Thursday, November 28, 2013

[Rant] Buying PC parts in Japan


sofmap

If you are thinking of buying a PC in Japan, the first place that comes to your head is Akihabara. That's where I bought my first PC from. But that was a mistake. Why? Because you can buy one for much cheaper if you buy online.

Why is it cheaper?

Two simple reasons.

Firstly, you can find the cheapest prices for the items that you want to buy via websites like Kakaku. One items could be cheaper at one shop but another item could more expensive at the same shop than another shop. You cannot go to every shop and not down all the prices. However, there are shops that are not registered in Kakaku.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

[Rant] How much data do you use on the phone?

When I upgraded to the iPhone 5S, I got LTE connectivity. Until then I had been using the iPhone 4S with unlimited 3G data. Even though it was unlimited, practically it I couldn't even use up 2GB per month. My average monthly usage was around 1.3GB. It was hard work. 3G speeds were so bad with SoftBank's congested 3G data network.

IMG_0304According to the in built monitoring, I have used 12GB in the last 2 months. The usage in the first few days was high, because I had 7.5GB to use for 2 weeks. The billing date is 10th of each month. I bought the phone on the 25th of September. They gave me the full 7.5GB allowance until the 10th.

While LTE on the iPhone 5S is amazing, SoftBank put some restrictions how much data you can download using LTE. There are two main restrictions.

  • You can only download 7.5GB (7GB without tethering) per month you hit the data caps
  • On three consecutive days, the total amount downloadable before you hit the data caps 

If you hit the data caps, it would be just as if you don’t have internet on the phone. You can upload stuff at full speed though. (YouTube Capture anyone?)

Sucks!

If there weren't such limitations, I could have easily used up more than 20GB per month. Right now, I don't use it for anything else other than YouTube and Browsing. I download apps and podcasts when I’m connected to Wi-Fi.

YouTube is the killer though. You cannot change the streaming quality in the YouTube app when I’m connected to a mobile data connection. Quite a dumb move Google! I mean, it is fine if that the app wants to automatically select the best quality according to the speed of the data connection. But what if you want to watch the videos at 360p all the time because you don’t have an unlimited data connection? Maybe I should download the YouTube videos and sync them to the phone. Still I have to use the dreaded iTunes. That’s the crappiest software to land the Windows application eco system. But still, I don’t want to go through the restricted speeds. So I would have to give in to iTunes.

[Rant] Really love the power of LTE on the iPhone 5S

Picture 1

Whoa, it's been two months since I've bought the iPhone 5S. Time flies, isn't it?

When the iPhone 5S arrived in Japan, I quickly dumped the iPhone 4S which I had been using for almost two years. I didn't even wait till its contract ended. The main reason for it was because I had had enough of the crappy 3G speeds that I got with the phone. The culprit is not the phone but Softbank's network.

When the iPhone 5 came out a year ago, SoftBank upgraded their network to support LTE. When I checked the performance of it at the SoftBank shop near work place, I got great speeds but it was not consistent. For some reason, every once in a while, the webpage load times got worse than what I got with the iPhone 4S. So I was skeptical at first. Would that be the case with the iPhone 5S.

Monday, November 25, 2013

[Rant] Finally managed to sell the Dell Latitude 10 Essentials tablet

Dell-Latitude-10-essentials-656x318

The story so far…

Part 1: Found out that recovery was broken after upgrading to Windows 8.1

Part 2: Reinstalling Windows

Part 3: Making a Recovery Partition (failed attempt)

Part 4: Making the Recovery Partition (Success!)

Last Saturday (16th of November) was a working day. But I took the day off. No, it wasn't so that I can go and sell the tablet. But because I couldn't do with just one day off per week.

However, I did go out to sell the tablet on that day. We went to Akihabara. This was my wife’s second visit and my 5th or 6th.

I figured that Dospara (ドスパラパーツ館) would give me the most return for the tablet. Sofmap only offered me ¥15,000 for it. Dospara had estimated ¥20,000 about 3 weeks ago when I asked them. Sure, they wouldn't abide by that after three weeks. They estimate it for 3 days. But I knew it wouldn't drop to the ¥15,00 mark. Plus, they were giving an additional 10% for tablets these days. So at best, I could get ¥22,000.

So I went to the place and wrote my name on the list and waited till they called me. It took about 15 minutes because the person before me had a whole PC brought for assessment. Of course they don't assess then and there, but they had to check all the components present in the PC and give the customer an estimate of what he would get at the best case. If there are any internal defects, damages to the exterior or missing original accessories, they would further reduce the money they would pay otherwise.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

[Rant] I've had enough with the Apple EarPods

Some time back, my Zagg Smart Buds broke. I didn't buy a new set of ear buds because I was going to get the iPhone 5S a couple of months after, and they should come with Apple's redesigned EarPods which were first announced with the iPhone 5. Until then, I used the old ear buds that came with my iPhone 4S.

When the iPhone 5S came out, I upgraded as early as possible. I've had the iPhone 5S for about 2 months now. That means, I've been using the Apple EarPods for about 2 months. And they suck!

There were two big issues with the old ear buds. They don't stay fit and the audio quality is bad.

The new ones are better in terms of the audio quality (but worse than a proper set of ear buds). However, although they are designed to fit in the ears better than the old one, for me, that hasn’t been the case. They fall so easily when I walk and ride the bike. I cannot turn the head without them coming off. Sucks!

Which means, I need a new set of ear buds!

There are two options for me.

One, get a new pair of Zagg Smart buds. I should wait for the Black Friday deals though. That’s only one more week to go, if I am not mistaken. Zagg is known to come up with nice Black Friday deals. The only issue is that I will still have to pay for shipping. And I would have a hard time claiming warranty in case they broke because I will have to send them back which costs money! Sadness. Too bad they don't sell Zagg products in Japan There was a Japanese store a while back, but not anymore. Amazon is selling a handful of products, but they don't have the SmartBuds.

Zagg Smart Buds

[Rant] Still could not get rid of the Dell Latitude 10 Tablet (part 4)

Dell-Latitude-10-Essentials-Design1
The story so far.
 

With both methods coming to a dead end (part 3 above), I didn't know what to do. This was last Thursday. I was hoping to go to Akihabara to sell the tablet on Saturday (16th of November). But with only 2 days to go and no solution, I gave one last shot. I had to put my faith on Google Gods.

