CategoryWindows

How to Install VirtualBox Guest Additions for CentOS 6.5 under Windows 8.1 (host)?

VirtualBox is a good operating system-level virtualization platform alternative when compared to other more popular utilities such as VMware, because it is free & open-source. However, the by-default hardware integration between the host & the guest operating system, is not as tight as it is under VMware, at least in my experience.

For instance, if you were to run a GNU/Linux distribution such as CentOS, under Windows 8.1 (the host), then you might immediately notice that the mouse pointer movements are not quite responsive or sensitive, or that the screen resolution cannot be set to its maximum etc, compared to the host operating system.

But all these (& a couple more) drawbacks can be fixed by installing an additional VirtualBox software pack called the ‘Guest Additions’. Once installed, it enables tighter hardware integration between the host & the guest OS, after which, you would not actually be able to tell that you are logged into a virtual machine at all.

CentOS 6.5 VM running on Windows 8.1 with Virtualbox 'Guest Additions' installed

If you are running CentOS 6.5 as the guest operating system under Windows 8.1 (the host) and looking for a way to install this pack, then this article is for you. So without any further delay, let us begin! :)

Step 1: First run your CentOS 6.5 virtual machine. Then open a terminal window and enter the below command to become the root.

su -

When asked, enter the root’s password.

Step 2: Now enter the below command.

uname -r

Viewing the current Kernel's version in CentOS 6.5 VM

This will give you an output containing the currently active Kernel’s version. Use your mouse to copy it (or you can type it in if you like).

Step 3: Now enter the below command and append the above copied Kernel version after the ‘-‘ sign, don’t leave any spaces in between.

yum install kernel-devel-

Below is what mine looks like:

yum install kernel-devel-2.6.32-431.e16.x86_64

Step 4: It might take a couple of minutes to install, depending on the speed of your internet connection. Once it finishes, we have to install another package called ‘gcc’ (GNU’s C++ compiler). Use the below command for that.

yum install gcc

Now we are done installing the prerequisites and can move on with the ‘guest additions’ installation.

Step 5: This time, click on the VirtualBox menu of the VM, and go to: ‘Devices’ --> ‘Insert Guest Additions CD image…’, as shown below.

Adding VirtualBox 'Guest Additions' for CentOS 6.5 virtual machine under Windows 8.1

(‘Guest Additions’, as you might have guessed, comes pre-bundled with VirtualBox, so there is no need to manually download it)…

Step 6: After a couple of seconds, a dialog-box will appear, simply click its ‘OK’ button…

Clicking the 'guest addtions' OK box in CentOS 6.5 virtual machine

Then choose ‘Run’ from the one that comes after…

Clicking the 'Run' button of VirtualBox 'Guest Additions' in Centos 6.5 VM

When asked, type in the root password also…

VirtualBox 'Guest Additions' asking for the root password (CentOS 6.5 VM)

The installation might take a minute or two… so be patient. If everything goes accordingly, you should get an output similar to the below one. If there are no ‘Failed’ messages, you are good to go.

Making sure no errors are encountered during the VirtualBox 'Guest Additions' installation in CentOS 6.5 virtual Machine

Once everything finishes, it will ask you to type the ‘Enter’ key. After that, for the changes to take affect, please reboot the computer. From next time on, you should notice the mouse pointer movements are extremely precise & that you can actually run the virtual machine in fullscreen (or resize it freely) using the maximum native resolution of your display screen.

As briefly mentioned in the beginning, it improves few other deep hardware integration also, but those two are the easily noticeable ones. That’s it, good luck (if the ISO gets mounted every time you log into the CentOS virtual machine, then right click on its icon on the desktop and choose ‘Eject’).

Make Validity Fingerprint Sensor (5011) Work on Windows 8.1 [How to]

Validity Fingerprint Sensor 5011 that came with my Dell Vostro V131, stopped working after I switched to Windows 8.1. I actually never quite used it that much (even in Windows 7 that came pre-installed), and as a result, was only aware this issue very recently. But I do put my laptop to sleep quite often, and since having to re-type the password every time I turn it ON is quite a burden, I decided to find a way to make it work in Windows 8.1.

