Lenovo ThinkPad T430 Negatory Review

Introducing a new quick-read format from your pals at UFO: the Negatory Review, where we aren’t allowed to say anything positive about the product in question.

Today’s victim: the workhorse, the brute, the yo-mama’s-tank of laptops: the ThinkPad T-series.

Exterior

This laptop is @#!$ing ugly. Given that it was meant to be durable and useful, not pretty, I can kinda see it, but this machine catches eyes in all the wrong ways. It looks best when closed, and even then, its appearance is fatter than the average TLC star and less consistent than Sarah Palin’s speeches.

Verdict: 3/10.

 

Keyboard and Trackpad

It’s difficult to Negatory-review a ThinkPad keyboard. Primary complaints:

  • No Fn Lock key
  • Gets dirty extremely quickly
  • Engrish kerning on CapsLock key
  • TrackPoint button integration adds failure points out the dillhole

The trackpad is adequate.

Verdict: 8/10.

 

Display

Almost as bad as the one on my dad’s 1999 HP luggable. Viewing angles are so bad that it’s impossible to be in tolerance for all of the screen at once, so you get one band of good color in the middle at any usable distance. Despite being LED-backlit, the LCD’s black levels are higher than Snoop and less accurate than Ted Cruz’s latest Pinocchio-grade BS. Further, calibration doesn’t do much when the color gamut is so piss-poor that any vivid imagery instantly becomes a color-blindness simulator. And I don’t think those cool color-blindness glasses can solve this. Oh, and call Casper, because his friends are living in the top half of this thing. The ghosting is the worst I’ve seen this side of a $30 Fry’s tablet. If this display has one quality that doesn’t make me want to buy a Chinese LVDS->eDP adapter and risk electrocuting half of the state, it’s that the response time is alright.

Verdict: 3/10.

 

Speakers and Audio

While better than my dad’s 1999 HP luggable, the combination of a low-quality amplifier and completely OEM audio hardware that I’ve come to call “Realtek AIDS” no matter the brand is still clearly present in the audio output. The speakers can fill a room without distortion, if you’re into that commodity-1940-radio sound signature.

Speakers: 3/10. Audio: 6/10.

 

Repairability

Now this right here is where the Negatory Review ends and the waxing-poetic begins. Repairability in consumer gadgets, especially field-ready and expensive ones like business laptops, is SO important (iFixit says it better than I can) that the super-vertically-integrated stuff coming out these days is actually upsetting. Apple, are you seriously telling me that completely soldered SSDs, RAM, and CPUs are good for large business deployments? Microsoft, can I replace the battery in the Surface Book battery dock in less than 5 minutes? No? Bye, Felicia.

By contrast, the T-series has long been the last bastion of real repairability. The keyboard comes out in less than a minute, the trackpad and palmrest in less than a minute after that, and then, just like Bill Cosby, you have complete access to everything you may want to fiddle with. Unlike with Asushit machines, parts are readily available and cheap.

Philosophy and repairability: a perfect 5/7.

 

In conclusion (everyone always tells me not to write that, but guess who lives my life? ME.) the ThinkPad T430 is an ugly, heavy brute with a focus on usability over form in every imaginable way. If you can deal with that, it might be for you.

Addendum: T430s review. A T430 with an eating disorder. The End.

Why Not to Use Safari

If you don’t use a Mac, this PSA doesn’t directly apply to you, but the ripple effect of Apple’s stubbornness will. If you do, well, keep reading anyway.

So you’ve seen our blurb about Safari on the UFO NetComm homepage, and you’re looking for the down-low on why you shouldn’t use Safari. In a few words, Safari is:

  • Outdated. There’s no built-in update mechanism,1 keeping users of older OS X versions in the dark, without them even knowing in some cases.
  • Broken. Safari has a really hard time with elements called iframes, which are the primary method that websites use to embed things like YouTube videos directly into pages. In Safari, users may see raw code where their content should be2 or have the video be the wrong size.3
  • Behind the curve. Safari will allow the user to mute a tab that’s playing audio in El Capitan.4 While this is great, the feature has been in Google Chrome’s public release since February5 and its developer channel since February 2013.6 Users of OS X Lion and older will never get the features of Safari version 9 and newer.

