Building DOS gaming PCs

Building DOS gaming PCs

The ultimate DOS gaming PC is a topic that I’ve seen come up in forums frequently, and that I’ve been asked directly a number of times. I guess since I published advice on running DOS games on Windows PCs on two continents, people figured I knew something about that. I guess I fooled them!

The trouble is that no single PC can really be the “ultimate” DOS game machine. Well, not if your goal is to be able to optimally run everything from early 1980s titles designed for the original IBM PC up to the last DOS version of Quake. I learned that the hard way in 1995 or 1996, even before Quake existed. Read more

How the IBM PC became the de facto standard for desktop computers

I saw a question on a vintage computing forum this week: How did the IBM PC become the de facto standard for PCs, and the only desktop computer architecture from the 1980s to survive until today?

It’s a very good question, and I think there were several reasons for it. I also think without all of the reasons, the IBM PC wouldn’t have necessarily won. In some regards, of course, it was a hollow victory. IBM has been out of the PC business for a decade now. Its partners Intel and Microsoft, however, reaped the benefits time and again.

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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.

IBM dumping its PC business?

John C. Dvorak comes full circle in his column about IBM possibly dumping its PC business. He starts off saying it makes little sense, but by the end of the editorial, he has his mind made up that IBM should have done it years ago.

Of course, this was probably written before word got out that its talks are more of a joint venture or spinoff than a complete sellout.

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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.

Reviving a laptop

The drive in my work laptop gave a S.M.A.R.T. error over the weekend. I never have had much luck with Hitachi laptop drives. Micron sent a replacement drive–an IBM, thankfully–and, doubly thankfully, the Hitachi hung on until today. So I whipped out Bart’s magic network boot disk–to which I’d added the 3c556 module necessary to get this Micron Transport LT on the network–and ran my copy of Ghost from a network drive. (It won’t fit on that disk, no way, no how. Not with all the other stuff crammed onto it.)
Depending on how far gone the drive is, Ghost can cope with failing hard drives, because you can use the -FRO switch to make it work around bad clusters to the best of its ability. So I initiated Ghost with ghost -z9 -fro (the -z9 tells it to use maximum compression, since the network is the bottleneck here) and made a copy of my disk to a network drive. An hour and a half later (ugh–do I ever miss Token Ring) I had a backup. So I swapped in the IBM drive and repeated the process in reverse. An hour and a half up, an hour and a half down. The data compression wasn’t the bottleneck.

And in the end, I had a healthy laptop again. The IBM drive is quieter and seems faster. I noticed it wasn’t the nice new 5400 RPM model (it’s a 4200 rpm drive) but it’s not a slouch. And it definitely doesn’t clunk as much as the Hitachi always did. I love Hitachi’s video equipment, but their hard drives have always given me trouble. IBM’s laptop drives have always been fine for me. And I know IBM took a lot of black eyes over the GXP desktop series, but think about the things that are known to cause problems with IDE drives:

Rounded cables
PCI bus overclocked beyond 33 MHz
Cables longer than 18 inches (the length of the wire–not the cable itself)
Certain VIA chipsets in conjunction with Sound Blaster Live! sound cards

IBM 75GXP and 60GXP drives were typically bought by people seeking performance. People seeking performance often do at least one of the above, intentionally or unintentionally. During the 75GXP’s heyday, the hottest chipsets on the block were made by VIA (Intel was still embroiled in the whole Rambus fiasco), and the sound card everyone had to have was the SB Live. I suspect the GXPs were more sensitive to these factors than some other drives and they really weren’t as bad as their reputation.

While rounded cables are good for airflow, they’re bad for signal integrity. Rounded SCSI cables are common, especially in servers, and have been for years, but SCSI takes precautions with its signals–most notably, termination–that IDE doesn’t. That’s part of the reason why IDE is cheaper. So yes, though ribbon cables do look really retro, replacing them with fancy rounded cables isn’t a good idea unless you like replacing hard drives. Get Serial ATA adapters and run your drives serial if you don’t think retro is cool. I’ve been conspiring for the last couple of years to get something semi-modern into my vintage IBM AT case, so I happen to like retro.

