16GB Class 10 MicroSD card head-to-head shootout: SanDisk vs Kingston vs Transcend vs Samsung vs Toshiba

Fight!  Fight!  Fight!  Fight!
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
There’s a lot of information and misinformation concerning SD technology, on the Internet. I’ve read a few conflicting theories about how many different companies actually manufacture SD cards and how many re-badge other companies’ kit. For your average consumer (and by this, I mean Dummy) though, this is all a bit of a red herring. Dummy wants to know (a) which card is fastest and (b) which card is best value for money. End of.

In order to separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve picked 16GB Class 10 MicroSD cards (with full size adapters) from the top five brands out there: SanDisk, Transcend, Kingston, Toshiba and Samsung. We’re not too concerned with who made ’em; we just want to see which is the best package overall. To that end, we’ve benchmarked the cards in two different environments: firstly using a MicroSD card USB reader on a Windows PC and secondly on an Android mobile device. This gives us a really good idea of how these five cards perform in real-world scenarios.

MicroSD cards - the contenders
MicroSD cards – the contenders

If you can’t be bothered with all the stats and just want the summary (and we can’t blame you!), click here.

Test rig

eSecure All-in-1 USB card reader connected to HP Probook
eSecure All-in-1 USB card reader connected to HP Probook
Our Windows 7-based test rig consisted of an eSecure All-in-1 card reader connected to an excellent HP ProBook 6560b. The 6560b isn’t available any more by the way, but the 6570b is a worthy successor. Our test software was the venerable and well-respected CrystalDiskMark.

Our mobile device test rig consisted of the brilliant Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (replaced by the even more incredible Note 3). Using this phone we ran the handy app A1 SD Bench. It’s less comprehensive than CrystalDiskMark, but gives you a good feel for how the card performs in one of its most likely use cases – plugged into a smartphone or tablet.

The Tests

For our tests, we ran five passes of the benchmarks on each card. When a test run contained anomalous results (which could be down to processor blips or other irrelevant causes), we discarded the test and ran again. We then averaged the scores from the five clean passes. We think this gives us a pretty bulletproof set of scores.

We ran three distinct batteries of tests:

  1. 5 passes of CrystalDiskMark with the file size set to 1000MB
  2. 5 passes of CrystalDiskMark with the file size set to 50MB
  3. 5 passes of A1 SD Bench

The results are summarised in this image (click to enlarge):

SD Card Benchmark Analysis

This is worthy of some explanation! The bottom row of the table shows the “standard deviation”. You don’t need to understand statistics to get the point: if there’s not a lot of difference between the cards, you’ll see a small figure on this row. So for example in the sequential read tests, there’s very little difference between the cards (standard deviations of 0.12 and 0.18). In the case of a 50MB file written randomly in 512k chunks, there’s a huge variation – 5.97. If you look more closely at the column, you’ll see that the Samsung card clocked in at 15.2MB/s in this test, which is very good, while the Toshiba managed a paltry 1.3MB/s.

The bar chart overlays are fairly easy to follow, we hope. For each column, the card that has the biggest bar achieved the best speeds. This is most noticeable on columns with the largest deviation (512K random writes).

The price column is colour-coded going from red to green; expensive to cheap. “Expensive” is a relative term – there’s only £3.50 difference between the most expensive and least expensive cards here. Mind you, that means that the pricy SanDisk is over 40% more expensive than the modest Toshiba.

SanDisk MicroSD card - overpriced and over here
SanDisk MicroSD card – overpriced and over here
Let’s look at the SanDisk card for a moment. It’s considerably more expensive than the cheaper cards on test, so what do you get for your money? Well it actually performs worst on one of the tests (1000MB sequential write). If you’re working with video, that is going to be noticeable. The story’s better with random writes, but that seems to us to be a fairly “edge” scenario. It also does worst when being written to in an Android environment. All in all, not good. It certainly hasn’t justified its high price ticket. We were expecting a lot better from such a well known and respected manufacturer.

With generally narrow deviations, it’s hard to pick out an outstanding card, but if you can managed to stare at the figures a bit without your eyes glazing over, we do think a hero emerges.

Look at that Samsung card. Best at the 1000M sequential read. Best at the 1000MB sequential write. Second best at the 1000MB/512K random write and leading the pack for the 50MB/512K random write. In almost every test, it achieves consistently good results. It’s top dog when it comes to writing data and no slouch at reading it. All this and it’s the second cheapest.


Samsung MicroSD card - the winner
Samsung MicroSD card – the winner
If you’d like to mine the data we collected, you can download it here as a zipped Excel spreadsheet – this contains the raw data from all our tests – no less than 450 data points! Whatever you do, we think you’ll agree with us that in this class, the best value MicroSD card by far is the Samsung 16GB Class 10 MicroSD. There isn’t even a runner up in this contest; the remaining contenders are either too slow or too expensive.

Light sabre duel image copyright © Sean Dreilinger, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Review: Geek’s top 5 Christmas tech gifts for 2013

As you know, Dummy and I are constantly on the lookout for good-value, great gadgets. Are you stuck for gift ideas for the tech-lover in your life? Look no further. Dummy has already offered you his “top five” list; here’s mine.

Network-enabled media streamer: Roku LT

Roku LTI’ve yet to review this device, but I bought one earlier this year, when Roku discounted them from £50 to £35. They’re not quite that cheap now (up to £45), but they’re still great value, very competent devices.

Roku’s set-top boxes appeal to me, because rather than buying one of those super-expensive “smart TVs” (like Dummy did), instead for a relatively trivial sum, you can upgrade virtually any television with this small, unimposing gizmo. There are a few different media streamers in the series, but this bottom-of-the-range LT was more than sufficient for my needs – to stream media (from a wireless network connection) to a 32 inch television. The LT offers 720p HD video and has a super-low power consumption profile.

The idea is that you add various different “channels” from Roku’s huge library, which includes iPlayer, Demand 5, 4oD, Plex, Netflix and a host of others. The LT’s big brother, the 3, has more tricks up its sleeve, like a wired ethernet port, USB in, headphone socket on the remote (genius!) and games. I needed none of those though and have been absolutely delighted with the LT.

If Roku doesn’t quite float your boat, you might want to consider an Apple TV. More expensive, feature-for-feature, but simple to use and well-appreciated by all its owners.

Low-cost hobby PC: Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi model B rev 1As you might have noticed, we’re real fans of this British innovation. You are more or less limited only by your imagination. People are using Pis to run media centres, provide home surveillance, as a web server, for time-lapse photography, as a custom games console, and on and on. Prices start from about £24 for the model A, but I recommend starting with the B for the best experience.

Great value tablet: Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7This is a close call. There are more and more tablets on the market these days and the quality is increasing as manufacturers weed out early production problems. You won’t get anything that I’d call “great value” from Apple or Microsoft, so that leaves us with the Android platform. And wow, there’s an awful lot of choice now.

I’m torn on this one. Amazon is pushing out better and better Kindles at keener and keener prices. The Kindle Fire HD is a serious contender for this top 5 list – £120 now; that’s a bargain. But ultimately, the fact that the Nexus 7 doesn’t need to be hacked (“rooted”) to get the best from it means that this tablet is the better choice in my opinion. You can pick one up for under £200 and I don’t think anyone could be disappointed to find one of these in his or her stocking.

Portable Bluetooth speaker: Soundwave SW100

Soundwave SW100I’ve had more than six months with this speaker that I reviewed back in May this year. I just can’t fault it. Great at what it does and a real steal at £20.

Budget Android phone: Huawei Ascend Y300

Huawei Ascend Y300In an extremely saturated market, it’s really hard for one phone to stand out from amongst the crowd. If we’re going to continue the theme of great value for money though, I think you can’t go wrong with the Ascend Y300 from rising star Huawei. Under a hundred quid. It’ll do the job. And if you’re buying for someone who’s a little accident prone, better this than a four hundred quid Galaxy S4 (which is a really great phone by the way, but expensive).

Review: Dummy’s top 5 Christmas tech gifts for 2013

Here at Geek & Dummy we have reviewed varied products this year and if you’ve been following our blog, you’ll have noticed that Geek and I have differing tastes and requirements from our tech. Here are my top 5 products of the year, largely based around their impact on me. As you know, I’m a bit of a… well a dummy, so to appear on my list a gadget needs to be one of those tech products that basically works out of the box.

Synology DS213J 2 Bay Desktop NAS Enclosure

Synology DS213J

I’ve been using NAS type devices for many years now but this truly IS the daddy. NAS or Network Attached Storage is a system of 1 or more hard drives, a network connection and an operating system. It connects to your network, allowing other devices on the network to access and share files from a central location. Traditionally, quite a dumb device, these have now evolved considerably. The Synology comes with a veritable “app store” of free products to help you backup, stream media and download torrents. All this and RAID too, to ensure your valuable data is as safe as it can be.

The stand-out feature for me is DNLA. Put simply, with my Samsung Smart 3D TV on my home network, if I drop a a picture, some music or a film on the Synology box, my Samsung TV immediately sees it and I can access and watch it. Pure genius. The only thing to remember is that the purchase price doesn’t include the hard drives you will need. When I bought my Synology NAS it worked out a lot cheaper to go and source (high quality) hard drives rather than take a pre-configured bundle. I opted for these WD 3TB SATA III Caviar hard drives: fast and quiet and at the right price!

PowerDirector 10 Video Editing Software

PowerDirector 10

I’m an amateur film maker and this year I discovered PowerDirector 10. Having played with iMovie and Windows Movie Maker I was looking for some software to take me to the next level but with that all-important Dummy proviso: it must work out of the box without requiring a degree to understand it.

I have to say it’s revolutionised my film editing. With some interesting sound editing capabilities built in, this year PowerDirector has helped both my Geek & Dummy and my 4×4 film viewing figures to soar. I particularly like the way it lets you create and edit mini slide shows within your film. The image enhancement options have rescued some dark and otherwise unusable footage on more than one occasion. This is my fav film from this year created with this software. The only downside is it is a resource hungry animal and you’ll need something pretty powerful to run it properly. I’d recommend something like the Lenovo Ideacentre K450, with stacks of RAM, storage and video oomph.

Kodak Playsport ZX5 and ZX3 Action Cameras Amazon for ZX5 but eBay for ZX3

Kodak ZX3

For the second year running these amazing little cameras have proved to be my mainstay action camera. I stumbled on them absolutely by chance and have since bought 7. They are relatively cheap and I have been buying both the ZX5 and the ZX3 (the latter second hand on eBay). They are essentially the same camera but the older ZX3 has a removable battery and to be honest, I quite prefer the older one because of that. Other than the battery they take exactly the same images and that Kodak lens is amazing. It completely puts to shame the very expensive and industry standard GoPro in the image and even sound department.

