Tag Archives: AGP

The difference an SSD makes

Back in the spring I bought a used computer. My wife wanted one, and while I probably could have cobbled something together for her, I didn’t have any extra Windows 7 licenses. So I bought a home-built Pentium D-based machine with Windows 7 on it from an estate sale for $70. The Windows license is worth that, so it was like getting the hardware for free.

When I got the hardware home to really examine it, it turned out not to be quite as nice as I initially thought. It was a fairly early Socket 775 board, so it used DDR RAM and had an AGP slot, limiting its upgrade options. The system ran OK, but not great, and it was loud.

The hard drive was a 160 GB Western Digital IDE drive built in 2003. That’s an impressive run, but a drive that old isn’t a good choice for everyday use. It’s at the end of its life expectancy and it’s not going to be fast. This weekend I got around to replacing it with an SSD. Continue reading The difference an SSD makes

New life for a Compaq Presario S5140WM

I’m fixing up my mother in law’s Compaq Presario S5140WM. She bought it about five years ago, a few weeks after her daughter and I started dating. It’s been a pretty good computer for her, but lately it’s been showing signs it might be overheating.

I took the shotgun approach, replacing pretty much everything that I would expect to be at or near the end of its life at five years.Since we seemed to have a heat problem, I picked up a better copper heatsink/fan for the CPU. The copper heatsink promised to lower the temperature by 5-10 degrees on its own. Since I rarely get more than 3-4 years out of a CPU fan, this was pretty much a no-brainer.

I also picked up a Seasonic 300W 80-plus power supply. I doubt the machine will put enough load on the power supply to actually get it to run at peak efficiency, but I also figured an 80-plus power supply would probably be better built and more reliable than a more traditional power supply. Seasonic is hardly a no-name, acting as an OEM for a number of big names, including Antec and PC Power & Cooling.

Finally, of course I replaced the hard drive. Being a parallel ATA model, I was limited in choices. I bought a Seagate rather than a Western Digital, because I’ve had better luck with Seagate through the years, and Seagate has also absorbed Quantum through its purchase of Maxtor. Maxtor admittedly had a couple of rough periods, so say what you will about Maxtor, but every Quantum drive I ever bought still works. I have a Quantum drive I bought back in 2000 still working in my computer downstairs. Yeah, it’s slow and loud, but it’s been ticking away like a Swiss watch for 8 years, in almost constant use! Maybe some of those Quantum engineers worked on this Seagate. To Seagate’s advantage, they do offer a 5-year warranty on their drives, which is really good, considering the conventional wisdom on hard drives used to be that you should replace them every three years because they’d fail soon afterward. Unless the drive was a Quantum, that is.

The question is whether I just clone the old drive onto the new drive, or install Windows fresh on it. I know if I do a fresh installation, the thing will run like a cheetah, free of all the useless crud HP installed at the factory. The question is how lazy I am.

After buying a new hard drive, power supply and CPU fan, I’ve sunk nearly $120 into this old computer. But it’s an Athlon, faster than 2 GHz, so it can hold its own with a low-end computer of today. The onboard video is terrible, but I solved that with a plug-in AGP card. It has 768 MB of RAM in it and tops out at a gig, but since she mainly just uses it for web browsing, 768 megs ought to be enough. I’ll keep my eye out for a 512MB PC3200 DIMM to swap in just in case.

And besides all that, since this Compaq has a standard micro ATX case, if 1 GB starts to feel too cramped, I can swap in a new motherboard/CPU that can take however much memory I want. And the power supply is already ready for it.

But as-is, I think this computer has at least another three years in it.

Upgrade diary: Compaq Evo D51S

Compaq Evo D51S
The Compaq Evo D51S is a well-built, small computer and it offers a few upgrade options

I upgraded a Compaq Evo D51S today. This was also sold under the name D510, and may have also been sold under the HP or Hewlett Packard brand. It was intended to be a low-profile, relatively affordable business computer.

Upgrading it poses some challenges, but there are some things you can do with it.This one has a 2.0 GHz Celeron in it. It will support a 2.4 GHz P4 without any issues (and a lot of them were sold with that chip), but I think that’s as high as you can go with the CPU.

The 2.0 GHz Celeron that came in this system will bog down with a heavy Photoshop filter and I’m sure some of the things I do in Adobe Premiere would bring it to its knees at times, but if your primary use of the machine is word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing and e-mail, it’s plenty fast. I would max out the system RAM before I replaced the CPU.

You can forget about motherboard replacements in this machine. Everything about the motherboard inside is odd, to get everything to fit in a smaller case. Compaq used to be criticized (sometimes unfairly) for using proprietary motherboards, but this one’s definitely proprietary.

Inside, you’re limited to two DIMM slots. I pulled the memory and replaced it with a pair of PC2100 DDR 1 GB DIMMs, which is the maximum the system supports. According to Crucial, PC3200 memory is compatible. Of course if you’re buying new memory, it makes sense to buy the faster stuff, in case you ever want to put the memory in another system.

In late 2010, 2 GB of PC3200 RAM sells for about $90. That’s close to the price of the computer itself, but more memory is probably the best thing you can buy for one of these machines, especially if it came with 256 MB of RAM.

The onboard video is the Intel 845G integrated video. It was better than I expected, but it steals system memory and, at least theoretically, it reduces memory bandwidth. The AGP slot is oriented vertically, so there’s only room for a low-profile card. That limits your choices somewhat. I had a low-profile ATI card with an early Radeon chipset on it. It’s not the most exciting card in the world, and may not even be better than the integrated Intel video, but it freed up some system memory for me. For what I want to do with this system, it will be fine. I’m not sure that Sid Meier’s Railroads! will run on it, but Railroad Tycoon 3 will, and from what I understand that’s the better game anyway.

There are a number of low-profile AGP video cards on the market that would be a suitable upgrade for this machine. None of them are cutting edge, but there are a few that are DirectX 9-capable, and prices range from $20 to $40. The built-in video is adequate, and while my first impression of it was that it didn’t bog the system down nearly as badly as the integrated video in the P3 days did, I’m still not a big fan of it. I think adding a discrete video card is a good move.

The stock Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 is a pretty good performer. At 40 GB it’s relatively small, and it won’t keep up with a brand-new drive, but for a lot of uses it’s plenty fast. From what I understand it will support hard drives larger than 137 GB but you may have to mess with IDE modes in the BIOS to make it happen. The trick appears to be to set the BIOS to use bit shift instead of LBA. Additionally, you have to be running Windows 2000 SP4 or XP SP2 to see the full capacity of the drive. I don’t have a large drive to put in it, so I haven’t tested that.

There’s no room for a second drive in there, so if you want additional storage beyond what’s already there, it will have to be external. Or you can jettison the floppy drive, but then you’ll have a goofy-looking hole in the front of the computer. That’s the price you pay for a low-profile system.

The CD-ROM drive in my particular unit was pretty balky. I’m going to replace it with a CD-R/RW drive for the short term, and eventually (probably early next year) put a DVD burner in it. I’m primarily interested in putting home movies on DVD. For backup and data transfer, I pretty much use USB flash drives exclusively now. They’re a lot faster and more convenient than messing around with CD/DVD burning software. Any drive with an old-school 40-pin IDE connector will work.

Speaking of USB, the USB ports all seem to be USB 2.0, which is nice (installing software off a USB 2.0-based flash drive makes you want to swear off optical media forever), but the ports on the front are recessed far enough that only a standard cable or a very low-profile flash drive can plug into them. My SD reader would only plug into the back, which is inconvenient.

The system has two full-size PCI slots for expansion. I put an IEEE 1394 (Firewire) card in one of the slots, since I want to do some light video work with it. The other slot will probably get an 802.11b wireless card. If I needed that PCI slot for something else, I could plug in a USB adapter for wireless networking.

