News for May 2004


Radiation tri-blade symbol 31May2004 - The boys at Intel will release a new chipset next month. Most people think the CPU is the most important component in a PC, but it's not. The chipset is. Because the chipset (also called "core-logic") determines which CPUs your computer can use--not the other way around. Actually, Intel will be releasing *two* new chipsets (on the 21st):

  • Grantsdale: i915P and i915G
  • Alderwood: i925X

Unlike a CPU (such as the popular Pentium 4 processor) which can be easily upgraded/replaced. The chipset comes embedded on the motherboard and cannot be upgraded without replacing the motherboard itself (not a simple upgrade).

When someone decides to build a new system, they first select the chipset, and build the computer around the chipset (motherboard). This is why a new chipset is such big news in the world of Technolusters. It means we get to use new toys: better, faster, shinier ones.

One of the chips in the chipset is called the "northbridge" (graphics and memory controller hub), which controls how your memory (RAM) and CPU work together. See HERE (27-KB) for a graphic illustration. (Image grabbed from Corsair.)

The two Grantsdale chipsets are the same except that the one designated "G" comes with onboard (on the motherboard) graphics, so you could save money by NOT having to purchase a separate graphics card. But both Grantsdale chipsets are merely watered down versions of the Alderwood, which is the high-end "rocket-sled" of the three. So that's the one we-technolusters are really interested in.

The remainder of today's geek-speak on this topic is posted here:> Intel's New Chipsets: Grantsdale & Alderwood, i915P, i915G & i925X

Radiation tri-blade symbol 28May2004 - Today I was going to post a little ditty about the great Mac vs PC debate, but quickly realized that volumes have already been published on the topic. No sense in re-inventing the wheel.

I use a PC (Windows XP), so I frequent PC-user forums (such as the ones at the Storagereview and ABXZone and Hydrogen Audio to name a few). Naturally, whenever the Mac vs PC question arises in these forums, users there usually take the Pro-PC side and bash the Mac, saying things like "Macs suck" or "Macs are not real computers" (which can be a way of saying they're easier to use). But many users, altho preferring the PC platform, are sympathetic to Apple's position, such as those at the Avid forums.

It surprised me that you can find supporting documentation for just about any point you want to make - for either side. For example, you can find linkage to articles that say things like: Mac Slaughtered Again, or a whole site dedicated to telling you why Macs are better than PCs. Some articles say PCs are faster, while others give the nod to the Mac.

The remainder of today's drivel on this topic is posted here: Mac vs PC.

Radiation tri-blade symbol 26May2004 - I was having trouble with MT-Blacklist: the anti-spam plug-in I use for/with Ye Olde Rad Blog (which is powered by Movable Type). MT-Blacklist was filtering many seemingly innocent posts, even those I made myself. I was getting an error that said: Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content. I couldn't post comments to my own blog. Talk about frustrating.

It took a while, but after some trial-n-error, I finally figured out that MT-Blacklist was (oddly enough) banning comments that contained the *dash* character. I checked the list of banned sites, and sure enough, there it was: a single dash as a banned site. Not sure how it got there. Maybe a stray key-stroke while I was updating the list. Soon as I deleted that entry, the problem disappeared.

Speaking of blog-comments, the granddaddy is the "Vector / Cutco 'Work for Students' Marketing Scam". If you search for the terms 'Vector Cutco', you'll find this popular page listed near the top. Scroll down and read some of the many responses, both for & against the Vector/Cutco marketing company. Surprisingly, it has become one of the site's most-frequented pages.

Radiation tri-blade symbol 25May2004 - I've been getting questions on the nuances of how to select the right memory (RAM). I admit it can be confusing, so I'll try to break it down (Radify it) for you.

Most current-generation motherboards, such as the Asus P4C800-E Deluxe, which I like, support two channels of DDR400 RAM. DDR400 is synonymous with PC-3200. These are different standards that (to you & me) mean the same thing. A dual-channel configuration implies you use two sticks of RAM (for best performance).

The XMS series (from Corsair) makes purchasing two sticks easy, because they offer what are called TwinX Matched Memory Pairs. These "matched pairs" are designed to work together in a dual-channel configuration.