After searching the internet for a while I came across a forum post which sounded promising. Apparently one guy had created a tool to automate the job in method 2 which I mentioned in part 3 of the story.

The tool is called Anarethos Recovery Tools with Media Creator. I didn't if it would work though. However, that tool has been in development for a long time and that pushed my hopes up.

I went to his website and downloaded the tool which came in the form of an file archive. I extracted the archive. I also downloaded the manual from the same location. There weren't a lot of instructions in it, so I couldn't understand how to begin at first. Without understanding all of it, I tried the instructions one by one. Then things became quite clear to me.

Friday, November 22, 2013

[Lifestyle] Finally upgraded the shaver! Yes, the shaver!!!

You'd be wondering what's there to talk about it. If you know me, you know that I would upgrade everything quickly because I like to play with new stuff all the time. But I haven't bought a new razor in a while. In fact, I've had the same razor for the past 9 years!!! Would you believe me?
 
That razor was special. It was a gift from a friend. It was a Schick Quattro 4, a massive upgrade over the simple two blade Bic razors (read: piece of crap razors) I had been using before I got it. It was from Australia. Schick was not available in Sri Lanka so I had to use the cartridges sparingly. When my friend visited Sri Lanka a second time, I got few more cartridges and after a while I came to Japan.
 
Schick is a popular brand in Japan. I bought many cartridges and used the razor during the entire 3 1/2 years I've been living in Japan. When I visited Sri Lanka, I took the Schick Hydro 5 for my father. It could vibrate the cartridge using the battery inside. That allowed you to get a better cut.

The last set of cartridges that I bought were not good quality. I got razor burns often. And they got blunt quite quickly. The pad just before the blades that lubricated the skin also got deteriorated quickly.
 
Few weeks ago we went to Costco and there they had the Hydro 5 Power Select (means, the cartridge vibrate) with a pack of 12 additional cartridges (there's one that's already fitted on the razor) for a reasonable price. I cannot remember the price though. I thought about whether to buy it or not for a while and finally decided to buy it.

Schick Hydro 5

Yesterday I started using it for the first time. Man, what a difference!!! The new one gives a great cut. They glide so easily as well. I don't get a razor burns anymore. It also takes less time for the shave because it does a clean cut quickly. I was so stupid not to have upgraded the blades sooner.
 
The only problem I have with it is that it doesn't come with a razor holder. The old one - the Quattro 4 - had a holder. Perhaps they offer a holder for the Hydro 5 as well, but I didn't get one with the package I bought.

[Lifestyle] A new offer at Dominos and we took it

I really hate when they fill our post box with all these product advertisements/brochures. Most of the times we throw them away even without reading them. But yesterday there was one from Dominos Pizza where it said that if you came to their place and bought pizza as takeaway, you were entitled for one of the following three offers.
  • Buy one pizza, get one free
  • Get a free pack of side dishes
  • Get 20% discount on the purchase if it is more than ¥2000
IMG_0255
We decided that we were going to have pizza for dinner. And we decided to pick the first option out of the three. We chose a pizza that was priced at ¥2,000. That's still quite expensive but it seemed that this one offered the best bang for the buck. It's the Domino Deluxe (medium size).


Thursday, November 21, 2013

[Guide] iTunes doesn’t detect your iPhone anymore? Here’s a solution

About a week ago, iTunes stopped detecting my iPhone 5S. Windows Explorer detected it alright. I could see it as a device. And I could access the photos folder once I designated the PC as a Trusted PC. But you had to press Trust this PC every time I connected the phone to the PC.

Apple has done a lot of things so that you don’t need to depend on iTunes to download everything. You could download/buy stuff and update iOS over the internet directly. That’s great, but you still cannot copy any files to the phone from the PC without iTunes. You could use Dropbox (copy the file to Dropbox, sync on the phone and open the file in the respective app) but you cannot do that with large media files. You still need iTunes.

I reinstalled iTunes many times. But it didn’t fix the problem.

But last night it hit me that it could be one of those other services that gets installed when you install iTunes which could be causing the issue. I thought that all of them are removed when you remove iTunes. That was NOT the case.

Untitled

The million other services that iTunes installs

So I first uninstalled iTunes and all of the other services and stuff one by one. After that I rebooted the PC. When the PC booted back to the desktop, I downloaded the latest iTunes installer from Apple website, and installed it.

Once the installation was completed, I connected the phone. iTunes was automatically launched (that’s the default behavior unless you disable a service) and it could see my iPhone 5S.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

[Rant] GPU upgrade plans–2013/2014

palit

I’ve had my current graphics card, the GTX 670 for about one and a half years. While it is not slow or outdated by any means, I would like to upgrade before the value of the graphics card drops too much.

Ever since the new graphics cards from AMD came out, I’ve been keeping my eyes on the prices of the GTX 780 and the R9 290 here in Japan. The R9 290 is priced $399 in USA but the cheapest card is priced JPY49,800 (Sapphire branded reference card) here. That’s basically $499. Sucks! It’s even worse for the GTX 780. After the recent price cuts, it is priced at $499 in USA, but the cheapest GTX 780 (Gainward Phantom) is priced JPY 61,480 (or $615).

Note: These prices are for 2013/11/17 only. When you read it, it would be higher or lower than that.

Since I have like $63 worth of points on Sofmap, which is the shop selling both cards, this make things even better.

Even though I am tempted to get a R9 290 now, I won’t. I will have to wait for the cards with 3rd party coolers because these cards get really hot and the fan is very noisy.

[Rant] Should I get a protective cover for the Asus T100 tablet?

t100-top

The reason why I'm even considering a cover for the tablet is because of the glossy/slippery back. I want it made rough because if I keep it on my lap, it can easily slide off and fall. That happened once already. Plus, it also attracts a lot of finger prints. Plus, it would be easier to grip if the back was rough.

The old tablet, the Latitude 10 didn't have this problem. It had a very nice back which made it easier to grip. So I never thought of getting a cover for the back of it. However, because the screen was glossy, I bought an anti-glare screen film for the screen. I bought it from eBay. But I had to remove it after a couple of months because I had to send it back for repairs as the touch screen stopped working.
 
Anyways, the Dell is old news. Now I have a new tablet and it is awesome except for the aforementioned shinny back and a couple of small things.
 