I used to be in the habit of buying the biggest case I could afford or find (they weren’t always the same thing), so a really low-profile desktop like this Evo 510 feels a little strange. But a lot of things are different now. I could put a 1 TB hard drive in this system if I needed an obscene amount of storage. USB ports eliminate the need for Zip or Jaz or Syquest drives and even, to a large extent, for CD or DVD burners. If it weren’t for my interest in video, I wouldn’t bother with a burner in this machine at all. And since sound and networking are built in, there’s no need for a lot of expansion slots. It would be nice to have three PCI slots instead of just two, but I would imagine a lot of people never even fill two.

As it is, this computer fits on a small desk, and if you put an LCD monitor on top of it, the combination will take less real estate than a 17-inch CRT monitor does.

There are a lot of these machines on the market now, either coming off lease or being replaced due to business upgrade policy. They’re cheap ($75-$150 depending on configuration) and I think they make an excellent home PC. They’re cheap, unobtrusive, and surprisingly expandable.

A decked-out 510 probably won’t run Vista all that well, but a lot of new PCs don’t run it very well either. I think a 510 running Windows XP or Linux can be a very useful computer for a good number of years.

Using video memory as a ramdisk in Linux

An old idea hit me again recently: Why can’t you use the memory that’s sitting unused on your video card (unless you’re playing Doom) as a ramdisk? It turns out you can, just not if you’re using Windows. Some Linux people have been doing <a href=”http://hedera.linuxnews.pl/_news/2002/09/03/_long/1445.html”>it</a> for two years.<p>Where’d I get this loony idea? Commodore, that’s where. It was fairly common practice to use the video RAM dedicated to the C-128’s 80-column display for other purposes when you weren’t using it. As convoluted as PC video memory is, it had nothing on the C-128, where the 80-column video chip was a netherword accessible only via a handful of chip registers. Using the memory for anything else was slow, it was painful, but it was still a lot faster than Commodore’s floppy drives.<p>

So along comes someone on Slashdot, asking about using idle video memory as swap space. I really like the idea on principle: The memory isn’t doing anything, and RAM is at least an order of magnitude faster than disk, so even slow memory is going to give better performance.<p>

The principle goes like this: You use the Linux MTD module and point it at the video card’s memory in the PCI address space. The memory is now a block device, which you can format and put a filesystem on. Format it ext2 (who needs journaling on a ramdisk?), and you’ve got a ramdisk. Format it swap, and you’ve got swap space.<p>

The downside? Reads and writes don’t happen at the same speed with AGP. Since swap space needs to happen quickly both directions, this is a problem. It could work a lot better with older PCI video cards, but those of course are a lot less likely to have a useful amount of memory on them. It would also work a lot better on newer PCIe video cards, but of course if your system is new enough to have a PCIe card, it’s also likely to have huge amounts of system RAM.<p>

The other downside is that CPU usage tends to really jump while accessing the video RAM.<p>

If you happen to have a system that has fast access to its video RAM, there’s no reason not to try using it as swap space. On some systems it seems to work really well. On others it seems to work really poorly.<p>

If it’s too slow for swap space, try it as a ramdisk. Point your browser cache at it, or mount it as /tmp. It’s going to have lower latency than disk, guaranteed. The only question is the throughput. But if it’s handling large numbers of small files, latency matters more than throughput.<p>

And if you’re concerned about the quality of the memory chips on a video card being lower than the quality of the chips used on the motherboard, a concern some people on Slashdot expressed, using that memory as a ramdisk is safer than as a system file. If there’s slight corruption in the memory, the filesystem will report an error. Personally I’m not sure I buy that argument, since GPUs tend to be even more demanding on memory than CPUs are, and the consequences of using second-rate memory on a video card could be worse than just some stray blips on the screen. But if you’re a worry wart, using it for something less important than swap means you’re not risking a system crash by doing it.<p>

If you’re the type who likes to tinker, this could be a way to get some performance at no cost other than your time. Of course if you like to tinker and enjoy this kind of stuff anyway, your time is essentially free.<p>

And if you want to get really crazy, RAID your new ramdisk with a small partition on your hard drive to make it permanent. But that seems a little too out there even for me.

Upgrading my mother in law’s Compaq Presario S5140WM

About the time my wife and I started dating, my mother-in-law bought a new computer. With an Athlon XP 2600+, that Compaq ought to be faster than anything I own. Even though it’s almost three years old now, it ought to still be pretty good.

It wasn’t. I fixed that.It has the Compaq name on the front but anymore that doesn’t mean much of anything. It’s a clone made in the Far East, with bog standard parts inside. When I visited earlier this month, she complained about its speed. I couldn’t find anything obviously wrong, but I checked the memory usage. It was over 250K with nothing loaded. Not good.

I happen to know the F-Secure-based security suite her ISP issued her can use nearly 256 megs all by itself sometimes. Not good.

So I paid Newegg.com a visit and ordered her 512 megs of memory. For 35 bucks, shipping included, why not? It’s overkill, but memory requirements are going to go up before they go down, and there was little point in buying half as much memory for 10 bucks less.

I bought Viking. I prefer Crucial or Kingston, but in my days doing desktop support, the people who insisted on Viking did OK, and it was cheaper the week I ordered it, so I got it. Don’t buy the cheap and nasty no-name stuff; the failure rate on no-name commodity memory has always been very high–somewhere near 30 percent, in my experience, and computers are more sensitive to memory today than they were in 1995 when I got my first job doing desktop support.

When I got the computer open, I saw it has an AGP slot. I really should get an AGP video card to put in the computer. Built-in video steals some system memory, which isn’t a big deal when you have 768 megs, but it also steals memory bandwidth. It’s like that bridge I cross over every day to go to work–it’s normally three lanes, but they have it closed down to two or even one lane some days. So it takes a longer time to get over that bridge. If I put a video card–even my old Nvidia-based card I bought back in 1997, if I could find it–with its own memory in her computer and disabled the onboard video, it would be like reopening that lane, and her CPU would have a full three lanes to work with when accessing memory.

I just checked Ebay, and found an Nvidia TNT2-based card for 99 cents Buy-it-now, with $9 shipping. The shipping is a ripoff, but the seller is probably paying a couple of dollars for the card and making $4 on shipping. At $10, the card is more than anyone needs for word processing and Internet use, and it’s probably better than the built-in video would be for light gaming. It’s a cheap way to soup up a computer like this.

If you can’t afford to buy any memory for this or any other computer with built-in video, but you’re running short on memory, here’s a free upgrade: Go into the BIOS, and set the amount of memory dedicated to the video card as low as you can. In this case, I can go to 8 megs. You won’t be able to run high colors at high resolution after doing this, but if you’re happy with 1024×768, it’ll give your system some memory back and make it a little more peppy.

I sure wish Intel or AMD would steal the old Amiga concept of chip memory, which was a bank of memory that could be used by either the video chip or the main CPU, at the expense of speed of course. But slow memory is still way faster than the swap file. The system just gave priority to the main memory (called fast memory) when it was available. It’s amazing how many good ideas were out there 20 years ago, some of which we’re enjoying today but some of which are sadly lost to history.

And, as always, a newer, faster hard drive is a good way to hot-rod an aging PC if it feels a bit sluggish.

But, $35 worth of RAM and a $10 video card goes a long, long way.

What to expect around here

I’m still not recovered, but I expect to be on my way. The doc put me on some prescription meds. Which reminds me: The mafia My health insurance company seems to have changed prescription providers YET AGAIN, and I missed my card in the mail. What is this, flavor-of-the-week?
It’s incredibly messed up when it’s easier to get your new license plates than it is to get a bottle of Amoxicillin.

So I’m torqued off right now.

As far as the recurring problems with spammy comments and trolls, I’m fed up with it. I appreciate the people like Dustin Cook and, yes, that arrogant French aristocrat, for telling the most recent one to shove off. But that’s not a permanent solution.

I’m looking at another piece of software that can be set to require commenters to be registered users–if you want to comment, you’ve got to give a username and password. I hate that. I really do. I don’t want people to have to go through the hassle. I don’t want people wondering what else will happen with their e-mail addresses, which I will require. (The answer is, nothing, because I hate spam more than I hate taxes, but the general public doesn’t know that.) Unfortunately, it seems to be the only way to reduce the trolls and stop the spam.

