[an error occurred while processing this directive]

 

PenguinBlog.com

NOTE: You may have gotten here via a mirror, but you should bookmark PenguinBlog.com

Click here If you're looking for My Spyware Removal Procedure.

I'm an IT Tech with my own computer consultation business. I'm also a moderator at PC Abusers Forums and answer a lot of technical questions there (my forum nick is FlyingPenguin). PCAbusers is a great place to post technical questions. There's a nice bunch of people there who are happy and eager to help.

If you have any questions or remarks you can contact me here.

 

8/4/13: New Media Center Win7 & CableCard Setup



My current media center PCs are all dated HP slimline Athlon II X2 machines, and are barely capable of running 720p, and are a bit underpowered for some of the new services I'm watching on them. Since Dell had a nice sale recently on Vostro 270s small form factor PCs, I ordered a couple.

I use my Media Center PCs as DVRs on my HDTVs. I record TV shows, and I also have them setup to play ripped DVDs and .avi & .mp4 files from my NAS. I can also view my photos and listen to my MP3 music stored on my server. I also use them to watch Netflix & Hulu Plus. I also share the TV recording folders on all my media center PCs, so that I can watch anything recorded on any of them from any of them (the only limitation is anything that is device DRM restricted by the broadcaster - HBO for instance will only allow me to watch their recordings on the same PC it was recorded on).

I also decided to finally try out a CableCARD tuner. For the past 9 years I've been using Media Center with my Comcast cable boxes, connected to a TV tuner on the PC via s-video, and using an IR (infra-red) "bug" taped to the front of the cable box which allows the PC to change the channels on the box. It works, but it's awkward. Sometimes the box misses an IR signal and doesn't change to the correct channel, and I'm also limited to recording/watching one channel at a time.

A CableCARD tuner allows you to watch and record channels from your cable provider WITHOUT using a box. Instead you rent a CableCARD from Comcast ($ 1.50 a month), plug the card into your CableCARD tuner, and once authorized the tuner can get any channel on your subscription - including HD and premium channels. A CableCARD tuner also supports dual tuners (sometimes more).

Up until recently, it was a real pain to order and install a CableCard from Comcast, so I've been putting it off, but I've been reading forums and people are saying the activation is really simple with Comcast now.

So here's my journey:

COMPUTERS:
I bought two Vostro 270s Slimline PCs with a Core i3 processor, 4Gb RAM and a 500gb hard drive. They were Dell business deals and thus came with Win7 Pro (only Win7 Home Premium includes Media Center), but I have the factory Win7 Home Premium installer disc, and I that allowed me to do a clean install.

I also decided to install a couple of old 2nd gen 60Gb SSDs I had lying around as the boot drive, to improve boot times and OS performance. Since these PCs only have two SATA ports, and no additional internal space, I picked up a couple of Toshiba Canvio 1Tb USB 3.0 2.5" hard drives to store the TV recordings on (the Vostro 270s has two USB 3.0 ports on the back).

Keep in mind that Media Center recordings are LARGE files. A 1 hour TV show on standard def requires 1.4Gb. At HD definition it's 2.8Gb. So the more storage, the better. I've been getting along just fine with 500Gb recorder storage drives in the past, but now that I can record in HD I figure 1Tb is better.

Now I mainly use my Media Center PCs just as media centers, so I want the OS installs as clean as possible. I DO NOT use any anti-virus, and once I've done the initial Windows Updates, I turn off automatic updates. My PCs are setup to boot directly into Media Center, and I use a media center remote control to run it.



TUNER:
On my old PCs I used a Hauppauge HVR-2250 media center tuner, that comes with a remote: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16815116036

This has a dual tuner and is low profile (so it fits in a slimline or small form factor case). It works great with an antenna, or (like me) you can connect it to a cable box via RF or s-video and use the included IR bug to change the channel on the cable box.

While that worked fine, I wanted to return my cable boxes (and save myself a few bucks a month) and try a CableCARD tuner. After a lot of online research on forums and reading NewEgg reviews, I settled on the Hauppage DCR-2650 CableCARD Receiver: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=15-116-072


This tuner uses the same chip as the more expensive Ceton tuners, which the Comcast techs will be familiar with. NOTE: Even though it's not in the product description, this tuner DOES come with a media center remote control. The remote is identical to this one that can be purchased stand alone (and this is the remote I was already using on all my media center PCs): http://www.amazon.com/Hauppauge-PCTV-Remote-Media-Center/dp/B009MAYYVU


I've actually purchased several of these so my wife and I each have our own remotes at each TV. It's a decent remote. I really preferred the old Microsoft media center remote that lights up when you press a button, buy they discontinued those several years ago.


THE CABLECARD:
All cable providers in the US (and I would imagine Canada) will rent you a CableCARD. For instance, if you buy your own Tivo to use on Comcast, you need to rent a CableCARD for it. Comcast charges $1.50 a month for a CableCard (as opposed to $10 a month for an HD cable box, or $17.95 for an HD DVR). A CableCard connected to a CableCARD tuner or Tivo gives you all the channels you're paying for, except for On Demand.

You can only get a CableCard one of two ways: go to your local Comcast office, or have a CableCard tech come to your house. Ultimately I wound up having a tech come by (see below), but I got my first CableCARD from the office, and it was a bad card.

If you do get one at the office, let me STRONGLY recommend that you pickup 2 or 3. This advise is from the Comcast techs themselves. You can return the ones you don't use. They really abuse the hardware at the office (while I was there I saw a guy slamming DVR boxes onto a hand truck - REAL HARD). If you have multiple cards, then you are likely to have at least ONE good one.


THE INSTALLATION:
Media Center is pretty goof-proof to install nowadays. When you fire it up, you go to Tasks -> Settings and run through the TV and Tuner setup wizards.

If you're using a normal TV tuner, it will detect it and then try to figure out what inputs and what IR bugs you'r using. On a dual tuner you have two tuners (each with an RF, composite & s-video input) and two IR bug transmitters. It will also ask you for your zip code so you can select the correct channel guide for your area/service and if you're using a cable box, it will do some tests make sure it can properly remote control the box.

