Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Windows XP to 7 upgrade step by step

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 6:14 PM on October 29, 2009

I decided to devote a large part of last weekend to upgrading my main system to Windows 7.  In the interest of science I decided that I would read no guides or tips beforehand, I would test how easy it was using only the information and instructions that came in the packaging.

So the stage was set for the install.  The system I am upgrading was very powerful when I built it 5 years ago.  While I do most of my web surfing on it, the main use for the system is to manage my media, either syncing it to my portable player or streaming it to devices on the network.  It started this process with Windows XP Media Centre Edition installed; I had a brand new copy of Window 7 Home Premium upgrade to work with.

Stage 1 – Preperationxp27 - device mgr xp

Even the packaging for Windows 7 made clear that a clean upgrade was only possible if you were upgrading from Vista.  The claim was though, that even though the main programs would need to be re-installed, the settings would be maintained.  I have never had a software upgrade that ran well so my confidence was not high.  Given that the test is to see how easy it is to have a usable system after the upgrade I took a few notes first on the beginning state.

When I performed a Vista upgrade on a relative’s computer the main issue I had was with a lack of drivers for all the installed devices.  At that stage it has already been 3 months or so since Vista was released and it was months more after that before all devices had working drivers.  I have a number of extra components installed so I am interested to see how many work after the upgrade.

xp27 b4 upgrade advisor devices

Microsoft has released an upgrade advisor to check which parts of the system are supported under the new environment.

The reports showed that Outlook Express would not be available and the game port would not work.  No great loss for these as I do not use either of them.  More worrying though was that my network card was listed as not compatible.  I have recently put in a new wireless-n router so I took the precaution of buying a new wireless card prior to starting the upgrade.

As you can see from the image to the right, the majority of my devices came up as being supported.

Once I had a level of confidence that I could support Windows 7 on this PC I was ready to start upgrading.  The only change I made to the system was to upgrade the RAM to 2GB.

Stage 2 – Settings transfer

xp27 b4 easy transfer startFirst step of the XP upgrade process is to run the Windows Easy Transfer program.  This is designed to take all the settings and files from the old to the new system.  There are options to save these to disk, USB media or a network share.  If the Windows 7 and XP installs are on different computers the transfer can also be done directly across the network.  In my case I set the target as a directory on another drive in the system.

While the process completed with no errors it took a long time.  Even though there was only about 260GB of data the process started at 5:05pm and didn’t finish until 12:51am, nearly 8 hours later.  Given that the processor was much busier than the disk during this time it appears like this was more than just a simple file copy.

Stage 3 – Install

The actual install on Windows 7 itself was a breeze.  I chose to install to a brand new directory so I could still boot XP if everything went pear shaped.  Even though I was using an upgrade version the install didn’t complain and there was very little interaction needed over a 15 minute process.  Within half an hour of shutting down XP I was running the Windows 7 side of the Easy Transfer.  This time I didn’t wait for the finish, I left it to run and went to bed.

xp27 7 system properties

In the morning the transfer had finished and I had a working system.  The next step was to check whether it was functional.  The Easy Transfer Report showed a few strange issues, including the “programs without identified manufacturers” including 5 Microsoft Programs.  Happily, even though the upgrade assistant claimed my system wasn’t up to Aero, it was running happily.

Stage 4 – Is it working?

A Device Manager repoxp27 7 device mgr after installrt showed that there were 5 devices that did not automatically find a driver.

-MS  Keyboard with Fingerprint reader

-Soundblaster Audigy

-Avermedia TV tuner

-SB Gameport

-DLink USB wireless-g NIC

This last was of course the problematic one as it prevented me getting onto the Internet to find drivers.  Thankfully I was pre-prepared with my brand new replacement NIC.  Such cunning, such foresight, such misplaced optimism.  This is where I ran into my first actual problem with the install.  The Netgear wnda3100 wireless n USB NIC came with a Vista driver that would not load and management software that crashed 5 seconds after it loaded.  As I no longer have any UTP running to my study from the router this would have been a problem without the miracle of multiple computers and flash memory.

