Category Archives: Computing

Windows 7 RC inital views on Dell XPS 1330

We have all read and seen first hand what Vista is like, bloated slow to load and uses plenty of memory before you have even used an application, so what is Windows 7 like?

What can I say, its quicker and lighter on its feet than Vista ever is. On my Dell XPS 1330 Vista used 1.4Gb of memory (3Gb Memory installed) before it did anything, yes some of this is due to the OS pre-fetching programs before you need them but even so that is a lot of memory. Windows 7 uses almost half of that, sitting here writing this in Firefox its only using 842Mb of memory and have I mentioned that everything is much quicker? I’ve gone for 32bit not 64bit OS for now, no it won’t address lots of memory but I don’t have any more memory and don’t intend to and I think I will wait for a few more 64bit apps to come along that I can take advantage of yet, and see which one is going to be fastest overall.

Installation

Installation took only 20minutes and it decided to do a fresh install as I’d only recently reinstalled Vista due to issues. The interface is an evolution to Vista not a revolution but everything is just that little bit better and slicker. Its not nagging me all the time either which makes for a much better experience than Vista. The windows update also found all the missing device drivers first time, that was impressive although more of that later.

The widgets that previously were bolted into where ever the sidebar are now allowed to be positioned anywhere on the desktop, if you fancy a few on the left and the rest on the right then thats no problem. I even connected my Nokia 5800 mobile phone and if recognised it and installed the drivers within seconds, it really is a great insight into what the final version is going to be like and its all very polished.

Problems?

Is it all perfect so far? Well I ‘think’ so except for some graphics problems. I’ve now installed the default Vista Dell drivers instead of the drivers direct from Nvidia. This was because its crashed a couple of time and I’ve even had graphics issues but I have a feeling that the 8400GS Laptop Graphics card might be going, the machine is coming up for a year old so I’m watching it closely. This is a known problem and I’m only days away from the warranty being finished, fingers crossed it was a blip hey.

More to follow as I get it to do more.

Backup using Homeserver and Carbonite

So you have loads of photos and data on your PC that you can’t afford to lose and need a method to ensure that both your PC and your images are backup up correctly. But you also need to know that you have a copy of the data off-site.

Well here is a simple guide on how I do it and what you need

Firstly this guide is only useful for Windows PC’s on the whole sorry, I know plenty of people use mac’s but currently I don’t but I’m sure you might be able to use elements of this guide.

Windows Homeserver

What is it and why do you need it? Windows Home Server is a piece of software that Microsoft have created specifically for the home. It’s based on Windows 2003 Server edition but with many of the features simplified for the home.  It can be installed on most older PC’s, I’m running it on an old Dell P4 desktop with 1Gb of memory and that’s more than enough.

However if I was buying something dedicated to Home Server (WHS) I’d have a look at one of these Tranquil Homeserver . It costs about £430 and consumes less than 40w of energy ideal for something you are going to want have switched on all the time.

Tranquil

So now you have your Home Server, you have bought it off the shelf or installed it on something you have already got and you are ready to go.

Install WHS connector software on your PC – PC Backup

To get the next feature that you will need you have to install the WHS connector software, this can be found on an additional CD that you should have got or connect to your WHS and go to the Software share and you will find the Homeserver connect Software there. Install this on each PC in your house.

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The WHS Connect software will do several things but the purpose of this guide the main thing is that its the conduate to backup each PC to your home server. Its extremely efficient at storing this data, if it backs up three Vista 32bit machines all with the same patch levels it will only hold one copy of the OS data and just reference it for each machine.

You can log onto the WHS via the connector and configure the backup’s to be done each day, week, month etc. and it will nag you if you miss the backup window by showing the server as ‘Critical’ its not but hey you got to love Microsoft sometimes.

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Important – Don’t use WHS to Backup Photos / music

One point to note, I don’t use the WHS software to backup my images in fact I specifically exclude them from the process. Why? Well speed of the backup for one and control being the other. I use a syncing tool to backup all my images, music and data directly to the home server so it can be viewed by other clients. If you only let the WHS do the backup itself it sits in a special file on the WHS that none of the clients can get access to other than via WHS. Don’t forget using WHS Media Connect software which is DLNA compliant you will be able to view the photos or listen to music via a compatible media player if you sync to the WHS not use the WHS Connector to do the backup.

Syncing Photos, Music to your WHS

To transfer your images and music to the WHS I suggest using something like MS SyncToy V2 you can configure this to your hearts content. Get to sync from the PC to the WHS only or both directions or just detect changes on one end. You can also set up multiple transfers.

I configure my Photos on one sync and Music on another to the corresponding directory on the WHS, I set it off once a week or so when I have carried out any major changes. Then after the sync is complete all the other clients and see the new files and can use them if they need to, he presto you have a media server.

Off-Site backup of your data via Carbonite

So you have constructed and configured your Windows Home Server, added files to it by syncing them from a PC and now you need to take another copy just in case the worst happened, Hard disk failure, fire, theft you name it, do you really want to take lots of lovely photos or rip all your CD’s to lose the lot…… no I thought not.

So you need Carbonite or a similar service. I use carbonite for several reasons, it works on WHS, it allows for unlimited (within reason) backup space and its not expensive. At $49 a year or $89 for 2 and now $135 for 3 years its extremely competitive especially when you consider the storage you can use. Currently I have a none to small 140Gb of space used up and its still growing fast. The data transfer is quick and the restore’s I’ve tried also seem to be ok.

Carbonite WHS Issues

Its not perfect, with WHS there seems to be a small bug when you allow WHS to span data across multiple disks itself, for some reason WHS won’t back them up. Carbonite sees them as if they are on other drives and they stay in a wait state, its a shame but it can be solved. If you store the data on one disk or use RAID so the OS doesn’t know where it is all is fine, so its not a big thing but worth mentioning. You can also start and stop the backup if you need to and even tell it to work on a lower priority so it doesn’t swamp your connection.

If you want to backup video files you will also need to select them individually, a hassle but at least you can do it. I think they are trying to limit the space people will use but if you have a compact camera that makes videos you are going to have to make sure you go through each directory to ensure they are all being backed up.

Backup times for me have been fine but remember that a typical UK broadband upload limit is only 256k not the 6-8Mb (6-8000k) download you enjoy when surfing the net and downloading things. If you can go to one of the newer services from someone like Be Unlimited they offer a service that gives up to 1.5Mb upload speeds very useful when you are using an off-site backup service such as this.

Conclusion

So there you go, you have a triple resilient solution that will have your data living in three places. Your PC, the Home Server and off site. This should be more than good enough for just about anyone. The only other thing that I’d advise to make things very secure is take a backup yourself to another hard drive and take it off site yourself, give it to another family member. This would only be needed if there was an issue with Carbonite of some sort and as anything is possible I might as well mention it.

So you need a Windows Home server, a couple of PC clients, a media player, an internet connection, router, and last but by no means least some great photos or music or other data to take advantage of this easy peasy full backup solution.

Useful Links

We Got Served
Windows Home Server – We Got Served – Widgets
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If anyone has any questions I’d be happy to answer them post away in the comments section.

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