Will technology ever catch up?

Archive for the ‘PC’ Category

Compare Linux distros side by side – Lifehacker

Posted by cascadehush on January 23, 2007

Compare Linux distros side by side – Lifehacker:

Pro-Linux site polishlinux.org has a new tool that lets you compare Linux distributions side by side.

Too little, too late for me. In the past I have spent many hours searching the web in search of distros, and many more hours struggling with various flavors of Linux.

In the end I run XP on my PC boxes, because for me the windows license is a reasonable price to pay for a system that I can setup quickly with known results. I know XP will work with my hardware. I know it will not crash. I know my software will work, and almost all the best open source software has Windows binaries available.

For those occasions when I get a hankering for something like Unix, I have OSX.

You can access the site directly: polishlinux.org » Compare distros

Posted in Linux, Opinion, OSX, PC, Software | Leave a Comment »

Download of the Day: Comodo Personal Firewall (Windows) – Lifehacker

Posted by cascadehush on January 10, 2007

Download of the Day: Comodo Personal Firewall (Windows) – Lifehacker:

Windows only: Keep your PC safe with Comodo Personal Firewall, a free security program designed to block outside intruders and keep your PC from “leaking.”

Unlike the free version of ZoneAlarm, Comodo recognizes thousands of known programs as safe, meaning it won’t bombard you with pop-up warnings for those programs.

I used the free version of ZoneAlarm myself for years, until SP2 gave every activated copy of XP a built-in firewall. There was a time when ZoneAlarm was great, it would let you know the name and location of the .exe file that was trying to access the internet, and you could make an informed choice. But towards the end I found I was getting asked about programs referred to as ‘Generic Process’ or ‘Run DLL as App’ accessing the internet. Clearly these types of descriptions could mean anything from a regular system service to a nasty bit of spyware, and so the app became unusable.

Personally I think you are better off with XP’s built in firewall combined with a bit of common sense about what programs you install in the first place.

I can’t vouch for Comodo, but I thought the post worth linking to. It’s possible in the future I may try it, if I find I need more than the XP firewall. There are some interesting comments, as usual, offering suggested alternatives.

Posted in PC, Security, Software, Windows XP | Leave a Comment »

Hardware: Western Digital Data Lifeguard Tools error codes

Posted by cascadehush on January 9, 2007

Western Digital, like many harddrive manufacturers, provide a free diagnosis program. The Western Digital Data Lifeguard Tools will either report the drive as error free, or spit out an error code, which is meaningless unless you have the Diagnostic Error Codes.

I don’t know why they can’t just put those descriptions in the program. Maybe there was a time when they didn’t want the average joe knowing the specific nature of the problem. Maybe the program had to once fit on a 180k floppy disk and the error descriptions made the code too big. Maybe they were just lazy programmers. Regardless , it would be nice for them to fix the problem. These days we are mostly booting the tool from a CDR.

Posted in Hardware, PC | Leave a Comment »

XP: Finding and Installing Drivers, Part 1.1 – Via Motherboard Chipsets

Posted by cascadehush on January 8, 2007

N.B. This is a continuing series of articles about finding and installing drivers in the case that you either don’t have the original driver CD or choose not to use it. There is an introduction to this series as well as an section introduction about Motherboard Chipset.

VIA Technologies, Inc, without a doubt, have the best motherboard driver package. I can’t say whether they are the best chipsets, though most of my PCs have Via chipsets. I find them a nice balance between cost and performance.

4 in 1 Driver
The older motherboard driver package was and is called the ‘4 in 1 Driver’. It is recommended for systems more than about 3 or 4 years old. Personally I have had good results with this driver on quite old systems running Win98; so don’t feel compelled to track down motherboard specific drivers for some ancient hardware if you have already identified it has a Via chipset.

The 4 in 1 driver contains the following drivers

  • AGP VxD; necessary for proper operation of an AGP Graphics Card
  • ATAPI Driver for smoother running of your IDE device.
  • The ‘INF’ driver which sets up the power management
  • The PCI IRQ Miniport Driver, which is only necessary and only installs on Win98, to fix IRQ routing.
  • For NT only, the VIA IDE Bus Mastering driver. This is the only driver installed on NT.

The package runs on any version of Windows from 95 to XP (32 bit only) and is smart enough to know which are the appropriate drivers for your hardware and OS.

