Beware cut-price Korean monitors!

There have been a flood of big, cheap monitors (2560×1440 and up) becoming available on TigerDirect and other similar sites recently. But I’m here to tell you that these should come with warning labels, and explain why.

I’ve had some dolorous experiences with the no-name pair of big flatscreens I bought back in 2013 – the things called Aurias that I described in The Agony, the Ectasy, the Dual Monitors. Very recently I finally got both to finally work with enough stability that I’m sure I’ll be keeping them for a while.

But the troubleshooting process was arduous. Along the way I learned some important things, mainly because two friends who are unusually capable hardware troubleshooters actually took the suckers apart in my presence and explained things about the internals and the surrounding market.

Here are some of the things I learned…

The huge bargain monitors are usually factory seconds from Samsung or other name-brand vendors being resold by chop shops, pushed out the door with cheapest possible auxiliary parts surrounding the display.

One reason this gray market exists is because of the excruciatingly high standards for “medical glass” – very large, very high-performance monitors used for radiography and CAT scans and the like. These markets will not tolerate even a single stuck pixel or color even slightly off. Factory seconds of these are quite good enough for ordinary mortals but can’t be sold under the manufacturer’s brand (for fear of dilution, I gather).

What you get, then, is what I saw in my Aurias – spectacularly good displays surrounded by shoddy driver electronics. Power supplies are a particular bad spot: suspect this if your monitor develops a fast flicker but the display is undistorted. This happened to me twice. Both power supplies had to be replaced.

Remember the bogus industrial-espionage electrolytic fluid from the Great Capacitor Plague of a decade ago, the stuff that made electrolytic capacitor cans literally blow their tops? Well, there are barrels of that shit still out there and if you buy a huge cheap Korean monitor, just guess what might be in the trim capacitors in your power supply!

These things get stored (or possibly shipped) in environments so humid that the condensation can do serious water damage to the PCBs. One of mine eventually went tits-up, after the power-supply replacement, because conductive crud was shorting some leads on the mini-PCB backing the control buttons. Cleaning the crud off with a toothbrush solved the problem.

I got lucky twice. First, one of my hardware troubleshooters (Wendell Wilson, the TekSyndicate guy who built the Great Beast) was experienced enough to diagnose the power-supply issue and had the right connections in Korea to order replacements for me. Second, a local friend (Phil Salkie) physically disassembled the one with water damage, recognized that problem, and knew how to deal. (I’m now wondering if that whitish crud was condensed sea salt. it was conductive enough…)

Most of you won’t have those resources. Buy with care, and be sure about your vendor’s return policy before you do.

57 thoughts on “Beware cut-price Korean monitors!

  1. Your warning, being from a consumer to other consumers, is well taken, but Warning Labels are Big Goverment: the market must be free to make mistakes, even if repeatedly. ;)

  2. My late Grandmother used to say, in a strong Trinidadian accent, “good ting no cheap, an’ cheap ting no good”.

    Many a time I’ve rued ignoring her advice.

  3. I find it really odd that people who spend SO much money and hyperfocus on every little detail of their CPUs, Hard drives, memory and video card (and video card memory and cpus) and who spend all day looking at a screen and typing into little boxes of various configuration pick THOSE TWO spots to cheap out on.

    Most of the time your computer is near idle. I’ve got a quad core machine that is running a Windows 98 VM (Civ II doncha know), 2 webbrowers (one in the middle of a download), evernote and a few other trivial things, and it’s 5 minute top average is under 2. Not even working hard.

    But of course, it’s a 27″ iMac from 2009, so the screen is *marvelous*.

    And yeah, I could probably do better than this Dell keyboard, but I don’t have RSI issues in my hands and wrists (I do have a Logitech TrackMan from the late 90s or early 2000s. T-BB13. I need to buy a few more for when this one finally dies).

    Seriously, there’s things to cheap charlie in your life, you monitor and keyboard are NOT it.

  4. Oh, I meant to mention that I had to sit in a temporary spot for work today. Someone had left a 30″ Mac Cinema Display there.

    OMFG. I’m in love. SO WANT!

  5. I don’t need such a warning. The first time I got burned by such a monitor, it was an AcerView 76C remarked “Optimax” in 1996 July. It failed twice in the first year, the first time I was successful (miraculously, I see in retrospect) at getting it fixed under warranty. The second time, still within the one-year warranty period, the place where I bought the computer slammed the phone on me and chased me out of the store when I brought it in. Their spot in the mall went vacant about six months after that (about sixteen months after I bought the system, which also had a bad sound card.) I replaced it with an AcerView 34T which was still functioning in 2011 May when it was stolen. (Yup, someone actually stole a fourteen year old computer monitor from me – I kept it so I could recover my busted laptop, which was also stolen along with said monitor.)