Reader comments: 1. Dual channel works fine with any even number of DIMMs, not just two. Most dual channel motherboards support four sticks. If you install matching DIMMs in each pair of slots, you'll get dual channel performance.

2. TwinX is a marketing tactic, not a design. While it may be true that Corsair qualifies TwinX modules for working well together, they're no different from ordinary Corsair DIMMs (of the same specs) sold individually.

If you opt to go with Corsair's XMS series RAM (I did), you have a few questions to answer. The first is, do you want 512-MB (2 X 256-MB sticks) or 1-GB (2 X 512-MB sticks) of memory. Since you get double the memory for ~50% more ca$h, I recommend 1-Gig, But your system will likely run fine with 512-MB of memory.

The remainder of today's geek-speak is posted here:> Memory (RAM) Primer, Corsair XMS modules

Radiation tri-blade symbol 24May2004 - Looks like you *can* get a 12X Plextor PX-712A DVD burner in RAD_BLACK. (You first have to click the green "Buy Now" button and look to the menu on your left. See the BLACK DRIVES link there? Thx Len). See HERE (US$209 direct). I noticed they'll also have one with the (faster) Serial ATA interface available next month.

Altho I haven't been able to find any 12X media. Even 8X media is not very common. Most DVD +/-R media still seems to be of the 4X variety. At about a buck-a-disc, DVD discs co$t more than CD-R media (700-MB capacity), but hold ~7X more data (4.7-GB). So, on a co$t-per-capacity basis, the two are roughly equal.

If you want to transfer a large amount of data (such as your entire 100-gig MP3 collection) to your new computer (or wherever), you can burn a bunch of (20) DVD discs. But the best way is still with an external hard drive, using a Firewire (50-MB/sec) or USB 2.0 (60-MB/sec) connection. (This drive offers both.)

Radiation tri-blade symbol 22May2004 - Some readers wrote to ask if Ghost works with the Plextor 708A DVD burner, because it is not listed on their page of tested DVD drives (scroll down near the bottom and click the little "+" sign next to the words "Tested DVD drives").

So I tried it myself and found that it does indeed work. I had no problems, using Ghost 2003 from the Windows interface with the latest live-update patches applied. Ghost automatically found the drive and began burning on the subsequent re-boot into DOS. I used CDR discs, not DVDs, because I didn't have any handy. But I expect they would work just as well.

Note that Plextor has released the PX-712 (a 12X DVD burner), which sells for US$195, but is not yet available in rad_black.

As a side note, this DVD burner that I had to RMA back to Newegg on Tuesday the 18th was return on Friday the 21st. That's a fast turn-around. Newegg sent a brand-spanking new DVD burner and this one works fine.

Radiation tri-blade symbol 20May2004 - As promised, here's the partitioning scheme I used to partition the four hard drives in the video-editing beast I just built.

Note: The 15K-rpm Cheetah was surprisingly quiet. At first I thought it wasn't running, until it appeared in FDISK. Also, I installed both operating systems onto the Cheetah BEFORE installing any other hard drives into the system.

  • F: Plextor 8X DVD burner, model 708A (black, secondary master)

  • Hard Drive #2: 120-GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 IDE/ATA (primary master)
    G: 15-GB reserved for another operating system, if needed, maybe
    Windows Longhorn when it comes out (NTFS, primary)
    H: 30-GB for audio files associated with
    Avid Xpress Pro (NTFS, logical)
    I: 30-GB for normal/misc storage, such as downloads, drivers, back-ups,
    ripped CD images, MP3s, etc. (NTFS, logical)
    J: 40-GB for back-up
    Ghost images (FAT32, logical)

  • Hard Drive #3: 160-GB Seagate Serial ATA (connected to onboard SATA port)
    K: 120-GB dedicated for video files associated with Avid Xpress Pro (NTFS, primary)
    L: 40-GB for back-up video files not currently being used (NTFS, logical)

Note: It was interesting to see Avid automatically assign the K drive (120-GB) as the place where it will capture/store video. In other words, it must've scanned all the drives and selected the *largest* one for storing video. The program itself is installed to, and runs off, the E drive. I manually changed the drive designated for storing audio files from K to H, so both audio and video files have their own (physically) separate hard drive and controller.