The current version is 4.43 and was released on 25 October 2001. Don’t let its age fool you. It is a stable, mature driver set. Download the Via 4-in-1 Driver

Hyperion Pro
Sounds impressive. Well, perhaps not. But this is the name for the current package of drivers. I guess the name 4 in 1 was getting a bit silly since there were 5 drivers included, of which you would get 1, 3 or 4 drivers depending on your OS.

The Hyperion package include similar but updated drivers to what is in the 4 in 1 package, with the important addition of the SATA drivers. As of this writing the latest version is 5.10a which was released on the 8 September 2006.

The Hyperion package is for Win98 through XP and Windows Server 2003. Both 32 bit and 64 bit versions, where appropriate, are included. As with the 4 in 1 package, the installer is smart enough to know what drivers are required.

You can download both the Hyperion and 4 in 1 drivers from VIA Arena.

A Note about RAID Utilities
Now here is a fact worth noting. Many SATA drivers give you the option of installing just the driver, or the driver plus the RAID utility. I recommend that you DONT install the utility, just the driver.

The RAID utility is not necessary, and is usually just another annoying taskbar icon.

If you have a Raid 1 or 5 array where a drive fails, you usually have to go into the BIOS or RAID BIOS to run a utility to re-build the array. (after replacing the faulty drive, of course). Whilst the array is being rebuilt you can’t use the PC, but it is the quickest way to re-build the array.

However, with the utility installed you can rebuild the array inside Windows, which means you can still use the PC whilst the utility re-builds the array. Your PC will probably be slow, and the array will likely take all day (maybe all night as well) but at least you have access to your email and play Freecell.

So if you really, really, must rebuild the array with Windows loaded, install the utility then, and not before. The uninstall it when you are done, or at least remove it from the line-up of programs that run whenever you start Windows.

Posted in Drivers, Hardware, PC, Troubleshooting, Win9x, Windows XP | 9 Comments »

PC Website: BoxGods.com

Posted by cascadehush on January 4, 2007

BoxGods.com – Worship the Machine
PC Case, Cooling and related hardware reviews. Also covers case modding.

Posted in Hardware, PC | Leave a Comment »

Vista: Australian Prices for Windows Vista OEM

Posted by cascadehush on January 3, 2007

At least one major Australian IT distributor has listed their wholesale prices for the OEM version of Vista and is due to have stock by the end of the month. OEM versions of windows are intended to be sold with a computer, and are cheeper than boxed retail versions. However, many online discounters will sell the OEM versions, allowing you to pick up a legal (or semi-legal) copy of windows fairly cheep.

I’m not going to reveal the wholesale prices, but the following is a rough guide to the retail cost of Windows Vista OEM. This is the amount that a legit widows license will contribute to the cost of a whitebox system as built and supplied by your friendly local PC sale and repair shop.

Vista Home Basic $159
Vista Home Premium $199
Vista Business $259
Vista Ultimate $349

At this price, Vista Home Basic is more expensive than XP Home, and most people will want Vista Home Premium at least, which means that the average home user will be paying about $70 more for windows than they do now. And if you want a budget system, you’ll have to add to that a cheap graphics card for about $100 to get the best of the new features. XP Home was quite happy with onboard graphics.

In that sense, midrange systems (which are likely to have a graphics card anyway) are looking like they will be much better value than low end systems (which typically relied on onboard graphics to keep the prices low). This is not necessary a bad thing for the industry.

Online discounters could slash Vista prices by about 10-20% off these values. I have no news about boxed retail versions or upgrade versions. Typically a full boxed version is about twice the price of the OEM version and an upgrade price is somewhere in-between.

Posted in PC, Software, Vista | Leave a Comment »

Hardware: Digital V6 KVM over IP

Posted by cascadehush on January 2, 2007

Digital V6 – The Engine of Innovation:

Kaveman is a revolutionary remote server management tool to remotely control servers, either over the Internet or your local network. Kaveman fully emulates a screen, keyboard and mouse, giving the user complete control over the attached computer.

I have no clue why the idiots who created this website can’t just use normal english.

This box is a single port KVM to remotely control any PC or Mac over a network using VNC. The would get a lot more hits from googlers if they’d use language like that.

There is nothing revolutionary about this device, it seems like a no-brainer to me. The focus on server management seems shortsighted. Any server should already have remote management in software. Of course KVM stuff is usually considered high end and is often ridiculously overpriced given that there are quite good, often free, software alternatives.

