Scott's Column
Using New MP3 Player, New Desktop & Home Server, Turbo Tax Goes Down

February 1, 2003
By Scott Lewis

This month I am just going to dive in to the details of my MP3 player, a few words about my new PC & server setup, and a wrap up with some very bad words about Turbo Tax.

MXP 100

The e.Digital MXP 100 is my latest (my second) MP3 player. I picked it because it uses IBM's 1GB Microdrive. I don't know for sure, but I think this is the smallest player that holds that much memory. Apple's iPod would be next. They are within a few tenths on an inch in height, width and depth. However, the MXP weights almost half that of the Apple iPod (4.9 vs. 9.5 oz.). The MXP 100 EASILY fits in my shirt pocket... with plenty of room to spare. That being said, if money were no object I would have bought the iPod. It has 5 - 20 GB depending on the version. But the cheapest iPod is $299, and I would need to buy a FireWire card for my computer to use it. The MXP 100 with 1 GB Microdrive and USB connection was $229. About $100 cheaper if you count in the cost of a FireWire card. That is a significant amount in my opinion.

I mostly have complaints about the MXP 100, but overall I like it quite a bit. Ideally if an MP3 player was perfect it would not require much to be said. It either plays your digital music files well, or it doesn't. The MXP 100 does play my music collect quite well. So all that's really left to tell is what is not perfect.

First is speed. The MXP 100 uses USB 1.1, not the faster USB 2.0. I didn't have USB 2.0 when I bought the MXP 100, so I knew I was in for this. It took 1 hour, 45 minutes to download 172 files totaling 784 MB. Figure close to 2-1/2 hours for a full 1 GB download. For the most part this does not bother me, since the device holds plenty of music. I just load it once a week with what I hope I will be in the mood for and leave it alone.

The MXP 100 must be loaded with the propriety software, Music Explorer, that comes with it. I was hoping to buy a PC Card adapter to load songs using my laptop's PC Card slot. That would get around the USB 1.1 restriction. But the device can only understand music transferred with its own software. The problem with e.Digital's software is it has no features. You can highlight songs in Windows Explorer and drag then to e.Digital's Music Explorer. Or you have to right-click on a folder that you create with the software and select insert files. 

There is a huge problem with e.Digital's way of downloading. It downloads as soon as you pick files to download. Given the speed of the downloads, and that it holds so many songs, you won't want to just grab 20 or 30 or 50 files at a time to download. You will want to grab a couple hundred at one time. The software should allow you to create playlists that can be downloaded to the device. e.Digital includes a copy of MusicMatch. However, there is no "driver" to allow MusicMatch to download to the device like you can with many other brands of MP3 players.

MusicMatch is provided (a shareware only version) to give you something to rip songs to your hard drive. Clearly this is the minimalists approach to providing software. If you end up getting use to MusicMatch it will hold you back. You still have to work with just the files on your hard drive, so you better be good at organizing your files.

Fortunately I am very adept at organizing files, and have plenty of room to do so.

One feature that is a LOT better with the MXP 100 over my old Rio MP3 player is that it remembers what song it was on when I turn if off and back on again. The Rio always started on the first songs no matter what. I hated that, especially with as little music as it held. I ended up getting very tired of that one song.... no matter how much I liked it when I loaded it onto the Rio.

File Issues

Being the fanatic I am I tried loading 64 kbps WMA files on the device. Two problems occured. 1) I still hear the funny blips and chirps that I hear on my Rio. I will have to do some more tests to see if this happens with software on a PC. 2) The player skips when playing WMA files that were converted from MP3 files. Again, I will need to see if this is specific to the player. I tried to rip a couple of songs straight to WMA format, and they played fine... with the blips and chirps. But I am not in the mood to re-rip my entire collection. So I "converted" my MP3 collection to 64 kbps MP3 files. This allows me to fit over 500 songs on the device. 

At 64 kbps MP3 format there is a loss in quality. But the loss is better than WMA's blips and chirps. Basically the 64 k MP3s sound muffled. This is easily compensated for by increasing the volume and mucking with the EQ a little. I can live with it most of the time. When I need the best sound I can just load up 128+ kbps MP3 files and I still get about 250 songs on my 1 GB Microdrive.

What's Next

I understand that a lot of players are expected in this segment. 1 - 2 GB players in small packages that cost about $200. It will be interesting to see what comes out to bridge the gap between flashed based players and hard drive based players. 

My next MP3 player... if I ever need another one, will probably be a hard drive based player. The MXP 100 is light enough to use while working out, yet holds a lot of music. It never skips (once you use the proper files), and it's volume level can go higher than my ears can take. I think this makes the best compromise between small size and large capacity.