  6. I’ve been tempted a number of times by those Korean monitors. I’ve never pulled the trigger however. Now it seems that it was wise to not buy them. 4k computer monitors seem to be dropping into the reasonable range as well for the major name brands.

    Though, I wonder if some better company could take those factory seconds and make a GOOD monitor out of them for a reasonable price.

    Right now all of my monitors at home and the office are either Asus, Samsung, Dell, or HP. The largest is a 2560×1440 HP 27 inch, the rest being 24″ 1080p or similar. (The Samsung monitors though are weird, 2048×1152.) I do have a few AOC, Balance, and BestBuy store brand monitors that are scattered around the house for other purposes.

  7. Also, as for cheaping out on keyboards, I have a G710+ mechanical keyboard at home with a Anywhere MX mouse which has a fantastic scroll wheel and great resolution, and a Lenovo trackpoint equipped keyboard at work. The trackpoint is much more convenient for getting things done as I don’t need to take my hands off the keyboard for mousing, but the mouse is better for playing games at home. I used to cheap out on keyboards and mice, but I’ve learned better since. (I always try to get decent monitors though, Used Trinitron monitors for ages.)

  8. Slightly off topic:
    @William O. B’Livion
    Haven’t you heard? FreeCiv is where it’s at now. OK, sure it still doesn’t have a decent scenarios ecosystem (or ability to even do scenarios half as complex as the Civ2 ones), and it has various other failings. But it does do a lot of things better than Civ2 does… And you don’t have to keep that VM running (I got used to FreeCiv because I was sick of the VM).

    Cheers.

    On topic?
    The keyboard is one reason I will not buy a Mac laptop. Everything else about them (esp. the battery life) seems great. But the keyboard layout? No thanks.

  9. I’ve long argued that the monitor is the one computer component you sit staring at for hours on end, so you should get one you can stand to stare at. I’ve got two 23-inch AOCs at the moment, which I purchased only after looking closely at one my roommate had bought and used and liked. Before that, it was a 20-inch Cinema Display I bought with my first Power Mac, and before that a Sony Multiscan that I had for ages.

  10. >I’ve long argued that the monitor is the one computer component you sit staring at for hours on end, so you should get one you can stand to stare at.

    Agreed. The one thing that was not wrong with the Aurias was the display. It’s beautiful.

  11. Interestingly, my MTECH came with an external power supply. (Originally a 220V one, which caused some interesting behavior at first, but now a 120V.)

  12. Sometimes, it’s an even lower-tech issue that bites you in the ass. Like the monitor stands.

    I have two Acer 20″ monitors attached to my main desktop. Not long after I set them up, somehow, the snapped-together stand on one of them separated; the base came loose from the upright. WHAM! The monitor slammed face-down on my desk, shattering the screen.

    I bought a replacement and superglued both stands together. I’ve had no trouble ever since.

  13. I very much doubt the Aurias are Samsung “factory seconds”. The market the Samsung displays are aimed at is unlikely to tolerate the “superb screen, but cheap everything else” build quality you talk about. More important than the screen display being perfect with no dead pixels, it must *work* reliably. Your experience trying to get them to work would cross them off the vendor list if such problems manifested.

    It’s quite likely the screens themselves come from the same place. The rest will be another matter.

    I’ve been following the gyrations in the big screen TV market. Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp in Japan invested enormous amounts in the production facilities to make ginormous TVs, and made out for a while when big screen TVs were the new must have product. That market is now largely saturated on the high end, and the low end is being eaten by Korean vendors. Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp are losing enormous amounts of money in consequence, and there’s some question about whether Sharp will survive. Samsung is one of the outfits eating the low end.

    Like other consumer electronics, the Next Big Thing rapidly becomes a commodity with purchase decision based on price, and Lowest Cost Producer Wins. The Japanese outfits *can’t* be the lowest cost producers, and really should have recognized the life cycle and planned to exit the big screen TV market a while back. “Boom and bust” is the usual story in consumer electronics. Sony has certainly been there before, which makes their inability to see the writing on the wall inexplicable.

    So when you compete in that market, you must produce and sell enormous volumes. You make pennies on the dollar, and must take in as many dollars as possible to make pennies on. I don’t know offhand whether the factory that makes the Auria screens is a Samsung facility, or whether they are a vendor Samsung buys from, but if they *are* Samsung, you can assume that Samsung branded products aren’t the only place they’ll appear. It’s in Samsung’s interest to keep the plant turning out displays 24/7, and will happily sell product in excess of their internal needs to folks like Auria. They aren’t competing in the same markets.

