Thursday, February 05, 2009

Archos is dead, long live Archos

The Archos 605 WiFi 4GB I got for Christmas has shuffled off its mortal coil and is going back tonight.

Well, that's not true. I've had progressively more and more problems with it, but as of right now, sitting wrapped in its box, it's actually mostly working. On my last exercise ride, I used it to watch the end of an episode of ER. However, once I start using the SDcard slot I start getting errors writing to the "hard drive" (it's actually 4G of solid state Flash RAM but the system treats it like it's a hard drive).

It seems it get confused between the SD card and internal RAM, with the result that each of them corrupts the other. Since internal memory is only 4G you really need to use the SD cards for anything you're not streaming over WiFi. Once that corruption starts happening, the 605 starts needing to be "repaired", possibly including a reinstall of the firmware and/or the loss of any files on either the internal RAM or the SDcard or both, and often over and over, this becomes a real problem. Mine spent most of yesterday afternoon on a series of a couple of dozen reinstalls, plus redownloading all the "built in" data, and that's not even accounting for the stuff on SDcards I had to reload but never did.

I eventually got it working as long as I don't use SDcards, but I don't know how long it'll last. So we arranged to send it back for full credit. Thank heaven Amazon retains its sterling customer service. We'll be replacing it with the Archos 605 WiFi 80GB model, which right now is only $6 more. I know what you're thinking, $6 to go from 4G to 80G, what a deal! And it is. But you have to also consider that the 80G model is sizably thicker and heavier, and has no SDcard slot. I had originally gone for the 4G because I intended to mostly stream over the WiFi anyway so lighter was more important than more hard disk space.

I must admit that so far my luck with streaming things hasn't been great. Most of the time streaming music from TVersity has led to skips and grinding. I've fiddled with TVersity's settings and made some improvement but I haven't been able to eliminate the problem. And sometimes it just stops and the Archos has to be reset. I've been told that TwonkyMedia might work better; I was going to install the trial version and give it a try, but hadn't quite gotten around to it yet. The trick is balancing streaming to the Archos with streaming to the PS3, and also keeping in mind that the media server is an old slow machine so it can't really do as much transcoding-on-the-fly as a faster machine. So while I've had trouble with the streaming, it's still my intent to use streaming as the primary means of feeding things to the Archos.

Still, a larger hard drive has its uses. First of all, while I'm working out streaming, I can have lots of stuff on it. Second, this will be better for traveling with it. And finally, I'm told that I can expect much better reliability.

I still wish someone would make something tiny and light the way they make $20 1G MP3 players but with a tiny WiFi instead of the tiny memory. (If you can fit a WiFi adapter into a USB dongle, you can fit it into one of those tiny MP3 players.) If all it did was stream music to my ears as I walked around the house, that would be enough. Better yet, build it into the headphones. Feels like my cellphone, which supports my Bluetooth stereo headset, is 99% of the way there. But Windows Mobile won't map to file shares or play off UPnP servers. If it did, that'd already do the job.

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