But I digress. I hope when the merger between Hitachi’s and IBM’s storage divisions happens, we get the best aspects of both rather than the worst.

Building a Win95 box

Building a Windows 95 box? Why? You nuts?
Why not? You’ve got old hardware, you’ve got a ton of licenses to run an obsolete operating system… It’s a good match. Remember, a Pentium-120 was a titan of a PC in 1995. You couldn’t get anything faster. Running Windows 95 on a Pentium-120 with 24 MB RAM, 1.2 GB HD, and 8X CD-ROM in 1995 seemed like running Windows 2000 on a decked-out 1.4 GHz Athlon today. Maybe it seemed even more extreme than that; I remember selling a good number of 486DX2/66s and DX4/100s in the summer of 1995. They were low-end, yes, but they were at that $1,000 sweet spot. You’d pick up a DX2/66 for $800 and a 14″ monitor for $200, and sometimes as a weekend special we’d bundle the two together with a printer for $1,099 or something.

We had a Pentium-120 to rebuild at work, and we had its Win95 license, so it made sense to just rebuild it with the stuff it had. I know Jerry Pournelle had a really hard time building a Win95 box a few months back. I didn’t have much trouble at all, so I might as well document the pitfalls.

First of all, I used vintage hardware. That helps. Win95 was designed for 1995-era hardware. This PC probably dates from 1996 or so; it has the strange pairing of an Intel 430HX chipset and a Pentium-120. The 120 was more frequently bundled with the earlier 430FX chipset; by the time of the HX, the 133 was considered low-end, the 200 high-end, and the 166 was mainstream. The video card was a plain old Cirrus Logic-based PCI card; no issues there. AGP sometimes threw Win95 for a loop. None of that here. While DMA drivers certainly improved the 430HX, they weren’t necessary for stable performance. In other words, a 430HX-based board with a Cirrus video card works acceptably straight out of the box, with no additional drivers.

Other hardware: A Mitsumi 8X CD-ROM. I don’t remember exactly when 8X came out, but for the most part an IDE CD-ROM is an IDE CD-ROM, from a driver standpoint. A Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16. That was a very common, very well-supported sound card. A DEC 450 network card. Those DEC cards can be a real pain to get working sometimes, but Win95 surprised me and detected it straight up.

But Setup wouldn’t run initially. It took some figuring, but I solved that problem. My colleague had booted with a Win98 boot disk I made over a year ago. He did an FDISK and format to wipe the drive, but he formatted the drive FAT32. The original Win95 didn’t know about FAT32, so Setup was throwing a hissy fit when it saw it. I did another FDISK and format, switched to plain old FAT16, and Setup installed very happily.

Once I got Setup to run, it installed, and quickly at that. And with absolutely no issues. Remember, Win95’s footprint was only about 35 megs. It doesn’t take long for an 8X drive to deliver 35 megs. And the system booted quickly. I didn’t sit down and time it, but I’m used to calling a minute a reasonably fast boot time, and this thing didn’t seem slow to me at all. A little optimization would help, of course. A little logo=0 in c:msdos.sys goes a long way.

Running Win95 on newer hardware is possible, but remember, it’s been nearly four years since it was the mainstream OS. And you can have a lot of headaches trying to do it. Windows 3.1 is in the same boat–it’s downright hard to find device drivers for modern video cards. Then again, I can think of circumstances under which I’d want to run Win95. I can’t think of any compelling reason whatsoever to run Win3.1 at this point in time. (And there wasn’t any compelling reason to run it in 1994 either.)

