Taming Windows 95/98/98SE/ME Out of Memory Errors

The symptom: If you install more than 512 MB of RAM in a system running Windows 9x (that’s any version of Windows 95, 98, 98SE, or ME), you get weird out of memory errors.

The culprit is a bug in Windows 9x’s disk cache. The solution is to limit the cache to use 512MB of memory, or less, which is a good thing to do anyway. Here’s how.

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64 bits or bust

I’ve resisted the pull to 64 bits, for a variety of reasons. I’ve had other priorities, like lowering debt, fixing up a house, kids in diapers… But eventually the limitations of living with 2003-era technology caught up with me. Last week I broke down and bought an AMD Phenom II 560 and an Asus M4N68T-M v2 motherboard. Entry-level stuff by today’s standards. But wow.

If you can get one, an AMD Phenom II x4 840 is a better choice, but those are getting hard to find. And if you can’t afford a $100 CPU there are bargains at the very low end too: A Sempron 145 costs less than $45, and a dual-core Athlon II x2 250 costs $60.  The second core is worth the money.
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Speeding up a sluggish HP Mini 110

My mom’s HP Mini 110 Atom-based netbook (with the factory 16GB SSD) was hesitating, a lot. Frankly it was really frustrating to use–it would freeze up for minutes on end, for no good reason. It was so slow, calling it “sluggish” was being kind. But it’s fixed now. I did six five things to it. Here’s how to speed up an HP Mini 110.

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Increasing memory cache to improve Firefox performance

I read today in Lifehacker about disabling Firefox’s disk cache and increasing the memory cache, as an alternative to putting the disk cache on a ramdisk. The trick can work, depending on the types of sites you visit. But the two aren’t quite interchangeable. The disk cache stores compressed images and (I believe) html. The memory cache stores uncompressed pictures for fast rendering, and no html. Content stored in one isn’t necessarily stored in the other. Read more

A Readyboost alternative for XP

I found a reference today to Eboostr, a product that adds Readyboost-like capability to XP. Essentially it uses a USB 2.0 flash drive to speed up your system, although it’s unclear whether it’s using it for virtual memory, a disk cache, or both.

I found a review.I don’t have a machine that’s an ideal candidate for this. The product, from everyone else’s comments on the blog, works best on machines that have less than 1 GB of RAM. If you’ve maxxed out the memory on an aging laptop, this product will extend its usefulness.

My ancient Micron Transport laptop would be a good candidate, since it maxes out at 320MB of RAM and none of the 256 MB sticks I’ve tried in it work, so I’m stuck at 192 MB. But there are two problems: It’s running Windows 2000, and it doesn’t have USB 2.0 slots. Any machine that came with USB 2.0 slots and Windows XP probably can be upgraded pretty cheaply to 1 GB of RAM or more.

I could put XP on the laptop, get a PCMCIA USB 2.0 card for it, and a $20 USB stick so I can use a $29 product to give me Readyboost. But by the time I bought all that, I’d be more than halfway down the road to a newer laptop.

I think a better solution for me would be to replace the hard drive with a solid-state drive. It would cost less than $200, boost the reliability (the latest I’ve heard is that solid state IDE drives will last about 10 years, which is about double the expectancy of a conventional drive), and then everything is on a device with a fast seek time. Plus the drive in that machine is getting old anyway and probably ought to be replaced. I could probably get a solid state drive for about the cost of a conventional hard drive, a USB stick, and this software.

I’m not going to dismiss the software entirely, since it clearly is helping some of the people using it. If you run lots of heavy applications side by side and you’re running up against your memory limits, it can probably help you. And if you can get a good deal on a flash drive (either you have one, or grab one on sale for $20), then there’s little harm in downloading the demo and trying it out for 4 hours. Make sure you stress the system before and after installing to see if you can notice a difference.

If you don’t see much difference, you’re not out much. USB flash drives are incredibly useful anyway. Use it as a cheap and fast backup device. If you do see a difference, then you’ve extended the useful life of your machine.

