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AMD and DDR. Good news for hardware enthusiasts wanting AMD-based DDR systems. Via shipped its 266 MHz DDR chipset Monday. This is good news because Via can in all likelihood supply their chipsets in larger quantities than AMD can or will. It’ll take a little while for the KT266 to appear in earnest, but this should soon silence the DIY crowd, who’ve been protesting very loudly that they can’t get boards or chips. Virtually all of Gigabyte’s 760 boards are going to Compaq and Micron, which does make sense. Compaq and Micron will order boards and 266 MHz FSB chips in quantities of hundreds of thousands. The shops catering to the DIY crowd won’t. Given a limited supply, the big fish will get first dibs–it’s easier and less expensive to deal with two big customers than with a hundred tiny ones.

Infoworld. I think my Infoworld subscription has finally lapsed. I’ve been trying to let it lapse for months. I’d get a “This is your last issue if you don’t renew NOW!” warning attached to the cover, which would then be followed by six issues or so, before I’d get another warning. I think I’ve been getting these since last June.

Well, today I went to Infoworld’s site, and I remember why I’ve been trying to let my subscription lapse. They’re bleeding pundits. Q&A maestro Mark Pace quit. Then his partner, Brooks Talley, quit. Bob Metcalfe retired. Sean Dugan quit. Now, Stuart McClue and Joel Scambray are quitting, to be replaced by P.J. Connolly. They tried Connolly as a columnist once before. That experiment lasted about a month, probably because he wrote more about the Grateful Dead than he did about the subject at hand. (Which made me self-conscious about mentioning Aimee Mann and the Kansas City Royals too frequently, but I generally don’t mention them on a weekly basis, so I’m probably OK.)

Their best remaining columnists are Brian Livingston, Nicholas Petreley, and Ed Foster. Livingston has a lot of useful tips, while Foster is genuinely entertaining and provides a useful service to readers. Infoworld’s Robert X. Cringely isn’t quite as entertaining or as insightful as PBS’ Robert X. Cringely, but he’s usually worth a quick read. But there are half as many reasons to read the magazine now as there once were.

Amazon. Amazon’s under fire again from a number of directions, including Ed Foster, and I can’t say I’m in love with all of their practices, but I can’t help but notice something. From my limited vantage point, it would seem consumers don’t really seem to care all that much about Amazon’s business practices. I provided links to buy my book elsewhere, but the sales rankings at the other places are pathetic even after doing so. Sales at Borders and B&N are nearly non-existent. Sales at Fatbrain are sporadic at best. But there are a handful of venues where it sells well. The used places sell what copies they can get very quickly. And when Amazon can manage to allow people to order it, it sells very well. If they can’t get a used copy cheap, people would rather buy from Amazon, period. And they’ll even pay a higher price at Amazon than they will elsewhere. A number of people paid full cover price from Amazon off links from this site, even when it was available for less elsewhere. (Amazon seems to be currently selling it for $19.95 or so.)

Some people swear by Apple. I swear at Apple. Apparently Steve Jobs does too . (Not for the easily offended.)

Optimizing a K6-2

Now I remember why I’m here. I was at my mom’s and stepdad’s, and of course the inevitable topic came up.
“I’ve got Kristin going through your book and implementing some of it,” John says. “Our computer is SLOW.” So you know what I did… I fired it up and gave it a look myself. (Besides, they couldn’t get Duke Nuke ‘Em to run and I’ve been working on an article on getting DOS games running inside Windows so I welcomed the chance to practice.)

The story: It’s an 18-month-old whitebox clone. AMD K6-2/350, 64 megs RAM. No idea what motherboard. Old non-UDMA 4.3-gig hard drive. Trident 9750-based video, and a C-Media ISA sound card. Oh yes, and of course, a Rockwell-based PCI softmodem.

A computer is a team, and what we’ve got here isn’t exactly the computing equivalent of the 1962 Mets, but I’d rate it about as highly as the 1996 Kansas City Royals. Making matters worse, it was loaded down with way too many gee-whiz features. I slimmed it down to what’s necessary, got its boot time down to well under a minute, and got the software running decently.
I’m guessing there are millions of PCs like this one out there. Buying a new one isn’t an answer, because if you buy one PC like this, chances are the next one you buy will have the same problems. You’ll probably get another softmodem. You’ll probably get another cheapo sound and video card. You’ll get a superfast CPU. But the problem is, that’s like adding the 1999 or 2000 edition of Mike Sweeney or Jermaine Dye to the 1996 Royals. You’ve still got a last-place team. The difference is, now you’ve got a last-place team with a .300 hitter or two in the heart of the lineup. Makes the team more fun to watch, and you’ll win a few more games, but the fundamental problem that got you into last place is still there.

Sure, I’d recommend some hardware upgrades for this beast. A SoundBlaster Live! sound card, for sure. An ISA sound card can eat up 35% of available CPU time. The SB Live! uses 1-2 percent. An inexpensive TNT2-based video card, certainly. At about $70, it’ll free up a lot of CPU time and speed the video along. I’d give serious thought to a newer, faster hard drive as well. A Maxtor 30-gigger (5400 rpm but still a massive improvement over this drive) runs $99 at CompUSA this week. Deals like that are common. And it wouldn’t hurt to get a controller-based modem as well. Zoom has such a beast available that’s getting good marks (I need to find the model number) for under $100.

Do all that, and you’re looking at about $350-$400 worth of upgrades. That’s a substantial chunk of a new computer, yes. But it re-uses the stuff that’s still serviceable under the hood. And these peripherals are all good enough to move on if you decide to replace what’s left (essentially, the motherboard).

So there’s a huge market for Optimizing Windows. People need this kind of information. Now, how to get it to them…? O’Reilly hasn’t figured out how to do it. It’s up to me.

Good thing there’s a marketing genius at work I can talk to. I’ll be bouncing this off him this week to see what he thinks. Then I get the first full week of December off. Time for a marketing blitz.

I’m still on the road. So if you’ve e-mailed me, it’ll be a day or two before I can get back to you. I’ll field all that when I get back.

Another publication

Published again! Check this out, if you haven’t been there already. One of O’Reilly’s marketing guys dropped me a line early last week and asked how I liked voice recognition software. This die-hard Kansas City Royals fan told him I’d rather see another Yankees/Braves World Series than use it again. Next thing we know, I’m writing about what went wrong and why. For your reading pleasure, a brief essay written by me, with examples that prove my point, Voice Recognition to the Rescue? is available, at O’Reilly.
The big comeback? No. I’m going to do my best to post a little something on something resembling a daily basis. But as my time constraints are tight and my wrists still a little questionable, the days of daily 500-word essays are over.

I notice my book sales are down now that I’m not posting much. I also notice I’m much healthier when I’m not trying to write a half-million words a year. Looks like time for a compromise.