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Mail: Data recovery 101

From: EP
Subject: dead hard drive

I would really like to learn something about getting data from drives that clunk or have a burned board. Your link to 200 ways does not work.

Could you be of any help to me?


As far as drives that clunk, unless the system recognizes it enough that you can run SpinRite on it, I don’t know how to do it. A clunk can be indicative of a lot of different things, from a crashed head (very difficult–you’ll need a cleanroom to get anything) to a simple bad sector (very easy–sometimes even something as lame as ScanDisk can save you sometimes; SpinRite almost always will).

Drives that have a burned board are easier. If you can track down an identical drive, you can swap the board and usually get the data back. I’ve done that a couple of times. The hard part is tracking down an identical drive.

Sorry I couldn’t be more help.


I can’t figure out what to write about so I’ll write about everything I can think of.

Cars. I just found out today that one of my coworkers owns four vehicles. And that’s not counting his Harley. I wondered the same thing everyone else did: What’s a single guy need four cars for?
I guess it would be handy for some things. Like this morning, I started my car, hopped out, started scraping, and when I got back inside, I looked down at my gas gauge and saw the yellow indicator light staring back at me. If I had four cars like (ahem) some people, I could have just shut it down and hopped in another car that had more gas in it. Of course, then I’d just have three more cars I could run down to E, so maybe that wouldn’t work.

I guess the other advantage would be driving something different to work every day, so people can’t keep track of whether you’re there or not. But I’m still having a hard time justifying it to myself.

The Cure. The Cure retired a year ago. Of course, the only thing harder than keeping track of how many times they’ve retired is how many band members they’ve had. So they recorded new material and released their third greatest hits collection, fulfilled their obligation to their record label, and said they’re still a band, but they’re staying unsigned.

As clueless as the record industry has become, it’s probably a smart move. It’d be nice if a few financially well-off artists would get together and form a privately-held record label that’s just about the music, rather than about pleasing shareholders or building huge financial conglomerates.

Cleveland Indians. The disassembly of the franchise continues. Manny Ramirez departed a year ago, replaced by a damaged-goods Juan Gonzalez. Now that Gonzalez has recaptured his old form, he’s gone. Roberto Alomar’s been traded to the Mets for a handful of prospects, plus ex-Twins outfielder Matt Lawton. Speedster Kenny Lofton is gone.

Cleveland was the model franchise of the 1990s. They signed their young players to long-term contracts early and they were only wrong about one of them (Carlos Baerga). The first two young stars they let go, Baerga and Albert Belle, are out of baseball now. They built a new stadium and kept it full. But for all the things they did right, they didn’t get a World Series win to show for it.

And I don’t see any indication with this trade that the Indians have learned their lesson. Clearly they’re in rebuilding mode, dumping salary and getting younger, cheaper players in the hopes of making a run for it again in a few years. But they traded Alomar for two outfielders and a relief pitcher. The Cleveland teams from the mid-90s on featured terrific offense and enviable defense that was at times spectacular, but little in the way of pitching. And the lesson of Arizona is that starting pitching plus one big bat is all you really need, even in these high-offense days.

So I’m shocked to say that between the Royals and the Indians, right now the pitcher-hoarding Royals are much closer to doing the right thing.

Should I be laughing at this? Gatermann sent me this link and I got a good laugh out of it. I can’t figure out if I should feel bad about that.

Viruses. My work laptop, or, more specifically, the Windows partition on my work laptop, was a victim of last week’s data recovery efforts. I have no excuse. I temporarily took leave of my senses and I didn’t write-protect the DOS boot floppies I made. So I booted off the troubled computer, then I booted the laptop off the same disks, and the next thing I knew, the laptop was infected too. It was, to say the least, my finest moment.