Where the GoPro and indeed most action cameras require a secondary housing to make them waterproof and shockproof, the Playsport range in standard guise does all that as standard. Believe me I have tested them to near destruction on many occasions during the year. I took one on holiday with me this year and it made a fantastic underwater film without the need to add a cumbersome case.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ48

Panasonic Lumix Bridge

This is the second of three cameras to make my short list this year and another that has helped me improve both my stills photography and my video photography. Originally when I bought the Lumix Bridge camera the theory was I needed to progress beyond a standard happy snapper but not go so far that I’d need to spend an hour reading a manual every time I wanted to take a picture. This camera has a top quality lens and a very simple dial that allows you to alter settings quickly to match the type of photography you’re taking.

Whilst I didn’t consider this aspect when I bought it, to my amazement the video functions of the camera are also fantastic. Often you find that the video features are a bit of an afterthought on stills cameras and are low quality. Not so with the Panasonic and whilst it can be difficult to hold steady, the clarity of the video images is the best of any camera I own, probably thanks to the quality of its lens. Read my full review here.

Drift Ghost HD Action Camera

Drift Ghost HD Action Camera

So to my last but definitely not least tech buy of the year. When I originally reviewed this action camera I was in two minds about it. In fact when I re-read my review I’ve been down right uncharitable. Looking at the facts, its  expensive compared to the Kodak range and straight out of the box the image quality, mounting set-up and operation are all a bit of a pain. Keeping to my Dummy ethos, it felt like a bit of a hassle to be honest.

Having now lived with it for a month or two, boy is this a piece of kit. It seems that the issues I had filming in low light are resolved by a slight tweak to the aperture settings. Bluetooth connectivity to my mobile phone turns out to be a great, though rarely used feature – I can view what the camera sees, on my phone. The remote control is a revelation for action camera photography; by making it so much easier to switch on and off this vastly reduces the amount of boring footage I have to edit out. You’ll need to buy a decent class 10 microSD card to get the best from it, but they have come right down in price now.

Ok; all of this comes with a £250 price tag (Geek & Dummy do have a 10% discount voucher for the first lucky reader requesting it) but for the time it saves me and the quality of the images I’m now getting, it’s worth every penny. In fact do you know what, I’m getting another one for Christmas!

Review: Bluetooth OBDII OBD2 Diagnostic Scanner

DUMMY: I’d been excited about doing this review for quite some time but describing delivery of this item from China as “slow” and “a bit dodgy” is an understatement. Now it has at last arrived though, I can say it massively exceeded my expectations.P1010932

GEEK: It was one of those occasions where the seller pretends to have “UK stock”, but quotes a 30 day delivery time… And then the package turns up with a customs declaration, describing the item as a “gift”. Not to mention the hassle associated with returns, should the unit prove to be faulty. So it pretty much goes without saying that we would only advocate buying from abroad for low-cost, low-urgency items like this. All that said, Dummy is right: great piece of kit, for buttons.

DUMMY: Let’s wind this back a stage. Virtually every modern vehicle – even my Land Rover Defender – comes equipped with an OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostics) port. 2013-11-08 13.19.22Similarly these vehicles are fitted with an ECU (Electronic Control Unit) and this little computer will be monitoring hundreds, if not thousands of events that are going on in your vehicle every millisecond. The OBD port is like a network cable into that information and the OBD Bluetooth Diagnostic Scanner is the device that can take that information and send it to a program where it can be processed.

GEEK: He almost sounds like he knows what he’s talking about doesn’t he?

DUMMY: [ignores Geek] Sounding complicated? It really isn’t. You find an app that works with the scanner, you plug the scanner in, you start your engine and hey presto, an immediate window to the soul of your car.

GEEK: There are a few apps out there that will translate this information into a variety of user-friendly dials and displays. At the moment, for Bluetooth adapters like the one we’re reviewing, you’re basically restricted to Android or PC devices. Apple is extremely fussy about what it will allow to connect via Bluetooth. Yet another reason to see the light and throw your iDevices in the bin.

DUMMY: You just can’t pass up an opportunity can you?!
If I’m honest, my boy racer days are behind me. Although I was mildly interested in seeing live BHP calculations and how many G’s I was pulling, the main attraction of this device to me are the diagnostics. Select the right app and it is simplicity itself to interrogate the ECU to find out how your car is feeling. Not just viewing and interpreting fault codes, but also resetting those codes as required. Yes that’s right, that job for which your dealer or local garage charges you £40 a pop, you can now do for yourself and all your friends and family for £6 – for life.

GEEK: Ha – middle-aged much?! We’ve looked at some interesting devices this year, expensive and cheap. Of them all, without doubt this has to be the simplest and most cost effective purchase of the year.

DUMMY: Ha – skinflint much? It’s a real shame that this is no use for Apple devices, in its cheaper Bluetooth form. Looks like this Apple fanboy is going to have to hand the best bit of equipment we have bought this year straight to Geek.

GEEK: Rest assured, if we can work out an easy way of making it work with iOS, we’ll be all over that. Watch this space! In the meantime, the Android apps we used in our tests were aLapRecorder HD (which unfortunately appears to have been abandoned by its developer), Carista OBD2 (free) and Torque Pro (not free, but excellent).

DUMMY: Anyway, enough chat. Here is a little road test we did together of this brilliant little device. I apologise in advance for Geek’s driving!!

[easyreview title=”Consensus” icon=”collab” cat1title=”Ease of use” cat1detail=”Couldn’t be any easier, no really.” cat1rating=”4.5″ cat2title=”Features” cat2detail=”Its feature is communciating via Bluetooth which is does faultlessly. The clever stuff happens in the software it connects to.” cat2rating=”4″ cat3title=”Value for money” cat3detail=”Can’t be beaten. Full stop.” cat3rating=”5″ cat4title=”Build Quality” cat4detail=”Feels substantial. We certainly don’t pick it up and think it’s cheap.” cat4rating=”4.5″ summary=”We can’t tell you how delighted we are with this purchase – and the price delights most of all!”]

Review: JOYO JA-03 Guitar Headphone Amplifier

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up an ESP LTD F-155DX 5 string electric bass guitar. It was slightly bashed, but otherwise in great condition – in short, at only £200, a bargain. I love bargains.

There’s one small problem with electric instruments: they need amplification. And amplification can sometimes be a little… antisocial. In order to keep relations with Mrs Geek reasonably harmonious, I started looking around for a solution.

One of the problems was that I didn’t know exactly what I needed. In the past, I’ve come across micro amps, which have a built-in speaker but I wanted something even more compact, that could just drive a pair of headphones.

Eventually I stumbled across the well-reviewed Vox AmPlugs. Plug the device into the guitar, put your headphones into that, simple. At £32 though, I wondered if there might be something a bit cheaper. Since this was just going to be for quick practice sessions, I didn’t need the best that money can buy.

JOYO JA-03 guitar headphone ampCasting my net slightly wider, I came across the JOYO JA-03 series of headphone amps. They look suspiciously like a clone of the AmPlug, but who knows, perhaps they’re made under licence. Anyway, the important point: they’re just a tenner. Sold!

There are a few different amps in the range, with different sounds – tube, metal and so on (see the full range on JOYO’s website). I plumped for “Acoustic“. I’d read good things about the sound of the ESP bass, so I wanted to hear it as clean as possible – and this better suits the style of music I’m going to be playing, anyway (i.e. not heavy metal).

JOYO JA-03 Acoustic in blister packThe amp arrived very quickly, well packaged in its blister pack. Happily this was the type of blister pack that is not sealed shut, so you can open it without having to cut the pack. Fewer blister-pack-related injuries – yay!

The JA-03 is powered by a pair of AAA batteries. Happily, the amp came with fresh batteries in the pack, so you’re good to go straight away.

There’s not a lot to the device. The standard quarter inch jack is built in (no need for a separate lead – you plug it straight into your guitar). It has a 3.5mm socket for headphones and another 3.5mm socket for an auxiliary/line input. In this way, you can feed music through the amp and play along.

JOYO JA-03 controlsYou get four controls: gain, tone, volume and power. The volume control affects the level of the input from your instrument. I expected the gain control would alter the volume of the auxiliary input, but not so. It’s hard to describe what this does – it doesn’t change the overall volume of any input; instead it makes it sound more like you’re playing through an amplifier. If you crank the gain control all the way up, you hear that characteristic hiss and the sound from your instrument is more like it is being played through a compressor – a little “thin”. I found I had the cleanest sound with gain turned right down.

The volume of the auxiliary input is not controlled by the JA-03. I plugged in my phone using a 3.5mm cable and then set the volume of the music on my phone. Using my phone’s volume control and the the volume mixer on the amp, I was able to find a perfect balance between the music I was playing and the output of the bass, very easily.

Skipping over the power control (which I trust requires no further comment!) the remaining control is the tone dial. This is a pretty low grade adjustment. I didn’t like the effect it had on the sound of my bass, so I left it in the neutral centre position.

With the mix right and all the tone adjustment coming from the excellent active pickup set on the ESP bass, I was frankly blown away. Not by my playing, I hasten to add, but by the convenience of the set up and the great sound I achieved through some fairly cheap and nasty in-ear headphones. For practice purposes, this is all you need.

I went one step further though, and connected the output of the JA-03 to my humble home stereo. With tunes coming from my phone, it was a joy to play along in my living room and Mrs Geek didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact the 9 year old twin junior Geeks loved the show (I know, the “hero worship” bubble will burst soon enough – let me have my moment of glory).

If you’re very fussy about the quality of your audio, you might want to look for something built with more expensive circuitry, but honestly at this price, you cannot beat this. Highly recommended. Pick one up from Amazon (or somewhere else if you prefer), today!

At the time of writing, the JA-03 can be yours for just £9.49.

[easyreview title=”Geek rating” icon=”geek” cat1title=”Ease of use” cat1detail=”Very, very straightforward.” cat1rating=”5″ cat2title=”Features” cat2detail=”It’s hard to think of anything else I’d add – maybe a distortion effect? But that’s just me being greedy.” cat2rating=”4.5″ cat3title=”Value for money” cat3detail=”Can’t be beaten. Full stop.” cat3rating=”5″ cat4title=”Build Quality” cat4detail=”Feels like it’s made from slightly brittle plastic. Not sure how well it would survive a serious bash in a soft case. Made from cheap materials as you’d expect at this price point. Otherwise it’s assembled well enough and feels solid.” cat4rating=”3.5″ summary=”I can’t tell you how delighted I am with this purchase – and the price delights most of all!”]

Review: Sony HDRAS15 Sports Action Camcorder with Full HD and Wi-Fi

I am constantly on the look out for good action cameras. The action I shoot is quite specific in that I attach cameras to off-road vehicles and I insist on them being robust, easy to use but obviously able to capture quality images in all weathers. Audio is important to me to the extent that there must be sufficient sound quality to capture an old Land Rover engine.

Sony HDRAS15 Zeiss LensThe market leading GoPro range can be found wanting in many of these areas: the moment the sun goes in or you drive down an enclosed lane, the picture quality plummets. That and thinking of the extra case needed to make it waterproof and the poor sound, well it’s fair to say I’m not a GoPro fan.

So I read about this Sony Sport Camera and the fact it was running a Carl Zeiss lens and I was excited about the prospect of some high quality images. Perhaps I’d found a competitor to my current camera of choice the Drift Ghost HD?

Sony HDRAS15 FlimsyOut of the box I was immediately a little disappointed. Everything felt flimsy and light. The access panel to the camera’s inner workings is a really shoddy-feeling click-off panel. I was willing to forgive it this because after all, it did come with a snazzy looking waterproof case. The battery compartment was similarly fiddly and cumbersome and this camera was starting to me more like one of those cheap Chinese ones you pick up from eBay. I couldn’t help but hold it up to the HD Drift Ghost and wonder if I had paid a lot of money for a dead duck!

It uses what is now the standard (MicroSD memory cards) and can handle up to 32GB.

From some quick research, it had everything I expected from an action camera in this price range other than, weirdly, a colour screen. Instead Sony assumes the wireless connection to your mobile phone will be all you will ever need. I think that’s a big mistake. Action cameras should trade on simplicity and image quality and I’m not a fan of unnecessary bells and whistles that do little other than push up the prices.

So I read ‘Carl Zeiss’ on the side of the camera by the lens. Surely the pictures at least will be high quality?

Okay then, time for a short video demonstrating the footage this camera takes.

Sony HDRAS15 On of buttonWhat can I say after that? To be honest I cut my review short. It’s quite simply unfit for purpose and I returned it to Amazon for a refund. I really could not find one redeeming feature in this camera and apart from the poor case design, average sound, average visuals it simply didn’t work. The on/off switch through the case was rubbish and often wouldn’t toggle the power without some serious force. It was just a really bad user experience and something that I recommend you avoid. You would be much better off spending a little more for a Drift Ghost HD or even a little less and getting the Kodak PlaySport Zx5, both of which are superior in every single way.

I had high hopes for this camera and it’s not often I buy something that so bitterly disappoints. I’ve watched and read quite a few reviews that seem to make some lofty claims and I can only guess they are sockpuppet reviews from retailers because this camera is nothing short of useless. In fact since buying it and writing this review I notice the price is plummeting which tells you all you need to know really!

[easyreview title=”Dummy rating” icon=”dummy” cat1title=”Ease of use” cat1detail=”No screen to align the camera; on off button is hopeless.” cat1rating=”0.5″ cat2title=”Features” cat2detail=”I’ll credit it a 2 because of the features it claims it has. I didn’t get that far.” cat2rating=”2″ cat3title=”Value for money” cat3detail=”I found it unfit for purpose. Certainly expected a lot more for the money.” cat3rating=”1″ cat4title=”Build quality” cat4detail=”Everything about it felt cheap and shoddy” cat4rating=”0.5″ summary=”I’d spend a quarter of the price of this on an eBay special and get better quality .”]

How-to: Raspberry Pi tutorial part 3: Web & file hosting with Webmin & Virtualmin

[easyreview title=”Complexity rating” icon=”geek” cat1title=”Level of experience required, to follow this how-to.” cat1detail=”You’ll need to keep your wits about you!” cat1rating=”4″ overall=”false”]


Right, so our basic Raspberry Pi is set up and ready to go. You’ve got the Pi, you’ve got the case and you’ve got a decent SD card. What next? How about turning it into a low-powered file server and web host?

To do this, we’re going to install Webmin (a web-based server management application) and Virtualmin (a virtual hosting platform that sits on Webmin). This will leave us with a convenient graphical interface for managing the Pi and a full blown web hosting environment.

Prepare the Pi

I’ll assume for the purposes of this exercise, that we’re picking up from where we left off, from tutorials 1 and 2. That is, you have the Rasbian operating system installed on your Pi, and a backup to revert to if it all goes horribly wrong.

Next step: we need to install a few packages that Webmin and Virtualmin depend on, plus the services we’ll be managing. From a root SSH shell, issue the following commands:

apt-get update
apt-get -y upgrade
apt-get -y install apache2 apache2-suexec-custom libnet-ssleay-perl libauthen-pam-perl libio-pty-perl apt-show-versions samba bind9 webalizer locate mysql-server

Due to the Pi’s limited power, you may find these operations take a while. I’m installing locate for my own convenience – it’s handy for tracking down obscure files on your system. You can install PostgreSQL instead of MySQL if you prefer.

Install Webmin


According to the official site:

Webmin is a web-based interface for system administration for Unix. Using any modern web browser, you can setup user accounts, Apache, DNS, file sharing and much more. Webmin removes the need to manually edit Unix configuration files like /etc/passwd, and lets you manage a system from the console or remotely…

When I install packages that I’ve downloaded (rather than directly through a package manager), I like to keep them in one place, so I can keep track of what’s installed. I’ve formed the habit of keeping these packages in a directory belonging to root. So, to get Webmin, whilst logged in as root:

mkdir installed-packages
cd installed-packages
wget http://prdownloads.sourceforge.net/webadmin/webmin_1.660_all.deb

That last command downloads Webmin’s package. The version number will inevitably change – you can make sure you have the latest version by browsing to the official Webmin website and looking for the “Debian Package” link on the left hand side of the page.

Install Webmin with:

dpkg -i webmin_1.660_all.deb

Again, this is fairly intense for the Pi, so be patient! Once complete, you should be rewarded with a response like:

Webmin install complete. You can now login to https://my-pi:10000/
as root with your root password, or as any user who can use sudo
to run commands as root.

Connect to the relevant page with a web browser, accept the SSL certificate warning and you should see something like the following:


For some reason when I logged in, it wouldn’t accept the root password. Webmin actually tracks the root password separately from the Linux password database. If like me you find you can’t log on as root, you can fix this by running the following command:

/usr/share/webmin/changepass.pl /etc/webmin root [new password]

Configure Apache

Apache logo

Earlier, we installed the apache2-suexec-custom module. This allows us to run Apache websites securely for multiple users, under a directory other than /var/www. Using your favourite text editor, load up the file /etc/apache2/suexec/www-data. Change the first line from /var/www to /home.

Enable some modules that Virtualmin will need, and restart Apache:

a2enmod suexec
a2enmod actions
service apache2 restart

If you see an error message “Could not reliably determine the server’s fully qualified domain name, using for ServerName”, you can safely ignore this. It doesn’t matter, for the correct functioning of Virtualmin.

Install Virtualmin


At the official site, you’ll read:

It is a Webmin module for managing multiple virtual hosts through a single interface, like Plesk or Cpanel. It supports the creation and management of Apache virtual hosts, BIND DNS domains, MySQL databases, and mailboxes and aliases with Sendmail or Postfix. It makes use of the existing Webmin modules for these servers, and so should work with any existing system configuration, rather than needing it’s [sic] own mail server, web server and so on.

You can install Virtualmin from within Webmin. Proceed like this:

  1. Log in to Webmin
  2. From the Virtualmin download page, find the link entitled “Virtualmin module in Webmin format”. Copy the link (it will end in “.wbm.gz”).
  3. In Webmin, go to Webmin–>Webmin Configuration–>Webmin Modules. Select the radio button next to “From ftp or http URL” and paste the link you copied into the field. Then click “Install Module”.
  4. Do the same for the link for the “Virtualmin theme in Webmin format”. You’ll find the necessary link on the Webmin site, called “Virtualmin theme in Webmin format (for FreeBSD, MacOS and Solaris)”. The link will end in “.wbt.gz”, this time.
  5. To activate this theme, go to Webmin–>Webmin Configuration–>Webmin Themes. From the drop-down box, choose “Virtualmin Framed Theme” and click “Change”. Ignore the “Post-Installation Wizard” for now, and hit F5 to refresh your browser and use the Virtualmin theme for Webmin. You should arrive at a screen like this:
  6. Click Next, to arrive at the “Memory Use” screen. My guess is that for most cases, it would be best to answer “No” here (don’t pre-load Virtualmin). Click Next.
  7. The next choice is database servers. This is up to you, but I switch MySQL on and PostgreSQL off. Click Next.
  8. You’ll see a message “MySQL has been enabled, but cannot be used by Virtualmin. Use the MySQL Database module to fix the problem.”. Click the “MySQL Database” link.
  9. Enter your root username/password combination for MySQL (you will have been asked this when you installed MySQL via apt). After saving this, hit F5 to refresh and return to the Post Installation Wizard.
  10. Proceed through the wizard up to where we left off (just after database server selection).
  11. Leave the MySQL password unchanged and click Next.
  12. I would suggest setting MySQL memory usage to 256M and clicking Next.
  13. In the DNS config screen, check the box “Skip check for resolvability” and click Next.
  14. Set password storage mode to “Store plain-text passwords” and click Next.
  15. At the “All done” screen, click Next. We’re not all done, by the way!
  16. You’re now at the main Virtualmin screen. Click the “Re-check and refresh configuration” button.
  17. You’ll see a complaint about DNS. Click the link “list of DNS servers”. Enter as the first DNS server, make sure the hostname is a fully qualified domain name and click Save. Then hit F5 to go back to Virtualmin.
  18. Click the “Re-check and refresh configuration” button again.
  19. The next complaint is about email. I’m not planning to use the Pi as an email server, so we can just disable that Virtualmin module. Go to Virtualmin->Systems Settings->Features and Plugins. Uncheck the “Mail for domain” module, slick Save, then hit F5.
  20. If your screen now looks basically like this, you’re good to start hosting websites (using the “Create Virtual Server” link).

Setting up virtual hosting is a big subject and beyond the scope of this tutorial, but that’s the basic platform in place. Have a read of the official Virtualmin documentation for pointers. If you happen to browse to your Raspberry Pi’s IP address or DNS name, you’ll be rewarded with a very simple test page:

Raspberry web server

Running a file server

With Webmin and Virtualmin up and running, you can now start creating file shares. How you approach this depends a bit on how you want to use the server. Probably (!) this will be a personal/hobby server. In that case, I would suggest creating a new virtual server for each user first. That creates all the initial Virtualmin linkage for hosting websites and databases. Then having done that, you can create a fileshare for the user(s) by browsing to Webmin->Servers->Samba Windows File Sharing.

Again, the specific details are best not discussed here, because there are so many possible different configurations. You are however ready to start customising your file/web server to your heart’s content. So now would be a perfect time to take a snapshot of your Pi, so you have a good restore point.

Happy hosting!

Review: Drift HD Ghost Action Camera


I’m going to start this review in an unusual place for me, with the packaging! Have you ever looked at a review and it starts with someone taking the product out of the box and you just think ‘Why? Not interested!” and then you fast forward? Yes, yes I know, I do the same. So at at the risk of boring you guys…

I picked this one up from Action Cameras UK and what a cool little box the Drift HD Ghost comes in. It’s designed so well to display the product and also to be used as for ongoing storage that I thought it merited a mention.