As far as Railroad Tycoon 3, due to my recent sickness I’ve only been able to play two short games. It’s not a radical departure from Railtycoon 2. The economics are a bit different (and far more realistic) and the graphics are a whole lot better, and overall the game is a lot more realistic now. I can safely say I recommend it. They set the requirements at 400 MHz, 128 MB of RAM, and a 16-meg AGP video card. I played on a 366 with 128 megs and a 16-meg Radeon 7000 video card. It was acceptable. You could probably get by with a 300 MHz machine with the same memory and video card, but there’ll be times when you’ll want more horsepower. 500-600 MHz would definitely be more comfortable.

Rediscovering OS/2

So I picked up a surplus computer from work this week. Honestly, I bought it more because it was cheap than because I needed it. But it was a giveaway price for a good-quality system. Micron’s Client Pro line (its business-class line) is as well-built a PC as I’ve ever seen. The machine didn’t come as advertised, but it was still a good price for what I got: a 266 MHz Pentium II, 64 MB of RAM, a 4-gig Maxtor hard drive, a Lite-On CD-ROM drive of unspecified speed (it seems to be at least 24X), an Intel 10/100 PCI NIC, Nvidia Riva-based AGP video, an ISA Sound Blaster, and an ISA US Robotics 56K faxmodem.
Of course my first thought was to put Linux on it. But I have better machines already running Linux, so what’s the point, really? Then a few things sent me hurtling down the roads of my oldschool retro computing past, and a thought hit me: OS/2!

What I consider my first real job involved installing OS/2 literally a couple hundred times. That was version 3, on 50 MHz 486s. But by the time a Pentium-166 was a hot machine, I wasn’t using OS/2 much anymore. I realized I’ve never really seen OS/2 on something as hot as this P2-266 before. And I used to know how to optimize the living daylights out of OS/2, so this could turn into the best computer I’ve ever owned.

I had to patch my OS/2 v4 installation disk 1 to deal with the drive in the machine (download IDEDASD.EXE and unzip it, then follow the instructions in the README file) but once I got that going, installation was smooth. I need to track down device drivers for the NIC and video card yet. But I got a basic system up and running in about 35 minutes. That’s not bad.

I can’t wait to see Mozilla Firebird on this thing.

A day of catching up

I might finally have reliable DSL. Gatermann and I spent a good part of the day cleaning up my phone wiring. The wiring appeared to have been done by someone who couldn’t make up his mind how he wanted to do it. Seeing as I had two jacks that didn’t work anyway, and I own exactly three telephones plus an answering machine, we pulled out a number of the runs altogether (the wires are still there, just not hooked up at the box). And we cleaned up some oxidation that had shown up on some of the lines that were there.
My DSL connection does seem to be more reliable as a result. We’ll see in time how it turns out, but I know the brief storm we had tonight would normally knock me off the ‘net, and I haven’t fallen off yet since we did the work.

We also rebuilt a system. I’ve been intending to rebuild this one for some time (I pulled the case out of storage months ago) but never got around to it. Anymore, it seems like it’s a lot more fun to mess with other people’s computer projects than with my own. Anyway, we pulled out the system that served up this web site up until about a year or so ago (a Celeron on one of the last of the AT motherboards, a socket 370 job from Soyo), removed it from the old Micron case I’d put it in, and we put it in a monster server case, a former Everex 486/33. It’s a really good-looking case–battleship gray with black drives. And it’s built like a battleship too–very heavy gauge steel. It was pretty funny when we pulled out the full AT motherboard that had been in there and installed the Soyo, which is even smaller than what we used to call baby AT. We installed my CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives and a few other bits and pieces, and… an ISA video card. Yes, I’m sick. I was out of PCI slots and I loaned the AGP video card for the system (a Radeon 7000) to Steve last week and won’t be able to meet up with him to get it back until Wednesday at the earliest. I am half tempted to go ISA for either the sound or network card for the time being in order to free a PCI slot for an Nvidia Riva 128 card I have kicking around. It would be a big improvement. The screen writes remind me of BBSing; the text comes onto the screen at a rate somewhere between what I remember 300 bps and 1200 bps looking like.