Yesterday I finished rebuilding the Windows partition and booted the laptop into Windows for the first time in half a week. I didn’t do any special tricks; I just wiped and reformatted the partition. But since installing Windows wipes out your Linux boot sector, I used a trick. I booted into Linux, inserted a floppy, and issued the command dd if=/dev/hda of=/dev/fd0 bs=512 count=1 to save the boot sector to a floppy. Then, after Windows was installed, I booted off a single-disk Linux distro, replaced the floppy, and reversed the command: dd if=/dev/fd0 of=/dev/hda bs=512 count=1 Bingo! I had a dual-boot system again.

Virus hoaxes. I just got e-mail from Wendy (the friend whose computer taught me a whole lot about data recovery last week), who got e-mail from a classmate. She’d received a fairly common virus hoax via e-mail, one that advises you to search for and delete the file SULFNBK.EXE
alleging it to be a virus. In actuality that file is part of Windows, so it’ll be present on every Windows 9x system. I personally can’t remember if it’s critical or not, but Steve DeLassus tells me it is.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but any time you get virus e-mail like that, check it out with an IT professional. My rule of thumb is this: I disregard any virus information I get via e-mail unless I’ve also heard about it on the news. And by the news, I mean the morning news, the news on the morning drive on the radio, the front page of the local newspaper–stuff like that. Believe me, any time there’s a legitimate virus story, it’s big news. Many of the powers that be in the media are still computerphobes, so they relish any bad news regarding computers that they find. So the mainstream media is really good at hunting down and reporting virus stories.

Meanwhile, I hope she didn’t delete that file. But at least it’s easy enough to replace if she did.

It was a high-stakes game, and I won.

Who’s to say where the wind will take you
Who’s to know what it is will break you
I don’t know where the wind will blow
Who’s to know when the time has come around
I don’t wanna see you cry
I know that this is not goodbye
–U2, Kite

When I last left you, I was denying it was time to say goodbye to the data on a friend’s hard drive. I’d found some information on the Internet that promised to get her data back, but I hadn’t done it yet. As often is the case with the Internet, the instructions I found online for doing the job were close. They were not quite right, but they brought me close enough that I was able to make it work.

Removing Form.A from a FAT32 drive is difficult. I was able to verify its presence using the free-for-private-use F-Prot, but F-Prot wouldn’t remove it, Usenet reports to the contrary.

One word of warning: Do as I say, not as I do. The first thing I should have done was make a bit-for-bit backup copy of the drive. I didn’t do that right away. Norton Ghost will work, though it’s not exactly a bit-for-bit copy. A better approach is to get a mini-distribution of Linux and use the standard Unix dd command to make a backup copy. (For example: dd /dev/hda1 /dev/hda2 bs=1024k) Once you have a copy of the drive, work from the copy! If you don’t know how to do all this, do not attempt recovery yourself. It’s much too easy to mess up your drive beyond any hope of recovering your data. This information is presented for informational and entertainment purposes only. I make no representation whatsoever that this will work for you. For all I know it’ll install Gator on your computer and leave the dome light on in your car and erase all your VHS tapes.

I downloaded a utility called ivinit.exe from (don’t e-mail me if their Web site is down; I could only get to their site about one time out of four myself). It’s a very limited utility; I’d chained the drive off another drive for recovery purposes but ivinit will only work on the primary partition on your C drive. So I disabled the primary drive. Ivinit found it and warned me that the MBR and its mirror didn’t match. I restored the MBR from its mirror, then rebooted. I re-enabled my primary drive, let it boot, and tried to access the drive. I got the invalid media type error again. I ran FDISK, which told me I had a single FAT32 partition. That was a good sign.

So I ran MBRWORK.exe, deleted the MBR and EMBR and told it to recover my partitions. It found a single FAT32 partition. Excellent. I rebooted, tried to read drive C, and… Yeah. Invalid media type paid me another unwelcome visit.

I ran the real-mode version of Norton Disk Doctor from a recent copy of Norton Utilities. You have to be very careful with Norton Disk Doctor; never run it unless you’re positive the version you have knows about FAT32. Otherwise, you’re setting your hard drive up for a train wreck. NDD wasn’t too happy. It wanted to scavenge and rebuild the partition table, and it didn’t offer me a chance to make a backup copy. I never let a low-level utility do anything that it won’t let me undo. I aborted.

