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.

Building a dual-boot W2K/Mandrake 8 box

We descended on Steve DeLassus’ place yesterday afternoon for a hair-pulling configuration adventure. Steve introduced me to two Linux gurus he knows from work, Adam and Jamin.
Steve told me once that there’s a story with Jamin’s name, but I didn’t think to ask Jamon for his version. No surprise; we had battles to fight and eventually win.

Adam’s big story is his degree. He put in his five years and completed all of his coursework, only to find that it’s necessary to file an intent to graduate. I seem to remember that where I went to school, signing up for the required classes and then showing up served as ample intent to graduate, but maybe my school wasn’t that enlightened. So, since Adam didn’t find out until it was too late that he had to file a piece of paper before he could get that piece of paper that tells people you know something, he’s enrolled in summer school, taking zero credit hours. But he filed his piece of paper, so another more expensive piece of paper should be coming his way soon.

I gave Steve’s new FIC AZ11-based Duron PC a once-over in the BIOS. I disabled all the ROM shadowing and ROM caching, since neither Windows nor Linux make use of it, and why waste cache bandwidth–even just a little bit of it–on something you’ll never use? Then I put in some more aggressive memory timings–CAS 2, turbo, FSB+33 MHz (since this is PC133 memory on a Duron).

Then, since this is a dual-boot system, we installed Windows 2000. While Steve wasn’t looking, it asked for locale settings. I decided to be nice–I could have set it to Hebrew, Arabic, or all kinds of goofy stuff. I set it to Zimbabwe English. I didn’t specify a timezone, so for whatever reason, it defaulted to Tijuana.

Steve saw it later because Windows put a locale icon in the toolbar. He hovered over it and it said “Zimbabwe English.” He said something, with some new word I’d never heard before that starts with “f,” and it appeared to be every part of speech in the sentence. I’ll have to ask him sometime what that means.

With Windows installed and properly configured for use in English-speaking Zimbabwe, we turned to Mandrake 8. All went well until the time came to configure LILO. The defaults would have worked but they seemed wrong, so we changed them. The machine booted into Windows. We booted off the Mandrake 8 CD and chose recovery mode. We spent half an hour dinking around and not really getting anywhere. So Steve and I made a boot disk with his other Mandrake box (the mkbootdisk command is your friend). Adam was adamant that we didn’t need that. We’d fixed the textfile that needed fixing (/etc/lilo.conf) but running LILO to activate it was the problem–we couldn’t mount the drive at /. Finally Adam or Jamin stumbled on the -r switch for LILO, which fixed the problem.

Bringing the Duron forward

And my Duron is alive. Right now it’s an all-SCSI system, with a Plextor UltraPlex 40max and a 4.3 GB Seagate Medalist SCSI HD. It smokes. Any time I can turn on Show Window Contents While Dragging and play back full-motion video in Media Player while violently moving the window around the screen and the playback remains smooth, I’m impressed.
The floppy drives don’t work right because I somehow managed to mangle the cable, but I’ll replace it. One of these days. I’ve got a few spare floppy cables hanging around somewhere.

It’s running Windows 2000. I wanted a fast, reliable office suite, so I installed Office 95. Yes, five. It’s nice, stays out of my way, loads really fast, doesn’t crash much, and has some semblence of an idea of distinction between an OS and an application.

I dual-booted it with Mandrake 7.2 (I haven’t downloaded 8 yet). It’s nice. It’s quick. I made this post from Konqueror under Mandrake 7.2.

My Duron: It’s alive! It’s alive!

Solving the boot problem. I don’t know how I managed to forget this stuff. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
I used an external SCSI hard drive to build up this system so I could get up and running without touching my old hard drives. I’ll want to juggle my data a bit. Of course it’s a lot more elegant to keep everything on a server drive. I never said I did everything right in this project. Actually I don’t think I said I did anything right in this project.

Well, the SCSI drive wouldn’t boot, no matter what I did. I even swapped out controllers. At one point I started wondering about termination. The drive worked, it just wouldn’t boot. So I recabled everything, making sure I had a terminator block installed, and using cables and terminators that I knew worked.

Rule #1: When a system acts goofy and there’s SCSI involved, always suspect cables and termination first.

That didn’t fix the problem, so I gave up on SCSI for a while. I tried several different hard drives in my new system. I’ve got a collection of smallish drives, most of which have some old DOS installed. None would boot. I disabled boot sector virus protection in the BIOS, and then one of the drives finally booted.

Rule #2: When building a system, find the boot sector virus protection option in your BIOS and disable it. If you want that feature, re-enable it after you get your OS installed. Just about every OS diddles with the boot sector during installation, which will make your BIOS very upset. Evidently, changing hard drives midstream can make your BIOS upset as well.

So then I put another drive in, one whose contents I totally didn’t care about. It wouldn’t boot. Finally I came to my senses and ran FDISK. It immediately gave me a warning: No partitions are set active. So that’s why endless SYSing wouldn’t make that drive boot, even after disabling the boot sector virus paranoia!

Rule #3: Whenever a disk acts funny, immediately run FDISK or Partition Magic or some other disk partitioning utility and look for goofy stuff, like no active partition set.

Then I took a look at my external SCSI drive. I’d forgotten I formatted that drive as one big extended drive–it didn’t have a primary partition. That’s why it wouldn’t boot. That’s a sneaky trick for adding a drive to an existing system without throwing off other drive letters, but then of course the drive won’t boot or anything. That kind of setup is great for portable data storage, but it makes the drive unbootable.

Rule #4: See rule #3.

Rule #5: Usually when you do something goofy to a seldom-used component, you have a perfectly good reason for doing it but you’ll forget what you did and why by the time you need to use it again. Write yourself notes and put them on oddly-configured hardware so you don’t rip your hair out the next time you try to use it.

Oh yeah, one more thing: This Duron-750 with 256 MB and an ancient SCSI hard drive (I think it’s a 4500 RPM model) running Windows 2000 really smokes. It boots in about a minute and everything’s silky smooth. Literally the only thing that keeps me from ordering a 10,000 RPM SCSI drive for it this second is noise.

Classes are for appeasing middle management.

Argh.. Classes. Well, my first day of Windows 2000 school is over. All we did was talk about how MS assimilated certain features from other products (NDS, Win98) into Windows 2000. The longest time we spent on any single topic was TCP/IP. Now granted I’m not an expert on TCP/IP, but I know more than most, and all I need to do my job (and hobby). That which I don’t need to know off the top of my head I can find in 15 minutes or less. I did pick up a couple of tricks I’d forgotten about, but memory’s a funny thing. Frequently a problem will trigger the memory.
I kinda feel bad for wasting my employer’s money on this thing. But I want to move up, so I do what I have to do.

Windows and Outlook

Outta here. I’m off to a Windows 2000 class in Kansas City later today. Class actually starts Monday, but I’m making an extended weekend out of it, leaving this afternoon, and coming back sometime on Tuesday.
No e-mail while I’m gone, but I’ll have Web access of course, so if you’ve got something to ask me, go ahead and use the comments here or the forum. I won’t be able to read mail until Wednesday.

Windows and Outlook. An old friend wrote in this week. She was implementing some of the advice in the first chapter of Optimizing Windows, and she got to the place where I said to uninstall anything you don’t use. So, logically, she said to herself, “I don’t use Outlook Express since I have Outlook,” so she uninstalled Outlook Express.

Then her contacts list stopped working.

If you use Outlook, you use Outlook Express because Outlook uses code from Outlook Express (and Internet Explorer) extensively. It makes no sense, and you’d think Windows would leave the DLLs from Outlook Express that Outlook needs when you uninstall Outlook Express, but evidently it’s not that smart. A shame, but typical.

More Like This: Optimizing Windows Windows Outlook

Craig Mundie’s infamous speech

I haven’t said anything about Microsoft Executive Craig Mundie’s speech yet. Everyone’s heard of it, of course, and the typical response has been something along the lines of “Now we know Microsoft’s stance on Open Source.”

