Archive for the Products Category

In Depth: NEMS

Posted in Products with tags on December 30, 2017 by itnerd

One of the things that I have to do is troubleshoot network issues. In the past, I’ve used a virtual machine running Wireshark, or more recently I’ve been using this on may MacBook Pro. Both are useful for situations where a network issue was pretty clear and easily found. But the problem with both these solutions is that if I am hunting for something that isn’t easily found, or I have to catch it in the act so to speak, they’re impractical. I would have to set either of these on something that the customer owns. The same is true if I want to set it up for constant monitoring of a network to make sure that it is running as it should.

Enter NEMS which is short for Nagios Enterprise Monitoring Server. It is a pre-configured and ready-to-deploy Nagios Core image designed to run on the Raspberry Pi 3 micro computer which can be found on Amazon for just over $50 CDN. Making it a cheap and easy way to set up network monitoring for networks big and small.

NEMS watches hosts and services that you specify and alerts you when things go wrong on your network. For example, I was having problems on my home network accessing my mail server. Since the traffic to and from my mail server is encrypted, I used NEMS to isolate that traffic on my network and I was able to see that the traffic was being altered by by the router that I was using at the time which my mail server was rejecting because it had been altered. That allowed me to take action and replace the router. In short, NEMS gave me a very easy and quick way to figure out an issue that would have puzzled me for days. But besides trying to figure out odd issues on your network, you can be alerted if your server’s hard drive is getting full, if your web site goes down, or if your server room is getting warm. That way you can take action before things get critical.

The project is run by Robbie Ferguson, President Category5 TV Network. I spoke to him recently and he’s a big believer in trying to push down this sort of technology which used to be available only to big companies down to anyone who needs it. He’s thought this through from a setup and deployment standpoint, so if you have a basic understanding of how networks work, and you have an adventurous streak, you don’t need someone like me to deploy NEMS. Or if you’re someone like me who troubleshoots networks among other things, I can deploy this solution and give my clients enterprise grade network monitoring for next to nothing.

If you’re responsible for a network, or you have a a strange network issue, I’d suggest grabbing a Raspberry Pi and a copy of NEMS. From my experience, you’ll understand what is going on when it comes to what’s on your network, which will allow you to better manage and troubleshoot it.

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The IT Nerd Award For The Best SUV Of 2017 Goes To: 2017 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD

Posted in Products with tags on December 29, 2017 by itnerd

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Mazda has seriously raised the bar when it comes to the compact SUV segment when they rolled out the 2017 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD. It handled great, which was a given seeing as we’re talking about Mazda. It sips gas, which is again a given seeing as this is a Mazda. But they seriously amped up the style both internally and externally. In terms of the former, it has an outstanding interior. In fact, it’s so good that luxury car brands may want to take a look at it as the could likely take some lessons from Mazda as it is simply that good. The compact SUV segment is highly competitive. But Mazda has managed to have a product that is not only good enough to make them king of the hill at the moment, but one that is an IT Nerd Award winner as well for 2017.

The IT Nerd Award For The Best Car Of 2017 Goes To: 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport Ultimate

Posted in Products with tags on December 28, 2017 by itnerd

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Every time I review a vehicle from Hyundai, I walk away impressed. It started with the Genesis… Long before they spun that off as a separate brand. Then the Tucson impressed me so much that I bought one. And both of those vehicles won IT Nerd Awards. Now it’s the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport Ultimate turn to continue that tradition. What the Korean company has come up with is a hot hatch that challenges VW and its famed GTI in pretty much every area and leaves a grin on your face that is so large, it will be seen from space. On top of that, they have some cool infotainment tech on board in the form of BlueLink. In short, it really fits the definition of what a hot hatch should be at a price point that is accessible to those who are looking for a car in this category. For those reasons, the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport Ultimate is very much a worthy winner of an IT Nerd Award for 2017.