At this point I wised up. I put an Intel 10/100 network card in the PC I was using to recover the data, plugged into my network, grabbed my magic network boot disk, and connected up to the big Windows 2000 computer I use for editing video. I ran Norton Ghost and told it to make an image of the disk. To my amazement, it found a single 3.8-gig FAT32 partition and started running through filenames!

Like I said, Ghost doesn’t normally do a bit-for-bit copy; it stores enough information to recreate a valid copy of your partition. If your partition isn’t quite valid, that means you don’t get an exact copy. The upside of that is that Ghost can be a useful data recovery tool, assuming it can make sense of your partition. And fortunately, it looks like it’ll make sense of partitions that Windows itself doesn’t want to touch.

Theoretically, I could have restored the data by just making an image with Ghost, then restoring the image immediately afterward.

Norton Disk Doctor revived the partition, and it revived it more quickly than a Ghost restore would have. Then I ran into another pitfall–everything in the root directory appeared OK, and most subdirectories one level deep were fine, but anything nested gave sector not found errors. Norton Disk Doctor offered to fix that stuff, but I had a gut feeling that I shouldn’t go that route. Any time there’s the possibility of bad sectors, I want SpinRite.

As soon as I ran SpinRite, it reminded me of why I should bring it into the game as quickly as possible. It reported that the drive’s CMOS parameters appeared incorrect and it was hesitant to continue. That’s good–incorrect CMOS parameters can cause the problems I was seeing. And trying to repair the drive with messed up CMOS parameters will lead to nothing good–something that Steve Gibson is certainly aware of, and something that Symantec may not necessarily care about. In this case, the parameters were wrong because I put the drive in another system and it defaulted to a different addressing method. Whenever you’re doing data recovery and you want to move the drive, you need to be sure you get addressing straight or you’ll do a whole lot more harm than good.

After I corrected the CMOS, a simple DIR /W /S ran through the entire drive with no complaints. Norton Disk Doctor found no filesystem errors or low-level errors. SpinRite doesn’t do anything about filesystem errors, which is why I went back to NDD–use NDD when you suspect filesystem problems, but always always turn surface-scan-type stuff over to SpinRite. And there’s no harm in running SpinRite first–it’ll alert you to problems that NDD might not notice.

Along the way I learned a whole lot more than I ever wanted to know about boot-sector viruses. AntiCMOS and Form were able to coexist together nicely, and on just about any computer purchased new between 1992 and 1996, they’d just happily infect any disk you used and you’d probably never be the wiser. With the release of Windows 95B and FAT32, Form became destructive. (Why should Microsoft test new filesystems for compatibility with old viruses?) Wendy told me the problem appeared after she left an old disk in the computer before she booted it up. I suspect their old computer picked up the virus at some point, and since it wasn’t destructive under DOS and Windows 3.1, they never noticed. The computer just happily infected disks. Boot sector viruses flourished in the early 90s, as everyone needed a boot disk to play Doom or other tricky DOS games, so people traded boot disks like recipes. As often as not, those boot disks carried viruses.

When I went to put the drive back in, the dreaded “Operating system not found” paid me a visit. I hadn’t wanted to try to boot off the drive while it was in another PC for obvious reasons. So I did the standard drill. First up: fdisk /mbr. Strikeout. Second: sys c:. Strikeout. Finally, God reached down with His two-by-four and smacked me upside the head to knock some sense into me. I ran plain old fdisk and found the problem–no active partition. So I set the partition to active, and boom. The system booted up and was its old self again. It seems like I always make that mistake.

Data recovery is definitely a trade or a skill, not a science or process.