If you're using a CableCard tuner (and assuming you're installed the drivers) it's even simpler. Instead of running the CD that comes with it, I would download the latest drivers from the website. During the driver installation you will be asked if you have a "Tuning Adapter" connected. This is not required or used by Comcast so say no. It will then do a firmware update. IMPORTANT: If you follow the paper instructions that come with the tuner (and you should!) one important step is to install the Digital Cable Advisor in Media Center. Without this, the PC will not be able to detect or communicate with a CableCARD tuner. The Digital Cable Advisor is found in the Extras menu:


Once the drivers and Advisor are installed, Media Center will detect the CableCard tuner (you may need to restart Media Center first). Then asks if you would like to activate the card. Then it shows you some numbers (HostID, CardID) that you need to give to Comcast to activate the card.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT call regular tech support for CableCARD activations - they will not have a clue what you are talking about! There is a special Comcast CableCard Hotline: 877-405-2298. The people at the end of this line are REAL techs that know their stuff. I used this to try to activate my first CableCARD and the tech was VERY helpful. She wasn't familiar with my specific tuner, but she did a little Googling and found out it used the same chip as a Ceton tuner (which she was familiar with). In my case, I had a bad card which it took us a half hour to determine. In case this happens to you, let me explain how to directly access the tuner's diagnostic menu, because Media Center won't detect the tuner if the card is not installed or if the card fails to be recognized by the tuner:

The CableCARD tuner is actually installed as a network device (although it's connected via USB. The easiest way to access it's diagnostic control panel is to open My Computer, click on "Network" in the navigation pane on the left. One of the network devices should be the Cable Card. Double clicking on it's icon will open it's diagnostic menu in your browser. Once in there, you can look at the CableCARD menu and see if the card is detected and if there's an error code. You can also click on the Log which will clearly indicate there's a problem. My log showed the card was inserted, but "not detected due to a card failure".

After thanking the tech I decided to wait until Tuesday to pickup a couple of new cards (this was Friday night, and the Comcast office is closed Mondays).

HOWEVER, the next morning (SATURDAY!) the local Comcast CableCARD rep called me from his cell phone and asked me if my installation had gone smoothly. I explained that I had a bad card and he offered to send a tech to my house Monday afternoon.

Come Monday, 5pm (these guys apparently work until 7pm, they told me) the tech showed up and this guy REALLY knew his stuff. First he measured the signal strength on the cable going to my tuner and replaced a cable because the signal was lower than he liked. He then popped in a new card, Media Center immediately detected it and displayed the necessary ID numbers, and he called them in to activate the card. Five minutes later I was up and running. I also asked him for a 2nd card which he left me for the other PC I was going to setup at a later date, and he took the bad card with him and wrote me out a receipt for it.

Here's a photo of the PC with the tuner to the left of it, and you can see the external USB hard drive sitting on top of the PC (I have it velcroed down):

The Vostro 270s is not actually designed to sit on it's side like that, but I stuck four rubber feet on the side of the case and it works fine.

So far everything is running like a champ. I have the second CableCard tuner on order, and I'll probably setup the other PC next weekend.

About the only problem I'm having is that whenever the PC reboots (which is not often - I never allow it to sleep or shut down, and it's connected to a UPS) the remote control receiver on the tuner stops working. Not sure why. There are a few people on the NewEgg reviews that have this problem, but most don't. Since I have several USB IR receivers lying around for my other remotes, I just disabled the IR receiver on the tuner and plugged in one of my USB IR receivers and it works fine.

Some people on NewEgg also complain that their tuner gets very hot, but mine does not.

I was having an issue with the tuner sometimes not responding, but I replaced the USB cable and moved it to one of the two front USB ports on the PC, and it's been working perfectly ever since.


A WARNING ABOUT CLONING:
In case you ever decide to setup multiple Media Center PCs like me, and figure you'll save some trouble by cloning one that's already setup, let me warn you of a pitfall. Each media center PC has a unique DRM ID. If you clone an existing media center PC install to another PC, PlayReady (media center's DRM service) will not work properly, nor will you be able to update it or re-install it. You will have to manually uninstall it, and delete all the PlayReady and DRM files, then re-install it. Instructions here:

http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_7-windows_programs/playready-update-is-incomplete-after-replacing/49e8b342-ae9f-470b-a260-ce23c58a2578

NOTE: You can skip step "I". I have never had to re-install Windows Media Player to make this work.

One issue was that I was getting an annoying flicker on nearly all the HD channels and even some of the SD channels. I was suspecting the tuner or the CableCARD itself, but eventually I realized that the flicker wasn't visible when I played the video back on the older Media Center PCs or on my workstation.

I traced the problem to some settings in the Intel onboard video (Intel HD 2500) on these Vostro 270s PCs. This would probably be a problem for someone even watching an HD image on YouTube:

In the Intel video settings, under Advanced -> Media"
- Disable Skin Tone Enhancement
- Disable Film Mode Detection
- Disable Adaptive Contrast Enhancement

I'm surprised they would have this kind of active image "enhancement" enabled by default.

The second CableCARD tuner arrived a few days ago and today I activated the CableCARD for it via phone support with no problems. This weekend I'll set this 2nd PC up and the living room and I'll be good to go. I'll wait a few weeks to make sure everything is working okay, and then I'll return the two HD cabled boxes I'm no longer using.

Another issue is that these Vostro 270s have rather low audio output compared to my old Media Center PCs. I've ordered a couple of these refurbished Creative X-Fi Go USB sound adapters: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16829102046

 

1/31/07: Dell only selling WinXP on "Business" PCs as of Today

I was just on Dell's website pricing a system for a customer and there's no option for XP at all on Dell Dimensions or Inspirons. You will only be able to get XP as an OS option for their Latitude Notebooks and Optiplex and Precision Desktops.

