Intel DG33TL motherboard

This article was originally posted here.

Introduction:

After my bad experience with the Abit F-I90HD motherboards, read about it
here, I purchased two Intel DG33TL motherboards.

Although these boards do not have HDMI onboard, they do have HDCP compliant DVI,
and by adding an ADD2 HDMI board you get HDMI and audio over HDMI.

The Good:

  • Onboard HDCP compliant DVI.
  • Intel ADD2 HDMI card support.
  • Vista installed very fast and with no problems.
  • The driver DVD that came with the board installs all devices that is not
    installed by Vista.

    It even lets you set your username and password and will automatically
    reboot and continue the installation after every driver.

The Bad:

  • The DVD installs the 5.x version audio driver, works fine, yet the Intel
    website lists the latest driver as 6.x.

    However the 6.x driver fails to install, reporting that the hardware is not
    supported.

    Intel support says the 6.x driver installed fine on their test system, and
    they recommended I wait for a new driver to be released, or I exchange the
    boards.

    I find it hard to believe Intel support, and I believe the website is
    incorrectly listing the 6.x driver as compatible with this board.

  • Intel Desktop Utilities sporadically reports 0.000V warning messages,
    and lists one source for a voltage reading as unknown.

    Intel support told me that Desktop Utilities is not supported on the 3x
    series boards, yet the DVD that came with the board installs Desktop
    Utilities, and the Desktop Utilities download page lists support for the 3x
    series boards.

    After pointing this out to Intel support, they recommended I reinstall the
    BIOS and the Desktop Utilities, made no difference.

    A new 0262 version BIOS was released that lists some corrections with the
    Media Engine, but this made no difference.

    Waiting for Intel support to respond, or for a new version of Desktop
    Utilities.

  • I purchased the

    Prolink PV-CH7315
    ADD2 card, but connecting the HDMI does indicate that
    there is a HDMI signal, but no picture on the television.

    The Intel GMA control application does list three outputs, monitor,
    television, and digital television, only monitor / VGA works.

  • The Intel 15.7.3 and 15.8 igdkmd32.sys and igdkmd64.sys GMA drivers and Vista SP1 are incompatible,
    the machine blue screen crashes when going to sleep.

    I tested this with Vista Ultimate x86 being upgraded to SP1, and a clean
    install of Vista Ultimate x64 with integrated SP1.

    I notified Microsoft of the issue during the Vista SP1 Beta, was told Intel
    would fix it before SP1 ships, yet the problem still exists even after SP1
    shipped and after the 15.8 GMA drivers shipped. The issue now appears to be
    documented in
    this KB
    article
    .

The Outcome:

  • I have been contacted by several readers that experience similar issues,
    I urge you to contact Intel support and notify Intel of the problems.
  • After several exchanges with Intel support I am still waiting for a new
    version of Desktop Utilities to solve the 0.000V alerts.
  • Intel removed the 6.x audio driver from the download site, and updated
    the 5.x driver, seems the 6.x driver was not supposed to be on the site.
  • I have not been able to get HDMI working with the Prolink card.
  • Waiting for new GMA drivers that do not bluescreen with Vista SP1, the
    issue is now documented in
    this KB
    article
    .

Links:

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Microsoft Expression Media / iView Media Pro to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom converter

This article was originally posted here.

Introduction:

Because of severe performance problems I experienced with both iView Media Pro and Microsoft Expression Media, I decided to switch to Adobe Lightroom.

Unfortunately Lightroom does not understand catalog sets nor does it understand people tags, so the transition is not that simple.

After I could not find a simple, or even complicated solution, I decided to write my own conversion application.

This application will convert hierarchical catalog sets into keywords, and will add people tags to keywords.

I considered directly converting to Lightroom’s native SQLite database format, but the reverse engineering effort did not seem justified.

Disclaimer:

I am providing this utility and the source code as is, no warranties are provided, use at your own risk.