All day I couldn’t wait ’til Tuesday…

First, a diversion. I came home, popped in Peter Murphy’s Deep, which I’d never listened to, and I called a friend. An hour later all was well with the world. Well, not really. But Dave’s world was fine.
And Deep… It starts off with a really dark, brooding song, but when you listen to the lyrics it sounds like a love song. A goth love song? Huh? So I looked at the lyrics. I think the song is really about going swimming. I love that kind of irony. I need to make a mix CD:

Not Love Songs
1. Drive — The Cars (about mental illness)
2. The One I Love — R.E.M. (about a barbecue joint)
3. Cruel Summer — Bananarama (not a breakup song–it’s about a hot beach)
4. Deep Ocean Vast Sea — Peter Murphy (sounds like a love song but it’s about going swimming)

I’m sure there are others. I need to go find them.

Work. Yesterday was my first day supporting a new client. And wouldn’t you know it? After we led off the morning with a visit from SirCam in one of the finance departments, the hard drive in the PC sitting in the president of the company’s office conked out. You turn it on and it sounds like a jackhammer. If you let the drive rest for a while, you can operate it for anywhere from 1-2 minutes before it completely stops responding. So I connected the president’s drive to another system and started copying data, a few files at a time. Finally I wised up and optimized the box I was using, while the president’s drive rested. I defragmented the destination drive, and I set the system to load absolutely nothing at startup. It’s NT, so it takes about a minute to boot, but at least I can get about a minute’s worth of copying per hour.

But I just realized I’ve got a P3-866 with a nice 7200 RPM disk in it sitting on the desk, waiting to be rebuilt. I think I need to draft that machine into data recovery duty first. That machine might boot in under 30 seconds, especially with nothing loading at startup. That’d make me at least 50% more productive. I still haven’t recovered his PST file, and that’s what concerns me the most. We’ve gotta get his e-mail back, whatever it takes.

I seem to attract problems like this. At least I have a decent record of solving them. (And yes, I do know the trick of putting a hard drive in the freezer for four hours–I won’t do it this time because the drive is under warranty.)

And in the meantime, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. This might as well be like a chance to hit a grand slam to win the World Series.

Computer stuff will be back soon…

I did very little this weekend, since I actually had a weekend this time around. Saturday I read a lot and slept and played Baseball Mogul, Sunday I got up early and did some laundry, went to church, read a lot, caught up with a couple of old friends I hadn’t talked to in a little while, and I ran Disk Administrator on my Duron-750, the system bluescreened, and now nothing can read the drive and I’m hacked off that I’m going to miss a chance to watch Greg Maddux make a run at 300 wins, Pedro Martinez make a run at Walter Johnson’s old strikeout record (Nolan Ryan was still a long way away), and Mark McGwire make a run at Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs.
Expect to hear more on my data recovery efforts this week. There’s no shortage of tricks I can pull. But supposedly,

Church scared me. Much of the service reminded me of Pepper and Friends, a really corny children’s TV show in Columbia, Mo. Haven’t seen Pepper and Friends? Be glad. Be very, very glad. Imagine Richard Simmons, but even more hyperactive, riling up bunches of kids. Ugh. And now I know what the traditionalists are scared of. As long as it’s just once a year, at the end of Vacation Bible School, I’m fine with it, but now I understand the fear of bubblegum, substance-less church services.

True Confessions of a Male Mercenary. And I found myself playing Older-and-More-Experienced-and-Ever-So-Slightly-Wiser Brother this week. I was talking to someone, and he was telling me about this girl he knows and talking about wanting to ask her out… in a few months. That’s a strategy I’ve successfully used many times in the past… to fall flat on my face. My problem was that as I waited for that opportune moment, whenever that might be, my mind was absolutely racing in the meantime, creating grandiose images of the woman I was pursuing that often turned out to be mere fiction. And what’s the girl thinking as all of this is going on? Let me consult my quote wall:

“The best part of a relationship for most people is when it’s just beginning, and they can make this person in their own mind into this creature that doesn’t exist.”

Ouch. Aimee Mann said that in an interview, years ago, and I just had to write that one down for the wall. She knows a little bit about bad relationships because she was in several of them.