The IT Nerd Award For The Best Accessory Of 2017 Goes To: Rogers Smart Drive By ZTE

Posted in Products with tags , on December 27, 2017 by itnerd

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I have to admit that this was a very competitive category which had a lot of strong contenders in it. But in the end, I went with Rogers Smart Drive which is made by ZTE. The reason being is that this device brings smart car tech to any car. Installation is trivially easy and you get WiFi, location services for your car, monitoring of things like fuel economy, fuel level, and if there are any diagnostic trouble codes that the car has, and alerts if you car has been hit or if someone is trying to break into it. And you get all of this info on your iOS or Android device. The price point is a winner as well as the costs to buy the device and the monthly data charges are well within the reach of most. I will note that ZTE has also partnered with Telus and Bell to bring the same device to their networks. Regardless of which one you choose, this is a worthy winner of an IT Nerd Award for 2017.

The IT Nerd Award For Best Smartphone Goes To: ASUS ZenFone 4 Pro

Posted in Products with tags on December 26, 2017 by itnerd

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I reviewed a bunch of phones this year, but the ASUS ZenFone 4 Pro stood out to me because of the camera. I took it into an environment where it had to deal with a variety of lighting conditions which was the new Line 1 extension of the Toronto Subway System. And it passed that test with ease. That’s important because every phone these days is fast and capable. So it has to have something that makes it stand out from the pack. ASUS has it in the form of the camera. It’s a total winner if you want a flagship phone with a great camera. To add to that is battery life of close to two days. All for a sub $900 price tag unlocked. This makes the ZenFone 4 Pro a worthy winner of the IT Nerd Award for best smartphone of 2017.

Review: ASUS ZenFone 4 Pro

Posted in Products with tags on December 23, 2017 by itnerd

I’ve reviewed a number of ASUS phones over the years. But the ZenFone 4 Pro has to be their best effort. It mostly ticks of the boxes on what a flagship phone should be. Thus it is worthy or your consideration. Here’s why.

Before I get to the phone. Let me talk about the box. When you open the box, you don’t see anything but a bunch of boxes inside. The phone actually folds out in another compartment. Which is a rather cool way to package it. The box itself is magnetically closed. I have to admit that this was one of the cooler unboxing experiences that I’ve lately.

ASUS has put a 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution AMOLED display on the ZenFone 4 Pro, which gives it a pixel density of 401 ppi. It is covered in Gorilla Glass 5 for protection. Here’s the catch, With the fingerprint sensor on the bottom, and two big bezels on the top and bottom, my first thought was that this was an iPhone clone. ASUS may want to go with an edge to edge display for their next phone just to avoid that comparison. But in any case, it looks very good and is visible in most lighting conditions that I used it in.

Under the hood, ASUS has this on offer:

  • 8 core CPU
  • 6GB RAM
  • 64GB Of Storage
  • Dual SIM capability, or use the second SIM slot to expand the memory.
  • Android Nougat
  • USB-C
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • 4G LTE
  • Headphone jack

The phone itself feels solid. But it’s a full-glass smartphone with some metal on the frame. That means that if you drop it, you risk cracking the glass. Let’s face it, glass is slippery and fragile, which are definitely two things you usually don’t want in a smartphone. But tell that to everyone buying an iPhone X. Regardless a case is mandatory as it is an all glass phone. Having said that, it wasn’t the fingerprint magnet that I was expecting it to be. The volume rocker and power button on the right side of the phone, with the USB-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and speaker at the bottom. The left side houses the SIM and microSD card slot/second SIM slot. The phone is fast and didn’t bog down regardless of what I tossed at it. The skin that ASUS uses won’t annoy users. Plus the included software adds value to the ZenPhone 4 Pro rather subtract from it.

But the real star of the show is the camera. The rear camera is a dual camera setup which features a 12-megapixel main sensor and then a 16-megapixel secondary, telephoto sensor. That’s kind of different as you usually don’t see that kind of setup. It worked well when I tested it by going to the brand new Line 1 extension of the Toronto Subway System. The extension comprises six new stations and is the first extension of Toronto’s subway system in 15 years. Here’s a look at the six new stations which comprised a variety of lighting conditions:

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The camera of the ZenFone 4 Pro is insanely good. The autofocus is fast and the camera recycles quickly. If you want a great camera, this is it. It’s easily competitive with anything else that is out there. One note, you can run it in auto mode, or put it in pro mode so that you can control every aspect of the camera’s function. It also has a portrait mode that I tested by by taking a couple of pictures of a strap on a subway train. One has portrait mode, the other doesn’t:

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Video functions are just as good as it will do up to 4K resolution. Take this example which for best results, you should set to full screen and 4K:

For what it’s worth, The front facing camera is a 8-megapixel shooter. Regardless, the camera setup front and back really rocks.

