Optimizing a K6-2

Last Updated on September 30, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

Now I remember why I’m here. I was at my mom’s and stepdad’s, and of course the inevitable topic came up.
“I’ve got Kristin going through your book and implementing some of it,” John says. “Our computer is SLOW.” So you know what I did… I fired it up and gave it a look myself. (Besides, they couldn’t get Duke Nuke ‘Em to run and I’ve been working on an article on getting DOS games running inside Windows so I welcomed the chance to practice.)

The story: It’s an 18-month-old whitebox clone. AMD K6-2/350, 64 megs RAM. No idea what motherboard. Old non-UDMA 4.3-gig hard drive. Trident 9750-based video, and a C-Media ISA sound card. Oh yes, and of course, a Rockwell-based PCI softmodem.

A computer is a team, and what we’ve got here isn’t exactly the computing equivalent of the 1962 Mets, but I’d rate it about as highly as the 1996 Kansas City Royals. Making matters worse, it was loaded down with way too many gee-whiz features. I slimmed it down to what’s necessary, got its boot time down to well under a minute, and got the software running decently.
I’m guessing there are millions of PCs like this one out there. Buying a new one isn’t an answer, because if you buy one PC like this, chances are the next one you buy will have the same problems. You’ll probably get another softmodem. You’ll probably get another cheapo sound and video card. You’ll get a superfast CPU. But the problem is, that’s like adding the 1999 or 2000 edition of Mike Sweeney or Jermaine Dye to the 1996 Royals. You’ve still got a last-place team. The difference is, now you’ve got a last-place team with a .300 hitter or two in the heart of the lineup. Makes the team more fun to watch, and you’ll win a few more games, but the fundamental problem that got you into last place is still there.

Sure, I’d recommend some hardware upgrades for this beast. A SoundBlaster Live! sound card, for sure. An ISA sound card can eat up 35% of available CPU time. The SB Live! uses 1-2 percent. An inexpensive TNT2-based video card, certainly. At about $70, it’ll free up a lot of CPU time and speed the video along. I’d give serious thought to a newer, faster hard drive as well. A Maxtor 30-gigger (5400 rpm but still a massive improvement over this drive) runs $99 at CompUSA this week. Deals like that are common. And it wouldn’t hurt to get a controller-based modem as well. Zoom has such a beast available that’s getting good marks (I need to find the model number) for under $100.

Do all that, and you’re looking at about $350-$400 worth of upgrades. That’s a substantial chunk of a new computer, yes. But it re-uses the stuff that’s still serviceable under the hood. And these peripherals are all good enough to move on if you decide to replace what’s left (essentially, the motherboard).

So there’s a huge market for Optimizing Windows. People need this kind of information. Now, how to get it to them…? O’Reilly hasn’t figured out how to do it. It’s up to me.

Good thing there’s a marketing genius at work I can talk to. I’ll be bouncing this off him this week to see what he thinks. Then I get the first full week of December off. Time for a marketing blitz.

I’m still on the road. So if you’ve e-mailed me, it’ll be a day or two before I can get back to you. I’ll field all that when I get back.

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