Besides frustrating the girl, we end up investing far too much emotionally in her, and when she fails to meet our expectations–remember, we’ve just spent a good deal of time making her into someone else who exists only in our very vivid imaginations, so it is a matter of when–we fall hard.

So my advice to him was to spend some time with her, now. That way instead of imagining things about her, he’s learning what she’s really like–because, after all, that sweet, innocent-looking thing could be an axe murderer for all he knows–and he’s giving her a chance to figure out what, if anything, she wants. Otherwise she just has to guess–and since the guy is usually expected to make the first move, she can afford to be cautious. Am I the only one who’s noticed girls are a whole lot more likely to say no than guys are?

And if she does say no? Then you haven’t spent months investing emotionally in someone who isn’t going to return it. And you can get on with life. Trust me. Until he finds The One, a guy can transfer all those emotions almost at will. Some scumbags continue to do it even after they find The One. After all, how many songs say, “it’s not cheating if she reminds me of you?” Of course she reminds him of her–guys know what they like, and they naturally go looking for more of it. (For me, it’s usually dark hair and a past.)

I think most girls at least suspect we’re mercenaries like that; none have ever seemed terribly shocked when I’ve admitted we have the ability. They live with it; they have deep, dark secrets too.

Enough waxing philosophical about life. I’m a fixer, not a philosopher. I’ll try to fix something today–a machine, not a person–and tell you all about it tomorrow.


Mail. I started plowing through mail last night. I’ve got some good stuff there; time’s just been at a premium due to tax time and trying to put this article to rest. Tonight, I hope…

Fun with hard drives. I was trying to come up with some art to liven up my upcoming Computer Shopper UK article on data recovery. I had a Seagate ST-125 MFM hard drive that I must have picked up on one of my first consulting gigs in the early 1990s. Long ago, I removed the cover of the drive so I could show people what a hard drive looks like inside. So I got the idea to take some pictures of this drive. I had Gatermann come over and bring a Nikon digital camera, and we took some shots of the drive. The dust is visible in some of the early pictures we took–the drive’s just been sitting flat on my desk for as long as I can remember, so it’s no surprise.

From looking at the pictures, it’s clear why you want to handle hard drives with care. The drive’s head hovers literally just above the platter–there’s not enough room for a particle of smoke between them. It doesn’t take much force to make the head smack into the platter, and needless to say, that’s not good for either.

Then I got a crazy idea: power the drive up. I dug out an old IBM PS/1, plugged it in, plugged the drive into an available power outlet, and watched the drive go nuts. When a stepper drive like this one loses track of the head, it smacks the head against the side until it’s sure the head’s at the outside of the disk, then it seeks. (Modern drives aren’t that crude.)

I turned the drive off and watched it park. I had Gatermann take pictures while I played with the power switch. We got some shots of the actuator arm in motion.

The platters on this drive spin at 3600 RPM. Modern drives spin at 5400 rpm, with 7200 rpm becoming mainstream. Top-line high-end drives of today spin as fast as 15,000 rpm. Even though this is a really slow drive, I still didn’t want to touch it while running.

Needless to say, running a hard drive with the cover off isn’t recommended–while most drives aren’t sealed airtight, they heavily filter the little bit of air that comes in. I’ve heard stories of people running drives that have been coverless for years, but that’s just luck of the draw.

I’ve seen some articles on hardware sites lately advocating taking the cover off your drive and replacing it with something transparent so you can watch it run; that’s a great way to void the warranty, and casually opening a hard drive outside a clean room just isn’t a good idea. I wouldn’t do that with any hard drive I intended to trust for more than five minutes. Sure, it’s a cool idea in a way, but very impractical.

As fun as it would be to watch a drive boot with the cover off, I can’t do it with this one. This drive was crashed when I got it, if I remember right, and at any rate, I don’t think I have an MFM controller I could try the drive with anyway. It’s pretty clearly not a healthy drive; it seems like it makes different awful-sounding noises every time you power it up. But what other use is there for a 40-meg MFM hard drive anyway? The drive’s much more useful as a curiosity than for anything else, as long as it doesn’t lose its ability to spin up.

