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We need to fix CISPA, not kill it

Here’s a good plan for fixing CISPA. And CISPA needs to be *fixed*, not stopped. We have three alternatives right now:

Secure the Internet
Voluntarily pare back the Internet
Wait for the Internet to fall apart and/or become too dangerous to use anymore

Given the unpleasant side effects of options 2 and 3, option 1 is all that’s left. Otherwise, the Internet will become a weapon of mass destruction. Keeping a hacktivist group or rogue nation from shutting down all gas and electric power in New York City on the coldest day in January is CISPA’s goal.Read More »We need to fix CISPA, not kill it

Upgrading a P2-300

Case study: Revitalizing a PII-300
It took me three and a half hours one night to squeeze another year or two of useful life out of a PII-300.

A fellow member of the Board of Directors at my church approached me one night. “Would you reinstall the OS on my computer?” he asked. He had a PII-300, not a barn burner by any modern measure, but not a slouch of a computer either. But as a performer it had been very much an underachiever of late. I had walked him through reinstalling the operating system over the phone back around Christmas and it had solved some problems, but not everything. It appeared his computer needed a clean start.

When I looked at it, I agreed. It wasn’t particularly stable and it definitely wasn’t fast. He had a Castlewood Orb drive to facilitate quick backups, so I had him copy his data directories (named Documents and My Documents), along with his AOL directory, over to the Orb. I also spotted a directory called Drv. As an afterthought, I grabbed that one too.

I proceeded to boot off a CD-ROM-enabled boot floppy. Tepidly, I typed the magic words format c: at the command prompt. Quickly I noticed a problem: the words “Saving current bad sector map” on the screen. As the drive formatted, Rick asked the magic question. “What do you think of partitioning?”

Dirty secret #1: Any time you see bad sectors, you should absolutely FDISK the drive. Bad clusters can be caused by physical problems on the disk, but they can also be caused by corruption of the FAT. No disk utility that I’ve ever seen (not Scandisk, not Disk Doctor, not even SpinRite) fixes that. The only way to fix that (verified by a technicians I talked to at Gibson Research, the makers of SpinRite) is to fdisk and format the drive.

Dirty secret #2: FAT16 is much faster than FAT32. Since Rick wasn’t opposed to partitioning the drive, I created a 2GB FAT16 partition. You do this by answering No when fdisk asks if you want to enable large disk support. This partition holds the operating system.

I exited FDISK, ran it again, and this time answered Y when it asked the cryptic large-disk question. I created a partition that spanned the rest of the drive. Then I rebooted, typed format c: then format d:, and watched for bad clusters. There were none. Excellent.

End result: I had a 2-gig FAT16 C drive and a 6-gig FAT32 D drive.

Dirty secret #3: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever (unless someone’s holding a gun to your head) install Windows as an upgrade. You have a Windows 95 CD and a Windows 98 upgrade CD? So what. Install Windows 98 on the bare drive. Setup will find no Windows installation present and ask for your Windows 95 CD. You insert your Win95 CD, it investigates it to make sure it’s not a blank CD with on it somewhere, then asks for your Win98 CD back. End result: a clean install. Even if you install Win95 immediately followed by Win98, you get extra garbage you don’t need. And it takes twice as long.

Windows took about 30 minutes to install. I tackled his applications. When I installed MS Office, I did a complete install with one exception. I drilled down into Office Tools, found Find Fast, and unchecked it. Find Fast is a resource hog and doesn’t do anything useful.

I installed Office to drive D.

He’d bought Norton Systemworks on sale one weekend, hoping it would help his performance. It didn’t. I showed him a trick. Rather than install Systemworks directly, I explored the CD, drilled into the Norton Utilities directory, and ran Setup from there. I intentionally left out almost everything. Speed Disk and Disk Doctor are the two superstars. I also kept the Optimization Wizard. I left out most of the rest, because the other stuff doesn’t do anything useful but it sure slows down your system. When it asked about running Disk Doctor at startup, I said no. It just slows down startup and doesn’t do anything useful. I did let it replace Scandisk with Disk Doctor. That way if you get an improper shutdown, Disk Doctor can clean up the mess before Windows starts and makes a bigger mess. But Disk Doctor should run when you need it. Not all the time.