Someone on Google Plus recommended me Skinomi for the back of the tablet. When I checked their website, I found that they already had skins for the T100. That is great. But the price is a bit on the high side. $29.95 on their website plus shipping which cannot be cheap. I found it $5 cheaper on eBay with a shipping cost of $10. $35 is kinda too high. Amazon (US) is selling it much cheaper though. Unfortunately, it is not available on Amazon Japan. Sadness.
 

[Article] How fast is the eMMC storage on the Asus Transformer Book T100 BayTrail tablet

Couple of weeks back I was ranting about how slow the eMMC storage on these Windows 8 tablets and that was the main cause of lag in them. You really need to have a proper SSD based storage on these tablets to really harness the power of the OS.

A week ago I bought my new Tablet and unfortunately it still came with eMMC storage. But I was hoping that it would be faster than the storage in the previous generation tablets. Today I ran Crystal Disk Mark to confirm it. Here are the results.

Asus Transformer Book T100

25w3

 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

[Rant] Still could not get rid of the Dell Latitude 10 Tablet (part 3)

cnet_dell_latitude10tablet_gallery_02_800

The story so far

 
Let me sum up what’s happened so far.
 
The factory recovery functionality of my Dell tablet broken when I upgraded to Windows 8.1. The usual things like going back to Windows 8 or reinstalling the recovery software didn’t fix it. I want to sell the tablet. I don’t care for anything else. But to sell the tablet, I have to have recovery working.
 
I decided to do it on my own and I removed everything on the tablet and installed Windows 8 from a MSDN disk image using the OEM key. So far so good.
 
I had come across two ways to make it work. Note that I have not tried either way before in my life. So the chances of things going wrong was pretty high.
 

Custom Refresh Image

 
The first method was to make a custom Refresh image. That’s quite easy. First, setup the OS the way you want. Then use the following command to make an image.
 
 
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

[Rant] Still could not get rid of the Dell Latitude 10 Tablet (part 2)

DellLatitude10-729-620x349

Read part 1 of the story here first.

Now that I didn't have anything in the primary storage drive, I had to use a bootable Windows 8 USB drive to install Windows. I have access to MSDN so getting hold of a 32bit Windows 8 ISO file was not a problem. I decided to install the Japanese version of Windows 8 even though the tablet originally came with the English version. I wanted to sell the tablet and I didn’t want to see it being devaluated because it had the English OS.

However, I had never attempted to install Windows on the tablet with a bootable USB drive because I was afraid that I would screw up the partition structure. I always mounted the ISO file in Windows and ran the setup from there. You can do that, because of the way Windows is deployed nowadays. From past experience, I knew that the MSDN ISO files did work with the OEM CD key embedded on the tablet’s ACPI strings. There was no need to enter it manually.
 

[Rant] Still could not get rid of the Dell Latitude 10 Tablet (part 1)

delllatitude10essentials

Before I bought my Asus tablet, I checked with the shops if I would be able sell the Dell tablet. Otherwise I would be stuck in a spot of bother having an extra tablet that was not used for anything. Even though there was a chance for me to sell the tablet, there was one problem. The factory restore functionality was broken.

It all started a while back when I tried out Windows 8.1 Preview on it but I managed to fix it. However, the situation got elevated when I updated to Window 8.1. Apparently, when you update Windows 8 to 8.1, the inbuilt recovery features (Reset and Refresh) that uses an image stored in the recovery partition break. That sucks! However, the updated version of Dell Backup and Recovery software could fix it and repair the recovery functionality.
 
I launched recovery and it went on fine. When the recovery finished and rebooted to enter the OOBE where you configure the initial settings such as PC name, user accounts and Wi-Fi network, I shutdown the tablet and stored it back in the box it came in to sell on Monday. I thought nothing could go wrong hereafter. Recovery was working, right?
 
How wrong I was!!!
 

[Unboxing] Asus Transformer Book T100 unboxing–photos

I should have posted this before talking about the first impressions on my new tablet – the Asus Transformer Book T100 32GB model. But better late than never, right?

IMG_5497

The packaging. Simple and elegant. Well, not as simple as an iPad’s packaging, but much better than the products that used to ship couple of years ago.

IMG_5498

The tablet is right on top of everything. For a cheap tablet, it was packaged really well.

[Article] Asus Transformer Book T100 - first impressions of the first BayTrail tablet

Like I said in the previous post, I bought the 32GB model of the Asus Transformer Book T100 a couple of days ago. The exact model number of the one I bought is TransBook T100TA-DK32G and I bought it from Sofmap. This post is about the first impressions about it. Actually, since the post is quite long, I'm going to split it into two parts.
 

Packaging

The packaging of the tablet is way superior to that of the Latitude 10. Both the outside of it and inside of it. When I first held the tablet, I felt it was smaller and sleeker than the Latitude 10 as well. You can see in the following pic, how the T100 compares to my old tablet.

No idea what Dell was thinking! Why would you need such a huge package for a tablet?
 
Thinner bezels on the Asus making it smaller
 
The tablet itself is thinner (top) than the Dell (bottom) making it lighter

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

[Rant] Crysis 3 multiplayer is super fun but rage kicking drives me nuts!

thumbnail_2_1975ba3b_v3
It seems it is very easy to hack Crysis 3 (read review here) multiplayer just as Crysis 2 was. Some people can run fast, some can teleport, some can shoot through the walls, some use aim bots and some never die!
 
In fact, there is also a weapon in Crysis 3 that works like a hacked weapon. The bow! On kill cam, it seems you can use the arrows to even curve and hit your head!!! And you don't have to actually aim at the opponent to get a hit mark. Simply aiming at the opponent's whereabouts is enough. Unfortunately, I cannot get it to work like that. The bow is my least favorite weapon. Fortunately, the servers that I play on, have banned the bow. But you can always find people who ignore the server rules until they are kicked.
Check out my Crysis 3 stats here.
Just like hackers, there is another thing that drives me insane. Rage kicks. Kick votes are there for one purpose. To kick hackers from the server. Well, perhaps you can use it to kick the laggers as well. Laggers mean, people with very high pings. Those players can make then whole game laggy.
 
But that's not what it is usually used for.
 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

[Rant] Oops! Just ordered the Asus T100 tablet

I couldn't take it anymore. I weren't and ordered the Asus T100 tablet. The 32bit model! I think I can survive with just that much storage. 

