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The Samsung SSD 830: A user review

I didn’t need much convincing to purchase a Samsung 830 SSD; I was in the market for a bigger SSD, and my short list consisted of Samsung and Intel drives. So when I found a good price on a 128 GB Samsung 830, I bought two.

The laptops I put the drives in aren’t able to fully take advantage of what the 830 brings to the table, but it’s still a worthwhile upgrade. I thought that two months ago when I installed them, and two months of living with them hasn’t changed my mind.Read More »The Samsung SSD 830: A user review

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

I finally got Windows XP installed on what’s going to be my mother in law’s dual-core Intel Atom computer. I’ve spent some more time with it, and it’s a good board, as long as you’re willing to live with its limitations.First of all, if your Windows CD doesn’t include SP3 (or possibly SP2), slipstream it. SP1 or earlier won’t boot on this board. I used nlite to slipstream SP3 and all the updates. A good way to download all the updates easily is to use CTupdate. Since installing updates can take nearly as long as installing the OS itself, it’s nice to have a CD that’s completely up to date. And while you’re at it, you can remove some useless Windows components like Windows Messenger and MSN Explorer.

Intel's dual-core Atom boardSince I don’t play 3D games and my mother in law doesn’t either, I have no idea what the gaming performance of this machine is, but I doubt it’s very good. That’s fine; it’s not what this board is designed for.

For productivity apps, it’s a perfectly reasonable PC. I can switch back and forth between my 2 GHz P4 and this Atom and not feel like I’m missing anything.

Due to the D945CLF2‘s size, it has some limitations. It only has two SATA and one PATA connectors. Hooking up her PATA hard drive and CD-RW got interesting. I managed to do it, but it isn’t pretty. If I’d known this was going to turn into a system rebuild, I would have bought a SATA hard drive instead of the PATA drive I got. If you’re thinking of one of these boards to upgrade an old PC, keep that in mind, especially if the 3.5″ bays aren’t very close to the 5.25″ bays.

There’s only one PCI slot. That’s less of a problem than it sounds like, as it has onboard video, audio, gigabit Ethernet, and lots of USB ports. But if you want to add a TV tuner or Firewire ports, you can only choose one or the other.

There’s also only one memory slot, and it can only take 2 GB. So there’s no dual-channel memory, although the chipset and BIOS support it. The CPU is AMD64 compatible, but the main reason people go 64-bit is to be able to run 4 GB of memory or more. It would have been nice if Intel could have crammed one more memory slot in there somehow.

Nvidia is talking about releasing a chipset for the Atom that will give better performance than Intel’s. Intel pairs the Atom with a very old chipset, and Nvidia says they can make it perform better. Intel doesn’t want the Atom to compete with the Celeron, so they’re not making performance a top priority. Even still, it’s not bad. I would imagine Nvidia could make it an even nicer setup.

But at any rate, this is a nice board. It’s reliable, cheap, and fast enough. If I decide to modernize any of my computers in the next year, I would consider one of these. They run cool and quiet and consume very little power. Lately I’ve been a big proponent of buying off-lease 2 GHz P4s, but I think an Atom rig is also worth considering. It’ll cost a little more, but its power usage is so low, it’s likely to more than make up the difference over the course of its lifetime.

When to call it quits and get a new(er) computer

Mom’s computer is fading fast. I built it in 2002 or so, but I used stuff from her old computer, including the operating system, which dated to more like 1998.

I’m tired of fixing it. There was a time that I might have enjoyed it, but she needs something reliable, and I don’t have that kind of time anymore. Windows 98 was anything but rock solid when it was new, and this is a 10-year-old build. And do I know for certain that all the hardware is perfect?

It’s cheaper and easier to just start over.I didn’t find any earth-shattering deals at, although I did find some stuff that would have been usable. I wandered over to Craigslist and found the usual myriad of people selling their old home PCs. I decided to just do a search for something I knew would work. My wife and I have had a Compaq Evo 510 for about two months now and everything about it impresses me. So I went looking for another one.

I found one. It’s a 2 GHz P4 with 256 MB RAM (I quickly upgraded it to 512) and a CD burner. It even had a fresh install of Windows XP Pro on it, and a certificate of authenticity so it’s legal. I paid less for it than I charged the last time I had to fix someone’s computer. Actually, I paid less for it than a copy of XP Pro sells for. So it really was like getting the hardware for free.

XP isn’t perfect but it’s a lot more stable and reliable than Windows 98 ever was or will be. While this hardware isn’t new, it’s newer than what Mom has, and it’s built with quality components. It’s a business-class machine, and in my experience, business-grade hardware isn’t flashy but it’s very reliable. As long as you feed clean electricity into it, the only thing that’s likely to go wrong is a hard drive crash, and those can happen no matter what you buy.

There is a ton of former office equipment on the market now that’s perfectly usable, replaced only because corporate policy mandates that computers get replaced every three or four years. As long as the hard drive gets replaced, or at the very least reformatted and Windows is freshly reinstalled, these PCs will make very good home computers for a very long time.

They make terrible gaming rigs, although with a better video card you can do some light gaming with them (my Evo 510 runs Railroad Tycoon 3 and Baseball Mogul 2008 just fine).
For word processing, e-mail, and web browsing, they’re all you need.

I put a better video card in it anyway, to free up the memory that the onboard video was using. I put in a $10 Nvidia TNT2 card in it that came out of an old IBM. I got it off Craigslist too.

If anything, I’m more comfortable with Mom having something like this than I would be with her buying a new Compaq Presario or HP Pavilion because it’s made with better components.

If you have an aging Windows 98 computer, this is a good time to upgrade to something a little bit newer. You should be able to get a former business computer with a 2 GHz Pentium 4 running Windows XP for less than $200. It will be money well spent, in any case.

Mom will be happier because she’ll have a much faster and more reliable computer. I’ll be happier because if I play my cards right, I’ll never see Windows 98 again.

Upgrading my mother in law’s Compaq Presario S5140WM

About the time my wife and I started dating, my mother-in-law bought a new computer. With an Athlon XP 2600+, that Compaq ought to be faster than anything I own. Even though it’s almost three years old now, it ought to still be pretty good.

It wasn’t. I fixed that.It has the Compaq name on the front but anymore that doesn’t mean much of anything. It’s a clone made in the Far East, with bog standard parts inside. When I visited earlier this month, she complained about its speed. I couldn’t find anything obviously wrong, but I checked the memory usage. It was over 250K with nothing loaded. Not good.

I happen to know the F-Secure-based security suite her ISP issued her can use nearly 256 megs all by itself sometimes. Not good.

So I paid a visit and ordered her 512 megs of memory. For 35 bucks, shipping included, why not? It’s overkill, but memory requirements are going to go up before they go down, and there was little point in buying half as much memory for 10 bucks less.

I bought Viking. I prefer Crucial or Kingston, but in my days doing desktop support, the people who insisted on Viking did OK, and it was cheaper the week I ordered it, so I got it. Don’t buy the cheap and nasty no-name stuff; the failure rate on no-name commodity memory has always been very high–somewhere near 30 percent, in my experience, and computers are more sensitive to memory today than they were in 1995 when I got my first job doing desktop support.

When I got the computer open, I saw it has an AGP slot. I really should get an AGP video card to put in the computer. Built-in video steals some system memory, which isn’t a big deal when you have 768 megs, but it also steals memory bandwidth. It’s like that bridge I cross over every day to go to work–it’s normally three lanes, but they have it closed down to two or even one lane some days. So it takes a longer time to get over that bridge. If I put a video card–even my old Nvidia-based card I bought back in 1997, if I could find it–with its own memory in her computer and disabled the onboard video, it would be like reopening that lane, and her CPU would have a full three lanes to work with when accessing memory.

I just checked Ebay, and found an Nvidia TNT2-based card for 99 cents Buy-it-now, with $9 shipping. The shipping is a ripoff, but the seller is probably paying a couple of dollars for the card and making $4 on shipping. At $10, the card is more than anyone needs for word processing and Internet use, and it’s probably better than the built-in video would be for light gaming. It’s a cheap way to soup up a computer like this.

If you can’t afford to buy any memory for this or any other computer with built-in video, but you’re running short on memory, here’s a free upgrade: Go into the BIOS, and set the amount of memory dedicated to the video card as low as you can. In this case, I can go to 8 megs. You won’t be able to run high colors at high resolution after doing this, but if you’re happy with 1024×768, it’ll give your system some memory back and make it a little more peppy.

I sure wish Intel or AMD would steal the old Amiga concept of chip memory, which was a bank of memory that could be used by either the video chip or the main CPU, at the expense of speed of course. But slow memory is still way faster than the swap file. The system just gave priority to the main memory (called fast memory) when it was available. It’s amazing how many good ideas were out there 20 years ago, some of which we’re enjoying today but some of which are sadly lost to history.

And, as always, a newer, faster hard drive is a good way to hot-rod an aging PC if it feels a bit sluggish.

But, $35 worth of RAM and a $10 video card goes a long, long way.