But then again, what I want this system for (primarily) is to do things like burn CDs, and I don’t need superfast video for that. And I don’t know that I’m going to be burning anything between now and then.

Yes, I know, catch-up days are terribly exciting to read about.

But somewhere around here I think I have some stuff I wrote last week and never posted. I’ll have to see if I can find it to post tomorrow.

I just built a PC

It’s late, so I’ll save a lot of the gory details for tomorrow, but I built a PC over the course of the last couple of days. I did it a little bit differently than the last couple I’ve built.
All prices quoted are from Newegg.com as of last weekend when I ordered this stuff.

Case

I used a Foxconn PC115. It’s a two-tone case that looks like the cases the big brands use. Since a lot of the big brands buy from Foxconn, it’s probably a derivative of the designs Foxconn sells to them. It’s heavy enough gauge steel that you won’t hurt yourself with it. The mounting points are labeled. It has 11 drive bays. The included 350W power supply is honestly labeled. It’s a lower midrange case. I absolutely wouldn’t buy any less case than this–c’mon, the thing costs 30 bucks–but it’s nice enough that nobody’s going to be embarrassed with it.

Mobo

I used an AOpen AK75. It’s an AMD board, with a SiS 745 chipset. I’ve never had troubles with VIA chipsets, though to hear some people talk they make Yugos look reliable. I maintain that if you know what you’re doing, VIA chipsets are fine. But SiS has a great reputation of late so I thought I’d give a SiS-based board a try. It’s a nice board. It’s fast, and getting Windows to recognize and utilize the chipset is much nicer. Install the AGP driver and you’re in business.

One note about the board: Part of the Windows installation goes so slowly that I thought the board was defective. Right after the system check, it pauses for a long, long time. I’m talking longer than a Pentium 166. It seemed like minutes, though it probably wasn’t much longer than a minute in reality. Once it gets over that hurdle, it’s fast. This was with Win98 and 2000. I didn’t try XP. I had a legal copy of 98 for the system; I started to put 2000 on it in order to see if it ran into the same problems I thought 98 was having.

I only had a few hours’ experience with the board, which is anything but definitive, but it didn’t raise any red flags, and in my experience, most boards don’t wait until the second date to show their bad side. Usually the problems will show up either on the first day or sometime after the 366th.

I looked at an integrated Intel i815 board and very nearly bought it, but the supply dried up before I could pull the trigger. Buying AMD promotes competition, and the AK75 gives a lot more upgrade options in the future, so I’m not terribly sad about it.

Memory

I used a stick of Kingston DDR. It was on sale, I’ve never had a problem with Kingston memory, and back when I was working in an IBM shop, the IBM field techs trusted Kingston memory as much as the stuff IBM used from the factory.

DDR is cheaper than PC133 now, so if you’re building a new system, now’s the time to buy DDR instead. DDR-capable mobos are still more expensive, but they’re faster and you’ll save money in the long run by going with DDR now. DDR is the future. PC133 will stick around a while yet, but it’s headed to the same place EDO memory went.

Video

I used the cheap Radeon flavor of the week. When you don’t do 3D games, video cards don’t matter much anymore. This one was a genuine made-by ATi and I think it cost $29. It’ll stink up the joint if you’re waiting in line to buy Doom 3, but for the rest of us, it’s more video card than we’ll ever need, for a fantastic price.

I don’t have anything against Nvidia, but lately it’s easier to find a full-featured Radeon in the $30-$40 range than an Nvidia offering.

Modem

I used a USR 2977. It’s a real hardware modem and it’s PCI so it’ll fit in modern boards. At $35, it’s not that much more expensive than a Winmodem. And Winmodems steal anywhere from 10-20% of your available CPU power. People go to great lengths–either doing lots of time-consuming and sometimes downright foolish stuff, or spending lots of money–to achieve much smaller performance gains, so it’s stupid not to buy something like the 2977.