  • M: Plextor Premium CD burner (black, 52X, secondary slave)

  • Hard Drive #4: 160-GB Seagate External drive, supporting both Firewire and USB 2.0 interfaces, being used with the Firewire controller/port that comes on the Audigy2 sound card.
    N: 160-GB drive for sharing files with others. Copy files to the external drive, unplug it & hand it over (NTFS)

The capacity of the external drive actually shows up in Windows explorer as 150-GB after formatting. The drive is shipped with FAT32 formatting. But FAT32 has a 4-GB file limitation, so I re-formatted it as NTFS, which has no such limitation. Took forever to format that thing.

There's a total of about 500-gigs there (half a terabyte). And the system has plenty of expandability built into it. The SCSI controller supports 16 devices, but is using only one. There is one free IDE/ATA port (primary slave), and one free onboard Serial ATA port. Also Firewire supports daisy-chaining up to 128 devices. There's also a RAID controller (Promise) built into the motherboard (two separate Serial-ATA ports).

Every time I added a new hard drive, the system wouldn't boot. I had to enter the motherboard BIOS and re-configure the hard drive order. Each new hard drive would become the #1 hard drive, which needs to be/stay/remain the SCSI Cheetah, because that's where the operating systems are located/stored.

Once I changed the SCSI back to being hard drive #1, the system booted normally. Seems that onboard controllers (on the motherboard, such as IDE/ATA and Serial ATA) automatically take priority over those located in PCI slots (such as the SCSI card). All drives have active cooling for long life.

Radiation tri-blade symbol 19May2004 - The beast goes to its new owner today. I'll be sad to see it go. I was getting used to those twin 17-inch flat panels sitting on my desk and using that blazingly fast system. Done configuring everything. I synchronized the two desktops so that the two different operating systems would be more integrated.

For example, as you know, if you dual-boot, you will have two different email & Favorites bins, which can be a hassle, especially if you need mail or a link in one o/s, while working in the other.

So I worked a little mojo and configured them so the email clients in both o/s'es would access/use the same files/folder/directory. I did this with as many items as possible by moving files/directories to a common drive.

The last thing I did was to create a back-up Ghost image of each operating system. Actually, I made *three* images of each: one right after the initial installation & configuration of Windows XP. Another after installing all the programs, and a third after the final system integration and configuration.

I also created one partition (FAT32) on a different hard drive to be dedicated solely for storing back-up Ghost images. It's my favorite partition, I might add, because, if they totally hose the system, or even kill the boot drive, I can easily restore everything.

I've been getting questions on how I partitioned the four drives in that system. Maybe when I'm done I'll post that info. Right now however, I need to box everything up. But on the boot drive (a 36-gig 15K-rpm SCSI beast), I did this:

C: 2-GB Primary (FAT32) for boot files & common files
D: 10-GB Logical (NTFS) for WXP Pro containing programs for all normal PC functions
E: 24-GB Logical (NTFS) for WXP Pro dedicated solely for editing with Avid Xpress Pro, along with other programs associated with video-editing (such as Sound Forge & Photoshop).

I also reserved one partition (15-GB, NTFS) on one of the other drives, in case we need to install another copy of Windows .. for whatever reason (maybe for Windows Longhorn).

Radiation tri-blade symbol 18May2004 - I spoke too soon. While testing the DVD burner, I discovered it was defective and needed to be RMA'ed. I remember thinking something was fishy when I originally opened the box. It came with a different piece of tape than the CD burner (also a Plextor), as if someone had returned it. The tape was barely sticky, as if due to repeated use. Whereas the tape on the (good) CD burner took a knife to cut off.

The unit would not read any discs (CDs or DVDs). I even tried updating the firmware. No dice. When inserting a disc, a yellow light on the drive illuminated for a few seconds, then went out. The CD icon also came on for a second (the one next to the cursor) then went away.