As a PC tech I regularly wish for a plug and play means to remotely control a PC temporarily. This would appear to be the answer. It’s a pity that it’s just too expensive.

Intel are introducing vPro which will build this type of thing into the motherboard. This would be nice, except I’m not a fan of Intel chipsets, and don’t like intel motherboards. Plus there are the security implications. Having your PC open to remote control even when it is switched off, before the OS is loaded, even being able to change BIOS settings… I don’t like it.

What would be nice is a cheap KVMoIP device that us techs could use day-to-day. Surely someone could manage that. Perhaps someone has, let me know if you find one.

Posted in Hardware, Opinion, OSX, PC, Security, Troubleshooting | 3 Comments »

PC: AMD claims their CPUs will consume less power than Intel’s

Posted by cascadehush on December 7, 2006

AMD: New Chips Consume Half the Power of Core 2 Duo:

AMD’s argument goes like this: Modern desktop and notebook processors constantly scale up and down between full speed and an idle state, which AMD has branded “Cool ‘n’ Quiet”. At a given time, pushed to full load by an application, AMD’s chips run hotter and consume more power. But across a typical computing day—where a user might check his email or surf the Web—the processor idles more often then not. At idle, AMD’s 90nm Athlon 64 X2 consumes 7.5 watts. Its latest 65nm chips idle at 3.8 watts. By comparison, the 65nm Core 2 Duo idles at 14.3 watts.

So AMD have finally announced their move to 65nm chips. What is less inevitable is this spin they have managed to put on the new line of chips.

No doubt it’s a clever argument. I can attest to the benefits of ‘Cool n Quiet’. I can also tell you that whilst the feature is promoted on CPU boxes and the AMD website the instructions on how to enable the feature are obscure. It is not something that is enabled by default when you build and Sempron or Athlon based system.

The reality is that that even though it’s a nice technology, it’s not going to shift momentum away from the Core 2 Duo chips. Those people clever enough to understand AMDs argument will also know that Intel has a marked performance edge.

Posted in Hardware, PC | Leave a Comment »

Vista: 2 Gigs ‘Great’ Says Dell CEO

Posted by cascadehush on October 31, 2006

TechWeb: Vista With 2 Gigs ‘Great’ Says Dell CEO:

Dell chief executive Kevin Rollins told Bloomberg News: “I think they tell you maybe 1 gig [gigabyte] of memory is okay. No. Two gigs of memory would be great.”

Well maybe, but I’m running Visa RC1 with 1GB of memory and a 3GHz Prescott P4 and performance isn’t an issue. I could even run Aero even though I only have an nVidia FX5200 based graphics card. I don’t run Aero because I mainly use this box for video playback and the graphics drivers can’t cope with both Aero and video at the same time. This is a driver issue that will be fixed in due course.

The system requirements for XP were always over-hyped. Most people have trouble with XP because they have bloatware on their system or are trying to run too many programs. You can’t blame the operating system when the bulk of memory and CPU time is being used by a bunch of (often) poorly written programs. You’ll find that most of the time XP itself is using a very small percentage of your CPU cycles and RAM to keep itself going.

There is always a sweet-spot, however. Whilst XP struggles at times with only 256MB, it runs very well with 512MB. I’m sure Vista will double those values, but I don’t think it will quadruple them.

Posted in Hardware, PC, Vista, Windows XP | Leave a Comment »

XP & OSX: Adobe Soundbooth Beta

Posted by cascadehush on October 30, 2006

MacMerc.com: Adobe Soundbooth Beta available for download:

According to the specifications, Soundbooth requires an Intel-based Mac with Mac OS X 10.4.3 or greater.

Adobe Soundbooth is a baby sound editor, which looks like a drastically cut down version of Audition. What interests me is that this is available on both Windows and OSX. Audition is PC only and it sticks out like a sore thumb amongst Adobe’s otherwise cross-platform lineup.

Could this be a hint that Adobe are planning to start work on a version of Audition for OSX. The fact that Soundbooth is Intel only suggests that it may in fact contain code from Audition or it’s predecessor Cool Edit. Perhaps this is Adobe’s way of cutting their teeth on a smaller audio app.

This is all just speculation, but one can always hope.

Posted in OSX, PC, Security, Windows XP | Leave a Comment »