Saturday, April 17, 2010

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Win7 and Blue Ray - is it free?

I been busy - now have an i7 core system up with Win7 Home Premium 64-bit. My 3D rendering with Poser 8 likes the larger memory.

To answer a question I didn't find answered directly: while Win7 'Media Center' now plays DVD for 'free', it does not play Blue Ray.  I always found that annoying in Win Xp Media Center 2002 - you needed to pay someone $20 to play DVD, and if I understand it correctly, the 'theory' is that the fine people creating the DVD encryption/encoding demand a 50-cent per copy royalty.  So your $20 is a $19.50 mark-up.

So now Win7 (somehow) lets one play DVD without buying a third-party addon.  But not so for Blue Ray - trying to run a Blue Ray disk causes a 'cannot play with any installed app' error.

Why Blue Ray?  Well, the internal BD-ROM/drives are now down to $50+ and i needed a new drive.   Just be aware - some of the lower cost drives don't come with software which plays Blue Ray (aka: you get a 'legal' DVD software suite which needs an 'upgrade' to play Blue Ray).

I bought the low-end LG model from, in part because the lower cost LiteOn had lots of customer warnings that the included tool didn't play Blue Ray (seems rather counter-intuitive, but money is money I guess).

So now I have a NVIDIA GT-240 with HMDI/HDCP to an Asus 22-inch 1080p display.  Works great, but on such a small display one doesn't really 'feel' a huge difference between normal DVD and HD.  of course on a 60+inch HD TV I bet it's more meaningful.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Firefox 3.5 Embarrassments

(This entry is 'dated' and will become irrelevant some day - at the moment " Vista + FireFox 3.5 + Karpersky " is an incompatible combination)

Well, I had to stop using Firefox after it upgraded itself to 3.5 – but switching to Opera has started to grow on me. (  Opera seems very light and agile after using either FireFox or IE, and while it doesn't work well on heavy ASP business sites, but I can use IE for those anyway.

Although the issue has (perhaps) been solved for others, it hasn't helped me yet so I put this web page up to help others discover the secrets which a month of casual web searches didn't find for me.

Half the time when I start FireFox, it hangs using 100% of one of my four cores. Then I must open the Windows Task Manager and manually kill FireFox off.  Whenever FireFox does succeed in running again, I get that "this is embarrassing" error display which so many FireFox apologists are in love with.

Worse, I have FireFox set to open a BLANK page when it starts, so this "embarrassing" message about failing to reopen pages I don't want to see is beyond annoying. Again, the FireFox apologists say isn't it wonderful that a potentially harmful web page which crashed FireFox is the very first thing FireFox tries to open after restarting. If this crazy behavior was a user-option which I could enable or disable then I won't mind, but I am forced to accept this asinine default which over-rides my explicit request to always start FireFox with a blank page!

The issue is (I guess) solved for others, but not me. mentions there is an issue with FireFox and Karpersky.

My company forces me to use Vista Business, plus Karpersky Internet Security 2009 – and some feature within ( Vista + FireFox 3.5 + Karpersky) clashes. Suggestions to “update Karpersky” don't help me because corporate “Security Policy” locks me out of doing anything with it. “They” (meaning IT) push down updates daily, but I have no idea when they'll risk the firmware update which works with FireFox given the strain Vista + Karpersky + MS Office 2007 + VPN causes on most of the notebooks around here.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Interesting twist to Win7

I have 2 systems with Win7- one I have been running full time, while the second is dual boot with Xp SP3.

The one running full time is "normal" and happy, while the one which dual boots has not run Win7 for a few weeks, and now it has a nifty little "your Windows is not genuine" warning complete with popups claiming I might be a victim of counterfeiters. Both were installed and validated with Microsoft supplied activation codes.

I suppose since it has NOT been running, Microsoft can't really tell if it is a old install or a ghost/image of one. Anyway, the Win7 should come out in Oct 2009.

Another minor annoyance - I have Qwest DSL and they provide a security suite, but it won't run on Win7 yet. I put a free Win7 version, but it prevents OpenOffice 3.1 from starting. So I have to disable the 'on access' checking to use Open Office.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Win7 RC

As any good geek, I have been playing with Win7 RC. It went surprising well - after a few instabilities which might have been due to an old NVIDIA 7100GS card. I doubt that was a very popular model, so upgraded to a nice ATI card with HDMI (with audio) output. I've also ordered the released Win7 to be shipped in Oct 2009.

