Archive for the 'windows' Category

minutes of your life you’ll never get back

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


“…How long have you got before you have to go home tonight?”

Fortunately, once the thing finished booting, the ETA dropped to a single digit number.

Seriously, people, don’t buy a laptop with less than a gig of ram. It makes me want to cry.

good to know exists: autoplay repair wizard

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Depending on who you ask, autoplay is either useful, or annoying. It used to be one of those things you just turned off on a new Windows install, but in recent years I’ve grown to like it (despite the obvious security questions it raises).

It’s useful, but a bit flawed, because there’s many ways to disable it (all of which you’d have to know about, to fix any problems). Including group policies, a concept no mere human should have to grapple with.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for autoplay problems I only discovered just today. Microsoft themselves publish the Autoplay Repair Wizard, which is an impressive little thing that runs without having to install it…


…and aggressively works through the list of things that could be messing with autoplay. In the case of the PC I worked on today, AP was disabled in both the user and local machine policies, which I probably wouldn’t have figured out myself.

You have to log out and back into Windows to try each fix as it applies them, because changes don’t take effect until you do that. I had to do that twice, because once it found a problem in one group policy it stopped and didn’t check the others, but it was thorough and fixed the issues in the end in a matter of minutes.


There’s also a “trust me, there’s a problem…” mode, where it’ll watch what you’re doing for a minute or so and try to spot inconsistencies between you opening and closing your CD drive (or plugging in a thumbdrive) and what the Autoplay service actually sees and responds to. I didn’t need to go that far, but if you’ve found this post by googling for autoplay fixers, your mileage may vary.

Windows 7: Devices and Printers window

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

I stumbled on a new item in the start menu today: Devices and Printers.


It’s somewhere between My Computer and the Device Manager. Intrigued, I answered yes to that interesting question at the top and set about plugging in every USB device I could see within arm’s reach:

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Windows 7, and more on Radeons and PhysX

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

So, Microsoft released the first beta version of Windows 7 this weekend. (Actually they did it on Friday, but a thousand million keen participants brought their servers to a halt, before a mad rush to setup new servers to handle the insane load.) Officially the beta product keys will expire on August 1, which is a little later than I’d hoped, but having played with the beta for a day now myself I’m going to stay optimistic about the RTM date.

Because, put in a nutshell: Windows 7 is looking fantastic so far.


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the disk drives of the future

Friday, December 26th, 2008

USB flash drives

Nobody uses floppy disks for anything regular and important anymore. They’re slow, they’re physically huge yet hold so little, and they wear out and die too easily. CDs and DVDs have their place, but today people mostly use USB-attached flash drives to cart their files around.

This is my newest flash drive. It’s a 4 gigabyte OCZ ATV, and it goes like the clappers. HD Tune clocks it at just under 31MB/sec for sustained reading, which is about as fast as you’ll see any USB-connected drive go on a current PC. It’s the fastest flash drive I currently own, and has now replaced my Corsair Voyager GT as my everyday bit bucket.

It’s also a bit more practical than the Corsair; that dangly thing at the back fits snugly into the cap, so you don’t have to keep track of it when the drive’s plugged into a computer, meaning you’ll never lose that little bit of protection. I have absolutely no idea where my GT’s endcap is.

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Vista, Radeon, PhysX: pick two.

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

This has been pursued in forums everywhere for some months now, so I thought I’d summarise my findings on the matter and hope for a prevailing Google breeze to save others the trouble.

Here’s the thing: It’s late 2008, and the most powerful single video card you can buy for your PC right now is ATI’s Radeon HD 4870 x2. NVidia’s 280 GTX lags behind it a bit, but supports something called PhysX. In short, GPUs are very good at massively parallel tasks, which lends well to the simulation of physics, and NVidia’s Geforce video cards from the 8-series on up supports the PhysX engine and can do more realistic explosions and collisions and such.

This means games like Unreal Tournament 3 can look prettier when drawn by a Geforce, despite getting a higher frame rate on a Radeon. Naturally, the owner of a modern Radeon – like, for instance, my own 4870×2 – might be curious about PhysX support. A lot of the internet has hit upon the idea of using a grunty ATI video card to do the drawing, and a Geforce sitting next to it to do all the extra physics work. This is the golden age of running multiple video cards; surely it can be made to work?

Let’s ignore all the political issues here – PhysX support in games isn’t as widespread as you’d imagine, there are other more established physics engines already in use, it’s all a big money-making conspiracy and so on – and see what can be done to make UT3 look even better.

