Recently my old HP Inkjet printer stopped working so I needed to purchase a new printer. I don’t print all that often and I rarely print photos so I have fairly basic requirements so I don’t want to spend too much. With smartphones and tablets being so popular I wanted one that would support both iOS and Android. Apple supports printing with AirPrint and Google supports printing via Cloud Print. It is actually kind of difficult to find a printer that supports both AirPrint and Cloud Print. Each printing technology lists supported printers, but the lists are not complete and not cross referenced with each other. So you can find a printer that supports AirPrint, but not Cloud Print.
Another feature that I wanted was cheap 3rd party cartridges. I’m tired of paying $50 to HP just for one set of black and color cartridges. One set of ink cartridges costs more than the entire printer. The printer manufacturers say don’t use 3rd party ink. But I’ve used it in the past and it worked fine for my use. Even if the 3rd party ink breaks your printer, you can just buy a new printer that includes new cartridges so you haven’t lost much.
Here is the list of requirements for the new printer:
- Inexpensive to buy the printer
- Supports Google Cloud Print
- Supports Apple AirPrint
- Inexpensive Ink Cartridges
After looking around it seems that the only printer company that supports all of these requirements is Brother. The other major manufacturers all were missing one feature. On many printers they only supported both AirPrint and Cloud Print on their more expensive printers. Or the printer supported both printing technologies but there were no inexpensive ink cartridges.
I ended up purchasing the Brother MFC-J435. Setting it up was easy. It has an LCD screen so I was able to select my wireless network on the screen and type in the passkey on the numeric keypad. To enable AirPrint and Cloud Print you just need to use a web browser on your computer and connect to the IP Address of the printer (find the IP Address in the Settings menu of the printer). The printer has a scanner and auto document feeder so you can put a bunch of papers in the feeder and they will all be scanned automatically. The printer also has a fax feature if you still need to use faxes.
Another useful feature is the Brother iPhone app. The app connects to the printer automatically and you can print and scan with it. I haven’t tried printing because AirPrint is supported natively by the iPhone. But the scanning feature is pretty cool, you can insert the documents that you want scanned and hit scan in the app. All the pages are scanned and then combined into a PDF which you can then email to yourself.
As for the ink it is very cheap. At Amazon you can get 10 cartridges for about $7 with free shipping. I haven’t personally used this ink yet because I’m still on the original cartridges, but the pack has a 4 star review on Amazon which is really good for 3rd party ink.
The Acer Aspire One AO722 netbook computer is a great laptop computer. It is affordable (around $300) and has all these features: compact size, nice high resolution screen, HDMI port, good battery life, quiet, decent CPU and video. The CPU isn’t very fast compared to a modern desktop computer, but for 95% of the people out there it is plenty fast enough for web browsing, office applications, etc.
As good as this notebook is you can make it even better. The AO722 is very easy for anyone to upgrade. You can perform any of these upgrades even if you’ve never opened a computer before. All you need to do is remove the battery and take out a single screw to get to all three of these components. These are the starting instructions in order to do any of the three upgrades described below:
- Completely shut down Windows (don’t use sleep or hibernate).
- Close the lid and turn the computer upside down.
- Put a pen or other pointy object into the little hole near the battery and slide it while you slide the battery out.
- Unscrew the single screw at the bottom of the laptop.
- Slide the cover off.
Memory is very cheap nowadays so upgrading the memory is worthwhile. The AO722 has a single slot for memory. So you will need to completely replace the existing memory chip with a higher capacity one. I have heard that the AO722 can use up to 8gb chips, but Acer says that 4gb is the max so I would stick with that. 8gb chips are expensive and you will be unlikely to ever use that much in this computer. Some versions of the AO722 come with 4gb stock (notably the version that Costco sells), so if you are buying a new computer you may want to buy the 4gb version.
If you currently have 2gb of RAM you can buy a 4gb module. You’ll want to buy a single 4gb 204-pin DDR3 So-DIMM module like this one. Make sure you don’t buy a kit that has two 2gb modules, these will not work because the AO722 only has a single slot for memory. Once you have the memory module follow this is how you install it:
- Find the existing memory module and push out the two retention brackets that hold it in.
- The memory module should tilt up allowing you to pull it out.
- Push the new module at an angle into the socket.
- Push the module down so it lies flat, the retention brackets should snap in holding the module in place.
- Reassemble the computer and start Windows.
- Go to the Start Menu
- Right click “Computer” and select properties. Verify that installed memory is now 4gb.
Upgrading the hard drive to a SSD is the most complicated upgrade. But if you do it you get all these benefits: super fast, low power usage, and no moving parts. There are lots of SSD drives available. First start by choosing the capacity. While you could fit Windows on a 64gb drive you would have very little space left over so I don’t recommend 64gb. I think 128gb is a good size for most people. 128gb will give you enough room for Windows plus a lot of applications and data. I’d only consider going higher if you plan on storing a lot of movies or other very large files.
All SSD drives come in the 2.5″ size that will fit in the AO722. The only thing to watch out for is the drive height. Most drives come with a 9mm height, but there are some new drives that come in a a low profile 7.5mm height. The 7.5mm drives will need an adapter, otherwise the fit will not be tight enough. Just stick to the 9mm drives and you’ll be fine.
I chose the Crucial M4 128gb for my upgrade. This drive has a good reputation, a good value, and has a 9mm height. There are other drives that score higher in benchmarks, but in a netbook you’re not going to see any speed differences so the price increase is not worth it. I chose the drive that came bundled with a data transfer kit. The kit comes with software to clone your existing drive to the SSD and a data cable to transfer the data. If you are planning on transferring your existing Windows install I recommend getting the kit, the price isn’t much higher and it makes the transfer process very easy.
