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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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″ 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 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 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 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
280 watts, THX-rated. These have been nice computer speakers. They’re beginning to play odd static occasionally, so they may be fading.
Synology DS918+ Network Attached Storage
In 2018 I really wanted to get better data redundancy and data recovery for the terabytes of media we have (music, photos, videos, etc.) We’ve been using external backup drives, but if the house burns down, or the single drive fails, there would be no joy in Mudville. I also wanted a standalone system apart from the desktop PC to run a Plex Media Server.
I selected and set up a Synology DS918+ Network Attached Server and configured it with three 6 TB Seagate Ironwolf NAS drives.
Western Digital My Cloud (4 TB) External Storage
We originally used a 4 TB Western Digital My Cloud network attached storage device to store all of our documents, pictures, or music collection. It filled up rapidly and doesn’t have any redundancy capability. With the Synology NAS device now online, we’re using it for additional backup. It has a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a USB 3.0 port for hooking up additional external drives.
Western Digital My Cloud (4 TB)
Samsung 65″ N7100 4K LED LCD TV
Our primary television for family viewing (until we get the basement movie room all fancy). It’s our first 65″ TV, and first 4K set. Unfortunately, we don’t have any 4K devices or services hooked up or subscribed to at this time e.g. Netflix 4K, TiVo Bolt, or a 4K Bluray player, but the 1080p picture is good. It also has built-in apps like CBS All Access so I can watch new episodes of Star Trek Discovery.
This TV is another example of something I learned after we purchased a low-cost Vizio years ago. While there are TV sets in the $2000 – $4000 price range, even a $800 television set can be just fine.
VIZIO E550i-B2 55″ LED LCD TV
We moved this set to the master bedroom in 2019. 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 have it paired with a Samsung soundbar.
Panasonic TC-P54G25 54″ Plasma TV
Our original flat-screen television – a Panasonic plasma from the old house. I purchased it for the black levels, color accuracy, and overall performance for the price. It’s not as good as it used to be, and we’ve already replaced components once. Joshua is pushing to replace it with a large 65″ LED LCD set. When we get the basement renovation going, replacement is on the list.
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.
Sony PlayStation 4
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.
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
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.