    Auria brought the price on monitors like that below $400, and got interest in consequence. The cheap everything else you note is how they did it. (My local MicroCenter has your model on sale for under $190.)

    What I use currently is a 23″ AOC, at 1920×1080 resolution. It was an emergency replacement for a failed Visio monitor, and got the nod because it was big enough, at an acceptable price ($150, then), and I could get it and bring it home that day.

    The scarce resource here is screen real estate. I do the odd DTP project, so my “Is it big enough?” test is “Can I display two 8.5×11 pages side by side on screen in actual size in the DTP program?” The AOC display is almost big enough. Dual monitor support is not a concern, because I don’t have space where the computer is to *fit* a second monitor.

    I’d *like* higher resolution, and the 2560×1440 resolution of the Auria is tempting, especially at current prices. But I want it to *work*, first time, every time, so I think I’ll pass.

    Stuff like this is a textbook example of “You get what you pay for.”
    ______
    Dennis

  14. > I very much doubt the Aurias are Samsung “factory seconds”. The market the Samsung displays are aimed at is unlikely to tolerate the “superb screen, but cheap everything else” build quality you talk about. More important than the screen display being perfect with no dead pixels, it must *work* reliably. Your experience trying to get them to work would cross them off the vendor list if such problems manifested.

    He means just the display panels may be seconds, bought on the grey market and built into complete monitors with cheap electronics.

  15. >He means just the display panels may be seconds, bought on the grey market and built into complete monitors with cheap electronics.

    That’s right.

  16. I’ve despised Samsung ever since they made this ad in which a guy receives a Samsung flat TV that was ordered by a neighbor who is away at the moment; and when the neighbor comes back and asks him about the TV he’d ordered, the guy vilely denies having received it. (I’m pretty sure the ad is on YouTube, but I can’t find it.)

    Say… during your interaction with Wendell Wilson, did you ask him about the upcoming Great Beast video(s)? I want to see Zola. :-(

  17. >Much better monitor marketplace these days and you can even buy the best like 2K or 4K density from name brand manufacturers & dealers at reasonable discount prices now.

    Thanks, those are much better prices than I’m used to seeing. My main monitor is a 10 year old 21″ Samsung 1600×1200 (4×3, the way it should be) panel, and I’ve been debating about how to replace it. I think I need to look at them to decide if I find UHD (1080p x2) or WQHD (720p x2) more appealing in that size range.

  18. If you can tolerate 30Hz and have HDMI (I don’t notice anything for coding; you may need the closed source drivers under linux), you can get a 4K monitor for under $400:
    http://www.amazon.com/Seiki-Class-1080p-120Hz-UHDTV/dp/B00Q2VFC4U
    Or “last year’s edition”. I have one at work and just bought one for home.
    Customer support isn’t very good, but for the price it works. And it has some annoyances since it is a TV (like it wants to power-off if there is no signal, and you almost need the remote – but it is linux based and hackable).

  19. Addendum – the Seiki is 39 inch, so it isn’t retinal, you can use fixed pixel screen fonts. You can get smaller “retinal” monitors, but then you will need bigger fonts.

  20. @esr

    (I’m now wondering if that whitish crud was condensed sea salt. it was conductive enough…)

    I suspect it was flux residue, most likely some sort of organic water-soluble flux. Organic fluxes are both conductive and highly corrosive and /must/ be completely removed after soldering. Depending on how much crud you had to clean off, I suspect someone either did not deflux that part of the board, or they just didn’t do a very good job cleaning it after soldering (probably something which had to be hand soldered during assembly).

    A Google search for “Kester 331” will turn up more details on organic core solder and some of its downsides. I’m not a fan of organic core solder because of how active and corrosive it is (it is in fact, an acid-core solder). Depending on what I’m working on, I generally prefer a rosin-based flux like Kester 44 (RA), Kester 285 (RMA), or Kester 245 (no-clean).

  21. > Stuff like this is a textbook example of “You get what you pay for.”

    A textbook example of a textbook ;)

  22. >I suspect it was flux residue, most likely some sort of organic water-soluble flux. Organic fluxes are both conductive and highly corrosive and /must/ be completely removed after soldering. Depending on how much crud you had to clean off, I suspect someone either did not deflux that part of the board, or they just didn’t do a very good job cleaning it after soldering (probably something which had to be hand soldered during assembly).