Backup all your data, validate the conversion results, do not discard your backups.

Source:

I wrote the utility in C++ using Visual Studio 2005 SP1.

I tested on Vista Ultimate x86.

I tested with Microsoft Expression Media 1.0.8104.0, and iView Media Pro 3.1.3.42E6.

The code utilizes the COM API’s exposed by Expression Media and Media Pro.

Unfortunately neither application’s COM API’s work reliably, I can only hope that the quality of future versions will improve.

See the source code comments for problems I encountered.

Usage:

  1. Download the archive and extract the contents to your folder of choice.

    The archive contains the source, and two binaries, one for Expression Media
    and one for Media Pro.

    The binaries are compiled to use either the Expression Media or the Media Pro COM type libraries.

  2. Run Expression Media or Media Pro, and open the catalog you want to convert.

    Make sure that only one catalog is open.

    Make sure you have a backup of your catalog and of all your media files.

  3. Open a command prompt and change the directory to where you extracted the files.

    Run: ExpressionMediaExport.exe [Full path to the catalog file you opened in
    Expression Media or Media Pro enclosed in double quotes]

    E.g. [ExpressionMediaExport.exe “c:\media\catalog.ivc”]

    The utility will convert catalog sets to keywords, and will convert people to
    keywords.

    You can close the command prompt.

  4. The catalog sets will be converted so that each catalog node is a keyword and
    the keywords are assigned to all items in that catalog.

    E.g. if you have “Travel” and “Travel\Someplace”, the keywords will be
    “{Root}{Travel}”, and {Root}{Travel}{Someplace}”.

  5. People are added to keywords.

    E.g. if you have “John Doe” as a person tag, then “John Doe” will be added to
    keywords.

  6. Sync the updated information to the media files.

    In Expression Media or Media Pro [Edit][Select All], [Action Sync
    Annotations][Export annotations to original files].

  7. Import the images into Adobe Lightroom.

    Use the category keywords to create new collections.

    Select all images containing a category keyword e.g. “{Root}{Travel}”, create a
    new collection called “Travel”, and add all selected images to the collection, do
    the same for child collections.

Known Problems:

  • If you are using Expression Media, you first have to fix the COM registration
    that is not correctly set during installation.

    On Vista [Start][All Programs][Accessories][right click the Command Prompt icon
    and select Run as administrator].

    On XP [Start][Programs][Accessories][Command Prompt]

    Change directory to the Expression Media folder: [cd “C:\Program
    Files\Microsoft Expression\Media 1.0″]

    Register the Expression Media COM interfaces: [media.exe /regserver]

    You can close the command prompt.

  • If you encounter failures writing keywords to media items, try adding
    keywords to all items that fail using the main application.
  • If you get an error “Active catalog does not match requested catalog”, it means the catalog you specified on the commandline did not match the default catalog. The problem is that the Open() API always fails, and I have to use the Attach() API to connect the active catalog, and for integrity reasons I make sure the catalog on the commandline is the same as the active catalog that will be modified.
  • Complain to Microsoft that the COM API’s are not fully functional.

Download:

Version 1.0.1.1: ExpressionMediaExport.1.0.1.1.zip

  • Added people to keyword export.

Version 1.0.0.2: ExpressionMediaExport.1.0.0.2.zip

  • First release.

Links:

Abit F-I90HD motherboard

This article was originally posted here.

Introduction:

I was very excited to find the Abit F-I90HD motherboard for use in my HTPC,
primarily because it had an onboard HDMI connector.

I purchased two boards, but I ended up returning them both because of problems.

Instead I purchased two Intel DG33TL boards, read about that experience
here.

The Good:

  • Onboard HDMI with 7.1 digital audio over HDMI.

    At least on paper, I never got to test it.

The Bad:

  • No ability to pick a boot device at POST time.

    Whenever I want to boot from my USB key, or CD, or external drive, I had to
    edit the BIOS settings then reboot.