If I had to build up a Win95 box today and could have whatever components I wanted, I’d probably look for an Asus P55T2P4, easily the best Socket 7 motherboard ever manufactured. (In 1997 when I was in the market, I opted for an Abit IT5H instead and I’m still kicking myself.) That board is most naturally paired with a Pentium-MMX/233, but with unsupported–but widely-documented online–voltage settings, you can run more recent K6-2 CPUs on it. The P55T2P4 allows an FSB of up to 83 MHz, but for stability’s sake, I’d keep it at 66 MHz, or possibly 68 MHz if the board supports it (I don’t remember anymore). You can run a K6-2/400 with a 6x multiplier at either of those settings and be very close to its rated speed. Then I’d use an ATI Xpert 98 video card. Yes, it’s a bit old, but it’s probably the best all-around PCI card that’s still reasonably easy to find. Win95 won’t recognize it without manufacturer-supplied drivers, of course, but that’s not so bad. This combination would give you surprisingly good performance, stability, and minimal difficulty of installation.

Anyway, that adventure reminded me that a Pentium-120 can still be a viable computer. Vintage software like Win95 runs well on it. Office 95 has more features than most of us use, and it’s faster and more stable than the recent incarnations. It also has fewer strings attached. IE 5.01, although recent, would run decently on a P120, as long as you left out Active Desktop. Acrobat Reader 3.0 will still read the majority of PDF files on the Web, and it’s smaller and faster-loading than more recent versions. Do a Web search; you can still find it online.

Don’t get carried away with what you install, and a P120 can certainly surprise you.



My docs; Apple; Lost cd rom drive

It’s that time of year again. MacWorld time. I work with Macs way too much, so of course I have opinions. If you expect me to withhold them, you don’t know me very well.

Let’s face it: Apple’s in serious trouble. Serious trouble. They can’t move inventory. The Cube is a bust–unexpandable, defect-ridden, and overpriced. The low-end G4 tower costs less than the Cube but offers better expandability.  Buying a Cube is like marrying a gorgeous airhead. After the looks fade in a few years, you’re permanently attached to an airhead. So people buy a G4 tower, which has better expandability, or they get an iMac, which costs less.

Unfortunately, that gorgeous airhead metaphor goes a long way with Apple. The Mac’s current product line is more about aesthetics than anything else. So they’ve got glitzy, glamorous cases (not everyone’s cup of tea, but hey, I hear some people lust after Britney Spears too), but they’re saddled with underpowered processors dragged down by an operating system less sophisticated under the hood than the OS Commodore shipped with the first Amiga in 1985. I don’t care if your PowerPC is more efficient than an equivalently-clocked Pentium IV (so’s a VIA Cyrix III but no one’s talking about it), because if your OS can’t keep that CPU fed with a steady stream of tasks, it just lost its real-world advantage.

But let’s set technical merit aside. Let’s just look at pure practicalities. You can buy an iMac for $799. Or, if you’re content with a low-end computer, for the same amount of money you can buy a low-end eMachine and pair it up with a 19-inch NEC monitor and still have a hundred bucks left over to put towards your printer. Yeah, so the eMachine doesn’t have the iMac’s glitzy looks. I’ll trade glitz for a 19-inch monitor. Try working with a 19-inch and then switch to a 15-inch like the iMac has. You’ll notice a difference.

So the eMachine will be obsolete in a year? So will the iMac. You can spend $399 for an accelerator board for your iMac. Or you can spend $399 for a replacement eMachine (the 19-inch monitor will still be nice for several years) and get a hard drive and memory upgrade while you’re at it.

On the high end, you’ve got the PowerMac G4 tower. For $3499, you get a 733 MHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, 60 GB HD, a DVD-R/CD-R combo drive, internal 56K modem, gigabit Ethernet you won’t use, and an nVidia GeForce 2 MX card. And no monitor. Software? Just the OS and iMovie, which is a fun toy. You can order one of these glitzy new Macs today, but Apple won’t ship it for a couple of months.

Still, nice specs. For thirty-five hundred bucks they’d better be nice! Gimme thirty-five hundred smackers and I can build you something fantabulous.