    We observed (a) an evenly distributed, thin layer of granular whitish residue on one side of the mainboard and controls daughterboard only, and (b) a thicker encrustation of the stuff around where the mainboard leads had been soldered to the daughterboard. The second deposit was the one that did the damage, functionally speaking.

  23. The side reference to mice reminds me of the recent trouble I had with trackballs. Namely, Logitech’s M570. Latest in a long series I own. Logitech marbles used to be devices so perfect you could swear oaths while your hand was on them.

    Sadly, the M570 now has this tendency to “double click” after a lot of use. Reading around the web, I learn of some sort of cheapness in the capacitor. People describe how you can apparently fix this by powering off the mouse, holding both buttons down for thirty seconds to disperse residual charge, and then it works – supposedly – for a while longer. (For me, it would go right back to that annoying double-click behavior after a day or so.)

    And nothing else seems to be wrong, other than – supposedly – that faulty capacitor under each button. And sadly, it’s still cheaper to buy a new one than to find a fix for the old, unless it turns out I can leverage someone’s hardware experience and score a higher-quality part for less than $50…

  24. >Logitech marbles used to be devices so perfect you could swear oaths while your hand was on them.

    Amen, brother. The optical TrackMan was the very pinnacle of pointing-device perfection. It is telling that they now sell for more used than they did new. My wife and I bought several spares on eBay while the getting was good.

    Sadly, we just had to retire one of hers yesterday. Opposite problem from yours; microswitches are apparently worn out and only register intermittently.

  25. Also watch out for electronics made with lead-free solder. Ken Rockwell (the Nikon DSLR guru) talks about it here – scroll down to or search for “tin whiskers”. There’s a page at NASA about the problem, too.

  26. How useful are marbles vs. nipple mice and joysticks?
    Also, are any of them available as small standalone units?
    (It would add some nice functionality to a chording keyboard)

  27. Somewhere in between Korean gray market and name brands is Monoprice.

    I haven’t bought one yet but a 27? for $349 seems reasonable and I’ve had good service and products from them otherwise.

    I’ve had one for a few years now, and am very happy with it. The panel image quality is excellent, including no dead or stuck pixels, and I’ve had no failures or issues with the electronics.

    The plastic case has some minor finish imperfections, and along with the stand feels a bit flimsy, but that is exactly what I was willing to trade quality on in exchange for price.

  28. Hmm… on second thought, I may have been unfair to Samsung: the monitor I use, a Samsung SyncMaster 753s, was purchased in late 2003… and it seldom misbehaves. So there must be something good about them after all.

    Yes, I’m still using a CRT monitor. Is this one of those cases in which one is allowed to say, “Get off my lawn”? :-)

  29. Neat, I like CRTs, but all of mine ended up getting really off-color because of the VGA cables developing bad wires, necessitating moving to something newer. The other downside is that a 19 inch CRT is really, really heavy, and it’s hard to go back to something smaller than that.

  30. >Yes, I’m still using a CRT monitor. Is this one of those cases in which one is allowed to say, “Get off my lawn”? :-)

    A CRT? In 2015? I believe it is not merely allowed but required.

  31. >The other downside is that a 19 inch CRT is really, really heavy, and it’s hard to go back to something smaller than that.

    You’re not kidding. I had a CRT that I loved, in its day. It was a 17″ Trinitron-tube Iiyama that would do 1600×1200@60Hz. It also weighed 50lbs and took up a surprising amount of desk real estate. I knew a guy who, in the 90’s, bought himself a high-end 21″ CRT. He needed *people* (not ‘person’) to help him move it.

    I loved that monitor and was very picky about what would replace it, but I don’t *miss* it. You can find good quality used lcd’s incredibly cheap nowadays. One could almost pay for itself as a CRT replacement just through your electric bill.

  32. >I knew a guy who, in the 90’s, bought himself a high-end 21? CRT. He needed *people* (not ‘person’) to help him move it.

    Yeah. My last CRT was a 21-inch Viewsonic, and ditto.

    I actually held out against flatscreens longer than anyone around me because of that monster. I didn’t want to give up all those lovely, lovely vertical pixels., and it took quite a while for flatscreens to match it.

    I’m still not best pleased about 16:9 taking over from 4:3. I liked that aspect ratio better.

  33. Most of that stuff is fixable.

    Microswitches are generally pretty standard. You can probably find the right size and configuration on digikey without too much trouble.

    The double click problem is probably the easiest to fix, since debouncing can be done in software.

