Boys and Their Toys

I consider myself a gearhead. I grew up optimizing my old home PC with a 386SX processor, 2 MB system RAM, and a 40 MB hard drive. I can’t afford the latest and supposed greatest toy, but I do keep my eyes and ears out for what may make my life a little better. Below is a list of the stuff that makes me happy.

Don’t try to rob me. I have two vicious guard cats.

Fitness Gear

2016 Bianchi Intenso 105

After 14 years riding my an aluminum Fuji road bike, I decided to upgrade my ride. I’m doing more serious rides now – I want something that is lighter, faster, and higher quality parts. I didn’t want to spend thousands. I wanted something that was balanced in terms of features and cost. I settled on a Bianchi Intenso 105. It features a carbon frame and fork, and Shimano’s 105 groupset. It’s a fun little ride, and I didn’t have to be limited to Trek or Cannondale.

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Polar H10

Whenever I’m doing serious activity like running and bicycling, I use my Polar H10 heart rate monitor. You wear it with a chest strap. There’s more work to wash the strap after every use, but it’s more accurate than wrist–based watches. If I’m out biking, I use the Polar Beat app on my phone to monitor performance and distance.

Polar A370

I’ve been doing a lot more indoor running these days at the gym, and I use this with my Polar H10 HRT to capture distance and monitor my exertion and heart rate. During the day (sans HRT), I use it to count my steps. I like that it all works together and I use the Polar Flow app and website to look at all activity – whether it’s biking, running, or walking.

Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S9+

Looking back, I’ve been using Samsung Galaxy phones for a few years now – the S5, the S7, and now the S9+. Their phones have improved every year, but I wouldn’t rule out a Google Pixel one day. The S9+ is a very nice phone:

  • Screen size: 6.2-inch
  • CPU: Snapdragon 845 / Exynos 9810
  • RAM: 6 GB
  • Storage: 64 GB and I’ve added 128 GB via micro SD card
  • Camera: Dual 12 MP rear, 8 MP front
  • Battery: 3,500 mAh

Apple iPad Air 2

In 2016, my wife bought me an an iPad Air 2, after I waited 6 long years for a tablet. I gotta say it’s a premium quality product, and it feels good to use.

Home Network

My Intel i7-2600 Desktop PC

After nearly 7 years of slugging it out with my previous 2005-era single-core P4 3.6 GHz Dell Dimension 8400, a friend of mine and I built out the specs for a new custom-built PC. I considered purchasing another PC from Dell or HP, but realized that while the overall desktop PC wouldn’t be too expensive, these manufacturers cut corners with the components within. Ultimately, I’be stuck with a chassis filled with inferior parts.

I was better off purchasing quality parts and building it with my friend’s help. The only thing I didn’t initially like were the louder-than-expected case fans. I recently upgraded it with a quieter Noctua internal fan, and disconnected the original front intake fan. Based on future performance needs, I may decide to add in quieter front intake fan, or upgrade to a super-fast SSD primary hard drive. Here are the specs on the PC:

  • Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower case (plenty of expansion room and good airflow)
  • Intel i7-2600 3.4 GHz quad-core processor (8M Cache, up to 3.80 GHz)
  • 16 GB Corsair Vengeance DDR3 RAM (plenty of RAM to work with)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (To take advantage of the extra RAM)
  • Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD4-B3 LGA 1155 motherboard (USB 3.0, USB ports allowing iPhone/iPod charging even when the PC is off)
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 570 1280 MB graphics card (watching moveies, playing the latest games)
  • Samsung Blu-ray player / DVD-RW drive (I can watch Blu-ray movies in HD quality from my desk)
  • Creative 7.1 Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium (I couldn’t settle for onboard audio)
  • 256 GB Samsung 840 Pro solid state drive
  • 2 TB Western Digital 7200 RPM HDD (partitioned between OS and data)
My I7-2600 Sandy Bridge-based desktop PC

My I7-2600 Sandy Bridge-based desktop PC

Dell Inspiron All-In-One PC

We bought an all-in-one PC for the kids to use in the kitchen. It’s not the best or fastest machine as we purposely bought a budget machine as a trial. We wanted a decently large touchscreen to run the Cozi app displaying the family calendar and other tasks and shopping lists.

Immediately after purchase, I was a bit disappointed in how slow / lethargic it was. One day a year later after a power outage, the hard drive was giving off errors. I installed a fresh copy of Windows 10 on the original drive, and was still seeing consistency errors. Time for a new drive.

I replaced the original 5400 RPM HDD with a new Sandisk 240 MB SSD drive, and wow, much faster.