But I’m not in the PC biz, so let’s see what Micron might give me for $3500. For $3514, I configured a Micron ClientPro DX5000. It has dual 800 MHz Pentium III CPUs (and an operating system that actually uses both CPUs!), 256 MB of RDRAM, a 7200 RPM 60 GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM and CD-RW (Micron doesn’t offer DVD-R, but you can get it third-party if you must have one), a fabulous Sound Blaster Live! card, a 64 MB nVidia GeForce 2 MX, and in keeping with Apple tradition, no monitor. I skipped the modem because Micron lets me do that. If you must have a modem and stay under budget, you can throttle back to dual 766 MHz CPUs and add a 56K modem for $79. The computer also includes Intel 10/100 Ethernet, Windows 2000, and Office 2000.

And you can have it next week, if not sooner.

I went back to try to configure a 1.2 GHz AMD Athlon-based system, and I couldn’t get it over $2500. So just figure you can get a machine with about the same specs, plus a 19-inch monitor and a bunch more memory.

Cut-throat competition in PC land means you get a whole lot more bang for your buck with a PC. And PC upgrades are cheap. A Mac upgrade typically costs $400. With PCs you can often just replace a CPU for one or two hundred bucks down the road. And switching out a motherboard is no ordeal–they’re pretty much standardized at this point, and PC motherboards are cheap. No matter what you want, you’re looking at $100-$150. Apple makes it really hard to get motherboard upgrades before the machines are obsolete.

It’s no surprise at all to me that the Mac OS is now the third most-common OS on the desktop (fourth if you count Windows 9x and Windows NT/2000 as separate platforms), behind Microsoft’s offerings and Linux. The hardware is more powerful (don’t talk to me about the Pentium 4–we all know it’s a dog, that’s why only one percent of us are buying it), if only by brute force, and it’s cheaper to buy and far cheaper to maintain.

Apple’s just gonna have to abandon the glitz and get their prices down. Or go back to multiple product lines–one glitzy line for people who like that kind of thing, and one back-to-basics line that uses standard ATX cases and costs $100 less off the top just because of it. Apple will never get its motherboard price down to Intel’s range, unless they can get Motorola to license the Alpha processor bus so they can use the same chipsets AMD uses. I seriously doubt they’ll do any of those things.

OS X will finally start to address the technical deficiencies, but an awful lot of Mac veterans aren’t happy with X.

Frankly, it’s going to take a lot to turn Apple around and make it the force it once was. I don’t think Steve Jobs has it in him, and I’m not sure the rest of the company does either, even if they were to get new leadership overnight. (There’s pressure to bring back the legendary Steve Wozniak, the mastermind behind the Apple II who made Apple great in the 1970s and 1980s.)

I don’t think they’ll turn around because I don’t think they care. They’ll probably always exist as a niche player, selling high-priced overdesigned machines to people who like that sort of thing, just as Jaguar exists as a niche player, selling high-priced swanky cars to people who like that sort of thing. And I think the company as a whole realizes that and is content with it. But Jaguar’s not an independent company anymore, nor is it a dominant force in the auto industry. I think the same fate is waiting for Apple.


My docs; Apple; Lost cd rom drive


~Mail follows today’s post~

And I got to see a copy of Shopper UK. Wow! The only British computer magazine I’d ever read regularly was Amiga Computing, years ago, and I remember sitting down with it along with my former art director and stealing ideas from it. Computer Shopper is every bit as well-designed. American computer magazines are just… sterile and boring.

A yearly subscription from the States costs as much as a new Athlon motherboard upgrade, but they’re tempting me.

Speaking of which, I’d best get back to that article.

Browser Wars, Episodes III and IV. In a surprise move, Opera Software released a free version of their lightweight Opera browser yesterday. Much like recent versions of Eudora, it will be advertising-supported, with a paid version without the ads.

Also, Neoplanet, the maker of browser overlays, announced a Mozilla-based browser to be released in late February. Neoplanet was one of the strongest thrid-party contributors to the Mozilla project and released a technology preview browser early on. (Neoplanet’s main product has always used the IE engine.)

This is good news, with IE showing signs of MS laziness and complacency and Netscape seemingly having lost its will to live. Neoplanet and Opera may be small and scrappy enough to give MS a run for its money, much as a smaller, nimbler, hungrier Netscape did six years ago.

