Picking a power supply for my video editing PC

I rebuilt my video editing system this past week.
Some months ago, Windows 2000 decided to start acting really goofy–it would start up, and Explorer would crash and restart every 10 seconds. I was able to make the system usable again by going into win.ini and changing the shell from Explorer to the old Program Manager, but seeing as I can’t stand Program Manager, I didn’t like that solution much.

I took the opportunity to make some more changes to the system too, specifically, upgrading to a 1.2 GHz Duron CPU and adding a second 18 GB 10K RPM drive (both purchased for an aborted project) and replacing the Adaptec 2940UW host adapter with an Adaptec 19160 I purchased over a year ago and for some insane reason didn’t use when I built the system in the first place. I also dropped in a Sapphire Radeon 7500 card, since I loaned out the S3 Savage4 card that was originally in the system.

The Radeon is overkill for this application, but it’s a $40 card so I really don’t care. Having a faster processor and a drive dedicated exclusively to holding my source video improved performance noticeably. By today’s standards, this is a very modest system, but it’s very nice for editing. It’s on the low end as far as disk space is concerned–figure a gig per four minutes of video in the standard DV format you’ll get from a firewire-equipped camcorder–but it’s very fast.

It’s also extremely unreliable. In a 90-minute session, the machine locked up twice. One was a black screen of death, and the other was a spontaneous reboot. In its previous incarnation, the system had a 750 MHz Duron processor and a 4500-rpm Quantum lct as a secondary drive for overflow use (I’d use it as a holding bin for video, then move it to the 10K drive for final output to tape to avoid dropped frames). Until the weird Explorer problem, it was rock solid. My Antec 300W power supply handled that load just fine.

That Antec power supply is about three years old, a relic from an era when 500 MHz was a blindingly fast processor and power requirements weren’t as obscene as they are now. Its age and the standards to which it were built are probably a problem.

PC Power and Cooling’s power supply selector gives a nice way to size a power supply to match a system. For me, it suggested that a PCP&C 275-watt power supply would be adequate under some circumstances. Well, assuming the box provided 275 watts divided properly on the correct rails, that is. (That kind of talk makes most people’s eyes start to glaze over, so people don’t talk about it much. PCP&C included.) But this machine has exactly one PCI slot still open, so it’s heavily loaded. I want more headroom than that.

PCP&C has its 350W box on sale for $71, which is considerably higher than Newegg will charge for basic 350W Antec or Enermax units, but pricing on business-grade or enthusiast-grade Antec and Enermax units is in line with PCP&C, and the PCP&C units have a better warranty. Plus PCP&C will ship it free and they throw in some freebies worth about $5 retail when all’s said and done.

I’ll get the Turbo-Cool 350 model rather than the Silencer 275 model. Quiet would be nice, but the system already makes a racket. So I’ll take overbuilt. Everything else about this system is.

Building with the Antec SLK2600AMB

The Antec SLK2600AMB is the nicest case for the money I think I’ve ever seen.
Gatermann and another friend are building a PC today. Last night, he and I gave the components a once-over, to make sure they’d be building a PC today and not troubleshooting bad components. Good thing, because the video card was bad. It’d power up and display and sometimes the display was even readable through the gibberish. Bad memory chip.

So it was a good thing we did some investigating beforehand. And I was glad to see this case. They paid $59 for it at Newegg.com. Mwave.com has it for $67. There are lots of places I’ve never heard of on Pricewatch that have it, some for a little less, some for a little more.

In the picture it looks silver, but it isn’t. It’s dark gray. It has a glossy, metallic finish. (Antec calls it “metallic bronze,” but it’s much more of a gray than a bronze.) You’ll never match the color of your drives to the case, but that’s OK because it has a door that covers the drive bays. If you can find some light gray drives, like the OEM-for-Compaq drives Compgeeks carries sometimes, or like Yamaha’s CD-RW drives, they’ll look fine in it. Black will look even better in it–the case is just about the same color as the ancient 486 server I have in my basement that has black drives. It’s really sharp.

This case, with black drives and a black monitor and keyboard and whatever mouse you prefer, will give you a distinctive-looking system that looks classy, not tacky.

There’s only one removable panel, on the side. That’s OK; the case is spacious enough inside to drop in a motherboard without troubles. The side on this particular case took a little effort to remove, so be careful with it. If I’d had a flat, non-metal object (like a paint stick) to pry it open with, I would have. Don’t use a slotted screwdriver, as you’ll probably scratch the case.