Now Dell on their website does provide us with a driver for ‘Windows 8…’ however, while trying to install, it gave me an error (basically saying that it does not support Windows 8/8.1) and quit. Luckily though, this fingerprint sensor is somewhat popular and various other manufacturers also include it in some of their products. As a result, I found a driver for it through Lenovo’s website, that supports Windows 8.1 (32/64 bit).

So I decided to write a ‘how to ‘ article, hoping that someone having the same issue would find it quite liberating :) . The installation is very simple & easy, and I have (as usual), written it down, step by step.

VFS 5011 working on Windows 8.1 unlock screen

Before we begin, let us make sure that Windows 8.1 has not actually recognized the Validity fingerprint sensor (5011), just to make sure. Because I have read some claiming that Windows 8.1 being able to recognize it, after an update. To verify that, press the ‘Windows key’ + ‘r’, this will open up the ‘Run’ dialog-box, and then enter the below command, which in turn will open-up the ‘Device Manager’:

mmc devmgmt.msc

If under ‘Biometric devices’ it says ‘Synaptic FP Sensor (WBF) (PID=0011) as shown below, then you can jump to ‘Step 2…’ directly. If it displays something else (a generic term like ‘fingerprint sensor’) or does not even have a ‘Biometric devices’ section, then please start off with Step 1 for properly installing & configuring it.

VFS 5011' correctly being displayed on device manager in Windows 8.1

Step 1: Go to this official Lenovo driver download page and obtain the driver. Once the download finishes, double-click on the setup and it will guide you through the installation (you might have to restart the PC at the end).

Step 2: Windows 8.1 includes built-in support (GUI) for configuring & enabling a fingerprint sensor at login screen. Although the one that came with the Dell’s official Validity sensor for Windows 7 had pretty nifty features, since our objective is to make the sensor available at login only, the Windows tool is more than enough.

To launch this GUI, press the ‘Windows key’ again, and type in the below term:

set up fingerprint

Then select and launch ‘set up fingerprint sign-in’ as shown below.

Opening the built-in fingerprint sensor configuration metro utility in Windows 8.1

Step 3: Once you are inside the metro application, look under ‘Fingerprint’ and click the ‘Add’ button. It will guide you through the process, which is extremely simple & easy. You can add multiple fingerprints using it as well.

Adding a new fingerprint through 'VFS 5011' in Windows 8.1

That is pretty much it!. Now lock your screen (or put the computer to sleep or reboot it…) and then try to un-lock it through the fingerprint sensor, if you did everything as described above, it will un-lock the screen. So far I have not encountered any issues. Good luck.

Graphically View How Applications Use Your Network & Its Bandwidth, using ‘Graphical Network Monitor’ (Windows)

Sometimes, having the ability to observe the behavior of your network’s traffic (specially if you have an internet connection with a bandwidth cap) can provide you with useful insights, even if you are managing a simple network.

I might sound being too vigilant but let me share with you a recent experience of mine that proved otherwise. It all started when I upgraded to Firefox 30.0. Thanks to a live network usage graph app (that always runs on my Taskbar) & Windows Task Manager, I was able to notice that the ‘plugin-container’ process of Firefox using most of my network bandwidth at times (no it was not updating anything, it happened way too many times!). To make a long story short, now I use Chrome as a result.

But unlike in the above instance where I had to use two separate applications to identify that which was eating my network’s bandwidth, there are applications that are build for that specific purpose that one can use to achieve both tasks through a single interface. ‘Graphical Network Monitor’ is such an application that was brought to my attention by its developer (thank you ‘Kirk’).

Graphical Network Monitor 1.2 running Windows 8.1

It has a very simple interface, displays applications that are running through your network by their icon (which makes it so easy to identify them) on a world map so that you see where they are connected to, and the currently active applications gets their icons automatically highlighted.

It also features a ‘Connection list’ section (disabled by default) that once enabled shows advanced data about those applications, such as their IP address (local & remote) & the virtual ports through which they communicate, connection status, Country and the city they are connected to, and most importantly, their individual consumption of the network’s bandwidth (Up/Down speeds).

'Connection list' feature GNM 1.2

You can zoom in/out using the scroll button which (depending on the theme) shows additional details on the map (country & city names). You can run it in the Windowed mode, fullscreen or you can make it show all these data as a desktop background (‘Active Desktop’ mode) too!.

GNM 1.2 running on 'Active Desktop' mode

It comes with three beautiful looking themes but you can freely download one additional theme & ‘Extra Zoom’ editions of each theme freely.

There built-in themes of Graphical Network Monitor 1.2

It is also a portable application. It comes with a Zip file. You can extract its content to a USB thumb drive and take it anywhere (something that network administrators would appreciate). It is coded using C++ thus eliminating heavy dependencies such as having to have .NET or Java or any other framework installed. The app is relatively ‘light-weight’ as well. At its initial execution, the memory usage was around 22MB but of course it goes up on demand (while Zooming in or as more programs gets displayed on the map). Overall, I like its old-school coding approach :) .

However, after saying all these nice things about it, I also have a few humble suggestions for the developers which I think could make the app more useful to the users.

*. Firstly, it would be nice if the app could automatically highlight the data under ‘Connection list’ when a user select an application icon on the map, rather than having to manually locate it, which is how it is currently.

*. It would also make sense to integrate keyboard shortcuts for enabling/disabling ‘Active Desktop’ mode & ‘Connection list’ window. It saves time & is less distracting.

*. Since it is coded in C++, how about creating a version that runs of GNU/Linux? …

It however is not available for free, but it only costs you $1.99 (a commercial license costs you $29.95 though), which is very reasonable when compared to its features and the nice & intuitive interface design. If interested, please visit this page for more information. I would also like to thank ‘Kirk’ for giving me a free license to test it out.

‘ocenaudio’ is a Fast & a Free Audio Editor for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, Windows & Mac OS X

‘ocenaudio’ is a features rich, free audio editor for Ubuntu, Windows and Mac OS X, operating systems. Although it runs natively under Ubuntu and looks very intuitive, the interface has a native Mac OS X look which is my only complaint. It supports lots of audio formats (covering both importing & exporting) and loads them pretty quickly when compared to other similar applications, it is pretty impressive.

You can add multiple audio files into its side-bar and then can easily load/unload them very easily as well. It lets you Cut/Copy/Record/Paste/Delete content, Undo/Redo, comes with few popular effects (silence, normalize, invert…)  and filters (equalizer, delay, amplitude…), Waveform & Spectrum generation, Zoom In/Out, has the ability to generate noises, tones etc & edit the ‘meta’ data (these are only a few of its features, there are many others).

The changes you make in the Equalizer (11-band or 31-band) is applied to the track (whether it is being played or not) immediately and has a ‘sound inspector’ icon which once clicked reveals advanced technical details about the audio file. You can export a selected portion of the file or the edited track, and as mentioned in the beginning, it supports a wide range of audio formats (MP3, OGG Vorbis, Flac, WAV, RAW, AAC, ALAC, AMR…).

'ocenaudio' (2.0.5) running on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS

File save dialog of 'ocenaudio' (Ubuntu 14.04 LTS)

It has few other handy features that I am not that familiar with to be honest (since I’m not an avid audio editor :) ), but I am sure others will appreciate them nonetheless. I could not also find any information about if it is open-source licensed or not, which might concern some users.

Graphic Equalizer - 'ocenaudio' (Ubuntu 14.04LTS)

Installing it on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (should work on 10.10 and higher versions) is easy. Go to this page (packages for other OS platforms are also listed there) and download the proper ‘Deb’ package, and once the download finishes, double click on it and follow the instructions on ‘Ubuntu Software Center’.

Install ‘FocusWriter’ 1.4.6 on LMDE 2014 & Ubuntu 13.10, 14.04

‘FocusWriter’ is my favorite distraction-free writing application. It runs of multiple OS platforms, completely free to use, & the Windows version is portable as well.

Recently it was updated twice (latest version is 1.4.6) both of which have brought lots of bug fixes. So if you are using a version lower than 1.4.5, then perhaps it is time for updating it.

If you are using ‘Linux Mint Debian 2014‘, then please follow the below procedure.

'FocusWriter' 1.4.6 running on 'LMDE 2014'

'FocusWriter' 1.4.6 'Preferences' window - 'LMDE 2014'

If you are using the 64-bit version then download the ‘deb’ package from here. 32-bit users, please get this one instead. Once the download completes, double click on it and the ‘GDebi’ package install will install it for you.

If you use Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, 13.10, 12.10 & 12.04 LTS then use the below commands.

