Table of Contents




Title Technology Today
by Robert Sanborn

August 2002    

Is it my imagination or is the settling out of DVD standards taking much too long to end. Those of you who remember, or even worse, got stuck with a Sony Betamax recorder will certainly show a bit of restraint before dumping another $600 or so for a DVD recorder and discs. The problem is that they may take too long to settle things out before we decide we don’t need a DVD recorder. Right now, there are still six different DVD recording types out there and unfortunately as a consumer of these products, we have to decide which one to buy. We do because if you ask the different manufacturers, you will get conflicting answers as each hopes to be the real one to go forward. The good news is that they have settled on the DVD-R standard for creating the one time use only discs. Kind of like what CD-R is to the rest of us. You write to the disc once and that is it. You should have no trouble in reading it on any other DVD system. The real problem is in the re-writable area and that is where we are in our VHS/Betamax quandary. If you ask IBM or Gateway, they go with the DVD-RAM standard which is what they install on their desktop systems. Dell and HP use the DVD+RW standard. Finally, Compaq and Sony use the DVD-RW format. What is the big deal, well for one thing, a re-writable disc written by an HP cannot be read by the Compaq. Since they are both the same company, you guess which will survive. For some very good analysis of the DVD world, go to http://www.dvddemystified.com/dvdfaq.html. 

From the people that I see and talk to, no one is that anxious to get into DVD recording. The people that should be would be the ones that have old videos, home movies, and the like that probably need to be converted to digital format before they disintegrate. Now for data backup, DVD I think won’t be the solution no more than CD RW is the solution. Not enough space for everything. Yes DVD currently holds 4.7GB of data compared to the 700mb of a CD but my last customer installed a 100GB drive in his computer and most of the drives these days are in the 40 to 80GB range. Granted I haven’t seen too many people fill these up but it really won’t be that long before they do. Now for those of you that only use your computer for occasional word processing and email, you are right; you will never fill up that much space. That is until you decide to get a digital camera, scanner, or discover that there is a way to convert all those old 78 and 33 LP records to digital. I still look longingly at a stack of records that I haven’t heard in years and don’t have CDs for.  

Our problem is that I am seeing too many people and businesses not backing up their critical files on the computers. There are too many factors out there that will kill a computer from power spikes through lightening to simple failures of the hard drives. So, what is your solution to backing up your stuff? My favorite right now is to set up a second computer and use the network. That computer can be nearly anything that has been sitting around. Just be sure it is running Windows98 or better, can recognize a hard drive bigger than 20GB, and use the network to copy the files across. Now Rollie’s adventure in doing this for a large set of files seemed to take quite a bit of time so depending on how much you have, you might need to revise some options but there are some software packages out there to help you compress the information and keep it all together. PowerQuest’s Drive Image is one such solution. 

Noisy Computers 

I have talked about noisy computers in the past and Dave Knoll (former president of the ICS) has done some real research into the problem by spending cold cash on some of the solutions that are out there and his findings are interesting to note. One of his first comments after buying a new quieter power supply and CPU Fan is that his computer still sounds like a wind tunnel. To me, my test system with the three fans installed sounded like a turbo-prop plane in flight. You can read while in flight but it does get annoying after a while and is really noticeable when you turn the thing off and discover how quiet life can be. The real problem is to tell how much cooling that your computer really needs. If you ever put your finger on a processor chip just after it was turned off, you know that you can easily leave a layer of skin there because it is really hot. Hot enough that if the CPU fan quits, you will more than likely be stuck with a dead computer. So what is good to see is now a trend towards cooler systems. If you consider that most laptops even running Pentium IVs don’t have anywhere near the cooling capacity that our desktop systems have we may find we are on to something here. I also see computer systems out there built around very small cases. Both Intel and AMD are working on low power processors and the Chipset maker VIA is also working in that direction. So, do we need all these fans to keep things quiet? Hard telling but probably so and so what we need is more information on what is really happening inside the computer. Well one thing is that most new mainboards will tell you how fast the fans are running and what temperature the internal CPU is running at. There is also some software out there that will also tell you without having to go into the CMOS setup of the computer to see them. One such product is MB Probe, http://mbprobe.livewiredev.com/. 

Check out a couple of Dave’s references at http://www6.tomshardware.com/cpu/02q2/020605/. Also look at www.pcpowerandcooling.com/, PC Power and Cooling, and Silicon Acoustics at www.siliconacoustics.com. One thing you should remember though is that nothing wears out a computer faster than over heating so be very careful if you decide to reduce the amount of cooling available to your computer. Another very good resource will be the Over Clockers. These are people that routinely push the computer to run much faster than it was designed to do. Think of them as the hot rod junkies of the 21st Century who take ordinary cars and turn them into racers. There is a whole bunch of web sites devoted to over-clocking your computer and these folks have really run into the problem of cooling things down as one thing besides speed that is generated with over-clocking, and that is heat. 