Finally, the battery on the ZenFone 4 Pro is pretty impressive. There is a 3600mAh battery pack inside. That gave me almost two days of battery life. Thus if I can’t drain it in a business day, neither will you.

The ASUS ZenFone 4 Pro goes for $899 CAD unlocked. It’s easily the best phone that ASUS has made to date. And given all that it has, especially on the camera front, I say that this easily should be on your list if you’re in the market for a new phone.

Review: Netgear Nighthawk X8 AC5300 Tri-Band Router

Posted in Products with tags on December 11, 2017 by itnerd

I’ve been testing a lot of routers lately, and the latest one to end up in my test lab is the Netgear Nighthawk X8 AC5300 Tri-Band Router. This is one of Netgear’s high performance routers and it takes a really conservative approach in terms of looks:

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It’s big as it takes up a lot of real estate, but it’s thin and flies under the radar unlike a lot of routers in this class. It has plenty of venting to keep it cool. It’s got four antennas that are non-removable. That might be a bit of a mistake as I’d love to know how you would replace one without having to send the whole router in for service. Oh yeah, the antennas also do this:

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The tips light up which will be cool to some. Other interesting features include:

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There are a pair of USB ports for storage via a USB hard drive, or a printer for printer sharing. But they’re behind a door which is kind of strange.

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Lit buttons on the front are there to turn on and off the LEDs, use WPS, and enable and disable WiFi.

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The lights to indicate the status of Internet access and ports are on the top of the router.

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You get six gigabit Ethernet ports for all your wired devices. The first two are aggregate ports (via the 802.3ad standard) for those who want extra speed from a wired device that supports this feature.

In terms of WiFi, you get one 2.4 GHz channel running at gigabit speeds, and a pair of 5 GHz channels running at 2.1 gigabits each. What’s cool is that you can take the 5 GHz channels and bond them so that you can have devices automatically float between the two so that no one channel can be overloaded. And from what I could tell, it tended to make the right decisions as to which device needs to go where.

Setting the router up is easy and so is managing it. The wizard that walks you though the setup is clear and easily understandable for all types of users. Advanced users can leverage the advanced settings to get access to all the cool stuff to make devices go faster or lock things down. If using the web based setup isn’t for you, you can use an app called the Netgear Genie app for iOS or Android that gives you the ability to do the same thing from your phone or tablet. And if the standard firmware does nothing for you, there is DD-WRT firmware that is apparently available. Another feature that is available but I didn’t test is Amazon Alexa & the Google Assistant support.

In terms of speed, I’ll simply say that Nighthawk X8 is the new speed champ as far as I am concerned. I got this result over 802.11ac within 5 feet of the router:

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This beats the ASUS ROG Rapture AC5300 Gaming Router which clocked a speed of 841 Mbps when I tested it on my gigabit Internet connection. Not only that, I got good coverage in my condo as I was able to get a good signal in places that most routers struggle to reach. The fact that this router supports beamforming likely helps with that. It also supports MU-MIMO to keep things speedy. Speaking of speedy, anything and everything I tossed at it could not slow it down.

What’s missing? Well, it doesn’t have the advanced and somewhat unique security features and massive levels of customization that the ASUS ROG Rapture AC500 Gaming Router has. That may bother some people as they may see those as being desirable features. But there’s enough here that it should not bother you in my opinion. Gripes? I’m not a fan of the non-removable antennas like I mentioned earlier. Other than that, I think of anything to be critical of.

So, what does this all cost? Amazon Canada sells it for $299 CDN. If you look around, you may find it for less. What’s my bottom line? While the ASUS ROG Rapture AC5300 Gaming Router has more features, and I still think is the overall better value, the Netgear Nighthawk X8AC5300 Tri-Band Router is a touch faster. Seeing as it’s about $200 cheaper than the ASUS offering, if you simply want nothing but the fastest router around the Netgear is very much worth a look.