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:gottcode/gcppa

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install focuswriter

For Windows, Mac OS X & other GNU/Linux distribution users, please visit this page for obtaining the proper packages & install instructions.

‘ExtFS for Windows’ Corrupts Ext4 File Systems Under Windows 8!

‘ExtFS for Windows’ is a free program from ‘PARAGON’ software group that enables Windows users to access their Ext 2/3/4 file systems directly from ‘My Computer’. I have had used this program in its early days not ever since, but recently I came across it quite accidentally and decided to give it a go under Windows 8.

But before I begin, let me give you a brief introduction to this utility because I think it is important. This tool uses another utility called ‘Dokan’ (a separately developed utility, now abandoned). To spare you with the boring technical details, ‘Dokan’ acts as the middle man between Windows’ Kernel and the Paragon’s utility that actually deals with the ‘Ext’ file systems.

In other words, when you access a ‘Ext’ file system under Windows using ‘ExtFS …’, Windows passes your request to ‘Dokan’, and then ‘Dokan’ passes that to the Paragon ‘Ext’ mounter. When the ‘Ext’ mounter done doing its job (say a file read), then it passes that data to ‘Dokan’ and ‘Dokan’ then passes it to Windows. In other words, neither the Paragon’s ‘Ext’ mounter nor Windows operating system are aware of each others existence, which is also why, the mounted ‘Ext’ file systems are displayed as ‘Dokan’ in Windows file explorer, not as ‘Ext 2/3 or 4’.

'Paragon ExtFS for Windows' running on Windows 8

Now let me come back to the story. I used Ubuntu 13.10 and ‘KaOS 2014‘ (both residing on ‘Ext4’) for testing this tool (version 2.73, Windows 8 64-bit), on two different occasions, and the results were pretty much identical.

First I tried reading a web page, a ‘Zip’ file and a video file. The web page and the ‘Zip’ files were read without any issues, but the video playback was interesting. First I tried playing it through ‘PotPlayer’ and it continuously skipped frames while playing. Then I tried it under VLC and it just gave this big fat error and exit.

'PotPlayer' and VLC struggling while trying to play a video through 'ExtFS for Windows'

Windows Media Player however, played the file perfectly well!.

Windows Media Player playing the video file without errors using 'ExtFS for Windows'

Meet the champ! 😉 …

How is this possible ? I do not know the exact reason, but my guess is, it is because of ‘Dokan’. Although not always necessarily true, if it was the Ext mounter’s fault, then all the media players should have failed because there was very little ‘Dokan’ could do, if Paragon’s Ext mounter provided it with corrupted data reads. But no, the playback was perfect under one player while two others failed.

So why did not the web page and zip file readings fail ? Playing a video (or any multimedia file for that matter) is a bit different than opening a web page or a zip file, because a video player does not request the whole file to be loaded when playing, it only requests its content on demand. This increases the communication instances between ‘Dokan’ and the Ext mounter (in this case), and since ‘Dokan’ does not officially support Windows 8, it could simply be the result of a ‘bad communication’ (again, this is just a guess).

I also tried copying few files into the ‘Home’ folder, although after they were copied I could see and access them in Windows 8 (sometimes only), when I tried rebooting to see if I can read them in Ubuntu (and ‘KaOS’), on more than one occasion, I got the ‘file system corrupted …’ error (shown below is one that I received in Ubuntu).

Sorry about the low quality, I captured it using my mobile phone's camera ...

Sorry about the low quality, I captured it using my mobile phone’s camera …

I was able to fix the issue by running ‘fsck’ (command-line based GNU/Linux file system checker) manually, but that took away the file. On another occasion, after copying a video (about 74.4MB) file I booted into Ubuntu and although I did not receive any ‘file system …’ errors, ‘Nautilus’ showed its size as ‘15.8KB’ and it was not readable.

Corrupted file shown in 'Nautilus' after using 'Extfs for Windows' to copy it

So who’s fault is it, this time ? I do not know because I am not an expert on file systems, but this time it could have been Paragon ‘Ext’ mounter’s fault.

But the point is, if you are planing on using this utility under Windows 8, I would advice against it, and there is no option to use it with read-only permissions either. That said, I do not know whether it works on other versions of Windows, though from the look of things, it should be dangerous to use under Windows 8.1 as well.

Paragon ExtFS for Windows Home page.