  • BIOS screen will hang on the monitor hardware page if any fans are
    connected to the AUX fan connectors.

    Abit support told me the fans draw too much power, but the board is rated as
    6W max per fan and my Antec fans only draw 2.8W.

    I connected the fans directly to the PSU for power, and only connected the
    fan speed monitor wires to the motherboard, BIOS still hangs.

    I had to disconnect the fan speed wires.

  • The Vista install takes a very long time.

    When the Vista install enters the last phase of the installation, right
    before entering graphic mode, the Vista install just hangs.

    Some users on the Abit user forum recommended that I edit the BIOS and
    increase the voltage for the Crucial Ballistix memory, made no difference.

The Outcome:

  • I returned the boards.

Links:

Antec Veris Fusion Black HTPC case

This article was originally posted here.

Introduction:

I purchased an Antec Fusion Black case to replace my aging HTPC.

The case looks very nice, until you turn on the LCD display…

The Good:

  • The case looks very nice.
  • The construction is solid.

The Bad:

  • The two included case fans do not have speed monitoring wires, I had to
    purchase new fans.

    For such an expensive case this is rather disappointing.

  • There are two fans on the side of the case, both set to extract hot air,
    but hard drives are located in an area with no direct ventilation.

    There is ample ventilation holes around the drives, but it remains to be
    seen if the drives will overheat or not.

  • The LCD display used on the case is an OEM version of the iMON from
    SoundGraph.

    The Antec provided software has far fewer functions compared to the software
    provided by SoundGraph, unfortunately the SoundGraph software does not work with Antec
    LCD.

  • The LCD turns on bright blue when power is applied to the case.

    The LCD only turns off after the LCD software is installed, and the setting
    enabled to turn the LCD off.

    I really expected the opposite, LCD remains off until turned on by
    controlling software.

  • The LCD contrast is very poor, and the viewing angle is severely limit.

    From pictures I expected to see a blue display on a black background, but
    instead I see dark blue on light blue, it literally looks like the backlight
    is way too bright.

    The LCD details are not visible from angles other than almost right in front
    of the display.

    The plastic panel covering the LCD is highly reflective and any light
    sources obscure the display contents.

    The Antec LCD looks like a cheap joke compared to the excellent quality of
    the LCD of my Yamaha RX-V2700 receiver.

    Low contrast setting (text is visible):


    LCD Contrast Low

    Medium contrast setting (text is partially visible):


    LCD Contrast Medium

    High contrast setting (you can’t see the text at all):


    LCD Contrast High

  • Antec support sent me pictures of a similar LCD in a test system, they
    do not have the actual case, and it looks marginally better than mine, but
    still very poor.

    Low contrast:


    LCD Antec Contrast Low

    Medium contrast:


    LCD Antec Contrast Medium

    High contrast:


    LCD Antec Contrast High

    Picture from SoundGraph website for iMON OEM LCD (very different to the
    Antec version):


    LCD SoundGraph iMon OEM

  • The LCD started flickering, I tried rebooting, removing power from the
    LCD, does not stop.

    It does seem that while the PC boots the display does not flicker, but the
    moment the iMON software starts the flickering starts.

    Here is a movie of the flickering in DivX AVI format
    (4.27MB).

  • I returned the LCD module to Antec under RMA, they were unable to
    reproduce the flicker problem, but they did send me a replacement LCD
    module.

    I installed the new LCD module, and the new module does not suffer
    from the flickering problem.

    As for the quality of the new LCD module, the
    text is now readable at the medium contrast setting, but not nearly as good as the picture from the iMON website.


    Replacement LCD Module

  • The remote only starts working once you have logged in, you can not use
    the remote prior to logging in. I am now forced to use a mouse or keyboard
    to log in.

    The original eHome Media Center external IR receiver works just fine without
    being logged in, this allows me to boot the machine, and select an account
    and log in using only the navigation buttons on the remote.