Probably Microsoft is forcing all OEM vendors to only install Vista on "Home Class" PCs but I'm not thrilled that they're forcing it down your throat. Lots of small businesses and people who are self employed buy off the shelf OEM PCs, and compatibility is going to be hell for the next few months.

The Vista fun begins... GRRRR!

 

11/1/06: How to fix Autoplay when it stops working

Sometimes Autoplay just stops working for no reason. Most annoying it will work for one type of media (CDs maybe) and stop working for another (Flash drives for instance).

This is not an issue with the setting in the Autoplay tab, or even the Autoplay setting in the Group Policy editor.

I've had this problem myself on and off during the years, and a client had it today so I did some heavy Googling and found a tool that fixes this.

Microsoft has a tool called the Autoplay Repair Wizard you can download.

 

10/30/06: Fix for "Restricted Content" blue screen in Windows Media Center 2005

Microsoft updated the DRM in MCE 2005 in Rollup 2. This allows content providers to restrict playback of their programs. You are USUALLY allowed to record or time shift on one MCE system, you just can't watch that file on another PC or you get a blue screen that says "Restricted Content".

The problem is that if your licenses become corrupt, or you make any major hardware or even BIOS changes to your MCE system (which makes the OS think you've moved the files to another PC), then you can't even playback a restricted recording on that same PC you recorded it on, even recordings made AFTER the hardware changes.

Programs that have this DRM restriction flag will say "Copyrighted" in the Guide description for that program.

This just started happening to me a month ago. I couldn't record anything from any HBO channels. When I tried to play them back I'd get the "Restricted Content" blue screen message.

Did some Googling and I found a fix. The issue and the fix is documented in this Microsoft KB article, but is rather difficult to go through: http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=891664

Here is a simplified set of instructions I found elsewhere:

Be sure to back up any licenses to protected content first (only an issue if you have something recorded that's restricted content that you can STILL play), and then perform the following steps:

1. Close Media Center and Windows Media Player.
2. Click Start, Run. In the Open box, type cmd and click OK to open a Command Prompt window. At the command prompt, enter the command net stop ehrecvr and press Enter.
3. Click Start, Run. In the Open box, type %allusersprofile%\drm and Press Enter.
4. In the Windows Explorer window for the DRM folder, choose Tools, Folder Options. Click the View tab and select the Show hidden files and folders option and then clear the Hide protected operating system files option. Click OK to close the Folder Options dialog box.
5. Click in the Windows Explorer window for the DRM folder, press Ctrl+A to select all files, and press Delete.
6. Optional: Reverse the settings in Step 4.
7. Visit the following Web page: http://go.microsoft.com/FWLink?LinkID=34506 and click the button that allows you to upgrade Windows DRM components.
8. Restart your computer.
9. Optional: Restore any backed-up licenses.

This worked perfectly and now I can record anything from HBO again.

 

10/11/06: Are you using DEP (Data Execution Prevention)?

DEP was added in WinXP SP2 as a way to prevent buffer overrun exploits. Hardware support for this was added in all processors a few years ago so unless you're running very old hardware, your rig should support it.

What it does is prevent a program from running on the stack, which is exactly what a buffer overrun does. Programs are not supposed to run on the stack, but some legit apps do make use of this trick to improve performance in certain routines.

However, DEP handles this elegantly. With DEP enabled, if a program tries to run on the stack, Windows will close it with an error and a dialog box will come up offering you the option - if you believe this is a legit app - to add that app to an exception list.

I've avoided using it until now because I was concerned that I would have issues with some software. However, DEP has been in use for quite some time now and few people have had problems with it. Considering the number of buffer overrun exploits that keep being discovered, I thought it was time to turn it on.

After having it enabled for 2 weeks, so far I've come across only two apps that needed exceptions, and once that was done they ran fine: Alcohol 120 and FEAR.

Seems to be a no-brainer at this point. I suspect DEP will probably be enabled by default in Vista.

To enable it right click My Computer->Properties->Performance Settings button->Data Execution Prevention Tab. Click the radio button called "Turn on DEP for all programs and services except those I select".

 

9/16/06: Using the HOSTS file to Block Ads

Well I used to rail against the idea of using the HOSTS file as a filter mechanism to block dangerous sites and annoying ads. My reasons were two-fold:

1) I assumed (incorrectly I now know) that a long HOSTS file would impose a performance penalty

2) I didn't like the idea of a long, complicated Hosts file because a virus or malware could easily sneak in some of it's own entries and they'd be hard to spot.

Well performance is a non-issue I've found after some research, and while the 2nd is still a valid concern it's pretty rare to see malware or viruses tamper with the HOSTS anymore, and setting the HOSTS to read-only usually prevents tampering. Tampering with the HOSTS has become passe' for virus and malware writers - there's much more effective ways to intercept requests to the TCP/IP stack.

The reason I've decided to start using the HOSTS file is because the number of ads, and especially those annoying pop-over Flash ads, have gotten just WAY too numerous now. It's especially annoying when using the laptop on the road on a slow cellular connection.

I tried using the built-in ad-blocker in Kerio Personal Firewall. It works good - replacing all ads with the text "Blocked by KPF", but it causes a serious performance hit and dramatically slows down page loading. I tried to live with it but it's MUCH too slow.

So I've started using the MVPS HOSTS file:
http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm

I use a utility called HOSTER to replace or edit the HOSTS file, and it also easily allows you to set it to read-only (yeah, you can also use notepad but this is easier):
http://www.majorgeeks.com/Hoster_d4626.html

The MVPS HOSTS file is updated every month. I've subscribed to their mailing list and they left me know every time a new one is released.

It has dramatically reduced the amount of crap I see on web sites. Since I'm a Firefox user, in place of ad boxes I see Firefox's default "Unable to Connect" graphic - I believe in IE you would just see a red "X" in the missing ad boxes.

Pages that were loaded with ads like Dilbert's comic strip page load real fast now.

I've been using it for 4 months now with no issues except for one local hometown newspaper site that has some bad HTML coding in it. It pauses for 30 seconds while waiting for an ad box to respond before continuing to load the rest of the page. Sloppy coding by today's standards.

