Archive for the Misc Category

If you’ve ever been stuck on vacation or at work and needed to access pictures on your digital camera or simply free up room on your camera’s memory card, you know how convenient owning a USB card reader can be. Since my new camera uses Secure Digital (SD) cards and my old reader only read Smart Media Cards (SM), I recently upgraded to a new Ativa 10-in-1 card reader. How does it compare to my old card reader? Read on, reader!

The Ativa 10-In-1 reader is USB 2.0 compatible, and in Windows 2000 or higher does not require drivers. Simply plug the unit into your computer’s USB drive and the removable disks will appear — 4 of them, in fact. Despite being a 10-in-1 reader, the unit only has 4 external slots and labels for 5 different types of cards. The package comes with the CameraMate ProPix software suit (which I promptly threw away) in order to raise the price from $20 to $30. Unfortunately, this was still the cheapest unit I could find.

As dumb as this may sound, I had problems inserting my cards into the unit. The slots are not clearly marked as to whether the cards should be inserted face up or face down. The microscopic silk-screened icons on the front of the unit require both a microscope and a spotlight to read — you won’t be able to make heads or tails out of them except under ideal environments, and to make matters worse I found that SD cards can fit in a lot of different slots. I use the unit so rarely that it seems like every time I pull it out I have to figure out how the card is supposed to go again — and no matter which way I guess first, it’s wrong.

It would have been nice for the drive letters to only appear when you plug a card into them. Likewise, it would be simpler to navigate the unit if the drives were labeled, instead of simply reading “Removable Drive E:”, “Removable Drive F:”, and so on.

Once you get past the end user hurdles, the unit performs quickly and quietly. Two small green LEDs on the front of the unit announce connectivity and usage, although by moving the unit around and looking at it from different angles you can easily convince yourself that the lights are either on or off at any given moment.

Whining aside, the card reader is built quite nicely and looks like it would take a beating. The cord is thick and firmly secured to the unit. I’ve had it wrapped up in my laptop bag for a few months now and it still works like it did when I first purchased it.

Overall, the unit works as advertised. It would be nice if the unit’s slots were labeled more clearly and if the drives were labeled more clearly in Windows, but for transferring data to and from memory cards, the Ativa 10-in-1 card reader works.

Office Depot, $29.99 (April 2006)

There are many practical uses for external hard drives. Perhaps youre a computer tech on the road, or even a weekend warrior who helps out friends and family. In both cases, its helpful to carry as many programs and utilities with you as possible. External hard drives are a great way to move large files (such as movies or MP3 collections) between home and work. Theyre also great for laptop owners looking for expand limited storage space. If you already have a spare hard drive lying around your home or office, you might consider purchasing an external hard drive enclosure, which will house your hard drive and allow you to simply connect it to your computer.

Athenas EB-2319B2 External Enclosure is one such device. The unit, which retails for $39.99, allows users to install an IDE hard drive into the unit and connect it to a PC or Macintosh via either USB or Firewire.

Immediately upon opening the box, the units level of cheapness becomes apparent. Included in the box is the unit itself, a USB cable, and power supply, and the instruction pamphlet. To Athenas defense, theres not much explination needed unscrew four plastic thumb screw to remove the units top to reveal the mostly hollow insides. In the inside rear of the container is a small PCB with IDE and power connectors. To install a hard drive, simply place the drive inside the container, line up the connectors, and push it back into place. The power connections position is slightly adjustable, but not very.

To test the unit, I grabbed a stack of old hard drives from my garage. It became apparent to me very quickly that the Athena was designed for newer and not older hard drives. None of my old Conner or Seagate hard drives from the late 90s would fit in the unit the power adapter simply could not be shifted far enough over to fit in the drives. All the Western Digital drives I tried fit, however I had mixed results from a few of them until I removed the master/slave jumpers, something not mentioned in the documentation. All the modern drives I tried worked in the unit, which means it works well with newer drives but if you have a 3-4 year old drive youre wanting to use with the Athena you might try it out in a store first.

Once the drive was installed, power must be supplied via a provided power adapter which plugs into the wall. With power and USB cables connected, Windows XP recognized the unit instantly, and in a matter of seconds I had an E: drive appear.

While powered up, the entire case glows with blue LEDs. When the drive is being accessed, the entire front of the unit flashes orange (more LEDs). Long term users may tire of the light show, which makes the entire unit look like a crashlanded UFO. And in case the neighbors call and complain, theres no way to disable the flashing lights.

SUMMARY: Although the unit feels cheap and many of my older hard drives wouldnt fit, the unit worked as advertised with newer hard drives. For a long term solution, potential owners may want to move up a level and look in the $50-$60 range for something a little more sturdy.

Purchased from PC-Club for $39.99 (March 2006)