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01/13/2001

Have I been brainwashed by Redmond? In the wake of MacWorld, Al Hawkins wrote a piece that suggested maybe so. My post from Thursday doesn’t suggest otherwise.

So let’s talk about what’s wrong with the PC industry. There are problems there as well–problems across the entire computer industry, really. The biggest difference, I think, is that the big guns in the PC industry are better prepared to weather the storm.

IBM’s PC business has been so bad for so long, they’ve considered pulling out of the very market they created. They seem to be turning it around, but it may only be temporary, and their profits are coming at the expense of market share. They retreated out of retail and eliminated product lines. Sound familiar? Temporary turnarounds aren’t unheard of in this industry. IBM as a whole is healthy now, but the day when they were known as Big Black & Blue isn’t so distant as to be forgotten. But IBM’s making their money these days by selling big Unix servers, disk drives, PowerPC CPUs and other semiconductors, software, and most of all, second-to-none service. The PC line can be a loss leader, if need be, to introduce companies to the other things IBM has to offer.

Compaq is a mess. That’s why they got a new CEO last year. But Compaq is a pretty diverse company. They have DEC’s old mini/mainframe biz, they have DEC’s OpenVMS and Digital Unix (now Tru64 Unix) OSs, they have DEC’s Alpha CPU architecture, and DEC’s widely acclaimed service division, which was the main thing that kept DEC afloat and independent in its day. Compaq also has its thriving server business, a successful line of consumer PCs and a couple of lines of business PCs. The combined Compaq/DEC was supposed to challenge IBM as the 800-pound gorilla of the industry, and that hasn’t happened. Compaq’s a big disappointment and they’re having growing pains. They should survive.

HP’s not exactly in the best of shape either. They’ve made a lot of lunkhead decisions that have cost them a lot of customers, most notably by not releasing drivers for their widely popular printers and scanners for newer Microsoft operating systems. While developing these drivers costs money, this will cost them customers in the long run so it was probably a very short-sighted decision. But HP’s inkjet printers are a license to print money, with the cartridges being almost pure profit, and HP and Compaq are the two remaining big dogs in retail. Plus they have profitable mainframe, Unix, and software divisions as well. They’ve got a number of ways to return to profitability.

The holidays weren’t kind to Gateway. They actually had to resort to selling some of their surplus inventory in retail stores, rather than using the stores as a front for their build-to-order business as intended.

Dell’s not happy with last year’s results either, so they’re looking to diversify and give themselves less dependence on desktop PCs. They’re growing up, in other words. They’re killing IBM and Compaq in PCs, and those companies are still surviving. Dell wants a piece of that action.

Intel botched a number of launches this year. They had to do everything wrong and AMD had to do everything right in order for AMD to continue to exist. That happened. AMD’s past problems may have been growing pains, and maybe they’re beyond it now. We shall see. Intel can afford to have a few bad quarters.

As for their chips, we pay a certain price for backward compatibility. But, despite the arguments of the Apple crowd, x86 chips as a rule don’t melt routinely or require refrigerants unless you overclock. All of my x86 chips have simple fans on them, along with smaller heatsinks than a G4 uses. I’ve seen many a Pentium III run on just a heatsink. The necessity of a CPU fan depends mostly on case design. Put a G4 in a cheap case with poor airflow and it’ll cook itself too.

Yes, you could fry an egg on the original Pentium-60 and -66. Later revisions fixed this. Yet I still saw these original Pentiums run on heat sinks smaller than the sinks used on a G4. The Athlon is a real cooker, so that argument holds, but as AMD migrates to ever-smaller trace widths, that should improve. Plus AMD CPUs are cheap as dirt and perform well. The Athlon gives G4-like performance and high clock speeds at a G3 price, so its customers are willing to live with some heat.

And Microsoft… There are few Microsoft zealots left today. They’re rarer and rarer. Microsoft hasn’t given us anything, yet we continue to buy MS Office, just like Mac users. We curse Microsoft and yet send millions and billions their way, just like Mac users. We just happen to buy the OS from them too. And while we curse Microsoft bugs and many of us make a living deploying Windows-based PCs (but the dozen or so Macs I’m responsible for keep me busier than the couple of hundred PCs I’m responsible for), for the most part Windows works. Mac owners talk about daily blue screens of death, but I don’t know when I last got one. I probably get one or two a year. I currently have eight applications running on my Windows 98 box. OS/2 was a far better system than Windows, but alas, it lost the war.

I can’t stand Microsoft’s imperialism and I don’t like them fighting their wars on my hardware. They can pay for their own battlefield. So I run Linux on some of my boxes. But sometimes I appreciate Windows’ backward compatibility.

I always look for the best combination of price, performance, and reliability. That means I change platforms a lot. I flirted with the Mac in 1991, but it was a loveless relationship. The PCs of that era were wannabes. I chose Amiga without having used one, because I knew it couldn’t possibly be as bad as Windows 3.0 or System 7.0. I was right. By 1994, Commodore had self-destructed and the Amiga was perpetually on the auction block, so I jumped ship and bought a Compaq. Windows 3.1 was the sorriest excuse I’d seen for a multitasking environment since System 7.0 and Windows 3.0. I could crash it routinely. So I switched to OS/2 and was happy again. I reluctantly switched to Windows 95 in 1996. I took a job that involved a lot of Macs in 1998, but Mac OS 8.5 failed to impress me. It was prettier than System 7 and if you were lucky you could use it all day without a horrible crash, but with poor memory management and multitasking, switching to it on an everyday basis would have been like setting myself back 12 years, so the second date wasn’t any better than the first.

Linux is very interesting, and I’ve got some full-time Linux PCs. If I weren’t committed to writing so much about Windows 9x (that’s where the money is), Linux would probably be my everyday OS. Microsoft is right to consider Linux a threat, because it’s cheaper and more reliable. Kind of like Windows is cheaper and more reliable than Mac OS. Might history repeat itself? I think it could.

The computer industry as a whole isn’t as healthy this year as it was last year. The companies with the most resources will survive, and some of the companies with fewer will fold or be acquired. The reason the industry press is harder on Apple than on the others is that Apple is less diversified than the others, and thus far more vulnerable.

01/09/2001

Mailbag:

DOS games under Windows; Today’s post; Disk I/O tweaking

Overheard: [I’d] rather spend a lot of money for a new top-notch and super-light mountain bike, dive gear or quality clothing than on another computer system. The performance of my PC is just fine for the work I do and the games I happen to play once in a blue moon. My PC is over a year old! Shocking!

–Thomas Pabst, of Tom’s Hardware Guide, in his Duron 850 review released Monday

I think that’s another argument for optimizing your PC right there. If Tom Pabst, of all people, can keep a PC for more than a year, then so should everyone else.

Let’s talk about cheap PCs. In college I lived next door to a marketing guy. In 1994, a couple of years before PCs broke the $1,000 barrier for good, I was thinking about $700 PCs. At that time, 386DX motherboards retrofitted with Cyrix 486DLC processors were dirt cheap, and I figured with 4 MB of RAM and a sub-300 MB hard disk, it would be possible to build a PC for that, and I figured it would sell on price alone.

My marketing buddy agreed. Then we did nothing with the idea. But I still think about cheap PCs.

There’s an article over at The Register today talking about a new motherboard from PC Chips that sells for about $80, based on the SiS 730S chipset. An unnamed vendor states that he can buy these PC Chips boards, slap a low-end Duron on them, put it in a case with the smallest hard drive available, and voila, you’ve got a $300 PC. He’s right. For $80, you get audio, video, modem, and LAN. All you need is a CPU ($60), memory (under $50), hard drive ($85), case ($35), and a keyboard and mouse ($15). It won’t be a high-powered system, but it’s miles ahead of anything we had three years ago and we weren’t complaining.

Now, I don’t trust PC Chips motherboards one bit, but I expect a lot of people will follow this dealer’s plan. This will lead to sales and market share for AMD, but it might come at the expense of reputation. You and I can assume people will blame the inevitable problems they’ll have with these systems on the dealer, or on the motherboard, but historically that’s never happened. People equate the CPU with the computer, so problems tend to fall on AMD or Cyrix, right or wrong. But AMD is hedging its bets, rightly focussing on the business market, where it got its big break last week: Micron will be offering Athlons in their Client Pro line of business PCs.

And speaking of Cyrix, they’ve revised the Cyrix III chip yet again, adding L2 cache. Performance is still lackluster, leading people to predict Cyrix’s demise, but I’m not so sure of that. If VIA can sell Cyrix chips at a significantly lower price than Intel or AMD are willing to charge and still make a profit, there’s room. That $300 PC can become a $250 PC if VIA prices its CPUs at $35 and dealers cut available memory.

Inexpensive PCs done right do sell. Commodore and Atari proved that. Their demise came when they reached the point where they no longer could (or would) sell a useful computer at a significantly lower price than everyone else. The Amiga was tremendously useful, but it was at a me-too price. Here was Commodore, the budget computer maker, selling a computer for twice as much as Packard Bell. Hence its demise. Atari’s price was closer to Packard Bell, but the software compatibility wasn’t there. Packard Bell’s death was inevitable once HP and Compaq started eroding their price territory. Packard Bell had a terrible reputation, but they sold until they lost their price advantage. People aren’t going to settle for a Kia if they can get a Honda for about the same price.

Mailbag:

DOS games under Windows; Today’s post; Disk I/O tweaking

Impressions of Windows Me

Afternoon: Short shrift thoughts on WinMe. I’ve got it running on a Celeron-400. I installed a 15GB Quantum Fireball lct I bought some time back and never used for anything, so as to preserve my existing Win98 setup. I see little difference between WinME and 98SE, with a few exceptions:

Improved Defrag. Defrag’s speed now rivals that of a third-party package. It still won’t give the results that a well-tuned Norton SpeedDisk will, but at least the days of 18-hour defrags are over.

Improved boot times. When I saw people bragging that WinME made their systems boot in a minute and a half, I was hardly impressed. I can get even Win95 to boot many systems in under 30 seconds. WinME booted this C400 in 15 seconds. I did the boot speed tricks out of Optimizing Windows, and got the boot time down to 14 seconds. So Microsoft has obviously streamlined the boot process considerably. The old tricks still work, but don’t give much improvement. But what would you rather do, pay $50 or $90 for a faster boot time, or spend 5 minutes streamlining your MSDOS.SYS file?

Stability. WinME is a bit more solid on this C400 than vanilla Win98 was. I’m currently serenading my neighbors with an MP3 tune from A Flock of Seagulls (I’m sure they appreciate it) while I’m on the Web. That was a great way to make the system bluescreen before. Of course, that could just be due to a fresh installation as well. That 98 installation is about 14 months old, so it’s due for a scrubdown.

Speaking of sound… I bought the SB Live! card in this machine mostly for its voice recognition abilities, but the sound quality coming out of this thing is far greater than any other sound card I’ve seen. If you’re in the market for a sound card, give Creative’s SoundBlaster Live! series a long, hard look. Now that their main competition is buried I don’t know how long they’ll keep making good stuff, but this card is something else.

Morning: I finally did it. I did what I recommend no one do. I bought a copy of Windows ME last night. I’m making a bit of a living writing about 9x, so I had no choice. I’m writing a Windows optimization series for Computer Shopper UK, and I have to cover ME because that’s what an increasing number of people have.

I could review it here but I doubt I’ll bother. I can’t imagine anyone would be interested. The best advice for any Microsoft 9x product is to not buy it unless you buy a new PC that comes with it. That was true for four years, and with ME’s lack of backward compatibility with DOS, it’s probably even more true.

My new project is starting to rival the ramdisk project in difficulty. Windows ME appears to be faster and more stable than its predecessors but I don’t like the installation program. It seems to take liberties I wish it wouldn’t with the existing Windows directories it finds. Why do I care about that? You’ll find out if I’m successful — I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up yet. Plus a little air of mystery is always a good thing.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Dustin D. Cook” <dcook32p@nospam.htcomp.net>
Subject: Memory Brands
Dave,

First let me say that I’m probably not the first person to question your choice in memory, and I probably won’t be the last.

Have you ever heard of a company called Mushkin, Inc.? They were just purchased by Enhanced Memory Systems (the fine makers of the first PC-150 SDRAM chip and HSDRAM modules). I have used Mushkin’s memory modules for a little over one year now, and I must say that I have been very pleased. Out of several hundred of these parts that I have sold to my clients, only one such module has ever failed. The best part: it worked fine until their building was directly struck by lightning.

Read Anand Tech’s “PC133 SDRAM Roundup – April 2000” here http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.html?i=1213 . You’ll be amazed at the performance of the Mushkin modules. Unfortunately, this performance comes at a cost. Their 128 MB High-performance revision 2.0 modules cost $166.00 each. (I get a small discount since I’m a reseller, and I order in large quantities. This price is retail.)

These modules are also very stable. I’m using mine with my timings set for “Turbo”, my CAS Latency set for “2”, and my memory clock at “133 MHz” in the CMOS setup. Using both Windows 2000 Professional SP1 and SuSE Linux 6.4, I have not yet had a lockup or error. The system has been running stable for almost three months.

I have used Micron memory in the past, and I will probably use them again. If a customer either does not want to pay the price for the Mushkin parts, or they simply don’t believe me when I tell them that those few extra dollars almost guarantees a more stable and higher performing part, then I will gladly sell them the Crucial/Micron memory. I don’t want to keep pushing something that I know my customers won’t buy.

My point is this: since you’re recommending parts based on “money is no object” then you should go with the best parts available. I believe Mushkin fulfills that role.

Sincerely,

Dustin D. Cook Campus Computers Stephenville, TX – USA

PS: I really enjoyed your book on optimizing Windows. I have used many of those tips to enhance my Windows 98 machine at home. Thanks for the great information!
~~~~~~~~~~

Subject: (no subject)

Well, all this time of posting that picture of your book “Optimizing Windows” paid off. I saw it in the store today and bought a copy.

I don’t know if it’s such a good idea to post a picture of yourself, though: I have vinyl records older than you.
(What are vinyl records?)

~~~~~

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
 
Hmm, vinyl records. LPs spun at 33 1/3 rpm; singles came on smaller discs that spun at 45 rpm. Older records spun at 78 rpm. You had to put little plastic inserts in the holes in 45s so you could play them on most turntables. I read about them in history class.
 
Actually, I bought records in the early 1980s. I think CDs became commercially available in 1983 but they sure weren’t commonplace until later–I know the first recording to sell a million copies on CD was U2’s The Joshua Tree, in 1987. I didn’t get a CD player until 1989, so until then I was buying records and tapes. I know around here somewhere I have vinyl records older than me too.
 
Not sure if my age is a disadvantage or not. I frequently tell people that computers are the only thing large numbers of people want a 25-year-old’s opinion on. I spend enough time talking about Amigas that people probably figure out pretty fast that I didn’t become interested in computers in the 1990s. I was always fascinated with them (I first saw one in 1981) and from second grade on, we had them in school. I was writing simple programs when I was 10, and by the time I was 15 I had enough confidence to take them apart and work on them. There are plenty of writers with as much or more computer experience, but there won’t be very many who’ve spent as great a percentage of their lives with them.
 
I know when I was selling the things, the younger you looked, the more credibility you had. Then again, people equate age with wisdom, and I grew a beard mostly because it gives me a few years and I notice the difference at work. I’ll probably change the photo at some point, but for now I’ll see how this one flies.
~~~~~~~~~~

From: Dan Bowman <DanBowman@nospam.worldnet.att.net&gt;
Subject: Okay, I’ll parallel you…

I picked up a Compaq on clearance at Office Depot as a kid’s present for Christmas. I’ll be firing it up this week to see what I can see. “Me” is the base install.
 
Off to sing and learn and have a good time,
 
dan
~~~~~

Cool. So far I don’t see anything in WinMe that I object to, and maybe, just maybe, there’s enough in it for the $50 “limited time” step-up from 98/98SE to be worth it (especially if you can get it at a slightly discounted price). If your system is old enough to be running Win95, however, I see no use for it. There aren’t enough new features to be worth the $90 going rate and the system is likely to be marginal enough that WinMe will be a slug on it.
 
The Zip folders feature is nice, making working with Zip files in Explorer just like working with any old folder. That saves you whatever WinZip costs and I think I like it better. Internet Connection Sharing, of course, is a must for some people. Those two make it worth upgrading from vanilla Win98. I can’t comment yet on stability or compatibility.

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.

10/31/2000

I know there’s a word for this
I know ’cause we’ve all at some time said it
like when we were little kids
we’d fight each other ’til someone would give in
and you’d make him tell you ‘uncle’
  –Aimee Mann, “I Know There’s a Word” (Whatever, 1993)

Those lyrics came to mind the instant I read this.  My talkback is #22. There’s little point in reproducing any of it here.

I had a run-in with Mr. Darren (I recognize his style) the summer before last. Typical story Jerry tells. Jerry talks about Apple attack dogs who leap on anyone who dares write anything negative about Apple. Same principle here. Eventually you reach the point where you get sick of it and therefore don’t write anything at all about the subject to avoid the attack dogs.

The ignorance these people display about how computer journalism and the computer industry itself operate is unbelievable. Is it so unusual to learn something about a subject before opening your mouth about it?

This kind of crap makes me glad that now I’m not writing a book about Linux and Windows that might actually suggest that some people might have reason to run Windows. Oh, hell. I’ll go ahead and say it. Attention zealots: You know what software your beloved O’Reilly uses to write and edit its manuscripts? Microsoft Word!

On to a more pleasant subject. Good thing there’s a whole lot more to life than just computers. A friend called me up and told me to make sure I picked up the November issue of Vanity Fair because of a brief Aimee Mann/Michael Penn feature in it, plus Elvis Costello’s Top 500 recommended CDs. Good stuff. The issue kept me distracted from my article (due ASAP) for the better part of an hour.

Elvis’ best line: “As for the hit records of today, maybe some of them will sound just fantastic in 20 years’ time. It’s your life. So! No Marilyn, Korn, Puffy, Eddie Money–sorry, Kid Rock–Limp Bizkit, Ricky, Britney, Backstreet Boys, etc., etc.”

Here here!

Mail later. Probably. Assuming I bother.

It’s later. In March of 1999, Jerry was having some or another Linux problem, he got mail-bombed, and I sent him a letter, addressing him but also the Linux zealotry, asking, “What do you want? Do you want to be a punk computer like the Amiga, that no one uses? Repeat after me: Criticism of Linux is not a personal attack on me.” Jerry printed it, the result was a lot of mail.

One of them was this letter, to which I started writing a response but never got around to finishing because I couldn’t figure out what he wanted from me. This is, I’m pretty certain, the same “Darren” who wrote the “Jerry Pournelle finally admits he’s a Microsoft shill” headline at Linuxtoday.

I believe that what he and others like him are calling for is not journalism, nor is it editorial (which is where you call it like you see it–technically, that’s what Jerry Pournelle does. He’s a columnist, not a journalist) but rather, sheer advocacy.

I present it here. Opinions welcome–the mail link’s to the left, and you can leave comments by clicking on the skull icon at the end of the message (that’s what that’s for–I just haven’t gotten around to changing it).

From: Darren [SMTP:PCTech1018@netscape.net]Sent: Thursday, March 11, 1999 11:09 AM
Subject: RE: Your letter on Chaos Manor

Dave,

You asked the question “What do Linux Users want?”.

We want ACCURATE reporting.  This does not mean that we do not accept negative commentary.  This means that we are sick and tired of people with obvious Microsoft slants propagating unsubstantiated FUD while claiming journalistic objectivity.

Jerry Pournelle has a long history of being pro-microsoft.  His negative comments about Linux have a history of being based in ignorance. When he first started working with Linux and complaining about the lack of usability of Linux, he hadn’t even gotten a Linux system up and running. Why does he want Linux to continue to exist? So that Microsoft will continue to improve and dominate. These are demonstrable facts.

Journalists have continually spread anti-Linux FUD from Microsoft most often without any basis in fact. Until recently, the “difficult to use” argument was the predominant position. KDE, FVWM and other “easy-to-use” interfaces have existed for YEARS. This FUD has only recently been dying off after Microsoft’s demonstration of Caldera in court. There is the “lack of support” FUD argument. This FUD is finally dying off now that IBM, HP, Compaq, et al, have joined in the Linux “support” bandwagon. What is really ironic is that they are simply repackaging and using the same support mechanisms that have existed since the introduction of Linux 1.0 in 1994. Now we have a concentration of the “lack of applications” FUD. As more people become aware of HOW to use the sites such as www.linuxapps.com and www.metalab.unc.edu, this argument will also become apparent for the FUD that it is.

What do Linux users want? We want techno-journalists who do more than simply repeat the latest FUD out of Redmond.  They claim to have a certain level of expertise in the technical arena, but are most often only successful at demonstrating their own ignorance.

You obviously feel that we have been out of line in our treatment of certain journalists.  Would you care to give me an example of negative Linux reporting that was accurate from Jesse Berst, Jerry Pournelle or Ben Elgin? How about you give me any example at all from ANY journalist?

I am confident that I will be able to take any example you give me and show you how it is slanted, inaccurate, and not worthy of being published by professional journalists.

I do not intend this to be a flame mail, I just want to do my part to kill the bad journalism.

Regards,
Darren

I also have some (very lengthy) mail from someone who I believe is taking a much more constructive approach, or at least whose criticisms are much more valid. That should appear soon.

Scanner troubleshooting secrets

~Mail Follows Today’s Post~

Scanner wisdom. One of the things I did last week was set up a Umax scanner on a new iMac DV. The scanner worked perfectly on a Windows 98 PC, but when I connected it to the Mac it developed all sorts of strange diseases–not warming up properly, only scanning 1/3 of the page before timing out, making really loud noises, crashing the system…

I couldn’t resolve it, so I contacted Umax technical support. The tech I spoke with reminded me of a number of scanner tips I’d heard before but had forgotten, and besides that, I rarely if ever see them in the scanner manuals.

  • Plug scanners directly into the wall, not into a power strip. I’ve never heard a good explanation of why scanners are more sensitive to this than any other peripheral, but I’ve seen it work.
  • Plug USB scanners into a powered hub, or better yet, directly into the computer. USB scanners shouldn’t need power from the USB port, since they have their own power source, but this seems to make a difference.
  • Download the newest drivers, especially if you have a young operating system like MacOS 9, Mac OS X, Windows ME, or Windows 2000. It can take a little while for the scanner drivers to completely stabilize. Don’t install off the CD that came with the scanner, because it might be out of date. Get the newest stuff from the manufacturer’s Web site.
  • Uninstall old drivers before installing the new ones. This was the problem that bit me. The new driver didn’t totally overwrite the old one, creating a conflict that made the scanner go goofy.
  • Buy your scanner from a company that has a track record of providing updated drivers. Yes, that probably means you shouldn’t buy the $15 scanner with the $25 mail-in rebate. Yes, that means don’t buy HP. Up until a couple of years ago, getting NT drivers out of HP was like pulling teeth; now HP is charging for Windows 2000 drivers. HP also likes to abandon and then pick back up Mac support on a whim. Terrible track record.

Umax’s track record is pretty darn good. I’ve downloaded NT drivers for some really ancient Umax scanners after replacing old Macs with NT boxes. I once ran into a weird incompatibility with a seven-year-old Umax scanner–it was a B&W G3 with a wide SCSI controller (why, I don’t know) running Mac OS 8.6. Now that I think about it, I think the incompatibility was with the controller card. The scanner was discontinued years ago (before Mac OS 8 came out), so expecting them to provide a fix was way out of line.
m I’ve ever had with a Umax that they didn’t resolve, so when I spec out a scanner at work, Umax is always on my short list.

And here’s something I just found interesting. Maybe I’m the only one. But in reading the mail on Jerry Pournelle’s site, I found this. John Klos, administrator of sixgirls.org, takes Jerry to task for saying a Celeron can’t be a server. He cites his 66 MHz 68060-based Amiga 4000, which apparently acts as a mail and Web server, as proof. Though the most powerful m68k-based machine ever made, its processing power pales next to any Celeron (spare the original cacheless Celeron 266 and 300).

I think the point he was trying to make was that Unix plays by different rules. Indeed, when your server OS isn’t joined at the hip to a GUI and a Web browser and whatever else Gates tosses in on a whim, you can do a lot more work with less. His Amiga would make a lousy terminal server, but for serving up static Web pages and e-mail, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Hosting a bunch of Web sites on an Amiga 4000 just because I could sounds very much like something I’d try myself if I had the hardware available or was willing to pay for the hardware necessary.

But I see Jerry Pournelle’s point as well.

It’s probably not the soundest business practice to advertise that you’re running off a several-year-old sub-100 MHz server, because that makes people nervous. Microsoft’s done a pretty admirable job of pounding everything slower than 350 MHz into obsolescence and the public knows this. And Intel and AMD have done a good job of marketing their high-end CPUs, resulting in people tending to lay blame at the CPU’s feet if it’s anything but a recent Pentium III. And, well, if you’re running off a shiny new IBM Netfinity, it’s very easy to get it fixed, or if need be, to replace it with another identical one. I know where to get true-blue Amiga parts and I even know which ones are interchangeable with PCs, but you might well be surprised to hear you can still get parts and that some are interchangeable.

But I’m sure there are far, far more sub-100 MHz machines out there in mission-critical situations functioning just fine than anyone wants to admit. I know we had many at my previous employer, and we have several at my current job, and it doesn’t make me nervous. The biggest difference is that most of them have nameplates like Sun and DEC and Compaq and IBM on them, rather than Commodore. But then again, Commodore’s reputation aside, it’s been years since I’ve seen a computer as well built as my Amiga 2000. (The last was the IBM PS/2 Model 80, which cost five times as much.) If I could get Amiga network cards for a decent price, you’d better believe I’d be running that computer as a firewall/proxy and other duties as assigned. I could probably get five years’ uninterrupted service from old Amy. Then I’d just replace her memory and get another ten.

The thing that makes me most nervous about John Klos’ situation is the business model’s dependence on him. I have faith in his A4000. I have faith in his ability to fix it if things do go wrong (anyone running NetBSD on an Amiga knows his machine better than the onsite techs who fix NetFinity servers know theirs). But there’s such thing as too much importance. I don’t let Apple certified techs come onsite to fix our Macs anymore at work, because I got tired of them breaking other things while they did warranty work and having to fix three things after they left. I know their machines better than they do. That makes me irreplaceable. A little job security is good. Too much job sercurity is bad, very bad. I’ll be doing the same thing next year and the year after that. It’s good to be able to say, “Call somebody else.” But that’s his problem, not his company’s or his customers’.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: rock4uandme
To: dfarq@swbell.net
Sent: Wednesday, October 25, 2000 1:22 PM
Subject: i`m having trouble with my canon bjc-210printer…

i`m having trouble with my canon bjc210 printer it`s printing every thing all red..Can you help???
 
 
thank you!!    john c
 
~~~~~~~~~

Printers aren’t my specialty and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Canon BJC210, but if your printer has replacable printheads (some printers make the printhead part of the ink cartridge while others make them a separate component), try replacing them. That was the problem with the only Canon printer I’ve ever fixed.
 
You might try another color ink cartridge too; sometimes those go bad even if they still have ink in them.
 
If that fails, Canon does have a tech support page for that printer. I gave it a quick look and it’s a bit sketchy, but maybe it’ll help. If nothing else, there’s an e-mail address for questions. The page is at http://209.85.7.18/techsupport.php3?p=bjc210 (to save you from navigating the entire www.ccsi.canon.com page).
 

I hope that helps.

Dave
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 

From: Bruce Edwards
Subject: Crazy Win98 Networking Computer Problem

Dear Dave:

I am having a crazy computer problem which I am hoping you or your readers
may be able to give me a clue to.  I do have this posted on my daily
journal, but since I get very little traffic, I thought your readership or
yourself may be able to help.  Here’s the problem:

My wife’s computer suddenly and inexplicably became very slow when accessing
web sites and usually when accessing her e-mail.  We access the internet
normally through the LAN I installed at home.  This goes to a Wingate
machine which is connected to the aDSL line allowing shared access to the
internet.

My computer still sends and receives e-mail and accesses the web at full
speed.  Alice’s computer now appears to access the web text at about the
speed of a 9600 baud modem with graphics coming down even more slowly if at
all.  Also, her e-mail (Outlook Express) usually times out when going
through the LAN to the Wingate machine and then out over the internet. 
The LAN is working since she is making a connection out that way.

File transfer via the LAN between my PC and hers goes at full speed.
Something is causing her internet access to slow to a crawl while mine is
unaffected.  Also, it appears to be only part of her internet access.  I can
telnet out from her computer and connect to external servers very fast, as
fast as always.  I know telnet is just simple text, but the connection to
the server is very rapid too while connecting to a server via an http
browser is much much slower and then, once connected, the data flows so slow
it’s crazy.

Also, dial-up and connect to the internet via AOL and then use her mail
client and (external to AOL) browser works fine and is as speedy as you
would expect for a 56K modem.  What gives?

I tried reinstalling windows over the existing set-up (did not do anything)
and finally started over from “bare metal” as some like to say.  Reformat
the C drive.  Reinstall Windows 98, reinstall all the drivers, apps, tweak
the configuration, get it all working correctly.  Guess what?  Same slow
speed via the aDSL LAN connection even though my computer zips out via the
same connection.  Any suggestions?

Sincerely,

Bruce W. Edwards
e-mail:  bruce@BruceEdwards.com
Check www.BruceEdwards.com/journal  for my daily journal.

Bruce  🙂
Bruce W. Edwards
Sr. I.S. Auditor  
~~~~~~~~~~