The mixed results don’t surprise me, frankly. Vista’s Readyboost gives mixed results too. It really helps some people. It has no effect on others. And in rare cases it may actually make things worse.

If you want to try to get some of the benefit for free, you might experiment with redirecting your browser cache, Photoshop scratch disk, and temp files to a USB flash drive. It almost certainly won’t hurt, and could help a lot.

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 command.com 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 command.com. 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:\doshimem.sys
device=c:\dosemm386.exe noems
dos=high,umb
files=30

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 ( http://www.superant.com/smalllinux/ ) 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 http://www.electrocution.com/biosc.htm .

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.

12/24/2000

~Mail follows today’s post~

Last night, I sent myself hurtling 120 miles at 75 MPH to Columbia, Mo. My mom lives there, and my alma mater, the University of Missouri, is also there. Today, after morning services, I’m headed another 120 miles to Kansas City, where most of my mom’s family lives. I don’t get back there very often, so I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve got some stuff to write, but I’ll be late for services if I do, so it’ll have to wait.
~~~~~~~~~~
From: “Lawrence Kim” <lykim@nospam.telusplanet.net>
Subject: A loyal reader w/a technical question

Dear Dave: I have a few questions, well, maybe just one, related to your book.  When you do a clean install of W98SE on a partitioned drive, if you wipe C: (where W98 is), how do you get the other programs on the other drives to run again?  Especially if you’ve wiped all the .dll files and other important stuff?  Secondly, what’s a good and fast way not to have to reload all the programs again if you wipe & reinstall W98?  If I used Drive Image 4.0 or a tool like that (or maybe even Norton Ghost), how do you copy images of your drive back onto your computer?  Lastly, what’s the best way to optimize your ADSL/highspeed Internet connection?  I’ve been using this program called NetSuperSonic which is supposed to adjust certain registry settings in Windows to optimize it for broadband use.  It seems to work pretty good, but I was wondering if you would have some other suggestions.  That’s pretty much everything.  Oh yeah, are you going to come out with a new, updated book?  I don’t know, just thought that I would ask. That’s for writing the book; it’s been extremely helpful.

Cheers.

~~~~~

I think that’s actually more than one question, but that’s ok of course.

The idea of a clean install is to start over, which of course means reinstalling everything. Reinstalling everything takes time, of course, but the benefit is that you’re rid of all those old, no-longer-in-use DLLs and other leftovers that hang around after you uninstall programs. You’ve also got fresh copies of everything and a brand-new registry, which is good because registries get corrupt and so can DLLs and even programs. The result is a faster, more stable system.

But if you’ve lost the installation files for some of your programs, you’ve got a problem. You can use CleanSweep or Uninstaller to package up the program, DLLs, and its registry entries for re-installation, but be sure to test the package on another PC before you wipe, because these don’t always work.

Ghost or Drive Image aren’t a clean install per se, because they preserve everything. Generally the way I save and restore images is to a network drive, or in the case of a standalone PC, to an extra partition or, better yet, a second hard drive. You can also span an image to multiple Zip, Jaz, or Orb disks but that’s slower and more cumbersome. These programs are absolutely invaluable for disaster recovery, but as optimization tools in their own right, their benefit is very limited.

If NetSupersonic checks your MTU and adjusts it properly (many of those utilities don’t), that’s a great start. You can measure your speed by going to http://www.pcpitstop.com/internetcenter.asp, and they have some suggestions on the site for fixing sub-optimal perfomance. Ad-blocking software will speed you up as much as anything else you can do, and FastNet99 (mentioned in the book) is also useful by reducing the number of DNS lookups you have to do (I accomplished the same thing by connecting my DSL modem to a Linux box running its own DNS, which I then used to share my DSL out to my Windows PCs).