I ordered it from Sofmap. The tablet cost $449 here but I got 11% points so it only cost about $399. Still a tad expensive than US price. It cannot be helped. I'm planning to sell the Dell on Monday which is a company holiday. Hopefully they will give me a good sum back. Even if they don't, I've had enough with the Dell. 

I should get the tablet  today in the evening. I actually placed the order yesterday and it has already been shipped. Unfortunately I won't be home when it arrives, so I will have to ask them to deliver it back when I'm home. 

Hope it won't disappoint me.

With the points that I received, I can either buy a 64GB MicroSD card or something else. The G602 mouse perhaps? The G710+ keyboard perhaps? Or a new video card? The points should remain intact for 2 years. I don't have to rush it. 

[Rant] AMD is great, but I still prefer nvidia unless…

Long story short.

GTX 780 was $649. AMD released R9 290X at $549 which was faster (at stock) than GTX780. NVidia dropped the price of the GTX780 to $499. AMD released R9 290 for $399 which also beat GTX780 at stock. NVidia released GTX780 Ti for $699 which beat them all. (GTX 780Ti is great, but that’s out of budget for most people so we’ll ignore that it ever exists.)

R9-290X-vs-GTX-TitanLooks like the R9 290 is the winner. You can get two of them in Crossfire for $100 more than the GTX 780 Ti and they will beat it by a long margin. R9 290X seems already irrelevant because the performance difference between it and R9 290 is very little, well, at least in Quiet Mode.

There is one issue though. This is the only deal breaker for most people. There are no custom designed card available yet.
Why do you need them? Because the cooler on the R9 290/290X is crap. It is basically the same cooler that was on the R9 280X but with higher fan speed. The R9 290/290X GPUs run so hot that even with the increased fan speed, the GPU runs at 95C!!!
  • Increased fan speed means, it is very loud.
  • Increased temps mean you have very limited overclocking headroom.
This makes one wonder, what would happen if you are running the card in a hot environment? The card would be throttled so much that they would perform very badly against the competition. NVidia cards throttle too, but only 13MHz per 10C. Not a big deal.


Friday, November 8, 2013

[Rant] Dell Latitude 10 Tablet audio quality

460-11995r1I’ve said this in my review. The audio quality and the maximum volume level of the Dell Latitude 10 Essentials tablet is horrible. I cannot watch any videos in the kitchen when my wife is frying food. There is no such issue with the iPhone. So I hardly use the tablet when there is a bit of ambient noise. Not that I don’t want to, but I just cannot. That really sucks! One of the reasons why I got this over the iPad 4 was because I wanted to enjoy videos with the 16:9 aspect ratio. Not with those black bars on the top and on the bottom. (There were other reasons too.)

I always wanted to make a video and show this to everybody. I was too lazy to do that. But now that I’m 90% sure that I’m going to get rid of the Tablet, I felt that I should do some social service and prevent anyone else from falling into the same pic. No wonder Dell is not selling this in showrooms such as Yodobashi or Biccamera. They are selling it online. We have to rely on the reviews but nobody seem to mention this issue with audio in their reviews. That’s why I am.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

[Rant] Can a Windows 8.1 tablet survive with just 32GB primary storage?

In other words, do you really need 64GB? This question rose up because I didn't want to spend $100 just to double the 32GB standard storage on the Asus Transformer Book T100. The prices in Japan are heavily inflated. I haven't bought the tablet as of this writing, but I might own one by the time you read it.


The 32GB model costs $349 in the US but costs $449 in Japan. The 64GB model costs $399 in the US but costs $549 in Japan. Sucks! However, most shops are giving 10% points which can be used when you buy something else. But you have to buy it from the same shop.

I currently have the Dell Latitude 10 Essentials tablet with 64GB storage. Currently I have 38GB free space left in it. But I don't have any data stored on the tablet. Nor legacy applications. The 26GB is gone for Windows, Metro apps (and their data), Recovery partition and 2GB each for pagefile and hiberfile. Funny thing is though, the usable drive space is only 51.3GB. I don't think the recovery partition is taking up 12.7GB though.  Dell must be lying. So if only 13.3GB has been using up for everything (I don't have any 3rd party legacy apps installed, nor Microsoft Office), I think 32GB is not going to be a big issue.


[Rant] Is Asus Transformer Book T100 a decent replacement for the Dell Latitude 10 Essentials?

Indeed it is, if I was living in the US. In the US, the price of the 32GB model is $349 and 64GB model is $399. If I can make at least $200 from my old tablet, I say that's good enough. I don't want to get the 32GB model though. That would be a downgrade from what I have right now.

Picture courtesy of TechRadar

The Asus Transformer T100 is ones of the first BayTrail tablets that came out with the launch of Windows 8.1. That $349 price tag includes a hardware keyboard as well. (AFAIK, it lack the addition battery though). Doesn't matter. Even with the Latitude 10, I'm not having problems with the battery life. I am fine having to charge it every night if required. Other than that, the price is the selling point. This price is same as Surface 2 which is ARM based and doesn't come with a keyboard. (You have to pay an additional $120-130 for a hardware keyboard on it.) And this is a convertible tablet, not just a tablet with plugable keyboard. The Surface 2 is not a proper laptop, because it doesn't stay stably on the lap. 

Besides, there aren't any other options. Dell has Venue 11 Pro and that's about it. But it is not available for purchase as of today.

If you compare the Asus T100 with the Dell Latitude 10 Essentials, the differences are very noticeable. First, it has a CPU that's more than twice as fast as the one in the Dell. Then the GPU is many times faster. You get the keyboard. You get free Microsoft Office 2013. although it doesn't come preinstalled - a key to install the software is bundled with the package. Nevertheless, you get the best office suite for free. The speakers are very loud - as per reviews. The speakers on the Dell are horrible. It's about 100g lighter as well. The storage is still eMMC, but it would be slightly faster than the one on the Dell. Not sure if the performance difference would be noticeable though. I have always felt that the sluggishness of the Dell was always due to the sluggishness of the storage subsystem, not the CPU. So if that is the case, even a small bump in storage performance would be a godsend. Plus, it comes with Windows 8.1 out of the box. So you don't have to update to Windows 8.1 if you had to do a factory restore.

Only thing you are going to miss is the back facing camera. Who takes photos with a tablet anyways. Ah, and you don't get a full sized USB port on the tablet although one is available on the keyboard so that is not a big deal. I wonder if you can use both of them - the one on the keyboard and the one on the tablet body - at the same time. That would be awesome. I really miss not having multiple USB ports on the Dell. 