The Ghost is the updated incarnation of the Drift HD, which was already a pretty successful action camera in its own right. The big draw of the HD Ghost for me was the remote control unit.

Drift Ghost Camera and RemoteBoth the remote and the camera have a durable rubberised coating. If you’ve experimented with one of the cheap and cheerful ‘Chinese’ eBay action cameras, the jump in quality to the Ghost is very evident indeed, as is the price of course. It feels satisfyingly heavy giving me the impression of quality but perhaps it would be a little too weighty to be used as a helmet cam. Since I plan to mount this on a 4×4 and give it some abuse, that’s not an issue for me.

Now as is my Dummy remit, reading the manual before using the camera is not my style. My first test was to jump straight in. I mounted the HD Ghost on one of my VacMounts Pro series suction mounts (after all it’s more expensive than my usual cameras and I didn’t want to lose it) and went for a day’s green-laning in the Oldham and Holmfirth area. The weather was horrible, so perfect as a first test for something claiming to be an action camera.

Camera Mounting

One issue that irritated me about the HD Ghost was the way it mounted. The standard camera screw thread is located on what is in fact its side. To me it appeared to be the base so when I mounted it for the first section of testing, a laning day in Oldham, all the footage was on its side and I had to flip it in post-processing, which lost the effect of the 170 degree lens. The thread seems poorly located to me and I expect everyone to make a similar mistake the first time they use the camera. Okay, you can spin the lens around but the more you have to mess about with an action camera to set it up, the less I see it as an action camera.

Camera Lens and Waterproofing

Drift Ghost Fish Eye LensThe weather during this testing was horrible: driving rain and a dark brooding day. When I started watching my footage back the first thing I noticed was that all of my cameras with a traditional flat lens had collected beads of rain and a lot of the footage from them was useless. The Ghost HD has that fish eye lens in a glass dome and whilst rain did hit it and stick for a short while, the shape encouraged the rain to run off. The first gust of wind or bit of speed and the lens would clear again. Definitely score one for the Ghost. As for being waterproof, the weather was simply horrible all day long and short of being submerged I couldn’t have tested it any more thoroughly. The Drift Ghost came out with flying colours.

Battery life was comparable with any other camera I’ve used in the action area. I started with a fully charged battery and with frequent activation via the remote, the camera battery lasted about 3 hours. The remote unit lasted all day without any issues.

Drift Ghost RemoteWhilst we are on the subject of the remote, wow, what a feature that is! It flashes in different colours to indicate to the operator what mode the camera is operating in and what the camera is currently doing. The camera options to take single pictures or bursts of pictures (which you might use for stop motion photography?). I stuck with it in standard video mode because that works best for my kind of action photography. However I did test both modes and they worked perfectly and the images were of a good quality. I loved the fact that when the camera was recording, the remote flashed red and it gave me great control of the footage I was shooting and saved me hours in the editing room.

Sound Quality

When I did start editing the footage I noticed that the sound recorded by the Ghost was very subtle and of low amplitude. Within the sound recording options I found I was 2 clicks off the maximum setting but even cranking it up to full, the volume level was pretty low. It did however eliminate wind noise like no other camera I’ve used to date so the low volume can be fixed during editing.

To start my testing of the video quality I took the Ghost HD on a Green Lane day with my local Land Rover club during which I also filmed with some of my favourite Kodak Playsport ZX3 cameras (review here). The lens on the Kodak is superior to anything else I’ve used so straight away it had a lot to live up to. I also took some side-by-side sample shots so you could see how the cameras transitioned between light and dark conditions. I did also include my expensive Panasonic Bridge Camera in this test, which I would never mount on my bonnet for anything other than a test, but I thought it would set a bench mark for everything else!

Everything was testing using VacMounts’ professional quality mounting systems, which I have already reviewed and found to be quality kit at the right price.

I’d suggest you watch this short video because the results could come down very much to personal taste. The colours and quality from the Drift Ghost are what I would demand from a camera costing £250. That coupled with the genius remote system make it a major contender and something I am considering buying for myself (I had a demo unit for this review). My only issue is the way it handles anything other than perfect lighting situations. For use in woodland and overgrown lanes therefore the camera can be found lacking – in fact not as good my cheap and cheerful Kodak Playsports.

[easyreview title=”Dummy rating” icon=”dummy” cat1title=”Ease of use” cat1detail=”Its okay. Not too complex but the mounting angle is just plain weird.” cat1rating=”4″ cat2title=”Features” cat2detail=”Honestly can’t think what else it could have. Remote is genius, low light filming average.” cat2rating=”4″ cat3title=”Value for money” cat3detail=”Quite simply, it needs a better lens. for this money it should work in low light.” cat3rating=”2.5″ cat4title=”Build quality” cat4detail=”Its solid and robust and oozes quality.” cat4rating=”4.5″ summary=”It’s a cheaper more flexible Go-Pro with the same frailties but some nice bells & whistles.”]

Review: Car & Action Camera Mounts from VacMounts – Single Base Mount & Triple Mount

When I first started using action cameras to film 4×4 trips, I struggled for a long time trying to find a mount. My two main considerations were that the cars were bouncing around significantly and I was using expensive camera kit. A mount then had to be reliable and able to absorb some of the shock.Land Rover Action Camera

There were a number of offerings on the market but these fell into two categories. 1: made in plastic with rubbish suction clamps or 2: very professional and large but costing 3 times the value of my cameras. I bought a few of the plastic versions; some of these were quite expensive devices, but in my opinion, if it’s plastic, it’s junk. I have a drawer in the garage stuffed with broken bits of plastic clamps, suckers and brackets. I didn’t even start down the pro mount route as I run 6 cameras on some days out and quite simply that was out of my budget.