Doing a few searches I found that it may not have been Microsoft’s fault.  The general feeling around some of the forums was that the Netgear 64-bit drivers were flaky to begin with and people had similar problems with Vista.  I managed to find someone who had hacked a driver to actually work located http://www.wnda310064bit.webs.com/ So thanks to unnamed author who gets some link love and a $10 donation.

xp27 7 device mgr after autocorrectNow back on the Net I ran an autocorrect feature that Windows 7 provided.  This managed to find drivers for 2 of the remaining issues, the SB Audigy and the TV tuner which both now worked.  This left just the gameport, which I was unconcerned about, and the fingerprint reader on the keyboard.  While the whole keyboard is listed in the report, the reader is the only function that does not work.  How ironic that the only device that caused me a lasting problem on a Windows OS was a Microsoft problem.

I was also having problems with the system freezing coming out of hibernate.  I am currently avoiding this by diasabling the auto-hibernate feature.

Stage 5 – Application re-install

The big test was next.  The two biggest worries I had going into this were Firefox and iTunes.  Firefox has a number of plugins, greasemonkey scripts, and heaps of favorites and links.

xp27 7 firefox after re-install

I was very pleased with this install though.  No only were all of the mentioned features there instantly after install, the new version of FF remembered all of the tabs I had open under XP when I shut down.  I had left a number of tabs open as what a I though would be an unfair test of the upgrade and was pleasantly surprised with the result.

xp27 7 itunes after re-install

The iTunes install went just as well with all of my songs and playlists surviving intact.  Most importantly all my podcast subscriptions, listened stats and player sync details came up automatically.  I did need to re-authorise a couple of songs though, which highlighted again for me the danger to consumers of DRM.  Almost all my digital media is DRM free because I stayed with CD’s until iTunes offered DRM free downloads.  I have 5 iTunes DRM’ed songs though that I bought for my daughter because she bugged me at a weak moment.  I have already used 3 of my 5 total re-authorisations and they were only purchased 2 years ago.

Conclusion

The other programs I re-installed had no significant history to remember.  All in all a relatively quick and painless process.  A benchmark claims that the system is about 15% slower running Windows 7, which is not bad for a 5yo system jumping 2 OS generations in one step.  The browsing and podcast syncing, which are the main functions of the system are running just as well as with XP.  The next couple of weeks will show whether problems start to show up and I’ll report back on my progress.

For the upgrade process though I will give Microsoft an 8.5 out of 10.  They lose some marks for the length of elapsed time the whole process took, most of which was waiting for the Easy Transfer process to finish.  This was the only real negative though from what was a painless process that delivered a better than expected result.

Can a Tablet Succeed?

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 5:16 AM on October 7, 2009

The rumour machine is abuzz with the prospect of Apple releasing a tablet, and there are a number of other people, most notably TechCrunch and Archos, have tablet systems either out or on the planning desk. It will be interesting to see if anyone can finally make one that is worth owning.

The first tablet PC I had used was a Compaq Concerto somewhere in the mid 90′s which was a 486 based tablet version of a standard Compaq notebook. I believe the much glorified Apple Newton preceded it, however while both these products were much hyped at the time but never delivered any real value and were cancelled without replacement.

In the 15 years or so since they first appeared tablets have made periodic returns, always for a brief flurry of enthusiasm that eventually came to nothing. The most sucessful itteration was the slight tangent into the PDA space. While that eventually was a dead end market as well, it did directly contribute to the creation of the smartphone market, which has been an increasingly bouyant tech market.

I am not confident that the track record of tablets gives great hope of success this time. There are a couple of new technologies that give this iteration a better chance. The first is multitouch touchscreens. This will make the platform more usable and increase the number of applications. The second is pageflow. While it is more an application of technology rather than a radically new technology, it does change the feel of scanning though multipage documents or lists of items, essentially making it a more natural feel.

The other positive aspect is the operating system options that exist now. A major problem previously was trying to use a full size operating system on a platform that needed to be lightwieght. A modified iPhone OS or Android platform could offer the functionality needed for the platform to operate while being lightweight enough to operate well on a less powerful platform and get good battery life.

I think this article in PCMag might have a good handle on what the Apple platform might end up looking like. One factor I definitely agree with is that new version of the tablet has to offer a different experience from a standard laptop, which needs to be more than just adding a different interface. There is also a good rundown of the tablet market in this NYTimes article.

802.11n is now actually a standard

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 9:46 PM on September 13, 2009

I don’t classify myself as an early adopter, I usually wait until a new technology has been out a while and the price has come down a bit before I jump in.  Consequently I rarely find myself ahead of the certification curve.  It is more a measure of the length of time that the IEEE certification has taken that I am already on my second generation of 802.11n router when the standard has only just been approved.

Considering that Draft-n wifi gear has become almost the defacto standard for most new networking gear it was only a matter of time.  Some time was lost deciding between one of three proposals until the groups behing them decided to merge into one.  A patent case from CSIRO on technology used in the draft standard also delayed things to some extent.  Regardless of the delays n is now a standard.  All we need now is something faster.

How heavy is a useable Petabyte?

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 6:44 AM on July 9, 2009

The team at MatrixStore have a post up calculating the weight of a petabyte of storage today compared to 1980.  Needless to say todays weight was a lot less.  The article was inspired by a post on Gizmodo illustrating how big a PB is.  There are two problems with the calculations though.

  1. 2TB is a marketing number.  The formatted capacity of 500 2TB drives is more like 916TB
  2. The weight is for the drives alone, which is not storage you could actually access and use
Image courtesy of WD

Image courtesy of WD

If we want to use 2TB drives we need a system that can hold 3.5″ drives.  The highest capacity tray I know of for these drives takes 48 SAS or SATA drives in 4U of rack space (about 7″ x 19″ x 24″).  You can sit multiple of these behind a single RAID box which would provide access for your computer over IP or FC depending on the type.

To get a real petabyte of base 2 usable storage you would need 546 2TB drives.  The whole setup including racks and power would weigh 1400kg or 3100lbs.  It would also consume 12kVA of power spitting out 39KBTU/hr of heat.

546 drives is for a PB of raw storage though.  In reality you would need to protect it from drive failures using RAID.  If we go for as littlle overhead as possible we can create 24 disk RAID 6 sets which would have about 40.4TB useable storage each.  For this we need about 600 drives which adds another 100kg to the weight.  Still about 1/180th of the weight of a PB just 30 years ago.

Has the Internet ruined our surprises?

Posted by GNC at 9:32 PM on June 2, 2009

gift2

Like a few other thousands of people around the Internet I have payed close attention to the E3 briefings going on down in Las Vegas this week and it got me to thinking.

As I watch the live streams of the Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo briefs most of it seemed very familiar to me, due to the fact that most of the “announcements” had been leaked or rumoured for the past few weeks leading up to E3.

In today’s digital age we are hungry for up to the minute information on whatever topics and trends that interest us, but does some of this come at a cost?

Part of the thrill of watching the briefings held annually at E3, CES, and Apple’s events is seeing what new things ideas, projects, and innovations are in our futures. Now a good part of that thrill seems to be gone thanks in part to message board posts, tweets, and inside sources.

Now I know its human nature to want to know every secret right away, but in a way it reminds me of the days leading up to Christmas and seeing the present under the tree with your name on it and wondering what it could be. I think Part of the joy of Christmas morning was going through those secretive bundles one by one and the excitement of uncovering what is inside.

In short I’m starting to feel that knowing what’s going to happen before the event is like opening a gift to yourself. No matter how good it is, it pretty hard to feel that rush of excitement.

Let me know what you think. As always I can be reached at jparie@gmail.com.

Wall Warts Are Like Socks

Posted by fogview at 12:01 AM on May 30, 2009

200px-Wall_wartWall Warts is a slang term used for power supplies (wall transformers) and are the little brick-like devices that come with almost every electronic device. So why do I say they are like socks? Well, like socks, they seem to lose their mate and you end up wondering where it belongs.

Socks have a habit of getting lost for a period of time (typically around laundry day) but eventually show up and can be reunited with it’s mate (or one that looks similar). The same can’t always be said for wall warts. These are the ones that have no identifying information about where they belong and to make matters worst, may actually have a plug that would fit a number of devices. The fact that the plug fits, means it could supply the wrong power (voltage, current, polarity, AC/DC) and possibly destroy your device. (See AllElectronics.com for some examples of wall warts.)

This is a problem I’ve seen for years and I thought manufacturers were getting better identifying their products. Just the other day I bought a Maxtor 750 GB OneTouch4 external USB drive and it came with a small power supply. On the power supply was this information: “Sunny Switching Adapter; Model: SYS1308–2412–W2 … OUTPUT: +12V 2.0A …” It also showed a symbol indicating that the center connection was positive. The back of the Maxtor OneTouch drive had no voltage or polarity information so if I was trying to match up this power supply to it’s mate, I would be taking a gamble if the plug just happen to fit. This power supply uses a very common power connector and I know it’s fits at least four other devices that I own. I wonder how many devices have been destroy because the wrong power supply was plugged in? Would you take the time to research the power requirements of your device before plugging in an unknown wall wart if the plug fit?

I’ve developed products before and totally understand why manufactures do this. They develop a product that uses a common power source (i.e., +12V DC, 1.0A, positive center) and order an off-the-shelf power supply from China. It cost more to private-label the power supply, so they decide against it to keep down the cost. There is nothing stopping a company from offering a power supply with the same power connector but with a different power output (i.e., +5V, 0.5 A, negative center) and shipping that with a different consumer product. The consumer is the loser when he/she tries to mix and match loose wall warts and with their tech toys.

I do see a trend that I think may help. It’s the move to USB. More manufacturers are using the fact that the USB connector supplies a standard 5.0 VDC at 0.5 Amps. I said I think it may help because a lot of newer USB devices need more than the 0.5 Amps supplied by a standard USB connector (my Zune requires 1.5 A and my Android G1 phone needs 1.0 A). At least you have a fighting chance and may only damage (overheat) the power supply if your device needs more juice.

I would love to see manufactures label their power supplies to help out the consumer. I can’t believe printing and placing a sticker on the power supply to identify the manufacturer before they ship the product would be that costly.

I make it a habit to add a label to every wall wart before I start using the device. I have a Brother P-touch labeler and find it’s very handy (and fun) for things like that. I even add labels to wall warts that has been re-branded because I generally find the information is too generic (i.e. Maxtor) or hard to read when I’m looking to remove a power supply from a power strip under a desk with very little light. (I won’t mention that I have aging eyes too.)

Another reason I do it is because it’s a nice feeling knowing I’m organized. It’s wonderful seeing that little label showing me my Android G1 power supply after digging it out from under a foot-high stack of papers and unpaid bills.

73’s, Tom

 

Twitter With Your Brain!

Posted by susabelle at 9:13 AM on April 23, 2009

GO BADGERS

That was the post Adam Wilson made to Twitter by using only his brain.  Wearing a special red cap fitted with electrodes that connected to a computer flashing letters, by concentrating on the letters he wanted, Wilson was able to Twit the small message on the screen in front of him.

What this means for the rest of the world is almost beyond comprehension for those of us that regularly type, text, and click to send messages, visit websites, write emails, etc.  What this means for persons with physical disabilities, who have perfectly functioning brains but ill-functioning bodies, is that they may be able to communicate as easily someday as the rest of us do.  And all it takes is a silly red cap with electrodes.  No cumbersome pointing devices held by the teeth or strapped to the head, or custom keyboards that will take the pounding of a fist because the fingers can’t move.

What is even more surprising and exciting about this breakthrough is that it uses two existing products to do its job.  Twitter, of course, already exists and functions well for many people.  The electrode “brain cap” already exists as well, and is still being fine-tuned for work with computers.  Previous work had been focused on using brain implants to communicate, but this work is 10 years or more from any type of fruition.  Using existing products, Wilson, and his supervisor Justin Williams (both work for the University of Wisconsin) made the link that had not been made before.

This is exciting news for those suffering from debilitating, paralyzing injuries, whose brains are able to function normally in all ways except in the ability to communicate.  Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone suffer from such disabilities.  These types of breaks in technology can really leapfrog researchers ahead in their efforts to bring accessibility to all.

Stop Giving Me Software I Don’t Need

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 9:57 AM on November 24, 2008

Every day, it seems, when I boot up my computers, each one wants me to update iTunes and add Safari. It doesn’t matter how many times I say no, and click quit, every day the stupid install window keeps coming back up. And there is no way to permanently turn this off. At least, not that I’ve found.

Java wants to do the same thing. We cannot run the latest Java here at work because it breaks one of our enterprise systems that are critical to business functions. Fortunately, you can remove the Java Updater from the control panel on most machines to make the annoying popup telling you there’s a new install of Java not pop up every day. But every once in a while, that updater seems to reinstall itself on my machine and I have to delete it again.

