In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog March 27th, 2010

Rural Ang Thong / Crucial C300 256gb SSD, Asus U3S6 SATA III/USB 3.0 Interface, A Review

Oman Hotel Guide
Ibis Glen Waverley Hotel
Al Jabal Hotel Salalah
Novotel Krakow Centrum Hotel
Princessa Holiday Resort


Thank you for your generous contributions. At the present time we have enough images to attempt our first mosaics but these are very time intensive and I'll need to plan a block of time to do these properly. I'm thinking the last few weeks in May or the first two weeks in June. Until then, any images you can manage to send in will still be used and will be much appreciated.

We are still accepting (and pleading for) images of children from SEA. No matter how terrible you think they are, please send them in anyway. These images will be used to complete a set of 3 high quality mosaics which will be sold to benefit the Karen and Burmese Orphans living in the orphanages and refugee camps. The more images the better, I can use all you have. Please take the time to go through your images for anything you think might help. If you missed the "No Place to Call Home" special, you can click on the link and read more about this. Thank you! [email protected]


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Feature Photograph Rural Ang Thong Crucial C300 256gb SSD and Asus U3S6 SATA III/USB 3.0 Controller, a Review Photography News of Interest

Readers Submissions Readers Questions A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review Infocus Blog, Expectations!


Feature Photograph *menu

Fuji Finepix F30

How many of you have images on your hard disks taking up space that you're convinced you'll never use because of poor quality or bad technical's? How many have you deleted in your camera fit this description? Perhaps we shouldn't be so hasty. Maybe those images we've deleted or have been ignoring have more value than we first thought. Our feature photograph is such an image.

I often loan out one of my point and shoot cameras to an aspiring photographer just so they can experience the fun of digital photography. Sometimes I even use them. Such was the case last week when I prepared my 6 year old Fuji Finepix F30 for use by charging it's battery and checking the memory card to see if it was empty and properly formatted. Looking at the memory card I found a handful of images I didn't recognize and intrigued I imported them into Lightroom for a closer look.

Above is what I saw. What do you see? Most would see an underexposed subject with overexposed windows and delete the image. I noticed the light coming in from the window and reflecting off the sheet music lightly illuminating the girls face. On the far wall I noticed a faint light. On the floor behind the piano more light in an otherwise dark room. Curious I brought the image up in Adobe's Photoshop and went to work.

In the space of 3-4 minutes I'd isolated certain areas and enhanced the brightness and color, and decreased the same in other areas. Finally I ran a heavy noise reducer through the low quality point and shoot image and was left with the feature photograph.

This is one of those images I keep looking at over an over again. The look on the girls face as she studies, the play of the sunlight throughout the room, and even the faint red of her notebook on the bench beside her. All come together to make a compelling portrait of a young girl studying music.

To the person who left this on my camera, thank you! To the rest of you, perhaps you should take a second look at some of the images you might have forgotten..

Rural Ang Thong *menu

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F11 1/12th 45mm ISO 100

Occasionally I like to head out for a day of sight seeing and photography and not spend the entire day driving. Ang Thong is about an hours drive from downtown Bangkok and offers the same rural landscapes and attractions as any farming area in the deep south or far north. Ang Thong might even offer more.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4 1/5000th ISO 200

Preparing rice fields for the springs planting is hard work under a very hot son. When I was making these captures I was thinking the wet mud must feel refreshing and that perhaps the wet mired fields produced some sort of cooling effect for the busy worker.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4 1/5000th ISO 200

From 200-300 meters distant I peered through my telephoto as if they were binoculars and the details were brought closer. The texture of the mud was revealed as were the workers watchful eyes wondering what interest a foreigner might find in their work.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4 1/8000th ISO 200

A small fortune in seed representing the value of the next harvest was carried in this truck and carefully distributed to each worker who in turn would distribute their valuable cargo evenly and carefully throughout the field.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4 1/2500th ISO 200