Then I drilled down into the Norton Antivirus directory and installed it. Then I did the same for Ghost. I needn’t have done that. Just copying the Ghostpe.exe file out of that directory onto a boot floppy suffices. More on Ghost later.

I installed this stuff to drive D.

Next, I installed his scanner software, Lotus SmartSuite, and his DVD decoder.

I copied the data back over from his Orb disk, noticed his modem wasn’t working, and installed the device driver I found in the Drv directory I’d copied over to the Orb as an afterthought. (I’d much rather back up too much stuff than not enough.) Then I copied his AOL directory over to drive D and installed AOL 5.0 over the top of it. It picked up all his settings.

I cleaned up c:msdos.sys and rebooted, watching the time. It booted in about 45 seconds, including POST. I was happy. Rick was very happy.

I did the other standard Windows optimizations outlined in chapter 2 of Optimizing Windows. I cleared out his root directory on C. Then I ran Norton Speed Disk. I had it do the full file reordering and directory sorting bit (also described in Optimizing Windows). Clearing out the root directory makes disk access much more efficient, but only after Speed Disk discards the now-empty directory entries. Directory sorting makes disk access more efficient by putting the important files early in the list so Windows finds them faster. The results are marvelous.

Finally, I ran Ghost. I copied the Ghost executable to a boot floppy that contained the Castlewood device driver internal.sys, then booted from it and Ghosted his drive to the Orb drive. Fifteen minutes later, he had an image of his system, so he can return back to this state any time he wants.

End result: Rick’s P2-300 with an 8-gig Quantum Bigfoot drive (a notoriously slow hard drive) and 288 MB RAM received a new lease on life. Despite its slow processor and hard drive, it performs better than a lot of consumer-level PCs available today.

That was a good investment of 3 1/2 hours.

Weekend adventures and Low-profile PCs

Saturday. I finally managed to drag my sorry butt to work about 11 or so. I went to pay my rent at 10; the office was closed even though it was supposed to be open. The manager called me yesterday about 10, wondering where I was (gee, could it be I was at work, and that sometimes I have things to do other than sit by the phone waiting for her to call?) complaining that they needed to get into my apartment to fix a leak. I called and left a message saying go on in. She called back a couple of hours later and bawled me out for having a busted hose (I didn’t bust it) and for having stuff in the closet with the hot water heater, in violation of fire code. “The maintenance guy said you had a bunch of stuff in there, and that busted the hose, and that’s a violation of code so you have to clean it out.”
I checked when I got home. Apparently a snow shovel (necessary because they never clear the parking lot) and a kitchen mop sitting in the corner opposite everything constitutes “a bunch of stuff.” I put the check in an envelope, and since there was no one there to complain to, I scribled a note on the envelope. “I moved my mop and my snow shovel out of the closet. Apparently that constitutes ‘a bunch of stuff.'”

And Friday night I got out my lease and looked at it. I’d never read it thoroughly and I was shocked. For one thing, playing a musical instrument is strictly prohibited. Even with headphones. That’s a load of bull. If you can play a guitar on the Metro in Washington D.C. as long as you use headphones, then if I feel like strumming my bass inside the four walls of my apartment and no one can hear it, that’s my business. But I found what I was looking for. Since I’ve been here two years, the penalty for breaking the lease is one month’s rent. Losing me for the remainder of the lease hurts them more than the month’s rent hurts me, so I started looking for houses.

One of the girls at church (her name is Wendy) had mentioned earlier in the week that houses in Lemay are inexpensive, and Lemay, despite what Gatermann says, isn’t a bad place. For one, there’s a great pizza joint in Lemay. There’s reasonably easy access to I-255 to get around St. Louis. Plus two grocery stores and a department store. And if Wendy’s comfortable walking to her car at night in Lemay, my black trenchcoat and I will be just fine.

At work, an unexpected but totally welcome distraction happened. My phone rang. I was hoping it was the girl from church, but it was an inside ring. I picked up. “This is Dave,” I said.

“Hi! It’s Heather.”

That’s the name of my best friend from college, and it sure sounded like her voice. But she lives in Florida and she’s been bouncing from dot-com to dot-com since college.

“I saw your car outside so I thought I’d give you a call. I’m here with Olivia and we’re just checking on houses with my computer. I thought you might like to meet her.”