Annoyingly, nothing can be done just now. The facts are thus:

  • While you ought to be able to get a Radeon and a Geforce working as video cards in the same computer, it’s logically impossible to do so in Windows Vista. Due to something technical to do with the new-in-Vista Windows Display Driver Model, you can’t run more than one video driver at once; you can either have NVidia’s drivers and use the Geforce for video and PhysX, or ATI’s drivers and use the Radeon on its own, and the other card just sort of flaps uselessly in the breeze.
  • Geforce PhysX won’t work without the Geforce drivers running anyway, and NVidia obviously had no reason at all to do it any other way (why wouldn’t you want to run the NVidia drivers, except perhaps to get around other limitations and use it in conjunction with a rival’s hardware?).
  • Windows XP does not have the WDDM limitation; the Radeon-video-plus-Geforce-PhysX thing has been done, but of course you’re stuck with DirectX 9, and XP’s interface, and XP’s hardware support, and all the other reasons plenty of users go with Vista instead.
  • You do have the option of buying an actual standalone card; Ageia designed PhysX cards before they were bought out by NVidia and made to do it on their cards instead. While owning such a thing would be pretty cool, they’re now rare, very expensive, and I can’t help but think it’d be pathetic compared to a modern Geforce card at what it’s designed to do (I have no knowledge whatsoever of how powerful certain cards are compared to others, but I can’t help but imagine a GTX280 would handle it better than a two year old PCI card).
  • There was a lot of talk about PhysX running on a Radeon, but efforts to make it a reality seem dead in the water despite valiant efforts.

Windows 7, the successor to Vista, will avoid the single-WDDM-driver problem, and at least one enterprising nutter has already had his 8500GT running numbers for a 4870 in an early test build. 7 is apparently slated for release in mid-2009, so we may only have six or seven months to wait for an OS that will do what we want.

It just remains to be seen whether my now-redundant 8600GT will have found a better home in the meantime.


It works in Windows 7 – see my other post for details!

my daring experiment

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

My current laptop is now more than three years old. I bought it in mid-2005 as a kind of uni-and-netgaming workhorse, which purpose it served very well. I’m still using it on and off, out and about and at home away from the desktop, mainly as a glorified mp3 player/MSN chatting device/internet browsing object.

I bought it with two batteries, which in 2005 were capable of running this thing – a 1.6ghz Pentium M Centrino laptop with 15″ LCD – for over ten hours straight. I barely took my power adapter anywhere, except for the first few days before it knew what the hell kind of battery life it possessed.

Even today, new laptops are considered awesome and portable and convenient if they manage 3 hours between charges.

Currently I’m eyeing off my next huge waste of money drool-inducing plaything thoroughly justifiable computer purchase, and was curious about how much of my battery life had actually been lost, for purposes of reselling.

I started scribbling times and percentages down in my trusty old notepad.exe, before wondering about the easiest way to convert the data to some kind of pretty chart for blogging the whole adventure. I was about to go download openoffice again, before remembering Google had some kind of web-based office clone of its own.

And, as it turns out, Google Docs is actually pretty damn cool.

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the coolest 3G problem ever

Monday, September 1st, 2008

3G modems – those little white USB bubbles – are well-designed things. They don’t give you a long enough USB cable to make data/power loss an issue, they don’t get ridiculously hot on your leg, and they generally just work.

The coolest part by far is how they detect as a device – they show up as USB mass storage, basically an inbuilt flashdrive, from which you can install all the software you need to use it as a modem. Once the drivers are installed, they re-detect and bring up the modem as a device as well. Hundreds of different devices would be improved by supplying drivers this way; it’s brilliant and elegant and fool-proof.

Well, nearly. A guy brought his PC in today, and presented me with the following error message:

Not actually having been given the error number it mentions, I was left in the dark; this would pop up about 10 seconds after trying to dial the ISP with the thing, and of course there was no net access afterwards. Being told about a closed port was an annoying red herring – I wish people designed error messages with their mothers in mind as the target user.

I was actually trawling through his BIOS settings for the fix to an unrelated problem when I saw someone’d turned off Plug and Play support for compatible operating systems. Windows XP, of course, supports this readily, so I flicked it back on and that was that – the modem started working.

Our current theory is that it requires PnP to do the device detection trick, which is perfectly fine unless you let your niece mess with the computer. So don’t do that.

IE7 crash on toshiba L300 satellite pro

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Here’s a weird one for you all: Fresh install on a Toshiba Satellite Pro L300 laptop, Windows fully updated, Internet Explorer 7 installed and updated… go to, log into a user’s account, and IE will half-load the page and then crash horribly, citing an error in mshtml.dll. This was at least the second L300 that’s had this problem, and we were keen to fix it for the future.