So hunting around eBay for something that might do the job, quite by chance I stumbled on VacMounts.

VacMounts TripleThe first thing to note is that they are made of anodised aluminium and come either in a triple or a single ‘super’ suction configuration. I was immediately drawn to the triple mount because it looked like it would give a good firm base for the kind of phone style cameras I use.

The suction pads are each 8cm in diameter and operate via a simple 90° lever mechanism, which seems incredibly robust – certainly compared to the plastic offerings I have used so far.

I always try to position my cameras so you can just see part of the bonnet or bodywork because it better orientates the viewer. I tested the suction on a variety of car bonnets and windscreens with finishes ranging from perfectly polished paint to vinyl covered bonnets, right through to poorly brush-painted panels.

An interesting feature of the triple mount is that the support arms are slightly pliable. This has two effects. Firstly, it lets you alter the angle of each cup to suit the surface. Secondly and most importantly for me, they absorb vibration and shock to help keep my images smooth and stable.

VacMounts Triple SuctionJust a few small pointers to ensure this mount works faultlessly. Always keep the suction cup and the surface clean. The only failure I had with the triple suction mount was when I put it on a mud covered bonnet without giving it a quick rub first. Also, make sure you moisten the cup before applying.

At the camera connection end of the mount there is a similar quality feel. A triple jointed standard 1/4″ thread ensures you can mount the camera at any angle. With metal lock nuts and joints everything feels high quality and reliable. Certainly for the smaller action cameras I use, I feel like I’ve found the perfect mount.

VacMounts Single SuctionMoving onto the single suction mount: it’s an interesting mount and at first the fact it was a single sucker made me think it would be less reliable. This uses a chuck key and a larger sucker that is 10cm in diameter. The fact it uses a removable key rather than an attached clamp means you are unlikely to unlatch the camp inadvertently, something that has happened to me occasionally when I’ve pushed my Land Rover through dense vegetation. Also the chuck key adapter allows you to activate a 180 degree turn, providing a far increased level of suction. The 1/4″ thread with double jointed fastenings is then the same as the triple mount.

In tests I’ve found that both mounts produce nearly identical results. They both seem to grip incredibly well on any half-decent surface. The triple mount suction cups have failed me once completely on a badly painted bonnet and a number of times just a single cup has come loose. The single suction cup always seems to be locked very securely indeed and although I don’t get quite the shock absorbing properties, I have to say I feel a little more confident of it.

As a budget camera mount for vehicles, both these VacMounts are way ahead of the curve. They both offer unparalleled features with the highest level of build quality I have seen in this area. Combine that with a good action camera and you have an unbeatable combination.

The triple suction mount can be found on eBay for £29.95 and the single suction cup for £13.95. Both a bargain for what they offer.

You can also visit the VacMounts website.

Visit the VacMounts store on eBay to find out more.

[easyreview title=”Dummy rating” icon=”dummy” cat1title=”Ease of use” cat1detail=”Pretty obvious stuff once you understand the surface must be clean.” cat1rating=”4.5″ cat2title=”Features” cat2detail=”Perfect for purpose. Triple mount has let me down once. Fortunately no damage to my camera.” cat2rating=”4″ cat3title=”Value for money” cat3detail=”You will be paying considerably more anywhere else for mounts of this quality.” cat3rating=”5″ cat4title=”Build quality” cat4detail=”Infinitely better quality than anything else in its price range.” cat4rating=”5″ summary=”If you want a reliable action camera mount, seriously, I wouldn’t look any further.”]

Review: Underwater Video Photography with the Kodak Playsport ZX3

I’ve long been a fan of the Kodak Playsport ZX3. It’s been my mainstay action camera for a few years because of its excellent balance of value, quality and durability. It’s also got one of the better external microphone systems and brilliant image stabilization.

If you’ve ever seen any of my action films you’ll know that I feature 4×4 vehicles and the reason I’d selected a waterproof camera is because they are usually required to splash through rivers or more typically survive the rain of Welsh mountains!!!

P1010497_zps129b0c4fWell, here at Geek & Dummy we have taken delivery of some very promising new action cameras (reviews to follow) that may well be ending my love affair with the Playsport. I thought it was time to see what it could do underwater. If the claims made by Kodak prove to be bunkum and this kills one of my beloved Playsports, maybe I can live with that now replacements are at hand!

Before I start the review in detail, I always feel the need to qualify the ZX3. It’s pretty much end of life and is an action camera that has been on the market for 5 years+. Before I first reviewed them they were selling

for about £45. Unfortunately they now go for £60+, which may well be my fault for shining the spotlight on them. Amazon does have the successor ZX5 listed for £156 and whilst I wouldn’t pay that because of the abuse I give them, I’d still say that offered some value.P1010498_zpsf5009d6b

What we have then is essentially quite old tech at a bargain price.

The Zx3 is ready to go straight into the water as it is without the need for a secondary case. As I’ve described in a previous review all its compartments are sealed and water tight. What you do need to do is alter the camera’s software to cope with being underwater.

Anyway, enough chatting from me. This is just one of those reviews where you need to see the results. I’ve used PowerDirector 10
to edit the clips but other than slowing a few frames down or reversing it for fun, this is unadulterated and straight from the camera.

As I have already reviewed the main camera this review is purely covering the underwater usability.