    VGA cables can be replaced, but it shouldn’t be someone’s first soldering project. For one thing, the spacing is probably going to be fairly tight. The other, and far more important thing, is that the inside of a CRT is dangerous, lethal even. Find someone that has real experience repairing TVs.

    Good tip on the monitors, by the way. I’m about due for a monitor upgrade, so I’ve been thinking about getting one of these to try. I guess now if I do, I’ll start by pulling and washing all of the boards, and maybe replacing all of the electrolytic caps.

    I really don’t like the TVization of the computer monitor industry. By the end of the CRT era, my standard was 1600×1200, so I consider anything with fewer lines to be a downgrade, no matter how wide it is. And now high resolution monitors with reasonable aspect ratios are getting hard to find. 4:3 is nearly dead. 16:10 is dying.

  34. >Microswitches are generally pretty standard. You can probably find the right size and configuration on digikey without too much trouble

    The microswitches in a TrackMan turn out to be Omron D2Fs. DigiKey didn’t have them, but there’s an Omron distributor near me that will sell in small quantities. I ordered six after my friend and soldering tutor Phil Salkie confirmed that the things not infrequently go bad; when they get here removing and replacing the bum one(s) should be no big deal even for my limited skills.

    That’ll be my second or possibly third soldering project. I ordered a Garmin GPS-18 LVC bare-wire GPS yesterday because that’s their only model that passes 1PPS suitable for timing use. When it gets here I’ll have to mate the wires to a DB9 connector for RS232.

  35. > >I knew a guy who, in the 90’s, bought himself a high-end 21? CRT. He needed
    > > *people* (not ‘person’) to help him move it.
    > Yeah. My last CRT was a 21-inch Viewsonic, and ditto.

    I worked for a photography magazine for a while in the 1990s, and we had 20 and larger monitors. High grade stuff with calibrators and shiznit. They were heavy, but not that bad.

  36. > Yes, I’m still using a CRT monitor. Is this one of those cases in which one is
    > allowed to say, “Get off my lawn”? :-)

    You’re allowed to say it, but unless you live somewhere where it’s always cold, you can probably by a larger, newer LED based monitor for the difference in the cost of electricity over a year or two :)

  37. Hmm. Quick search shows Omron D2Fs sold all over the place. Now my questions become: are these really what’s wrong with my older M570? (I simply bought a new one.) Do different vendors have different switch qualities in stock I should watch out for? (They seem to be very inexpensive; I expect S&H costs to dominate, meaning I could order in bulk, so I wouldn’t want a boxful of duds.) And finally: is it worth my time and money to buy my own soldering iron? (I have to believe one of my friends nearby has one… if not, I need more friends…)

    Thanks for the tips, kjj. I’ve never heard of debouncing, so it looks like I have a mini-research project to do after I finish today’s errands.

  38. >Do different vendors have different switch qualities in stock I should watch out for?

    Yes. There are many different kinds of microswitch. You need to disassemble your M570 and inspect them to get the right part number.

  39. @ William O. B’Livion
    >…unless you live somewhere where it’s always cold…

    Would that it were so. I hate heat. v_v

    @ ESR
    Concerning screen real estate: have you managed to tweak i3 into making your terminals and Emacs windows 80-characters-wide by default? If so, was your change incorporated into i3’s codebase?

  40. “When it gets here I’ll have to mate the wires to a DB9 connector for RS232.”

    Tip: When you’r soldering wires into a connector, especially if you’re inexperienced, you’ll save yourself some heartache and melted connector bodies by plugging the connector you’re soldering to into a mating connector, preferably that’s already on the end of a cable.

  41. >Concerning screen real estate: have you managed to tweak i3 into making your terminals and Emacs windows 80-characters-wide by default?

    I have not. It stopped seeming important after a while.

  42. Jorge Dujan on 2015-02-28 at 13:54:08 said:
    > @ William O. B’Livion
    > > …unless you live somewhere where it’s always cold…

    > Would that it were so. I hate heat. v_v

    So how much of a load does your CRT place on your air conditioner v.s. LCD/LED?

  43. CRTs use about four times as much power as an equivalent LCD monitor (which come in two flavours: the flourescent standard backlight and the more expensive, efficient, and reliable LED backlight variety – more reliable because the most common thing to go on the fritz as a result of old age is the flourescent backlight’s inverter.) Almost all of a monitor’s electrical power is converted into heat, although you could radiate quite a bit of the light out the windows …something I avoid for privacy reasons. The reason why LCD monitors don’t have fans is because they don’t generate a lot of heat. The reason why CRT monitors don’t have fans is because the parts that get hot get hot enough to survive by natural convection. A 17in CRT monitor radiates more heat than the infamous Northwood.