 

6/18/06: Identifying Unknown Devices

We've all been there. Performing a new install of Windows and you have a couple of unidentified devices listed in Device Manager. Now you have to pull the card and hope there's a manufacturer name and model on it - usually there isn't. It's also a pain pulling the card. Wouldn't it be nice to ID the card from within Windows?

Here's a couple of nifty utilities that do just that, both recommended by friends on PCAbusers Forums.

One is called Unknown Devices by Halfdone Development. It's a small (300K) standalone EXE you can run from a flash drive. There's a text file you need to download regularly with updates.

The other is Unknown Device Identifier by Huntersoft. This one has to be installed and also places an annoying HTML link to Huntersoft's website on your desktop.

 

6/8/06: How Security Wiping (zeroing) a Hard Drive Works

Most people are probably aware by now that to ensure that no one can read data from your old hard drive, it's prudent to perform a security wipe before selling it or giving it away, or even before throwing it in the trash. Anyone with a $50 disk recovery app could potentially read all your files. So you dutifully pop a security eraser like DBAN into your floppy drive and then let it do a security wipe which involves writing all zeroes to every byte in every sector of the drive. At a minimum you want to do three passes, but for better piece of mind you can do more (3 is enough for the average home owner, 7 is more than adequate for anything less than government or bank info). This takes a long time (a few hours on a big drive).

That's fine, but I'm sure some of you have asked WHY? Why isn't a single pass sufficient to erase your drive? Why are more passes better?

Okay, I had someone on PCAbusers ask me the following question, and I typed up what I thought was a pretty good layman's explanation, and I thought that I'd share it here.

BTW: I don't pretend to be a hard drive engineer, but I'm fairly confident that the following layman's explanation is accurate. If someone who IS a hard drive engineer wants to critique my post, please email me and I'll update it.

"QUESTION: Guess I'll never understand the multiple pass thing.. Shouldn't once do it if its all zeros? I mean its all on and off right? What did it miss? Tracks, sectors or is there a faint 1 where there was a zero and brought back? I'll never understand this."

ANSWER: "...or is there a faint 1 where there was a zero and brought back?"

EXACTLY right!

The reason why one pass doesn't do it is because although the data is encoded in binary (on and off, 1's and 0's) the actual information on the platters is an analog signal. When you zero a sector, a faint echo of the old data is still there. It doesn't reduce the signal strength of all the bits to zero, it just reduces the signal below a threshold that the drive electronics considers to be a zero.

This echo is too weak for the drive's electronics to pickup (the electronics automatically treats everything below a certain threshold as a zero) BUT the HDD can be put into a special RAW mode that allows an app to directly access the signal recorded on the platter. This is how recovery programs work. The recovery software looks at each bit and decides if it's a zero or a one based on it's faint signal strength.

A 1 pass zeroed drive will still have faint bits detectable in RAW mode. The strength of the bit will be way below what the onboard electronics consider a "one" bit and will be treated as a zero at the BIOS level, but the RAW scan will see a slight signal for each "ghost" one bit, and a lot less or no signal at all for a true zero bit. You can reconstruct the whole drive structure from this. It's tedious, but that's why a good recovery program takes several hours (or even days) to recover lost data.

This is also how a sector scan for bad sectors recovers data from a bad sector and moves it to a good sector. When you do a sector scan with Scandisk it's done in RAW mode. The bad sector may be unreadable in normal mode to BIOS, but in RAW mode Scandisk can read the bad sector several times and average out the signal and "guess" what the data should be. If the sector is is not badly damaged, the data can be recovered and moved to a good sector and then BIOS marks the old sector bad so it's bypassed in the future.

ANYWAY by overwriting several times with zeroes as opposed to once, it's reducing the original signal more and more until finally it's buried in background noise - too faint for a data recovery app to be able to reliably guess what the old data was.

It's like running a bulk eraser over a video tape, if you've ever done this (those of you old enough to remember). Run it over the tape just once and it doesn't do much. You can still see what was on the tape, but it looks grainy now. Run it across the tape a few more times and the video gets grainier still, but you can still see it.

What you were supposed to do with a bulk eraser to do it right (and I was an intern in a video studio so I spent MANY long hours doing it right) is to run the bulk eraser repeatedly (in circle to be specific) around the top and then the bottom of the tape case several dozen times to be sure to get as much of the old recording off as possible, otherwise there was a chance you'd see parts of the old video poking through your new recording - especially during edits. Those of you who re-used your VHS tapes at home repeatedly (without bulk erasing) I'm sure have seen bits of old recordings popping up all the time.

Exactly the same concept.

 

 

5/10/06: Cut and Paste Bug in Firefox 1.5.0.2 & 1.5.0.3 Will Be Fixed in 1.5.0.4

This bug is somewhat rare, but many Firefox users are suffering with it (me included). You can't reliably copy and paste or drag and drop from/to Firefox. There was apparently a key logger trojan that was causing this on SOME systems, but others (including me) were getting the problem on clean systems.

Mozilla has tracked it down to a bug, and it'll be fixed in Firefox 1.5.0.4 which will be released in a couple of weeks.

There's a thread on this problem here on the Mozilla forums, with a post from the moderator at stating that the fix will be included in 1.5.0.4:
http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?p=2256306#2256306

 

5/8/06: My Favorite Podcasts

I usually listen to a lot of books on tape in the car since my business keeps me on the road a lot, and I get bored just listening to music. Need to keep the mind active. Music is fine for mowing the lawn, but I crave information when I'm driving.

I've recently discovered podcasts even though I've had an MP3 player for years. Since I got into listening to podcasts I hardly ever turn on the radio in the car anymore and I may stop paying for my XM Radio subscription when it expires next year since I rarely turn it on.

The biggest find, for me, was that many of my favorite NPR (National Public Radio) programs like "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and "Science Friday" are now available on podcasts. I live in a rural area where public radio station reception is terrible, and this is a God-send. I also love to listen to Car Talk which, unfortunately, is not available via podcast without a hefty annual fee, but I've been recording them to MP3 using Total Recorder.

