Order Placed: OCEANBLUe Upgrade

CPU: Intel i5-760
Motherboard: ASUS P7P55 LX
Memory: 4GB (2*2GB) G.SKILL DDR3-1333 F3-10666CL8D-4GBHK 8-8-8-21 1.5V
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT
Sound Card: Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 32-bit

I was given a budget of $500 to bring the system up to speed, and began putting it towards parts that would keep processes humming along nicely for years to come.

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 1600 (Amazon.com)
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-AB350-Gaming 3 (Amazon.com)
Memory: 8GB (1*8GB) Patriot Viper 4 DDR4-2400 PV48G240C5 15-15-15-35 1.2V (Amazon.com)
8GB of RAM is quite generous for basic computing. I selected this particular module because it offered tighter timings than the competition at the same price-point. I debated whether to go for two 4GB modules over a single 8GB module – in the past, I would have gone with two 4GB modules in a heartbeat because of the theoretical benefits of dual-channel, but real-world benchmarks suggest that the performance improvement is marginal.
SSD: SK hynix SL308 250GB HFS250G32TND-N1A2A (Amazon.com)
OS: Windows 10 Pro

Notably missing from this parts order is a new GPU. OCEANBLUe already has an NVIDIA 9800 GT, and we’ll be sticking with that until it bites the dust. Similarly, we’re holding onto the existing PSU, which has plenty of headroom.

One detail that I wanted to address before finalizing the parts order was the maximum height CPU cooler supported by the Cooler Master Wave Master case. I measured roughly 5.5 inches (139.7 mm) of clearance.

Windows 10 Black Desktop with Cursor Fixed


My Cool ‘n’ Quiet workstation was working fine until some point last night where it showed a black screen with moveable cursor. Attempts to bring up the Task Manager were unsuccessful – the cursor briefly changed to indicate busy state, but Task Manager would not appear.

This morning, the system would boot, displaying the Windows logo, but I was stuck on a black screen showing only my cursor.

I did not make any changes to hardware, and was not aware of any changes made to my system.

Initial Troubleshooting

I plugged my secondary display into my workstation’s graphics card and attempted to tinker with Windows 10’s Project settings (Windows key + P) to no avail.

Stumbling Across a Solution

I poked around within my workstation’s UEFI and focused on Boot Option Priorities.

Last Known Good Configuration

Boot Option Priorities
#1 Windows Boot Manager
#2 SATA: My Windows 10 OS Drive
#3: UEFI: Built-in EFI Shell

I modified Boot Option Priorities:

  • Swapping positions of #2 and #1 resulted in failure to boot
  • Tested UEFI, Windows Boot Manager, and finally SATA. This time, I was greeted by the familiar login screen

Upon login, Windows displayed a notification stating that updates were installed.

Update history (Settings > Update & security > Windows Update > Update History) showed that an updated NVIDIA display driver (NVIDIA – Display – 12/29/2016 12:00:00AM – was installed last night – could this have been the culprit?

Confirmed that this updated NVIDIA display driver is shown for my graphics card within Device Manager.

After successful boot, I restarted my workstation, and reverted changes to Boot Option Priorities. I was still able to boot cleanly into Windows 10.

I ultimately modified Boot Option Priorities. They are now set to

  1. UEFI
  2. Windows Boot Manager
  3. SATA

Want: Apple MacBook 2016 Refresh

Apple just announced the refreshed Apple MacBook with Retina display this morning (Apple Updates MacBook with Latest Processors, Longer Battery Life & New Rose Gold Finish, Apple Press Info).

The machines now feature Intel’s sixth-generation “Skylake” processors, Intel HD Graphics 515 (replacing Intel HD Graphics 5300), improved battery life (41.4 Wh [up from 39.7 Wh] rated for 10 hours of web browsing, 11 hours of iTunes movie playback), faster PCIe-based flash storage, and come standard with 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3. Cosmetically, Apple has added Rose Gold as a color option to existing Gold, Silver, and Space Gray.

The base model starts at $1,299 and comes with a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor (Intel Core m3-6Y30, Turbo Boost up to 2.2GHz), and 256GB PCIe-based flash storage.

The high-end model starts at $1,599 and comes with a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m5 processor (Intel Core m5-6Y54, Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz), and 512GB PCIe-based flash storage.

Upgrading the processor to the 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core m7 (Intel Core m7-6Y75, Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz) is a $250 option on the base model ($1,549 BTAX), and a $150 option on the high-end model ($1,749 BTAX).

A table outlining the differences between the original 2015 Apple MacBook and the 2016 refresh is available through AnandTech.com (Apple Refreshes MacBook with Skylake-based Core M and New Rose Gold Color, AnandTech.com)

A Detailed Look at Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon Cloud Drive is the cheapest of the cloud-based storage services that I have examined. Since the unlimited photos tier is bundled as an Amazon Prime membership benefit, I decided to try leveraging this before looking to other cloud storage services. I examined Amazon Cloud Drive for ease of use by testing out its web interface, both Mac & PC desktop apps, and its iOS app.
Let’s dive right in…

A Detailed Look at Amazon Cloud Drive

What is Amazon Cloud Drive?

Amazon Cloud Drive can best be described as a cloud-based storage service, targeted towards users looking for a simple space in which to place their photos and videos. Users can interact with Amazon Cloud Drive through a web browser-based interface, desktop applications for Mac & Windows, and mobile applications for Android & iOS.

