Hardware developments

Hardware news. Lots of stuff today. We’ll take it one at a time.
AMD to hit 1.5 GHz by January. Intel intends to release a 1.5 GHz P4 in late November/early December. AMD’s a bit behind that (assuming Intel will deliver, which they’ve been having difficulty doing lately), but the 1 GHz Athlon performs similarly to a 1.4 GHz P4. Good news for us, bad news for Intel. AMD intends to release a 1.2 GHz Athlon within a month, along with an 800 MHz Duron.

In related news, the AMD 760 chipset (the SMP-enabled one) will be released this year.

The P4 problems are related to the use of PCI graphics cards and Intel has reportedly fixed the problem. Although allowing much higher clock rates, the P4 is less efficient than the P3, so a 1.4 GHz P4 is expected to give comparable performance to a 1 GHz P3. It won’t be until Intel hits 1.5 GHz and higher that the new architecture will give any performance advantage over what’s available now. Not that you can find a 1 GHz P3…

Memory prices are down. If you’re looking to buy, this is a good time. You never know when they’ll rise again, or fall for that matter.

Maxtor buys Quantum. In a consolidation of disk manufacturers, Maxtor bought the disk manufacturing wing of Quantum for $2 billion, making Maxtor the world’s biggest disk manufacturer. Quantum’s tape operations will be spun off into a new company, to be named Quantum.

Windows optimization trick

Wednesday, 10/4/00
Turn off that bloody throbber! Here’s a tip that would have made it into Optimizing Windows, had I known about it at the time. You know that annoying Windows-logo throbber that shows up in Explorer windows that blinks during disk access, bugging you and stealing precious CPU cycles? You can turn it off or on with a Registry hack. It’s too messy to describe here, but you can download a pair of regfiles from http://www.pla-netx.com/linebackn/evil/ThrobOff.zip if you want it.

The throbber is useful in IE to let you know that Web page is indeed loading, but when you’re hunting through your own hard drive, what’s the point?

Changing CPU priorities in Windows 95/98/Me

Take charge of your CPU usage under Win9x. I talked about CPU Controller from BinaryWork in Optimizing Windows, which allows you to set a task’s priority (a la WinNT’s Task Manager). There’s a freeware app at http://www.blehq.org/pv2k.htm that has most of its functionality. Haven’t tested it yet, but I definitely will.
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From: “Chuck Buker”

Subject: Dual Duron/Athlon

I love my dual celeron Abit BP-6 machine, but I have been salivating over the prospect of a dual Duron machine for some time now. And with 700 mhz Durons selling below $90, I can hardly stand the wait.

Do you have any idea if or when someone is going to come out with a dual Scoket A (Duron or Athlon) motherboard and whether the Duron’s or Athlon’s support SMP?

———-

According to everything I’ve read, both the Athlon and Duron are SMP-capable. The forthcoming AMD-760 chipset has SMP support (the AMD-750 and VIA KT133 don’t). I don’t remember where I saw this anymore, but I seem to remember reading recently that AMD expects to release that chipset near the end of the year. If I had to guess, I’d say early part of next year you’ll start seeing dual socket A boards.

The big thing standing in the way right now is the lack of an SMP-capable chipset.

Mail on modems

From: al wynn
Subject: External 56K modems

What do you think is the best external 56K modem in the market ?

———-

The best external 56K modems on the market are the 3Com/US Robotics Courier and the Zoom/Hayes Optima series, but they’re extremely pricey. The 3Com/US Robotics Sportsters and the Zoom/Hayes Accuras are nearly as good, cost about half as much, and are much easier to find. I don’t even look at other brands of modems; I stick with the big two (and give the edge to US Robotics).

Integrating Windows and Linux, fornever and ever

10/2
Integrating Windows and Linux, fornever and ever. Yes, the book that consumed much of my life and my health over the course of the past year or so since I finished Optimizing Windows has been quietly cancelled. I can’t say I’m happy about it. Actually there are a lot of things I’d like to say right now but I won’t. All rights did revert back to me, so I can find another publisher if I decide I want to finish it.

I’ve known about this for about a week, and the questions haven’t really gone away: Is this book like the ex-girlfriend I’m really better off without? Do I miss that book, or do I miss working on a book, period? Did I settle for a mediocre subject I wasn’t very comfortable with, just for the sake of writing a book?

So I’m toying with a subject I’m much more comfortable with, one that I have extremely strong opinions on, to see whether I’ve still got what it takes (mentally) to write a book. NaturallySpeaking will help with the physical part. I’ve started writing, slowly. Fortunately I have material I can dust off, clean up, and drop into place to jumpstart the project. Beyond that, I’m not going to say anything specific, except that I want to write for someone other than O’Reilly this time. I need a change of scenery. (And no one values loyalty these days anyway.)

Monotonous songwriting

Dave’s not here. Well, sort of. Dave here. For a minute. Di’s taking the weekend off. I sent her a bunch of material that she’ll work in next week. I just spent a lovely day cleaning my apartment, reading a few chapters out of the book of Matthew, and catching up with friends. My ex-bandmate Will Matherly (if we ever were a band, I don’t know) called early this evening looking for lyrics. I gave him some of my old lyrics (a pop/punk number reminiscent of The Cars and a dreary, gothy tune that was trying to sound like Joy Division or The Cure but ended up sounding nothing like either), then I started rattling off some lyrics I’ve been carrying around for two years but never finished properly. I told him I’d fix some dinner, finish them as I ate, then call him back in a couple of hours. The result was a hard-driving punky number called “Not Much Like You” using a really uncreative straight-A rhyme scheme (the exception being a brief “But Wait!” interjection). For some reason, my specialty seems to be breakup songs.
“She stands erect like you / She walks upright like you / She breathes oxygen too!”

Oh well. I’m actually supposed to be trying to write a song that works in the words “Celebrate Faith.” Unfortunately, I’m most effective writing about things that hack me off. While I frequently don’t know or understand what He’s up to, God doesn’t really hack me off, so it’s hard to write songs about Him. Hey, maybe that’s my start.

Anyway. There’s a busload of musings, reader mail and replies, and an announcement sitting in an inbox in Kansas City. Seeing as it’s really late on Saturday and I’m going to be shooting pictures all day Sunday, this is probably it for the Silicon Underground for this weekend.

I’m at Notepad’s limit. See ya.

Binary file editing and hardware compatibility

Binary file editing. I’ve recovered many a student’s term paper from munged disks over the years using Norton Disk Edit, from the Norton Utilities (making myself a hero many times). Usually I can only recover the plain text, but that’s a lot better than nothing. Rebuilding an Excel spreadsheet or a QuarkXPress document is much harder–you have to know the file formats, which I don’t.
But at any rate, I’ve on a number of occasions had to run NDE to recover meeting minutes or other documents at work. The sheer number of times I have to do this made me adamantly opposed to widespread use of NTFS at work. Sure, the extra security and other features is nice, but try telling that to an irate user who just lost the day’s work for some reason. The “technical superiority” argument doesn’t hold any water there.

Enter WinHex (www.winhex.com). Now it doesn’t matter so much that the powers that be at work didn’t listen to my arguments. 🙂 (NDE from vanilla DOS would still be safer, since the disk will be in suspended state, but I guess you could yank the drive and put it in another PC for editing.)

For those who’ve never done this before, you can recover data using a brute force method of searching for known text strings that appeared in the file. For example, I once worked on recovering a thesis that contained the line “I walk through a valley of hands.” Chances are, if I search for that, I’m gonna find the rest of the document in close proximity. A Windows-based editor makes this kind of data recovery very nice–search for the string, keeping Notepad open, then copy and paste the strings as you find them.

Knowledge of the underlying filesystem (FAT or NTFS) is helpful but not essential, as is knowledge of the file format involved. If worse comes to worse, you can recover the strings out of the file and have the app open to re-enter it (being aware that you run the risk of overwriting the data, of course).

I found some useful links on the WinHex site detailing certain file formats.

This is a program I suspect I’ll be buying soon, since my need for it is probably more a matter of when rather than if.

———-

From: “James Cooley”

Subject: Tip for tat?

Hi Dave,

I waded through all your views (That’s where all those hits came from!) and I like your style and learned a great deal. Here’s another tip I didn’t see mentioned: in autoexec.bat, add the following: set temp=C:\temp set tmp=C:\temp set tmpdir=C:\temp

You could use the ramdisk drive you mention, of course. I don’t know if this speeds things up, but it sure helps minimize the clutter from most installs when you clean the temp directory periodically. I use C:\temp2 for those disposable downloads because some programs hate extracting into their own directory. Norton Anti-Virus comes to mind: if you run the updates from C:\temp it hangs.

I ordered _UNIX in a Nutshell_ from a recommendation on your site, but got a 500 page tome instead of the 92 pages you mentioned. If you recall the O’Rielly book I’m talking about, could you give me the exact name so I needn’t hunt it down again?

Hope your hands are healing.

Regards,

Jim

———-

Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it (but isn’t that an awful lot of reading?)

I’ve seen the tmpdir trick; fortunately not a whole lot of programs use it anymore but that is useful. Thanks.