Oh. That Heather. She’s a twentysomething Kentucky native who’s lived in St. Louis for about three years. Olivia is her four-year-old daughter. She’s been looking for a house for about the past six months. Extremely nice girl, easy to talk to. Pretty too.

Talking to Heather and meeting Olivia promised to be a whole lot more intersesting than watching SpinRite run on that failing hard drive that forced me into the office on my day off, so I walked over to her area. Olivia saw me first. She hid behind a chair. I recognized her immediately, because Heather’s cubicle is practically wallpapered with pictures of her. I knocked on the side of the cube wall. Heather looked up. “Hi!” she said. She looked around and saw Olivia behind the chair. “Come out, Olivia.” Olivia shyly emerged. “Say Hi.” Olivia waved shyly and said hi. Yep, she’s just like her mom: way tall, and very shy at first. Olivia crawled up into Heather’s lap and started playing with her adding machine. She whispered something to her mom. She looked at her, puzzled. Olivia whispered it again. “You tell him,” she said.

“I like to dig through the trash,” Olivia said.

“Why do you like to dig in the trash?” I asked her. Heather laughed and explained. Olivia keeps everything. When she throws something away, Olivia usually goes digging for it. I told Olivia I used to dig through the trash when my mom would throw my stuff away too.

“Oh! I haven’t told you. We made an offer on a house!” Heather said, visibly excited. I asked her about it. Two-bedroom, nice heated garage, small yard but within walking distance of a park… in Lemay. I smiled.

I told her congratulations, and told her I started looking last night. She said there was a lot of stuff in Lemay. Meanwhile, Olivia and I played catch with beanbags. She has a lively arm on her, not that that should be too surprising. When you’ve got long arms like hers and get them extended, you’ll have some pop. Her first throw hit me below the belt, if you know what I mean. I saw it coming, couldn’t get my arm down there fast enough, and grimaced. Olivia laughed. I don’t think Heather saw. I picked the beanbag off the ground and tossed it back to her. No lasting effects–it was a beanbag, after all. But guys instinctively grimace whenever anything heads that direction, even a Nerf ball. It’s instinctual. Olivia’s next throw sailed past my outstretched hand and plunked the back of Heather’s chair.

“I’m glad you weren’t the second baseman the last softball game I played,” I said to Olivia.

So Heather and I talked houses while Olivia and I tossed beanbags around. I’m like her, I like South County and don’t really want to live anywhere else. She’s been looking long enough to have a pretty good idea what’s available. She printed off a couple of houses for me, and told me a couple of places in Lemay where several houses were available.

Eventually, I thanked her and left. I told Olivia it was nice to meet her.

Then last night, after none of my Saturday plans panned out, I wandered out in search of a haircut and the new Echo and the Bunnymen album. I found neither. I bought some used stuff: Echo and the Bunnymen’s self-titled 1987 release which I’d never gotten around to buying, Peter Gabriel’s fourth album, Peter Murphy’s surprise 1989 hit Deep, and a New Wave compilation that contained a couple of good songs from bands who only recorded one good song, plus a bunch of stuff I didn’t remember ever hearing. The sales clerk reacted to my selections. “Uh oh. Echo and the Bunnymen. Hmm. Peter Murphy. Who was he with?”

“Bauhaus,” I said.

“Was he in Love and Rockets too, or was that the other guys from Bauhaus?”

“Love and Rockets was Bauhaus without Peter Murphy.”

Yep, I was earning the right to wear a black trenchcoat last night. Too bad it’s August. I was impressed that the clerk recognized Murphy, seeing as he was probably born the same year Bauhaus broke up and Murphy’s only had one solo hit, though his post-Bauhaus stuff is really good.

So I hopped in my car, popped in the compilation CD, and went exploring. I found the area Heather told me about. But mostly I explored Lemay–what kind of stuff could I find? Being fairly close to a park would be nice. I found the pizza joint my dad and I used to go to, many years ago. Just about everything I need is pretty close together, and not terribly far from the big commercial district. The houses are older, which can be good and bad, and like Heather warned me, there are some areas that are a little bit redneck, but you’ll find that in a lot of parts of St. Louis. And like Wendy said, Lemay’s not a ritzy place and the people who live there know it, so the pretension you see in a lot of parts of St. Louis isn’t present there. That’s nice.

Low-profile. Dan Bowman sent me a couple of links yesterday to low-profile cases that would be suitable as low-end servers or routers. Over at CSO they’re selling Dell low-profile Pentium Pro-200 systems for $99, with 64 MB RAM, 2.1 gig HD, and a NIC. A Pentium II-266 runs $129. Specs vary on the PII.

That got me thinking and looking around some more. Over at, I found a couple of other things. An ultra low-profile LPX case (sans power supply) is running $10.50. It only has three bays, but that’s plenty for a floppy, CD-ROM, and single HD. An Intel HX-based LPX mobo (with built-in video) runs $19. It’ll take up to a P200, non-MMX though. The LPX riser card is $4.95. CPU availability is limited there; a P90 runs five bucks. Back at CSO, a P166 runs $15.

If you’re really cramped for space, building an LPX-based system is your best bet. But the CSO deal on the Dell is tough to beat. You won’t build an LPX system that even comes close for $99.

SPAM from Macromedia regarding Flash; Neatgear NICs; Crash course

From: “bsprowl”
Subject: Spam ?? from Macromedia regarding Flash

I keep getting offers to down load Macromedia’s Flash. These aren’t e-mail type spam; a window pops up and asks if you want to download it.

I have find it very annoying to get these regularly. I have searched on it and find it will cost $399.00 plus tax and shipping for this web authoring tool after the trail period runs out.

Well duh, that’s expensive and I don’t want to write using it; I use Arachnophia (sp?) which is freeware, saving over $400 for the small bit of web development that I do.

There are also some security issues that I don’t want to deal with (although how a glorified text editor can cause security problems seems insane, the FAQs lead me to believe that it can happen.)

But why do I keep getting offers to download it from so many sites. The latest is, who you would think would not have ads of this type. And the ad pops up several times as I open the radar map and every time I refresh the map it pops up two or three more times.

I have tried to see if this spam is somehow tied to my computer and have used some of Steve Gibson’s tools ( ) and updated my virus definitions, etc., to eliminate or reduce it if it is hidden or my system. I found nothing.

Any suggestions?

I know exactly what’s going on. (My site isn’t bugging you about that, is it? If it is, Vinny and Guido will be knocking on a couple of people’s doors because off the top of my head I can’t think of anything I hate more than Flash and my site’s not *supposed* to be using it….) There’s nothing wrong with your computer. You’re getting that question because so many sites use Flash; and most sites, if they detect you don’t have the free Flash plug-in, offer to let you download it. You’d be downloading the free unlimited-use plug-in rather than some trial version of the $399 package.

But Flash animations are annoying (and mostly used by really blinky and obnoxious ads) so I don’t like installing it. I also don’t like the stupid dialog boxes (or sites that install it without asking permission, as some do). When a site offers to install Flash, I add it to the Restricted Sites zone (Tools, Internet Options, Security, then click Restricted Sites, then click Sites, then add, say, to the list). That shuts ’em up, unless they also use ActiveX, in which case IE will pop up a dialog box saying the page may not render properly. But at least they’ll quit bugging you about Flash.
From: “Bob”
Subject: Re[2]: Spam ?? from Macromedia regarding Flash

Hello Dave,

Oh. Now I feel stupid for bothering you.

I never noticed Flash or Macromedia before this. I don’t really want to install it but I would like the weather maps to update automatically and also to show the past several hours.

I guess I’ll do a backup to CDW and then install it. I don’t have a lot on my system, the C: drive only has about 590 MB so it will fit on a single CD. Then if it’s a problem I can just go back to the original system.

I really am wasting that drive but then none of mine are full. I don’t download music, that’s why I have my stereo; I don’t even have a speaker plugged into my computer.

I don’t play DVDs; that’s what the VCR is for (although I haven’t used it more than once since I brought it; I don’t even know were the nearest video rental place is located.)

A year or two ago I tried to install the latest release of the Asteroids game which I though might be fun but after downloading half a dozen files from several sites (I need something called Direct X) it won’t run and neither would anything else. I tried it on several of my systems from an old 486 with DOS 6 and Window 3.11 to a system with a PII 450 and Windows 2K. I’ve never gotten a game more complex that Mahjongg to run on anything besides my old Atari, so it must be me.

I spend a lot of time reading and I like paperbacks so I don’t download books either. I do have a database of all of the books I’ve read in the last five plus years. And that is linked to my Palm so I no longer buy a book I have already read.

I find your sight to be most useful concerning computer technology and read it everyday. While most of the other daynoter’s are interesting, they are not nearly as useful. I really don’t care what they ate, etc.

Thanks again,

No problem, I’m sure you aren’t the first to have that question, and I’m sure others are asking, “How do I keep this #&%$ website from telling me to download Flash?” If not today, someday someone will want the answer to that question.

Most recent games do require DirectX, which you can download from here. If the DirectX version is too old, games will complain. The safest way to get a game running, if you’re willing to invest the time, is to build up a system, install Windows clean, then install the current version of DirectX, then install the game. That may be more trouble than you’re willing to go to.

I chuckled as I read the rest of your mail. About two years ago, a box of stuff showed up in my boss’s cube. Nobody knows where it came from. There was some ancient computer stuff, and there was some REALLY ancient computer stuff. One of them was a CompuServe manual, and I could tell from the logo and the hairstyles and tie widths that this thing was from 1984 at the very latest. I flipped through it and chuckled at the words that suggested 1200 baud was something new, and when my boss walked in, I held it up and said, “Now this is a relic from a time when computers were computers, and not washing machines and stereos and VCRs and TVs and fax machines and toasters.”

“You sound bitter.”

“No, just practical.”

I remember my Amiga’s simple elegance. Yes, it invented multimedia, but it knew what it was, and that was a computer, and it did a good job of being one. And I miss that.

And thanks for your compliments of the site. I try to be useful, and entertaining, and compelling. I don’t always succeed, but enough people come back that I guess I succeed often enough. I know Pournelle’s a better writer than I am, and both he and Thompson have a much deeper depth of knowledge than I do (they’ve also had more time to accumulate it). So I do the best I can, and try to make it as easy as possible here for people to find the stuff they do like.

Thanks for writing.
From: “Steve DeLassus”
Subject: Neatgear NICs

OK, what’s the difference betwen a Netgear FA310 and an FA311? At the price mwave is hawking them, I am ready to pick up 3…
The FA310 uses the classic DEC Tulip chipset near and dear to all Linux
distros’ hearts. The FA311 uses a NatSemi chipset that only very recent
distros know what to do with. The FA311 should be fine with Windows boxes,
and it’s supposed to be fine with Mandrake 8.
From: “Gordon Pullar”
Subject: Re Crash Course

Hi, I have just read your article in this months “Computer shopper” I am having trouble re-formatting my hard drive (which previously had WIN98SE on it and worked well!) I used FDISK( Got from WIN98 then WIN98SE.) to create a Primary DOS partition,using the whole disk,6.4 Gig. After that I reformated it, it now freezes at writing the FAT table,that’s if I get that far,4 times out of 5 using a boot disk,(I have tried several from differnet PC’s) It gets as far as “verifying pool data” and then freezes.I have checked the HDD drive out with Seagates own diagnostic software and all is OK.(Funny it always boots OK with the seagate software “Seatools”) Changed the IDE cable to the hard drive.I have flashed the BIOS with the latest version.

Is there anything else I could be missing??

Giga-byte GA 5AX motherboard
AMD K6 2 500 Mhz CPU
256 Mb pc100 Ram
Seagate 6.4 Gig ST36451A
HDD Generic video card


Gordon Pullar
First thing I’d do would be to try to get it to boot off a floppy, then type FDISK /MBR. Both of the problems you’re describing sound like a corrupted MBR, and I don’t think partitioning the drive will zero that out for you. If that doesn’t work, try zeroing out the entire MBR with the MBRwork utility (

Failing that, I’d try using SeaTools to either low-level format or zero out the drive. Usually after doing that, a finicky drive will work just fine.


Slim pickings. There isn’t a whole lot of new content going up over the weekend, so I’ll hit two useful, if slightly flawed hardware articles. And I guess I’ve gotta come up with some of my own stuff.

Shopping. I went computer shopping Saturday for the first time in, oh, years probably. I build my own and have been doing so since 1996, so I normally take no interest in retail PCs. But a friend of a friend is in the market for a PC, and I didn’t want her to get ripped off, so I offered to go shopping with her to keep such a thing from happening. Note I didn’t offer to build her one–I’m trying to get out of the build-a-PC-for-a-friend business for the most part.