Amazon Cloud Drive is not intended for use as a periodic backup medium, which is evident through limitations inherent within the desktop applications. For instance, the desktop applications lack the ability for users to monitor particular folders and schedule them for backups. These features may be added in the future to better match the mobile application’s Auto-Save feature, but I can’t comment on the likelihood of this occuring.

How much does Amazon Cloud Drive cost?

Up-to-date details on Amazon Cloud Drive pricing are available on Amazon Cloud Drive’s Manage Storage page. These pricing details are current as of the time of writing.
Unlimited Photos for $11.99 / yr
  • Unlimited storage for photos
  • 5 GB for videos and files
  • Free with Amazon Prime
Unlimited Everything for $59.99 / yr
  • Unlimited storage for photos, videos, and files
  • Free 3-month trial
If you’re not already an Amazon Prime member, I highly recommend giving it a run for its money. Amazon offers a 30-Day Free Trial of Amazon Prime, which includes a laundry list of great Amazon Prime benefits. Amazon Prime digital content benefits can be shared between two adults in a household by linking separate Amazon.com accounts using Amazon Household. Additional information on sharing of Amazon Prime benefits is available here.
Having visited these basic facets of Amazon Cloud Drive, let’s give it a run for its money.

Getting Started with Amazon Cloud Drive

Start by checking out the Amazon Cloud Drive apps download page. At the time of writing, Amazon Cloud Drive has a desktop application for Mac & PC (Windows), as well as separate mobile applications for All Files and Photos for Android and iOS devices.
I manage Amazon Cloud Drive primarily through the Amazon Cloud Drive web interface. This presents a neat file explorer, as well as a top-down overview of how my Amazon Cloud Drive is being utilized.

From here on out, I checked out the Amazon Cloud Drive desktop application and mobile apps.

A Closer Look at Amazon Cloud Drive’s Desktop and Mobile Applications

Amazon Cloud Drive (Mac & PC [Windows])

Uploads tab
Allows user to specify files or folders to upload, as well as upload path. Selecting a folder for upload automatically selects its subfolders. I designate subfolders within my individual user folder as the upload folder depending on the type of content that I’m uploading to Amazon Cloud Drive.
Downloads tab
Allows user to specify a folder to download, as well as download path. If the user specifies the Windows Desktop as the download path, Amazon Cloud Drive will search for a folder called Cloud Drive Downloads, creating it if necessary, and download the requested folder into that directory. I am operating under the assumption that selecting a folder automatically selects its subfolders.
Preferences pane
General tab
Shows the user that is presently logged in
Advanced tab
System Settings
Show notifications, Start Amazon Cloud Drive on startup, Don’t upload hidden files (default is all checked)
Bandwidth Settings
Allows user to designate upload and download bandwidth restrictions. Default is no limit for either upload or download.

Amazon Photos (Android and iOS)

Allows user to specify:
  • whether to automatically upload media (Amazon calls this Auto-Save)
  • whether Photos or Videos are uploaded, with independent toggles
  • whether to automatically upload to Amazon Cloud Drive when on WiFi or on WiFi + Cellular
The default upload destination is All > Pictures > “Device Name” (in my case, Alex Zheng’s iPhone)
Files uploaded using the Amazon Photos mobile application are given long filenames that reflect image metadata (Capture Date_Timestamp_String_Platform)
Aside from uploading media taken on the device, the Amazon Photos mobile application also allows users to view all previously-uploaded media that is being stored on the Amazon Cloud Drive.


How well does Amazon Cloud Drive handle interrupted uploads?

To test this, I selected “Cancel upload” in the middle of uploading a folder. I then designated the same folder for upload into the same destination path.

Amazon Cloud Drive attempted to upload the files, eventually returning the status “Previously uploaded” for those that were already present. This resulted in a fair deal of wasted bandwidth.

How well does Amazon Cloud Drive handle changes to previously-uploaded folders?

This is important because I occasionally revisit my photo library in Adobe Bridge, sometimes long after initial import.
To test this, I renamed one subfolder to comply with my new photo organization convention.
Amazon Cloud Drive is intelligent enough to check the new upload queue against the files that are already uploaded in the specified upload path. However, once it reaches the renamed folders, it’ll attempt to upload the entire folder. This results in duplicates being created on the Amazon Cloud Drive, as well as repeated consumption of bandwidth.
Workaround: If photos haven’t been moved from renamed folders, then rename the folders from within Amazon Cloud Drive using the web interface.

How well does Amazon Cloud Drive handle changes to file metadata?

To test this, I added a keyword to a photo in Adobe Bridge.
Amazon Cloud Drive desktop application consumes bandwidth as it attempts to upload the modified file, but returns the status “File name conflict” for the modified file. In order for the upload to complete successfully, I had to manually delete the photo using the Amazon Cloud Drive web interface.

How do Amazon Cloud Drive mobile apps tie into workflow?

The Amazon Photos mobile application allows the user to automatically upload content taken from mobile devices to get everything into the Amazon Cloud Drive. Tying those automatically-uploaded files back into a logically-organized structure requires manually moving those files from the default upload path to their correct place.
The Amazon Photos mobile application will not attempt to upload previously-uploaded photos and videos once they’ve been moved out of the upload directory.