No, we’ve always known Microsoft’s stance on that. They’re scared of it. Remember the stereotype of open-source programmers: college students and college dropouts writing software in their basements that a lot of people are using, with the goal of toppling an industry giant. Seem far-fetched? Friends, that’s the story of Microsoft itself. Microsoft became an underground sensation in the late 1970s with Microsoft Basic, a programming language for the Altair and other kit computers and later for CP/M. And while we’ll probably never know the entire story of how and why this happened, when IBM decided to outsource the operating system for the IBM PC, they went to Microsoft and got both an OS and the must-have Microsoft Basic. Ten years later, IBM was just another hardware maker–really big, but getting squeezed. Today, 20 years later, IBM’s still a huge force in the computing industry, but in the PC industry, aside from selling ThinkPads, IBM’s a nobody. There may be hardware enthusiasts out there who’d be surprised to hear IBM makes and sells more than just hard drives.

Ironically, Microsoft’s response to this new threat is to act more and more like the giant it toppled. Shared Source isn’t a new idea. IBM was doing that in the 1960s. If you were big enough, you could see the source code. DEC did it too. At work, we have the source code to most of the big VMS applications we depend on day-to-day. Most big operations insist on having that kind of access, so their programmers can add features and fix bugs quickly. If Windows 2000 is ever going to get beyond the small server space, they really have no choice. But they do it with strings attached and without going far enough. An operation the size of the one I work for can’t get the source and fix bugs or optimize the code for a particular application. You’re only permitted to use the source code to help you develop drivers or applications. Meet the new Microsoft: same as the old Microsoft.

Some people have read this speech and concluded that Microsoft believes open-source software killed the dot-com boom. That’s ludicrous, and I don’t see that in the text. OSS was very good for the dot-com boom. OSS lowered the cost of entry: Operating systems such as FreeBSD and Linux ran on cheap PCs, rather than proprietary hardware. The OSs themselves were free, and there was lots of great free software available, such as the Apache Web server, and scripting languages like Python and Perl. You could do all this cool stuff, the same cool stuff you could do with a Sun or SGI server, for the price of a PC. And not only was it cheaper than everybody else, it was also really reliable.

The way I read it, Microsoft didn’t blame OSS for the dot-com bust. Microsoft blamed the advertising model, valuing market share over revenue, and giving stuff away now and then trying to get people to pay later.

I agree. The dot-com boom died because companies couldn’t find ways to make money. But I’m not convinced the dot-com boom was a big mistake. It put the Internet on the map. Before 1995, when the first banner ad ran, there wasn’t much to the Internet. I remember those early days. As a college student in 1993, the Internet was a bonanza to me, even though I wasn’t using it to the extent a lot of my peers were. For me, the Internet was FTP and Gopher and e-mail. I mostly ignored Usenet and IRC. That was pretty much the extent of the Internet. You had to be really determined or really bored or really geeky to get much of anything out of it. The World Wide Web existed, but that was a great mystery to most of us. The SGI workstations on campus had Web browsers. We knew that Mosaic had been ported to Windows, but no one in the crowd I ran in knew how to get it working. When we finally got it running on some of our PCs in 1994, what we found was mostly personal homepages. “Hi, my name is Darren and this is my homepage. Here are some pictures of my cat. Here’s a listing of all the CDs I own. Here are links to all my friends who have homepages.” The running joke then was that there were only 12 pages on the Web, and the main attraction of the 12 was links to the other 11.

By 1995, we had the first signs of business. Banner ads appeared, and graduating students (or dropouts) started trying to build companies around their ideas. The big attraction of the Web was that there was all this information out there, and it was mostly free. Online newspapers and magazines sprung up. Then vendors sprung up, offering huge selections and low prices. You could go to and find any book in print, and you’d pay less for it than you would at Barnes & Noble. did the same thing for music. And their ads supported places that were giving information away. So people started buying computers so they could be part of the show. People flocked from closed services like CompuServe and Prodigy to plain-old Internet, which offered so much more and was cheaper.

Now the party’s ending as dot-coms close up shop, often with their content gone forever. To me, that’s a loss only slightly greater than the loss of the Great Library. There’s some comfort for me: Five years from now, most of that information would be obsolete anyway. But its historical value would remain. But setting sentiment aside, that bonanza of freebies was absolutely necessary. When I was selling computers in 1994, people frequently asked me what a computer was good for. In 1995, it was an easier sell. Some still asked that question, but a lot of people came in wanting “whatever I need to get to be able to get on the Internet.” Our best-selling software package, besides Myst, was Internet In A Box, which bundled dialup software, a Web browser, and access to some nationwide provider. I imagine sales were easier still in 1996 and beyond, but I was out of retail by then. Suddenly, you could buy this $2,000 computer and get all this stuff for free. A lot of companies made a lot of money off that business model. Microsoft made a killing. Dell and Gateway became behemoths. Compaq made enough to buy DEC. AOL made enough to buy Time Warner. Companies like Oracle and Cisco, who sold infrastructure, had licenses to print money. Now the party’s mostly over and these companies have massive hangovers, but what’s the answer to the Ronald Reagan question? Hangover or no hangover, yes, they’re a whole heck of a lot better off than they were four years ago.