‘Dokan’ (file system driver) Home page.

Convert Audio/Video Files in Ubuntu (13.10 …) & Windows 8 Using ‘FFmpegYAG’

‘FFmpegYAG’ is a free utility (a GUI for ‘FFmpeg’) that lets you easily convert audio/video files into other formats (including the ability to move into a different ‘container’ -- without having to re-encode).

It is available for both Microsoft Windows and GNU/Linux (pre-built ‘deb’ packages are available for Ubuntu and Debian) platforms, and comes with a specially built ‘FFmpeg’ version that supports x246’s 10-bit encoding which reduces the output file’s size without losing quality, and HE-AAC (a variant of AAC codec that is optimized for encoding audio tracks into low bitrates, such as for streaming), according to its author.

All of its features are available from a single window so you do not have to navigate through a tab after a tab for adjusting different settings, prior to encoding a file. Though this idea (implementing ‘everything’ into a single window) might seem scary, in truth however, ‘FFmpegYAG’ looks very simple.

'FFmpegYAG' running on Ubuntu 13.10

It supports displaying previews and whenever you crop, resize or change the aspect ratio, the preview section updates the changes immediately. You can select between a variety of video and audio codecs (MGEG 1/2, MPEG4, Xvid, VP8, x246, MP3, MP2, OGG Vorbis, AAC, HE-AAC, FLAC,WAV …) or you can choose the ‘copy’ option under audio/video codec settings section which copies the data and puts it into a container without encoding as well.

It also lets you change the FPS, audio channels and the frequency too. You can skip encoding selected tracks by removing the ‘check’ mark under ‘Video’,  ‘Audio’ and ‘Subtitle’ section as well. Container support includes MKV, MP4, MOV, MPEG, WebM, Ogg, ac3, mp3 and a few others.

It has built in presets under ‘bitrate’, ‘frame size’ etc but you can manually override them by simply entering your desired value under each field. However, when changing the ‘Bitrate’ (under both ‘Video’ and ‘Audio’ tracks) make sure not to remove the ‘k’ argument, otherwise it might give you errors while trying to encode.

Leave the 'k' intact under 'Bitrate' - 'FFmpegYAG'

As shown below, it also seemed to be multi-threaded which significantly reduces the encoding times, because it can use all the available CPU cores.

'top' showing that most of my 4 cores are being used by 'ffmpeg ...'

‘top’ showing that most of my 4 cores are being used by ‘ffmpeg …’

Installing it on Ubuntu 13.10, 13.04, 12. 10, 12.04 and Debian 7 …

1. First go to this page and download the appropriate ‘FFmpeg-Hi’ package, (they are named using the distribution’s name, version and the CPU instructions set -- 32-bit/64-bit). Once the download completes, double click on it and follow the on-screen instructions of Ubuntu Software Center for installing it.

Note: Your existing original ‘FFmpeg’ installation should not be affected by installing this version (as far as I know).

2. Now go to this page and get the ‘FFmpegYAG’ package. Again, once the download completes, use Ubuntu Software Center for installing it. That should do it.

Any issues? …

For some reason it adds two icons on the Dash and nothing happens when you click on one of them. There is no way to tell which is which, but one opens up the application. Every time you open it, you will be asked which version of ‘ffmpeg’ built that you want to use, if unsure, go for the ‘ffmpeg-hi8-heaac’ built, because most hardware multimedia players might struggle while trying to play (decode) 10-bit encoded x264 multimedia files.

Selecting the proper 'ffmpeg' built in 'FFmpegYAG'

When unsure, go for the second option …

It does not support enabling ‘two pass’ encoding currently which otherwise significantly improves the quality for the same file size (at the expense of encoding times of course). It also does not show a progress bar, though it outputs, among other things, the current location (‘time’) of the file that is being encoded so you can get a reasonable idea of how long it might take to finish, but a progress bar is more user friendly.

'FFmpegYAG' showing the current encoding location

I also found the ‘marker’ (start/end times) to be a bit confusing, but it is not a big concern. Other than that, for a new application, it worked extremely well. So hopefully, ‘Ronny’ (the developer) would add/fix these in the future releases (thank you for creating it!). If you use Windows then visit this page to get it.