When I checked, the Java-less version of Opera v5 had received more than 900,000 downloads. This looks promising.

My biggest objection to Opera 5, besides its lack of the great ctrl-Enter shortcut (and I don’t care what anyone else says, I happen to like keeping my hands on the keyboard when I’m using the Web–I’ve been doing it that way for six years and I’m as fast as anyone) , is that it doesn’t start rendering the page as quickly as Netscape, let alone IE. IE renders what it has, then adds the images. Netscape does this to a lesser degree. Opera waits until it has the majority of the site downloaded, unfortunately. Why can’t it take IE’s approach?

But there’s a lot to like too. A button to toggle image loading–there are three settings. One ignores images and uses ALT tags, one renders empty boxes the size of the images in their place, and the other loads all images. Want the best-possible speed online? Turn the images off, then toggle them on as-needed. The zoom feature is also very nice–and it scales the whole site, not just the text. The speed, once it’s downloaded all the images, is outstanding. The accuracy seems good–I tried it out by visiting each site on my portal and looking around, and it rendered all of them sensibly. And at 2 MB, any computer can afford to have a Web browser.

I’m reasonably pleased with it. I’m thinking a high B+, you know, 89 percent.

My time off has let me catch up on some reading. I read way too much Calvin and Hobbes (“You got mud all over the house! Look at you! AIEE–THE COUCH! WHAT’D YOU DO?! DID YOU WALK ACROSS THE COUCH?!”), but besides that, I read Rubert Lutz’s Guts, which reads like a manifesto but is loaded with great ideas and insights, and One More Time, a compilation of Mike Royko’s best columns that’s far, far too short. Even if all 7,000+ columns he published, plus the contents of his file cabinets when he died, and every news story he wrote for The Chicago Daily News before he became a full-time columnist, were made available, it still wouldn’t be enough for me.

I neglected to mention him in my interview, but the late, great Mike Royko probably influenced me as much as any other writer, with the possible exception of the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. I mentioned Dave Barry in that interview, and Dave Barry is one of the best newspaper columnists there ever was, but Royko was darn near as funny and generally had much more important things to say. There’s a stash of his stuff here  for those of you who’ve never had the privelige. (And some of it’s not in the book! Score! Another fix!)

When taking an editorial writing class as a senior in college, we each had to bring in the work of two columnists we felt was outstanding. We fought over who got to bring in Mike Royko columns. A few months later, he was dead. We’ve been looking for another ever since, but replacing him is like replacing Joe DiMaggio. You don’t.

I’ve created a “Best Of” page. It’s a little dubious. First, it lists the Top 50 entries. I have about 80 entries total. It’s a little like a band creating a Greatest Hits record after three regular records. Second, it’s based on page reads and not quality. Living, against insurmountable odds is marooned at #34, but it’s much better than “Thanks to a Glitch, We’re Now At Day Two,” the current #1. Third, it’s only stuff from this site and none of the previous content is included (kind of like a greatest hits collection that only includes stuff recorded on that particular label). Fourth, my hits count, and that’s the reason why the current #1 is there–I probably viewed that thing 120 times myself because I was making subtle changes to the design and then looking at them again.

But it’s surprising how the best stuff does have a tendency to rise to the top in spite of all this. I had to go back and re-title everything, since it mostly had the same title. Now I understand the value of titles in Manila. And hey, ‘Til Tuesday released two “Best Of” compilations, in spite of only recording three albums!

I’m hoping this’ll make the site a bit more useful.


From: Rodrigo Zamora
Subject: Re: Sound Blaster Value

I think I mistakenly called the OEM version the Value!.  I think you are right that the real Value! is no longer produced (although many of the online retailers call the OEM version the Value!) . There are a few minor differences, but as you say it is the same core.  I would bet the majority of people would not miss the few differences like digital cd input. Whether there is a significant difference in quality is probably more subjective than anything, but I have not actually compared them so I do not know for sure. Anyway, my point is that for the vast majority of computer users, the differences are not significant, unless of course they really do want the software.