Thanks to Tom Gatermann for taking most of the photos. (I took the first one; you can tell the difference.)


Fun problem today. A system decided it couldn’t find HAL.DLL at boot time. The result: a dead PC. “Replace the file,” it says. Yeah, that’s easy to do when the system won’t boot! Chicken and egg, anyone?

There is a read/write NTFS driver for DOS  floating around out there, but all of the non-Microsoft NTFS drivers that try to write NTFS have risks involved. I’ll use these tools for data recovery, but I’m nervous about trying to use them for disaster recovery. The chances of creating a bigger disaster are just too great–NTFS isn’t a simple filesystem and it’s poorly documented.

So, the safe solution is to grab the appropriate install CD (NT4, Win2000), and boot from it as if you’re going to reinstall. It’ll ask whether you want to install or repair an existing installation. Choose repair. It’ll offer to do a whole bunch of things. De-select everything but checking the system and boot files. Let it do its thing (it’ll take a few minutes), then pull the CD and reboot. You’ll be back in business–almost. Reinstall the current service pack to avoid the mismatched files problem.

This solution works when HAL.DLL, the NT kernel, or any number of other system files decide to take early retirement on you. At least the fix usually only takes a few minutes.

If you’re an aspiring IT professional, or if you’re looking to get a new job, or you’re up for review, remember this. It seems to be a frequent interview question, and for some reason people are really impressed when you know this.

And no, HAL.DLL didn’t pop up and ask, What are you doing, Dave? at any point during the repair.

Fun discussion today. I was talking about Internet dating, for some reason. And a colleague(?) whose opinion I really value said a few things that got me thinking. “You’re a lot braver than I am,” she said. Ahem. I’m not sure that’s the word I’d choose, not in light of The Register‘s story  My Internet Love is a Corpse-Hoarding Granny . Not that this is a level of journalism anyone should aspire to, but it was good for a few laughs in the office.

Hmm. I know my sister spent more time in chatrooms online than I ever have. Hey, Di, I know you met some real creeps online. You ever meet anyone that bad?

Anyway. My coworker talked about the risk of disappointment when you finally see the person–definitely a valid concern–and wondered about the initial chemistry. I think you can get some of that, but the problem is your imagination can tend to take over and it’s easy to make the person into something else. I read an interview with Aimee Mann some time ago. The interviewer asked what a particular song was about, and she said the best part of a relationship for most people is the beginning, because you can make the other person in your own mind into a creature that doesn’t exist. That’s even more true on the ‘Net.

But that imagination can set you up for disappointment. That person could end up being even better than you imagined. Or they could be totally different, your mind can translate “different” as “worse,” and then it’s crash and burn time.

I know it works for a lot of people so I’m not gonna knock it. I thought the potential downside she raised was interesting and something I’d never really thought much about.

And that’s good. I had a brief discussion with Dan  yesterday, and I guess I raise some things a lot of people never really thought much about. I’m glad someone’s keeping me on my toes.

Optimizing DOS and the BIOS, plus new iMacs

Optimizing DOS (Or: A New Use for Ancient Equipment). I was thinking yesterday, I wished I had a computer that could just hold disk images and do data recovery. Then I remembered I had a DECpc 320P laptop laying under my desk. I cranked it up. MS-DOS 5, 20 MHz 386sx, 80-meg drive, 6 MB RAM, grayscale VGA display. So I installed Norton Utilities 8, the main thing I wanted to run (I had a retail box sitting on my shelf), then of course I set out to optimize it. Optimizing DOS is really easy: it’s just a question of disk optimization and memory management. I cleaned up the root directory, pulled the extraneous files in the C:\DOS directory (the .cpi files, all the .sys files, all the .bas files). Then I ran Speed Disk, setting it to sort directory entries by size in descending order, put directories first, and do full optimization. It took about 30 minutes. If I’d been really bored I could have mapped out what executables are most important to me and put those first. Since DOS doesn’t track file access dates it can’t automatically put your frequently accessed files first like Speed Disk for Windows does.

