradually moved the machine closer, but found that I had to be in direct sight of the router and less than 1 metre away before it would connect up. I can't imagine this is normal, and must be a fault with the hardware. Bit unfortunate! If you've got one of these and get similar symptoms, I'd be returning it straight away.

Unfortunately I can't really do a proper review (even for me, I'm pretty rough after all) with these results. :(

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: MSI B75MA-E33 and MSI DVD-RW

I hadn't used an MSI motherboard before, so I thought I'd give one a go. They apparently have a relatively high fault rate compared to competitors, so I don't see them recommended as often.

The B75MA-E33 is a budget board, I guess targeted at low cost builds. It was the cheapest B75 chipset board at my local parts store.

The PCB wasn't too thin or flimsy, no more so than other B75 boards I've used anyway. I paired it with a G1610 CPU, and it booted up first time with no problems. All ports were functional, so no issues at all. Didn't spend long in the BIOS, seemed okay, but the case didn't have a fan that could be controlled by the motherboard, so didn't get to really test any of their fan control features. I had to pop open the manual to find the placement of the case power, reset and LED pins, since there was no indication printed on the board itself.

It only has D-Sub and HDMI ports for onboard graphics, but if you've got a HDMI monitor it seems like a fairly solid budget board.


In the same build I grabbed an MSI DVD drive as well, again the cheapest on offer at $16.

It came in a box (unusual these days) with a set of screws and a replaceable faceplate for people with white cases -- cute.

I was pleasantly surprised with the noise, no louder than any other drive. About the only limitation is the white text on the faceplate, unlike, say, the Pioneer DVD drives, which is in black so it's not as obvious.

But overall another decent budget option.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: Shaw GT-GM1 Computer Case

After reading this review on OCAU forums, I was curious as to whether the Shaw cases were really a viable option for budget builds.

So I picked up the $33 Shaw GT-GM1 from MSY to give it a test (no PSU of course -- as all good children say in their prayers at night, please don't let Daddy use a Shaw power supply).

I must admit the sound of parts rattling around inside the box was a bad sign. Turned out to be a couple of 5.25" and 3.5" clips that hold drives in place had fallen out and needed to be clipped back together -- no big deal.

First impressions: the case appearance was far from pretty, but not too garish. The crinkly front doesn't look as bad in real life as it does to me in the photos. Top-mounted power supply position is getting rarer these days, but was common a few years back and seems the way ultra-cheap cases are still made. The back screws felt a little cross-threaded. The side panels were flimsy (as noted in the other review), pretty much as expected in a cheap case.

Notes on the rest of the setup:

  • One of the 3.5" plastic disk holder clips was missing.
  • Two missing expansion slot plates at the back.
  • Motherboard risers were pre-installed. Some risers were loose and couldn't be tightened -- cross-threaded out of the box. Reworking some of the other risers (there were more than would be needed for the mATX board I had) fixed the problem, but it didn't instill any confidence.
  • No case screws! Other than the motherboard risers, nothing at all.
  • Front panel cords were cable-tied in such a way they wouldn't reach the motherboard. Pretty difficult to cable-manage them in any neat way.
  • Case comes with a single fan at the back. The fan had to be powered directly from the PSU via a Molex plug, rather than a 3- or 4-pin plug into a motherboard header.
  • Noise levels aren't great. The case fan runs flat out due to its Molex plug.

I can't remember ever feeling so dubious about a case working properly, but on first boot everything seemed okay. USB, headphones, power/reset switches and fan all worked upon testing, frankly to my surprise at that point.

So my conclusion is a little different to the OCAU reviewer's: given the problems I found with this case, I couldn't recommend it, even taking into account the price. It not unlikely that someone looking to do a cheap-as-possible build may be doing their first or at least be inexperienced. The lack of case screws and dodgy motherboard risers would likely stymie them. I was okay because I had a heap of spare parts, but that isn't everybody. Anyone actually using the case should be prepared to either replace the stock fan or fit a voltage regulator (taking the price closer to the next-case-in-line anyway).

In my opinion, you're far better off paying an extra $15 for a fifty-dollar case. Even though they may not be fantastic either, I think it's money well-spent.