I could have sworn that I saw a clone of the first Live!Drive earlier this year on the Hoon Tech site, but either my memory serves me wrong, or they do not make them anymore.  Perhaps they were forced to stop making them because I don’t see any other reason why a company could not make a clone of it, but I can’t seem to find any.  Sorry about that.

later, rz

I think you’re right about the Value vs. the OEM version.

Thanks for looking into the clones. Too bad they don’t seem to be available anymore.



~Mail follows today’s post~

I’d forgotten how many telemarketing phone calls you get during the day. Blimey or something! How are you supposed to get anything done?

I had a classmate who used to mess with them. “You want to sell me windows? My house doesn’t have any windows, you see, because it’s a cardboard box. Sure, you can get phone service to a cardboard box. You can get cable TV too. I thought about a mini-dish but I’m not so sure my walls could handle the weight.”

He really enjoyed the roofing people, because he could tell them, in all honesty, “I don’t have a roof.” Hey, when you live in an apartment building, if you’re not on the top floor, you don’t.

The guys over at Junkbusters have a different solution. Make ’em sweat. They’ve even got a script with questions to ask. Visit them at if you’re sick of the bother.

Print it out, then keep it by the phone. And when you pick up the phone and get that tell-tale delay, followed by an unfamiliar voice who mispronounces your name, pounce. “Is this a telemarketing call?” (That question weeds out the other annoying phone calls, like Chrysler and MCI Worldcom calling up because of billing problems–sorry, you’ve gotta deal with those on your own.) If the answer is yes, then keep going. ” Could you tell me your full name please? And a phone number, area code first?” And they’ve got 12 other questions, where those came from.

I’m vacationing in beautiful Mehlville, Mo. as I write. Before you get too excited, I live in Mehlville. (It’s a St. Louis suburb.) My boss’ boss e-mailed me a while back and said, “Go on vacation!” so I did. Gives me a chance to catch up around the place–there’s a lot I’ve been neglecting.

Plus it gives me a chance to work on that last article for Shopper UK.

I’ve been reading Guts, the business strategy book by former Chrysler #2 man Robert Lutz. Lutz was the driving force (or a major driving force) behind all of Chrysler’s bold experiments in the 1990s before Daimler-Benz swallowed them. Interesting reading for anyone interested in business or the auto industry, though I’d have liked to see more of a memoir from him. Lutz didn’t graduate high school until age 22. How do you go from graduating high school at 22 to No. 2 man at Forbes’ 1997 Company of the Year? No matter how successful you are, there are lessons to learn from this guy. Obviously there’s more to him than an MBA, a stint in the Marines, and an interest in cars, and I want to know what that is.

I’m guessing there’ll be more later. No idea when. I’ve got a really hairy question from an Optimizing Windows reader to figure out.


From: “Rodrigo Zamora” <>
Subject: Sound Blaster Value
From what I have read the SB Value is exactly the same thing as the more expensive models except that it does not include the daughter card which has extra connections.  And it obviously didn’t have the LiveDrive which only comes with the Platinum.  However, this is not an issue since you can purchase these devices as add-on upgrades either from Creative or clones from another company.

The newer Values came with a Digital output which the older versions did not have.  In fact, it appears that even the AC3 Dolby Digital feature supported in the newer 5.1 seems to be only a  software (driver) update.  In other words, it seems that ANY SB Live! can do AC3 support with the right driver.

By the way, where did you hear that the Values have been discontinued? Creative still sells them on their site.

Rodrigo Zamora


The Value is a slightly different card, see, and also The main difference seems to be the quality of jacks used; when doing voice recognition or recording, you’ll notice the difference. Chances are you’ll notice a difference in output quality as well, though I haven’t tried the two cards side-by-side myself to confirm. They do use the same chipset, and some of the Value cards seem to have digital output capability, while others don’t. (My Live! MP3+ makes even a cheap pair of desktop speakers sound really good; connected to a stereo it’s nothing short of awesome.)