Hard drive

I used the flavor-of-the-week 7200-rpm 20-gig Maxtor. It cost $65. At that price I’m not going to be too picky, especially because I was working on a tight budget.

Operating system

Windows 98. Why? It was legal and adequate. Linux would be fine except for a few apps the new owner needs to run. There’s definitely enough hardware here to run XP, and XP might even outperform 98, but when you’re building a $300 system, spending $100 on an operating system when you’ve already got one doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Extras

I stole the CD-ROM, floppy, keyboard, mouse, and monitor from the PC this one was replacing. Along with all the cables.

Transferring VHS movies to VCD or DVD

Mail from Maurie Reed about VHS home movie transfers to digital formats.
MR: Dave, I’ve read all of your threads on video editing with interest. I’m not claiming to have understood everything but I’m less in the dark than I was before ( a 20 watt bulb as compared to a 10?).

DF: Remember, there are people who get 4-year degrees in this stuff. And graduate degrees after that.

MR: My question is: does the Pinnacle DV500 work in conjunction with a regular AGP video card or is it the sole video device in the system?

DF: It works in conjunction with another card. The DV500 does the heavy lifting and then sends its display over to the other card. So if you’ve got a DV500, any video card on the market today will be way more than enough. I used an S3 Savage4 card for a long time, and it was fine.

MR: Maybe better yet, what I’d lke to do is take the VHS tapes that we have made of the family over the years and transfer them to DVD. The first reason is to archive them for safety. After that’s done I’d like to edit them for quality, i.e., clean up, lighten,etc.

DF: PC Magazine’s Lance Ulanoff has done some columns on that. His approach, using Sonic MyDVD 4.0 (though Dazzle DVD Complete gets better reviews), is simpler than mine and eliminates the DV500, though you’ll still need some way to get the analog video into your PC. An ATI All-In-Wonder card would be good for that. I know Newegg has the less-expensive All-in-Wonders sometimes but they tend to sell out quickly so you’ll probably have to use their notify feature. Then you can spend the money you’d spend on a DV500 on a DVD writer instead (I suggest one of the Sony drives that can do DVD+R/+RW and DVD-R/-RW, that way if one format works better in your DVD player, you’re not stuck.

Keep in mind that Ulanoff used Firewire to get his video in, but that’s because he used Hi8 as his source, and those tapes will work in a Digital8 camera. If you’re using VHS, you’re limited to using analog inputs.

What you gain in simplicity you lose in power, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

MR: Toward this end I’ve been slowly building up a new machine: P4-2.4, Asus P4-533E, 512M PC-2700 RAM, 120G WD HD (SCSI’s not quite in the budget right now although I do have some Adaptec 2940 cards). I’m running an old S3 8M video card in it right now to test components (all from newegg…thanks for thesuggestion!) and I have no DVD-ROM drive or DVD burner yet (I do have a LiteOn CDRW). I thought I’d work on the video first. I’m sure at some point down the road we would like to do more video but never anything professional (read – making money at it). It would probably be my wife and daughters working with it anyway as I’m more of an audio person then video.

DF: You’re off to a great start. Add a DVD burner and an All-In-Wonder card (or a similar nVidia card with analog inputs–if your camera or VCR supports S-Video, use that, since its picture quality is noticeably better) and you’re ready to go. You might want to grab a smallish drive to hold your OS and apps so you can dedicate the WD drive just to video. Watch the post-Thanksgiving sales. For VHS-to-DVD transfers, IDE is sufficient.

Since you do have a CD burner, if you want to get started right away, get the All-In-Wonder and the software and start making VCDs, then get the DVD burner later.

As for being an audio person rather than a video person, I come at it from a magazine/newspaper background. I think it’s a shorter step from audio to video than it is from print to video! (And you knowing what it takes to make the video sound good is a very good thing. The audio quality on some of my projects has been positively awful.)

MR: I understand you’re very busy and NOT in the free advice business so I’ll understand if you decline to comment.

Thanks (no matter what the answer) in advance and have a great Thanksgiving!

DF: Thanks for the good questions. You have a great Thanksgiving too.