Monday, May 14, 2012

Wake On Lan (WOL)

Most of you will have heard of Wake On LAN (WOL) and maybe have even had a go with it yourself, but for those who haven't WOL is a service that lets you remotely turn on computers connected to a wired network. This is achieved by sending a "Magic Packet" to the computer's network card which then signals for the computer to wake/switch on. 

Using WOL is very simple, first of all you need to set up your client (the computer being woken) to always have it's Ethernet adapter switched on, be it an internal one or a PCI(-E) type device. This is usually achievable by simply entering the bios at start up and enabling Wake On Lan in the settings (refer to your specific motherboard/bios/computer instructions for where exactly this will be). 

Note: Some older computers and some laptops do not have the ability to WOL

Once your Ethernet adapter is set to stay on once the computer has been powered down your best bet is to double check it has worked; to do this ensure you have an Ethernet cable connected to your computer which is in turn connected to a powered up router. Then switch off your computer and the 2 lights (usually green and orange) should still be flashing. If these are not, your settings may not be saved properly, or there may be other settings in the bios preventing the Ethernet adapter receiving power. To remedy this I suggest you do a simple Google search to see if anyone else has resolved the same issue with your motherboard.

Orange light on - WOL is ready to go!
Now, the tricky bit is over believe it or not. A suitable client for sending the magic packets needs to be sourced for the device that will be doing the waking. For Ubuntu users I strongly suggest an application called "gWakeOnLan" which can be found in the USC. For a windows machine I suggest's Wake On LAN as I found it easiest to set up and it actually worked, unlike many Windows tools I have come across. For Android I suggest a tool called, once again "Wake On Lan" (the icon is a small PCI network card). IOS users should use "RemoteBoot". 
Wake On Lan - Android app

The next step is to give the software the details it needs to send it's magic packet to the correct computer. Here you will need the computer's MAC address that you want to wake along with the host name/IP address. The computer's MAC address is found in different ways on each operating system so I would once again suggest a Google search for your operating system. The host name/IP address is usually "" if you are waking on a local network rather than from outside the home. If you are not waking from a Local network then you will need to find out your own personal Host name/IP address using one of the many online tutorials. The port should be 9 if you are not using a different one for your own reasons.

Once you are sure that all the details are entered correctly you can press the wake button on the software you have chosen to use. Here, if everything has gone well, your computer should begin to turn on as if you had just pressed the power button. 

  • If the lights on the back of your computer are not flashing ensure that the computer has not had a hard shut down, where the power button has been held down to switch off the computer. For the Ethernet adapter to keep receiving power the computer needs to be shut down properly, i.e using the start menu
  • Ensure that the MAC address is correct - there are no spaces at all, even between the colons.
  • Be sure that the device from which you are doing the waking is securely connected to the same network/router that the device you are trying to wake is. This is especially important when using a mobile phone to wake as it might have dropped into it's mobile data connection.
If I have missed some troubleshooting let me know as I can't think of every issue that could come about!

Some uses of WOL
  • Remotely switching on a home server for when it's needed
  • Remotely booting your computer when you enter the house so that it is ready for use when you are!
  • Basically switching any computer on that is too far away for you to be bothered reaching or is in an inaccessible place.  
  • Any other imaginative ways you can dream up!
Let me know of any new ideas you come up with in the comments below!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Browser wars! Chrome 18.x vs Firefox 12

Chrome 18.x or FireFox 12?

That's the big question isn't it? I use both, to put it simply they both seem to excel in their own specific areas; FireFox uses next to no memory so I use this on my old XP machine with 192MB ram  and FireFox is running fine, I use the increasingly more popular Google Chrome on my netbook as it seems to put significantly less strain on my puny Atom processor and therefore lets me open more tabs and stream flash video smoothly. Although I do use FireFox on my desktop as I find it much more aesthetically pleasing.

I have not included Microsoft's Internet Explorer in these tests as I believe that it is unfair as it is a Windows specific browser and to be honest I didn't think it would stand a chance against Chrome and FireFox.

On my "project" RAM is tight so when web-browsing an economical browser is essential; with a simple website open with few adverts Google's Chrome browser managed to use an astonishing 105MB of RAM. While FireFox on the other hand used a measly 72MB! Now to many of you this either won't make any sense or you won't really care but if you have an older computer with a small amount of RAM the 33MB of now free RAM could make all the difference and could drastically improve your browsing experience. Once point to FireFox!