In nearby fields the birds were keeping watch and doing their best to steal what seeds they could salvage from the thick mud.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4 1/5000th ISO 200

The workers watched the birds knowing there was little they could do to deny them from their share.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/500th ISO 50

Even in the most rural of areas you'll find temples dotting the landscape. As I drove past this temple I couldn't help but notice the contrast in size and quality in comparison to the average farmers home.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F6.3 1/640th ISO 100

In the rural areas everyone has a job. Here, an elderly man takes a smoke break from his field burning never failing to keep an eye on the burning crop lines.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F5 1/800th ISO 100

Have you ever noticed that almost universally, everywhere farmers till the earth and grow food, the fields are lined with trees? Thailand is no exception. Not being a farmer I have no idea if the trees are planted to provide a windbreak, shade the fields, or perhaps just make a nice place for the workers to eat their lunch.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F6.3 1/1600th ISO 100

I'll always encourage split-toning for a high contrast black and white effect, especially when you feel you've seen enough bright green fields to last a lifetime. Careful toning lets you see a field such as this in layers, layers of light separating one section from the next creating an ever ending glimpse of one field into the next.

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F6.3 1/320th ISO 100

Passing through a tree line I stopped the car and snapped this capture as my guests looked at me like I was crazy. All they saw was yet another stand of trees. I saw the flowers and orange leaves and more importantly the sun backlighting the scene making the leaves almost translucent.

Did you notice I captured 9/10 of these "landscapes" with a 300mm fixed lens? Wide angles are certainly useful and one of my favorite tools, but don't hem yourself into thinking you always need a really wide lens to capture effective landscapes. Some of the most wonderful landscapes I've ever viewed were shot with a telephoto at 300mm or more!

I talked a bit about Ang Thong in my last column and I'll talk more about it in a future column. A certain student of mine is an excellent listener and a fast learner and he took some outstanding images I plan on sharing in this weeks blog. These images will be a real treat, look for them.

Crucial Technologies C300 256gb SSD, A Review *menu

An excerpt from my i7-920 Workstation Build Review of 21 November 2009:

""System drives hold ONLY your operating system and your programs. They don't need to be large, but they benefit greatly from being fast.

I'm currently using a Western Digital 300gb Raptor II SATA II drive. 3 years ago this was the fastest system drive available. Soon I'll replace it. With what? When the SSD market bottoms out, which will be very soon, and they offer at least a 256gb SSD (solid state drive) with 200mbps+ transfer speeds for under $300.. then I'll get one. I might get two and put one in my laptop.

Currently SSD's are not as reliable as I'd like them to be. The speed is certainly there, but they're still working out mystery phantom data losses and other issues with the controllers and firmware and for something as important as a system drive I'd want more refinement and even more reliability.

IF I had to replace my system drive today I'd be torn between three types of drives. Another Raptor exactly like what I have, an Intel x25 SSD (the 256gb model is currently about $500), and one of the new SATA II 6gps terabyte drives which are even faster than the Raptor. You WILL notice even a bit of speed increase in a system drive. If you're interested in performance this is where you should spend some money.""

Introduction

Looking back at my own words I predicted a few things, and should have predicted another. SSD's are indeed becoming mainstream, they have become a lot more reliable, they're a lot faster than even back in November, and they have dropped significantly in price. A fast system/program drive very much affects total system performance. However, I should have known the price floor I set would be flexible depending on just how much performance was offered.

Since this review over 100 new SSD's have come to market, several major reliability issues with controllers and data creep have been resolved, the speeds have gotten considerably faster, and the prices overall have dropped significantly. But these weren't the only factors changing my mind. A client showed up at a workshop with a SSD equipped laptop, an older slower SSD from last year, and it was FAST! There's nothing quite like seeing something like this with your own eyes.

