Horse Sense #90


Beware of Vampires!

In this issue of Horse Sense:

--Beware of Vampires!
--How to Maintain Your Human
--Data Growth Rates
--Solid State Storage Update and Predictions
--The Address Just Changed
--Choosing the Best Computer Hardware

Beware of Vampires!

Vampire power loads can bite you in the night! You would be surprised how much power your computing equipment draws when it is idle or even "off." Idle PCs, especially older ones, waiting for input may pull nearly the same amount of power that they do when they are working hard. Speakers can easily draw a fair amount of watts even when they are not in use. Even monitors, printers, and computers that have powered down may still be pulling a fair amount of power so that when you want them, they turn on quickly and do not have to go through time consuming procedures like power on self tests. This even happens in your home. When you turn the lights off and you see little indicators on your home electronics, they are drawing some power. And sometimes that power is more than you might think. The only real way to tell how much your equipment is drawing under different conditions is to install a load meter. They are quite inexpensive. If you want to save power and enhance your security, power off devices that are not in use. If you are doing so for an organization, you may want to consider software, hardware, and policies that will power down hardware when it is not needed as well as the use of more power efficient hardware. The power savings could be significant.

Do not neglect your non-computer items. Newer lighting is much more energy efficient. So are newer refrigerators, heat pumps, and air conditioning units. Anything with a compressor in it tends to gobble a lot of power, so more efficient units pay for themselves quickly in energy savings.

Please call on us if you would like to learn how more power efficient hardware, specialty software, and power saving devices can lower your energy bills.

How to Maintain Your Human

Computers are tools. But, it is the operator that uses them. So, just like any other tool, you must think about properly caring for the tool and the operator. Here are some suggestions for getting more out of your computing experience as an operator:

(1) When you are concentrating on a computer screen, you tend to blink less, so contacts are more of a problem than glasses because they rely on you blinking frequently. You can also buy glasses that are designed for computer use and help decrease glare and reflections and has a focal point at a typical computer screen distance (book distance is too near and others are too far). Ask your optometrist about them.

(2) Change your air filters frequently to your heating and cooling systems and in your computers. Computers suck in all types of dust, but so do your lungs. Good air filters will keep pollen and dust from aggravating allergy sufferers.

(3) Humidify the air in your office in the winter time. Dehumidify in the summer time. Air that is too dry in the winter can cause static shocks that can knock out delicate computer components and startle and annoy people. Humidifiers will help. If you do not have a humidifier for the heating system, you can try pans of water or a stand alone humidifier. You can also cut down on static discharge by using grounded chair mats or spraying anti-static fabric softener on your carpets. You and your computers also will not do well if the air is too humid. So, you may need a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air because you and your computer are both air cooled and too much water ends up condensing on you or your electronics. A good way to tell if you have an excess humidity problem is if you have a glass with ice in it and it easily sweats enough to form a ring at the bottom.

(4) Make sure there is enough air flow for you and your electronics. Both you and they rely on air flow for cooling. A very small and quiet fan can work wonders for cooling your equipment or yourself.

(5) When you are cold, blood is drawn from your extremities to keep your brain and the core of your body at a proper temperature. This can make typing difficult. You lose 50% or more of your heat from your head and neck. So, if you want to keep your hands warm and supple enough to type, wear a scarf, a turtle neck, or even a cap. On the other hand, if you are too warm, you tend to get sleepy and your brain does not operate as well. You want your head cool, not cold. A fan might help. So could exposing more head and neck skin and wearing lighter clothing that wicks away moisture. I have even seen scarves you can place around your neck with cool water that evaporates to help cool you down.

(6) Dust is not only the enemy of electronics because it can cause vents to clog, overheating, and shorts, it can also keep you from seeing your monitor and impede your work. If you can, remove the dust with a clean microfiber cloth, just as you would clean your glasses. There are also some specialty sponges that are used dry to clean these surfaces. Glass cleaner can remove anti-glare coatings on monitors, so do not use glass cleaner. If you need to do a more thorough cleaning with something wet, use a product safe for monitors (it should also be safe for glasses) or just plain old water and a soft microfiber cloth (or toilet tissue).

Data Growth Rates

Upgrades in storage often are not optional as the annual growth rate of date is 60%. That means in 5 years, you will need over 10 times the storage to do your day to day work. In 10 years, you will need 100 times the storage. Keep these figures in mind when planning on buying storage, networking, or backup capacity.  Think about how you might expand and how you can wisely use the storage you have.  Ask us for help.

Solid State Storage Update and Predictions

Solid state storage use is exploding. You can now buy the smallest solid state drives for less than you can the smallest hard drives, though if you want a lot of solid state storage, it will cost you quite a bit more. Solid state drives are now fairly common in servers where they can produce faster boot up times and accelerate database (including e mail) access by orders of magnitude because they take virtually no time to find the data they need before reading it. High end laptops and servers will see more and more solid state technology because it helps decrease the bottleneck to the slowest part of your computer, the long term data storage. A solid state drives also lowers power and cooling requirements, is noiseless, withstands vibration and shock much better than traditional rotating hard disks, and increases reliability.