My friends have also turned me on to a lot of interesting free podcast sites, and I'll list my favorites here:

- Escape Pod - Excellent monthly short fiction (sci/fi & fantasy). This site actually PAYS their authors and the stories are often top-notch stories that have been published in leading magazine venues. They pay their authors entirely through YOUR Paypal donations, so if you http://slashdotreview.com/ke what you hear, send them a few bucks.

- SlashDot Review - If you're a fan of Slashdot.org, this is a daily 10 minute audio summary of all the news items on SlashDot.

- SecurityNow! - Hosted by TechTV's Leo Laporte and security expert Steve Gibson, this is a weekly show that mostly revolves around security issues in Windows and Windows based products. Very informative for IT people. I'd recommend listening to episode #38 on Browser Security - especially if you're an IE user.

- Rev Up Review - UK Science Fiction podcast

- Podiobooks.com - Free audiobooks

- Voices of Tomorrow - Edgy flash fiction - a new story each day

- GeeksOn.com - Nerdy science & science fiction round table. Sometimes a bit long, and the quality can be poor, but they have some good topics on occasion.

As for my MP3 player, I've gone through several before finding one that works best for me. I'm using a 512Mb Samsung YP-MT6X (although I'm shopping around for the 1Gb version now).

This is a nice, affordable MP3 player, with a LOT of volume (I can listen to it on my riding mower wearing cheap $30 noise canceling headphones), plenty of features, both preset EQs and a manual 5 band equalizer (I much prefer to set my EQ manually - being a former sound engineer I never seem to like the presets). The biggest plus is that it runs for a whopping 40 hours on a AA alkaline battery. I highly recommend it.

It doesn't have bookmarks but it remembers where you stopped playing, and it has a very easy and intuitive file navigation system.

The only complaint I've ever heard about this player is that it will lose it's place if the battery runs too low. Once you understand this you just learn to replace the battery when it starts acting up.

 

2/7/06: Dramatic improvement in performance in DoD Source and CS Source by switching to a PCI add-on sound card.

This is interesting. I was having a debate with someone at PCAbusers. He said he'd read on a lot of forums that people were finding that Valve's Source games really chugged on systems with on-board audio. The source engine does a lot of environmental processing and apparently it helps performance to use a dedicated sound card

I didn't totally buy this, but my LAN rig (AMD 3200+ Athlon32, 1Gb, Radeon x800 Pro, AC'97 onboard audio) does stutter a lot, like it's dropping frames, in Dod Source so I dropped an SBLive 5.1 card in there that I had lying around and sure enough, it dramatically reduced the stuttering in the game. The game plays a lot smoother now on that system than it ever did.

So if you're getting poor performance in DoD Source or CS Source and you think your rig should be running better than that, try temporarily disabling your sound card in device manager and see if it improves performance a lot. If so, try installing a PCI sound card.

 

1/12/06: Windows Powertoy Alt-Tab Replacement Interferes with Games

This has been driving me crazy for months. On my main gaming rig I was getting a terrible keyboard sliding problem in Day of Defeat. It was almost as if I had a sticky keyboard - very often my character would continue moving in the direction I had last been moving in for a second after I let go of the key. Very annoying. I was on the verge of performing a clean install when, out of desperation, I started disabling all kinds off background processes in the hope of getting lucky - and I did.

The problem turned out to be a Microsoft PowerToy called Alt-Tab Replacement (also called Task Switcher or Cool Switch). It improves on the normal Alt-Tab feature of WindowsXP by showing you a miniature screenshot of each Window that's open instead of just an icon. Very cool BUT not if it screws up my gaming experience.

There's no uninstaller that I could find for this, so I just disabled in in my Startups using MSCONFIG.

 

12/4/05: Improving Performance in DOD Source

I'm a long time Day of Defeat player and I'm loving DOD Source, but performance can be laggy when there's a lot of action, and load times are horrible even on my fairly studly gaming system (AMD 3200+, 1Gb, Radeon x800 Pro).

Well people, I found the simple solution to DOD Source joy: DISABLE HDR. HDR is nice eyecandy, but frankly it serves little practical purpose in a fast-paced FPS game.

HDR, along with FSAA and complex reflections is enabled automatically if DOD Source believes your card can handle it. These three items are totally unneccesary eye-candy. I have never been a believer in FSAA, and now I feel the same about HDR.

I'd much rather trade off the minor visual improvements for higher framerates and higher resolution. With HDR and FSAA disabled, and reflections set to "simple" the game runs silky smooth at 1600x1280 on my rig, and I'm a happy camper.

Disabling HDR also DRAMATICALLY reduces load times (enabling HDR requires a very large HDR map to be loaded).

Just try disabling HDR and see what I mean. You'll never miss it.

Save HDR for single player games.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

10/20/05: Converting MCE 2005 .DVR-MS Video Files TO DivX or WMV

Media Center uses a proprietary codec for the TV recording files it makes with the DVR-MS extension. It's based on the WMV codec, but it's not the same. You can't edit DVR-MS files directly and they're VERY large (at best quality 30 mins = 1.2Gb).

You have to convert them to something else to be able to edit them, or just to efficiently store them on optical media. Only app that I've found that works well is DeskShare's Digital Media Converter: http://www.deskshare.com/dmc.aspx

I've converted MCE recordings to WMV and to Divx. You can convert it to WMV and then use movie maker. You can also convert to other formats such as MPEG2.

After some trial and error I came up with the following settings:

I use the following settings for WMV conversions:
Select "WMV For Desktop Viewing", "DVD quality video (1Mbps CBR)", "CD quality audio (CBR)"

This results in 30 Min = 200Mb

For DivX I use:
"AVI", "DivX 6.0 Codec", "IMA ADPCM audio codec"
(you have to have the DivX Pro Codec installed - I use the one installed by the DivX Create Bundle when it was being offered for free last month)

This results in 30min = 300Mb

To keep from having audio sync problems I don't use MP3 as the audio codec for DivX. Using MP3 would make the video file smaller, but I gave up on it. Every other video would have sync issues and it's just not worth the aggravation. Using the settings above you'll never have sync problems.