Fix Audio Delays Permanently Using VLC & MKVToolNix

Multimedia files with ‘lip-sync’ issues are not so uncommon, although it happens very rarely in professional environments as they take extra precautions to avoid them.

In a previous post I wrote about how to fix some of these synchronization issues permanently using ‘Avidemux’, but since then I have received few complains of ‘Avidemux’ not being able to fix those issues in some cases. Now to be honest, I too have come across some of these problems but fortunately I have been able to fix them (so far).

‘Avidemux’ can do very little if the input file itself has some issues (corrupted video frames etc) but ‘Avidemux’ is also a bit buggy, so some of the blame goes toward it also. In any case, there are few other tools that you can try while trying to fix a sync ‘malfunction’, and ‘MKVToolNix’ is one among them.

An illustration :) ...

Illustration …

‘MKVToolNix’ is not an encoder as you can only use it to ‘extract’ audio/video/subtitle tracks from other containers (MP4, AVI, FLV etc) and put them into the powerful and open-source MKV container. While doing so this tools also lets you pass certain settings (sync, fps, aspect ratio …) and it is through that we can attempt to fix sync problems.

But please be aware that the only output format it support is MKV (and few of its variations such as ‘MKA’ for audio’, ‘MKS’ for subtitles etc) and unlike MP4 or AVI, MKV is not supported by a lot of commercial and strictly hardware based multimedia players. Computer users however do not have to worry about it as popular players (VLC, MPC, PotPlayer, SMPlayer, KMPlayer …) support it. Enough talking, let’s do it!.

Note: Make sure you have downloaded and installed the latest builds of ‘MKVToolNix’ from here. I also recommend that you use VLC because both these utilities are available for multiple operating system platforms, so you can use this ‘guide’ in any of them.

What we are going to do is …

*. First we are going to play the ‘troublesome’ file in VLC (or any other player that lets you change the sync temporarily) and we will try to identify the proper sync value.

*. Then we will simply enter that sync value into ‘MKVToolNix’ and save it as a new MKV file so that it is saved permanently. That is it!.

Step 1:

So open your ‘troublesome’ file in VLC, and let it play for a few seconds. Then simply press the ‘j’ key on your keyboard. This will make VLC play the audio track a bit ahead of the video. A single click increases the value by 50 milliseconds only, so unless the ‘gap’ is very small, you will have to press it a few times to get see its effect.

VLC with minus (ahead of video) audio sync value

Anyhow, if after pressing ‘j’ key for a few times it worsens the ‘gap’, then it is an indication that you actually have to make VLC play the audio track a bit behind (delay) the video. The shortcut key for that is ‘k’. Again, to feel its effect, you might have to press it a few times. If after doing that it seems to shorten the ‘gap’ then it is an indication that you are on the right track. So keep doing that until you come up with the perfect sync value.

VLC with a plus (delay) audio sync valueSo as a general rule, play with ‘j’ and ‘k’ keys, until you find the perfect sync value for that multimedia file. Once you have found it, simply take a note of it (note that depending on the file the value could be positive or a negative one. If it is a negative/minus one, then you should enter a minus sign before entering the value in ‘MKVToolNix’, more below) and close VLC.

Step 2:

Now open ‘MKVToolNix’ and load the ‘troublesome’ file into it. Then under ‘Tracks, chapters and tags’ field, select the audio stream/track (shown below is an example).

Selecting the audio track in 'MKVToolNix'

Step 3:

Then from under it, click on the ‘Format specific options’ tab and you will see an empty field that says ‘Delay (in ms)’. Now simply enter the sync value you found above into that field.

Entering an audio sync value manually in 'MKVToolNix'

Make sure to enter a minus sign (-) when needed (-200 for instance) …

Step 4:

Now click on the ‘Browse’ button under ‘Output filename’ field. Select a location and a file name for the output MKV file. Once done, simply click on the ‘Start muxing’ button. If everything goes without any errors, try playing the newly saved MKV file and now you should be able to enjoy it without any ‘lip-sync’ issues!. Good luck.

View HDD’s Health Status on Windows 8 & 7 with ‘HDDExpert’ (portable)

‘HDDExpert’ is a software utility that lets Windows users to view the ‘S.M.A.R.T’ readings (and thus its current state of ‘Health’) of their Hard Disk Drives, with ease. It is portable, but a separate installer is also available for those that prefer it.