  44. @ William O. B’Livion
    >So how much of a load does your CRT place on your air conditioner [emphasis added] v.s. LCD/LED?

    You misspelled “ceiling fan”. ;-)

    Point taken WRT consumption, and I certainly would like a bigger display (this one’s 17″ and I use 1024×768); but I simply cannot afford one right now. Still, I appreciate your advice and will keep it in mind when things get better.

  45. >That’ll be my second or possibly third soldering project. I ordered a Garmin GPS-18 LVC bare-wire GPS yesterday because that’s their only model that passes 1PPS suitable for timing use. When it gets here I’ll have to mate the wires to a DB9 connector for RS232.

    When I saw the gpsd thread, I was meaning to ask if anyone could recommend a GPS receiver to install on my house. I’ve wanted to set one up for like a decade now, but whenever I looked into it, I’d either find vastly out of date information, or vastly expensive receivers. Looks like I’m going to have to do it now.

  46. >Hmm. Quick search shows Omron D2Fs sold all over the place. Now my questions become: are these really what’s wrong with my older M570? (I simply bought a new one.) Do different vendors have different switch qualities in stock I should watch out for? (They seem to be very inexpensive; I expect S&H costs to dominate, meaning I could order in bulk, so I wouldn’t want a boxful of duds.) And finally: is it worth my time and money to buy my own soldering iron? (I have to believe one of my friends nearby has one… if not, I need more friends…)

    I’m not sure it is necessarily the switch. But switches do wear out, and a lot of people have “suspect the mechanical part first” pretty high in their electronics troubleshooting flowchart.

    Open it up, look for obvious problems (oozing capacitors, burn marks). If none found, identify and replace switches. If they aren’t bad yet, they will be. If problem continues, test/replace debounce circuit components.

    A friend with some soldering equipment will help a lot. You can probably do it with just a $10 iron, but there are things that will make it much easier, but that you won’t necessarily want to buy for your first and possibly last project. Solder sucker or copper braid, flux pen or paste, a half-decent stand with a sponge holder or brass wadding, a little new solder. None are more than a few dollars, but they add up.

    If you can’t find a friend that solders, don’t despair. There are others around. Look for a ham (radio) club or a car stereo installer. If you have a Linux User Group nearby, at least one of them will probably be able to help. Or a hackerspace / maker group.

  47. @William O’Blivion

    >Seriously, there’s things to cheap charlie in your life, you monitor and keyboard are NOT it.

    I am probably the worst example possible: laptop only. Because what I did cheap out on is an apartment where space is scarce enough that things other than a desk have a higher priority. Besides once you have a child playpens and suchlike expand until filling up every nook and cranny. Besides, back when I used to have one I still found my upper traps hurting no matter what kind of ergonomy I experimented with and using a laptop literally in my lap on the couch seems to work. Of course it is not good for serious work, but serious work is done at work, not at home.

    If I would ever find employers or clients who are not into the “we believe in the power of personal contact” thing and thus accept telecommuting I would obviously start thinking about a more serious home setup. The sad thing is – these employers are actually right. Even sitting in an office I can observe how people who have too many tasks to do hot-potato new projects by ping-ponging e-mails around with questions and requests for comment, it would be much worse if the boss could not occasionally yell now everybody get off their ass, go in the meeting room and not come out until it is decided who does what when and what questions need clearing.

    I also find that things are moving into less of a high-bandwith text entry direction. Of course if you work on large software projects then not, but I don’t, but more and more jobs seem to be just copy-pasting this email to there and setting that configuration checkmark there and restarting this process here and frankly I see more and more people do useful work on iPads.

  48. @Shenpen: “Besides, back when I used to have one I still found my upper traps hurting no matter what kind of ergonomy I experimented with and using a laptop literally in my lap on the couch seems to work. ”

    My SO was once formally trained as a secretary at the Katherine Gibbs School. They drilled into students that it was all about posture.

    The issue that bites people who develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is entirely posture related. You need to be seated with keyboard positioned so that your hands are on the keyboard and your wrists *don’t* flex. Your fingers move on the keyboard, but your wrists don’t. (Indeed, the braces sold to people with CTS are intended to *prevent* the wrists from flexing.)

    “If I would ever find employers or clients who are not into the “we believe in the power of personal contact” thing and thus accept telecommuting I would obviously start thinking about a more serious home setup.”