As for an updated book, I imagine not doing one would probably kill me. But publishers are understandably hesitant to do one right now, since no one seems to know what Microsoft will do next. Is Windows Me really the end? Is Windows 2000’s successor really going to be suitable for home use? When will Microsoft manage to deliver another OS? No publisher wants to invest tens of thousands of dollars in producing a book only to find out they guessed wrong. Once there are answers to those questions, it’ll be time to write a new book. In the meantime, I’m writing magazine articles (there’s very little new in the article at www.computershopper.co.uk this month; there are a couple of new tricks in the article for February, and the article for March is almost entirely new stuff) and posting new tricks to my own site as I find them or think of them. So the answer to your question is, “probably,” but I can’t give you any kind of time frame.

Hopefully that answers your questions. If not, feel free to write back.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Lawrence Kim” <lykim@nospam.telusplanet.net>
Subject: Drive Image Pt. 2
However, IF I were to reinstall everything, erase my game drive, utility drive, and C: drive, reinstall W98SE, all my programs, and THEN take an image of my C drive after my brand new clean install, theoretically I shouldn’t have to ever reinstall everything again (unless I add new programs or whatnot) because the image I have taken of my C drive will be a nice, squeaky clean one, right?

How do you spell “segway?” as in, linking two opposite ideas together?

Finally, do you think it’s worth picking up Norton Systemworks 2001 when I have 2000?

Thanx again.
~~~~~

You are correct about imaging a fresh install. That’s the way we handle systems at work (my job would be impossible otherwise, as many systems and as few techs as we have). It’s nice to be able to restore to pristine condition in 15 minutes instead of 6 hours.

The word segue is pronounced “Segway.” I think that’s the word you’re looking for.

The biggest new feature of Systemworks 2001 is Windows 2000 and Windows Me compatibility. If neither of those matter to you, stick with what you have.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “John Doucette” <jdoucett@nospam.gienow.com>
Subject: windows memory use

Hi Dave

We have several high end Pentiums at work running Windows 98. These PC’s have 512 MB of Ram and run what I am told is a very resource intensive C+ program. Now I have not myself touched these machines yet and likely won’t as what is not apparently broken they will not likely let me fix (some might say break).

Now no work was done to the best of my knowledge to try and tune these PC’s. They merely installed Ram and ran the program till performance seemed to hit the ceiling.

Now I have always thought that Windows 9x would not perform any better with more than 128 MB of Ram. I think that if given the opportunity I could down grade these PC’s to 128 MB of Ram, tune them and get the same performance.
I would then have Ram to use were it could be of value.

I am curious with all your Windows tuning experience and some programming knowledge if I am pissing in the wind, or if you think that the PC’s would likely run the C+ program well with less Ram.

John

~~~~~

If the program really needs that kind of memory, they have no business running it on 98. They should be running on NT. Win98 definitely gives diminishing returns after 128MB; you see some improvement but not much. I don’t remember what the maximum memory for 9x is; it may be 512 or it may be 768, but you’ll get to a point where if you don’t specify a limit in the vcache section of system.ini, Windows won’t boot because the disk cache can’t handle that much memory and will crash. That may be the ceiling they hit.

I seriously doubt that program runs demonstrably better in 512MB than it would in 128 with some optimization. I’d set some parameters on the disk cache, optimize the hard disk(s), cut everything possible out of startup, kill anything cutesie the PCs are running, and add the line ConservativeSwapFileUsage=1 to the [386Enh] section of system.ini. I’d also use 98lite’s IEradicator to pull IE if they don’t need a Web browser–that increases system performance across the board by a good 15-30 percent. If the program’s really a resource hog, I could justify 256, but really I’ve yet to see a Win9x PC that truly benefitted from having more than 96 MB of RAM. It just makes more sense to by a 128MB stick than a 64 and a 32.