I’m shocked that Microsoft thinks the dot-com phenomenon was a bad thing.

If, in 1995, the Web came into its own but every site had been subscription-based, this stuff wouldn’t have happened. It was hard enough to swallow $2,000 for a new PC, plus 20 bucks a month for Internet. Now I have to pay $9.95 a month to read a magazine? I could just subscribe to the paper edition and save $2,500!

The new Internet would have been the same as the old Internet, only you’d have to be more than just bored, determined, and geeky to make it happen. You’d also have to have a pretty big pile of cash.

The dot-com boom put the Internet on the map, made it the hot ticket. The dot-com bust hurt. Now that sites are dropping out of the sky or at least scaling operations way back, more than half of the Web sites I read regularly are Weblogs–today’s new and improved personal home page. People just like me. The biggest difference between 1994 and 2001? The personal home pages are better. Yeah, the pictures of the cat are still there sometimes, but at least there’s wit and wisdom and insight added. When I click on those links to the left, I usually learn something.

But there is another difference. Now we know why it would make sense to pay for a magazine on the Internet instead of paper. Information that takes a month to make it into print goes online in minutes. It’s much easier and faster to type a word into a search engine than to leaf through a magazine. We can hear any baseball game we want, whether a local radio station carries our favorite team or not. The world’s a lot smaller and faster now, and we’ve found we like it.

The pump is primed. Now we have to figure out how to make this profitable. The free ride is pretty much over. But now that we’ve seen what’s possible, we’re willing to start thinking about whipping out the credit cards again and signing up, provided the cost isn’t outrageous.

The only thing in Mundie’s speech that I can see that Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox and Dan Gillmor should take offense to is Microsoft’s suspicion of anyone giving something away for free. Sure, Microsoft gives lots of stuff away, but always with ulterior motives. Internet Explorer is free because Microsoft was afraid of Netscape. Outlook 98 was free for a while to hurt Lotus Notes. Microsoft Money was free for a while so Microsoft could get some share from Quicken. It stopped being free when Microsoft signed a deal with Intuit to bundle Internet Explorer with Quicken instead of Netscape. And there are other examples.

Microsoft knows that you can give stuff away with strings attached and make money off the residuals. What Microsoft hasn’t learned is that you can give stuff away without the strings attached and still make money off the residuals. The dot-com bust only proves that you can’t necessarily make as much as you may have thought, and that you’d better spend what you do make very wisely.

The Internet needs to be remade, yes, and it needs to find some sustainable business models (one size doesn’t fit all). But if Mundie thinks the world is chomping at the bit to have Microsoft remake the Internet their way, he’s in for a rude awakening.

More Like This: Microsoft Linux Weblogs Internet Commentary

A CD burning linkfest

Yes, another shovelware day for me, where I mostly share links and a few comments on them. Fortunately I found some good stuff.

Multiboot CDs. Did you know you can make bootable CD-ROMs hold more than one floppy image? I can think of a couple of different uses for this capability. A developer might want a boot CD containing MS-DOS 4, 5, 6, 6.1, 6.2, 6.22, 7.0, 7.1, and 8.0 as well as various versions of PC-DOS and DR-DOS for testing purposes. (And speaking of DOS, I found an outstanding repository of more than 600 DOS must-have freeware utilities this weekend. If you don’t fear the command line, get thee over there now. Even if you do fear the command line, there’s stuff over there that’ll probably interest you from the day when a utility that took 1 MB was considered large, most of which still runs under Windows and some of which still has no good Windows-based equivalent.)

Someone who does desktop support would probably love to have a CD containing an image of an NT boot floppy and a DOS boot floppy containing CD-ROM drivers, network drivers, and an NTFS driver for disaster recovery purposes. And why not include an image of the PC’s OS and a utility for restoring the image on the space left over on the CD?