And yes, as you observe it’s a good idea to use a separate dir for program installs. I try to avoid hanging it directly off the root for speed considerations (a clean root dir is a fast root dir)–I usually stick it on the Windows desktop out of laziness. That’s not the best place for it either, but it’s convenient to get to.

The 92-page book is Learning the Unix Operating System, by Jerry Peek and others. It’s about $12. The 500-page Unix in a Nutshell is useful, but more as a reference. I’ve read it almost cover-to-cover, but I really don’t like to read the big Nutshell books that way. Information overload, you know?

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From: “al wynn”

Subject: MAX screen resolution for Win95/98/2000

Do you know the MAXIMUM screen resolutions for Win95/98/2000 (in pixels) ? Which operating systems can support a dual-monitors setting ?

NEC 15′ MultiSync CRT monitors max out at (1280 x 1024 @ 66Hz); for 17′ CRT’s, it’s usually (1600 x 1200 @76Hz). Do you know any 15′ and 17′ models that can handle denser resolutions ? (like (1792 x 1344 @68Hz) or (1920 x 1440 @73Hz) ?

Also, which Manufacturer/Model do you prefer for flat-panel LCD’s ? Which 15′ or 17′ LCD models boast the highest resolution ?

———-

I believe Windows’ limit is determined by the video drivers. So, if a video card ships someday that supports some obnoxious resolution like 3072×2560, Windows should support it. That’s been the case in the past, usually (and not just with the Windows platform–it holds true for other systems as well).

Windows 98 and 2000 support dual monitors.

I’ve never seen a 15″ monitor that does more than 1280×1024, and never seen a 17″ that does more than 1600×1200. I find anything higher than 1024×768 on a 15″ monitor and higher than 1152×864 on a 17″ strains my eyes after a full day of staring at it.

As for flat-panels, I don’t own one so I can’t speak authoritatively. I’d probably buy an NEC or a Mitsubishi if I were going to get one. The price difference between an off-brand flat-panel and a big name is small enough (relative to price) and the price high enough that I’d want to go with someone I know knows how to make quality stuff–I’m not gonna pay $800-900 for something only to have it break after two years. I’m totally sold on NEC, since I bought a used NEC Multisync II monitor in 1990 that was built in 1988. It finally died this year.

A 15″ flat-panel typically does 1024×768, while a 17″ does 1280×1024.

Modems, voice recognition and video cards

More NaturallySpeaking adventures. You must all the thinking now that my life consists of church brochures and NaturallySpeaking. That’s just about right. I work for hours on the church brochure, and then I come home and play with NaturallySpeaking.
I found a nifty menu option last night called analyze documents. Basically he conceded text files, word processing files, HTML, or almost anything else that contains text. Luckily for me, I save just about everything I write. Not so luckily for NaturallySpeaking, that amounted to 2.8 MB dating back to about 1994. So, NaturallySpeaking has now read more of my stuff than even my mother. So it now has peculiar insights into what words I am likely to use. This seems to help accuracy some, but it is no substitute for use.

I found myself impressed with it at first, and I still think it can be usable, given the right equipment, but this definitely is not Star Trek. I think we can get used to each other and become a productive team, but I find NaturallySpeaking is not the most appropriate word. It definitely works best when I speak in a pretty unnatural voice.

On a more positive note, it doesn’t seem to be affecting my word choices too badly. Dave still sounds like Dave, and to me at least, that’s a good thing.

———-

From: “al wynn”
Subject: Are there any ISA graphics cards with 4 MB or 8 MB of memory on them ?

I am looking for the fastest ISA graphics card on the market. Do you know which ones have 4 MB or 8 MB of memory on them ?

I have a SIIG SuperVGA Pro ISA graphics card (model VV-VNE212), but it has only 2 MB of memory, and max out at (1280 x 1024 x 256 colors) resolution.

I want to upgrade, and I am searching for the fastest/highest resolution ISA graphics card out there.

———-

Maybe one of my readers knows of one, but it’s been years since I’ve seen an ISA graphics card that even remotely resembled something worth having. There’s just not much of a market for ISA graphics cards, because the ISA bus is such a terrible bottleneck.

When I have seen them, they’ve been really pricey–$70 for a 2-meg card with an underwhelming Cirrus chipset. You’re probably better off replacing the system, if you want my opinion (not that you asked for it–but who does?). I’ve seen 32-meg TNT2-based AGP cards for $80, and that’s a far, far better card. You’d be looking at having to get a new CPU and memory, in all likelihood, in order to use an AGP video card (because it sounds like you’re upgrading an old 486), but just as an example, you can get an FIC VA-503+ motherboard with a 500 MHz K6-2 processor for about $130. A 64-meg DIMM is about $60. That TNT2 card is $80. (I’m getting all these prices off mwave.com). You’re looking at $300 after shipping, but you’ll have a far better system in the end. Replacing your ISA card with something better (if there is anything better available) will cost close to 1/3 of that.