Dell U2412M 24″ LCD HD Monitors

Why limit yourself to one monitor when you can have two? For a long time, I didn’t see the value, but now I’ve come around. Multitasking sounded great — in my mind, I could imagine putting an MSNBC news video on one screen, and working on the other screen. That concept appealed to me greatly. My wife got them for my birthday, and I am thrilled. Each monitor provides a lot of screen real estate to work on, and I do love to maximize Netflix and other videos to take up the full screen, and to continue working on the other monitor.

Dual 24

Dual 24″ Dell U2412M HD LCD monitors

Logitech Illuminated Wireless Keyboard K800

I had the Logitech Cordless MX Duo for nigh on 10 years. It was a good run. Cordless keyboard & mouse combo, comfortable, RF, dedicated multimedia keys, rechargeable, and long-lasting. The mouse cradle stopped charging after 8 years, and we had to constantly swap out the batteries and recharge them. Finally, after upgrading the previous PC to Windows 7 (64-bit) didn’t support the keyboard multimedia functions. All good things must come to an end.

I went for the new Logitech K800, after much researching. I like the wireless option, the dedicated multimedia keys, and best of all — the illuminated keys. It looks stylish and fun to have yours hands on in the dark. If you look at it that way, it’s really a reflection of me. Presently, I find the keyboard extremely comfortable to use. Also, the Unifying receiver saves me one USB port by sharing it with the Performance Mouse MX I’m also using.

Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800

Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800

Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard

I picked up the Logitech K750 to use at work every day. It’s solar powered, but ambient light from light bulbs will also charge the battery. Not currently in use.

Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard

Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard

Logitech Performance Mouse MX

See above about the issues with the previous Logitech Cordless Duo MX. As to be expected, it’s a mouse with a whole mess o’ buttons. What drew me to this particular $80 mouse was:

  • the Unifying receiver so that one receiver on a single USB port supports up to six peripherals. Here’s it’s my keyboard and mouse.

  • it’s comfortable to hold.

  • when I want to charge it, both the mouse and the K800 keyboard can share the same micro-USB charging cable to recharge. Furthermore, I can use the mouse and charge it simultaneously. Basically works like corded mouse at that point.

I liked it enough that I purchased an 2nd one for use at the office every day.

Logitech Performance Mouse MX

Logitech Performance Mouse MX

Logitech C920 Webcam

For seven years, we used the Logitech 4000 webcam, though it was a little herky-jerky due to the slow PC being maxed out on system resources when we Skyped. After we upgraded to Windows 7 64-bit, it began to work very erratically, so overall, fairly useless. My wife wasn’t totally sold on it, but I wanted a new webcam so that we could video chat with family and friends. Unfortunately, our friends and family aren’t quite sold on video chatting either.

It’s the 21st century, people. We should be video chatting. I’ll convert everyone yet. I swear it. Here are the specs that attracted me to this webcam:

  • Full HD 1080p video calling and recording

  • 15 MP pictures through photo capture
  • Carl Zeiss lens with 20-step autofocus
  • Stereo audio with dual mics
    Logitech C920 HD webcam

    Logitech C920 HD webcam

Logitech Z-5300

280 watts, THX-rated. These have been nice computer speakers. They’re beginning to play odd static occasionally, so they may be fading.

Logitech Z5300

Synology DS

Western Digital My Cloud (4 TB) External Storage

Although I have two hard drives in our main desktop PC, we quickly ran out of room with our growing video library. In 2014, we purchased a Western Digital My Cloud network attached storage device. We’re not using it for all of our documents, pictures, or music collection yet. For now, it’s just for the video library serving up files to our Plex Media Server. We purchased the 4 TB model, which is nearly out of capacity. It has a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a USB 3.0 port for hooking up additional external drives.

Western Digital My Cloud (4 TB)

Western Digital My Cloud (4 TB)

Synology DS 918+ Network Attached Storage
Home

Panasonic TC-P54G25 54″ Plasma TV

After nearly 11 years with my first tv, a Sony 32″ Wega, my wife and took the plunge and bought our first HDTV. After much debating and researching, I ultimately went with my first choice, a Panasonic plasma, based on black levels, color accuracy, and overall performance for the price. This television also features Panasonic’s VieraCast that supports Amazon VOD and features YouTube, weather, and news applets, but I don’t use it for any of that. After 5 years, it’s getting a little long in the tooth — the picture isn’t as bright as it used to be. I would like to replace it one day with a large 65″ set. Now that would be something.