So, obviously there is no competition between the Dell and the Asus. The Asus wins hands down.

There is one issue though. I don't live in the US. I live in Japan, and in Japan this tablet costs $449 for the 32GB model and $549 for the 64GB model! Ouch!!! That's too much! They want me to pay an extra $150 for the same 64GB tablet? 

Sofmap is giving 10% points if we buy it from them, so the price of the tablet drops below $500. But still, I'm not sure that is worth it. I'll wait and see if the prices would drop. Perhaps when more and more shops start selling the tablet, it would become cheaper. 

On the other hand, the Surface Pro 2 128GB is going for $870 for some reason. The price in the US is $999. Weird country Japan is!

Reviews on Asus Transformer Book T100



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

[Rant] Price wars reloaded: AMD R9 290 is only $399!!!!

Nobody expected AMD to price their flagship R9 290X card at $549. But they did. Then everybody thought this would be a replay of HD7900 series launch - HD7970 at $549 and HD7950 at $449. No, AMD had other plans. They released the R9 290 at just $399. That's insane. 

OK, $399 is still not cheap. Not many people is going to spend that much money on the graphics card. Heck, most people are trying to get away with $399 for the entire PC. 

But if you are into this sort of thing, you would know that this is crazy. For $399, you are not getting a 20% slower card than the flagship. You are getting a card that is only 5% or less slower than the flagship card that costs $150 more. Basically, AMD only cut down the Stream Processors from 2,816 to 2,560 and maximum clock speed from 1000MHz to 947MHz. (Note: the gap widens if you put the R9 290X to Uber mode though.)

Funny thing is though, AMD was not anticipating that NVidia would respond with such soon price cuts on the GTX770 and GTX780 when the R9 290X came out. AMD didn't seem to have had any other price point targetted, but they seem to have a different performance point targeted. AMD delayed the R9 290's launch by a week, because they thought they had to do counter the counter act from NVidia. Instead of dropping the prices, they increased the performance of the R9 290. But what's interesting is how they did it. They didn't release a BIOS update or change any chip specific. They simply raised the max fan speed of the card from the default 40% to 47%. You must be wondering how that could affect the performance. But that mere 7% increase in fan speed made the card throttle less due to high temperature and allowed the core clock to stay at the max clock speed more often than not. It's actually amazing how much the card throttled at 40% max fan speed. Look at the chart below.


That last minute tuning made the card beat the stock GTX 780 most of the times. Sometimes even beating the $1000 NVidia Titan. Insane, right?

But the problem that I had with the R9 290X still persists with this card as well. Heat ⇒ Temps ⇒ Noise. With the R9 290 running at 47% at stock, it is significantly louder than the rest of the pack. But the good news is that cards with custom designed coolers are coming out at the end of this month. People that don't want to use a custom water loop probably are better off waiting for these cards. But at $399, I think you can excuse the card being a bit too loud. Use some headphones when you are gaming, dammit!

You can read a comprehensive review about the new card @ anandtech.com




[Rant] BayTrail is good but why do they cripple the storage by using eMMC?

Intel recently released the new iteration to their ultra low power CPUs known as the Intel Atom CPU. The new iteration is called BayTrail. If you didn't know, it's predecessor was CloverTrail which is the one that's available in most Windows 8 tablets. Unfortunately, that's what's in my tablet too.

BayTrail comes with a huge performance boost. 

  • First, it is a quad core CPU. CloverTrail was a dual core CPU with Hyper-threading support. No Hyper-threading in BayTrail though. 
  • And then comes the biggest improvement: out of order execution. This massively increases performance as it lowers the idling caused by I/O (including the cache accesses). 
  • Then, there is turbo boost as well.
  • Now it supports DDR3, although the supported speeds are only 1066MHz.
A 1.33GHz (1.8GHz boost) BayTrail gives about half the performance of an ULP Core i5 (dual core) CPU running at 1.6GHz. So it is not that bad. It is way faster than CloverTrail. Even the GPU on it is the HD4000 which is only one generation behind the latest Haswell CPUs. Previously, the ATOM SoC was using a 3rd party GPU called PowerVR by Imagination Tech.

So, it seems like we have a winner, especially on the tablet front. But there is a big issue. "Storage performance". The tablets coming with the BayTrail CPUs are using the slow eMMC storage solution, not SATA based SSDs which you would typically find in PCs. eMMC is still solid state storage, but they are about 10 times slower than modern SSDs. Even though the iPad is also using eMMC, iOS is optimized for ARM platform so much that you don't get much of an issue as you would get when running Windows. Windows needs a proper SSD. 

I don't know if this is a limitation with BayTrail or if they tablet manufacturers are opting for the cheaper storage to increase margins. If it is the former, we have no choice. But if it is the latter, the manufacturers are making a huge mistake because once people get fed up by seeing every bad move the manufacturers take to make an extra dime, they are going to take their business elsewhere.(i.e. buy an iPad). They are going to lose their profits trying to make higher profits. This is why even though Apple products are pricy, people tend to buy more and more of them. (I've asked Ryan Shrout about this, so hopefully he will find the answer. I really hope it is the latter, which means there is a chance that at least one manufacturer would come to their senses and release a BayTrail based with storage solution based on desktop class SSDs.) 

I'm sure the newer eMMC storage is faster than what was offered with the CloverTrail based tablets. (Head down to the bottom of this page for performance numbers of the Asus T100 Transformer Book. Compare with the VivoTab Smart which is a CloverTrail based tablet.) But I doubt the improvements, if any, would be large enough to warrant a pleasant experience on a tablet running Windows 8.1. For example, last night I checked the CPU usage of my tablet while doing a lot of things. Even though the CPU usage didn't go past 50%, it still felt sluggish. Installing GIMP took so long that I let it install and went to sleep. 

Just for reference, check out how the eMMC storage solution in my tablet performs compared to the Samsung 840 series SSD on my desktop PC.