As you can see below, under ‘General’ it displays the manufacture, model, firmware, the serial number and the current: Temperature, Cycles (HDD start/stop count) and Hours (the total number of hours the HDD has been running so far). The other three buttons, once clicked, give you suggestions for improving the health and security of your data.

For instance, when you click the ‘Fans’ or ‘Spare’ button, it simply takes you to ‘Amazon.com’ through which you can purchase fans or a spare HDD, and the ‘Backup’ button takes you to a premium data backup tool. It also contains a ‘Message box’ in which it displays the sum of the health status and recommendations that refer to the above mentioned details.

Just like any other similar tool, it also displays various other details from the ‘S.M.A.R.T’ readings (Raw Read Error Rate, Spin-up Time, Emergency Retract Count and many others).

'HDDExpert' 1.0.0.0 running on Windows 8

However …

‘HDDExpert’ seems to be assuming the value under ‘Power-on count’ of ‘S.M.A.R.T’ as it is in hours, but some HDD manufactures count it in minutes rather than hours. This is also the case with my Toshiba SATA disk, but according to ‘HDDExpert’ this HDD has run for 325056 hours!. That is pretty much an impossible value for a HDD to have as it indicates that this drive has been running for 40 years! (assuming its daily running duration of being 8 hours).

'HDDExpert' 'power-on hours count' issue

How do I know for sure that it is in minutes ?

Well, since I know that I have been using it for about 32 months, I made two simple calculations. One was based on minutes and other by based on hours. On both occasions I assumed that the daily running hours of the HDD to be around 8 hours. And the ‘minutes-based’ calculation pretty much confirmed the ‘Power-on count’ where the ‘hours-based’ one was no where near it (obviously).

‘HDDExpert’ also has an option for ‘refreshing’ the data but that does not seem to work. The only way you can ‘refresh’ the data is by terminating and re-opening it. So just to check, once I opened it, I made a quick note of the ‘Power-on count’, then after waiting for a minute, I closed the app and re-opened it, and as I suspected, the ‘Power-on count’ had been changed by ‘1’.

Update: If you click on the HDD icon then the tool refreshes the data (without having to close it). It is just that the provided ‘Refresh’ button is what that does not work.

Update 2: This ‘refresh’ issue is now permanently fixed in the latest update of ‘HDDExpert’ (I would like to thank ‘Kyle’ -- the developer, for letting me know that. Just for the record, I did test it to see if it is actually fixed or not).

These are the only issues that I faced while using it. Although the ‘refreshing’ issue is not that much of an issue, ‘Power-on count’ is a major flaw. And since it was just released, this bug will hopefully be addressed in future releases. That said, since ‘HDDExpert’ is portable, it is still a valuable tool for experienced computer technicians while troubleshooting.

If you are still interested, then please visit this page to download it.

Latest Intel HD Graphics 3000 Driver Fixes ‘Hybrid Boot’ issue on ‘Vostro V131’ Notebook

While it lasted, I really enjoyed the ‘hybrid boot’ feature of Windows 8 because it significantly improved the boot-up times of Windows 8 on my Dell Vostro V131 notebook.

But as soon as I installed the GPU driver for the Intel HD 3000, ‘hybrid boot’ stopped working. It is however, worth mentioning that, at that time I had to install the driver that came for Windows 7 as there was no official Windows 8 driver for the GPU, thus I would not blame Windows 8 for the issue.

Anyhow, I tried removing the Windows 7 based driver as an attempt to fix the problem, but it failed. This is understandable as even when you remove a driver that you previously had installed manually, not everything gets removed completely (most of the time), thus the whole idea of trying to revert the changes, and get back the original driver that came with Windows 8, did not work.

Intel HD 3000 driver (ver '15.28.15.64.3062')

New power saving feature (‘refresh rate changer’) in the latest driver …

Then like 2 months after the Windows 8’s release, Dell released a new GPU driver that officially supported Windows 8. So out of my excitement, I immediately installed this driver, but it too failed to fix the problem.

You know, I do not usually install drivers from the original manufacture as they sometimes have proven to be troublesome and less efficient in terms of performance, as the third party vendors (‘Dell’, in this case) make changes/tweaks of their own to the hardware (overclocking etc).