    I have telecommuted on occasion, but always preferred actually being in the office. In part, it was because I was actually in the office, with direct face-to-face contact with co-workers and managers. (Another part was that I was usually the guy who could pop the hood when something had a hardware problem, and that can’t be done remotely.) Offices are all over the map on how good they are as environments. At one employer, the chap in the cube next to mine would put his phone on speaker to be hands free, and carry on extended conversations with his
    friends where I was forced to hear both sides of the conversation. My drawback is that I can’t ignore speech. My mind insists on trying to parse it, and the things I did tended to need peace, quiet, and uninterrupted concentration.

    “I also find that things are moving into less of a high-bandwith text entry direction. Of course if you work on large software projects then not, but I don’t, but more and more jobs seem to be just copy-pasting this email to there and setting that configuration checkmark there and restarting this process here and frankly I see more and more people do useful work on iPads.”

    You can do useful work on a tablet, but you must understand the paradigm they have. An old friend bought an iPad, and loves it, but commented that it was a media consumption device. The UI was optimized to letting select the media you wanted to consume. It was largely half-duplex, with the assumption that you would download far more than you would upload, and what you uploaded was choices to the host of what you wanted to view, made by touching icns and thumbnails.

    I have a generic Android tablet, and the first thing I did was get an OTG adapter to let me plug in a USB keyboard. The onscreen virtual keyboard was actively painful for any extended text entry. (The stock virtual keyboard is Google’s. The open source Hacker’s Keyboard is far better, but you still really want an actual keyboard for any extended text entry. Some of what I do on the tablet wants text entry, so…) I could probably replace a laptop with it in traveling, though I haven’t tried to do so thus far.

    (It even has a complete GCC based toolchain for on device development, but that will have to wait till I get a large stack of spare Round TUITs.)
    ______
    Dennis

  49. The absolutely best thing about huge monitors becoming cheap, is that so many people chase the ever-greater pixel count, and in doing so toss out their perfectly good ‘not so huge’ monitors.

    Since my computing needs are fairly modest, and bench space in my lab is always in short supply, I’m quite happy with older, smaller flatscreens. The result is I have *never* had to buy an LCD monitor, and in fact have far more of them than I need.

    Same thing goes for PCs too. Haven’t bought any for decades, as I find the trailing edge (as opposed to bleeding edge) spills plenty of perfectly good PCs on me for free.

    The only component I’ve bought recently was a tenkeyless mechanical switch keyboard – after an ancient IBM keyboard failed. *So* great to have the mouse that much closer to the keyboard center.
    Oh, and a while ago a couple of cheap USB HD docks, to use all those free 2nd hand less than 500GB hard disks as backup storage.

  50. I was under the impression hardware comes with a warranty. You do not have to (and you should not) open anything yourself.

    Anyway, don’t buy no-name monitors. Even if everything seems to be working, the color settings will be horrible, with reds and blues being clipped and blacks being crushed, so the monitor can pretend it has better contrast than it actually has.

    Of course, some low-end Samsung TVs (not computer screens) have the same problem. But Samsung has turned the act of selling second-rate stuff as premium to a high art, so this is not news.

  51. “You can do useful work on a tablet, but you must understand the paradigm they have. An old friend bought an iPad, and loves it, but commented that it was a media consumption device.”

    My guess is that it’s just a matter of time before better input interfaces are developed that do work effectively with tablets. Part of the problem is that currently there is very limited interest on using tablets for anything _else_ than media consumption devices. But in principle, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to run very similar workflows on a cheap ARM or MIPS tablet vs. a desktop or laptop PC.

    For instance, I’ve found that on a small 7-in. tablet with no additional hardware, the onscreen ‘Hacker’s Keyboard’ is actually quite usable (in landscape mode), provided that you set it to expand and fill most of the screen. As for mouse input, tablet VNC clients can freely switch between normal touch-screen input and “virtual touchpad” mode (i.e. with an actual pointer that moves when sliding _anywhere_ on the screen, tap-to-click, etc.). It would be useful if actual tablet OS’s provided the same ability – touchpad input might be clunky, but other ways of supporting fine-grained pointing input are worse.

  52. @Guest: As it happens, I installed and run the Hacker’s Keyboard here, in place of the Google Keyboard the tablet came with. It’s certainly more usable than the Google Keyboard for the sorts of things I do, but that’s entirely relative. It’s actively painful for any real extended text entry, and used in a pinch for quick stuff. If I need to do extended text entry, I plug in an external keyboard.