———-

From: Mark Bridgers
Subject: Voice Recognition
I’m following your voice recognition trials with great interest. We have a key phrase to test it — “Recognize Speech”. It usually comes out as “Wreck a nice beach”. If your combination can get that one right, we’ll try it for some of our products.

Thanks for keeping up the site. Its great to have you back.

Mark Bridgers

———-

I am dictating this message. Here’s your acid test: recognize speech.
How’s that?
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From: “al wynn”

Subject: 16550 UART questions.

I am running Win95, have an external 28.8K IBM data/fax modem (model 7852 010 v.34, attached to COM2, Interrupt 3, Adress 2F8), and an internal SIIG 1132+ I/O controller card (with two 16550 UART serial ports, 1 ECP/EPP parallel port).

When I click on MyComputer/Modems/Diagnostics/MoreInfo, it shows my UART as 8250, not 16550. Do you know why ? Is the UART something on my controller card only, or my modem also has its own UART ? Do I need to upgrade my modem ?

Also, do you know any ISA I/O controller card that has an 16650 UART on it ? (Manufacturer and model number)

———-

The UART is on the controller card itself, rather than on the modem (in the case of externals). I know DOS and Windows can’t tell a difference between an 8250 and a 16450; now that I think about it some more there may have been cases of certain 550s misreporting themselves but I don’t know any specifics. The 550 is frequently integrated into other chips these days, but it might be worth cracking the case and looking–usually, the UART is a big 40-pin chip that sticks out like a sore thumb and it’s frequently socketed. If it says 16450 on it, or, even worse, 8250, you know you’ve been ripped off. If all you find is a small chip with a ton of tiny solder connections made by Winbond or ALi (I can’t think of who else makes I/O chipsets these days, sorry), chances are you do have a 16550.

Just for grins: Do both of your serial ports report themselves as 8250s?

A 16650 is overkill for a 28.8 modem, but if you think you’ll upgrade (or need the 650 for another system), the only ISA 650 card I know of is the SIIG JJ-A04121. The UPC on it is 0662774018614 if that helps. Unfortunately, it’s about as expensive as the external modem you’ll connect to it ($120 retail; mwave.com has it for $78), and it’s big-time overkill because it’s a 4-port card. I know there are other cards available, but that’s the only card I’ve run across.

More impressions of NaturallySpeaking

Wednesday, 9/27/00

More NaturallySpeaking experience. I managed to get the Sound Blaster Live! card installed, and it just might make NaturallySpeaking usable.I gave this combination the same test I ran ViaVoice through, namely, reading a passage from Optimizing Windows. What it heard was pretty darn close to what I said:

I was looking for sites about Windows 98. I got a site about cars. If there was ever any doubt in my mind that there’s a website about everything, this site you raised it. Before I knew it, I was reading about tweaking out Dodge spirits and racing them. One fan of the site Rodin, criticizing some aspects of the spirits design. Another Buffett said that without cutting down the Springs, modifying the gizmo that holds the air filter to get more air flowing into the engine, and other less than trivial modifications, the quote the car was awoke totally inadequate quote for staff and go city driving.

The original:

I was looking for sites about Windows 98. I got a site about cars. If there was ever any doubt in my mind that there’s a website about everything, this site erased it. Before I knew it, I was reading about tweaking out Dodge Spirits and racing them. One fan of the site wrote in, criticizing some aspects of the Spirit’s design. Another buff said that without cutting down the springs, modifying the gizmo that holds the air filter to get more air flowing into the engine, and other less-than-trivial modifications, the the car was “totally inadequate” for stop-and-go-city driving.

These are out-of-the-box results. I imagine once I feed NaturallySpeaking a few hundred thousand words I’ve written for analysis, it should get used to me, and work pretty well. The question becomes, can I adjust?

First impressions of NaturallySpeaking 5

I am dictating to this with NaturallySpeaking. I still have that cheap ESS sound card in my system, but thanks to the aftermarket noise canceling microphone I am getting decent results. I will install the new Sound Blaster when I get time. I only had to make one correction on this post, which is a tremendous improvement over my previous experiences with voice recognition (and I have some, dating back to 1996, since I was one of the 12 people who actually bought OS/2 Warp 4, which included a predecessor to ViaVoice).
The speed is pretty good on my Celeron-400. NaturallySpeaking doesn’t know that word.