Immediately I reviewed the SSD market, read every available review, and started making a list of my top choices. Instantly two things became clear:

1. I'd be getting a SSD

2. I'd be spending a lot more than I initially estimated

I don't feel bad about #2. Why? Because my price floor was set based on the reliability factors and performance benefits gained at that point in time. Performance and reliability have been significantly increased more than offsetting the steep price. At least for me.

Choosing My SSD

After a few weeks of reading reviews and investigating the market it became clear the best performing drive was theCrucial Technologies C300 . Crucial has been in business a long time and a leader in the memory market since day one.

I first started using Crucial products when I realized original equipment RAM that Dell was charging me an arm and leg for, was in fact being supplied by Crucial where I could get it for less than half of Dell's price. In the next decade and over 10 laptops with Crucial memory modules, not one has failed and Crucial has always given me excellent service. In short, it is one of the few technology companies I trust 100%. If you know me, you know this is saying a lot.

At the time of my research Crucial had just released the C300 drives in 128gb and 256gb capacities. Their published specifications showed them to be, by far, the fastest SATA SSD available. Online reviews and testing confirmed this. Crucial also provides an industry standard 3 year warranty.

Features

Let's talk about some of the features that make this drive the best choice.

SATA 6Gb/s Interface

This is one of the very few SATA III SSD's available. Probably because this is the ONLY SSD with speeds that exceed the capability of the SATA II interface. It will work with a SATA II interface, but it requires a SATA III interface to reach its full performance capability of 355MB/s read, and 215MB/s write. Please read below for a short review on a SATA III accessory board.

TRIM Support

Windows 7 fully supports TRIM support which is the industry standard wear leveling solution that helps a SSD retain it's fast speeds despite the natural slowdown that affects all SSD's with sustained read/write cycles. TRIM support helps you maintain your best speeds without a total drive reformat. TRIM support should be vital to your SSD selection so look for your SSD to be TRIM certified.

Low Power Draw

SSD use much less power than their mechanical hard drive counterparts and subsequently generate much less heat. The C300 draws 4.3w average under full load and only .092w at idle.

Size & Vibration Resistance

The Crucial C300 comes in the 2.5" format most commonly found in laptops. At 75g's it's very lightweight helping it achieve 1500g's of shock resistance and 2-500hz at 3.1g of vibration resistance. The MTBF is estimated to be in excess of 1.5 million hours which means you can leave it powered on for the next 10 years without worry.

Asus U3S6 SATA III & USB 3.0 Daughterboard

Most new motherboards and high-end laptops recently released include a SATA III interface. If you're like me and your current motherboard doesn't have SATA III, you can buy the ASUS U3S6 6Gb/s SATA III and USB 3.0 PCIe X4 daughterboard for about USD $30.

The two SATA II ports are on the back of the board and accessible from inside the case like they should be.

The two USB 3.0 ports are on the backplane and accessible from outside the case where you'll need them.

Installation was simple. Mount it in your first available PCIe x4 or greater slot, power up your computer and Vista or Win7 will automatically install the necessary drivers. Alternatively or with XP you can use the included driver disk.

That's it, it's installed and ready to go and on my system was automatically seen by my BIOS and nothing more was needed. $30 to upgrade an older motherboard to both SATA III and USB 3.0 is a bargain, especially from a reliable company like Asus.

Installing the Crucial C300 SSD

The C300 comes neatly packed in a very small box you could almost fit in the back pocket of your jeans. It includes an instruction/warranty manual and the drive. That's it.

The bottom of the drive has the model and serial numbers and all the information you'll need for warranty purposes.

Installation was a breeze, I mounted mine in a 3.5 inch to 2.5 inch adapter (150 baht at Panthip Plaza) and slid it into a 3.5 inch HDD slot. With SSD's you can just as easily stick a piece of double sided tape on the back and stick it wherever is easiest.

I connected a SATA cable between the Asus U3S6 SATA III port and the C300 SSD, and a power cable from my power supply to the C300 SSD. That's it.