  • The LCD would occasionally hang with strange characters or elements on
    the display. Once this happens you ave to unplug the case and reboot.

    This problem is being discussed in

    this
    thread on the SoundGraph forum.

The Outcome:

  • Several readers emailed me and also complained about the quality of the
    LCD display, and the lack of features vs. the retail iMon, I urge anybody
    that is not satisfied to contact Antec and raise your concerns.
  • Due to the poor LCD image quality and various other issues I do not recommend this case.

Links:

Philips digital photo frame

This article was originally posted here.

Introduction:

I have been looking for a digital photo frame for a while, and from what I
read the Philips Photo Frame
models appear to have very good image quality and good features.

I bought a Philips 9″ wood border model 9FF2CWO.

The Good:

  • The frame looks very nice.
  • The image quality is really very good.
  • The frame’s built in software is very extensive and easy to use.
  • The frame directly displays pictures from cameras or pictures copied to
    to memory cards, no special settings required, no image resizing required.

The Bad:

  • The battery only lasts for about an hour, I see no point in having a
    battery at all if it only lasts an hour, better make the device cheaper and
    lighter without a battery.
  • The included CD launches a very nice looking flash based autorun
    application, from there you can read the manual or install the Photo Manager
    software.

    Unfortunately the launcher software does not work on Vista, clicking the
    links to the documentation or the Photo Manager installation does nothing.

    On exiting the application Vista notifies you that the application is not
    Vista compatible and that it will run the application in compatibility mode
    next time.

    On launching the autorun application again the links now work.

  • When you connect the frame’s USB connecter to the PC, several new
    removable drives are mounted.

    The one drive is the internal frame memory, the other drives are for the
    removable media slots in the frame.

    When I clicked on the drive letter associated with the SD card, Windows said
    the drive needs to be formatted, the Photo Manager software was also unable
    to access the SD card, yet the frame itself can display pictures from the SD
    card.

    Philips tech support confirmed that the card, 2GB Kingston Ultimate, was on
    the compatibility list, but they did say that there are some compatibility
    problems with larger sized memory cards, and they recommended I use a
    smaller memory card.

    I tried a 1GB PNY SD card, again the frame displayed images fine,
    and this time the SD card was accessible in Windows and in the Photo Frame
    software.

  • The Photo Manager software (picture) leaves much to be desired.

    The software is slow, but maybe this is because accessing the frame storage
    is slow.

    It took me a while to figure out how to transfer pictures, no simple
    intuitive copy or transfer, you have to drag and drop them, and you can only
    transfer pictures, not folders.

  • When I tried to delete a photo I got this error “Disk has no enough free
    space. There should be 20% free space at least”, what can I say, dumb error,
    poor English.

    Philips tech support recommended I delete the pictures using the frame
    software, or to delete the pictures directly using Windows Explorer.

    Error

  • The version of Photo Manager (1.0.1.6) I received on the CD and the
    firmware (9.01.38) in my frame was both later versions than the versions
    listed on the Philips support website.

The Outcome:

  • Because the picture quality is so good, I am willing to avoid the Photo Manager software,
    and using the USB connection directly manipulate the pictures on the SD
    card.
  • I can only hope that Philips will replace the Photo Manger software with
    something usable.

Links:

Printing from the network

I have made various attempts at sharing my printer over my home network. The criteria for sharing are simple; the printer must be available over the network and I must be able to print from Windows and Mac machines.
In practice this turned out to be a little more difficult.

The simplest solution would have been a network enabled printer, but I had no luck in finding an affordable consumer grade home printer that can directly connect to the network.

My first implementation was to connect a Canon i960 to my Windows XP machine using USB, and then sharing the printer. This had a few problems; my machine had to be on all the time, the Windows XP x64 Canon i960 driver crashed when connected to a network shared printer, and the Canon i960 Mac driver could not print to a network shared printer.