If you are transferring your existing data to the new drive:
- Start Windows like normal.
- Plug your SSD into the data transfer cable, plug the USB end into your computer.
- Transfer the software from the CD to your AO722 (either over the network or with a USB drive)
- Run the software, no installation is required.
- Select the options to copy your existing drive to the SSD and start the transfer.
- It will take an hour or so to copy the data. The software seems to freeze up at certain points. Don’t worry just leave it alone and it will eventually tell you it is finished.
- Shutdown Windows and remove the back cover.
- Pull the existing hard drive out of the bay.
- Remove the two screws and pull the cable off the drive.
- Plug the cable into the SSD and secure it with the two screws.
- Put the drive back in the bay and close the cover.
The only common feature that the AO722 does not come with is Bluetooth. Not everyone needs Bluetooth, but I like it so that I can connect Bluetooth phones and mice without having an external Bluetooth dongle.
The easiest and cheapest way to add Bluetooth is to just buy a USB Bluetooth adapter. You can either go cheap (under $2 with no shipping!) or one with better reviews. Personally I tried the cheap one and it worked fine, drivers were installed automatically from Windows update. The cheap ones are shipped from China, so you’ll probably have to wait a couple of weeks to get it. I don’t really like the extra USB dongle sticking out the side, I prefer a cleaner look with one less thing to get snagged and break so I installed an integrated Bluetooth card which I describe below.
The only way to add internal Bluetooth is by using a mini-PCIE card. There appears to be a second, unused mini-PCIE slot in the AO722, but this slot is not fully functional. It is only used to support certain 3G cards and will not work with a Bluetooth device. So the only option is to replace the existing wifi card in slot one with a replacement card that has both wifi and Bluetooth.
There are a couple of companies that sell these WiFi/Bluetooth combo cards. My existing WiFi card was a Broadcom so I stuck with this brand because it would likely be the most compatible. After a bunch of research I ordered the Broadcom card model BCM94313HMGB. This card has 802.11n and Bluetooth 3.0. This is one of their more basic cards, they have other ones that have additional features such as 5.0ghz and Bluetooth 4.0. But since I didn’t need those features I got the slightly older card which would likely have better driver support. The best way to find this card is go to eBay and search for the exact model number (BCM94313HMGB). You should find a few sellers offering this card for around $15 including shipping.
Once you get the card the installation is very simple:
- Open the AO722 following the instructions above.
- Pull the black and white antenna wires off the existing card. Note which color goes where for when you install the new card.
- Remove the single screw holding the existing card in.
- The card will lift up and you can pull it out.
- Insert the new card in the same way and connect the antenna wires in the same order they were earlier
There are two ways you can install the drivers for this card. The first way is to plug an ethernet cable into your computer and boot up like normal. Windows 7 will install the drivers automatically from Windows Update. At first when I did this Windows gave me an error saying the drivers couldn’t be installed, but once I rebooted the drivers were installed and working. I’m not sure why this happened.
The problem with the Windows Update drivers is that they are a couple of years old and aren’t the latest version. The day after I installed the Windows Update drivers the computer shutdown with a bluescreen crash when I put the computer to sleep. I’m not sure if it was related to these drivers or not.
Broadcom doesn’t have drivers for this card on their website. But I found that HP does have recent drivers here. These drivers have a date of less than a month ago so they are very recent. Even though these are HP drivers they install easily on the AO722. Here is the method that I used:
- Download the HP driver
- Open the .exe file with 7-Zip (other applications such as WinZip may be able to open this archive too)
- Extract all the files to a location on your hard drive
- Go to Device Manager and find the device
- Right click on the device and select “Update driver software”
- In the popup select the “Browse my computer” option
- Enter the path to the extracted files. The driver should now install.
My son is really into the TV show Mythbusters on the Discovery channel. So for his 6th birthday party he wanted to have a Mythbusters party. The birthday party ended up being a pretty standard 90 minute party with some Mythbusters like experiments and a special Mythbusters cake.
Here are the experiments that we did:
- Mentos and Diet coke. This one is very impressive because it shoots a lot higher than you would think. I recommend getting this device which is designed for this experiment, it makes it a lot simpler to get the Mentos into the bottle quickly.
- Baking sode and vinegar volcano. Include some red food coloring so it looks like lava. A lot of kids had seen this one before, but they still really liked it.
- Test to see how much a helium balloon can lift. Well apparently they can’t lift very much. But at least each kid got to take a balloon home after the party.
The cake turned our really well. My wife is just an amateur cake maker, but a lot of the parents though the cake was professionally made. Here are some tips:
- Get some fondant. I’d never heard of this before, but it is like a dense, brightly colored frosting that you can make things out of. You can blend it together to make things look nice (this is how the blue and yellow stripes are made).
- Use some red fondant to wrap up some red candles in a bundle. This looks like sticks of dynamite. But be aware that when you light them the flames will be much bigger and burn quicker than a single candle. So be ready to blow them out quickly.
- We found some traffic cone candles at the store that looked pretty nice on the cake.
- The cake topper is a Jamie bobblehead which you can get here (look down the page and they have the other characters if you want a different one). These are pretty expensive for a bobblehead but they are high quality. After the cake is cut you can save the bobblehead as a decoration.
Here are some pictures of the cake: