From time to time, Windows patches will fail to install because a server doesn’t have enough space to install them. Finding the ginormous files are that are hogging all the space on the C drive is really tedious if you do it by clicking around in Windows Explorer, but there’s a better way.
I ran my site through Google Page Speed on Tuesday, and scored a surprising 88 out of 100–higher than I expected. Getting above 90 is going to take some optimizations on files that WordPress updates may change, so I’m hesitant to do that, but one thing it told me to do was to cache more aggressively. That’s pretty easy, as it turns out, and I could definitely feel a difference afterward.
Here’s the trick. Continue reading Another easy Apache tweak
So, after most of a year, I finally revisited Cyanogenmod 7.2 on my Nook Color. Competent tablets are available for around $100 now, so perhaps this is less interesting now, but I had a Nook Color, and figured I might as well try it out before spending money on something else.
I was never happy running it from an SD card–it was way too laggy and sluggish–but Cyanogenmod 7.2 is competent when installed on its internal memory, at least for the things I most want to use a tablet for–light web browsing, reading e-mail, watching SD video, and reading PDFs–and it leaves the SD card slot open for storing the media I want to consume. Continue reading How I turned my Nook Color into a Cyanogenmod 7.2 Android tablet
From time to time, I have to deal with new revisions of familiar implementation guides or other system documentation, and the authors rarely include a changelog in the document. And of course the first question anyone asks about the new guide is what’s changed. That means I have to find the differences between two Word documents.
This week I found myself collaborating on a long-ish document and needing to synchronize some changes. Word’s tracked changes and comments can help somewhat, but generally I find them clumsy and annoying.
If you have five minutes and a willingness to use a command prompt, you can find the differences easily, then work from there.
Continue reading How to quickly find the differences between two Word documents
One of my brothers-in-law called Friday. The files on his USB flash drive had vanished. I said I’d do my best. It quickly turned into a project to recover chk files from a directory named found.000.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I had to have something to recover.
In honor of the IBM PC turning 30, I thought I’d tell some stories about my experiences with the operating system introduced with it, PC DOS (aka MS-DOS).
Continue reading DOS war stories
I’ve been experimenting again with bootdisks and the FreeDOS project came to mind.
Boot floppies are getting rarer but they’re still hard to avoid completely. I think FreeDOS is worth a look for a variety of reasons.Its system files take up half the space of Win9x’s DOS. That extra 100K on the disk can make the difference between your tools fitting on a floppy or not.
FreeDOS supports FAT32. There’s an unofficial DR-DOS fork that does as well, but the licensing terms of FreeDOS are a whole lot more clear.
The FreeDOS FORMAT.EXE can overformat disks. If you use more than 80 tracks, the disks have problems in some machines, but a 1.68 megabyte disk using extra sectors per track should be OK. Concerned about overformatting disks? The Amiga’s default high-density disk format was 1.76 megabytes. That extra 240K can make a big difference, especially when coupled with that 100K you’ve already saved. The syntax to make a bootable 1.68 meg disk: FORMAT A: /F:1680 /S
The syntax for a 1.74 meg disk: FORMAT A: /F:1743 /S
The FreeDOS command interpreter includes command history, so you don’t need to make space on the disk or in low memory for DOSKEY.
Using FreeDOS and its 1.68 meg floppy, I was able to squeeze Ghost 8.1 (a 1.3 meg monster) onto a boot floppy and still have 197,632 bytes free to play with. With that kind of space left, if need be, one could format the disk with FreeDOS, then SYS it under Win9x and run MS-DOS 7 on it.
If you still need to squeeze a little more space, get the freeware FDFormat, which can also format oversized floppies and lets you reduce the root directory down to 16 entries from the default 224, which gives you a few more kilobytes of usable space. If you need to put more than 16 files on the disk, create a subdirectory and put your files in the subdirectory. The syntax would be FDFORMAT /D16 /F168 /S. Substitute /F172 for a bigger disk. To increase the performance of the floppy (who doesn’t want the slowpoke floppy to be a bit faster?) add the /X:2 /Y:3 options. A boot disk formatted this way yields 1,595,904 free bytes with the FreeDOS boot files installed.
A little over a year ago, someone issued me a challenge: Make a boot disk containing the Microsoft network client and CD-ROM drivers. The problem is that the network client, plus the DOS boot files, plus a CD-ROM driver and MSCDEX almost always takes up more than 1.44 megs.
So I zipped up as much of the junk as I could and made a boot disk that extracted the Zip file to a ramdisk and connected to the network. I had tons of space left over. So I added some niceties like doskey and a mouse driver. I still had space left over. So then I started hunting down every network driver I could find so that one disk could service the mismash of NICs we’ve bought over the years.
It worked, but adding new drivers was beyond the ability of a lot of my coworkers. And I wanted to add a Windows-style network logon and TCP/IP configuration. I started coding it and some of it worked, but eventually I ran out of time so I abandoned it.
Meanwhile, someone else was doing the same thing, and his results were a lot better.
From the guy who brought you Bart’s Way to Create Bootable CD-ROMs, there’s Bart’s Modular Boot Disk.
To get a disk like mine, all you do is make a bootable floppy on a Windows 9x box, then download Bart’s network packages, including whatever NICs you want to support. Then pop back over to the modboot page and grab all the CD-ROM stuff. I made a disk that supports all of the CD-ROM drives Bart had drivers for, plus a half-dozen or so NICs from 3Com, Intel, and SMC, along with mouse support and doskey. I still had over 100K to spare.
If you find yourself just a little bit short of space, you can use the freeware fdformat to format a disk with just 16 root-directory entries and a large cluster size. Use the commmand fdformat a: /d:16 /c:2. The space that would normally go to the bigger root directory and FAT ends up going to storage capacity instead. But don’t try to run fdformat in Windows–find a Win98 box and boot it in DOS mode.
To make life easier on yourself, you might make the disk, then image a blank and keep the image around for when you want to format a maximum-capacity 1.44-meg disk.
Case study: Revitalizing a PII-300
It took me three and a half hours one night to squeeze another year or two of useful life out of a PII-300.
A fellow member of the Board of Directors at my church approached me one night. “Would you reinstall the OS on my computer?” he asked. He had a PII-300, not a barn burner by any modern measure, but not a slouch of a computer either. But as a performer it had been very much an underachiever of late. I had walked him through reinstalling the operating system over the phone back around Christmas and it had solved some problems, but not everything. It appeared his computer needed a clean start.
When I looked at it, I agreed. It wasn’t particularly stable and it definitely wasn’t fast. He had a Castlewood Orb drive to facilitate quick backups, so I had him copy his data directories (named Documents and My Documents), along with his AOL directory, over to the Orb. I also spotted a directory called Drv. As an afterthought, I grabbed that one too.
I proceeded to boot off a CD-ROM-enabled boot floppy. Tepidly, I typed the magic words format c: at the command prompt. Quickly I noticed a problem: the words “Saving current bad sector map” on the screen. As the drive formatted, Rick asked the magic question. “What do you think of partitioning?”
Dirty secret #1: Any time you see bad sectors, you should absolutely FDISK the drive. Bad clusters can be caused by physical problems on the disk, but they can also be caused by corruption of the FAT. No disk utility that I’ve ever seen (not Scandisk, not Disk Doctor, not even SpinRite) fixes that. The only way to fix that (verified by a technicians I talked to at Gibson Research, the makers of SpinRite) is to fdisk and format the drive.
Dirty secret #2: FAT16 is much faster than FAT32. Since Rick wasn’t opposed to partitioning the drive, I created a 2GB FAT16 partition. You do this by answering No when fdisk asks if you want to enable large disk support. This partition holds the operating system.
I exited FDISK, ran it again, and this time answered Y when it asked the cryptic large-disk question. I created a partition that spanned the rest of the drive. Then I rebooted, typed format c: then format d:, and watched for bad clusters. There were none. Excellent.
End result: I had a 2-gig FAT16 C drive and a 6-gig FAT32 D drive.
Dirty secret #3: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever (unless someone’s holding a gun to your head) install Windows as an upgrade. You have a Windows 95 CD and a Windows 98 upgrade CD? So what. Install Windows 98 on the bare drive. Setup will find no Windows installation present and ask for your Windows 95 CD. You insert your Win95 CD, it investigates it to make sure it’s not a blank CD with win.com on it somewhere, then asks for your Win98 CD back. End result: a clean install. Even if you install Win95 immediately followed by Win98, you get extra garbage you don’t need. And it takes twice as long.
Windows took about 30 minutes to install. I tackled his applications. When I installed MS Office, I did a complete install with one exception. I drilled down into Office Tools, found Find Fast, and unchecked it. Find Fast is a resource hog and doesn’t do anything useful.
I installed Office to drive D.
He’d bought Norton Systemworks on sale one weekend, hoping it would help his performance. It didn’t. I showed him a trick. Rather than install Systemworks directly, I explored the CD, drilled into the Norton Utilities directory, and ran Setup from there. I intentionally left out almost everything. Speed Disk and Disk Doctor are the two superstars. I also kept the Optimization Wizard. I left out most of the rest, because the other stuff doesn’t do anything useful but it sure slows down your system. When it asked about running Disk Doctor at startup, I said no. It just slows down startup and doesn’t do anything useful. I did let it replace Scandisk with Disk Doctor. That way if you get an improper shutdown, Disk Doctor can clean up the mess before Windows starts and makes a bigger mess. But Disk Doctor should run when you need it. Not all the time.
Then I drilled down into the Norton Antivirus directory and installed it. Then I did the same for Ghost. I needn’t have done that. Just copying the Ghostpe.exe file out of that directory onto a boot floppy suffices. More on Ghost later.
I installed this stuff to drive D.
Next, I installed his scanner software, Lotus SmartSuite, and his DVD decoder.
I copied the data back over from his Orb disk, noticed his modem wasn’t working, and installed the device driver I found in the Drv directory I’d copied over to the Orb as an afterthought. (I’d much rather back up too much stuff than not enough.) Then I copied his AOL directory over to drive D and installed AOL 5.0 over the top of it. It picked up all his settings.
I cleaned up c:msdos.sys and rebooted, watching the time. It booted in about 45 seconds, including POST. I was happy. Rick was very happy.
I did the other standard Windows optimizations outlined in chapter 2 of Optimizing Windows. I cleared out his root directory on C. Then I ran Norton Speed Disk. I had it do the full file reordering and directory sorting bit (also described in Optimizing Windows). Clearing out the root directory makes disk access much more efficient, but only after Speed Disk discards the now-empty directory entries. Directory sorting makes disk access more efficient by putting the important files early in the list so Windows finds them faster. The results are marvelous.
Finally, I ran Ghost. I copied the Ghost executable to a boot floppy that contained the Castlewood device driver internal.sys, then booted from it and Ghosted his drive to the Orb drive. Fifteen minutes later, he had an image of his system, so he can return back to this state any time he wants.
End result: Rick’s P2-300 with an 8-gig Quantum Bigfoot drive (a notoriously slow hard drive) and 288 MB RAM received a new lease on life. Despite its slow processor and hard drive, it performs better than a lot of consumer-level PCs available today.
That was a good investment of 3 1/2 hours.
I read a statement on Bob Thompson’s website about Windows optimization, where he basically told a reader not to bother trying to squeeze more speed out of his Pentium-200, to spend a few hundred bucks on a hardware upgrade instead.
That’s flawed thinking. One of the site’s more regular readers responded and mentioned my book (thanks, Clark E. Myers). I remember talking at work after upgrading a hard drive in one of the servers last week. I said I ought to put my 10,000-rpm SCSI hard drive in a Pentium-133, then go find someone. “You think your Pentium 4 is pretty hot stuff, huh? Wanna race? Let’s see who can load Word faster.” And I’d win by a large margin. For that matter, if I were a betting man I’d be willing to bet a Pentium-200 or 233 with that drive would be faster than a typical P4 for everything but encoding MP3 audio and MP4 video.
Granted, I’ve just played into Thompson’s argument that a hardware upgrade is the best way to get more performance. An 18-gig 10K drive will run at least $180 at Hyper Microsystems, and the cheapest SCSI controller that will do it justice will run you $110 (don’t plug it into anything less than an Ultra Wide SCSI controller or the controller will be the bottleneck), so that’s not exactly a cheap upgrade. It might be marginally cheaper than buying a new case, motherboard, CPU and memory. Marginally. And even if you do that, you’re still stuck with a cruddy old hard drive and video card (unless the board has integrated video).
On the other hand, just a couple weekends ago I ripped out a 5400-rpm drive from a friend’s GW2K P2-350 and replaced it with a $149 Maxtor 7200-rpm IDE drive and it felt like a new computer. So you can cheaply increase a computer’s performance as well, without the pain of a new motherboard.
But I completely and totally reject the hypothesis that there’s nothing you can do in software to speed up a computer.
I was working on a computer at church on Sunday, trying to quickly burn the sermon onto CD. We’re going to start recording the sermon at the 8:00 service so that people can buy a CD after the 10:45 service if they want a copy of it. Since quality CDs can be had for a buck in quantity, we’ll probably sell discs for $2, considering the inevitable wear and tear on the drives. Today was the pilot day. The gain was set too high on the audio at 8:00, so I gave it another go at 10:45.
That computer was a Pentium 4, but that Pentium 4 made my Celeron-400 look like a pretty hot machine. I’m serious. And my Celeron-400 has a three-year-old 5400-rpm hard drive in it, and a six-year-old Diamond video card of some sort, maybe with the S3 ViRGE chipset? Whatever it is, it was one of the very first cards to advertise 3D acceleration, but the card originally sold for $149. In 1996, for 149 bucks you weren’t getting much 3D acceleration. As for its 2D performance, well, it was better than the Trident card it replaced.
There’s nothing in that Celeron-400 worth bragging about. Well, maybe the 256 megs of RAM. Except all the l337 h4xx0r5 bought 1.5 gigs of memory back in the summer when they were giving away 512-meg sticks in cereal boxes because they were cheaper than mini-frisbees and baseball cards (then they wondered why Windows wouldn’t load anymore), so 256 megs makes me look pretty lame these days. Forget I mentioned it.
So. My cruddy three-year-old Celeron-400, which was the cheapest computer on the market when I bought it, was outperforming this brand-new HP Pentium 4. Hmm.
Thompson says if there were any settings you could tweak to make Windows run faster, they’d be defaults.
Microsoft doesn’t give a rip about performance. Microsoft cares about selling operating systems. It’s in Microsoft’s best interest to sell slow operating systems. People go buy the latest and
worst greatest, find it runs like a 1986 Yugo on their year-old PC, so then they go buy a Pentium 4 and Microsoft sells the operating system twice. Nice, isn’t it? After doing something like that once, people just buy a new computer when Microsoft releases a new operating system. Or, more likely, they buy a new computer every second time Microsoft releases a new operating system.
Microsoft counts on this. Intel counts on this. PC makers count on this. Best Bait-n-Switch counts on this. You should have seen those guys salivating over the Windows 95 launch. (It was pretty gross, really, and I didn’t just think that because I was running OS/2 at the time and wasn’t interested in downgrading.)
I’ve never had the privilege of working for an employer who had any money. Everywhere I’ve worked, we’ve bought equipment, then run it until it breaks, then re-treaded it and run it until it breaks again. Some of the people I work with have 486s on their desks. Not many (fortunately), but there are some. I’ve had to learn how to squeeze the last drop of performance out of some computers that never really had anything to offer in the first place. And I haven’t learned much in the past since I started my professional career in Feb. 1997, but I have learned one thing.
There’s a lot you can do to increase performance without changing any hardware. Even on an old Pentium.
First things first. Clean up that root directory. You’ve probably got dozens of backup copies of autoexec.bat and config.sys there. Get them gone. If you (or someone else) saved a bunch of stuff in the root directory, move it into C:My Documents where it belongs. Then defrag the drive, so the computer gets rid of the phantom directory entries. You’ll think you’ve got a new computer. I know, it’s stupid. Microsoft doesn’t know how to write a decent filesystem, and that’s why that trick works. Cleaning up a crowded root directory has a bigger effect on system performance than anything else you can do. Including changing your motherboard.
2. Uninstall any ancient programs you’re not running. Defrag afterward.
3. Right-click your desktop. See that Active Desktop crap? Turn it off. You’ll think you’ve got a new computer.
4. I am not making this up. (This trick isn’t in the book. Bonus.) Double-click My Computer. Go to Tools, Folder Options. Go to Web View. Select “Use Windows Classic Folders.” This makes a huge difference.
5. Turn off the custom mouse pointers you’re using. They’re slowing you down. Terribly.
6. Download and run Ad Aware. Spyware DLLs kill your system stability and speed. If you’ve got some spyware (you never know until you run it), Ad Aware could speed you up considerably. I’ve seen it make no difference. And I’ve seen it make all the difference in the world. It won’t cost you anything to find out.
7. Remove Internet Explorer. It’s a security risk. It slows down your computer something fierce. It’s not even the best browser on the market. You’re much better off without it. Download IEradicator from 98lite.net. It’ll remove IE from Win95, 98, ME, NT, and 2K SP1 or lower. If you run Windows 2000, reinstall, then run IEradicator, then install SP2 (or SP3 if it’s out by the time you read this). Then install Mozilla, or the lightweight, Mozilla-based K-Meleon instead. Need a lightweight mail client to replace Outlook Express? Give these a look. Run Defrag after you remove IE. You won’t believe how much faster your computer runs. Trust me. An Infoworld article several years back found that removing IE sped up the OS by as much as 15 percent. That’s more than you gain by moving your CPU up one speed grade, folks.
8. Reinstall your OS. OSs accumulate a lot of gunk, and sometimes the best thing to do is to back up your My Documents folder, format your hard drive, and reinstall your OS and the current versions of the apps you use. Then do all this other stuff. Sure, it takes a while. But you’ll have to do it anyway if you upgrade your motherboard.
9. Get a utilities suite. Norton Speed Disk does a much better job of defragmenting your hard drive than Windows’ built-in tool. It’s worth the price of Norton Utilities. Good thing too, because 90% of the stuff Norton Utilities installs is crap. Speed Disk, properly run, increases your disk performance enough to make your head spin. (The tricks are in the book. Sorry, I can’t give away everything.)
10. Get my book. Hey, I had to plug it somewhere, didn’t I? There are 3,000 unsold copies sitting in a warehouse in Tennessee. (O’Reilly’s going to get mad at me for saying that, so I’ll say it again.) Since there are 3,000 unsold copies sitting in a warehouse in Tennessee, that means there are about 3,000 people who don’t need to buy a new computer and may not know it. I don’t like that. Will there be an updated version? If those 3,000 copies sell and I can go to a publisher and tell them there’s a market for this kind of book based on the 2002 sales figures for my last one, maybe. Yes, there are things that book doesn’t tell you. I just told you those things. There are plenty of things that book tells you that this doesn’t. It’s 260 pages long for a reason.
Recent Microsoft OSs are high on marketing and low on substance. If Microsoft can use your computing resources to promote Internet Explorer, MSN, or anything else, they’ll do it. Yes, Optimizing Windows is dated. Spyware wasn’t known to exist when I wrote it, for instance. Will it help? Absolutely. I stated in that book that no computer made in 1996 or later is truly obsolete. I stand by that statement, even though I wrote it nearly three years ago. Unless gaming is your thang, you can make any older PC run better, and probably make it adequate for the apps you want to run. Maybe even for the OS you want to run. And even if you have a brand-new PC, there’s a lot you can do.
Like I said, I’d rather use my crusty old Celeron-400 than that brand-new P4. It’s a pile of junk, but it’s the better computer. And that’s entirely because I was willing to spend an hour or two cleaning it up.