Category Archives: Computing

Hardware, software, computer science and the rest

Finally Faster Internet

Two years ago I complained that British Telecom haven’t upgraded the exchange that our house is connected to for over five years. Unsurprisingly BT  still haven’t upgraded the exchange during the last two years. Recently however TalkTalk another major British telecommunication provider connected the local exchange to their broadband network. This didn’t immediately help us because we wouldn’t want to use their residential service as TalkTalk offer neither static IPv4 addresses nor IPv6.

But fortunately AAISP have recently started to sell their Internet service over TalkTalk ADSL connections. As a first step AAISP moved all their customers that were like us still stuck with BT 20CN (British Telecom’s old ATM based broadband network) ADSL1 connections to TalkTalk ADSL2+ connections for free. The migration of our broadband connection went off without a hitch. After a downtime of about 15 minutes my Internet connection was almost twice as fast as before.

Unfortunately however it turned out that our Cisco router doesn’t support ADSL2+ very well. It was able to establish a connection to the exchange fine but dropped it about once every half hour followed by a downtime of several minutes. In the end I had no choice and bought an external ADSL modem. Considering that I can use neither the Cisco’s WiFi  (no IPv6 support, only 802.11g) nor its ADSL interface I’m seriously considering to replace the router. A NetBSD machine could move packets between ethernet interface just fine, would have a more flexible and powerful firewall and wouldn’t require a support contract to download software updates. The Cisco 870 product line is also end of life which makes me wonder how much longer my old router will be supported.

Last Wednesday our Internet connection was updated again on my request. It is now operating in Annex M mode which more than doubled our upload bandwidth. But there were again technical problems at the beginning. Our new modem wouldn’t establish a connection to the exchange before we reconfigured it from Multimode (automatic detection) to ADSL2+ annex M.

Altogether I’m very happy with the update: a lot more bandwidth for the same amount of money. 🙂

Upgrading the hard disk in a PS3

After our old laptop died half a year ago I had an almost new 160GB Solid-State Drive going spare. And as my PlayStation 3’s 80GB hard disk was slowly filling up and more speed can never hurt I decided to swap its hard disk for the SSD. The whole process wasn’t difficult. Information on the necessary steps is available on the Internet but scattered. I’m writing a step by step guide in the hope that somebody else might find it useful.

  1. Required Hardware
    To upgrade the hard disk of a PS3 you need of course a new drive. Any 2.5″ SATA drive should work in theory. I’ve used an Intel Solid-State Drive from the 320 Series. You also need an external USB 2.0 hard disk to backup the data stored on your PS3. I strongly suspect that drives larger than 2TB won’t work but haven’t tested that. The drive needs to have a standard PC partition table with an MBR and a FAT32 file system with enough free space to hold a full backup of the PS3 plus 300MB for the firmware image.
    To perform the actual upgrade you will also need a Phillips screwdriver, a DualShock 3 controller and the USB cable to connect the controller to the console.
  2. Backing up your Trophies
    Even a full backup of a PS3 will not contain the Trophies that you earned by playing games. The only way to keep them is to link all accounts with trophies to a PlayStation Network account and synchronise the trophies before the hard disk upgrade.
  3. Backing up your data
    To create a backup you only need to connect the external hard disk and then select Settings / System Settings / Backup Utility / Back Up. The PS3 should list the external hard disk as a possible target. Simply select it and wait. It might take over an hour to create the back up depending on the amount of data currently stored on your PS3.
  4. Preparing a firmware image
    To complete the upgrade you will need a disk with the firmware for the PS3. You can download the firmware image from here. You will get a file called PS3UPDAT.PUP. The easiest way to install it is to copy it to the back up hard disk that you used in the previous step. The hard disk should already contain a folder PS3. Simply create a sub folder UPDATE in this folder and copy the firmware image into it. It is very important that the directory names and filenames are spelled in uppercase.
  5. Changing the hard disk
    Now you are ready to change to the hard disk. A very good description of this step can be found here.
  6. Installing the firmware
    When you first power on the PS3 with the new hard disk it will complain that it cannot read its hard disk. You now need to connect the DualShock 3 controller and the backup hard disk via USB cables. Afterwards follow the onscreen instructions for installing the firmware image (and not those for rebooting the console).
  7. Restoring the backup
    After formatting the hard disk and installing the firmware your PS3 will be back to factory defaults. It will ask you for network settings, a username and similar information. Don’t spend any time on providing that data because it will be overwritten anyway. Once you can log in simply go to Settings / System Settings / Backup Utility / Restore, select the USB hard disk as the source, pick the latest backup (if there are more than one) and let the PS3 restore the data. This might again take over on an hour.
  8. Restoring your trophies
    Your PS3 should now be fully configured again and know all the previously existing accounts. To get their trophies back simply synchronise their trophy collections with the PlayStation Network. This will restore all the trophy back to your PS3.
  9. Activate Games and Videos
    If you have bought games or videos online from the PSN Store you need to activate them via PlayStation Network / Account Management / System Activation / PS3 System now.

After you have gone through all of the above steps your PS3 should work as before, or possibly even faster if you replace the hard disk with an SSD. Mass Effect now starts in 47 instead of 59 seconds on my PS3. But you will of course only get performance improvements for games that are actually installed on the hard disk.

RAIDframe to the Rescue

One of the hard disks in my NetBSD server developed problems … again. This time it was one of the Western Digital VelociRaptors which I use for performance reasons.

The good news is that I didn’t notice for almost two weeks because NetBSD RAIDframe handled the situation smoothly. It kicked the broken disk out of the RAID array, reported the problem in the nightly e-mails (which I somehow missed) and kept the machine up and running. Well done RAIDframe, have a cookie!