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Huawei B535

So here we are, all working from home. Before the lockdown I used to work one or two days a week from home, but having now gone to the point where I'm barely stepping out of the door (apart from taking my daily government sanctioned hour of exercise), I thought that perhaps my 4G router could do with being a little more "robust".

I have to say that the MiFi I've had for the last year has performed really well. I stream Netflix, Amazon Prime, do the odd bit of online gaming and RDP to servers over my work's VPN, but having an improved router would definitely give me more flexibility and reliability. I've not been able to use my Pi-based cloud storage since moving house and using anything over ethernet has been out of the question. It's time the MiFi became a backup device.

Enter the Huawei B535. It's quite a nifty little 4G router, which looks more like the usual sort of thing you hook up to a phone line.

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No phone-line required: Bear shown for size-comparison purposes.

When it comes to getting things set up, it's as easy as the MiFi was. You just pop your SIM card in and switch on. The SSID name and password is on the back of the router (which I've obviously blurred out here). On your first connection, you're prompted for a few things to finalise the setup, but you can make things as complicated or as simple as you like. My network is hidden, is not the default, I've setup dynamic DNS and am routing HTTPS traffic to my Pi so my cloud storage is back in action. Virtually anything you can do with a normal router, you can do with this one. The only extra lights you'll see on the front of this router versus a "normal" one is the network signal strength indicator. It's a pretty solid device.

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Of course, that's not all. It's got four ethernet ports at the back and connectors for antennae should you want to boost the reliability and speed of your connection. Antennae can be either internal for a little boost, or you can get larger antennae that you can fix to the side of your house if you want a big boost.

For the moment, however, I'm happy. Apart from being able to use 3G and 4G, the router will also lock on to a 4G+ signal if it can get one - and this means I've been able to get some quite good speeds at times, as you'll see below.


Speeds vary depending on the weather, who else is using the mast, time of day and a butterfly flapping its wings in China, but my download speeds very between ADSL and Fibre broadband on a fixed line. My upload speeds always seem to surpass that. The ping is the only area that I'd say could do with some improvement, staying very similar to how it was before, but I've not noticed any issues whatsoever on the odd game or two of Fortnite, so perhaps that's less of a problem these days. The connection has hopped between regular 4G and 4G+, only once or twice dropping down to 3G, but even then I've still managed 6MB as a download speed. I really can't complain.

The most pleasing aspect of this, however, is that I now have unlimited data usage (well, it's 1000GB, but even I couldn't max that out) and it's just £17 a month. Most fixed-line broadband is more expensive than this. A quick look on uSwitch right now shows PlusNet as the ones coming closest on price at £17.99, but given how they've gone downhill in recent years, no thanks.

As I'm writing this I'm streaming music and downloading a game in the background - and nothing is stuttering. The router can handle up to 64 devices at once. Should I ever move house again, I'll just pick up the router and shift it without having to think about changing telephone lines. At worst, I might have to consider using an external antenna, but that's not the end of the world.

Should 5G ever come to my area then I can really see this becoming more mainstream as it becomes faster than a fibre connection. In the meantime, though, all I can say is that I'm extremely happy with the upgrade and would definitely recommend it. With the lockdown looking like it's going to carry on for at least another month or so, a good internet connection helps you connect with people, even if you can't go out and meet them. A worthwhile investment.
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The End

As you've probably gathered by now I have a lot of technology. Of all the stuff I've got, one device has been a godsend over the years, my MiFi. It's a wonderful little widget that's about the size of a bar of soap* and works as a mobile router, allowing me to hook up my iPad, laptop or whatever in the middle of nowhere. I've had it for approximately seven years now, with the only maintenance required being a new battery after about four years. It's been great, has got me out of a hole on a regular basis and has even allowed me to happily stream Netflix. Even now, when I show it to people, they still go "oooooh", like it's witchcraft. Some pieces of technology are wonderful, and this is one of them.

After seven years, I thought I'd have a look to see what deals were out there, whether a 4G version was available and whether I could get more bandwidth for my money.

Yes, it was. And yes, I can.

So, here we are. This is my third MiFi and it's a simple-beast:

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Like most mobile routers, setup is fairly simple. If you've got a smartphone, you can just take a photo of the QR code on the inside of the back cover, which will automatically setup and join the network once switched on. As before you can get to the web interface fairly simply and change the SSID and default password if you want. Huawei also have iOS and Android apps that allow you to administer the device once you've joined the network. It really is pretty simple. You then have a mobile 4G router.

The speed is most certainly good, as this Speedtest illustrates:

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This is pretty much the same as most people's ADSL connections. Sure, the ping isn't the best for gaming, but apart from that it's perfectly acceptable.