Be aware that it takes (depending on your processor) at least 1-1/2 times the run time of the video to convert it so I do my conversions over night. The nice thing is that Digital Media Converter does batch conversions so you can specify multiple files to convert and then let it run all night.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

10/9/05: Hotfix Released For Performance Issue with WinXP SP2 and AMD Dual Core Processors

http://support.microsoft.com/?id=896256

Microsoft has released a hotfix to for systems running AMD dual core processors. It fixes a possible decrease in performance during demand based switching with Cool 'n Quiet enabled. Microsoft will only send you the hot fix if you have been experiencing the problem - although I'd assume this hotfix will be available on torrents eventually.

NOTE: This problem only affects machines that have Cool N Quiet enabled. If you have it disabled it won't affect you. It's caused by the CPU changing speeds in Cool N Quiet mode.

I've already had a couple of client's with systems that had unusually poor performance and figured out it was because of this. I've just been disabling Cool N Quiet until now.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

9/17/05: Older Antec Power Supplies And Leaking Capacitors!

I have been - and continue to be - a big fan of Antec. They make great cases and PSUs. However it looks like they purchased a bad batch of capacitors a few years ago, and they're starting to show up now in failed PSUs as the capacitors start leaking.

I had an issue with an Antec True 430  PSU causing voltage spikes on shutdown or power up that killed 3 hard drives in my main workstation a few months ago.

Someone on Anand's told me that it appears that Antec bought a bad batch of capacitors from a supplier a while back and they've been having problems with leaking caps.

This guy suggested I do a Google search for "antec capacitors leaking". I did and I came up with a lot of interesting links.

This link deals with a True 430 (same model PSU I had the problem with) and has a photo of leaking caps: http://www.dslreports.com/forum/remark,14116577

Well I still have my old Antec True 430 PSU sitting on the floor here waiting to get thrown out. So I opened it up tonight and guess what I found? LEAKING CAPS!!!!!! Exactly the same as the photo in that link. The same four caps shown in the photo in the link above are all bulging and oozing brown goop from the top.

Hmmm. Glad I replaced both my Antec PSUs (Main workstation and LAN party rig) with new Enermax NoiseTakers PSUs a couple of months ago.

I'm going to open the True 480 that was in my LAN rig and see if there's any leaking caps in it (that PSU was causing no problems but I changed it anyway and put it on the shelf for now).

Those of you with Antec PSUs that are more than a year old and are having any unusual problems may want to check for leaking caps - if you don't mind potentially violating any warranty that's left on it. Or at least swap out the PSU to see if that fixes your problem.

I was going to toss out the PSU but since Antec has a 3 year warranty I decided to file for an RMA. I'm also requesting info from Antec about what models are may be affected by this defect. I'm not aware of any official statement by Antec on the problem.

From my Google searches it seems that most of the PSUs that have turned up with bad caps are were built around 2 - 3 years ago. This was a time when a LOT of bad capacitors were manufactured due to a chemical supplier making poor electrolytic. I've seen a lot of bad cap and mobos from that era, but I'm surprised to find out that Antec got burned in that deal as well.

UPDATE 9/20/05:

Well they won't RMA the PSU because I opened it. I can understand that. However they are also completely denying that they have any issues with bad caps.

I also got some sort of wise ass tech who told me that there's no way to tell if a PSU is bad by opening it. I should use MotherBoard Monitor instead. Real bright one this guy. Yeah, brown goo oozing out of four capacitors doesn't mean anything as long as motherboard monitor says my voltages are good... sure.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but to deny any problems what so ever when the whole industry was affected seems absurd.

The good thing is that from doing a lot of research it appears that although Antec did get stuck with some defective caps, they seem to have caught it quickly. There a LOT of other manufacturers that seem to have far worse problems.

Some more threads if you're interested here:
http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=838
http://www.badcaps.net/forum/showthread.php?t=139
 

Matter of fact that badcaps.net forum has a LOT of interesting info on the bad capacitor problem in general.
 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

5/26/05: Simple Hack To Add 10-band Equalizer And Environmental Audio Control Panel To C-Media 8739 Audio Hardware

My MediaPC has an onboard C-Media 8739 audio chipset. This is a great chipset, and it's found in many motherboards as the onboard audio hardware. The problem is that it lacks any kind of equalizer controls (not even a treble and bass control in the audio mixer) HOWEVER the ability is there with the right software.

I did some Googling and found this interesting hack for the C-Media 9739 drivers that allows them to work with any C-Media 8739 chipset hardware, and it works well for me. It adds an SB Live-type environmental control panel with surround settings, environmental audio controls, and a full 10 band equalizer with a dozen presets, plus you can add your own presets.

The only thing I did differently than the following instructions was that AFTER I installed the driver using the Device Manager wizard, as recommended, I rebooted and then installed the driver and apps using the SETUP.EXE file that comes with the drivers (just installing the driver alone doesn't give you the EQ and environmental audio controls). After rebooting again, you have a taskbar icon that opens the audio control panel.

I modified the CMVIA.INF file as instructed below, because my mobo uses a VIA chipset.

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

Download the new CMEDIA 9739 drivers from the following link :

http://www.cmedia.com.tw/download/e_UDA039.htm
Download JUST the driver - no need for the Audio Rack crap.

Then modify the CMVIA.INF file , adding the following lines under the [C-media] paragraph :

%CMI8738.DeviceDesc%=AC97, PCI\VEN_13F6&DEV_0111&SUBSYS_011113F6
%CMI8738.DeviceDesc%=AC97, PCI\VEN_13F6&DEV_0111&SUBSYS_011013F6


After that , uninstall the older cmedia drivers and install these with the "device manager" way ...