Thinking on Compaq Presario upgrades

I’m going to be upgrading a Compaq Presario 7360 here pretty soon. It should be fun to shatter some of the myths surrounding recent Compaqs. It’s a standard microATX PC, nothing more, nothing less. With a $20 replacement power supply ( calls the form factor used by low-end eMachines, Compaq, HP, and Gateway PCs “mini ATX”), it’ll handle any modern microATX motherboard.
Buying a new PC is easier, and if this PC were going to anyone else, I’d probably just tell the person to buy whatever the local consumer electronics store is hawking in its post-Christmas sales, or whatever Dell has for $349-$399. But for the technically savvy (or those who have a local computer store that’s honest and savvy and don’t mind paying for the use of that privelige), upgrading in pieces still makes sense. A motherboard based on an Nvidia Nforce2 (I’m sick of goofy capitalization) costs $65. Add a $36 1.6 GHz Duron CPU, a $10 fan, and a $35 256MB stick of DDR memory to go with the $20 power supply, and that Presario becomes a formidible computer for not a lot of money.

Rediscovering OS/2

So I picked up a surplus computer from work this week. Honestly, I bought it more because it was cheap than because I needed it. But it was a giveaway price for a good-quality system. Micron’s Client Pro line (its business-class line) is as well-built a PC as I’ve ever seen. The machine didn’t come as advertised, but it was still a good price for what I got: a 266 MHz Pentium II, 64 MB of RAM, a 4-gig Maxtor hard drive, a Lite-On CD-ROM drive of unspecified speed (it seems to be at least 24X), an Intel 10/100 PCI NIC, Nvidia Riva-based AGP video, an ISA Sound Blaster, and an ISA US Robotics 56K faxmodem.
Of course my first thought was to put Linux on it. But I have better machines already running Linux, so what’s the point, really? Then a few things sent me hurtling down the roads of my oldschool retro computing past, and a thought hit me: OS/2!

What I consider my first real job involved installing OS/2 literally a couple hundred times. That was version 3, on 50 MHz 486s. But by the time a Pentium-166 was a hot machine, I wasn’t using OS/2 much anymore. I realized I’ve never really seen OS/2 on something as hot as this P2-266 before. And I used to know how to optimize the living daylights out of OS/2, so this could turn into the best computer I’ve ever owned.

I had to patch my OS/2 v4 installation disk 1 to deal with the drive in the machine (download IDEDASD.EXE and unzip it, then follow the instructions in the README file) but once I got that going, installation was smooth. I need to track down device drivers for the NIC and video card yet. But I got a basic system up and running in about 35 minutes. That’s not bad.

I can’t wait to see Mozilla Firebird on this thing.

A day of catching up

I might finally have reliable DSL. Gatermann and I spent a good part of the day cleaning up my phone wiring. The wiring appeared to have been done by someone who couldn’t make up his mind how he wanted to do it. Seeing as I had two jacks that didn’t work anyway, and I own exactly three telephones plus an answering machine, we pulled out a number of the runs altogether (the wires are still there, just not hooked up at the box). And we cleaned up some oxidation that had shown up on some of the lines that were there.
My DSL connection does seem to be more reliable as a result. We’ll see in time how it turns out, but I know the brief storm we had tonight would normally knock me off the ‘net, and I haven’t fallen off yet since we did the work.

We also rebuilt a system. I’ve been intending to rebuild this one for some time (I pulled the case out of storage months ago) but never got around to it. Anymore, it seems like it’s a lot more fun to mess with other people’s computer projects than with my own. Anyway, we pulled out the system that served up this web site up until about a year or so ago (a Celeron on one of the last of the AT motherboards, a socket 370 job from Soyo), removed it from the old Micron case I’d put it in, and we put it in a monster server case, a former Everex 486/33. It’s a really good-looking case–battleship gray with black drives. And it’s built like a battleship too–very heavy gauge steel. It was pretty funny when we pulled out the full AT motherboard that had been in there and installed the Soyo, which is even smaller than what we used to call baby AT. We installed my CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives and a few other bits and pieces, and… an ISA video card. Yes, I’m sick. I was out of PCI slots and I loaned the AGP video card for the system (a Radeon 7000) to Steve last week and won’t be able to meet up with him to get it back until Wednesday at the earliest. I am half tempted to go ISA for either the sound or network card for the time being in order to free a PCI slot for an Nvidia Riva 128 card I have kicking around. It would be a big improvement. The screen writes remind me of BBSing; the text comes onto the screen at a rate somewhere between what I remember 300 bps and 1200 bps looking like.

But then again, what I want this system for (primarily) is to do things like burn CDs, and I don’t need superfast video for that. And I don’t know that I’m going to be burning anything between now and then.

Yes, I know, catch-up days are terribly exciting to read about.

But somewhere around here I think I have some stuff I wrote last week and never posted. I’ll have to see if I can find it to post tomorrow.