From: Dave Farquhar [mailto:dfarq@swbell.net]Sent: Monday, October 23, 2000 6:16 PM
To: Edwards, Bruce
Cc: Diana Farquhar
Subject: Re: Crazy Win98 Networking Computer Problem

Hi Bruce,
 
The best thing I can think of is your MTU setting–have you run any of those MTU optimization programs? Those can have precisely the effect you describe at times. Try setting yor MTU back to 1500 and see what that does. While I wholeheartedly recommend them for dialup connections, MTU tweaking and any sort of LAN definitely don’t mix–to the point that I almost regret even mentioning the things in Optimizing Windows.
 
Short of that, I’d suggest ripping out all of your networking protocols and adapters from the Network control panel and add back in TCP/IP and only the other things you absolutely need. This’ll keep Windows from getting confused and trying to use the wrong transport, and eliminate the corrupted TCP/IP possibility. These are remote, but possible. Though your reinstall should have eliminated that possibility…
 
If it’s neither of those things, I’d start to suspect hardware. Make sure you don’t have an interrupt conflict (rare these days, but I just saw one a couple weeks ago so I don’t rule them out). Also try swapping in a different cable or NIC in your wife’s machine. Cables of course go bad more frequently than NICs, though I’ve had horrible luck with cheap NICs. At this point I won’t buy any ethernet NIC other than a Bay Netgear, 3Com or Intel.
 
I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes for you.

Dave 
~~~~~~~~~~
From: Bruce Edwards

Hi Dave:
 
Thank you for posting on your web site. I thought you would like an update.
 
I verified the MTU setting was still at 1500 (it was).  I have not used one of the optimizing programs on this PC.
 
I removed all the adapters from the PC via the control panel.  Rebooted and only added back TCP/IP on the Ethernet card. 
 
I double checked the interrupts in the control panel, there do not appear to be any conflicts and all devices report proper function.
 
I still need to 100% verify the wiring/hubs.  I think they are O.K. since that PC, using the same adapter, is able to file share with other PCs on the network.  That also implies that the adapter is O.K.
 
I will plug my PC into the same hub and port as my wife’s using the same cable to verify that the network infrastructure is O.K.
 
Then, I’ll removed the adapter and try a different one.
 
Hopefully one of these things will work.
 
Cheers,
 
Bruce
~~~~~~~~~~

This is a longshot, but… I’m wondering if maybe your DNS settings are off, or if your browser might be set to use a proxy server that doesn’t exist. That’s the only other thing I can think of that can cause sporadic slow access, unless the problem is your Web browser itself. Whichever browser you’re using, have you by any chance tried installing and testing the other one to see if it has the same problems?
 
In my experience, IE 5.5 isn’t exactly the greatest of performers, or when it does perform well, it seems to be by monopolizing CPU time. I’ve gotten much better results with IE 5.0. As for Netscape, I do wish they’d get it right again someday…
 
Thanks for the update. Hopefully we can find an answer.