If you use Mac OS X, we urge you to move to Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. You’ll see better performance, more add-on availability, and fancy webpages as they were meant to be rendered (in some cases, Safari doesn’t even show drop shadows!)

We strongly recommend that you read this article: Op-ed: Safari is the new Internet Explorer on Ars Technica. It sheds more detailed light on how Apple’s decisions with Safari harm an entire ecosystem. Remember when Internet Explorer was practically the only option most people knew about (and not very good)? We’re beginning to see a repeat of that.

In addition, if you know a thing or two about HTML5/CSS3, you can click here to directly view the main browsers’ support for webpage standards. Chrome for Android and Safari for iOS are together on the far right, showing just how badly Safari supports mobile-facing standards like vibration and gamepad support. Nobody else is quite as bad as IE11, but Safari is missing a few very important pieces.

Sources:

  1. ZDNet’s Ed Bott: Despite automatic updates, old browsers are still a problem
  2. Max Child on Parse: Parse.User.Current() does not work when accessed inside of an iframe on mobile safari
  3. wesnick on Drupal’s forums: iframe does not work in Safari
  4. Tech Times’s Robin Parrish: WWDC 2015: Safari Adds Pinned Sites And Tab Muting
  5. Gizmodo’s David Nield: How to Mute Noisy Tabs in Google Chrome
  6. The Next Web’s Emil Protalinski: Google Chrome may soon get audio indicators to show you noisy tabs, keep them open when memory runs out (Updated)

Don’t Fear the Remote

There’s a stigma around remote sessions that they don’t really deserve. Like any powerful force, they can be used for good or for evil; you determine which by saying NO to remote sessions from people you don’t trust and YES to remote sessions from IT shops you do trust (like us!)

Everyone has heard of the classic scam: someone calls you from another country, stating that they’re from Microsoft (lies!) and that your computer has problems (maybe lies!) The real scumbaggery comes when they tell you to open Event Viewer.

Most of these "errors" are just notifications, but malicious scammers will try to convince you otherwise.

Most of these “errors” are just notifications, but malicious scammers will try to convince you otherwise.

Event Viewer looks big, bad, and complicated, but it really isn’t. It represents a user-friendly way to view log files, which are an instrumental component of troubleshooting. Remote-access scammers will attempt to scare you with the errors shown, but most of them are really just notifications. If you view the screenshot above, the description for the selected error states that the Garmin update service didn’t respond quickly enough. Whether or not that notification is worthy of “error” status is debatable, but that’s how it shows up.

If someone calls you out of the blue and asks to do a remote session, don’t! If they ask you to open Event Viewer or want to instruct you in some roundabout way that results in Event Viewer being open to “show you errors,” hang up!

But not all remote sessions are malicious. In fact, most of them are totally wholesome and massively improve efficiency in and between workplaces. If a place you already know to be trustworthy (like us) calls you to do a remote session and doesn’t tell you what they’re going to do right off the bat, ask. If they are hesitant to tell you, be just as hesitant to allow them in. Any trustworthy, legitimate caller will be able to explain clearly and precisely why they would like to do a remote session.

Allowing someone else to remotely access to your computer is a big decision. If you allow the wrong person to do so, they can do just as much damage remotely as they could if they were standing in front of the machine (unless, of course, you power down the machine before they do too much). Before deciding whether to allow remote access, ask yourself this: “Would I allow this person to use my computer in the flesh?” If the answer is yes, off to the races! If the answer is no, carefully consider your decision.

We’re TWC Partners!

Hello, everyone! I’m pleased to announce that UFO NetComm is now an official Time Warner Cable Business Class reseller. If you have business-class internet, we can most likely lower your Internet bill and become your Tier 1 support all at once, meaning you’ll never have to call TWC again.

You can check out our pricing at http://ufonetcomm.com/business-class-internet/, which is just an embedding of http://ufonetcomm.com/twcpricing if you’d like to print it for some reason.

We look forward to working with you to lower your bill and get you better support! Give us a call at 512-276-2092, visit us at www.ufonetcomm.com, or stop on by and we’ll get started.

Raspberry Pi 2 Released

After several years of innovation with the original Raspberry Pi, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has released the second generation of its single-board computer. They call it the Raspberry Pi 2 (surprise!) and it represents a pretty big leap in performance over the original.