So we hit Office Depot. The superdupercheap trend seems to be abating a little; there’s a lot for under $1,000 still, but the $499-and-under market is waning. eMachines is playing there, but Compaq and HP seem to have retreated. I noticed plenty of Durons, which ought to make AMD happy.

We also hit Computer Renaissance. I’ve heard horror stories about the place, but figured I could probably handle the slimy salespeople. I can talk way over their heads when I want to (“I don’t care what anyone says, compared to Microchannel, PCI is rubbish. At least with Microchannel, I knew where the resources were going and I knew they’d stay put!”), and I can play intimidation by dropping OS/2 and Linux compatibility questions. They left us alone though, which was nice. I saw P200-based Compaq Deskpros for $199, including 15″ monitor. I wanted more power than that for her. HP Vectra PII266s were $399; PII233s were $379. Both included monitors. What caught my eye was a $299 Compaq Deskpro. It had a Pentium Pro-200, which was about as fast as the PII-233 due to its on-die, full-speed cache, and it had a SCSI hard drive. For productivity use, this Deskpro is fine. Its 32 MB RAM is awfully low, but that’s curable. DIMMs are cheap. The SCSI will be nice. And it’s hard to find a better-built machine than a Compaq Deskpro. Life expectancy of this machine will be much higher than that of a new Compaq Presario, eMachine, or HP Pavilion.

But if mail-order had been an option, I probably would have pushed her in the direction of a Compaq iPAQ. For about $399 (without monitor), you get Windows 2000 and a corporate-quality (as opposed to consumer-quality) PC. Expandability is nil, except for the memory, but for word processing and Internet use, it’s great, and that’s what she wants. And it’s got USB and Ethernet built-in. If I had to equip a small business with a fleet of PCs quickly, that’s probably the direction I’d go. And I like them for home use too.

On to the reviews.

ATA-66 vs. ATA-100 (Real World Tech)

Good methodology, at least as far as hardware selection goes, and he explains his methodology as well. Full disclosure is always good, as it shows confidence you have nothing to hide.

The testing is a little suspect though. Using three trials and taking the highest number isn’t the accepted method. It’s better to take 9 or 10 trials, discard the highest and lowest, and average the remaining scores. I say this because in my own tests, I sometimes get a string of two or three weird scores that are awfully high or low. Running more than that, then discarding the outliers gives scores more likely to reflect the real world.

For these purposes, the flawed method probably suffices; it shows the slight advantage of ATA-66 and ATA-100 over ATA-33, though it may be exaggerated. The tests show little or no advantage to using ATA-100 over ATA-66.

This isn’t the best online test I’ve seen, but it’s definitely not an atrocity either. There is carefully-planned research here, by someone whose experience shows.

Gigabyte GA-7ZXR review (BX Boards)

All I can say is this is a very unremarkable hardware review. They didn’t disclose the testbed setup other than the CPUs used. Benchmarks were limited to Winstone 99 and Quake 2, and then they didn’t list any competing boards, so you’ve got a bunch of numbers but nothing to directly compare them with!

Lots of pictures and a list of features, but frankly there’s nothing here that probably wouldn’t be on the manufacturer’s Web site.

The quality of writing is better than average, but this review’s usefulness is limited to introducing you to a board you may not be familiar with yet. Unfortunately to learn much of anything meaningful about it other than what it looks like, you’ll have to wait for one of the other sites to get their mitts on it.

Sounds cards, hard drives, and initial dual G4 impressions

The underwhelming dual G4. I had a conversation Tuesday with someone who was thinking about ditching his PII to get a dual G4 because he thought it would be faster. I guess he thought if he got VirtualPC or SoftWindows, a dual G4/500 would run like a dual PIII/500 or something, plus give him access to all the Mac software. Nice try.
I’m sure one of these dual G4s would make an outstanding Linux box, but the loss of binary compatibility with all the x86 software is something. Sure you can recompile, but there are those instances where that isn’t an option. And under Mac OS 9, that second CPU sits idle most of the time. Photoshop and a couple of other apps use it, but the OS doesn’t–certainly not to the extent that Windows NT or a Unix variant will use a second CPU.

