Dan's Data letters #47Publication date: 4-June-2003.
Last modified 23-Aug-2012.
I thoroughly enjoyed your "Which Video Card?" article. It's nice to see a real breakdown vs the overhyping and overly optimistic/glorified advertisement reviews patrolling the Net.
Anyway, I would like to kindly ask of you your opinion or best guesstimate on just how important DirectX 9 will be into the end of 2003. I like your recommendations, and the only thing holding me back is DX9 support vs DX8 support.
It depends what you're playing. Tons of people will still be playing old games - or, at least, old engines like dear old Half-Life - which don't even need DX8.1. If you're playing Half-Life 2 or DOOM III or what-have-you, then DX9 compatibility will help a lot - but you'll still have a better time with a GeForce4 Ti4200 than with a GeForce FX 5200.
People get irrational about this sort of thing. If they don't see the water refraction and multi-textured shiny rust, they're not happy. If you're really like that, then there's nothing for it but to buy a card that supports everything the game you want to play can possibly use.
If you ask me, though, the fun is in the whole game experience, only part of which is the graphics. History is full of games that gave great screenshot but actually sucked.
It's very seldom a bad idea to procrastinate about buying computer hardware. Get the game you want (fairly cheap), play it, and see if you reckon you'd like a lot more frame rate, or fancy new pretty-features, or whatever; if you think it's justified, then buy the fancy video card (not so cheap). So many people buy high-end cards in preparation for games that'll use them, which is kind of nuts, if you ask me.
If you're not afraid of swapping your own video card, then you should definitely hold off buying a new one until you actually feel the need.
Other than price and speed, is there any difference between a 2.4GHz 800MHz-FSB P4 and a 2.6GHz? I have heard that the 2.4 may be more suitable for overclocking - I have an Abit IC7. Any thoughts?
Yes, the 2.4's the overclocker's choice, but only because it's got a lower multiplier, and so will run at a lower core speed from a given FSB. Same core speed with higher FSB equals more system performance, and FSB capability probably won't be your limiting factor on an i865/i875 system (provided you've got expensive RAM), so the cheaper chip is a better buy.
The FSB-related performance difference is not going to be large, but since you'll probably get more by paying less, it's not a difficult decision.
I'm an antique radio buff and, as you may know, many of the old speakers used an electromagnet instead of a permanent magnet. Quite often the coils are burnt out on these things and if the speaker frame is of welded construction there is no way to disassemble and repair them.
However, if one cuts away all of the old coil, the center post (armature) remains and I'm wondering if there is a way to magnetize this post using the new rare earth type of magnets? Ideally, I would think a donut type of magnet would be ideal, but it would have to come as two pieces to fit over the armature. Or maybe small bar magnets placed alongside the armature?
I know virtually nothing about magnets and their fields and the relative strength of the new ones versus the old electromagnet. Have you heard of this being done or have any ideas? It sure would save a lot of old speakers!
I strongly doubt you could get a field to match the original coil's. It might be possible, and just waving magnets around while sending a signal to the old speaker's voice coil would probably give you some ideas, but I think you'd probably get a lousy field around the coil no matter what you did, and thereby end up with an extremely inefficient "quietspeaker".
The usual way people rehabilitate old radios like this, as you already know but as other readers of this page are no doubt eager to discover, is by installing a modern permanent magnet speaker (not at all "original" looking, of course, but hidden behind the grille-cloth), and replacing the field coil with a suitable power resistor. You'd need to install the resistor even if you did manage to convert the old speaker to permanent magnet operation; the field coil generally does double duty as part of the B+ filter circuit, so the radio won't work without something in its place.
Dear sir, I am searching for ABIT-BF6 motherboard BIOS update. If you have the latest BIOS software for this mainboard please send me. I shall be very thankful to you.
Search no longer.
I'm looking for a weird piece of PC related kit. It's something I'd really like to own but I'm not sure if anyone even makes something so esoteric, or how to go about finding out if it exists. Naturally, I thought of you.
My reasoning is this: I'm moving house soon and I'd like to install a new server based around a de-cased Xbox running Linux. This is partly for the coolness factor of sticking it to Microsoft and partly for practicality: the Xbox will give me a motherboard, moderately powerful processor, passively cooled PSU and a free 8Gb hard disk for 130UKP, which is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying Mini ITX stuff. There is just one problem: memory.
The Xbox only has 64Mb and I'm slightly leery of that. You can expand it by - wait for it - soldering teeny RAM chips onto the Xbox's board, but I just know that's a bad idea. I would break it. Naturally, I could just use swap space but that's not ideal really, particularly from noise and power consumption points of view. I suspect that 64Mb is going to result in the machine getting thrashed for a big proportion of the time. My current server, which is admittedly doing more than the Xbox would be doing, ticks along at about 150Mb consumed.
So I started wondering about those solid state disks. The only interfaces I have on the Xbox are USB, Ethernet and IDE. What I really need is a really tiny solid state disk - like, 128Mb - that I can use as swap space. And naturally, it has to be cheap. What I really really want is a device with an IDE port on one side and a DIMM slot on the other, as an even cheaper form of the above.
Have you ever heard of such a thing?
I can tell you pretty definitely that it doesn't exist. SSDs that take standard RAM modules exist, but they're all PCI cards and hilariously expensive. IDE-drive-form-factor SSDs all have their memory soldered in and are even more stupidly pricey. A CompactFlash card with a plug adapter works fine as an ATA device, and there are flash-RAM drive-form-factor SSDs as well, but flash memory is useless for scratch disk purposes, because it won't survive enough write cycles.
If you wanted to be perverse then you could set up a whole second moving-parts-free Linux computer, booting from CompactFlash and with a suitable amount of RAM in it, and use the memory as a RAM disk, and network-mount that drive from the Xbox. Wouldn't be tearingly fast, but would do the job. I don't think there's a better option, though.
I recently read your review of the Logitech Z-560 speakers and decided to go buy them. I am beyond pleased. I notice, however, that when I play bass-heavy music for a while, and loud, the heat-sink gets pretty hot.
Is there any chance of the system overheating, and is it worth keeping a fan back there?
You're pretty safe. A hot heat sink is a heat sink that's doing its job.
Convection ought to be enough to keep a relatively low-powered amp module like the Logitech one cool. If the ambient temperature's very high or the subwoofer's jammed into an airless corner, though, then it wouldn't hurt to hang some kind of fan there. Just because the heat sink's too hot to keep your hand on, though, doesn't mean anything's being cooked.
We have some devices and old testers that run under DOS.
The programs were written (before many years) in Turbo Pascal and use RS232 for communication. Inside Turbo Pascal, in the comms module, the program writes directly to the PC RS232 ports - $3F8, $3F9, $3FB...
We have some Compaq laptop computers which have only USB, and no RS232 at all. Do you know, please, if and how the old programs can be used using a converter?
The DOS programs can run also under Windows 98, so maybe a background program can identify the read/write from the RS232 ports and convert it to USB signals?
I strongly doubt a USB-to-serial adapter will work. USB adapter serial ports don't have any IRQ or I/O port assignments, since they're just software creations. They'll only be visible to any DOS programs if you run them in a Windows DOS session, and no DOS program that insists on hitting the hardware will be able to use them.
A translator program that caught hardware-hitting requests from the turbo Pascal software and fed them on the fly to the Windows-administered ports might work. I haven't heard of anybody doing this, though.
I have noticed the lack of reviews of decent computer desks on the Net. Any chance of you doing one some time?
This desk looks nice, however I have no idea if it would be any good or not.
If you can't see yourself doing a review, can you let us know what desk you use?
Desk reviews? This place is already full of review-product boxes!
As regards that desk - eight hundred and eighty Australian dollars ($US550-plus) for a slab of diamond plate on legs?! Yow!
OK, sure, I guess, if that's your thing. But, personally, I'd rather not have a desk that goes CLANG whenever I put something on it.
If you need some particular purpose-built piece of furniture - you know, a "workstation" with room for PC, monitor, printer and such, plus drawers, all fitting in a corner, blah blah, then it's sensible to shop around and find such a thing, rather than settle for any old desk. Generally, though, and ignoring aesthetic concerns, "any old desk" really is adequate. A decent chair is a good idea, if you're going to be parked there for a long time; something that'll keep you comfortably upright with your eyes roughly level with the top of the screen and your elbows roughly level with the keyboard is likely to save you pain. But the desk itself is not, as far as I can see, a major concern.
My desk? A $AU149 self-assemble from Officeworks. Bastard thing didn't even come with instructions!
I have a Duron 650 running in my system. The motherboard is a Lucky Star K7VAT. I want to buy an Athlon XP 1700. Now I know that my board does not support this. It runs it at 1.1 GHz. My question is, will this harm the CPU in any way? I want to run it underclocked in this way for at least 2 months before I have the cash to buy a new mobo. Me poor college student, you see.
It should be fine. The only thing that could go wrong would be the core voltage; if the motherboard can't deliver the 1.5 or 1.65 volts that the XP 1700 expects (for operation at its standard 1.47GHz, anyway), then it may over-volt the processor. The reduced clock speed will help the CPU keep cool, but sufficiently excessive supply voltage can still fry your CPU.
I doubt this'll be a problem, but I don't know what your motherboard might make of this processor, so it'd be worth checking the BIOS setup (or DIP switches, or jumpers, if your motherboard's a bit old school) to make sure it's not beating the chip to death.
I have a 4 C cell Mag-Lite and use rechargeable NiCd batteries in it. This is cost effective as I have about 16 of the batteries that I had purchased ages ago for a remote controlled car (that's another story).
Anyway, as the 4 cell light is designed for 4x1.5V=6V, it's OK for a short while from the NiCds and then goes fairly dim - a yellowish light. I was thinking if I used the halogen bulb from a 3 C cell Mag-Lite it would be a much whiter light. However the tech from Mag assures me that a less than 7% overvolt (4.8V vs 4.5) will kill the bulb either straight away or on the first recharge?
This does not seem right to me, as I thought most electronic devices will at least cope with a 10% overvolt to account for manufacturing variances in batteries and AC adapters?
I am also considering using the drop-in 4.5V LED from LEDCORP, but that's not cheap, and I don't want it blowing up. If it did work, how good do you think the performance would be vs the halogen - particularly battery life?
Alkaline batteries in flashlights don't deliver the full 1.5 volts per cell you'd expect, because alkaline output voltage sags under load. Stock Mag globes aren't tremendously high power, so the sag when they're run from alkalines isn't very big, and switching to rechargeables will always give you a dimmer light (the rechargeables have much higher current capacity, and sag very little under load). If you use an after-market higher power globe, though, then you'll probably find it performs about the same from alkalines as it does from rechargeables. Battery life will suffer, of course.
Mag have their own xenon "Mag-num Star" bulbs, and there are plenty of other after-market bulbs around.
Because of the sag under load, the overvoltage you'd be subjecting the three-cell bulb to would be more than 7%; that globe actually expects to be running from less than 4.5 volts. You don't need much extra voltage to greatly shorten the life of a flashlight globe; they're generally running very close to the wire already.
An LED bulb, even one based on a one watt Luxeon LED, would be dimmer than the stock bulb, but much bluer, which helps a bit. Blue-white light is easier to see by than yellow-white. You'd also get longer battery life. But, from four rechargeables, you'd be driving that LED pretty darn hard.
I just have a quick question: "Uber". I see this word floating around a lot. My friend tells me it means "more" in German. I've seen it many times used in reference to PC's, like, "uber PC", or "uber geek", etc.
I think I'm building an uber PC now, but I'd like to be sure of the proper definition.
By itself, it means "over", as in, "physically or figuratively above". Correctly rendered, it's "über", with an umlaut (or, arguably, diaeresis) on the U, or as "ueber", if you want to stay out of high ASCII.
See the Deutschlandlied (the German national anthem), for instance, the rather unfashionable first verse of which starts with "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles..."
"Über-" as a prefix is used in German words in the same way as "super-" and "over-" are used in English ones; an übersomething is a super-something. Used in front of English words, it's a bit silly (and as over-used as the addition of "age" to the ends of nouns to pseudo-commodify them, as in "reviewage" and "pimpage"). But if you want a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the thing of which you speak causes other such things to quake in terror, then "über" does the job.
I'd be curious to know what you think of this latest Australian invention that claims "The Lutec 1000 is the first free energy machine to be developed to commercial stage anywhere in the world."
Essentially it's a generator "powered" by permanent magnets (and a small electrical pulse continually provided by batteries). The other intriguing thing is that the inventor is NOT asking for money.
I have to confess if this is the real thing I wouldn't mind having one!
I wouldn't mind one either, if it worked. It doesn't, of course.
Oh, sorry, Lutec - you say it does, don't you?
Let's see one working, then.
[sound of crickets]
The "free power but needs a battery" design is particularly mystifying. Why the heck the battery's input can't be provided by the generator's output is not explained. Quantum physicists can't tell electrons apart, but apparently this device can tell whether they're coming from its output or from a battery.
You're right about the inventor not cruising for dollars, too. Well, at least as far as the site goes, anyway. Maybe the "global licensee" the site talks about is being scammed out of big bucks. Who knows.