Short Takes 

I have long been telling people that they need to replace the surge protectors periodically and recently came across an article from the Naked PC Newsletter (http://www.thenakedpc.com) that clarified the problem. According to them, the reason that the surge protectors (and that also includes the UPS Uninterruptible Power Supplies) need to be replaced is that the technology that protects against surges wears out over time. You see, what happens is that each of these units has a fixed amount of life to them and each time they take a hit or surge, that hit takes away from their ability to protect your equipment and so they wear out. I remember back in the early 80s building my own surge strip. I took a power bar, opened it up, and soldered in the metal-oxide varistors (MOVs) inline with the power. It is these MOVs that actually protect your equipment against surges and spikes. The problem is that when these MOVs wear out or get burned out because of a surge or spike, there is often no way of knowing whether they are still working or not. The power strip still works but you have no way of knowing whether the protection is still there or not and unfortunately, I have seen several situations where a computer was hit by lightening and the owner tells me that they had a surge protection unit on it. When I looked at the unit, I discovered that it was purchased some 10 or more years ago. Not surprising at all when you consider the surges and spikes that you get and don’t know about them because they aren’t quite large enough to kill anything but maybe just cause a light to blink for a split second. Some of the newer, and more expensive, surge units have indicator lights that tell you that your unit is still protecting what ever you have plugged into it but most of them do not, especially the cheaper units.  There are a couple of solutions. One being to replace all of those devices every few years. A better one would be to get a better quality surge protection unit (like those from American Power Conversions, APC at www.apcc.com) that will let you know that it is still protecting your equipment. Another solution would be to get a whole house surge protection unit. You can learn more about them by doing a search on Google, www.google.com under “whole house surge protection”. 

It is hard to believe but I still don’t own what I consider a quality digital camera. Yes I have tinkered with many and have had the opportunity to review several from companies like Kodak, Olympus, and Minolta but I still haven’t found the one that I really want to plunk down cold hard cash for. The problem is that the camera I want costs over $1,000 and the one I can live with costs over $600. But I still haven’t found just the right mix of camera to make me actually spend the cash. I was beginning to really feel alone in this boat until I saw an article from David Pogue in the New York Times back on Thursday, June 13, 2002 called “STATE OF THE ART; Desert Island Cameras”. In it he goes through the same types of agony in selecting a camera. He did a round up of 10 4 megapixel cameras in the $400 to $900 range and his thought process of elimination is worth reading. You can still get it on the New York Times web site at www.nytimes.com but it will cost you to retrieve it.  

In his review, I found a few (actually quite a few) interesting details and information that went with the column. First of all, of the 10 cameras selected, they use four different memory card types. To me this is a serious point in selecting the camera as I want the memory card to easily work with my other devices and computers. I use a Pocket PC Computer that uses Compact Flash CF memory, The new Epson printer uses both CF and Smart Media SM memory and you can find a lot of devices that will allow you to simply plug either of those memory modules into a USB connected reader for easy and quick transfer to your computer. My Notebook also has a CF Reader built in so again, for me, the camera must use CF memory. That would eliminate 4 of the cameras including the Olympus and Sony. Another requirement for me is that it uses standard AA batteries, preferably four of them for better battery life. I have tons of spare rechargeables and Alkalines around the house to use and if you get stuck, you can almost always find AA batteries for sale. That will bump three more out and leave the Casio, Kodak, and Minolta cameras. I want at least a 3X optical zoom lens and that bounces the Kodak. The Casio, in my opinion, is a techno geeks dream and I really want a camera that works fast, is easy to change from one setting to another, and is easy to use. What that does leave me is the Minolta Dimage S404 camera to take a look at. Not a big selection once you get down to it.

Want true audiophile quality from your computer? Want to know what it sounds like to have those warm true sounds coming out of your computer speakers? Then you should take a look at AOpen’s newest mainboard offering, the AX4B-533 model. With a vacuum tube built into the sound chips, this is truly a unique offering for those that really want the superior sound quality coming from their computer. http://club.aopen.com.tw/activity/tube/en/default.htm 

Robert Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant, and a contributing editor for the Indianapolis Computer Society. Reach him through the net at indypcnews@indy.rr.com

Last Update:02/07/2011


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