The biggest upgrade is the CPU complex. Instead of a 0.7GHz single-core chip of an older design (the Broadcom BCM2835), the new Pi 2 has a 0.9GHz quad-core setup (the Broadcom BCM2836) with double the RAM of the first-generation chip. This extra processing muscle, combined with the newer instruction set that it enables, allows users to run Ubuntu Linux, Windows 10 for IoT, and every original Raspberry Pi operating system.

The other features of the Pi 2 include four USB ports, 10/100 Fast Ethernet, HDMI output, and hobbyist interfaces like I²C and GPIO headers.

The Pi 2 and original Pi can both be purchased at the Pi Foundation’s official partner retailers: element14 if you’re in the US and RS Components for UK customers. I already have one on the way so I can learn about the way it works, so expect another blog post on this subject in the future! As it is now, I have quite a bit of experience with the original Raspberry Pi Model B, and any questions about it can be directed to brendan@ufocomputerservice.com. Even if I don’t directly have an answer, I can probably point you in the correct direction.

As always, you can find us and our services at the UFO NetComm main site (on your Raspberry Pi, perhaps?), where we have all of our services listed for easy perusal and comparison. If you liked this blog post, check it out – there’s some clever writing hidden in there!

Signing off,
Brendan

What You Need to Know about CryptoWall

UPDATE: A new variant of the Crypto family of viruses, Cerber Ransomware, has just come into our world. Everything in this article also applies to this new variant.

 

CryptoLocker is back, and its new name is CryptoWall.  It consists of mostly the same code, with just enough changed that existing tools can’t retroactively remove it.  We think, however, that we can shield against it before it arrives on your system.  In addition, online backup with file versioning like ours can protect your files very effectively, as the virus cannot reach into remote servers and alter files that have already been uploaded.  You can find out more about our backup product here.

 

WHAT WE DO KNOW

Even though it is not as widespread as some other viruses, CryptoWall is extremely nasty.

A side note before we get into how the program works: If you suddenly start seeing messages saying that files are corrupt, seeing files with random filenames (e.g. SS854876T44.cerber), shut down your computer immediately, as the situation will only get worse if the system is left running.

CryptoWall, like CryptoLocker before it, works by strongly encrypting your user files and then ransoming you for a key to decrypt them.  It does this gradually and slowly to avoid being detected, but once a file has been encrypted, it can’t be recovered without the ransom or a decryption tool that doesn’t exist yet.  For this reason, it’s worth repeating that if you’re suddenly seeing files become corrupt, shut down your system and don’t turn it back on.  The cause of those messages is either this virus or a failing hard drive, and your hard drive shouldn’t be running in either case!  The essential difference between CryptoLocker and CryptoWall is that CryptoWall will actually delete the files that it’s held hostage after 30 days, removing any possibility of recovery.

 

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

There are a few primary points as to why this virus is so dangerous:

  1. We don’t know how to decrypt the locked-up files yet
  2. We don’t know the extent to which it encrypts external devices
  3. We don’t know if the virus transmits itself via external devices

Let’s start with point 1: we don’t know how to decrypt the locked-up files.  For this virus’s predecessor, CryptoLocker, FireEye and Fox IT created https://www.decryptcryptolocker.com/, a site where you can upload an afflicted file and get a decryption key back.  No such site or service yet exists for CryptoWall.  In addition, both CryptoLocker and CryptoWall only give you 30 days to type in this code; if you don’t hurry, there’s no hope at all for your files without a special software tool that doesn’t exist yet.

Point 2: We don’t know the extent to which it encrypts external devices.  If a USB stick is plugged into an affected computer, will it also be encrypted?  That’s not currently known.  This is an important question, and our current experience with the virus has not given us the answer.

Finally, Point 3: We don’t know if the virus transmits itself via external devices.  If a USB stick is plugged into an affected computer, will the virus implant itself in the drive and infect all future computers used with that drive?  This is the million-dollar question. Because we don’t know the answer and we don’t have a disposable computer to test, we had to destroy the USB stick that we used with the infected customer machine.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

One step that you can take right now as you’re reading this is going in and verifying that you only have browser plugins that YOU installed.  You should also make sure that all browser plugins are up to date.  Additionally, we have a harmless software patch that we can apply in-house to potentially shield you from the virus, and we’ll happily apply it for free; all you have to do is bring us your computer and give us a while.