Maybe all that is useless to you, you just wish you could make a boot CD that worked with a variety of SCSI and IDE drives? That’s possible too.

And what if I told you all the software you need to do this is either already on your PC, or free for the asking? Yeah, I was happy to hear that too!

The witchcraft necessary to create such beasts is over at Bart Lagerweij’s place at .

And an NT4 install CD with a timeout. And here’s some interesting stuff. The Windows 2000 CD gives you the option to boot from HD or CD when you boot off it, defaulting to HD, with a timeout. This is great for those times when you accidentally leave the CD in the drive and reboot–you won’t run Windows 2000 setup by mistake. NT4 doesn’t do that. What if you could burn an NT4 CD that does that? You can!

And if you’re tired of installing service packs manually after installing Windows 2000, you can use Windows 2000’s slipstream feature to patch a copy of the Windows 2000 CD sitting on a hard drive, then burn a Windows 2000 CD from that. End result: The time it takes to build a new Windows 2000 system from scratch decreases by a few minutes and requires less user intervention.

You can find those tricks at .

And bringing back CDs from the dead. Sometimes. And what about CDs that won’t read? Enter a freeware utility called IsoBuster, which you can find at .


Virus. I don’t normally give virus alerts because chances are you already know about anything legit before you get around to reading me, but if you get an e-mail attachment named “nakedwife.exe,” don’t run it. It won’t destroy your hard drive and your neighbor’s hard drive and cause your toaster to blow up and your car not to start; it’ll just delete a bunch of files in your Windows hierarchy, which will probably affect system stability greatly, and it’ll e-mail itself to everyone in your Outlook address book (how nice of it).

I’ ll talk more on this tomorrow. Count on it.

Benchmarks. Jerry Pournelle lamented Wintach’s passing this week in his Byte column, and he presented some benchmarks: a Celeron, a P3, and a P4. The Celeron and P4 results were very clearly ludicrous. WinTach, like most benchmarks, gives results that mean absolutely nothing but they may make you feel good about spending money on a new PC.

But most benchmarks are purely synthetic. They tell you what your CPU and memory subsystem are capable of, but the memory load, underlying filesystem and fragmentation level of the drive, all of which dramatically affect performance, don’t play into it. They’re not a very useful tool, WinTach included.

I talked very little about benchmarking in Optimizing Windows for just that reason.

That may be about to change. I’ve seen a few references to CSA Research lately, partly because of their falling out with Intel (their benchmark shows just how little improvement the P4 gives, which Intel didn’t like–and they were working for Intel at the time), but partly because it takes a new approach. The apps installled on your system actually get some use. So suddenly the software aspect of your system comes into play, and the numbers it mean something. Revolutionary thought, that. And, unlike other benchmarks, this one gives a meaningful idea of what dual processors do for you.

The only drawback is that the benchmark only runs on Windows 2000, at least for the time being.

Check it out at .

Keep an eye on this. We might actually, for the first time in over a decade, get some benchmarks that actually mean something.

Mail. I’ve got some good mail, hopefully I’ll get to it tonight. No promises though, I’ve got to put together a Bible study for this week (and come up with something to say for tomorrow). I normally spend 3-4 days writing a Bible study, and I haven’t even started yet. Hopefully this one will be quicker to put together, since I’m using more sources than I did last time. Last time was my Bible and my insights, period. No need for much else, it was a character study, like you’d do with any piece of literature. Heavier topic this time around, so I’m tapping some other people’s brains.


Dual CPU blues. I’ve had my dual Celeron-500 apart for a while, for reasons that escape me, and over the weekend I finally got around to putting it back together. At one time this would have seemed an impressive system–Aureal Vortex 2 audio, TNT2 video, dual 500 MHz CPUs (which I’m actually running at around 510 MHz because I bumped the FSB speed up to 68 MHz, within the tolerance levels of most modern peripherals), and 320 MB RAM. But let me tell you–it’s a lot faster than it sounds. The 733-MHz Pentium IIIs at work used to make me jealous. No longer. I’ll put my dualie 500 up against them any day of the week.