So it recognized that a disc had been inserted into the drive. But when I tried to access the data from the drive (in Windows explorer), it said: "Please insert a drive into disk F". I tried it in another system. Same thing. So back it went.

Did a system stability test, by running the system max'ed out for two hours (using both Folding@Home & Prime95 concurrently). It didn't even hiccup. Rock solid.

Radiation tri-blade symbol 17May2004 - Done building the behemoth system (the one mentioned last entry). It's a sweet machine and was a lot of fun to build. No problems. I noticed that a 17-inch flat-panel monitor (1280x1024) is plenty big. You don't really need a 19-inch flat panel. And with two, twin, turbo-charged flat-panels, sitting side-by-side (=2560x1024), there's a huge amount of desktop space to work with.

This was my first time configuring a triple-monitor system: two 17-inch flat-panels plus a 14-inch NTSC (TV) monitor. Special software from Matrox that came with the Parhelia made this a snap.

The last thing I did, after configuring the multi-monitor set-up, was to install Avid Xpress Pro (on its own dedicated WinXP Pro boot). My friends were able to purchase this (regularly-priced) US$1,600 software for a student-discounted price of $295. Xpress Pro has all the features of (the more-popular) Xpress DV, plus many other features. A side-by-side comparison of the two is posted here (PDF).

This is also the first time I've ever used a dongle. A dongle a physical, key-like device that you plug into a USB port. It enables the program to run. Many companies, which produce more expensive software programs, use dongles as copy-protection strategies.

Note that Avid also offers FREE DV, which is a stripped-down version of their professional video-editing software, along with many good tutorials.

I disabled the network card in the Avid-only operating system, so I didn't have to install any anti-virus software or firewall. Nothing but SP1 and Avid Xpress Pro. Less chance of quirky conflicts being generated. Another, separate boot (also WinXP Pro) contains all normal PC software.

Some other system specs are a 3-GHz Pentium 4 CPU, 1-gig of low-latency RAM, 4 hard drives (including a 15K-rpm SCSI beast, 160-gig SATA dedicated for video, IDE & Firewire/external). It's pretty tight in that case, with all those hard drives, cards & cables, plus a CD burner & a DVD burner. Cramming all that hardware in that case (black aluminum) was probably the most challenging part. The only thing we're still waiting for is the special, color-coded keyboard.

Radiation tri-blade symbol 12May2004 - Building a new system designed specifically for editing video with Avid Xpress Pro, based around a modified Rad Rig, with a Matrox Parhelia (more here) as the key component, which is the only graphics card capable of supporting dual-displays *plus* an NTSC (TV) monitor output.

So I'll be out-of-commission for a few days, tackling this beast. It'll be a monster, a beast, a behemoth. Just fired up the espresso machine. Might as well leave it on. God, I love this stuff.

This will be the biggest geek-project I've ever undertaken. As mentioned, the system will be multi-monitor, plus multi-drive, including 15K-rpm SCSI for boot, 160-gig SATA dedicated for video, a regular IDE drive for audio & back-up, and an external Firewire/USB2 drive for sharing video files with others. About 500-gigs in all. I'm working out the optimal partitioning strategy right now. It'll probably take half a day just to partition & format those drives.

Planning to configure a multi-boot, with one operating system dedicated solely for editing video (to minimize the chance of quirky compatibility/stability issues). I even printed (PDF) a copy of my own Windows XP install guide.

Half of editing video is wrestling with the technology. This system should eliminate that aspect for him, so he'll be able to spend his time concentrating on the fun, creative aspects.

Radiation tri-blade symbol 08May2004 - I watched some of the Rumsfeld testimony yesterday. Seems like Congress is now waiting for the American people to weigh in.

First & foremost, after the images themselves, I was struck by the fact that it was digital technology that precipitated this whole scandal. By that, I mean, digital photographs burned to CDs, leaked to the press. This wouldn't have happened 10 years ago.

Rumsfeld himself agreed that words alone can't convey the sense of shock the photos do. I can tell you all about how cool Heisler Park is, for example. But nothing can replace photos, which is why I use so may of them on my site. What's that old adage? A picture is worth...