The Canon i960 had given me good service, but I was now looking for a better photo printer. I decided to upgrade a few systems at the same time; I upgraded to Vista, I bought a HP D7360 Photosmart printer, and I bought a Belkin F5L009 network USB hub.

The F5L009 is a USB hub that you connect to your network, and then by installing a USB driver on any computer on the network, the USB devices connected to the hub appear to be directly connected to your machine.

At this time I was running Windows Server 2003 R2 x64 as my home server, and since the server was on all the time, I wanted to share the printer from the server. I installed the USB hub driver on the server, and I installed the printer driver. It turns out that the hub software only connects the hub as long as you are logged in, as soon as you log out the printer disconnects. This is in my opinion a fatal flaw in the F5L009 implementation.
I resorted to installing the F5L009 driver on all my client machines, a less than ideal solution.

I recently noticed that HP released the D7460 printer, basically the same as the D7360 except it has native network printing support, great. With a $25 HP online store discount I paid less for the D7460 than what I paid for the D7360.

Since the D7460 is a network printer any machine can directly print to the printer, but sharing the printer from my server has the advantage of a much simplified installation for client machines, and greater manageability.

I had recently upgraded my server to Windows Server 2008 x64, but I thought no problem, the D7460 comes with Vista x64 drivers, so installing the driver on W2K8 x64 should not be a problem. It turns out the driver installer does an OS check and does not allow the driver to be installed on W2K8.

I proceeded to install the driver on my Vista x64 machine, the install utility found the network printer, and automatically installed the driver. On investigation I found that the installer had simply configured a custom printer port to print to TCP port 9001 on the printer. I also found that the printer has a web based management portal that showed status information and allowed the network properties such as device name to be changed.

I changed the printer network device name, made sure that the entry showed up on the DNS server, added a new printer port in W2K8 pointing to the printer, and when asked for the driver pointed to the driver directory, and everything worked fine.

I wanted to add the x86 drivers to the print server so that clients can automatically get the printer driver without neding access the the driver media, but when I tried to add the drivers I got a message asking for the x86 print processor file from the install media. I tried to add the x86 drivers to the server from an x86 Vista machine, but the option to add additional drivers was grayed out. After searching I found users with similar problems, and KB927832 describing a solution for Vista. I could not get the solution to work.
I ended up remotely installing the x86 drivers from W2K8 x86 running in VMWare, not very elegant but it worked.

I now have an elegant network printing solution.

Vista SP1 and Intel GMA blue screen crash

I previously commented on this problem here and here.

I participated in the Microsoft Vista SP1 Beta program.

After installing Vista SP1 Beta on my machine with an Intel DG33TL motherboard, and installing version 15.7.3 of the Intel GMA drivers, my machine would blue screen crash when it goes to sleep.

The crash happens in the igdkmd32.sys and igdkmd64.sys drivers, and I could reproduce it on two machines, both with DG33TL motherboards, with Vista x86 and x64.

I reported the problem to Microsoft, and Microsoft responded saying that Intel is aware of the problem, and that updated GMA drivers will be posted before Vista SP1 ships.

Microsoft released Vista SP1, and no updated Intel GMA drivers were available.

Intel released version 15.8 of the GMA drivers, and the SP1 blue screen problem was not resolved.

Microsoft released Vista SP1 to Windows Update, and the GMA driver problem was still not resolved.

Microsoft posted KB948343 stating that customers with specific versions of the GMA drivers would not get Vista SP1 via Windows Update until new GMA drivers are released.

To prevent my machines from crashing I am using the “high performance” power profile, i.e. they would never go to sleep.

It has been several months and the Intel has yet to resolve the problem, unbelievable.

Getting my feet wet

Welcome to my new blog and my first post.

I really have little need for a blog, but I decided to switch to a hosted environment for my postings. This is a decision similar to when I decide to move my photo collection from my own server to a hosted solution.

I will be posting a few more product reviews, and eventually I may migrate all interesting topics from my server to this site.

Regards
Pieter