Tablet


Desktop PC


What a difference! Especially when it comes to small files. I'm sure, even with the CloverTrail CPU inside my tablet, if it could be equipped with a decent SSD, I won't notice how slow the CPU is.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

[Rant] Dell backup and recovery stopped working again on my Latitude 10 Essentials tablet

When I first updates to Windows 8.1 Preview, Dell Backup and Recovery stopped working properly. I could not use it to restore the factory backup image. I resolved it by reinstalling Windows from another Windows 8 32bit ISO. I didn't even have to burn it to a disc or make a bootable USB drive. Simply mounting the ISO file as a disc drive (native feature Windows 8) and running the setup sufficed. After that I downloaded and reinstalled Backup and Recovery software and it worked. 

Couple of months ago, I installed Windows 8.1 RTM on the tablet. Since it wasn't released at that time, I had to use the ISO image downloaded from MSDN to install it. But that completely broke the recovery functionality. When I used it, it would go into the Windows recovery environment and halts there. That's the same thing that happened last time too. I didn't worry about that so much at that time. 

But the tablet is too slow for my needs. It also seems to work erroneously at times. Basically, it doesn't seem to like Windows 8.1 that much. In fact, Windows 8.1 seems to run slower than Windows 8 on it. I even updated the firmware and drivers. Didn't improve anything. So I'm thinking of selling this and getting a newer tablet. Which means, I need to restore it to the original state. Which means, I need to get Backup and Recovery working. 

I tried many times to see if it would magically start to work. Nah! Magic and I never go together.

Then I updated the Backup and Recovery software as a new one that supports Windows 8.1 has come out. That's version 1.6.1.1) That didn't do any good either. I reinstalled Windows 8 32bit from an ISO file I downloaded from MSDN to see if it would fix the issue like it did the last time. No, it didn't want to recreate the joy. However, it let me create the recovery flash drive. Last time, it didn't work either. Still, I couldn't get it to work. One USB port isn't enough on the tablet. The keyboard attached to my desktop PC has two USB ports (v1.1 though) but devices plugged into it stops working after a while when plugged into the tablet. No such issue when the keyboard is plugged into the desktop PC though. Maybe the current given through the tablet's USB port isn't enough to drive more than one device, which means getting a non-powered USB hub won't work either. So basically I don't know how to get it to work without a powered USB hub. Do I need to get one of that too??? These tablets are so crippled!

Then I updated to Windows 8.1 from Windows Store. It took many hours for the entire thing to finish. I didn't have to reinstall Dell Backup and Recovery. But after a while something weird happened. Some executable ran in the background and said it is updating the PE environment. It took about 10 minutes to whatever it did. Then I got a message from Backup and Recovery saying that "You seem to have updated to Windows 8.1. If you restore that factory image, you will go back to Windows 8. But if you wanted to make a backup of Windows 8.1, you should upgrade to Backup and Restore Premium". (The exact message is a bit different, but same meaning.) That upgrade costs $40. I didn't to do that. All I wanted was to make it work. After what it did though, I felt it could have fixed the issues. 

So I opened Backup and Recovery and tried to restore to the factory backup. And it worked. Well, I didn't restore it completely. I canceled it before the actual restore process started. But it didn't halt at the Windows Recovery Environment as before. Good!

Next step, find a service that would give me highest money when I sell the tablet.

[Rant] What is a Surface 2 Pro?

Is it a tablet? Or is it a laptop? Or is it both? Or is it neither? 

When Microsoft released the original Surface (non Pro), people were let down by its crappy performance. The design is very modern looking, but it was very slow. Sure, it is not a desktop class device. It had an ARM SoC inside it. But iPad too had an ARM SoC inside it but it performs brilliantly fast. Why couldn't Surface do that? Was the hardware too slow? (i.e should we blame NVidia for the Tegra 3 chip in there) Or, was the OS not optimized for ARM? I think it is both, but the latter seems to have had a bigger hand in it. 

So, people were waiting for the Surface Pro, which was supposed to have a true and proven Intel CPU in it. It's still an ultra low power (ULP) CPU, never the less, a proper x86 CPU. The performance issue was resolved but it lost a lot of other things in the process. It became a heavy (bigger heatsinks) and noisy (fans) tablet with about half the battery life of a similarly priced UltraBook. Nevertheless, people still considered it over the Surface (non Pro) because the Surface was too slow. 

Intel had another CPU that could bring the Surface like weight but better performance than it and legacy app support. The Atom CPU. This time it was code-named Clovertrail. While the Atom has come a long way from the original Netbook days, it was still an in-order CPU that performed far slower than a Core series CPU. I bought one; the one made by Dell called the Latitude 10 Essentials, and it is SLOW! It is not just the CPU that is slow, but the entire thing is very sluggish. The storage is eMMC, which is about 10 times slower than modern SSDs. The network speed is slow, even slower than my iPhone 4S which was released a year before. The graphics is slow as well, but I didn't really use it for anything graphically intensive. Just wanted to stream stuff from the desktop and watch YouTube, listen to Podcasts and browse the internet. Clovertrail, while seemed to be a viable tablet SoC, was NOT good for a Windows tablet! Even with Windows 8.1. I'm thinking of replacing my tablet actually.

Turn the clock 1 year forward, and now there are new Surfaces and new SoCs from Intel. The Surface 2 (non Pro) has improved massively. It is way faster than the old one it replaces. It's quite a big deal. It could be improved drivers, improved ARM support in Windows 8.1 and the improved performance in the SoC (NVidia Tegra 4) itself. But it is still ARM, which means you won't get support for legacy apps. But to be honest, using the legacy apps with a touch screen is not a pleasant experience. 

Surface Pro 2 on the other hand, has got the Haswell treatment. It means, only one thing: improved battery life. The CPU performance didn't improve noticeably with Haswell. It's all about battery life - to be precise, idle battery life. But even then, it still gets only 5.5Hrs of up time in a single charge. (Couple of days ago, Microsoft released a new firmware that could extend that by another hour, which is a big deal.) Ah I forgot. The GPU performance also got better with the new CPU. Other than that, the actual form factor hasn't changed a bit. That means, it is still heavy and loud. Not good to be used as a tablet at all. 


In fact, it is not suitable to be used as a laptop either. The thing that makes it stand up is the kick stand. While the Surface Pro 2 comes with two position kick stand compared to just one position in the original Surface Pro, it is still not as steady as a conventional tablet to be used on your lap. It's fine if you only use it on a desk though. And then there are the touch covers and the type covers. They are expensive, but they deliver much less than comfortable typing experience compared to an UltraBook. 



