Dec 27, 2010

TaxCaster 2010: Estimate Your 2010 Federal Taxes

TurboTax has provided a free application, TaxCaster, to help you estimate your taxes before preparing a full return. This is useful for running what-if scenarios as part of your last minute tax planning. For example, you can see the effect of things like whether to double up on your property taxes or charitable giving in 2010 or recognizing capital gains (losses).

This screenshot shows the unfortunate case of a single filer with $1M of income and no withholding (oops!).

Dec 23, 2010

Review: Kingston SSDNow V Series 128GB SSD Solid State Drive

I had previously upgraded my Dell Latitude D630 (Core 2 Duo T7500 with 2GB of ram) to a 500GB 7200rpm SATA hard drive, but when I saw that I could get a 128GB SSD for $200 after rebate at Amazon, I took the solid state plunge. There is a newer version of this drive (the V100) but I decided to save a few dollars and stay off the bleeding edge. I bought the "notebook upgrade kit" which comes with a 2.5” (notebook) sized external USB enclosure.

Installation was straightforward Рremove the drive sled, take out two screws, attach̩ the drive, put the screws in, and slide it back into the laptop. 5 minutes.

I had decided to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 in order to get a clean install and to take advantage of Window 7’s optimized SSD performance (XP has some quirks that need to be worked around if you’re using an SSD). No issues with the Windows 7 install. I moved the old hard drive into the USB enclosure so I could copy my files off later. The enclosure also gives you a place to store data files since the SSD’s size is probably smaller than you’re used to. It's powered by the USB port (no external power supply) and comes with a 12 inch USB cable, but note that not all of my USB ports were powerful enough to operate my old hard drive once I had moved it to the enclosure (presumably a SSD takes less power).

Once it was up and running, I found that the formatted capacity is 119GB. The drive is totally silent. The most immediate difference is the startup and shutdown times. A cold boot takes less than 30 seconds where it used to take more like a minute, and shutdown is in under 15 seconds. The system also feels much more responsive during general usage, things like web browsing and photo editing. Even though this computer is over 2 years old, the addition of an SSD makes it feel like a new machine. Overall, the upgrade was well worth the $200 cost and I’ll definitely look for an SSD in my next computer.