This brings to mind a question - has the need for a separate fixed-line and ISP now disappeared? Well, for me it has. The bandwidth allowance is generous enough that I don't have to worry about limits and because the tariff I'm on allows the streaming of Apple Music, Deezer and Netflix without deducting from my monthly bandwidth allowance, it's a no-brainer. My only minor niggle is that I'd like to see dynamic DNS support, but given that the device is pretty small, perhaps that's asking a bit much - and I guess that if you're a family that spends its time bingeing on YouTube, then this probably isn't the device for you, but it's worked pretty damn well for me.

This costs me just £8 a month for 20GB, with the above exceptions not cutting in to my allowance. I've streamed, I've worked from home through a VPN and done loads of general browsing and have to say it's pretty great. I think this could be The End for something, the end for BT and Internet Service Providers. Perhaps the future has finally arrived.

Now, where's my flying car?

* Quite obviously, soap is the benchmark by which all technology should be gauged. More of a Cusson's Imperial Leather than a Lush affair, though.
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Old Tech, New Problem

As you've probably gathered by now, I like my old tech. My Atari ST is a testament to how well-built some vintage kit was. It's nearly thirty years old and has (so far) only needed a replacement floppy drive to keep it working. I still play games on mine on a fairly regular basis, although there's a connectivity issue here. How can you still use it when bulky CRT screens have gone the way of the dinosaurs?

Unless you have a massive desk to support it, you've probably ended up using a flat-screen monitor instead - which presents its own problems:

  • Your retro-device probably connected to a TV using an aerial socket. Remember those? Yes, that would be an analogue signal that most TVs now don't support since the big switch-off many years ago.
  • Your retro-device probably displayed at a very low resolution (in the Atari's case, 320x200), which is too low for any modern screen to display.
  • Your retro-device probably displayed the picture on the screen at a very low frequency, again far too low for most modern screens to lock on to.

So how do you get the damn thing to display on a modern screen?

The answer lies (certainly in the Atari's case) with the monitor connector, which can work as a SCART interface. If you can find a suitable device (called a scan-doubler or video-converter) that will convert the SCART's RGB signal into something that you can hook up via HDMI or VGA, then you're in luck. The problem is that most good solutions are expensive. The best solution, the FrameMeister, originates from Japan - and one of those will set you back about £300. Erk.

Up to this point I'd been using a cheaper solution, but the quality was (as those in the know say) a bit potato. Text wasn't clear, the image had ghosting, things were fuzzy and the colour was a bit washed out. It wasn't the best, but as I wasn't prepared to sell a kidney to relive my glory days I put up with it.

And then, about a fortnight ago, I saw an interesting YouTube video (below).

A chap took apart and tested an alternative device. He gave it a quick demonstration, showing it running from the ST's output. The picture looked pretty good. He also didn't appear to have been sponsored by any external party, so on the face of it he didn't appear to be saying it was a good device because he'd been paid to.

It was for sale on Amazon at a fraction of the price of a FrameMeister, at just over £20 - so I gave it a go.

A few days later it arrived. The simple-looking black metal box was pretty well built. It takes either a SCART or HDMI connection as an input and outputs as HDMI, with a separate headphone socket if you need an audio output. As with all these types of boxes, there's the usual power supply adaptor.

When it comes to the output, you can pick a variety of resolutions to display at, ranging from 800x600 up to a full 1080p. You can switch between PAL and NTSC if required.

And you know what? The picture quality is pretty damn good. I've put some shots of it hooked up to a DELL monitor below, so that you can get an idea of how well it runs. Apologies for the slightly grubby screen!

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Above: ST Medium resolution (640x400). It looks pretty good, the text is well-defined and the colours aren't washed out. It's really quite usable.

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Above: ST Low-resolution (320x200), also looking pretty good.

Of course, these are only static images. I can also confirm that when it comes to playing games using the box, I've not noticed any lag issues, interference, or washed out colour. I've even run some demos from back in the day and it even displays the rasters without a problem!

I have to say that I'm pretty happy with this box as it's really made a difference. Not all of us can afford expensive solutions like the FrameMeister and it goes to show how things have improved in such devices over the last decade. It's a compact, well-made unit that will hopefully keep my Atari going for a good more years yet!

The original YouTube video that I saw is below:


I'm in no way associated with the company that makes these (I'm not even sure it has a brand-name!), but thought I'd share some info on a device that does a really good job. I can't verify this, but I'd imagine it also would work really nicely with the Amiga and any other games console that supports a SCART output.