I’d say take one of the PCs, make a Ghost image of it so you can bring it back to the original, then pull 384 megs and optimize the sucker. I’m betting it’d make a huge difference. (And I’d love to hear the results.)

~~~~~~~~~~

From: Edwards, Bruce
Subject: Internet Connection Sharing

Good morning Dave:

I posted this over on the hardwareguys.com forum about internet conneciton sharing, where you kindly gave me a suggestion that helped a lot.  🙂

———————–

Hi Dave and other interested persons/Linux gurus:

Your suggestion about the gateway was part of what I needed, thank you.  In addition to not having the gateway defined on my internal Windows 98 client, I also needed to put the DNS server IP addresses on the clients in the TCP/IP configuration.  I was assuming it would get the DNS info from the Sharethe net gateway, where the DNS server is also defined.  Silly me!  There looks like there is both good news and bad news.  First the good news:

Once I was able to get it working, on the same hardware as the Wingate solution, my aDSL performance doubled!  

From the DSLReport.com scan I received this:
TCP port 53 is OPEN

GRC.com reported all ports (scanned for) were closed.

With port 53 open, I will be running the Wingate solution until I get some feedback or more info about what to do.  There is probably some bad vulnerability somewhere.  I still have not looked through the SharetheNet information I have enough to know if I can turn that port off easily (easily for a Linux newbie that is).  I seem to remember that there probably is an init file with all the services defined which would probably be easy to turn this port off.  Since this whole thing runs from a floppy, the files are actually active on a ram disk.

Here is some SharetheNet Linux configuration information specific to my current gatewayPC, in case any of you Linux gurus out there would be willing to point out what I need to do:

http://bruceedwards.com/journal/001218a.htm#connect

I’ve probably put enough info there to make hackers very happy.  Oh well, I won’t be running SharetheNet in that configuration and will not run it at all unless I can determine that it is safe.  Any comments appreciated.

Thank you,

Bruce  🙂

~~~~~

Port 53 is DNS. I wouldn’t be too worried about it. The critical ports are blocked, and even if someone does somehow manage to get into your system, since the configuration is on a write-protected floppy all you have to do is reboot. And they won’t be able to do much on your internal network since you’re running Windows, and your Linux box doesn’t have Samba installed.
 
That information you posted is mostly hardware configuration data; I don’t think there’s anything useful there unless some exploit happens to be discovered for a particular driver (possible but not worth worrying about).
 
I thought I knew once how to block specific ports, but that’ll have to wait until tonight for me to dig.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “J H RICKETSON” <culam@nospam.sonic.net>
Subject: FDISK?

Dave –

Where did you get an FDISK that asks you if you want to do big partitions?  Mine (DOS 6.22) thinks an 8+ gig disk is plenty big enough for anyone and refuses to even consider anything larger – and a ~2 gig partition is all anyone will ever need. I need a more user-tolerant FDISK!

Regards,

JHR
~~~~~

Windows 95B, Windows 98, and Windows Me’s FDISKs all handle larger than 8 GB drives. Partition size is a function of filesystem. FAT16 is limited to 2 gigs, period. FAT32 can be several terabytes.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Lawrence Kim” <lykim@nospam.telusplanet.net>
Subject: Recycle Bins and Boxers

Is there any way that one can make one recycle bin in only one partitioned drive, and have all the junk from all the other drives go to that one recycle bin instead of having recycle bins for each and every drive?  And what do you think about one of your ministers of the House of Common wanting to pass a law that would indict a boxer if he inflicts serious injury on another boxer, or kills him?  I personally think that should be out of the hands of lawmakers, as both boxers realize the risk that they are taking when stepping into the ring.  The only exception that I can think of is if a boxer continues to pummel away at his opponent after the bell has rung, and he’s straddling his opponent’s waist, hammering away at his face.  Okay, that can be prosecuted, but not if everything else is completely fair.  Anyway, enough of that.  Thanx again.

~~~~~

I wish it were possible to consolidate the recycle bins, but I don’t believe it is. I’ve never seen any trick to do that. The Mac does that, so I guess I could say get a Mac, but that feature isn’t worth the trouble and expense of switching platforms.