Traditional hard drives have a low cost per gigabyte. Solid state technology is faster. Seagate recently released the Momentus XT which provides a 4GB solid state read cache with up to 500GB of storage on a 2.5" 7200 rpm laptop drive. The performance results are excellent and the cost is just slightly more than that of a similar drive without the 4GB read cache. It is a great price/performance product right now. As solid state pricing continues to plummet, though, I see pure solid state drives taking over slots that used to contain rotating memory.

Right now, the Seagate Momentus makes sense. But, Intel and other manufacturers are talking about high volume production of solid state drives next year in the 512GB size range with lower prices. Currently, you can get small capacity solid state drives cheaper than you can get hard drives. Large rotating disk drives are now nearing 5 cents per gigabyte while larger solid state drives are $2.00 per gigabyte, so rotating memory will not disappear immediately. But, as solid state disk capacities increase and prices drop, I would be worried about my shares in disk drive companies.

Solid state drives are so fast that they exceed the ability of traditional hard drive connections. So, new technologies are coming out to take advantage of this blazing speed. Some solid state disks are using multiple hard drive connections to deliver increased throughput. Others are using completely different connection technologies so that they do not have to dumb themselves down to slow SATA speeds. USB 3.0, with its 5GBps transfer rate, is an exciting connection technology for external hard drives and solid state drives. I expect the adoption of solid state drives to drive the construction of entirely new ways to access long term data. Solid state memory does not act like hard disks, so why should we limit ourselves to connections designed for rotating memory?

I took my own Toys for Tech <> advice and replaced my 120GB hard drive in my laptop with a 128GB solid state disk. Holy cow! I have not seen much change in battery life. However, the machine boots faster, loads faster, and deals with many open windows much better than it ever did before. I used to shut the machine down all the time because letting it go into hibernation mode or recovering from suspension took too long. With the solid state drive, it takes only seconds. Backup and antivirus scan times have been cut drastically. Searching or indexing my large e mail database takes a fraction of the time it did before. My disk is no longer a bottleneck. I also see less "stuttering," where there is a lag when switching between programs or when playing a video, especially if something else is running in the background. My machine also used to get hot in the hard drive area. Now it is cool as a cucumber. I can honestly say that this is one of the best computer hardware investments I have made in a long time. Having seen the difference, I will have to agree that if you want to get more oomph out of your system, a solid state drive is a great way to do it. If you are using the newest processors on the market, you will not be able to get close to their true performance without using a solid state drive.

While I do not expect traditional hard drives to disappear overnight, the only real disadvantages to solid state drives now are capacity and cost, and both of those are becoming less of an issue.  In fact, the productivity are such that it actually makes sense to start incorporating solid state drives into your purchasing decisions now.

The Address Just Changed

Another change that is coming this year is a larger sector size. For over 30 years, the sector size has been 512 bytes. Data is written to disk sector by sector. Sectors are like bricks in the house that is a hard disk. New drives are now shipping that are 4096 bytes per sector. Now that files are getting larger and more information is being stored, this change lowers the amount of information needed to address where information is on large disks and allows for more efficient usage of that space while increasing reliability. Think of it as building a large building with big bricks versus small ones. It is a lot less effort to assemble that building with larger bricks rather than smaller ones. Most solid state disks use 4096 byte sectors, so this change matches how they work as well. The more current operating systems are already capable of using 4096 byte per sector formatted hard drives. Moving from 512 byte to 4096 byte sectors allows for higher capacity drives that are capable of delivering more information more reliably in a shorter time.

Choosing the Best Computer Hardware

Often the best thing a consultant, technician, salesperson, or other expert can do for you is to make you look at something in a different light.

For example, people often worry over the costs and features of a particular PC. They spend an incredible amount of time looking for bargains. But, they are looking in the wrong direction. Sure, you can get a bargain, but that is not what you want. What you really want is a tool to help you do the work you need to do. So, rather than concentrating on the bargains and getting buried in features and specifications, look at it this way. What do you want to do? What software will best help you do that? What hardware do you need to take full advantage of that software? How do you think things will change going forward? I do not care if it is a bargain, if it does not do what you want it to you might as well throw your money away. If you are thinking only of today, what happens when tomorrow comes and you cannot do what you want? That good buy will not look so good. Think about how long things should last and plan accordingly.

You might need some help deciding what to do, so talk to a professional who wants to work with you over the long run. Making good decisions up front will cost you a lot less over time. You want a high Return on Grief(tm). Anything that costs you time, money, effort, or heartburn lowers your Return on Grief. In general, the lifetime costs stack up something like this: hardware (least costly), software, IT support, and user costs (most expensive). User costs are related to how productive the user can be. If the hardware or software does not function, if the user does not know how to use it, or if they cannot get help when they need it, then productivity will suffer. A computer is primarily a tool to increase productivity. It is the productivity you are looking for, not the computer.

If you want to know how you can maximize your Return on Grief, just call us!

©2011 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse