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03/25/2001

A dose of my own medicine. I was plugging away on my Celeron-400 yesterday and it was feeling sluggish. I mean it was bad. At times, barely usable. I started wondering what I’d pay for a Duron-700 these days, though I’d really rather put off any more hardware upgrades seeing as I just got around to ordering a new 19″ NEC FE950 monitor.

After I rebooted and Windows started booting really slowly (Linux never gives me this kind of trouble), a number of questions started running through my head. Is the hard drive going out? Are my backups current? Hmm. It froze, so I hit Ctrl-Alt-Del to restart it, picked Windows off my boot menu (against my better judgment, because Linux, even a really old distribution, is miles better than anything Microsoft has ever made, especially if you invest a little time learning its command line), and watched it boot in something resembling its normal time. Probably the system’s memory had just become totally blitzed and needed a harder reboot than my usual pick-the-restart-option-while-holding-shift procedure.

So I ran Norton Disk Doctor, found Outlook Express had blitzed the dates on a number of its files–typical Microsoft–and let it fix it. I looked in my system tray and noticed a couple of parasite programs (but I won’t mention any names, Real Networks) had reinstated their startup status. So I ran MSConfig and killed those. Then it occurred to me that I probably hadn’t run Speed Disk in a long time. I launched Speed Disk and found a huge mess. Before letting it proceed, I checked the options and noticed, adding insult to injury, that when I last ran it I hadn’t used the optimal settings either (the settings to use are in Optimizing Windows). Before letting it run, I did a little more cleanup (some manual directory optimization, also described in Optimizing Windows, or in the DOS 5 manual if you happen to still have it). Then I had Speed Disk rescan the drive and let it rip.

And after about 25 minutes, I had a fast computer again. That’s a whole lot nicer than spending $200 on system upgrades. Besides, if I’d paired that drive up with that motherboard without a totally clean reformat and reinstall, it wouldn’t have performed all that much better anyway. Better to make the computer work smarter instead of harder.

Micron’s departure from the PC business. I’m not sure why I didn’t comment on this yesterday. I really like Micron PCs, at least their Client Pro line. The Millenia line is basically consumer-grade, no worse than anyone else’s consumer-grade stuff and in some cases better, but still consumer-grade nonetheless. Although with the tighter and tighter integration of motherboards that probably makes less difference now than it did a couple of years ago.

I found the quality of Micron Client Pros to be much higher than Gateway, and frankly, usually better than Dell. Their service is first-rate. Now granted, I’m approaching this from a corporate perspective–my employer owns about 700 of the things, so it gets better support than a home user might. Generally they use the same Intel motherboards Dell and Gateway use. They’ve always tended to come up with combinations of video and sound cards that work better than Gateway’s combinations do. (Gateways can develop weird problems with their video and sound drivers that I’ve never seen on other PCs.) They were less stingy with the quality of power supplies they used. I didn’t always care for their hard drive choices, but then again, most PC makers just buy hard drives from whoever can deliver the quantities they need at the best price at any given moment. Unless you custom-build, you’re not likely to get cream-of-the-crop drives.

I’m afraid Micron’s departure from direct sales will mean the same thing Dell’s departure from retail did. When Dell left retail, there was a noticeable decline in the quality of PCs sold at retail. AST’s quality decreased, Acer’s quality decreased, Compaq and IBM’s quality didn’t change much but they didn’t seem nearly as inclined to keep their prices competitive anymore.

Since everyone’s using basically the same Intel motherboards with a different BIOS these days, I imagine the impact on quality won’t be tremendous (though Gateway’s love affair with 145W power supplies will probably continue indefinitely), but it will probably have an impact on price. Micron always undercut Dell, and frequently undercut Gateway. Dell probably won’t be so eager to cut prices with Micron gone.

Micron makes it sound like they have a buyer lined up for the division and it’ll continue to operate. I hope that’s the case, but I’m not too optimistic. Gateway’s having problems, Dell’s not happy with its recent results, and I can’t imagine a group of investors new to the industry will do better than Michael Dell and Ted Waitt.

Micron’s PC business shouldn’t be confused with their memory business. Micron the memory chip company is the parent company. Crucial, the manufacturer of memory modules, is a subsidiary. Micron Electronics Inc., a.k.a. micronpc.com, is another subsidiary. Micron Electronics’ two big businesses were PC building and Web hosting. So the Micron name won’t disappear off this mortal coil.

03/12/2001

Mailbag:

Aimee Mann; Question; Viper770; Cheap PC; Shopper UK article

A better bootdisk. I was talking utilities with Dev Teelucksingh, and he mentioned his Better DOS Bootdisk page, which I’d somehow missed before. Basically he replaces certain MS-provided files with other files that take up less space or provide additional functionality. For example, he replaces the Oak CD-ROM driver MS uses with an Acer driver that only uses 5K of memory. If the Acer driver works with your CD-ROM drive (it works with most ATAPI drives, but not quite all), you’ve got more available memory for TSRs.

Check it out.

Getting mail under control. In my last correspondence with Jeremy Spencer, editor-in-chief at Computer Shopper UK, he referred to his overcrowded inbox, a disease from which I also suffer. But the article I’m working on right now is so much more interesting than writing mail filters, you know? Just like it was yesterday. And last week the Bible study I was working on was more interesting. The week before that, if I was working on an article, it was more interesting. If I wasn’t, then doing laundry and making soup and washing dishes was more interesting, or at least more pressing–it’s hard to get any work done when the dirty dishes become imperialistic and take over not only the dishwasher and the kitchen sink, but also the counter, the table, the living room, and my desk as well. So I try to confine them to the kitchen at least.

But yesterday the guilt became too much, because I knew I had e-mail from readers that I hadn’t responded to yet, some of which had been waiting a really long time. It wasn’t that I was putting it off, in most cases it was literally a matter of me not being able to find them. I had nearly 2,000 messages in my inbox, hundreds of them unread, and most of those unread messages unimportant (spam, business offers, reminders to myself I never deleted, threats–but not too many of those, surprisingly) but I couldn’t wade through them to get to the stuff that needed responses.

So I took some time to create some folders and some rules. Certain people who e-mail me multiple times a day get their own folders. Stuff from companies I do business with enough that their periodic mailings are only slightly annoying (read: they send me coupons that I sometimes use) get a folder, so I can ignore them except when I’m in the market for something–and I get to decide if I’m in the market.

When all was said and done, I’d whittled my inbox down to 983 messages total, and 64 of them unread. A quick scan of those showed they were ancient and not terribly important–recruiters (offering me a job that doesn’t match my qualifications for less than I’m already making isn’t a good way to keep my attention), spam, or stuff that slipped past another filter but the filter wasn’t really worth revising to catch it.

By then, I was starting to feel hungry, so I looked up. Ouch. Six o’clock? I started at 4! So I threw some eggplant cutlets in the oven and got back to it.

And I actually managed to answer all but one of them. Nice feeling.

And I tried an experiment last night. A week or so ago, Steve DeLassus and I were talking about my going vegetarian for Lent, and he mentioned how his wife gave up cola for Lent. Then he started talking about how corrosive cola is. I’d heard some of the things he told me, but not all of them. But come to think of it, people who collect cans always tell you to poke a couple of holes in the bottom of the can and drain the cola out–that way the can still looks unopened, but if you truly leave the can unopened, the cola will eat through it over the course of a couple of years.

He told me cola will dissolve a steak in a matter of days, and a nail in a couple more, and corrosion in a couple less. So as I was looking at a baked-on, caked-on casserole that I normally use to bake fish, I remembered I had a 2-liter of Pepsi sitting in my fridge from the last time I had people over. I very rarely drink cola, so it’s going to go to waste anyway, so why not? I put a large bowl in the middle of the casserole to displace the Pepsi, then I poured about a liter in.

I figure if cola can dissolve a steak, it can probably do something about baked-on grease too, though it might take a little longer. And one of the few things I remember from chemistry class is that acids won’t eat through glass.

If that doesn’t work I’m pretty sure a stronger acid would, but for some reason dumping a bunch of HCl into something, letting it sit, and then turning around and using it for cooking makes me queasy. I know I’ll wash it out, but still…

Mailbag:

Aimee Mann; Question; Viper770; Cheap PC; Shopper UK article

How to get noticed: Get sued

~Mail follows today’s post~

Linux Today antics continue. I see on Jerry Pournelle’s site that they’ve dared him to sue them for libel. Smart move on their part, actually–I remember in my Magazine Publishing class, we raised the question in one session of how to drum up publicity for an upstart that nobody knows or cares about. (Linux Today would certainly qualify as this–it’s small potatoes and obviously knows it.) I raised my hand. My project in the class was a rebel computer mag. I’m sitting there in ripped-up jeans and a Joy Division t-shirt, known among my peers as the managing editor of a student newspaper that had an audience mostly because we baited the big, established paper, and my business plan called for taking this to the next level.

“Get sued,” I said.

Several people laughed. The professor gave me a look he gave often, a look that said, basically, I don’t know yet where you’re going with this, but I’ll humor you.

“It’s cheaper than advertising and it lasts longer,” I continued. “Suddenly, you’re news. People pay attention to you because someone big and important pays attention to you. By the time it manages to get through the courts, you’re either huge or you’re out of business, so it doesn’t matter.”

It made for nice classroom theory. It might work in the real world. But such kamikazee tactics are a sheer sign of desperation that begs the question: Why are they desperate? What do they know that the rest of us haven’t figured out yet?

Chances are, rather than sue, Jerry Pournelle will just solve the problem by eventually not saying a word about Linux at all. Linux zealots never say anything about John C. Dvorak, because Dvorak never says anything at all about Linux. The other lesson Linux Today and the zealots need to learn is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Whatever Jerry Pournelle or any other mainstream columnist says contributes to mindshare. Mindshare, not rose-colored glasses, is what wins marketplace battles. It’s not like anyone who knew anything had anything nice to say about the original IBM PC–it won because of sheer mindshare.

This is a tired subject, and I’m dead tired. Time for lunch and a nap.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Curtis Horn” <curtishorn@home.com>
Subject: Data recovery and a dumb question.

Hello again Dave, glad to see you posting again. If you don’t remember me I e-mailed you about the compaq I was working on that had memory on the
motherboard.  Regarding the post quoted below:

“Hey, who was the genius who decided it was a good idea to cut, copy and paste files from the desktop?”

Have you tried http://www.officerecovery.com?
I noticed you said you downloaded a recovery program, but you did not say which one, so if this wasn’t it I hope it can still help you.  I found it
a few months back when a paniced friend called me and said he had a report due the next day and that his office document was corrupted.  Luckily, the demo version that I downloaded was able to get the cruicial
> parts of his report (I think you have to pay for the full recovery).  I did have trouble with it crashing also I think but I don’t remember.

On to my question, this is a good one too.  I put together a computer for my roomate and I tried upgrading it. (I’m using this computer now since
mine sucks[acer] and i’m waiting on DDR memory so I can start a new system)
Here is the current configuration:

FIC 503+ Motherboard with 1Mb cache
96 Mb of simms from acer (only had simms that’s why I bought fic, supports 4 simms)
16 Meg pci ati video card (from my old acer also)
and k6-III 400 (also from my acer, was on a powerleap adapter, now removed)
nice atx case from pc club (30$ 🙂
pci sound, 52x cd-rom, 8x4x32 cd-rw, 5.3gig quantum, isa nic card, scsi card for scanner

Got the picture? I mainly use it to play Asherons Call, to schoolwork, e-mail, ect.