Our Panasonic 54″ TC-P54G25 on display

Our Panasonic 54″ TC-P54G25 on display

VIZIO E550i-B2 55″ LED LCD TV

In the still-new-to-us house, we needed a 2nd tv for the family room, so we could watch TV in the Family Room, and the kids could play and watch games in the basement. For only $650, it’s a pretty decent TV. It’s an LED LCD television with built-in WiFi, apps, etc. The backward-firing audio ain’t so hot, so we really need to get an AV receiver and home theater speakers up in here.

Moved the previous TV stand back upstairs to the family room

Moved the previous TV stand back upstairs to the family room

Pioneer VSX-1020-K AV Receiver

I purchased the VSX-1020-K a few years back, a mid-to-higher-end audio/video receiver. Connected through HDMI, all of my devices (TiVo, TV, PS3) all pipe directly through the Pioneer for audio, and we use the receiver to switch inputs to watch TV or movies.

  • Connections for HD video, HD audio, wireless and analog components.
  • Up to 7.1 channel configuration plus two zones.
  • 1080p video conversion and upscaling, support for 3D video and more
  • iPhone / iPod port and ability to play music straight to the receiver.

The receiver performs very well, and I would say there is a marked improvement over my previous Onkyo receiver. There is also an ethernet jack and an option for a Bluetooth adapter to input streaming audio (NetRadio) directly to the speaker, but I don’t use this feature. I’m happy with the iPhone/iPod port on the front. I upgraded my surround sound in 2011 to a full 7.1 setup, so now I’m fully loaded.

Pioneer VSX-1020K

Pioneer VSX-1020K

Sony PlayStation 3

My first console system since the 8-bit NES in the late 1980’s, so I’ve come a long way. Cell processor, wireless controllers, 802.11b/g wireless networking, Blu-ray, DVD upconversion, and the ability to watch streaming movies and other content, using the native Netflix & Vudu apps. It’s also beautiful to behold. We use the PlayStation primarily for watching movies through Netflix, but I play games when I have the time. A huge benefit is that, since we only own a handful of Blu-ray discs, it does an excellent job at upscaling DVD 480p video. I’m planning to pick up the PlayStation 4 sometime this year.

Sony PlayStation 3

Tivo Roamio Plus and Tivo Mini Vox

After owning two Series 2 DVRs, and then learning to despise the Verizon FiOS STB/DVR over the course of 15 months, we upgraded to the Tivo Premiere Series 4 DVR. The Tivo Series 4 has double the storage capacity, is more internet-friendly, and a somewhat better user interface. It’s currently on our network via the Tivo 802.11n wireless adapter. While I like the Series 4 in theory, Tivo had not worked out all the kinks yet. There are a number of UI screens not yet converted to HD, and the interface overall was originally sluggish (one of the processor cores was disabled due to “stability reasons.”) Since then, the folks at TiVo put out additional system firmware updates. The 2nd processor core has been enabled, the OS is more responsive, and I haven’t seen the green spinning wheel of death in a long while. No more updates are likely, as they’re putting all their energies into newer Tivos.

We are the proud owners of a Tivo Roamio Plus DVR. It’s the next generation of Tivo, with much better internal components, and a faster UI. It comes with 6 different tuners, built-in 802.11 a/b/g/n, faster processor, etc. With two Tivo DVRs on the home network, we can now stream or transfer most recordings between both units.

Photography

Nikon D5200

After many years of various point-and-shoot cameras — a high quality P&S camera, a cheapo one, my father’s Yashica SLR, and smartphones, this is my first dSLR. It’s more complicated than a point-and-shoot, sure, but I’ve been pretty amazed and jealous of all those high quality photos taken by friends and family. I don’t want to simply have an expensive P&S camera, using autofocus in every shot. I want to truly learn photography, and branch out. The D5200 is a midrange camera suited for beginners like myself, with a balance of ease of use vs enough features that I can explore manual settings. Key features/specifications are:

  • 24.1MP DX format CMOS sensor
  • EXPEED 3 processing
  • ISO 100-6400 standard, up to 25600 expanded
  • 5 fps continuous shooting
  • 39 point AF system, 9 sensors cross type
  • 2016 pixel RGB metering sensor
  • 1080p30 video recording, built-in stereo mic
  • 921k dot 3″ vari-angle LCD monitor, 170° viewing angle
Nikon D5200

Nikon D5200

To go along with the D5200 camera body, I have three lenses at my disposal. I have one 18-55 mm lens for every day use, a 50 mm “prime” lens with a fixed focal length and a fast aperture, and a 55-200 mm telephoto lens.

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