After the installation , reboot your computer and enjoy the new drivers with built in equalizer with alot sound themes to choose from , new 5.1 virtual mode and God knows what else ...
I have tested them and they work absolutely fine on my rig.

NOTE: I have tested the mod to the CMVIA.INF file only , because i have a motherboard with a VIA chipset. The drivers have other files for the other chipsets , but i haven't tested the mod on them. So BE CAREFUL if you risk the mod to these files...

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

4/28/05: Zen And The Art of Data Backup

I do not recommend tape backups for small businesses anymore. They are best used for large corporate LANS with very large data backup requirements. Otherwise tape is not cost effective anymore, and it's terribly slow.

I use DVD-RW backups for ALL my small business clients. That's almost 9Gb of data backup with compression (18Gb if you use dual layer DVDs) - comparable in size to tape drives, far faster and far more reliable.

I recommend Stomp's Backup MyPC software. This is essentially the same software as Veritas Backup. Stomp bought it from Veritas and continued to improved it. Backup MyPC does NOT run on a server OS, but I always do my backups from a workstation anyway. The less that runs on a file server, the better, and this also makes it much easier to install a replacement server.

Most small businesses don't use server OSes anyway. The vast majority of my small business clients just use peer-to-peer file sharing from a regular workstation OS, and this is fine for up to 10 users.

Unlike tape, you can archive CDs or DVDs, which makes using them very attractive. I recommend weekly archives. I have my clients use re-writeable discs for Monday thru Thursday. On Fridays they grab a DVD+R blank from a 50 pack spindle and burn a permanent archive copy - write the date on it with a sharpie and file it away. THIS IS INVALUABLE. I can't tell you how often I've had a client realize they deleted an important file several weeks (or even months) later, and if you're only making backups with re-writables that you re-use every week, that file is lost forever. If you keep a weekly archive you can ALWAYS go back and find a lost file.

I always schedule the backups to run late in the evening every business day after everyone goes home. As long as someone puts a disc in the drive, the backup will happen automatically. I also use a small batch file and schedule it to run after the backup (using Windows Scheduler) to eject the disc and print the backup log summary so the not-so-bright office people have a confirmation that the backup actually happened (and hopefully they'll read the log summary to confirm that the date is correct and there were no errors).

Some important guidelines I give to my clients:

- EVERYONE must close all applications at the end of the business day, or you will not be able to backup all your data. Backup apps can't backup a file that's in use.

- ALWAYS use data verification. This forces the backup app to compare the files on the backup to the originals after completing the backup. This assures you that you have a good backup.

- Don't blindly rely on your backup program. Check the backup log regularly (at least once a week) to make sure the backups are occurring. Also, AT LEAST once a month, you should restore some randomly selected files from a recent backup as a test to make sure you can recover data from your backups (MAKE SURE NOT TO OVERWRITE YOUR DATA WHEN YOU DO TEST RESTORES! Select a temporary folder as the destination for your restores.

- Keep any backups, and your inportant CDs (your applications, OS CDs, etc) in a FIRE SAFE (Walmart sells a small one for $30). EVERYTHING you may need to get a replacement computer up and running after a disaster should be in the fire safe. If the office burns down it doesn't do you much good if you have a backup of your data, but no copy of your backup software to restore that data, and no copy of whatever applications you need to install on a replacement computer.

- Keep DUPLICATE COPIES of ALL application installation CDs OFF SITE! If the office gets robbed, you're screwed if everything is on-site.

- ALWAYS keep a recent data backup OFF SITE! I tell my clients to take the previous day's backup home each night. If the place gets robbed, and you lose everything, at least you have a 24 hour old data backup and (if you followed the previous recommendation) a copy of all your apps securely off-site.


Disaster recovery involves MUCH MORE than just making the occasional backup. Plan for the worst. I see the worst happen all the time.

My clients adore me when they follow my instructions and disaster strikes. I can usually get them up and running again with a loaner system in a few hours at worst.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

4/21/05: If You're Having Problems Installing A Newer DVD Burner, It's Time to Upgrade To SP2

It's time. You won't be able to avoid WinXP Service Pack 2 much longer.

I've already run across several situations where pre-SP2 installs of WinXP don't recognize newer DVD burners. They ask for drivers that you may or may not have (I've yet to hear of a burner that comes with any drivers).

Also if you're doing a new OS install and using a newer DVD drive you may not be able to install XP because once the installer won't recognize the DVD drive. Solution is to either temporarily connect a regular CD drive or use an XP installer CD slipstreamed to SP2.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

4/20/05: Why You Should Partition A Large Hard Drive Into Several Smaller Partitions

This question comes up often on tech forums: "One big partition or several smaller ones?"

There's a LOT of good reasons to use several smaller partitions, and that's what I do on my own computer.

For just one example, consider fatal damage to the MFT (Master File Table). Losing the MFT on one large partition would be a disaster - there's a good chance you'd lose all your data. However, losing just one of the MFTs on a drive with several partitions would at worst cause the loss of all the data ONLY in that one partition, leaving the data in other partitions unaffected.

For this reason alone I recommend - at the very least - that you keep ALL your data (like your Documents folder) on a different partition than the boot drive on a mission critical system.

I explain this in detail in this article here.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

4/15/05: Comcast In It's 8th day of DNS Issues (Attacks?)
If you're a Comcast user like me, you've probably been experiencing connection problems off and on (but especially late at night) for the past week.

Comcast is having DNS server outages. No one knows for sure, but people are beginning to suspect it's some kind of DNS server attack since it happens at practically the same time of day. Some info available on Broadband Reports forums here.

A temporary work-around is to manually change the DNS server settings on your computer or router to something else. Broadband Reports has a list of suggested DNS servers here.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

3/27/05: Avoiding Video Codec Hassles With Divx & XVid Files

I was having problems playing back some XVid and Divx videos (stuttering, slow frame rates) and after a lot of research I found that the problem is invariably from having too many codecs installed. Sometimes they interfere with each other.

What seemed to work best for a while was to ONLY install XVid (XVid can decode Divx without installing Divx) and the AC3 audio filter (to handle XVid audio streams with surround - you need it even if you aren't using surround).