    Many folks fail to realize how big a factor the keyboard is in usage. Eric has a keyboard that restores the tactile feel and clickyness of older keyboards for that reason. On the odd occasions when I change keyboards, there’s always a productivity hit – muscle memory is wrong, and keys aren’t where my fingers are accustomed to them being, so I hit the wrong one.

    If I plug a USB hub in through the OTG adapter I can plugin keyboard, actual mouse, and external HD. (I need to use a powered hub for the latter – the USB HD expects to get power from the host, and the tablet can’t supply enough. Without a powered hub, it is recognized, then disappears. With a powered hub, it works.) I seldom actually do that, but I *can*.

    “But in principle, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to run very similar workflows on a cheap ARM or MIPS tablet vs. a desktop or laptop PC.”

    No reason in *principle*, and the pieces already exist. For instance, I have full versions of vim and Emacs for the tablet, and Spartacus R’s Terminal IDE, which bundles a full GCC development toolchain.

    In *practice*, I am unlikely to make much use of them. A low end 7″ tablet lacks the horsepower to properly run such things, and development would take far longer in consequence. In addition, screen real estate is a limitation. My 23″ monitor in 1920×1080 is at the low end of acceptable. I’d like a larger one along the lines of the Auria Eric uses, but good ones that work reliably cost more than I wish to spend, and the Aurias have too high a failure rate to be candidates. (I also don’t have room for a second display, as much as I might like it.)

    Most of what I do is far better done on my desktop, with full keyboard, mouse, and big monitor. While I technically *can* do a lot of it on the tablet, I don’t *want* to. The tablet is a mobile device whose principle use case is eBook viewer. In landscape mode, the 7″ screen in 800×480 resolution is large enough to let me check email. do limited web browsing, view documents and the like, and it’s a lot smaller and lighter than a laptop of notebook. But if I’m traveling, I’m likely busy doing other things, and the sort of stuff I do on the desktop will simply wait till I’m back at my desk. I’m busy with other stuff and won’t *want* to do them.

    It’s no surprise that media consumption device is the main thing most folks do with a tablet – the form factor is optimized for it. Other things are possible, but aren’t that good a fit. We used to do everything on desktop/laptop because it was what we had that *could* do it. The rise of smartphones and tablets means various tasks are migrating to other devices, and the dust is still settling to some extent on what happens where, but trying to do everything you might do on the desktop/laptop on a tablet is likely a silly notion. There are reasons we have more than one tool in our toolkit.
    ______
    Dennis

  53. >You can do useful work on a tablet, but you must understand the paradigm they have. An old friend bought an iPad, and loves it, but commented that it was a media consumption device. The UI was optimized to letting select the media you wanted to consume. It was largely half-duplex, with the assumption that you would download far more than you would upload, and what you uploaded was choices to the host of what you wanted to view, made by touching icns and thumbnails.

    I like that, describing tablets as half-duplex captures their television-like ‘screen on which you watch entertainment’ nature pretty well. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s limiting.

    You can do real work on a tablet just fine, but to do so you wind up effectively changing the form factor to either an ultralight notebook or a palmtop (for large or small tablets, respectively). Your display works best as an output device.

    Oh and someone should point out that there is text entry, and there is command line work, and the two make different demands from a keyboard. I often ssh from my phone to my machines at home, and onscreen keyboards are not adequate. Even the so-called ‘hardware qwerty’ on my old Tmobile G2 (HTC Desire Z) was really not fully up to the task, and hardware qwerty is dead to boot.

  54. one thing to note, if you stick to top rated sellers out of korea and buy pixel perfect versions(not much more for some models) they wont screw you.

    the 2 i know are reliable 2nd hand are

    dream-seller
    Green-Sum

    NEVER buy from a seller thats got low review counts….NEVER!!!(not on high ticket stuff that is)

    on the other hand, i know at least 12 people personally who have had EXCELLENT experiance with the 2 mentioned sellers, and no, i dont know either seller and have not been paid to post this, I just thought it was importent to note, if you do some more detailed research you find that the top sellers on ebay are actually amazing for support paying shipping for returns, dream-seller even sent my buddy a replacement 434k(43″ freesync monitor) allowing him to use its box to return the defective unit, with no hassle at all, just wanted a picture of the problem(backlight had a dead zone) the replacement works great, and he tossed a squaretrade on it.

    and yeah the aurias where VERY hit and miss, as where some other brands, most of them you cant even find anymore.

    the best brands from the exp of people i know
    CrossRoads
    X-Star
    Qnix

    thats the biggest thing, at least that i have seen, good sellers will treat you right because, if they dont they loose their ebay account….and all that positive feedback.

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