I’m pretty sure that I read in the Dragon NaturallySpeaking forums that the Value was discontinued and replaced by the MP3+ and Gamer (the difference in those cards is the software bundle). And the Value, though listed on Creative’s site, is out of stock there. I did find the card over at priced at $47.

So for some uses, there’s little difference and the Value may be a way to save $40. But I will say the software that comes with the MP3+ is definitely worth the extra money if it’s at all useful to you.

I found a third-party daughtercard, at; any idea who makes the LiveDrive clone? Creative’s is pretty pricey; if the clone is less expensive, I’m sure there’s a huge market for it.



From: “Gary Mugford” <>

Subject: This and that


   I actually saw, on the shelf for the first time, your book at Chapters, Friday. Still full price. Bought it anyway as a Christmas present. Worked wonders for my tech guy’s appreciation of his software guy, if you know what I mean. I’m sure it’ll be appreciated by its intended recipient, too.

   Dirty333 crashed rather spectacularly last week. It’s been a week of getting Tookie up and running to take its place. (segue to explain the names: The machine was an Win95B AMD K6-333. There was a famous player in the Canadian Football League named Jim Young, nicknamed Dirty 33.  I’m a lapsed jock journalist. Tookie’s a Win2K machine born in 2000). I lost a day’s worth of work to the crash and four days re-installing everything and getting the settings just so. All in all, I’m happy about the move, save for the switch over to a modern Logitech keyboard from the old 84-key keyboards that I’ve used since forever. Just why the hell is that damned capslock key STILL being put there long after the alternative for emphasis became font and style changes, rather than capping? Not to start a holy war, however.

   On the other hand, as a disinterested third party, I still have some reservations about the American election just past. I have no quarrel with the basic concept that a lot of people voted for an agenda they prefer. I do have a problem with some people who voted AGAINST one candidate or the other, as that’s an incredibly stupid way to cut your nose off. Better to waste the ballot, then to do that (I’ve probably wasted half the ballots I’ve ever cast, because nobody earned my vote. And to make it obvious, I would mark off EVERY box). But it seems a lot of people voted against Gore. And I think that had a part to play in the Bush victory.

   We don’t directly vote for Prime Minister in Canada. So, I’m never put to the task of deciding I like my local guy and hate his leader, or vice-versa. I’ve got no choice. And so, apparently, did you [G]. One’s supposed to be a ding-dong (my one meeting was pleasant, brief and non-opinion-forming) and the other was so stupid, he blew an easy victory by wanting to be his own man. One’s supposed to be a leader, but has never been anything more than a figurehead, except when he was losing money looking for oil in Texas, while the other was a very active partner in running the country (and the back room). The nitwit Nader was right in one respect, both of them were the same guy with slightly different accents.

   The difference was in the political apparatus behind them. That’s all. Bush will be a one-term president, as his father was. And the family failure to not keep promises will be his undoing. That it was the gridlock in Washington that will have forced him into recanting, will be forgotten in ’04. Gore will also go the way of the Quayle and nibble away at the fringes. Whether Gephardt or Kerry or whoever runs, they will beat Bush. They will be repeating the winning mantra of the ’90s, “It’s the economy, stupid!” And the American populace, longing for the good old ’90s will march to the polls and reverse the error of 2000.

   As far as Florida is concerned, it’s hard to see how either side can pretend to the moral high ground. The Democrats actually put in WRITING how to deny overseas ballots. And Gore’s supposed to be the bright one, right? But that was balanced by the Republicans delaying legal recounts, going to court first, arranging for out-of-town ‘ordinary folk’ to show up repeatedly to exercise their fully-paid for First Amendment rights and they repeatedly made mistakes over-reaching whatever was in their grasp at the moment.  The election day-after cabinet posing was designed to fool the umpire, but there was no umpire. The citing of Nixon’s consession to Kennedy despite Daley’s dad’s malfeasance in Illinois overlooked the fact the state’s electoral votes didn’t affect the outcome one way or the other. Calling the hand count tabulators all kinds of names, including suggesting illegalities when monitors from both sides were there, was assinine. Arguing against standards for assessing a questionable vote that were no less forgiving than that of the Texas law signed by Bush was the equivalent of Gore’s absentee ballot crushing screwup. But the rallying cry in ’02 will be the Republican refusal to recount the whole state and after-the-fact attempt to squash the recounts that DID take place.