I’m not British, so I haven’t heard of that proposed law, but that’s ridiculous. When you’re playing sports, you’re at constant risk of injury. It’s a risk you take. And with what professional athletes make (at least in the States), that’s fair. Most professional athletes in the States should be set for life after just a five-year career, if they handle their money wisely (most don’t).

Baseball’s considered one of the safer sports, but there’s been one instance of a player killed when he was hit by a pitch (Carl Mays, sometime in the 1920s, I think). There’ve been countless career-ending injuries due to being hit by a pitch or a line drive. It’s up to the officials of the sport to ensure that players are sportsmanlike and don’t take cheap shots, not the government.

Then again, the United States has a much more laissez-faire government than most countries, and I’ve always tended to flutter between the libertarian and conservative points of view so I’m even more laissez-faire than the average U.S. lawmaker.

Running something other than Windows is theft

Another example of how Microsoft just doesn’t get it. This one courtesy of The Register. If you buy a PC without an operating system (so as to load an alternative on it, such as Linux, xBSD, OS/2, BeOS, or something else that “nobody wants to run anyway”), you’re a thief. Story here.

Which reminds me, I really do need to get an OS/2 box running again, and get serious about BeOS while I’m at it…

Windows Me can’t handle more than a half-gig of RAM. This also from The Reg. Story here. The vcache workaround is legit; no one has ever demonstrated to me the benefit of using more than 4 megs for a Win9x disk cache anyway.

Apple. you call this tech support?

This is why I don’t like Apple. Yesterday I worked on a new dual-processor G4. It was intermittent. Didn’t want to drive the monitor half the time. After re-seating the video card and monitor cable a number of times and installing the hardware the computer needed, it started giving an error message at boot:

The built-in memory test has detected a problem with cache memory. Please contact a service technician for assistance.

So I called Apple. You get 90 days’ free support, period. (You also only get a one-year warranty unless you buy the AppleCare extended warranty, which I’m loathe to do. But I we’d probably better do it for this machine since it all but screams “lemon” every time we boot it.) So, hey, we can’t get anywhere with this, so let’s start burning up the support period.

The hold time was about 15 seconds. I mention this because that’s the only part of the call that impressed me and my mother taught me to say whatever nice things I could. I read the message to the tech, who then put me on hold, then came back in about a minute.

“That message is caused by a defective memory module. Replace the third-party memory module to solve the problem,” she said.

“But the computer is saying the problem is with cache, not with the memory,” I told her. (The cache for the G4 resides on a small board along with the CPU core, sort of like the first Pentium IIs, only it plugs into a socket.) She repeated the message to me. I was very impressed that she didn’t ask whether we’d added any memory to the system (of course we had–Apple factory memory would never go bad, I’m sure).

I seem to remember at least one of my English teachers telling me to write exactly what I mean. Obviously the Mac OS 9 programmers didn’t have any of my English teachers.

I took the memory out and cleaned it with a dollar bill, then put it back in. The system was fine for the rest of the afternoon after this, but I have my doubts about this system. If the problem returns, I’ll replace the memory. When that turns out not to be the problem, I don’t know what I’ll do.

We’ve been having some problems lately with Micron tech support as well, but there’s a big difference there. With Apple, if you don’t prove they caused the problem, well, it’s your problem, and they won’t lift a finger to help you resolve it. Compare this to Micron. My boss complained to Micron about the length of time it was taking to resolve a problem with one particular system. You know what the Micron tech said? “If this replacement CPU doesn’t work, I’ll replace the system.” We’re talking a two-year-old system here.

Now I know why Micron has more business customers than Apple does. When you pay a higher price for a computer (whether that’s buying a Micron Client Pro instead of a less-expensive, consumer-oriented Micron Millenia, or an Apple G4 instead of virtually any PC), you expect quick resolution to your computer problems because, well, your business doesn’t slow down just because your computer doesn’t work right. Micron seems to get this. Apple doesn’t.

