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I hope BYOD 2.0 goes better than BYOD 1.0 did

BYOD is “bring your own device.” It’s the hot new trend in IT, except it’s nothing new. But it was bound to happen, I guess. Companies are tired of buying computer equipment, so they want employees to provide it. And counterculture, nonconformist workers are (I guess) tired of using boring corporate computer equipment. (And here I am, a strong advocate of buying off-lease corporate computers for home use.)

So, since companies don’t want to buy computers, and employees don’t want to use company computers, what’s the problem?

How’s about I tell you a story?Read More »I hope BYOD 2.0 goes better than BYOD 1.0 did

State of the SSD, 1Q 2011

It’s no secret that I loves me some SSDs. And 2011 looks to be a good year for SSDs. Anandtech has a preview of what promises to be the fastest available drive on the market, once it’s released. It may not be at the very top of the heap for really long, but it represents the state of the art for now.

I’d rather not spoil the whole article, but there are two key takeaways from it.
Read More »State of the SSD, 1Q 2011

First impressions: Intel D945GCLF2, aka the dual-core Atom desktop board

I was never able to get my mother in law’s computer to misbehave, but my son was. He’d crawl up to it, press whatever buttons he could find, and invariably it would reboot and give beep codes.

Intel's dual-core Atom boardSo I decided the best bet would be to drop in a new system board. I went against all my usual practices and bought an Intel. Further research showed the stock board was made by MSI. I’ve never had good luck with MSI boards, although I know they’re popular. This one lasted five years, which is five years longer than the other two MSI boards I’ve seen. I was able to find an exact replacement, but the $70 price scared me off. Especially without knowing whether it was the board or CPU that was bad. With an Award BIOS, beep codes generally mean bad memory (a memory tester vindicated that), a bad CPU, or bad motherboard. Not very specific.

I wanted something reliable, cheap, and no slower than what she had. With an unlimited budget, I’d buy an Asus board, since I have a 6-year-old Asus board in the basement that’s still humming like new. Gatermann ran an Asus P55T2P4 for 10 years before it died, and I’ve seen lots of other Asus boards reach old age. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an Asus motherboard/CPU combo for less than $100.

So I went with Intel’s desktop dual-core Atom board by default. Intel motherboards are as unexciting as they come, and I hate monopolies, but the board has a 3-year warranty and I know from my experience supporting Micron desktop PCs with Intel boards in them that it’ll last at least that long.

I had to change the ATX backplate, but I was glad to find the Compaq front-panel connector had the same pinout as this Intel board. Removing the old backplate was the hardest part of the installation, as the board mounts with just four screws.

I entered the BIOS on powerup and was disappointed to see I couldn’t disable the onboard video. I really wanted to plug a video card into the lone PCI slot and disable the onboard video to save some memory and bandwidth. I also found enabling USB boot was clunky, but other than that, the BIOS was predictable.

The board itself runs extremely cool. The power supply fan doesn’t blow out hot air or even warm air–it’s cool.

You have to slipstream SP2 or SP3 to install Windows XP on this board. I haven’t done that yet, so I don’t know yet how well it runs XP. But being a dual-core, 1.6 GHz CPU, it should be OK. When XP was introduced, 1.6 GHz single-core CPUs were mainstream. It may not keep up with the old 2.1 GHz AMD Athlon XP the system came with, but without all the crapware Compaq loads at the factory, I’ll bet the system will be faster than it ever was even if the new CPU isn’t quite as fast as the old one.

DOS nostalgia?

I’ve been getting nostalgic for DOS lately. Well, certain DOS games *cough* Railroad Tycoon *cough*.

One of my coworkers’ wives is nostalgic for ’80s boy bands whose name I refuse to mention, so there certainly are worse things for me to be nostalgic about. Sure, DOS is terrible, but not that terrible.I’m using an old 128MB compact flash card in a cheap CF-IDE adapter. While 128 megs isn’t a lot, it’s adequate if you’re not going to have Windows and Windows apps loaded. After all, you can get all the DOS you’ll ever need for game playing in less than 1.5 megs. Even still, I’ll probably pick up a bigger card the next time I order stuff from Newegg. A 4 gig card is cheap, and to DOS, 4 gigs is huge.

DOS boots to a C prompt in about five seconds off the CF card, and a good chunk of that is the CD-ROM driver scanning the IDE channels for drives. The system takes a lot longer to POST than it does to boot.

The system itself is an old Micron Pentium II-266. Severe overkill, but I hear Railroad Tycoon Deluxe really wants a fast CPU. Plus, my 486 is missing in action right now anyway.

Now that I have the system running, I need to hunt down drivers for the system’s Sound Blaster card. Then I’ll get Railroad Tycoon Deluxe loaded, and then all I’ll have to do is find a little time to play it. That last step will probably be the hardest part.

If the games I want to play don’t like the P2 (unlikely but possible), I’ll just dig out a Pentium 75 or a 486 from somewhere. That won’t be a huge setback, since I’ll have everything I need gathered up to build the system at that point.

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.