Just out of curiosity, I tried my CPU stress test from last week on it. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get CPU usage up to 100 percent. I’d top out at about 96 percent. I’m not sure if that’s because of the dual CPUs or because I’m running Windows 2000 on it instead of NT4. I’m sure a complex Photoshop filter could max both chips out, but that’s not what I do. I fired up Railroad Tycoon II, and it was unbelievable. CPU usage hovered around 60 percent and it was smooth as silk, even with the more system-intensive scenarios from the Second Century add-on pack.

Unfortunately, the golden age of inexpensive multiprocessing is over, at least for now. Current Celerons won’t do SMP. I understand why–Intel doesn’t want you to buy two cheap CPUs instead of one expensive one. Like I said, I’ll take my dual 500s over a P3-733 any day of the week. A P3-733 costs about $200. My 500s were 40 bucks a pop. So, unfortunately, to get dual processing these days, you have to get a pair of P3s, which will start at about $140 apiece for a P3-667. The least expensive SMP board I know of is the VIA-based Abit VP6, which sells for about $140. So you’re looking at about $450 to get into dual CPUs by the time you get the board, CPUs and fans. That’s not an outrageous deal, but seeing as an Abit BP6 and a pair of Celerons with fans used to set you back about $350, it’s a shame.

If AMD can ever work through the problems they’re having with the AMD 760MP chipset, it’ll help a little but not as much as you may think. The AMD-based boards will be expensive–expect them to start at $200 or possibly even $250– because they use a different bus that requires a lot more pins and a lot more added expense. So while you’ll be able to multiprocess with $60 CPUs again, you’re looking at higher up-front cost. The least expensive dual-Duron rig will only cost about $50 less than the least expensive dual-P3 rig. But the dual-Duron rig stands a decent chance of outrunning the dual-P3, because the clockspeed will be higher, and the CPUs each get their own path to all the relevant buses.

And I’ve reached a new low. Last night I had a craving for a burger. So I did what any self-respecting part-time vegetarian who didn’t know any better would do: I went on a quest to find soyburgers. My friend Jeanne, who says I stole the idea of giving up meat for Lent from her (and maybe subconsciously I did) warned me they won’t taste like meat. And I’m pretty sure my dad–whose idea of four servings of vegetables a day was the pickles and ketchup on two hamburgers, beef of course–was rolling his eyes at me from Upstairs (If God has a sense of humor, which wouldn’t surprise me, He opened the portal so Dad could get a good look at the look on my face after the first bite).

And? Well, I guess soyburgers aren’t too much of an atrocity. Better than McDonald’s? Well, yeah, but then again so’s the cherry-flavored flouride treatment at the dentist’s office. They’re somewhere between beef and imitation bacon bits in both smell and taste. You definitely want to put other stuff on it to distract you–I got some good pickles, some good mustard, and ketchup, and wished I’d gone further. Hmm. Lettuce and tomato, no question. And I’m wondering if alfalfa sprouts would be good on a burger? I’m also wondering where you buy alfalfa sprouts. Oh, and get REALLY good rolls.

I can probably develop a taste for them, but it will definitely be an acquired taste. There was a time, back before I realized I wanted to live past age 27, when I could eat real hamburgers two meals a day for weeks at a time and be perfectly happy–and jokingly wondering why I didn’t eat them for breakfast too. That won’t happen with the soyburgers. I think what’s left of my package of four should get me through Lent.

Oh yeah. They aren’t as good as the real thing and they cost a lot more. What’s up with that? I thought stuff that was lower on the food chain was supposed to be cheaper. I guess that’s only when it’s not being marketed to SUV liberals. (Psst. Marketing tip: SUV liberals like unbleached paperboard. The paperboard that went into my packaging is definitely bleached. And lose the plastic wrap on the burgers. SUV liberals hate that. Good move on putting two burgers per plastic bag though–you’re at least thinking a little. But you gotta go all the way. That’s why they put two “Be Kind to Mother Earth” bumper stickers–printed on unbleached material, of course–on their Ford Excursions.)

I think I’ll be eating a lot of mushroom ravioli for the next few weeks, if I can ever find someplace that sells it again. You’d think in St. Louis, of all places–where there are almost as many good Italian restaurants as there are stop signs–you’d be able to find mushroom ravioli. I guess true blue St. Louisans like beef.