And that probably has something to do with why our business now has 25 Micron PCs for every Mac. There was a time when that situation was reversed.

The joke was obvious, but… I still laughed really hard when I read today’s User Friendly. I guess I’m showing my age here by virtue of getting this.

Then again, three or four years back, a friend walked up to me on campus. “Hey, I finally got a 64!” I gave him a funny look. “Commodore 64s aren’t hard to find,” I told him. Then he laughed. “No, a Nintendo 64.”

It’s funny how nicknames recycle themselves.

For old times’ sake. I see that Amiga, Inc. must be trying to blow out the remaining inventory of Amiga 1200s, because they’re selling this machine at unprecedented low prices. I checked out www.softhut.com just out of curiosity, and I can get a bare A1200 for $170. A model with a 260MB hard drive is $200.  On an Amiga, a drive of that size is cavernous, though I’d probably eventually rip out the 260-megger and put in a more modern drive.

The A1200 was seriously underpowered when it came out, but at that price it’s awfully tempting. It’s less than used A1200s typically fetch on eBay, when they show up. I can add an accelerator card later after the PowerPC migration plan firms up a bit more. And Amigas tend to hold their value really well. And I always wanted one.

I’m so out of the loop on the Amiga it’s not even funny, but I found it funny that as I started reading so much started coming back. The main commands are stored in a directory called c, and it gets referred to as c: (many crucial Amiga directories are referenced this way, e.g. prefs: and devs: ). Hard drives used to be DH0:, DF1:, etc., though I understand they changed that later to HD0:, HD1:, etc.

So what was the Amiga like? I get that question a lot. Commodore released one model that did run System V Unix (the Amiga 3000UX), but for the most part it ran its own OS, known originally as AmigaDOS and later shortened to AmigaOS. Since the OS being developed internally at Amiga, Inc., and later at Commodore after they bought Amiga, wasn’t going to be ready on time for a late 1984/early 1985 release, Commodore contracted with British software developer Metacomco to develop an operating system. Metacomco delivered a Tripos-derived OS, written in MC68000 assembly language and BCPL, that offered fully pre-emptive multitasking, multithreading, and dynamic memory allocation (two things even Mac OS 9 doesn’t do yet–OS 9 does have multithreading but its multitasking is cooperative and its memory allocation static).

Commodore spent the better part of the next decade refining and improving the OS, gradually replacing most of the old BCPL code with C code, stomping bugs, adding features and improving its looks. The GUI never quite reached the level of sophistication that Mac OS had, though it certainly was usable and had a much lower memory footprint. The command line resembled Unix in some ways (using the / for subdirectories rather than ) and DOS in others (you used devicename:filename to address files). Some command names resembled DOS, others resembled Unix, and others neither (presumably they were Tripos-inspired, but I know next to nothing about Tripos).

Two modern features that AmigaOS never got were virtual memory and a disk cache. As rare as hard drives were for much of the Amiga’s existance this wasn’t missed too terribly, though Commodore announced in 1989 that AmigaDOS 1.4 (never released) would contain these features. AmigaDOS 1.4 gained improved looks, became AmigaOS 2.0, and was released without the cache or virtual memory (though both were available as third-party add-ons).

As for the hardware, the Amiga used the same MC68000 series of CPUs that the pre-PowerPC Macintoshes used. The Amiga also had a custom chipset that provided graphics and sound coprocessing, years before this became a standard feature on PCs. This was an advantage for years, but became a liability in the early 1990s. While Apple and the cloners were buying off-the-shelf chipsets, Commodore continued having to develop their own for the sake of backward compatibility. They revved the chipset once in 1991, but it was too little, too late. While the first iteration stayed state of the art for about five years, it only took a year or two for the second iteration to fall behind the times, and Motorola was having trouble keeping up with Intel in the MHz wars (funny how history repeats itself), so the Amigas of 1992 and 1993 looked underpowered. Bled to death by clueless marketing and clueless management (it’s arguable who was worse), Commodore bled engineers for years and fell further and further behind before finally running out of cash in 1993.