Powering up the system my BIOS recognized the SSD as it would any HDD and all that was left was to go into the Drive Manager and initialize and format the SSD. Formatting was fun, I chose the long formatting method and it was done in less than two minutes. When that happens you just know you have a fast drive.

Cloning the System Drive

If you're like me you've spent a lot of time building your system drive and carefully installing and configuring your programs. With an imaging system this can take several days of your free time and these days way too many calls to software manufacturers to reactivate products you own. There must be a better way.

There is! I've always used Norton Ghost for my backup needs and the current version is Norton Ghost 15. Looking through the menu I noticed they have a new "drive copy" feature and the on-line manual recommends it for just this purpose. I gave it a try and when I was done I booted off the SSD and was greeted with a blank Windows screen telling me I was using a non-genuine copy of Windows which would require calling Microsoft to straighten out. No way!

I then made a fresh drive image using the regular backup manager, booted up on the Norton Restore disk, and restored my image to the new SSD. It took 15 minutes. After which I booted off the SSD and it went straight into Windows 7 without an activation and not a single program on this drive required activation. I would highly recommend this method of mirroring an image.

How does it work?

This is the easy part. It works great! With my Raptor HDD it took a good 4-5 minutes to fully boot and load my programs, and admittedly my system is top heavy. With my SSD it takes less than 15-20 seconds for exactly the same thing. Programs load immediately, and by immediately I mean as soon as you touch the return key.

Simple read/write testing reveals I'm reading at about 390mb/s and writing at about 280mb/s. Nothing else on the market comes close. My Windows performance index maxes out at 7.9. It was 5.9 with the Raptor.

A friend liked what he saw and ordered a C300 for his brand new Lenovo W510, a very upper end laptop. He had much the same experience with his installation but because he only has a SATA II in his laptop his Windows performance index was only 7.7.

Summary

Overall I'm really pleased with my performance gains. Really, it feels like I just got a new high powered computer more than it feels like a drive upgrade. Everything is now instant, everything works as it should, and I'm slowly finding new ways to use the extra real estate on the drive to enhance caches, scratch disks, and paging files.

After using a SSD for just two weeks I can say with absolute confidence that I'll never go back to a mechanical drive for my main workstation. In fact, I'm probably going to order two more of these for my laptops. Yes, they provide that much of a performance increase, actually more, to justify the cost. You'll just have to try it to believe the difference.

Final Notes:

  • When choosing your SSD don't take the manufacturers listed speeds as gospel. Instead, look for some solid reviews from sites you trust and make sure the listed speeds are backed up by testing.
  • A solid warranty is essential. 3 years is standard for quality SSD's. I would also take a close look at personal experiences with how a company handles warranty issues, or search the net for the experiences of others. Nothing would bite more than shelling out top dollar for the latest SSD only to have it break and then have to fight with customer service to get it replaced.
  • Note what comes in the box. My C300 came only with a small paper book, no 2.5 to 3.5 inch adapter, no cables, no screws, nothing. Know what you're buying because these small pieces can add to the cost and inconvenience subtracts from value as well.
  • IMPORTANT. If you're buying a SSD which benefits from the new 6g/bps SATA III interface, make sure your motherboard has a PCIx x4 slot available at a minimum, AND that your motherboard and chipset supports the latest PCIe 2.0 standard. 2.0 allows 500mbps data flow in both directions, 1.0 is half of that. Half.. means the PCIe bus can't even support the full 3g/bps SATA II speeds. If you plan on using USB 3.0 this becomes even more important as it becomes easy to saturate or max out the PCIe bus and you won't be getting the performance and subsequently the true value of the faster and more expensive 6g/bps SATA III SSD's.. or USB 3.0 devices.
  • Ironically, this means the older 1366 socket i7 CPU's and their x58 chipset motherboards are the only type out there that fully supports these new speeds and gives you their true performance and value. Look for a new PCIe 3.0 standard by this time next year that will further double the band to 1g/bps flow in both directions or further. With SATA III and USB 3.0 devices now on the market and fast becoming mainstream, your computing experience is about to change in a huge way.