Of course when I installed Norton Utilities 8 I installed NDOS, its replacement. Built-in command history, improved resident utilities, and thanks to its memory management, it actually uses far less conventional memory (but more memory total) than That’s OK; with 6 MB of RAM I can afford to give up a fair bit of extended memory for better functionality.

Once I was happy with all that, I also attacked the startup files. I started off with a basic config.sys:

device=c:\dos\emm386.exe noems

Then I went into autoexec.bat, consolidated the PATH statements into one (it read: PATH C:\WINDOWS;C:\DOS;C:\DOS\u;C:\MOUSE) and added the prefix LH to all lines that ran TSRs or device drivers (such as MOUSE.EXE). Upon further reflection, I should have moved the Mouse directory into C:\DOS to save a root directory entry.

I added the NCACHE2 disk cache to autoexec.bat– NCACHE2 /ext=4096 /optimize=s /usehigh=on /a a c /usehma=on /multi=on. That turns on multitasking, enables caching of both C: and A:, tells it to use 4 MB of memory, use high memory, and use extended memory. My goal was to use as much memory as prudently as possible, since I’d be using this just for DOS (and mosly for running Norton Utilities).

I also set up a 512K RAMdisk using RAMDRIVE.SYS (devicehigh=c:\dos\ramdrive.sys 512 128 4). Then I added these lines to autoexec.bat:

md d:\temp
set tmp=d:\temp
set temp=d:\temp

Now when an app wants to write temp files, it does it to a RAMdisk. The other parameters tell it to use 128K sectors to save space, and put 4 entries in the root directory, also to save space. With DOS 5, that was the minimum. I don’t need any more than one, since I’m making a subdirectory. I could just point the temp directory to the root of D:, but I’d rather have dynamic allocation of the number of directory entries. This setting is more versatile–if I need two big files in the temp directory, I’m not wasting space on directory entries. If on the other hand I need tons of tiny files, I’m guaranteed not to run out of entries.

It’s not a barn burner by any stretch, but it’s reasonably quick considering its specs. Now when someone trashes a floppy disk, I can just throw it in the 320P, run Disk Doctor and Disktool on it (and in a pinch, Norton Disk Editor), copy the data to the HD, then throw the recovered data onto a new, freshly formatted floppy. I’ll only use it a couple of times a year, but when I need such a beast, I need it badly. And if I have the need to run some other old obscure DOS program that won’t run on newer machines, the 320P can come to my rescue again too. It runs the software well, it boots in seconds–what more can I ask?

I could have done a couple more things, such as a  screen accelerator and a keyboard accelerator . Maybe today if I have time.

I was tempted to put Small Linux ( ) on it, but frankly, DOS 5 and Norton Utilities 8 is more useful to me. I’m not sure what I’d do with a non-networkable Linux box with only 6 MB RAM and a monochrome display.

A useful (but unfortunately dated) link. I stumbled across this yesterday: The BIOS Survival Guide , a nicely-done guide to BIOS settings. Unfortunately it stopped being maintained in 1997, so it’s most useful for tweaking very old PCs. Still, it’s better than nothing, and most modern PCs still have most of these settings. And reading this does give you a prayer of understanding the settings in a modern PC.

If you want to optimize your BIOS, this is about as good a starting point as you’re going to find online for free. For more recent systems, you’ll be better served by The BIOS Companion, written by Phil Croucher (one of the co-authors of this piece.) You can get a sample from that book at .

New iMac flavors. Steve Jobs unveiled the new iMacs this week. The new flavors: Blue Dalmation and Flower Power. Yes, they’re as hideous as they sound. Maybe worse. Check the usual news outlets. They’d go great in a computer room with a leopard-skin chair, shag carpet, and lava lamps. And don’t forget the 8-track cranking out Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead tunes.