I’m also very disappointed with the hardware. The dual G4 I’m setting up right now has a 124-watt power supply in it. Yes, 124 watts! Now, the PPC chips use less power than an Intel or AMD CPU, and the G4 uses a microATX-like architecture, but they know full well that graphics professionals are going to buy these things and stick four internal hard drives, a Zip, a DVD-RAM, and a gigabyte of RAM inside. Do that, and you don’t have much punch left to power such “non-essentials” as the video card, extra disk controller, and CPUs… This will cause problems down the line. It would seem they’re paying for the extra CPU without increasing the price dramatically by cutting corners elsewhere.

The G4 remains an excellent example of marketing. IBM could invent sushi, but they’d market it as raw, dead fish (which is why they’ve become a non-contender in the PC arena that they created, with the possible exception of the ThinkPad line) while Apple continues to sell sand in the desert. Remarkable.

AMD pricing. The Duron-600 is a great buy right now; according to Sharky Extreme’s CPU pricing, it’s as low as $51. My motherboard vendor of choice,, has the Duron-600 with a Gigabyte 7ZX-1 and fan for $191. Outstanding deal. I’d get a PC Power and Cooling fan for it to replace whatever cheapie they’re bundling.

I prefer Asus motherboards to everything else, but the performance difference between the Gigabyte and Asus offerings is really close (Asus wins some benchmarks by a hair, Gigabyte wins others, with Asus being a bit better overall but we’re talking differences of under 1-4 percent, barely noticeable). The Gigabyte boards cost about $30 less than the Asus. I’m thinking if I were getting a Duron for a value system, I’d go Gigabyte; if I were looking for a Thunderbird-based performance system, I’d go Asus.

I plan to see how Naturally Speaking fares on my Celeron; if it’s not quick enough for me I’ll probably retire my trusty K6-2/350 and replace the board with a Duron or Thunderbird.

Voice recognition. I got my Andrea ANC-600 mic on Monday. Since Naturally Speaking and the SB Live! card hadn’t even shipped yet, I went ahead and put the ANC-600 on my Celeron-400 (still equipped with an ESS sound card) and fired up ViaVoice. The ANC-600 eliminated the background noise and increased accuracy noticeably. ViaVoice still tended to mess up a word per sentence, but at least it was in the neighborhood (it had real problems with past/present tense) and its speed was a little better, though it still tended to drag behind me. The SB Live! should help that; as should the newer software’s reliance on newer processor architecture (ViaVoice 97 was designed with the Pentium-MMX in mind, rather than the PII/Celeron or something newer). I await Naturally Speaking’s arrival with much, much greater confidence now.

From: Dan Bowman

Maxtor HDDs

And the CompUSA down the street always has a good deal on them…

This week, Office Depot is selling Maxtor 15gig drives for $99. That’s a “Warlock’s Mirror” for a little over $200 with tax.




Voice recognition

Voice recognition. The great David Pogue e-mailed me over the weekend, at Tim O’Reilly’s urging, to talk a little about Dragon Naturally Speaking, which he says is better than ViaVoice. He says he gets about 110 wpm out of it.
So I did a ton of research to see what kind of hardware you want for Naturally Speaking. Consensus seems to be the SoundBlaster Live! Platinum is what you want (retail $199), plus a noise-reducing condenser mic, which can be had for around $75, and as much CPU power as you can muster. David’s had good success with a PII-300, so my Celeron-400, refitted with the SB Live! and a good mic, ought to be OK. If it turns out to be inadequate, the AMD Duron-600 is dirt cheap and suitable mobos are finally widely available.

With a good mic and a sound card with clean audio inputs, many people claim 95-97 percent accuracy out of the box, climbing to 99 percent accuracy within 1-2 weeks of heavy use. We’ll see. I’m still skeptical, but willing to take the risk. As I told David, sound cards and microphones are cheaper than wrists.

If you’re interested in taking the plunge, wait. Naturally Speaking 5.0’s release is imminent. Don’t race out to buy v4 only to find v5 on your next office supply run.

Attention, bargain hunters: The SB Live! Platinum, SB Live! MP3+, and SB Live! Gamer are all the same card. Avoid the SB Live! Value (now discontinued), as it used a different chip. The difference between the three remaining cards, besides the bundled software, is the 5.25″ bay insert that replicates all the jacks and puts them up front. I like that, so that’s the direction I’ll go. That insert costs as much as the card, however, so if you need a high-end sound card but don’t want to pay $200 for it, get one of the other cards in the SB Live! series.

You can upgrade later by adding an insert, but you’re looking at $150 to do it.