   Even I could run that PR campaign. “Make it clear to the Republicans, your vote DOES count… this time!”

   So, on behalf of all Canadians, we say to you Americans, “Thanks for the entertainment! [G]”

   Regards, Gary

Thanks for the purchase! I’ve yet to see the book in a store myself. Of course it won’t sell if people can’t find it… O’Reilly needs to get it into stores before they have any right to complain about its lack of sales. Sandy McMurray’s review and the subsequent run on the book up north should have said something, I would think.

You just gave me an idea on machine names, and how to remember their IP addresses. This computer’s name is George Brett, and it’s; this one’s Mike Sweeney at Problem is, I don’t know that there are five Royals whose uniform numbers I remember quickly, and do I really want to name my gateway after Buddy Biancalana or Rey Sanchez? But I’ll definitely name the Packard Bell I deny owning (I didn’t buy it new!) after Johnny Damon since he’s being the biggest putz since Jose Offerman. He deserves to have a piece-o’-junk computer named after him.

As for intelligence in U.S. politics, Gore’s supposedly the brighter one, but I remember seeing a video clip where he and the esteemed Mr. Clinton were touring Monticello, and Gore pointed to a picture on a wall and asked, “Who’s that?” The tour guide replied, “Well, that’s George Washington…”

I’ve never met a flunkie who didn’t recognize Washington (his face is all over the place, after all, including the one-dollar bill and the quarter, so you can’t spend money without seeing him occasionally), let alone any intelligent person who’s been in the United States more than a week.

General consensus is that Dan Quayle is smarter than both of them.


From: “James Cooley” <>
Subject: Yer Mom’s Great!


Ah, your mom is great! Has Jerry Pournelle seen this? Would make a splendid addition to his stumping against ADD in the classroom.

As a computer repair guy myself I have a motto to share: “Focus on the solution, not the problem.” Regards,



I’m sure there’s not much room on Jerry Pournelle’s reading list for my site. Of course, with psych being one of his PhDs, he’s certainly qualified to talk on the subject.

Hasn’t Jerry said before that he probably would have been diagnosed as ADD in his youth, and in reality his “problem” was that he was better-read than a lot of his teachers and was just plain bored and unchallenged? (I’m doubly fortunate in that regard; I’m not as bright as Jerry and my teachers always bent the rules and let me work above my grade level to make sure I was adequately challenged.)

Good motto, especially if you remember that the easiest solution often involves cable connections and system logs.


From: “Michal Kaznowski” <> Subject: DPMI error while zipping windows

Hello David,

If you have the time, might you be able to point me to the easiest solution of a problem I have been having when using info-zip to zip a windows installation.

I get:

load Error no DPMI – Get csdpmi*

I am aware that Protected mode is required, but what is the easiest way of obtaining this.  I am mostly using 98SE (And Slackware 7.0 and SuSE) to install for friends, family and some that pay(!) and would prepare boot disc just to be able to run zip and unzip on the backup as described on page 201/2 of your guide to life and computers.

Your book is a raving success with my friends (what few I have as I like computers) and numerous copies have been purchased.  We are all looking forward to your definitive guide on a version of Linux so that we can all use it without the pain we have at present

-Best regards, Michal                         


Try downloading Put the executable files from this archive into the same directory as your Info-Zip executables. Let me know ASAP if that doesn’t fix it. (This is as painful as some Linux programs’ installations!)

Thanks for your encouraging words on Optimizing Windows. Unfortunately, O’Reilly cancelled the Linux book, so for now I’m just writing Windows optimization articles for Computer Shopper UK and taking a few months off from book writing while I decide what to do next.



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