New Toshiba laptops come with recovery CDs that re-image the hard drive with a Windows XP Professional install, downgrading from its native Vista Business OS. First thing we tried was reinstalling with a regular XP Pro OEM CD, which resulted in no change whatsoever.

We had a complete fresh XP Pro install on another brand new laptop – a different brand and model – set up in exactly the same way, right next to it, which didn’t have the same problem at all. The only difference in setup was that the Toshiba’s owner had bought MS Office to go with it, while on the other one we’d merely installed OpenOffice (it’s free, go look at it).

Key thing here is that the full OpenOffice install also includes Java. Turns out that installing Java fixed the problem on the Toshiba laptop; IE would simply crash if it hit a webpage with Java on it.

Having figured the problem involved lacking a plugin of some sort, we also installed Flash. We didn’t have time to test conclusively that it was one or the other, but we’re pretty much betting on the problem being not having Java.

This probably isn’t limited to L300s, but we’ve never seen this behaviour on any other computer ever. Possibly it’s something crazy to do with Toshiba’s new-model XP drivers, maybe not. Either way, if you’ve come here from Google looking for a fix, try Java. It’s good for you.

i have found the perfect aftermarket bluetooth adapter.

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

The world of Bluetooth radios for computers are, as far as I’m concerned, a wretched hive of scum and villainy when it comes to quality, compatibility and honesty. USB Bluetooth adapters are exactly the kind of merchandise that comes from Asia and floods the market with bizarre variations.

The problems are numerous. You need specific, proprietary driver and software packs to use the things, they won’t exactly conform to standards, they’ll use weaselly words on their packaging to puff up their apparent feature lists, it’ll randomly not work with some devices or some operating systems, it’ll overheat and have to be unplugged for 10 minutes every half hour, and most probably you paid $9 for it on eBay and it’s not worth the hassle to chase up a refund. Nice work, if you can get it.

And don’t think that by sticking to big brandnames you’ll get the best, either. I recently went to Officeworks and paid $35 of my glorious, hard-earned dollars for a USB bluetooth adapter purportedly made by Swann. I’ll tell you right now that this device is identical to the crappy ISSCBTA dongles, down to the supplied driver CD being a cheap CD-R some kid in a factory’s burned the same old software to.

You face the same problem with laptops. Don’t ever buy a new laptop without a factory-fitted internal Bluetooth adapter, because adding them after-market is just painful.

This colourful little dingus is an internal Bluetooth adapter for Dell Inspiron (and probably other) laptop computers. I did the stupid thing and bought it off eBay, and wound up with a device that Just Doesn’t Work.

I’m too embarassed and prideful to say how much I spent on it and the cable, or to get a proper quote from Dell for the same, guaranteed-to-work parts. I don’t need to, either, because I’ve found a bluetooth adapter that doesn’t completely suck.

Yup. It’s a tiny notch of plastic and electronics on the rear end of a USB plug. That’s an 80mm CD “single”, too, not a full 120mm 700MB job.

The box it came in says “HI-SPEED USB 2.0, CLASS 2 + EDR, RANGE 30 M”, which I think means it’s a long-range Bluetooth 1.1 device, not 2 (I’ll doublecheck and update this when I know for sure). I don’t care how fast it is or how far it can shout; I basically use it to copy the occasional photo off my phone and zip other files around when it’s too much of a hassle to find the right cable for a particular device.

Here’s the good thing though: It works out of the box on Windows XP and Vista. You don’t even need the driver CD, and you can use Windows’s own inbuilt Bluetooth software, which turns out to actually be quite excellent:

And here’s the punchline: It costs US$12 delivered anywhere in the world, from DealExtreme. They’re a weird bunch based in Hong Kong who sell all kinds of electronic crud cheaply with free postage, and unlike eBay actually CARE about what they’re selling. I’m not yet brave enough to buy an “iFone”, but for most things like memory cards and card readers and such they’re perfect.

There are slightly cheaper ones available, but I paid $12 instead of $9 for the smallest one possible. Here it is, plugged into my faithful old Inspiron:

It doesn’t stick out very far, and the plug is tight and holds on like crazy. It’s not going to fall off by itself, and as long as you don’t stuff the computer in your bag USB-side-down, you can basically leave it there forever. The only downside is the bright blue LED in it that flashes ceaselessly, but if that’s a problem, scribble over it with permanent marker or something.

Stop trying to find drivers for other adapters. Buy this one instead.