The only reason to get the Surface Pro 2 over an UltraBook is its ability to be used as a tablet. But, if it is too heavy to be used as a tablet, then there is no real reason for its existence.

But there is only thing they could have done. Use the Atom BayTrail SoC in the Surface Pro. Sure, it will be slower than the original Surface Pro, but it won't be THAT noticeable. I don't think people game on it. They could have used the fastest BayTrail CPU. Perhaps ask Intel to make a faster BayTrail CPU with a little bit higher TDP? It will still be using way less power than a Haswell, right? But it will get all the other features of a proper tablet right. Weight and no noise. BayTrail isn't that slow compared to a Core i5 CPU. The 1.33GHz BayTrail CPU is slightly faster than half the performance of the CPU that's inside the Surface Pro 2. Graphics maybe slower, but not far off, as BayTrail is using HD4000 graphics from the IvyBridge era. 

So to conclude, I think Surface Pro 2 is still a failure, because it is ergonomically not suitable to be used as a tablet nor gives the experience of a proper laptop. Microsoft should have gone with BayTrail for the Surface Pro 2. However, they would definitely have to lower the price to $500-600 range if they did that.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

[Guide] What are the best settings to encode videos when uploading game play videos to YouTube?

I have uploaded a lot of game play videos in the past. I have almost always used Windows Live Movie Maker to add a starting and an ending to the videos because it is a very easy thing to do.
 
But the issue is, regardless of the quality of the video file that I upload to YouTube, the final output after YouTube does its thing is very low quality. Now that I can easily record videos at 1080p all thanks to NVidia ShadowPlay, the file sizes can get pretty large.
 
Here are two videos I recorded using ShadowPlay and edited using Movie Maker. The first one was saved using YouTube profile. The second one was saved using the High Definition profile. The file size of the original save file with the High Definition profile is about 4 times larger. That video is perfect when watched locally. But after uploading to YouTube, the final quality is about the same as the one using the YouTube profile.
 
Windows Live Movie Maker - YouTube profile
 
 
Windows Live Movie Maker - High Definition profile
 
 
As you see, the quality of those videos totally SUCKS!

So what the best settings for YouTube?

I went on the internet to see if there are recommended settings to use with HandBrake when uploading to YouTube. Windows Live Movie Maker isn't flexible enough to fine-tune the settings. After reading few articles that got me nowhere, I came across a guide posted by Google themselves.
 

[Rant] Speculating the performance of the upcoming NVidia GTX 780 Ti card

I'm sure most of you know that NVidia is planning to release a high end graphics card to counter the AMD R9 290X graphics card which sometimes even performs faster than the GTX Titan. Contrary to what the common sense product was, the latest rumors suggest that this is going to be a fully unlocked GK110 chip. That means, it will have 2880 sharers operating. The GTX780 has 2304 shaders and the Titan has 2688 shaders. That's 20% higher shaders count over the GTX 780 and 7% higher shaders count over the Titan.

Then, the clock speeds are getting an upgrade as well. The GTX 780 is clocked at 863MHz (900MHz boost) and the Titan is clocked at 836MHz (876MHz boost). The GTX 780 Ti will be clocked at 876MHz (928MHz boost). That's 3% higher clock speed over the GTX 780 and 6% higher clock speed over the Titan.

If you consider 100% scaling, we are looking at 23.6% performance boost over the GTX 780; 13% performance boost over the Titan. Best case, remember. But, we all know that the performance between the GTX 780 and the Titan is about 5%. In raw performance terms, the Titan is like 20% faster than the GTX 780. So, the scaling really sucks!

The GTX 780 Ti would be like 5% faster than the Titan at best. Which means, it would be like 5% faster than the R9 290X.

GeForce-GTX-780-TI

Basically, the R9 290X would still have a better price to performance ratio. 27% cheaper but only 5% slower. Basically, AMD doesn't have to worry about the GTX 780 Ti. But they sure have to worry about their production volume and the stupid stock cooler.

But then again, the stock cooler on the NVidia  card is very good. The rumor is that the card is capable of over- clocking to very high clocks. The AMD card suck over-clocking, no thanks to the crappy coder. According to this article, the GTX 780 Ti can be over-clocked  to 1240MHz which translates to about 23% performance boast over the R9 290X.And then there's is a GHz edition of the same GTX 780 Ti coming out a some point That would be about 10% faster than the R9 290X out of the box. But at what price? I'm sure NVidia would charge $799 for that card because it would be a heavily binned card and would be an overclocker's dream come true.

All I can say is that the R9 290X's pricing or even the GTX780's pricing (after the price drop) makes sense. Anything higher is just for the people who own a tree of money or who has little brain.

Edit:

Since I’ve posted this article, they have released the real thing and it is much faster than what I anticipated. It has made the Titan obsolete. The Titan was never meant to be a gaming card. I was a great compute card which you could buy without breaking the bank. However, it could do really well in games.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

[Rant] There goes my R9 290X dream down the toilet

AMD released their flagship graphics card, namely the R9 290X couple of weeks ago. The card was priced at $550, which when compared with the competition, was cheaply priced. But $550 is not cheap indeed. I wanted wait and see how the R9 290 would perform like because it would be considerably cheaper than the big brother while only being slightly slower. That has been the case with both NVidia and AMD families. 

R9 290 is coming out in a week. The expected price is $449.

But I was keen to know how the 290X would be priced in Japan as that's what matters to me. (I'm currently living in Japan by the way). Amazingly, even after two week, the card is still not up for sale in Japan. It seems the cards are out of stock everywhere in the world. AMD seems to have only made a handful of cards. That sucks really, especially as NVidia cut prices to remain competitive. AMD could have made a lot of money in the first week if there were enough 290X cards.   NVidia's price cuts came only after a few days.

Anyways, I search the internet and came across one post that suggested the 290X would cost about ¥71,000. That's $160 (or ¥16,000) more expensive than the US price. With the cards like the Palit GTX 780 Super Jetstream available for like ¥65,000 (still overpriced though), 290X won't do well with that price - especially being a reference card. Super Jetstream is a heavily binned card and comes with a massive cooler and a big factory overclock. Even with the factory overclock, it might overclock better than the 290X. So basically, the GTX 780 is the better choice, unless you have a 4K display. I'm sure most people haven't even heard of 4K displays yet, but you never know about these Japanese. They are crazy.