I hope you've found this review helpful.

Photography News of Interest *menu

Canon recently released a landmark firmware version 2.0.3. upgrade that upgraded AND added to the capability of the Canon 5d Mark II. This upgrade serviced video capability and not much else. They ran into a hitch though when their upgrade was discovered to have a bug so they pulled it off their update site. A few days later version 2.0.4 was released to rectify the bug and now all is well. I've personally upgraded my own 5d Mark II's firmware and everything is working as it should.

The UK minister of Policing and Crime felt it was necessary to personally and publically reassure UK photographers that their new anti-terrorism laws were not aimed at them. Unfortunately I've posted many examples in this story where it was not only aimed at them, but resulted in arrests and equipment confiscations. Read about it here.

This isn't camera related but it is very cool. A real life affordable and perhaps even practicalpersonal jetpack! We've all wanted one of these forever and now they're available, for less money than say a Mini Cooper goes for here in the Kingdom. Now where do I attach my camera bag..

Did you know the USA has a National Broadband Plan? Sounds like yet another part of our lives the government would be better staying out of and leaving to private business to sort out. Now we can expect USA broadband capabilities to both cost more, and grow more slowly. Sigh..

Adobe Lightroom has taken the photography world by storm and is currently used by more photographers for raw processing and image management than anything else out there. Constantly evolving Adobe has announced it's latest beta version of the soon to be released version 3. Give it a try.

Readers' Submissions *menu

Hi Steve,

I have attached a few red shirts shots that you may want to use in your column as a reader's contribution. There's no need for commentary to go with this although if you want to copy some of what I wrote in my last column opener and include it feel free. None of these photos are spectacular from a photography point of view, but they are topical.

Stick

Stick –

Great images! I recognize there are many different views concerning the protests, but perhaps my take is a bit different. I'm an admirer of democracy and feel privileged to witness the process of democracy in it's obvious infancy. The red shirts, yellow shirts, and even the furry shirts are all part of this important process.

Thank you!

Steve

Steve

This is something different! Seen some of these many times over – especially the radials. At least two years ago.

Regards

Bart

Bart –

These are even more fun than usual. We've all seen these on TV, but you've seen them in person and shared with us and it's appreciated. Some true works of art in there.. and some true works of.. well.. some works.. ;o)

Steve

I suspect the readers submissions will be a highly anticipated section of this column and I encourage anyone with photographs and travel accounts they'd like to share to please send them to me at: [email protected]

Readers Questions *menu

There were no general questions in the last few weeks and the Readers Questions queue has run dry. If you have any questions about anything photographic, or related to the computer side of photography, please send in your questions and I'll be happy to answer them.

Please submit your questions to [email protected] All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.

A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review *menu

Lately the weeks have run together. I've been very busy, done lots of workshops, several general photography gigs, and worked with the computer side of my business quite a lot. We've added new equipment, upgraded our internet lines, added new networking equipment, a new SSD, and lots more.

We're still expecting in two new wide-gamut imaging monitors, two more SSD's, and a few other things. I'll be giving the new Lightroom 3 beta 2 a whirl as well.

I'm going to investigate installing 360 video coverage into a 15 minute loop on my car. With the way people drive in this town and all the near misses with motorbikes, I think having video proof for an accident might prove invaluable if not life saving. I'll talk more about this as I learn more.

Infocus Blog, Expectations *menu

Photography is full of expectations. I'm going to talk a bit about the expectations and unusual outcome of one unique client.

A client surfing the net decided he wanted to learn photography and learn it well enough to possibly take on some side jobs shooting weddings or portraits. He was a rank beginner. Usually I'm skeptical of such expectations because so few (goals) of this type actually become true. But from the beginning this client was doing everything I recommended so I paid attention.