I hope to use it as a Media PC (things like NetFlix, Boxee etc) and have the Win Media Center TV running fine with both analog (from basic cable) and digital channels active. It also runs OpenOffice for document editing.

I also have file-sharing active, with XP computers able to access the 1TB drive in the Win7 system. The file sharing was surprisingly easy to setup - its not the new Win7-only "HomeGroup" stuff, just older XP xompatible file sharing.

The system is Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 with 4GB RAM, ATI Radeon HD 4650 with HDMI/HD audio to Asus 24-inch at 1920 x 1080 LCD. WD 1TB drive. Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 (dual TV tuner)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hard Drives Galore

I went to my 30-year high-school reunion last night - and I was reminded of this blog by several people who had read it recently, soundly declaring me a true geek due to my "perspective" on hardware. Hmmm ... good or bad? Well, at least I am still employed with a job paying me far too much to quit.

The subject of computer hard disk came up, as someone joking said that he felt clever just being able to add a second hard drive ... and I thought perhaps it appropriate to add my opinions on the subject here (as I wait for Win7 RC to load on an old system).

First, I'd suggest that one not "add" a second hard drive - it only wastes power (as in your cash & added green-house gases) plus it makes your life more confusing. Chances are the new hard drive will be both faster and use less power, which means it will heat up your computer (and room) less as well. So given the low cost of large drives these days, anyone wishing to "add" drive space in an older computer should instead:
  1. Buy a nice 320, 500 or even 1000GB (1TB) drive - if your computer has the SATA ports, then buy a SATA (serial) drive drive. It is faster, plus the thinner cabling runs neater and allows better cooling in your case. Otherwise buy an older style.
  2. Buy a full retail version and not an "OEM" version which comes bare and bubble-wrapped. The retail package costs $20 more, but comes with a CD utility you'll need - plus it promises your drive is not a used one (I have heard of people buying the "OEM" drives on line and discovering in the fine-print that it is a "reconditioned/used" one which coems complete with someone else's data!) OEM drives make the most sense for people buying more than 1 drive, but for 1 drive the cost savings isn't justified
  3. Install the new drive (screw-driver perhaps required)
  4. Your new drive should now function as a second drive, but you do NOT need to format it yet.
  5. Run the utility on the CD which came with the drive and it will allow you to "copy" or clone the data (including Windows) from your old drive to the new drive. It magically "expands" the Windows space to fit the new larger drive.
  6. After you shut down the computer, remove the old drive. When restarted, your computer will runs the newer, roomer, faster, cooler-running drive ... plus your old drive a pure "backup" of your system.
  7. Either store the old drive, or pay $20 more to buy an EXTERNAL USB enclosure for it. I tend to do that with my old drives - I can then use them for backups or like 80GB floppy drives.
I bring this up in part because a few months ago I was aghast to read an article in a well-respected computer magazine which explained how to reload Windows, and the sample computer "like one your relatives ask you help with" had three hard-drives - the smallest 40GB and largest 120GB. They suggested one buy Norton Ghost and do both disk images plus manual data backup of the old drives so they could be reformatted.

It was a nice article, yet wrong. The writer should have suggested that "the user" NOT buy Norton, and instead use the money saved to buy a 500GB drive. The other three older drives would NOT require backup, as Windows would be installed fresh on the new larger drive. Then once the 500Gb drive was working, the user could pull files from the older drives temporarily installed for that purpose. All three of the old small drives should have been retired, plus would have remained their own backup!

I am also waiting for a hard-drive test to complete on a pair of new 1TB drives I purchased (yes, these were the OEM form). I am running a destructive Western Digital write+read test which I found on the free Ultimate Boot CD, which is indeed I guess a geeky tool. It includes all kinds of free tools on a self-booting CD which allow running memory tests, disk tests and so on.