On a similar note, I have a funny story about when I was in the military. My mother called her congressman and told him the military was mistreating me. It was embarrassing at the time to have all my bosses call me in and ask, "So, how ya doin'?"

But it illustrated to me how the military jumps when even a single congressman gets involved. Maybe I'll relate the entire story later, if I get the chance. Now, many years later, it's seems pretty humorous. Back then tho, it was rather humiliating to have your mommy call and complain that her boy was being mistreated.

The remainder of today's drivel is posted here:> Iraqi Prison Scandal, Congress & the Military

Radiation tri-blade symbol 07May2004 - Sidney sent this link about CD/DVD disc rot. In the Ghost guide, I have long recommended storing images on hard drives, rather than on CD/DVD discs, due to anecdotal reports of reliability issues with optical media. Now there seems to be some solid support for that position.

On a less techie note, I played hooky yesterday and snuck off to the Huntington, where they offer free admission every 1st Thursday of the month. What a mistake *that* was! Half of Los Angeles must've been there.

The place was packed. Bus-loads of screaming kids were running everywhere, all wearing the same colored t-shirts. I've been there a half-dozen times over the years (never on a free-day, tho) and never seen anything like this. The pungent stench of body-odor permeated the packed museums. Poor Pinkie & Blue Boy.

Next time, I'll gladly pay my $12.50 and go on a regular day. A little old lady who works there told me the best time to go is when it rains lightly, cuz you have the whole place to yourself, and the rain brings out all the smells.

Van Helsing comes out today. The critics killed it, but I still want to take the kids. No one is allowed to close their eyes or leave, like they did the last time we saw a scary movie.

Radiation tri-blade symbol 06May2004 - Being the 1st Thursday of the month, tonight is the Art Walk here in Laguna Beach (or, La Beana Gooch, as some call it). If you live here in sunny SoCal, you might be interested that the Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens (cool place, located in Pasadena) has free admission today (normally $12.50). It's good to get away from your PC and give your eyes a rest.

On a more technical note, I've been designing a system for friends who want to edit digital video with Avid Xpress DV, so they can create their own professional videos, instead of out-sourcing the job, which can get expen$ive. Did some research on which components would be best suited. For a video-editing system, it's best to design the system around the editing program you plan to use, selecting components that offer maximum compatibility.

For example, I learned the people are having the most success with the Nvidia Quadro4 XGL graphics card, and that the Matrox Parhelia is the only gfx card that features a triple-head option (dual-monitors *plus* a TV-output to preview your changes), which is the coolest way to edit. A dual-boot configuration, with one operating system dedicated solely to editing video minimizes the chances for quirky compatibility glitches.

I started with the rock-solid stability strategy behind the components selected for the Rad Rig, and modified it for the job at hand. (By adding more hard drives, more RAM, multi-monitor, different graphics card, etc.) I might end up building it for them .. we'll see. I suggested they look into purchasing a turnkey system, but they can get expensive, and you don't get as much performance as you would if you rolled your own (built your own system).

Radiation tri-blade symbol 05May2004 - Been out-of-town for a couple of weeks. Good to be back. Noticed there's a new nasty worm out, called W32.Sasser.B.Worm. I found it interesting that the worm "Copies itself as %Windir%\Avserve2.exe".

Then it says: "Note: %Windir% is a variable. The worm locates the Windows installation folder (by default, this is C:\Windows or C:\Winnt) and copies itself to that location." In the Windows XP Install guide, I recommend installing Windows to a partition OTHER THAN the C drive, because some viruses specifically target the C drive. But in this instance, my strategy would not have worked.

Make sure your virus definitions are up-to-date. It only affects WXP & W2K, not WMe or W9X. You can download a fix from Microsoft. You can also download a removal tool (FxSasser.exe) from Symantec. More Sasser info posted here. I downloaded both and checked my system. It said I'm clean. Also make sure you have a recent Ghost image and are protected behind a well-configured Firewall. See Ice Czar's link-farm for more in-depth info on Internet Security.

The remainder of today's drivel is posted here:> Cinco de Mayo & Sasser worm