If the card is not cheaper than ¥60,000, there is no point even looking to buy this card. I would be better off getting a second GTX670. But I really hate to get multiple graphics cards because of the potential issues with it. However, if I can get a G-Sync enabled monitor at the same time, I would probably not see the micro-stuttering. Basically, my R9 290X dream is dead. Even if the 290 comes out at $449 in the USA, that would cost well above ¥55,000 here. That too, is not affordable. 

[Rant] I really don't need a mobile charger

Few weeks ago, I bought a Lightning cable for my iPhone 5S. At first I was in a dilemma whether to buy just the cable or buy a mobile charger. I could use the cable to charge the phone at work. The chances of me needing a mobile charger was slim. The iPhone 5S's battery is very good (compared to my iPhone 4S) and with a full charge I could survive a day easily. The issue would be me forgetting to charge the phone the night before. Very seldom we go out on a long trip (like once in a year). 

Today something unexpected happened. I had plugged in my phone to charge in the morning because we were planning to out. But for some weird reason, it didn't get charged even though the phone was detected by Windows and I could even browse the camera roll from explorer. But the phone never got charged. 

I only found out about this "situation" about 15 minutes before the time we were planning to leave home. There wasn't much time to even charge it with the wall charger but I had to do that. The phone was only carrying 5% charge!!! But as always my wife took her sweet time to get dressed and I managed to charge the battery to 32%. But that's not enough for me. We will be mainly shopping so that means the phone will have a big role to play!!!

Before shopping, we were planning to go to a Sri Lankan restaurant in Naka-Meguro. Then it came to me that if I took the tablet with me,
I could charge the phone from the tablet while we were having lunch. It's bad manners to use the phone at the dining table anyways.

So I took the tablet (luckily it had like 90% charge left) and the Lightning cable (the original one, because the one I bought is at the office) with me and did exactly what I was planning to do. I only managed to charge it up to like 35% from like 18%. I managed to drain the battery from 32% ti 18% while on the way to the restaurant. I browsed a bit, used Google Maps from Musashi Kosugi station and wrote part of this post on the phone. 

Yes I know 35% battery is not much. And I probably won't be able to survive with just that most of the times. But it was better than nothing. However, since I took the backpack with me, I was able to charge the phone while I was using the phone. The tablet inside the backpack and the cable coming out of the backpack to charge the phone. The cable was long enough. And it was not getting in the way either. I could even charge the phone while the phone was in my pocket. It's just great. It is same as using a mobile charger actually. Just a bit bigger. I stopped charging when I got to 40% charge and I was able to do just fine with that much remaining battery life.

If I had an iPad I wouldn't be able to do this. That is not to say that I'm totally happy with my tablet though. Atom CPU and the eMMC storage solution suck big time!

By the way, I fixed the charging issue by uninstalling iTunes and uninstalling the Apple Mobile Device driver from Device Manager and then reinstalling iTunes.

[Podcast] Computer Hardware & Gaming -- EP7 (Oct 26, 2013)

In this episode of Computer Hardware and Gaming, we talk about the following topics.
  • Steam Machines: they are more high-end that expected.
  • R9 290X: the fastest graphics card in the world?
  • GeForce GTX780 Ti: to rival the 290X? Will they succeed?
  • G-Sync technology: no more stuttering and screen tearing?
Enjoy.




[Podcast] Computer Hardware & Gaming -- EP6 (Oct 12, 2013)

In this episode of Computer Hardware & Gaming, we talk about the new AMD graphics card line up and GTA V Guinness World Records. 

Most of the discussion is surrounding the information about the AMD graphics cards. The R7 and R9 naming, the cards that were released, performance figures and what's coming next (i.e. the R9 290X). Further, we talked a little about what NVidia would do to remain competitive. 

Since we started the episode a bit too late, we ended it in 40 minutes. 



[Guide] If you cannot hear the voices clearly in movies, here's a fix

If you watch a lot of movies, you might have felt that the background noises make the conversations not clearly audible. It is more problematic of you live in an apartment where you cannot ramp up the volume to so that the voices are audible. It would cause the volume of the other big sounds like explosions too loud. I had this problem for along time and in movies that have a lot of action, I had to walk to the speakers and back to the seat many times to increase and decrease the volume. Increase so that the vocals are audible; decrease so that the floor above is doesn't fall apart. 

There is a solution to this and it had been there all this time. But I never saw that this would be the solution to this problem. The solution is Loudness Equalization.


Almost all the audio cards (including motherboard's integrated audio) have this option in the audio control panel. I never used this until now. Different manufactures call it different names. But I'm sure you would be able to figure it out. However, different implementations might sound better or worse than another implementation, so you'll have to see if it works well for you with your audio setup. But on my Asus Maximus VI Hero's integrated audio solution, it works perfectly.

When I updated the audio drivers, this setting was returned to the default setting (OFF) and I immediately recognized that something was wrong. That's when I felt how much of a difference this setting made. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

[Rant] How do you guys manage the cable clutter behind your PC?

One of the advantages of buying an Apple iMac or any other all-in-one desktop is that you don't get the cable clutter behind your PC which you would otherwise get with a typical desktop PC. In my PC, I have like dozen cables behind the desk. Some desks have a board at the back that would hide most of that clutter, but mine doesn't. You. Can see all those cables and it looks ugly. 

Couple of days ago, I moved the computer desk to a slightly different place. While the new place allows me to show off the internals of the PC unlike before, the cable clutter also became more visible. So I had to do something about it.

I bundled cables that went to the same direction together. Some I routed along the edge of the floor and wall. The display power cable and the main speaker cable were routed along a leg of a desk and taped. The main bundle consisting if the HDMI cable, keyboard cable and the webcam cable were routed right in the middie and that's what's visible mainly. However, there is still the two iPhone cables, headphone cable and the LeapMotion cable which I haven't been able to take care of. The headphone cable is so darn long. Maybe I should completely remove the headset and keep it elsewhere when in not using it. 

Before


After


(The iPhone 5S camera didn't seem to do a good job there! Too lazy to pull up the Canon S95.)

Perhaps I should get a USB hub and connect all those USB cables to it? Maybe I should get a dock? Maybe I should get a Roccat Apuri which is a USB hub + mouse cable holder (to reduce the drag with the desk or mouse pad or whatever the cable comes in contact with, when you are playing games.

Or perhaps this is good enough. It is night and day better than what it was like before. 
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