The 2 new drives are the Western Digital "green products" (WD10EADS), which just means they run at the older slower speed of 5400 RPM. One of the new tetrabyte drives is going into a "media computer" I am setting up to enable watching online NetFlix movies on the main TV. It will also function as a network file server and I figure the slower "green" speed makes sense. The second drive will go into a Vantec/Nextstar 3 USB enclosure for use as backup, and since it runs over USB the slower drive speed should not be an issue.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dual display under Ubuntu

Well, I have finally obtained a goal I've waited impatiently for over five years to surmount - I'm writing this blog entry on a Linux system with two wonderful displays running as an extended desktop. Windows has done this for me for years, yet Linux has resisted. Ubuntu 8.04 was 'better', yet still created some weird scrolling modes until this morning.

My setup:
1) self-built PC with Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600, 2GB DDR2-800, Asus P5K
2) EVGA 8800GT Superclocked with 512MB GDDR3
3) Ubuntu 8.04 which dual-boots with Windows-XP SP3
4) Primary Display via DVI - Samsung 730B (1280x1024)
5) Secondary Display via DVI - ViewSonic Q20wb (1680x1050)

Of course this triumph isn't really mine - I just found the correct pieces to make it work. The process is almost painless, and I think the Xorg folks (or team porting to Ubuntu) have finally got it right. Read any xorg.conf file from last year and it had a hundred lines of bizarre text which didn't belong there ... I mean, why should I include a line saying in an old 2-bit, 4-color video mode circa 1985 I want to support 1280x1024 and so on? The xorg.conf file is now nice and clean, letting the software assume such things.

Step 1) Backup the Working XORG.CONF file
Ubuntu 8.04 installed with basic support for the primary "generic display", which was the 1280x1024 Samsung. Gone are even the struggle to avoid the 800x600 "low-res" mode when displays don't have hardware sync info in the xorg.conf file. So start by saving the known-good file - this is something you should always do as it allows recovery should your x-server crash upon reboot:
  • sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf /etc/X11/xorg.conf.orig
Step 2) Use Synaptic Package Manager to install EnvyNG
I installed both the envng-core and envyng-gtk - not sure if both required, but I have the disk space. This adds the menu Applications | System Tools | EnvyNG. Running this asks for admin password and installs enough packages to rebuild various NVIDA resources.

Step 3) Run nvidia_settings
Well, here is where the magic starts to fall down. After installing those files you will find the option NVIDIA X Server Settings under your System | Administration menu. Run it and you see this magically enticing popup:

Ahh, almost like Windows-XP now, yes? Catch is this method of launching the tool won't have permission to modify your xorg.conf files or even save to /etc/X11. Thus anything you change now will fail to be saved. I can imagine many a frustrated person seeing the error message and just assuming the drivers won't work.

So you need to run this command in a terminal window instead:
  • sudo nvidia-settings
Which launches the same tool with the correct permissions to update your configuration. I chose not to save the changes to xorg.conf, but to xorg.conf.dual. Regardless, the settings won't take effect right away anyway.

Step 4) Organize /etc/X11
Perhaps this isn't required, but it is my habit learned over the years; I used a terminal window to insure I had four versions of xorg.conf:
  • /etc/X11/xorg.conf.orig is a copy of the 'natural' file created during install which I never change
  • /etc/X11/xorg.conf.single is a copy of the xorg.conf active before I ran nvidia_settings with only my single primary display (it might equal xorg.conf.orig - I don't really care)
  • /etc/X11/xorg.conf.dual is the output of nvidia_settings, which at this point might work ... or might not.
  • /etc/X11/xorg.conf, which I manually overwrite at this time by copying xorg.conf.dual over it.
These simple to comprehend names often in the past saved my bacon when fiddling with my xorg.conf created an unusable configuration. A simple file copy from a recovery root login can over-write the bad xorg.conf with a know good one, allowing me to restart the GUI.

Step 5) restart X-server
Log yourself out, then back in to see if your wonderful new dual-display desktop works.

  • With my 8800GT, results were superb with a nice extended desktop 3000 by 1000 pixels across my two displays (1620+1280 by 1050 & 1024 to be exact)
  • However, I tried a second time with an old gForce 5500 and ended up with a config which never worked quite right. I would set up the two old CRT for a dual x-server side-by-side, try to force both to a modest 1024 x768 and somehow the result is always two x-servers in twin-view mode piled on top of each other at two different resolutions. The side-by-side extended desktop works fine under Windows XP.

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