Want to get one for yourself? Here's the Amazon link.
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RavensPi Update

Remember RavensPi, the Raspberry Pi-based car-audio-thing I did a while back? Of course you do. Well, now it's been updated! (The new version is on the right)

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When the Pi Zero was released, it presented an ideal opportunity to transfer the project to a smaller unit - with the only caveat being that the Pi Zero doesn't have a headphone socket. To get around this, I've used Pimoroni's pHAT-DAC to provide the audio. It's a dedicated audio-processing unit that delivers higher-quality, punchier audio in comparison to the original Raspberry Pi. If like me you're absolutely useless at soldering, you can also use their GPIO Hammer-Header to connect the boards together.

You can download the updated image that's been configured for the Pi Zero and the pHAT-DAC here (319MB download). Once downloaded, you'll need to write it to a Micro-SD card, just like before. Many tools exist, but if you use a Mac I can totally recommend ApplePi-Baker if you don't want to get your hands dirty on the command-line. Once on an SD card, just expand the image to fill the card, fill with music and add the tracks to the default playlist in MoC. Enjoy!
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Where Did The Time Go?

Oh hell, it's August. Doesn't the time pass quickly? Read More...
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Not Dead Yet

Yes, I am still alive. Yes, it has been a busy few months and yes, I shan't leave it so long next time. Here's a quick summary of what I've been up to…. Read More...
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Third Time's A Charm

In the last few years, I've learnt something - wearable technology has a long way to go.

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Garmin Vivosmart HR

After my Garmin Vivosmart bit the dust, here's my thoughts on its replacement.

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Move!

My review of the Garmin Vivosmart after nearly two months of usage…. Read More...
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Bride Of Frankenputer

Resurrecting some old technology leads me to think about the future.... Read More...
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iPad Mini 2 (Retina)

At the time of purchasing my iPad Mini, stock was limited and purchase was by reservation only. Would I advise you to get in the queue? Read More...
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Kindle, Schmindle

Other book-reading devices are available…. Read More...
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Freetards

You can get always get something for nothing - but should you? Read More...
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Cold Turkey

Cold turkey can be:

- In your sandwich.
- A term used when weaning yourself off something that’s probably bad.

Here, I discuss both…. Read More...
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Fudge

I was talking to a friend not long ago, who made me realise that I’ve been using the internet in various guises for nearly 21 years. It’s strange now, to think that there are people born who have been in existence for less time on this planet than the internet - which started to make me think about my college days, as that’s where it all began for me. My friends and I were a pioneering bunch. We had no setup CDs, no tech-support lines and no forums to visit. We fudged - and when I think back to it, we fudged well. So here’s a story about lots of fudging. If you’re not interested in acronyms, technology and my geeky history, changes are that this isn’t for you. Read More...
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Paradigm-shifts and revolutions.

In this article I try to write about a computing device in a complementary manner, whilst trying to avoid as many cliches as possible. Let the twisty-turny word-slalom thing begin. Read More...
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Wiggle It

After being a Playstation person for years, Mr D defects to a Wii. Was it worth it? Read More...
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Garmin eTrex GPS

Like being told where to go? This is for you... Read More...
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Cheeky

Buying stuff online can be a bit of a lottery... Read More...
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Disappointing...

Having become rather fed up with Vodafone, I decided I was going to go back to Orange, a mobile phone company I was with quite a long time ago and in all honesty, didn't have major problems with. Additionally, the cinema near me does 2 for 1 on tickets if you're an Orange customer, so it was a money saver in two ways. Last Wednesday, I picked a phone, which promptly turned up on Friday and got going. It was one of these - a Nokia N80. (*clicky*)

Battery life of about 24 minutes.
The thing had the kitchen sink in it (3mp camera, wireless networking, marvellous screen, etc..), which to a gadget freak like me is a good thing. I've got used to owning a 3g phone (a V800) and this seemed to be the thing that offered the most. I was hoping that in a year, things would have moved on and improved. It would appear not, however. Unfortunately, Nokia forgot one important thing....

... the battery....

I've never seen such bad battery life, apart from an NEC 616 that I had for about 36hrs. It was shocking. I took it off charge at exactly midday yesterday. With just about 20 mins or so of calls, it should not be doing too badly, but by the end of today, the battery was going to be flat. Absolute crap. I called Orange up and got the plug pulled. I'm sending it back. Thank god for 14 day trial periods. I shall be trying a 6280 instead, which has a larger battery and apparently offers better standby times as a consequence. We shall see how that one fares.

Mobile phone creators need to remember - there's no point in putting all this stuff in a phone if you've got to run to a charging point every 24hrs - it's pointless. And what do high-users do, carry a car battery with them?
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