Western Digital hard drives

Apparently it’s possible right now to get WD hard drives dirt cheap at certain warehouse clubs in St. Louis. How cheap? One person wrote in and told me $30 after rebates for a 10-gig drive. He asked me what I thought of the deal. It’s a great price, sure. My problem is, if I bought one, I’d be tempted to actually use it.
I’m very down on Western Digital. At my previous employer, we had about 600 PCs, with a variety of drives: a small number of Seagates, and roughly equal representation of IBM, Maxtor, Western Digital, and Quantum. We had maybe a drive a month go bad on us (ours was an aging fleet). I saw about as many Western Digitals go bad as all the rest–combined. I’ll buy an IBM, Maxtor, or Quantum drive without flinching, but I stay away from WD.

At my current employer, we have fewer problems (newer equipment), but I still see about as many WDs go down as anything else. Here we have mostly WD, Samsung, IBM, and Seagate drives, since that’s what Micron tends to use. Again, I see about as many WDs go as all the others. The last WD to go out happened when I took a half-dozen PCs to a convention in New Orleans. It was the middle of registration, with tired travelers all around, and the machine kept locking up. Finally, one time the drive just didn’t come back. I located a computer store, paid an outrageous price for a drive (unfortunately, another WD because it was all they had), and managed to get the drive in with only a couple hours’ downtime. But after failing me when I most needed dependability, I vowed to never buy another WD. Whenever I spec a drive for work, I get a Maxtor. I find them more reliable, faster, and they’re just as easy to find as WDs. And the CompUSA down the street always has a good deal on them.

Optimizing Windows questions from readers

Do you still think Netsonic is the best browser cache program ?Is there anything better than Netsonic, to speed up web surfing ?

Is there anything better than EasyMTU/ispeed to optimize one’s modem ?

I haven’t found anything better than either. All of the MTU-type programs do essentially the same thing, the question is how much you want to pay for a utility that flips a couple of bits in the registry. EasyMTU and iSpeed do the job, and they’re free.

As for NetSonic, I haven’t found anything I like better. That program category, like fastloaders, was a great idea that never really caught on and it makes for slim pickings today. —

Subject: What new book(s) are you working on now?

Who will be your publisher, and what is your planned publication date for your upcoming book(s) ?

Is there a way to search all of your views (from #1 to #37) for a
particular topic or string ?

The new book will be from O’Reilly. The topic is Linux, from the point of view of someone familiar with Windows (something that’s desperately needed, as I adamantly disagree with the view some hold that Linux needs to look, breathe, and act just like Windows. Next thing you know someone will be wanting it to crash like Windows too. The solution isn’t 4.3 billion clicky utilities that do one thing and give people RSI from too much mousing when there’s already a time-tested three-letter command with more power than most mortals can possibly imagine to do the job sitting right there–but I digress.) It’s maybe half-finished, so I don’t know yet when it will be finished, published or released. It hasn’t been announced yet, so very little has been decided (including the title). I understand there will be a “small mammal” on the cover. Sorry to be vague; that really is just about all I know.

As for a search engine, I’ve looked into some possibilities and haven’t really liked any of them. I know I’ve been indexed by Google and possibly others, so you could search for “Farquhar” and certain strings. It’s a crude solution. I do have something better up my sleeve but it’s likely to be a few months before I get a chance to implement it, as it will require me to change providers along with a whole bunch of other work.

What are “fastloaders” programs, mentioned in you email below ?

Can you give me the names of a few, and from where can I download them, to test them out ?

I talk about them on page 71 of Optimizing Windows. One came with Norton Utilities and one with Nuts & Bolts; neither is compatible with Win98. (The Norton tool was better.) SuperFasst, from www.webcelerator.com, is compatible with both Win95 and 98. These programs use various tricks to shave a few seconds off program loading times. This was a bigger deal in 1995 than today (modern disks can load Word in 3 seconds, after all–SuperFasst might cut that down to 2-2.5, which isn’t a very noticeable difference). You might find you like it. I found it didn’t make a big enough difference for me to be worth the decreased stability now that fast hard disks are common and dirt cheap.

More Windows speed-ups. I took a look today at www.webcelerator.com. These guys provide Superfasst, which I mentioned in Optimizing Windows. They’ve got a few new utilities to offer now, the most interesting of which creates images of CDs and then emulates a CD-ROM drive. This would be very, very useful for wringing more performance out of games that use a CD-ROM.

The downside to these guys is they want to monopolize your browser’s homepage. Change your homepage to something other than theirs, and their programs stop working. That’s a bit obnoxious. It would be nice if they’d offer a payment option. It is nice that they aren’t opting for the adware/spyware route (I think–I haven’t examined any of these tools in well over a year). I thought I’d pass along what I found though.

Voice recognition

Voice recognition. The great David Pogue e-mailed me over the weekend, at Tim O’Reilly’s urging, to talk a little about Dragon Naturally Speaking, which he says is better than ViaVoice. He says he gets about 110 wpm out of it.
So I did a ton of research to see what kind of hardware you want for Naturally Speaking. Consensus seems to be the SoundBlaster Live! Platinum is what you want (retail $199), plus a noise-reducing condenser mic, which can be had for around $75, and as much CPU power as you can muster. David’s had good success with a PII-300, so my Celeron-400, refitted with the SB Live! and a good mic, ought to be OK. If it turns out to be inadequate, the AMD Duron-600 is dirt cheap and suitable mobos are finally widely available.

With a good mic and a sound card with clean audio inputs, many people claim 95-97 percent accuracy out of the box, climbing to 99 percent accuracy within 1-2 weeks of heavy use. We’ll see. I’m still skeptical, but willing to take the risk. As I told David, sound cards and microphones are cheaper than wrists.

If you’re interested in taking the plunge, wait. Naturally Speaking 5.0’s release is imminent. Don’t race out to buy v4 only to find v5 on your next office supply run.

Attention, bargain hunters: The SB Live! Platinum, SB Live! MP3+, and SB Live! Gamer are all the same card. Avoid the SB Live! Value (now discontinued), as it used a different chip. The difference between the three remaining cards, besides the bundled software, is the 5.25″ bay insert that replicates all the jacks and puts them up front. I like that, so that’s the direction I’ll go. That insert costs as much as the card, however, so if you need a high-end sound card but don’t want to pay $200 for it, get one of the other cards in the SB Live! series.

You can upgrade later by adding an insert, but you’re looking at $150 to do it.