Inside, you’ll find a 300W Antec power supply. Good stuff for the price, and more than adequate for any mainstream PC. People intending to build a computer with multi-drive RAID and top-end CPUs and video cards and ground effects will be springing for something other than this case.

It has real slot covers, and not the bend-out metal cutouts that are all too common in less-expensive cases anymore. The only problem with the slot covers is they tend to interfere with the card just above them, so if you’re removing a card and can’t get it free, pull the slot cover below it.

There’s a little storage compartment above the slots for the case accessories. This is nice if you’re like some people (ahem, I won’t mention any names, Steve) who have a tendency to lose the extra screws and standoffs that come with a case. Pop ’em in the storage compartment, and when upgrade time comes, they’re there.

The other nice thing is the ease with which 5.25″ form-factor drives go into the case. Pop out the front cover using its clip, then pull out the drive rail behind it. The drive rail clips onto the right side of the drive (use the lower holes) and the drive slides in. Use the slider on the other side of the drive, inside the case, to hold the drive in place. You can fully populate the case in the time it would normally take to bolt one drive in. Very nice. I could live without the bright purple color of the rails, but at least they’re inside.

You get four external 5.25″ bays, one external 3.5″ bay for a floppy drive (or if you want something even more useless and unreliable, a Zip drive), and three internal 3.5″ bays for hard drives. There are mounts for two case fans (none included).

It costs $20 more than the Foxconn case I looked at a couple of weeks ago. But it’s also a tier above it. If you’re on a budget but not trying to squeeze every penny, this case is a good one to get.

This case feels like a contender

I’m building computers again.
This one’s going into a Foxconn 3400ATX, which is available for 35 smackers from Newegg.com.

So how is it, you ask? Oh, you didn’t ask? Well, I’ll tell you anyway.

You can find a lot worse cases for the money. Its looks are along the lines of a current Compaq or HP case without the translucent smoke-colored accents. Picture a plain-beige box that looks like a Compaq at your favorite retailer, and you’ll have a nice picture of the 3400. I like its looks a little better than most Antec or Inwin cases, actually. And no funky-colored buttons or obnoxious colored trim, like a lot of cases in this price range.

It has three detachable panels like most good cases and unlike most $35 specials. The panels aren’t as heavy as a premium brand but they’re not flimsy. And the panels come off and go back on easily, which is nice. It’s always disconcerting to have to manhandle a case with expensive components and your precious data inside whenever you need to get it open.

The case feet push into the bottom of the case and are secured with plastic pins, rather than being the stick-on kind that tend to fall off and run away.

Now the bad. You don’t get nice, screw-out slot covers like you would with a premium case. You get cutouts that you bust out with a pair of pliers. The inside of the case is light-gauge steel with that cheap Far East look. Those of you who’ve worked inside a lot of inexpensive cases know what I’m talking about. Working inside it isn’t going to be as nice as working inside an Inwin or an Antec. The motherboard tray is pop-riveted and not detachable.

The power supply is nothing to get excited about. It’s rated at 300 watts, it’s AMD approved, but it looks and feels cheap. It ought to be fine for a Duron or a low-end Athlon XP. Don’t try to build a 3-GHz computer around this. (If you’ve got the money for a 3-GHz machine, you need to be looking at something other than a $35 case.)

Now, the upside. While the interior finish is very pedestrian at best, the fit is fine. Stuff lines up, which doesn’t always happen at this price point. There’s a case fan mounted in the back. There’s a place for a second one up front. You get three external 5.25″ bays, two external 3.5″ bays, and one more 3.5″ bay. Fill all those up and you’ll be taxing the limits of this power supply.

The verdict? Newegg sells Codegen cases that will get to you a little bit cheaper because they’re lighter. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Codegens. I can tell you this Foxconn is worth what you pay for it (most $35 cases aren’t), and it comes in white or solid black. If you’re building a fairly low-end system, this Foxconn will serve you well.

But if you’re building something that you expect to work on a lot (adding drives and memory and changing out the motherboard fairly frequently), pony up the extra $20-$25 to get an Inwin or Antec case.

Dell and Gateway upgrade caveats

I sent this message to Mike Magee of The Inquirer this morning:
Hi Mike,

I’m a freelance author, with one book published by O’Reilly to my credit and a few appearances in Computer Shopper UK.