Credited to Rod C. Canon 5d Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4-5.6 @F5 1/1000th 15mm ISO 200

(better captured at F11 and ISO 100 for maximum image quality)

First, he came up with a list of equipment he thought he wanted and asked my advice. I pointed out the pros and cons of his choices and made some recommendations for improvement. He listened 100%. When he showed up for our scheduled workshops he had great gear and bought locally a few pieces he couldn't obtain at home. Instantly he had quality gear with enough coverage to take on most tasks, no overlap, a selection that was mature and well considered. This rarely happens with someone's first camera purchases.

Second, he told me his photography goals and how much time he could afford to dedicate to workshops. We talked, narrowed things down a bit, and again I made some recommendations. Again, he listened and did exactly as recommended. Can you see how strange this is getting?

Credited to Rod C. Canon 5d Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4-5.6 @F11 1/25th 24mm ISO 200

Third, during our four days of workshops he listened well. He didn't push himself too hard, didn't make unrealistic goals, and he even took a break splitting up the days so he could practice what he'd learned and then come back for another day and ask questions and learn more based on his new experiences. I'll admit, most clients listen and do quite well, but I can count on one hand clients who listened to the exactness he did. I'd explain a technique, and often without even demonstrating to him he would show he understood. This mans skills went beyond mere intelligence, he was a practiced 'listener'.

Finally we get to the point where images begin to speak for his skills. One of my practices is in the days following a workshop I find the time to slowly go through a students images and make notes on anything that stands out. Strong areas, a technique that could be improved, a good eye, whatever it might be. During the break in our days together I went over 3 days worth of his images and was pleasantly surprised.

Credited to Rod C. Canon 5d Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4-5.6 @F16 1/100th 24mm ISO 200

(better captured at F11 and ISO 100 for maximum image quality)

His raw files showed much promise and they showed he had listened to exactly what I was trying to show him. I couldn't help myself and I selected a short handful of his images and processed them myself, these are the images I'm sharing here in this blog.

When he returned for his last workshop day I showed him these images and asked if I could share them (and some others you'll see in a future column) with the readers. I explained to him why these were really strong images and why I liked them and how they could be better. We talked about the processing steps and he understood. He agreed that I could share his images and for that I'm grateful because I hope they encourage you to see what a complete beginner can achieve with a few days of instruction and a great attitude. These are also locations and subjects the average tourist isn't going to see or photograph.

Credited to Rod C. Canon 5d Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4-5.6 @F20 1/25th 24mm ISO 100

(better captured at F16 and 15-16mm for best FOV *field of view))

I love the above picture and I wish I'd made the capture myself. It's near perfect. I say near because he was using a 12-24mm ultra-wide zoom and he took this at 24mm. Moving a few steps closer to the machine to the left and zooming out to about 15-16mm would have made this much more dramatic. Yet, it's fantastic as is.

I believe this client, with practice, will be able to successfully pick up the side jobs he desires. He'll also be able to photograph his personal favorite subjects to a very high standard. Without a doubt he met his goals. In the process of meeting his goals he saved perhaps thousands of dollars by only having to buy his equipment once. He learned more in four days of workshops than most learn in years on their own. And if he listens to his customers as carefully as he listened to me there is no doubt in my mind he'll be successful.

I do have on lingering doubt. It's way too easy to pick up skills while on vacation while taking classes, and then lose those skills because when you go back home you don't use them. When skills such as these are new they need reinforcement to stick, they need to be practiced over and over again and improved on in that process.

So, do I think he'll be a success? I think he has an excellent chance. I'll know for sure when I start getting images from him from back home showing that he's practicing what he learned and improving on it. Its my sincere hope to open my email box one morning and find more images just like these waiting for me. Its why I love what I do.. Thank you for the experience Rod.

Until next time..