Though the Amiga is a noncontender today, its influence remains. It was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature color displays of more than 16 colors (it could display up to 4,096 at a time), stereo sound, and pre-emptive multitasking–all features most of us take for granted today. And even though it was widely dismissed as a gaming machine in its heyday, the best-selling titles for the computer that ultimately won the battle are, you guessed it, games.

10/23/2000

Quittin’ time. That means a big bowl of chicken soup, reflection and mail. I usually make my own, but yesterday when I was getting sickness supplies I also picked up some of the instant powdered stuff. Faster that way.

A Mac tech at his limits. One of the organizations I support has asked permission to bring in an outside consultant because they’ve, in something close to their words, found a problem Dave can’t seem to solve. Never mind they didn’t ask me to fix it. And never mind they’re probably chasing the Bogeyman. In my estimation, 90% of Mac problems are either related to extensions conflicts or disk/filesystem errors. This machine loads maybe a dozen extensions, so that’s not an issue. But it’s a wannabe server, so of course it has filesystem errors constantly.

Not that that’s the issue. Find me a tech who isn’t almost always at his/her limits. If they aren’t, they’re not growing. This industry’s so constantly changing that it’s nearly impossible to stay away from the fringes of your knowledge.

And good night. My songwriting partner asked me to call him today if my voice was cooperating. It seems to be. I wrote no usable lyrics yesterday. But I can give him a leftover that I wrote back in 1997 or early 1998. It’s a total Seven Red Seven ripoff, but seeing as that band’s hardly a household name, I don’t think anyone will know, and the song I ripped off from was itself a ripoff of Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again. That’s all assuming we even use the thing, of course.

I’d best make that phone call… Mail’s all answered and sent, so it may make an appearance tonight. Otherwise, look for it tomorrow.

Strange Windows development. While working on one Win98 box, I decided to see if I could figure out once and for all the optimal disk cache settings for Win98 on another. The preliminary answer is very surprising. On this partcular machine at least, 3072 bytes (3 megs) seems optimal. With higher settings, you get slightly (and I mean slightly) higher benchmarks, insignificant enough to appear not worth investing even one more meg. The difference between 4 megs and anything higher is even less significant.

I’ll have to try this out with some other systems and other benchmarks, of course. I figured optimal wouldn’t be any higher than 8 megs, but I’m a bit surprised to see it at 3. Optimal may depend greatly on the drive involved, however. But I thought a good percentage of you would be interested in that.

Whatever the results, it appears the conventional wisdom of using 1/4 to 1/8 your system RAM for disk caching may be incorrect, at least on today’s high-memory PCs.

I see Naviscope mistakes my logo for an ad. I’ll have to rename the file to fix that. Naviscope is an ad/cookie blocking program that doubles as a DNS cache. A Linux box sitting on your network is more versatile and capable at both, but Naviscope is easier.

Want a real computer? Amiga has changed its mind yet again about the hardware aspect of its strategy. Will we be running on commodity hardware? At least not exclusively, if The Register has its story straight. Unfortunately, at this point I’m afraid anything they might do is likely to be too little, too late. It’s hard for any system, no matter how good it is, to survive seven years of stagnation. Sure, Amiga was 8-10 years ahead of its time. In 1985. By 1993, their lead was really dwindling. And of course, by 1995 the masses got preemptive multitasking and everything else they would have had if they’d bought an Amiga in the first place. And they didn’t seem to mind the wait. That last bit troubles me, but hey.

I’d still love to see them come back and mop up the floor using the rest of the industry (Microsoft and Apple need some humiliation), but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Outta here. I seem to have caught cold, so I’m going to cut myself short. Hopefully it’ll be a slow day at work so I don’t run myself into the ground.

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