I visited the Scott Mueller link you referenced at http://www.theinquirer.net/15040206.htm, and just to alert you, I’m not certain that Scott Mueller’s dates on the Dell systems are correct. In late 1998, I attempted to upgrade a Dell P133-based system with an AOpen AX59Pro motherboard, in order to get around the nasty memory limitations in Intel’s 430VX chipset. I knew the motherboard worked because I pulled it out of another working system. The board didn’t work in the Dell. Then, when I reinstalled it in the system I pulled it from, it didn’t work there either.

Fortunately I didn’t kill the power supply so I was able to get the system up and running again by replacing the factory board.

This leads me to believe that Dell has engaged in the practice of nonstandard wiring since 1996.

My recommendation to my readers has always been to replace the power supply when replacing a motherboard in a Dell, since standard ATX power supplies easily bolt into the Dell cases. Any brand-name power supply purchased at retail (Sparkle, Antec, Enermax, etc.) is likely to be of higher quality than the stock Dell power supply anyway, but that’s an additional upgrade expense people may not consider.

I suspect the reason this hasn’t been more widely known is that Dell mostly sells to corporations and has only recently gone after the consumer market in aggressive fashion, and corporations rarely replace motherboards. The labor involved in making the swap, then reinstalling the operating system and applications, costs too much. There’s less labor involved in replacing the system, and then you have a system covered under warranty.

Incidentally, while Gateway does use the standard ATX pinout, many Gateway cases use an odd-shaped power supply. So while an aftermarket power supply will function electrically, it’ll take some cutting and drilling on the case to allow you to bolt it in. Most people will prefer to just buy a new case if the power supply in their Gateway dies–and the power supply is usually the first component to go in a Gateway, in my experience.

How to build a reliable PC.

We touched on the topic of reliability last week. I figure I might as well give a more thorough discussion of what makes a PC reliable.
1. Power supply. I see more power supply failures than any other single component. Good power supplies fail without a whimper and don’t damage the rest of your equipment. Bad power supplies take other stuff with ’em when they die. Antec and Sparkle are examples of good basic power supplies. The power supplies that come in InWin and other brand-name cases tend to be fine as well. A notch above that is Enermax, maker of the ultimate in show-off power supplies, with plated finger guards and odd colors. Top-tier is PC Power and Cooling. If I wanted to build a computer and have absolute assurance it would still work in five years, I’d start with a PCP&C or at the very least, an Enermax.

Buy more wattage than you think you need. The power supply will run cooler and last longer if you do. Besides, you never know what you’ll want to stick in the case down the road.

2. Memory. Last time I checked, you could get 64-meg PC133 sticks for under $5. I wouldn’t trust ’em with my archenemy’s work though. Cheap memory may be untested, the PCB may not be a good design, or even worse, it may have chips that were tested and deemed unsuitable for use in PCs (but fine in other less-demanding devices). Unscrupulous makers sometimes buy up these chips and take their chances. It may seem foolhardy to pay $100 for a 256-meg stick from Crucial, but I haven’t just heard horror stories about commodity memory. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve had more than 1,000 brand-name modules cross my desk. Three were defective. I’ve had fewer than 50 commodity modules cross my desk. More than half proved defective. Some wouldn’t even work–the system would just beep at you. The worse ones appeared to work for a while, but the system was always crashing. Don’t take chances on your memory. I tend to buy my memory over-spec as well. Even if a motherboard takes PC100 memory, I go ahead and buy PC133 CAS2 memory. The chips will run just fine at a lower speed, so I have an overengineered system for a while, and if I ever upgrade I’m more likely to be able to take the memory with me.

3. Motherboards. Buy brand-name boards. I’ve never had an Asus board fail. (Watch one fail next week now that I’ve said that. But I’m happy with the reliability and longevity of Asus boards.) I’ve done well with other brands too, like AOpen, Abit, FIC, and Tyan. I know MSI boards are popular but I don’t have any personal experience with them. Asus has impressed me with their farsighted engineering–in my experience, you’re more likely to be able to upgrade an Asus board in three or four years than others.