Now Google claim their latest version of chrome (18.x) offers better graphics for older computers and they are right! Using the game on Fire fox's own performance section, on my netbook, the FPS is so low the game is unplayable, on the other hand, using Chrome, the game is a delight to play! One point to Chrome!
Note: I will be updating this section with findings from my project once I have access to it after the weekend.

Both browsers claim fast start-up times, chrome even claims that it will start immediately! But is this really the case?
All tests done with one tab open (Google) and timings starting from when the icon is pressed until the page has finished loading.
Using my netbook: (Windows 7)
  • FireFox 12 took 6.4 seconds to load Google
  • Chrome 18.x took 2.8 seconds to load when it was already running in the background
  • Chrome 18.x took a whopping 18.4 seconds to load when it wasn't running in the background

Using my desktop PC: (Windows 7)
  • Fire fox 12 took 3.7 seconds to load Google
  • Chrome 18.x took 1.1 seconds to load when it was running in the background (basically instant to the eye)
  • Chrome 18.x took 4.1 seconds to load without it running in the background

The winner of this round is your choice! You choose whether it is fair to have Chrome running in the background for this test or not!

The last thing (and arguably the most important) is the search/address bars featured on both Chrome and FireFox. Again, both excel in their own different ways; completing a simple google search works the same in both browsers but when searching for a web page where you have forgotten the URL, the browsers are separated. Chrome's "Omnibox" does a very good job of remembering the home pages of the sites that you have visited, but does not seem to remember the individual sections of the pages you visit making searching for that product you saw on amazon a slightly more tedious task. FireFox's "Awesome bar" on the other hand learns from your browsing habits and tailors it's behavior to suit you, so bookmarks become almost unneeded as simply typing the fist few letters of where you want to go in the the search bar will take you there automatically.

Overall I believe it is simply personal preference and situation as to which browser you should use. If you use a netbook or computer with sufficient RAM but a small amount of processing power Google's Chrome is the way to go but on the other hand, if you use a PC with a small amount of RAM then FireFox is defiantly the way forward. Using a powerful PC with lots of RAM and Processing power the difference between the two will be insignificant, here I would go for FireFox as I find features such as "Tabs from other computers" are difficult to live without.

If you think I have missed out a vital test (or browser for that matter) please let me know in the comments below, but please do not leave any criticism about the opinions expressed in the article as it is not here to be 100% un-bias, but simply somewhere for people to start when making a choice between browsers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another update! - Revive an old comuter

Another update here for my small computer revival project.

Most of my RAM has arrived and now I have 192MB installed and XP is running relatively well; Chrome and Firefox are fine with one tab open on most web pages, as long as they aren't heavily flash based. Once there is 256MB of RAM in there I'm confident it will run smooth enough for typing up documents. 

To further help improve performance I also changed the visual settings in the "system" section of the control panel. This reduced the RAM usage noticeably, making navigating through menus and windows much more bearable. 

Now the computer is connected to the Wireless network and browsing the Internet at a reasonable speed I am considering putting in a basic graphics card as well to further free up some system RAM, also meaning I should be able to turn back up the visual effects. But this won't be for a while and I won't include it in the final list of parts I purchased for this as it is not necessary and probably won't noticeably improve the performance, I'm doing it simply because I can! In addition I won't include the USB PCI card that I plan to insert to give the computer USB 2.0 speeds.

Once again if anyone is planning to embark on a similar project let me know below! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Netbook just too slow?

As a big Ubuntu fan I obviously have it installed on my trusty Lenovo netbook, but unfortunately, as with all operating systems, Ubuntu has become more centred around aesthetics recently, meaning my puny Intel Atom N450 is struggling to keep up. 

Now, don't get me wrong I'm not complaining about the look of Ubuntu, in fact I love Unity, it works great on my laptop but it's just that little bit too much for my netbook, meaning that it can't play flash video while running it never mind flash based games. 

"Unity 2d!" I hear all you Ubuntu fans say, but I just can't seem to hack it, the fallback option doesn't seem to flow like Unity 3d. It simply doesn't work as well. So that's out.

Although I'd like to think of myself as patient, waiting for the upcoming Ubuntu release is way too difficult for me, so as I always do I have a beta running on my netbook (although you wouldn't notice). With version 12.04 being a LTS (Long Term Support) the Ubuntu team have made for an easy transition from 10.04 LTS, meaning Gnome 2.x is back! Yes you heard me right, the "Gnome classic" session works almost flawlessly.  No more out of place buttons and wrong coloured items for those of you who just can't seem to make the change to Unity, or maybe those of you with a netbook...

