Friday, May 4, 2012

Backup Software

For some years, I've been using an external backup program called EZ-Gig from Apricorn, as it was simple and reliable for my drives and partitions containing FAT32, NTFS and EXT2 (Linux). With the recent changes to PC system BIOS' it no longer loads, so I've been looking for an alternative.

As an added note, I tend to only backup my system drives occasionally as my data and media files reside on different partitions and for these I use ZTreeWin quite regularly.

Here's a few things for backup and restore I've been working on that may interest others...

I like to create a CD, or better still, a bootable thumb drive, to backup and restore my hard drives. Most diagnostic, repair, and archiving software is based on Linux. The trouble is, a lot of good stuff is really hard to use, but one of the best and flexible archiving programs is called FSArchiver.

This program is also hard to use but there's a script for FSArchiver that makes the task of backing up and restoring easier, it's called FSArchiver_Dialog

It's not necessary to download this, the link is included for reference.

hat I mainly like about FSArchiver is:

  • The ability to restore to partitions of a different size.
  • Backup/Restore is performed independent of the main operating system (CD or boot thumb).
  • Independent MBR/Table backup and restore.
  • Likely to be around for a while, with updates for new systems.
  • Supports numerous drive formats.
  • It's free!
It's promoted more for SystemRescueCD, but I found this rather unfriendly. However, it's actually included within Parted Magic, a superior program. When launched, just open a terminal (quick-link tray) and type:

Step-by-step backup:
  • Select path to store files--image backup (option P), this mounts the drive to store the archive.
  • Highlight partition to store archive.
  • Select default directory for archive.
  • Select partition(s) (option S), you wish to save.
  • Check mark actual partition(s) with an asterisk.
  • Confirm MBR/Table backup (or use option M).
  • Select or enter the image file name,
  • Confirm to continue.
I'm sure there will be better front ends for fsarchiver, but for now this is workable for me.

Creating Multi-Boot Thumb Drives:
I've created a multi-boot thumb drive with a program called YUMI.

On a 1GByte thumb drive, I have  these bootable programs:

  • AVG Rescue (Antivirus)
  • Ophcrack XP (password finder)
  • Parted Magic (Linux OS with disk and other utilities)
  • Apricorn EZ-Gig II (Proprietary, old Archiving software)
  • EaseUS Disk Copy Image
I did add Partition Wizard (pwhe7.iso) as an alternative to GParted within Parted Magic, and just to fill the drive.

YUMI give links to sites for the programs it directly supports. Other ISO's can use a feature called "Try an unlisted ISO (Runs from RAM)". This latter feature may take a while to extract and load when in use as a boot option (so one has to be patient).

Monday, September 26, 2011

ASRock Z68 Setup Issues - Dual Boot XP/Kubuntu

It's been awhile since I built a PC, but as I wanted a state-of-the-art system that runs Windows XP, I purchased an ASRock Z68 Pro3-M motherboard along with an Intel Core i7 2600K processor, 8Gb of memory and a couple of 2.5" drives (64Gb 6Gb/s SSD + 750Gb 3 Gb/s). I also obtained a Sentey mATX case that turned out to be a disaster as the power supply radiated so much electrical noise that it interfered with the doorbell and other devices. It was also useless as a desktop as there was insufficient heat extraction and the front LCD panel did not work completely. The Sentey case was returned.

I could not find a mATX desktop case locally, so I swapped the guts around of a few old computers and ended up with a reworked HP DC5000 case that has one external 5.25" bay, one external 3.5" bay plus an internal 3.5" bay. I've used a 3.5" converter to two 2.5" bays for the internal 750G drive and a StarTech trayless hot swap mobile rack for the SSD drive (external 3.5" bay). I replaced the existing power supply with a 1U Athena FlexATX 300W unit and ordered two 60mm x 25mm fans and two 40mm x 25mm fans, both from SilenX, to replace the existing fans I added, or in place, that are rather noisy.

After several attempts, I installed XP on a 17Gb partition and Kubuntu 11.04 on a 30Gb partition of the 750Gb drive; when everything is loaded, I'll transfer these OS's to the 64Gb SSD.

Installing these OS's proved to be something of a challenge as I was unfamiliar with the BIOS settings required. After numerous attempts I discovered that I had to have the BIOS PCI/ROM priority set to EFI. When running the Kubuntu install CD, select UEFI [DVD_drive] to install it in GPT mode. For XP, I set the SATA mode to [AHCI] and when booting with the XP CD, select AHCI [DVD_drive] to install it in MBR mode. If these setting are changed after installation, XP will not boot.