Most people know to check the hardware enthusiast sites when researching a board. I urge you to also check the Usenet newsgroups. You’ll find some good advice. Finding very little on a board can be a good sign too-it’s an indication that a board doesn’t have many problems. Years ago, I was researching the Asus SP97V motherboard, because it was dirt cheap, but it was an Asus. I searched on Usenet and found very little about it–maybe a half-dozen messages. Most of it was just idle chatter. One message was talking about various boards, including the offhanded comment, “The SP97V is a good board for the money, BTW. I’ve used three of them.” That clinched it. Nobody was talking bad about the thing. I had one positive, and very little talk overall, which generally indicates satisfaction. Satisfied people rarely talk about stuff unless its quality blows them away.

4. CPU fans. Never go cheap on CPU fans. There’s a humongous roundup of currently available fans. Get a heavy-duty fan, even if you don’t overclock. Remember, the CPU you’re protecting is a lot more valuable than the fan. A good fan will keep your CPU well within its specified operating temperature range, and I’d like to think that the pricier fans will have a longer life. Get a ball-bearing fan rather than a sleeve-bearing fan; a cheap sleeve-bearing fan is quieter but it’s also likely to conk out on you in a couple of years if you leave your systems on 24/7.

Bookmark that site, by the way. Dan’s one of the better technology writers out there today, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s an entertaining read, explains things well, knows what he’s doing (and he’s pretty open about his methodology), and he’s probably a certifiable genius, but he’s not pretentious. In fact, he seems to enjoy making people think he’s not quite sane. I make sure I pay that site a visit at least twice a week.

5. Case fans. It’s a good idea to put a supplemental fan in the machine. Two is usually overkill unless you’ve got some really hot hard drives, and it’ll make your computer louder. You can quiet them by manipulating the voltage. Dan’s Data talks a lot about them too, including how to slow them down. For typical users, a simple ball-bearing case fan is sufficient.

6. Hard drives. IBM currently recommends you not run their drives more than 8 hours a day. So that eliminates IBM from the running. That’s a shame, because they used to make spectacular drives. (I still like their laptop drives better than any others I’ve seen though, and I’m not the only one.) I’ve seen fewer dead Quantum and Maxtor drives than any other brand, although Samsung really has surprised me with their reliability, and the drives are cheap. Seagate has a good reputation but I have very limited experience with their recent drives. Maxtor’s a safe choice at the mid range and high end, while Samsung is tough to beat for the low end.

7. Cabling. The cables that come with brand-name PC motherboards seem to be of good quality, as are the cables I’ve seen bundled in Maxtor retail kits. If an IDE cable looks flimsy, don’t buy it. Problematic cables slow you down due to the need to retransmit data. Also never buy an IDE cable that’s longer than 18 inches. Longer cables are available, but IDE specs state 18 inches as the maximum. Longer cables may work, but it’s questionable. If you have to reach the top bays in a tall tower case, you’ll have to go SCSI. Sorry.

Rounded cables will improve airflow, but be careful. Rounding shortens cables, so the wires inside a long rounded cable are even longer than stated. While a relatively new practice on the desktop, I saw rounded SCSI cables in IBM servers and workstations as long ago as 1995.

Troubleshooting a flaky PC

After church on Wednesday, Pastor pointed at me. “I need to talk to you,” he mouthed. That’s usually not a good sign, but I hadn’t done anything too stupid lately, so I figured he probably didn’t want to talk about me. I was right. His computer was flaking out.
Having, at that point, nothing to go on, I suggested he run SFC.EXE, which scans system files for corruption. It flagged a few files, including user.exe. This isn’t always indicative of a problem, but it can be. I had him go ahead and replace the files it flagged. He called me and we walked through the process, then the computer just crashed. Bluescreen, in the kernel. Constant spontaneous crashes were the norm now. And the error messages were never the same, he said.

He asked what causes these things. I told him if I knew precisely, I’d be able to write a book that’d sell a whole lot more copies than my last one. Microsoft doesn’t even know why Windows does these things sometimes.

At one point he got an error message that said, in essence, to reinstall Windows. I told him I could walk him through it, but at that point I’d be more comfortable seeing it myself.

So that was what I did yesterday. The computer booted up fine, and I couldn’t find anything wrong. So we tried going online. That flaked out–the modem couldn’t connect and just gave false busy signals. I brought up HyperTerminal, tried dialing my own phone number with it, and the system crashed. Bluescreen. Kernel. OK, so I reinstalled Windows. It crashed during the installation.

Several things can cause that. I jumped straight to memory. Opening the case, I saw several possibilities. No-name Eastern Rim power supply. A microATX motherboard with the notorious SiS 530 chipset. I told him I’d run a diagnostic on it. Just to be on the safe side, I pulled the memory. It wasn’t commodity memory–it was an Apacer module. Apacer isn’t the best but it’s far from the worst. I cleaned the module’s contacts with a dollar bill, then put it back in and turned the system on to see if Windows could pick up where it left off. Note that I didn’t replace the case cover. An experienced tech never does that. Why not? I noticed something the minute I turned on the power. The CPU fan wasn’t turning. I found the problem. The dead CPU fan, incidentally, was a Vantec. No, not Antec–Vantec. It was a ball-bearing fan, and Vantec is fairly reputable, so this fan just died before its time. It happens sometimes.

So it appeared the crashes were due to overheating.

The local CompUSA didn’t have a single Pentium/K6/Mendocino Celeron CPU fan in stock. Bummer, because the marked price on an Antec was $13. So I went to Best Bait-n-Switch, where I found an Antec fan, made in Taiwan (good), for $15. This one had a drive connector, and I’d have preferred one with a motherboard connector, and I’d have preferred a slightly bigger heatsink, but it was all they had, it was bigger than the part it was replacing, and I wanted something right then and there. I bought it, brought it back, swapped it in, and the computer booted up fine, and finished Windows installation without a problem. I even ran Defrag afterward, since that’s pretty taxing on the whole system. I let it go for half an hour without a single hiccup. Problem solved, apparently.

It’s nice when you can tell someone it wasn’t anything they did, that it was a hardware problem. And a CPU fan is a pretty cheap item.

04/20/2001

Games. Anyone who knows me well knows that, in my mind, there are three computer games worth owning: Railroad Tycoon II, Civilization II, and whatever the year’s hot statistical baseball simulation might be (but I’m always disappointed with the lack of a financial aspect–gimme a lineup of Ty Cobb, Rod Carew, George Brett, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Nomar Garciaparra, and Mickey Cochrane, along with a pitching rotation of Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Cy Young, and Denny McLain, and I’ll slaughter you no matter who you’ve got–though my payroll would probably be upwards of $200 million just for those core 13 guys).

But if I were stranded on a desert island with a computer and could only have one game…? I’d take Civ 2.

Well, Sid Meier’s working on Civilization III now, and expecting a late-2001 or early-2002 release. And I found a great Civ site at www.civfanatics.com , with info on the upcoming Civ 3, along with info on the rest of the series, including strategies, loadable scenarios, patches, and other good stuff.

Hardware. Now that I suddenly don’t owe four figures to the government like I suspected I might, the irrational part of me has been saying to go buy some new computer gear. The rational part of me is reminding me that the markets are down, interest rates are down, interest rates are going to be cut again, and thus it’s probably a good time to sink some money into the market, preferably unsexy, proven blue-chips like General Electric, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch. No matter what the economy does, people aren’t going to stop buying light bulbs, soda and beer, right? And I don’t care about dividends or short-term gains. I’m reading up about nutrition with the goal of increasing my life expectancy into three digits. I’m in this for the long, long haul.

But computer hardware is a lot more fun than stock certificates. And no one wants to read about me buying GE stock, right? So, let’s talk hardware.

First off, some people say you shouldn’t swap out motherboards because you should never take down a working system. Build a new system, then part out the system you’re replacing. I understand the logic behind that. That means starting off with a case and power supply. Time to buy for the long haul. For the long haul, there are two names in power supplies: PC Power and Cooling, and Enermax. Where to go, where to go? I hit PriceWatch and searched on Enermax. Bingo, I found Directron.com , which stocks both brands, along with a good selection of cases and allows you to swap out the stock power supply with whatever you want. Sounds great, but you generally only get about a $12 credit when you do that. Bummer. I went to resellerratings.com, looked up Enermax, and found a rating of 6 on 42 reports. That’s comparable to companies like Dirt Cheap Drives and Mwave, both of whom have given me excellent service over the years and get my business without hesitation.

What else have they got? Well, if you want to build a stealth black system, black cases, floppy, CD/DVD/CDRW drives and keyboards, for one. Nice.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to offer PCP&C’s cases. They do offer the ultimate l33t case, the Lian Li line. Cost of entry: $159 and up, no power supply included. The ultimate l33t solution would be a Lian Li case and an Enermax power supply. But would I really want to spend $200 on just a housing and power…? They also offer cases from Palo Alto, who makes cases for Dell and Micron. Working in a Micron shop, I’m very familiar with the Palo Altos, and they look good and won’t slice you up, though sometimes you have to disassemble them more than you might like. Cost of entry: about $70, including a 235W power supply, which you’ll want to swap out for something better. They also offer InWin and Antec cases, both of whom I’ve had good luck with. Reading further on their site, they claim only to stock cases their technicians have been able to work with easily and without injury.