Any daring 12.04 Ubuntu users out there with slow Unity-struggling netbooks, get onto that Ubuntu Software Centre and install the "Gnome" package. Once installed log out and click the Ubuntu logo next to your login name, select Gnome classic" and log in! Here is where you will be faced with the more traditional looking desktop (although may I add, with fully functioning indicator applets!)

Unfortunately everyone else is going to have to wait until April 26th, which is the release of version 12.04, where you will be able to, once again own that speedy netbook of your dreams.

Windows users. Don't worry I haven't forgotten you. Although massively more ugly, windows users too can free up some CPU usage by turning off their fancy visuals. Take a visit to control panel, and then click on "change the theme" under "Appearance and personalization" and select the "Windows classic" option. If this is too far into the past then give "Windows 7 basic" a try, although this does not have as much of an effect as choosing Windows classic. If you are having trouble doing this, it may be caused by the fact that your running Windows 7 starter edition which limits functionality, and therefore, in my eyes, you should be making the move to Ubuntu. For the Ubuntu download and more information about this (outstanding) operating system visit the website linked here. If you encounter an problems this link takes you to a brilliants page where you can search for you answer, and if it's not there ask your question there too.

Credit to my Dad for the "Windows classic" option trick.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Introduce someone to the world of computing using Ubuntu!

My challenge for anyone who is reading is to either introduce themselves to the Ubuntu operating system or to introduce a friend!
In the coming weeks I will be teaching my beloved Grandma how to use a computer, and out of interest I am attempting to teach her using Ubuntu. I have read many posts online about how easy it is to migrate to Ubuntu (I am a mostly migrant myself), but what I was wondering was: Is it as easy to introduce someone to computers the first time using Ubuntu as it is using Windows?
A good number of years back I introduced my other not-so-tech-savvy Grandma into the world of computing using, the then brand new, Windows Vista operating system. This, as you probably guessed introduced a whole world of problems, from disappearing gadgets to consistent WiFi problems. Finally a few weeks back she moved over to Windows 7, with very few teething problems indeed!
I am hoping that, at the very least, Ubuntu 12.04 (Beta) can beat the much hated Windows Vista at first time ease of use.

I will make sure to post on here how it goes and the conclusion of which operating system has the best UI for first time ease of use.

In addition, be sure to let me know in the comments section of any other operating systems that you believe would fare better at first time ease of use, and I'll be sure to try and find another Guinna pig for my testing!

Visit the website below to find out more about Ubuntu and how to trial/install it on our machine. And oh, did I mention that it was FREE?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I purchased a copy of Windows XP Professional at a computer fair at the weekend and have finally got around to installing it (or finally finished installing it - it was extremely slow!). Unfortunately with my RAM having not arrived I was forced to install with 64MB of RAM, at this point the computer is basically unusable, so I won't be updating again until more is installed.
Luckily though it seems the processor can manage Windows XP so no upgrade needed there. There is plenty of room on the 10.2GB HDD as well so that can be left in (unless the huge amount of noise it makes drives me insane).
Again, anyone else inspired by my quest be sure to comment below!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Save your old PC!

My Aim: To make my ~12 year old E-machines desktop PC an everyday usable computer.

The Task:
To begin with the specs of the computer as I received it from a friend some years ago are as follows:
OS - Windows ME
CPU - Celeron @ 733MHz with a 66MHz FSB
CD-ROM drive
Ethernet PCI card
Modem PCI card
10.2GB HDD
(And just to make it more interesting, I cannot use parts made after 2003[other than a wireless device])

My first point of call was to connect the PC to the internet and update it as much as Microsoft will allow me (I may have cheated a little here my using my trusty Thinkpad to bridge the Ethernet connection as I don't have a cable long enough to reach the router).
 After this I attempted to ditch the abomination that is IE6, this is where the problems start, Firefox 3 or above isn't supported on ME, Chrome needs XP or higher and I'm sorry but any other browser wouldn't be worth the bother of installing. So i'm stuck with IE6 until I update to XP.
The next obvious route was to upgrade the RAM as 64MB just doesn't cut it anymore, even for web-browsing, so I checked eBay and picked up 2x 128MB SDRAM sticks (the most this mobo will accept) for around £2 each with £1 delivery.
This is where I am up to at this point in time (08/03/2012) and I plan to upgrade to XP, maybe upgrade the processor if I feel it needs it and finally the HDD is a possibility.

Please check back on my blog for updates and let me know about your endeavors to keep your old (but equally noble) computers/laptops breathing!