So, for the upgrade, i’ve got a 13.6Gig Hd and I’m going to buy a 128meg Dimm since they are SO cheap now.  Here is where I ran into a problem.  I usually check pricewatch and some other sites to keep track of what things cost.  If I want to upgrade the processor on this computer my only option that is worth it is a Higher Mhz k6-3.  The problem is they are expensive.  2 weeks ago I noticed that they were under 60$, so I ordered one, a 450Mhz k6-3.  I ploped it in to my board and the bios comes up, says it’s running at 50Mhz and checks the memory then
stops.  Now, I expected this, because the processor I bought was a MOBILE processor, AND, I made sure my board supported the voltage (2v) and made sure to set it at 2v. But it didn’t boot.  I tried everything, set all the bios settings to default, rebooted, even tried lower than 450Mhz clock speeds. but no, it wouldn’t
work. Unfortunatley they won’t take it back because they EXPECT people to not set their boards to 2v and fry them (and I don’t blame them).  What I’d like
to know is if you know any way to get this to work?

Things I may try are:
taking everything out except the video card, trying dimms instead of simms, tweaking bios so everything is at minimum settings pulling my hair out (which will be hard cause I have thick hair) I know it was foolish, but, If I could get this to work I can put my old system backtogether and give it to my uncle and cousins, who really could use a omputer for school.  Well, thanks for everything, just so you know I’ve always highly recommended your books to everyone I know that is into computers (some have even bought it too) and I look forward to your next work.

                  Curtis

~~~~~~~~~~

I remember your name; I don’t remember the Compaq problem specifically (I rarely do). Good to hear from you again.

I’d heard of OfficeRecovery.com but I don’t know that I’ve ever tried their stuff out. I certainly will. It’s 11 pm and I just called and left a message on her voice mail that someone who read Optimizing Windows and reads my site had a suggestion for something I could try. Weirdest hour in the world, but I wanted to make sure she didn’t delete the corrupt files if she hadn’t
already. (Authorship has its priveliges–we have smart readers who always know something we don’t, and sometimes are willing to share. Thanks!)

Your question may not be too tough, especially since you do have a working CPU. Indicating a 50 MHz CPU speed usually means the BIOS doesn’t recognize
the CPU properly. Go to FIC’s page and download the very newest BIOS. I’ve noticed most of the reputable Super 7 manufacturers have revved their BIOS lately to support AMD’s newer stuff. So get the newest BIOS, flash the board, load setup defaults (if you have a choice between safe and turbo or safe and normal, go safe–I know the 503+ but it’s been a while since I worked with it), then try bringing up a minimal system (new CPU jumpered properly, just a video card, and a pair of SIMMs) and see what appens. Once you get it working, tweak the BIOS settings for better speed and add hardware, using the good engineer’s method of one change at a time.

I checked FIC’s site for VA-503+ BIOSes, and none of them explicitly list 2v MD CPU support, but it’s possible, especially if you have a particularly old revision, that something about the newest BIOS will allow it to work. They did make a lot of changes related to the K6-III in the past.  And you bring up an excellent point: The two things that usually stand in
the way of CPU upgrades are voltage settings and BIOS support. Sometimes, unfortunately, you have one but not the other. Hopefully this time you can
get both; the 503+ is a pretty good board, and a r
arity these days in that it’s AT, takes both SIMMs and DIMMs, and works with reasonably fast CPUs.

If you get it working, be sure to pair it up with good memory. I’ve always recommended Crucial; another reader wrote in this week recommending Mushkin
(www.mushkin.com), which is more expensive but he says his systems run even more stable with it than with Micron/Crucial stuff. Please don’t buy one of
the commodity DIMMs currently running $53 on  PriceWatch; sometimes those work, frequently they appear to work but then give you trouble down the
line.

Thanks for the compliments on the book, I really do appreciate it! I don’t know when I’ll write another right now; I really enjoyed this last magazine
piece and would like to just keep going that route for a while. I’m signed up to do two more and hopefully that’ll lead to still more stuff down the line. These are UK-only, but there’s a possibility I’ll be able to get them published in the States at some point as well. I may have another Web exclusive coming up soon, provided I didn’t burn too many bridges this week.
It’s unpredictable but it makes it more exciting.