And unfortunately, their commitment to quality doesn’t necessarily seem to extend to motherboards. I found the accursed PC Chips amongst their offerings. Boo hiss!

On the good side, if you want a PC on the cheap, here’s the secret formula: At Directon, grab an Enermax MicroATX case for $29, a Seagate 20 GB HD for $89, a socket 370 PC Power & Cooling fan for $19, a vial of heatsink compound for $1, and a Celeron-433 for $69 (highway robbery, but watch what I do next), then head over to Tekram and grab a closeout S-381M Intel 810-based motherboard for $34. Then head over to Crucial and pick up whatever size memory module you want (a 64-megger goes for $35, while a 128er goes for $60). Boom. You’ve got a real computer for well under $350, even accounting for shipping and a reasonable floppy, CD-ROM, keyboard and mouse. Or salvage them from an older PC. Get it and spend the money you save on a really nice monitor. For most of the things you do, you need a nice monitor more than you need clock cycles.

You could save a few bucks by picking up an old PPGA Celeron at your favorite Web closeout store, or on eBay, but the extra shipping will probably chew up all the savings. The going rate for a PPGA Celeron, regardless of speed, seems to be right around $60. You’ll pay $10 to ship it, while adding a CPU to an order that already includes a case and other stuff won’t add much to the shipping cost. One thing that did impress me about Directron is they don’t seem to be profiting off shipping, so they get honesty points. I’d rather pay $5 more up front and pay less shipping, because at least the dealer’s being honest.

I didn’t come to any conclusions and my credit card stayed in my wallet, but maybe I’m a little further down the road now.

And I guess it’s time for me to go to work.

Impressions of Netscape 6

I’ll be back in a bit. With preliminary impressions of Netscape 6. My notes on it are at work, but I’ll give you the overall. I’m thinking C+. It worked OK for me and it was fast. There were things about it that annoyed me though. I very badly want to use a non-Microsoft product, because I detest Microsoft, but IE has a couple of features that save me a lot of keystrokes and I have to think of that.

Assuming it manages to install, chances are there’ll be things about it you like. The things that bother me most are features that Netscape used to have but now don’t. But for basic browsing it’s much better than its predecessors.

I’ll get the rest of the details up here within a few hours.

My notes on Netscape 6. This is pretty rough, but I don’t have time to pretty it up.

Speed: Good. Very comparable to IE in most regards and sometimes faster, though still not as fast when rendering nested tables. On a P2/350 it’s hard to tell a difference. Program loads very slowly however (20+ seconds on that P2/350).

Stability: So-so if you can manage to get it installed. Installation problems galore; seemed stable under NT4 once I got it running. Under heavy use it didn’t crash on me once. However, numerous attempts to get Java plug-in working failed. I never did get it to install on a Mac G3 running OS 8.6.

Features: Stop animations feature is gone and sorely missed. Makes me mouse more than IE does. IE-like backspace is there; ctrl-enter is not and autocomplete is Netscape 4-like rather than IE like, forcing more keystrokes. I wish they’d focus more on usability, speed and stability and less on eye candy. Text enlargement doesn’t trigger window scrollbar or margin resizing when needed, so if you enlarge the text, you’ll lose the edge of the screen.

The ctrl-l-accessible Open Location box doesn’t use any autocomplete at all.

What’s Related moves from the navigation bar to the sidebar, where it’s tempting to turn off to save screen space.

Built-in search tool turns the sidebar back on if you turned it off. Annoying–don’t throw out your bookmarks to Google and Altavista yet.

No longer any fast, easy way to toggle images on/off

No longer forces you to install everything under the sun, which is very nice. Good to be able to get just a browser if you want.

Memory usage: disappointing. Used anywhere from 18-28 megs during initial testing. It’d be so nice to nuke the #$%& eye candy and get that memory usage down.

The verdict: I’m pretty happy with how the Gecko rendering engine turned out. But as soon as K-Meleon comes of age, chances are I’ll switch to that because it’s so much leaner and meaner. (Mozilla’s plagued by the same eye candy garbage, and until we all have 2-GHz processors and a gig of RAM and 15K RPM hard drives on our desktops, I’m mostly interested in having something that works fast. That means giving up some inessential whiz-bang stuff.)

And if you missed it… I posted an update late yesterday. It was too important to wait until this morning.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “bill cavanaugh” <billcav@nospam.yahoo.com>
I just followed the Daynotes link to your site. I couldn’t help but notice:

“Farquhar’s Law. I should have some t-shirts made with this on it. Repeat after me. Cable connections are the last thing most people check. Make them the first thing you check.”

This has been one of (actually, I think the first) Pournelle’s Laws for a couple of decades.

Bill

~~~~~
Aw man, I thought I stole that fair and square from PC/Computing way back when it was still a magazine kind of worth reading.

Well, hopefully there’s some other stuff on the site useful to you that isn’t stolen from someone who stole it from Jerry Pournelle.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Curtis Horn” <curtishorn@nospam.home.com>
Subject: Fwd: FIC VA-503+ and K6-III+

I read what Peter said, and you are right, I got the K6-III because my other option is a k6-2, and we all know that on chip cache is better than on board, even at 100Mhz.  And it wasn’t that much more expensive than getting a k6-2.

I haven’t had the chance to upgrade the bios, but I did find it.  The other issue is that the bios chip is soldered on so I have to do it right and back up the old bios.  I’ll have some time this weekend, when I’m going to put the hard drive in.

This may sound weird but ever since I got a job that has me work on computer sometimes I feel less enthusiastic about doing it at home.  Right now I have 3 computers that I have to put NT Images on, and one has to have a second network card (for a bnc connector).  Thanks allot for the help.

Curtis

~~~~~
By all means take all proper precautions. It’s always a shame to ruin a motherboard because of something as simple as a BIOS upgrade. (I’ve got a dead Abit IT5H under my desk. Great board. I have no idea what I did that killed it, and that’s a shame because I could drop a Cyrix MII in it along with all the 72-pin SIMMs I could scrounge up and a 7200 rpm hard drive and it’d still be a fantastic workaday machine.)

What you say about not wanting to work on PCs after you get home actually makes a lot of sense. I resemble that remark! My main station’s Antec 300W power supply blew over the summer. The PC sat there in pieces for a couple of months because I just didn’t feel like working on it after doing that kind of stuff all day at work. I finally got around to swapping in another power supply a couple of weeks ago. I messed up my Linux firewall around the same time that power supply blew. I didn’t get around to fixing it until this weekend. Writing is relaxing to me because I don’t do it all day. Back when I was paying for college by selling my soul working as a salesman in a consumer electronics store, I found working on PCs relaxing.

I’m glad I could help.

 

Upgrades, remedies and a diagnosis

(originally from 5/21/00)
Upgrade Central. I got a steal of a deal on a pair of Antec 300W power supplies, so I did the power supply shuffle this weekend. While I was at it, I also threw in bunches of memory while I had the systems open. My dual 366 runs a lot better now with 320 MB of RAM in it. Never skimp on RAM, especially on dual-CPU systems.

I can’t resist. Microsoft Remedies. Someone sent in some complaints about Outlook, viruses and scripting, which I’d love to post but it takes a lot of effort to do that right now. Suffice it to say, Gary, I think you’re right, but I don’t think Microsoft gives a rip about anything but driving competition, real or imagined, out of business using any means possible. Security and quality be damned. (Notice they’re not exactly falling all over themselves to remedy the performance problems Internet Explorer causes, even though it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to do.)

So, proposed remedies… Put Mehdi Ali and Irving Gould in charge. Who? They’re two guys who knew how to chase short-term profits without stifling innovation. You’re still asking who? Ask any Amiga fan who they are, then duck.

And it’s almost official. I’ve been diagnosed (at least, I have a preliminary diagnosis) with the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome. I don’t know if it’s a matter of psychology, having been hit too many places with reflex hammers, or the Vitamin B6 shocking my system, but whatever it was, I was a mess Saturday.

Expect updates to be brief and less frequent than before for a while. I’ll do my best to answer my mail, but I’m still trying to devise a plan. (I do feel a bit better today, at least I’m using my shift key, unlike yesterday.) And I wrote this much with the two-finger method, rather than touch-typing–I’m a very fast touch-typist when healthy.

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