The XP install CD does not contain the necessary drivers for this SATA mode, and I had to temporally plug in a 3.5" floppy drive and create a SATA/SATAII/SATA3 driver diskette. This is done using the ASRock DVD that is packaged with the motherboard. During POST at boot-up, press F11 and select DVD/CD device. Press 'Y' when prompted if you want to generate a Serial ATA driver diskette. When the XP installation CD starts, it loads a range of drivers with the comment to press F6 to add additional drivers. Pressing F6 allows the SATA driver to be loaded after loading its own drivers. There seems to be no option but to use a floppy diskette for this purpose unless you can slipstream an XP install CD.

Loading XP after I had installed Kubuntu meant I had no dual boot or Grub loader. I loaded a Parted Magic CD, selected the Extras Menu and ran the Grub2 bootloader. I then selected "Find OS's" so that I could boot into Kubuntu. Once up and running I re-installed Grub2 and installed a Grub bootmanager/configuration utility, chose XP as the default Boot OS, and rebooted.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Simple Low-Cost HDTV Antenna

Prior to the recent digital TV changeover, I was using several 7.25” ring antennas mostly made of thick copper wire. Since then, I’ve noticed that the reception was rather poor on some stations. I tried making a few of the bow-tie antenna’s that are shown on video and pictures around the web, but found them to be clumsily large for an indoor antenna, as well as hit and miss on a few dimensions.

While experimenting with a few shapes of formed metal rods, I came across a 16” by 4” steel rectangle that used a quarter inch rod. After connecting the split ends to a 300/75 ohm transformer (balun) and then to a TV input, I was amazed that all the local channels came in.

I’ve made a few others using copper wire and three-eight’s inch tubing, and they work great. With tubing, simply cut out a right angle section at each corner so that when bent inwards, it forms a 90 degree corner. Place a wooden or plastic dowel between the open ends at the connection. Coat hanger wire and thin copper wire will work, but not as well as material between one quarter and three-eighth’s inch diameter metal.

If this size does not work well, try an 8.25” x 8.25” square.

So far I've mounted the frames on wood or plastic with hot glue.

Here are the dimensions:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review of PMP using a 2.5" SATA HD

The unit is advertised as a 2.5" High-Definition PMP SATA Hard Disk Enclosure with 1080i Component Video +Remote +RM/RMVB. I bought this during April of 2009 and at the time seemed to be the best of what was available in terms of resolution, connectivity, HD size, and capacity.

It's essentially a Personal Media Player (PMP) when hooked up to a monitor and the included 100~240V AC adapter or 12v car plug converter.

The $80 price is for a USB 2.0 hard disk enclosure that includes a portable media player with remote control. Output connectors support CVBS (composite video), VGA, and YPbPr (Component Video) for use with modern TV's, or a computer monitor in the case of VGA.

Additional inputs come in the form of an SD card reader and a USB slot. A mini-USB connector is provided for host PC interaction and operates independently of the additional inputs.

The user has to insert their own 2.5" SATA hard disk, and I added a 250GByte drive. The specification allows for drives up to 500GBytes.

Having spent a couple of weeks playing with this device, it seems I could write a book about its features and shortcomings, but as-is, this unit is not for the uninitiated.

My first challenge was to switch to an English language display--Chinese is the default. After several hours of trying numerous combinations, it switched! The manual is all but useless and their website at is only in Chinese.

The on-screen display is essentially pathetic. It seems that someone rushed a quick conversion of a limited Chinese character display to accommodate English. The next challenge came in the form of supported video. What many people do not know is that when the terms AVI, MPEG, MP4, etc are mentioned, these are containers for specific video and audio formats which can vary tremendously. So I then spent days trying to determine what formats worked as a lot of my video collection was in a number of formats. Also, I had a 1280 resolution video, which I quickly surmised to be too high. I eventually found a few formats that worked, as well as a 720 by 576 limit.

A very useful and free video converter is AVIDemux, and a chap at their site was extremely helpful. He pointed me to the most common formats of video containers, which are:

* MPEG-2 video + MP2 (TwoLAME) or AC3 (Aften) audio in MPEG-TS container
* MPEG-4 ASP (Xvid) video + MP3 (LAME) audio in AVI container
* MPEG-4 AVC (x264) video + AAC (FAAC) audio in MP4 or MKV container

I found their MPEG-2 requant and MP2 (TwoLAME) in an MPEG-PS container worked OK, as well as MPEG-4 ASP (Xvid) and MP3 (LAME) in an AVI container. One format that works directly are the main (non-protected) VOB's on a video DVD (as found in the VIDEO_TS folder).