Another proactive way to make sure you don’t get burned by CryptoWall is by setting up what’s called “cold storage backup”.  This means backing up to an external drive, then disconnecting it from the computer and the network.  This means that a NAS backup is not safe from CryptoWall!  Even though you can massively reduce your risk of getting CryptoWall, the only drive that’s 100% safe from this virus is one that’s unplugged.  To that end, make sure you have an up-to-date backup that isn’t connected to power or data.

If you have any other questions about CryptoWall or you have it and would like for us to have a shot at decryption, stop on in or call us at 512-276-2092.

Header image source: thiinkdigital.co.uk

New Hard Drive Reliability Figures from BackBlaze

BackBlaze, a renowned cloud backup provider (and our partner for consumer-grade backup!) has recently released new figures on HDD reliability.  In some ways they just reiterate what is already known, but there are some shocking new figures that you should know about.

First, let’s get the big one out of the way: Almost half (at least 40.8%) of 3TB Seagate hard drives and at least 18.9% of Seagate 1.5TB drives fail in the first two years!  While BackBlaze runs these drives in a strenuous environment, the same build quality issues will rear their head in, for example, a dropped laptop.  9 out of 10 failed and failing hard drives that come into our office are Seagates, so we have no problem taking BackBlaze at their word on this.  We have a saying around the office – “Seagate laptop drives are pixie dust, held together by packing tape.”  They didn’t get that reputation by being the toughest drives out there.

A surprise was the amazing reliability of HGST (formerly Hitachi) drives.  HGST was recently bought by Western Digital, so their standards are pretty high.  While HGST drives are often louder than those of the competition, they’re the most reliable drives on the market.

Western Digital sits just behind HGST for reliability, making their drives a great choice given the long warranties on their high-end models.

Another notable inference from the data that BackBlaze published is the poor reliability of 3TB drives in general.  1TB, 2TB, and 4TB models all do significantly better in terms of failure rates, with Seagate 3TB drives as a negative outlier.  If you have a Seagate 1.5TB or 3TB drive, run – don’t walk – to a repair shop like ours and get it replaced with an HGST or Western Digital.

By the way – BackBlaze is an awesome company, which is why we’ve partnered with them!  If you want to try our their services for FREE with our support behind it, http://www.ufobackup.ml is a great place to start.

Source: BackBlaze’s blog post and the personal experiences of our team.

Windows 10 will be a free upgrade!

Microsoft announced today that the Windows 10 operating system, the true spiritual successor to Windows 7, will be free for the first year to current owners of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1!  We’ve been running the Developer Preview for several weeks here at the office, and it has been rock-solid and far nicer to use than Windows 8.1.

How the upgrade process will work isn’t currently known, but as soon as we can get our hands on it, we’ll be able to offer guidance on the workings of the newest Windows experience.

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2015/01/21/windows-10-free-upgrade/

Another YouTube Channel

Another day, another YouTube channel, another weird video from UFO.  More are coming soon.

Click: UFO’s YouTube

Explanations of the current videos, should they be desired:

“We’re dumb” is a perfect example of a spontaneous moment shared without hesitation.  Anthony started dancing, Austin joined in without thinking, and I sat at the front desk, laughing to the point that I couldn’t breathe.

“MURICA” occurred when we got chips from Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and one particular set had WAY TOO MUCH Fuzzy Dust on it.  Austin took it upon himself to eat the whole thing in one bite, and while he wasn’t able to keep it all from flying out, his efforts were admirable.

Why you should avoid PowerColor

Recently, we here at the UFO Orbital HQ have had the distinct dissatisfaction of coping with PowerColor’s RMA department.  In those dealings, we discovered that not only does PowerColor have only one person in their RMA department, that person is also sassy.  It took over 4 hours for us to get an RMA code, a process that’s nearly instantaneous with any other vendor.  This means a longer wait for our customer and further image problems for PowerColor.

Also, when their site has trouble, it displays Japanese.  Their Chinese site?  It doesn’t even point to PowerColor!

We were hung up on by the mentioned sassy support representative.  We then got his voicemail THREE times, during business hours.

Unless you’re willing to deal with bad and then nonexistent customer support for an awful product, stay FAR away from PowerColor.