The MXP 100 is not for everyone. If you want to carry A LOT of music, but don't want the bulk of a hard drive based player than this is the player for you. But be prepared for slow transfer rates and a lot of file management.

New Computer?

I cannot justify the cost of a new computer at this time. However, for under $300 I could build a server to releave my computer of the tasks of sharing files and printing duties. This would allow me to have more fun with the computer I have.

I priced out two configurations for this mini "server." One with an Intel 815 based motherboard and 1.2 GHz Celeron, and the other with a 845 based motherboard with a 1.7 GHz Celeron. The 845 motherboard was a little more, as was the CPU and the DDR memory (the 815 board took less expensive PC133 memory). The difference was relatively small overall ($233 vs. $296). Since it would be some time before I could afford a new computer, I decided to go spend the extra $63 and get the 1.7 CPU and board. However, I did not put this into service as a server.

I built the machine and raided my existing machine for spare parts. This gave me a huge boost in performance over my 450 MHz computer. I then put what was left over from the 450 MHz computer to work as a server.

Now I have a reasonably speedy desktop, and a dedicated server... all for less than $300. Isn't technology fun. It certainly was fun setting it all up. Read my Feature Article on exactly how I set it all up. Here is a brief run down on my current setup.

The Server

My "server" is a 450 Mhz Celeron computer with 384 MB of memory, 2 hard drives (1 18 GB 7200 RPM drive, and 1 60 GB 5400 RPM drive). I am running Windows 2000 Server on the system. I will eventually look into loading Oracle and SQL Server on it. Since the number of users accessing the system is very low (1-3 people), the server should be able to work reasonably well as a database server. I use Terminal Services to access the server from my desktop and laptop computers. Since the server is in a closet and doesn't even have a monitor this is the next best thing to being there.

The Desktop

My "new" computer is a 1.7 GHz Celeron with 256 MB of DDR266 memory, 20 GB 7200 RPM hard drive, and the afore mentioned Intel 845 motherboard. I bought the GE version of the motherboard. It has video, sound and Ethernet ports all built in. The graphics are better than the TNT board in my "old" computer, so it doesn't bother me that it is not as fast as even a moderate graphics card. If graphics becomes an issue I can always disable the onboard graphics and install a real graphics card for gaming. I expect that when I do build a full computer for myself that this computer will go to my kids. It is more than fast enough for them until they get serious into PC gaming. The sooner the beter for me... so we can play against each other in the house.

The Network

Just before the new year hit my brother-in-law and I ran a network cable from my study to his study... next door. We ran up through my attic, across the attic to the back corner of my house, down the back wall, underground around the back of my driveway, up the side of his external garage, through the rafters of his garage, down his garage wall, back underground to the side of his house, up the side of the house two stories into his attic, across his attic and down into his study. Wow, what a stretch. And it works just fine. He is able to see my network just fine. This lets us share printers and files next door to each other. Now I need to get him into gaming so we can all play network games together.

Tax Time

By the time you read this I should have done and filed my taxes. I used Turbo Tax Basic... possibly for the last time. I have been using it since 1992. I have all my Turbo Tax files since then, and have been pretty good about keeping a copy of the install programs all along. But this year Intuit decided to add activation and spyware to Turbo Tax. I find this practice unacceptable. I would have went with TaxCut if I learned of these "features" in Turbo Tax before I bought it. 

My biggest concern is if I need paper copies of my tax information in the future. I have been doing a paper-less income tax since the IRS started its eFile system. I haven't bothered to print any copies of the paperwork because I could and have done it when needed. I used Turbo Tax to reprint my tax information when my wife and I purchased our first home. I just built a new computer, that is pretty much destined for the kids, and I will get another one someday. I will reformat the hard drive on my computer before loading it for the kids. With activation I will be unable to print an old version of my taxes. This year I will be printing extra copies of my taxes and storing them in a safe place. I also plan to send Intuit a letter telling them of my disappointment. Next year... TaxCut.

Another thing that bothers me about Turbo Tax is that they try to force the Deluxe version of the software on us. There is one new feature of the Deluxe version of Turbo Tax over the Basic version this year that is actually needed. This feature will have Turbo Tax not ask you the same questions over and over from year to year. So, let me see if I get this right. I have to pay $10 more this year and $10 more next year so that next year Turbo Tax will remember that I have said NO to being blind, renting property, selling stocks, etc.

Yep, TaxCut here I come.


That's it for this month. In fact... why even wrap it up.

Until next time...