You can download AVIDemux from

The next challenge came in the form of directory structures and the number of files contained therein. The unit supports NTSF that is nice for large files, but the unit won't look at anything above a couple of Gigabytes. It refused to play a 3GByte file, but breaking it down with AVIDemux worked OK. At times, some characters in directories or file names were simply missing, but I managed to improve this somewhat by limiting the number of directories at each level up to around ten. There's very limited room for character display, but when a file is highlighted with the remote, characters traverse to the left after a short while.

A limited description of a highlighted file appears to the right of the listing, and if there is anything missing from the audio or video format, it won't play. If the wrong combination is present (no clue given), that file won't play either. I've never seen anything in the thumbnail window.

Another issue was that I converted a large video into some 50-odd chapters (files). When I played the video, it was totally out of sequence, indicating the unit has a problem ordering files by name if the quantity exceeds some level. I didn't have a problem playing seven or so files in sequence. If a video contains multiple languages, it will try to play them all, so extra languages must be stripped before copying to the unit.

I haven't done much with connecting external media, but I read on one forum that someone tried an 8 GB MicroSDHC, with adapter, and it worked fine. One can apparently copy files to and from external media without connecting it to a PC. I've also yet to try audio files like MP3 or WMA, but this seems a waste when one can use a dedicated and more efficient MP3 player. The interface is awkward when selecting media from any available source and I found myself at the very root of everything most of the time.

The unit tends to run rather hot in PMP mode, so I made a couple of cooling-fin plates, one underneath and the other rests on top. I've even matched the curvature.

It would be nice to have additional features such as an effective menu structure, sleep mode and a media playlist. However, even though this unit needs some serious firmware development, I’m happy to be able to at least consolidate my video media into one source (with backup!).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Insignia NS-C5112 Wiring Harness


I couldn't resist snapping up a couple of Insignia HD Radio's recently from EBay at a bargain price. A lot of these units don't come with a wiring harness, so here is a workaround for those who need a harness. Note that the four (4) additional audio connectors are pre-amp output, presumably for a power amplifier.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Creative Zen Problems

Even though Creative Zen [MP3 Player] units tend to produce good quality sound, some of their design and marketing strategies leave much to be desired.
The Zen V suffers serious lockups when uploading a large number of files. Most Zen units cannot display embedded images (Album Art) within mp3 files.
The idea behind sealing the rechargeable lithium battery is a nickel and dime tactic, as is the policy of only allowing the battery to be charged with the data lines active, so they can sell an over-priced charger. Actually, you can use any USB charger in conjunction with most non-powered hubs to activate the data lines for charging!
Their service and postal charges agitate me (totally free with Sansa), so they've lost me as a customer!

On a lighter side, here's some Dave Allen clips...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Digital Radio

I seem to have the bug, having discovered how great HD radio is. I was apprehensive at first, mainly because most HD radio’s cost between $200 and $300. However, a search of ebay revealed a number of low cost units. I was initially surprised to discover that bidding on most of these ready to use items went to a level that I thought was rather expensive, but I found an alternative.
While scanning for units, I noticed a number of HD Radio Component Car Tuner Kits for sale. These units are essentially an add-on for existing car radio’s. I figured that so long as I could provide the 12-volts input power, and the output stereo, I could basically make up my own system.
I placed a bid for a couple of Visteon HDZ300 units and won both of them for $10 and $25. The lower cost unit was missing some cables and remote, which was not a problem as I made my own connections. One of the neat features of this add-on unit is that one has the option of using either a line-in for the audio or an FM modulator to send a signal to an in-dash radio receiver.
One of the units has been placed in the Low Cost Entertainment Control unit I mentioned earlier in this journal. I placed a spare transformer and the component tuner box inside the unit, and added a diode to the 12-volt transformer to yield 12.6-volts instead of 13.5-volts which I considered to be a bit high.
I hooked up the RCA cables from the component tuner box to an existing outlet on the Entertainment unit and an outlet lead for the aerial. The controller with its digital display was mounted on the front of the unit, using velcro after making a hole for the interface cable. The Entertainment unit's RCA outlet was then connected to an external audio/video switch box, that feeds the signals to a wall TV, and the audio to an amplifier.
The sound I get is awesome, and I can scan for both analog and digital signals on both AM and FM. Stations using the HD radio technology often multicast a number of channels so you can receive several alternative genres or programs.
The Visteon radio canseek (scan) both conventional signals or just HD signals. The remote is convenient while relaxing.
If I kept my old Chevy, it would be a great replacement for the large radio/cassette player installed in many GM cars that have a very narrow depth. One could easily make up a face plate, add an HD Radio kit, a 12-volt amplifier, also available on ebay, and a dedicated socket for an MP3 player.