My annoyance today is the Sandisk Cruzer. It comes with the U3 operating system installed, and self-installs on any machine you plug the device into. This tiny operating system then gives you tools you don’t need, like copy and paste, explore. On a college campus with locked down computers, these Sandisk Cruzers are the worst for confusing students. Of course, you can remove the U3 operating system, but it takes several steps and a geekish know-how, so not everyone who buys one of these devices knows how to remove the operating system so it works like a normal thumb drive. Worse yet, older Cruzers do not allow removal of the U3 operating system, only the newer ones do. Even a format won’t take care of the problem, as the U3 software sits in a hidden file that is difficult to access.

I want software and hardware companies to stop telling me what I need, and trying to automatically install their software into places without my permission. I want them to stop hiding this stuff, make it an option rather than a necessity, and when I say no, it remembers that I said no and never ask me again.

Much of this stuff is a huge waste of time for tech workers that are just trying to get people back up and running as quickly as possible.

Holiday Toys

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 3:52 PM on November 12, 2008

I’m starting to put my list together for Santa for the holidays. Yes, Geeks can have dreams too!

Starting off, I’ve already purchased some things for the kids, including Sansa 8 gb MP3 players. These sweet little units are as powerful as the iPod without the costly risk of replacement when they get banged around too much. While I would love to get them all iPods, I don’t think they’d survive the hustle and bustle of my teens.

I, myself, am looking at the new HD-capable Flip camera. Sweet at $229 and I could have so much fun with such a thing. I mean, I could do so much important work with this thing. Yeah, that’s the ticket. The Flip Mino HD looks just like earlier versions of the Flip, only it films in HD. It shoots video in 1280×720 720p resolution, wider than the previous 640×480 size, and touts one-click uploads to websites like YouTube, MySpace and AOL Video. You can also upload to Vimeo and bleep.tv, which will actually upload your video in its original HD format. It also comes with cables to hook up directly to your television! How cool is that?

We don’t do video games, so I’m not looking at anything for the Wii or XBox, but I am looking for some great deals on LCD televisions. If I can get a decent one for a decent price, that may also be on the Geeky Santa List this year.

What are you looking at for the holidays?

Everybody’s a Techie…

Posted by susabelle at 9:05 AM on October 11, 2008

So the other day I walked into a shop to do some repairs. They had an in-house techie that put together their systems, but had no formal training. The kid was on vacation, so I walked in to fix an important program.

What I found was less than acceptable. The wireless was open, the computers firewalls were off and their data was completely exposed. Further, they were close to a public fairway which means that they get a lot of unknown traffic.

I have been seeing this on a regular basis – people that put their trust in non-educated techies. I lost a job to one a while back. They took price over quality. Later I found that person did something rather scary that exposed the systems and was asked to leave.

I can’t believe how many shops that have free WiFi have open systems. One system I was able to not only see the computers, I could see their POS systems. I was also able to download and upload files.

Did you know if you expose your Credit Card data in any way, shape or form, you will be subject to a $30,000 a day fine. Let me reiterate:

Thirty Thousand Dollar a day fine

I understand you need to cut corners. You wouldn’t fire your accountant for someone who does it every now and then. You wouldn’t take your Lawyer off retainer because your cousin is taking some law classes in college. Why would you do that with your tech?

There is a flip side – I know a few so called “Experienced techies” that I wouldn’t trust with my systems. They have certifications and diplomas to prove they have the knowledge, but couldn’t troubleshoot their way out of a box. A couple of them turned out to be good supervisors.

I also know some kids who come out of the gate and know their stuff. They have no certifications and are still in High School. They have the thirst for knowledge and can pick up new technologies like no tomorrow.

So if you are a company or person that needs help with technology, what can you do? You don’t know how to do that stuff and need to get things done.

Well, unfortunately the only way is to have a little bit of knowledge. Not only a little on the technology, but also what can affect you. A seasoned techie might not know that little tidbit on credit card info and you don’t want to learn of the issue until after the fact (and fine).

A good thing to do is talk to another techie. Ask them if they will come in and look at something small. If a seasoned techie sees problems, you will know pretty quick. Then you can take action.

This is going to be more important now that we can connect any machine to any available open wireless network. Laptops, phones or whatever from inside or outside the building. You might not even know someone is connecting. That is, until your data is compromised.