Dave 
~~~~~~~~~~ 

Identifying the motherboard in a mystery system

Wednesday, 4/26/00
I had to identify the type of memory a system in a remote location uses today. This technique won’t always work as smoothly as it did for me, but it gives you a fighting chance.

Life’s much easier with name-brand systems: go to Crucial, tell it you’ve got a Compaq Presario 660, and it gives you the Crucial/Micron part number. This wasn’t that easy. The system was built by Budget Computers, a clone shop in St. Charles, Mo. So, here’s how I identified it. I had the owner shut down, unplug the keyboard, and power back up. Up pops the dumbest of error messages–“Keyboard not present, press F1 to continue.” The good thing is, the BIOS code is there in plain view. In this case, it was i430VX-W877-2A59GPA9C-00.

I headed to motherboards.org, clicked on Spot (their board search engine), punched in the letters PA, since that’s the manufacturer code for Award BIOSes (they tell you how to extract the code from AMI BIOS strings as well), and found out it was an EPoX board. Good deal. I punched the part number code into their search engine and got a fat goose egg. Hrumph. I headed to EPoX’s site at www.epox.com, and found a list of EPoX BIOS codes in their knowledgebase. Cool. It turns out that i430VX-W877-2A59GPA9C-00 is the code for the EPoX P55-TV. Crucial doesn’t have a parts listing for the P55-TV, but EPoX’s site has the manual online in PDF form. I viewed the manual, and whaddya know, it’s got four SIMM sockets and a DIMM socket, and it supports FPM, EDO, and SDRAM, up to 128 MB. I happen to know that the 430VX chipset doesn’t cache more than 64 MB, so the utility of putting 128 megs in it is questionable (unless you’re going to make a 64 MB RAM disk under Windows 9x). I don’t know if that’s mentioned in the manual or not. I was mostly interested in whether it had DIMM sockets capable of taking SDRAM, because SIMMs are priced like highway robbery these days in comparison.

Head back to Crucial, tell it I want pricing on an SDRAM DIMM, and immediately I know the pricing on 32, 64, and 128 MB modules. Total time invested: 15 minutes.

And I had a college professor try to tell me once that the Internet isn’t a legitimate research tool. Well, legit or not, it gave me all the information I needed in slightly more time than it would have taken for me to disassemble the system and look for myself, assuming I was close enough to the system to actually lay hands on it (I wasn’t).

Overclocking Pentium-75s

I had an overclocking conversation at work today. A coworker wanting to overclock a laptop. I told him I didn’t think that was a good idea. Then this was waiting for me at home:

From: Curtis Horn
Subject: Pentium-75

Hello, I’m one of your readers and I check your view for the tips you sometimes put up. I’m working on a compaq pentium 75 also and maybe you can do what I did. Overclock the chip to 90Mhz. the way I did this is by changing the bus speed to 60Mhz, from 50. this has speed it up significantly I think because the memory is also speed up. You’ll also get a laugh out of this, it’s a Compaq 972 and it has 8MB of memory — ON the Mother board!! I could not believe it. but it’s there. Luckily this leaves 4 simm slots open, so i can add 4 8MB SIMMs. (16MB SIMMs are way to expensive and I have some 8MB laying around and can buy some more for 10$ each) I convinced the person to buy a 5Gig quantum drive, so they have something they can use when they upgrade. Well hope the P75 you’re working on OCs as easily as the one I have here.

Curtis

http://homes.arealcity.com/cis/

Compaq used to put a fair bit of memory on the motherboard itself. My Presario 660 (a 486/66) has 4 MB on the board. There are a couple of Compaqs from the 900 series still floating around at work that have 8 MB on the motherboard as well. But it’s not a common practice anymore, and I don’t recall any other manufacturer who did that regularly–I remember Compaq doing it because I used to sell Compaqs by the truckload and frequently I ended up adding upgrades to them.

Bus speed isn’t nearly as important in the Pentium Pro/II/III/Celeron and AMD Athlon arena, but in Socket 7 and earlier, you’re right, it makes a huge difference. Remember, the bus speed determines the speed at which the CPU can access the memory and the cache, and as the Mendocino Celeron illustrated, cache speed is more important than CPU speed or cache size. In the early days of Tom’s Hardware Guide, Tom Pabst revealed that a Pentium-150 running at 75 MHzx2 outran a Pentium-166, and a Pentium-166 running at 83MHzx2 outran a P200. So what was the point of buying a P200 if you weren’t going to overclock it, right? Ah, the good old days…. This, of course, was one reason Intel decided to start locking CPU multipliers.

The speed of the PCI bus was also tied to the bus speed. A good Pentium-100 could outrun a Pentium-120 because the Pentium-100 had a full 33 MHz PCI bus while the Pentium 120’s PCI bus ran at 30 MHz. The Pentium 75’s PCI bus ran at a pokey 25 MHz. Nobody wants to slow down their video and disk performance by 10 percent, let alone 25 percent.

Overclocking P75s is risky business though. Intel never intended to make a P75. The problem was, they had terrible yields initially on their P90s, but they found a good percentage of the bad chips would run reliably at 75, so they created the P75 and phased out the P60 and P66. (The P66 was actually a better performer because of the bus speed.) The P75 sold like crazy, and Intel wasn’t going to can a best-seller, so once they got over the yield problems, they still marketed P75s. I’ve heard of people going as high as 133 MHz with P75s. I experimented once with a P75 and took it as high as 120 MHz, but couldn’t get 133 (I suspect people getting to that level may have been increasing the voltage). It didn’t run reliably at 120 MHz for long, though I know of people who swear up and down they got 75’s running at that speed reliably with no special tricks.

Overclocking an old chip like that is fine, as long as you’re aware of the risks and willing to live with them. I’d definitely put a heavy-duty CPU fan on it (like a PC Power and Cooling fan for a high-end K6-2). In my case, I’m more interested in having a PC that’s as reliable as possible. Her life’s plenty complicated enough without having and overclocked P75 to deal with.

And we now have better ways to measure overclocking’s effects. Microsoft doesn’t have a dog in this fight but they see the weirdness.

But thanks for the idea, and for the stroll down memory lane, definitely.