I think the outside-the-box look of Mir, the PC Gatermann and I built as a Linux gateway (see yesterday), is far more tasteful–and that’s not exactly the best idea we ever had.



Commodore; Relocating My Docs Folder

Bottom fishing. I was over at my church’s sister congregation Monday night, looking over their computer situation. They just got a grant to build a lab, so they asked me to come assess what they have and tell them how to most wisely spend the money they got.

If I were buying all new, I’d be torn. I like the idea of the Compaq iPAQ. It’s $499, it’s all integrated, it’s powerful enough (once you up the memory), comes with Windows 2000, and someone else built it. I can just get seven of them, plug them into a hub, set one up properly, clone it to the rest, and be done with it. It’s a business-class machine from a proven maker.

On the other hand, Compaq Presarios start at $399 and include all the software they need. I’d have to get NICs for them, but that’s $40. Memory’s another $60. So for the cost of the iPAQ, I get similar hardware plus Win98, Word, and Works. But it’s consumer-grade hardware and I’m not impressed with Presarios. I’d really rather have iPAQs with Windows 2000 and StarOffice, frankly. I think they’re better machines. (And there’s probably money to buy the software we need.)

But what about what they have? It’s truly a mixed bag. Mostly a mixed bag of junk. There’s an XT in their room, along with one of the first Compaq 386s. The Compaq is junk. I’m trying to find an appropriate word for the XT. There are a whole bunch of LPX form-factor 386SXs, some Dell and Compaq, others Packard Bell. Junk. There are three Compaq Proliant servers, 486-based, decked out with SCSI drives. Rugged and reliable, I could turn one of them into a Linux gateway, and put Samba on another for use for file serving and authentication. I thought I saw a Compaq Deskpro 486/33. Reliable, but not very useful these days. And there are three ATs: one a 386 and two Pentium-75s, one of which works. The other gives beep codes, so probably either the memory or video’s shot. All in all, 90% of it’s useless, and none of it’s even worthy of being called a museum piece.

Normally I’d say junk it all, maybe keep one of the Proliants and the working Pentium-75. But in light of those $29 Soyo BAT Celeron motherboards… Do the math. The board’s $29. A Celeron is $50. A 128-meg stick is $60. I can probably salvage the video cards, except for the one in the 386. So add a video card, say, $35. Of course I can salvage everything else I need from that big stack of obsolete stuff. So for about $150 each after shipping, I can have two Celerons. For another $180, I could have a third.

Sounds good on paper, but a new Presario costs $399, has more than $220 worth of software, and is covered under warranty. Compaq’s not my favorite computer company, but I don’t really want to be their computer company.

Those $29 Soyo boards are good enough for me. That’s why I ordered two. So I’ll get one final tour of duty out of my souped-up IBM PC/AT, which has done time as a 286 of course, a 386DX-40, a Pentium-75, and a Cyrix 6×86-166. Sick thought: If I end up putting a Celeron-500 in it (I haven’t decided what CPU it gets yet), that AT could be my fastest computer again.

But what makes sense for me often doesn’t make sense elsewhere. And I guess that’s why I write books and magazine articles–sometimes I can figure out when and why that is.

A disk tool that could save your bacon someday. You find all kinds of cool stuff in online forums, let me tell you. I probably find one or two gems a week, but for me, that’s worth it. MBRWORK allows you to play around with partitions, and can even allow you to restore deleted partitions. It’ll also remove those disk overlay programs for you, which is great–the only sure way I could ever get rid of them was to low-level format the drive, which takes forever and is destructive, of course. You can find it at . You can find some brief documentation and screenshots online at . Download this and keep it in a safe place.

I don’t think do-it-yourself data recovery is something anyone wants to get good at, but it’s usually better than paying someone to do it.


Commodore; Relocating My Docs Folder

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” <>
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
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.



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 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
(, 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

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.