However, after the frustrations of not being able to enable ‘hybrid boot’, I decided to see if Intel has a new GPU driver. And as it turned out, they in fact did have one that officially supported Windows 8 (although it is not exactly ‘new’ as it had been released a couple months ago).

So I installed this latest driver ‘15.28.15.64.3062’, rebooted the computer, re-enabled ‘hybrid boot’ and then shut it down, and guess what ? it worked! :). This new version of the driver also comes with a new power saving feature that lets you enable/disable lowering the refresh-rate as well.

Enabling 'hybrid boot' using 'cmd' on Windows 8

Ahh finally 😉 …

Now I do not know if it was just me who was having this ‘phenomenon’, but if you are having troubles with ‘hybrid boot’ and have a Dell Vostro V131 notebook (or an Intel HD 3000 for that matter), then why not try this driver ? (make sure to select Windows 8, 32-bit or 64-bit, from the ‘Select an Operating System’ option) Good luck.

‘TalkText’: Simple, Text to Speech Synthesizer Software for Windows 7 & 8

‘TalkText’ is a minimalist text to speech utility that makes use of the built in TTS voices that come with Windows 7 & 8. They may not ‘sound’ that great when compared with some premium text to speech engines out there, but for simple needs, they are still pretty decent.

Anyhow, with ‘TalkText’, you can open a text file directly into its window or can simply ‘copy’ a text content from any application (say in your Web-browser), and it will be read automatically by ‘TalxText’ because it monitors your clipboard continuously (disabled by default).

It supports Pausing/Resuming/Stopping the speech, clearing out the text, input text manually by tying, Copy/Paste/Undo/Delete operations, save the input into a text file, change fonts, and most importantly, it has the ability to convert the text into Wave Audio File Format (‘WAV’).

' TalkText' running on Windows 8

According to the developer, the latest version also supports saving into the MP3 format, although that option was disabled while I was testing it (it seems to be depending on ‘Lame’ -- open-source MP3 encoder, but I did not have it installed, perhaps that was the reason).

It also lets you tweak text to speech settings of the built-in Microsoft voices, docks into system tray when minimized, portable (as long as the PCs meet its needs -- running on a Windows 7 or 8) and according to its developer, it does not modify the Registry either.

Officially it only supports Windows 7, but it worked without issues under 8. If interested, then please download it from here.

‘WaveShop’ is a Free Audio Editor for Windows (Portable)

‘WaveShop’ is a free & open-source audio editor for the Windows operating system. It’s also a ‘bit-perfect’ audio editor & thus, the audio that is loaded into ‘WaveShop’ will be the same that’s rendered to the sound output device, without adding any filters, unless chosen otherwise.

You can ‘Copy/Cut/Paste/Delete’, ‘Undo/Redo’, ‘Select/Deselect’, ‘Zoom in/out’ etc with ‘WaveShop’. It also comes with a lot of audio filters/effects such as: ‘Amplify, Extract, Fade, Normalize, Re-sample, Channel insert, Swap Channels, Spectrum generation, Reverse audio’ & more.

It supports loading and saving into a lot of different formats, but saving into ‘MP3’ is not yet supported. Also remember that, ‘WaveShop’ is only an audio editor, not a recorder (like ‘Audacity’).

Update: Actually, recent versions of ‘WaveShop’ do support saving into MP3 format. For the instructions on how to activate it, please visit this page. Thanks ‘Petro’ (comments below) for the update :). ‘WaveShop’ 1.0.08 has also added supports for unlimited audio recording as well.

'WaveShop' 1.0.5.0 running on Windows 8

You can tweak some of its settings through the ‘Options’ window such as changing the audio buffer size, selecting the primary sound driver, setting an undo threshold (unlimited by default) and more.

'Options' window in 'WaveShop'

The latest version also comes with a brand new real-time spectrum analyzer. This is disabled by default, but you can easily enable it (& many other tools) by navigating to ‘View’ -> ‘More Bars’ -> ‘Spectrum Bar’ as well.

Please remember that ‘WaveShop’ is a new utility & more features (including audio format support) will be added in the future releases. Although on its home page it says the supported OS’s are Windows 7, Vista & XP, I ran it without any issues in Windows 8 64-bit version.

It has packages for both 64-bit and 32-bit versions of Windows, & a portable version is also available. If interested, then please download it from this page. Visit this page for getting more information.

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