HOWEVER I still occasionally had problems and had to play swap the codecs, Two invaluable tools for this are GSpot and DXMan.

GSpot is a Codec Information utility. You drag and drop a video file onto it and it tells you EXACTLY what codecs (audio and video) the video file requires to playback, and whether you have compatible codecs installed.

DXMan allows you to selectively uninstall Codecs.

I have recently found the best all-around codec though. It's called FFDShow (NOTE: use the 20041012 alpha version). It handles XVid, Divx, WMV, MPEG1 and MPEG2 and seems to play everything stably without a problem.

Only snag I ran into is that it's support for AC3 isn't good (on my 2 speaker system it tries to play 5 speaker audio and I don't hear everything). Even if you have the AC3 filter installed seperately, FFDShow still overrides it by default, so you have to disable AC3 support in FFDShow. Run the FFDShow Audio Filter Configuration app and in the drop-down box next to AC3, select disabled (mine was originally set to "liba52"). If you have the AC3 filter installed then it just takes over and all is well.

NOTE: Do NOT download newer versions of AC3 and FFDShow you might find somewhere else! Many of these are hacked versions that may contain spyware!!! Get them from SourceForge.net or the author's home page only.

I also HIGHLY recommend you DO NOT use Microsoft's crappy code-bloated Windows Media Player. Instead, I use BSPlayer which is far superior and it's FREE!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

3/27/05: XBox Power Cable Recall a farce. Doesn't fix the problem

Microsoft's XBox power cable recall is apparently a farce. It doesn't address the REAL problem which is, apparently, caused by the solder pads on the power socket inside the unit breaking loose. The fix is absurdly simple for anyone who knows how to solder. You could probably take the unit to any TV repair shop and get it fixed in 5 minutes, if you show them what to do.

The article on this page explains it in detail along with photos:
http://forums.xbox-scene.com/lofiversion/index.php/t361537.html

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

3/18/05: All CD/DVD Media Not Created Equal

Interesting article I came across that describes the difference in quality among different brands of CD and DVD media. I've always heard that Taiyo Yuden was good and according to this article it's the best you can buy. From now on I'm going to buy them from NewEgg.com (which I order 95% of all my parts from, and I can highly recommend).

I've had CDs go bad on me in the past and anything I burn needs to last decades.

Article:

http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,66911-2,00.html?tw=wn_story_page_next1
 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

3/12/05: MY SPYWARE REMOVAL PROCEDURE

In order to save space on this blog, I've moved my spyware removal procedure to this page:

http://TheFlyingPenguin.com/spyware-removal.shtml

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

3/1/05 Adjusting Video Card PCI Latency To Dramatically Improve 3D Game Performance!

Gotta share this. Someone at PCAbusers told me about it.

Apparently NVidia and ATI both purposely set the video card's PCI latency (even if it's AGP it still uses a PCI IRQ channel) to the highest setting.

This apparently leads to two things - smoother framerates (not faster but smoother) and the elimination of sound stuttering in many games.

If you want all the details read these two threads:

http://forums.guru3d.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=106522

http://forums.guru3d.com/showthread.php?&threadid=121190

Bottom line is, if you set you video card's PCI latency to 64 versus the defaults (255 for ATI and 253 for NVidia), you get a MUCH smoother game. A vast number of people have confirmed it with no ill effects. I've been using it myself on both my main rig and my LAN party rig with no problems. The process is also completely reversible if it does cause problems for you.

It DEFINATELY made Counter Strike: Source run MUCH smoother on my rig. Even Day of Defeat which was suffering from minor, but annoying sound burps now runs silky smooth. My vid card is an ATI Radeon x800.

I'm no fan of video card tweaking, but this is a MUST TRY. It's simple to do, should not cause any problems, and is easily reversible. I would recommend you also make a Restore Point before doing this if you want to be paranoid, but all you're doing is changing one registry entry.


You need to download the PCI Latency Tool here:
http://downloads.guru3d.com/download.php?det=951

The instructions included with it are not quite correct - if you follow them the latency settings won't stick when you reboot. Here's corrected instructions:


STEP 1. Open the pci latency tool. Look at the Latency value for the video card ("VGA Compatible Controller"). If it's already set to 64 or 32 leave it alone and forget this. A lower setting won't help and may hurt.

STEP 2. Right click on your video card and select "Quickset Latency", then enter the desired setting (64), then click OK (this changes the latency immediately to 64 and should be reflected in the Latency column value).

STEP 3. Right click on video card again and click "Change Setting(s)" then enter the desired setting (64) and click OK. This will change the :New Latency" column value to 64.

STEP 4. Bring down Settings menu again and select "Save" so everything you have just done is saved.

STEP 5. Bring down the Settings menu and select "Apply at startup" so it has a checkmark next to it. This adds a line to your startups that forces the latency setting you've chosen to be set every time windows boots.

STEP 6: Reboot and run the program Make sure the latency setting for the video card is set to 64. Sometimes it reverts back if so, go through the above process again. It's VERY fussy about doing things in the proper order as spelled out in the steps above.
 

 

For info on my computer consultation and repair services, visit my website HERE.


CALL OR EMAIL FOR REFERENCES

Member of the Lady Lake Chamber of Commerce since 2002


Robert Osorio 
"The Flying Penguin"
Computer Consultant
Lady Lake, Florida

Servicing Leesburg, Fruitland Park, Lady Lake, The Villages, Ocala, and neighboring communities in Central Florida

- By Appointment Only -

Specializing in PCs:    DOS & All Windows Operating Systems


(352) 750-0845
Toll Free Pager: (888) 210-9108

- By Appointment Only -

24 Hour Emergency Service

Doing business in
Lady Lake since January 2002

Homepage

 

 

NOTE: Spyware has become a serious problem CLICK HERE
for free information on how to avoid being infected by Spyware.

 

This and all other web pages and graphics Copyright 1998 - 2005 by Robert Osorio