Found something useful? Don't forget to leave a comment!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Windows 7 and a Dell Inspiron E1705


My trusty Dell Inspiron E1705, a 17” behemoth of a laptop, has lasted me beautifully for more than three years. It originally came with an OEM install of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 – all right, but quite frankly the MCE features were unneeded. This was followed up with an upgrade to XP Professional and eventually SP3. The machine ran XP decently enough – somewhat fast, but by no means snappy. It also had a bad habit of hard drive thrashing. The battery is also completely dead, but that’s no fault of the laptop (I hope!)


The system specs:

  • Intel Core Duo T2300, 1.66GHz
  • 2x1GB Crucial DDR2-667 (up from the original 2x512MB of DDR2-533)
  • Intel 945GM chipset / GMA 950 graphics
  • A09 BIOS with SLIC 2.1 mod 
  • Fujitsu 100GB SATA 5400RPM HDD
  • NEC 8x DVDRW
  • Broadcom 440x 10/100 Ethernet + Intel 3945ABG WiFi
  • Sigmatel HD Audio
  • Ricoh memory card reader
  • Expresscard/54 slot (not tested)

After getting hold of Windows 7 Ultimate, I thought “Why not?” It wouldn’t run any slower than XP, would it?

After a tolerably brief install process, I found myself sitting in front of a pristine Win7 desktop. Wow, that new taskbar (with those big pinnable icons and jumplists) is awesome. All hardware was immediately recognized and installed with the exception of the Ricoh memory card reader. However, that was quickly resolved after a visit to Windows Update.

The GMA 950 is notorious for its poor performance, especially in games, but believe it or not it has actually had a WDDM driver (read: Windows Aero capable) since Vista. And yes, it actually runs Aero amazingly well. Nowhere near as fluid as, say, my desktop’s Radeon 4830 but more than sufficient for daily workstation use.

As for other software, compatibility has been decent so far. Some issues I’ve noticed: Acronis True Image Home 2009 is unable to mount TIB images. Hopefully that will be fixed as I’ve got some music from my XP backup that needs to be re-instituted. (UPDATE: True Image Home 2010 is out.) Also, Daemon Tools installation popped up a compatibility warning, but the latest version seems to work fine. TrueCrypt also popped up a warning, but as long as you stay way from full-disk encryption it will work normally.

As for security, I’m just running Avast 4.8 Home with the Windows 7 firewall. It’s a nice, unobtrusive combination that’s reasonably light on system resources.

In general, I’ve found Windows 7 to be faster and more responsive than XP was. This is no small feat considering that the Dell is 3+ years old and Windows 7 is a brand-new OS. This may be attributable to Windows 7’s revamped hardware support and the use of the GPU for the Aero UI.

Oh, and by the way, here’s a shot of the Windows Experience Index:


Not TOO shabby, eh?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Create a “Modern” MS-DOS USB Bootdisk

DOS and MS-DOS may be ancient on the timeline of technology, but that says nothing about the usefulness of this old, crusty operating system. Perhaps you’re feeling nostalgic about that old game (*cough* *cough* DOOM), or more likely you need a pure DOS environment to flash the BIOS on your brand-new motherboard.

But DOS has traditionally been relegated to the realm of the floppy disk, and when was the last time you saw one of those? Instead, we’ll be using a more 21st-century USB flash drive as the host boot media.

Before we begin, you’ll need to download a couple of things:

The MS-DOS files here are originally from; I updated a few of the included utilities, namely DOSKey and DOSLFN (long file name support). Other noteworthy features of this custom MS-DOS bootdisk include CD-ROM support and DOSKey macro support.

From the HP USB Tool archive you downloaded, extract HPUSBFW.EXE to a handy location (The other file is a command-line version of the utility). In the MS-DOS archive you should find a folder named “msdos71b” – extract that entire folder somewhere handy as well.

Run the HP USB Tool, HPUSBFW.EXE. Select your USB drive as the target device. Make sure the filesystem is FAT (and NOT FAT32 or NTFS). The volume label can be anything, but name it something meaningful :) Check “Quick Format” and “Create a DOS startup disk” / “using DOS system files located at”. Browse to the location of your extracted “msdos71b” folder.


Cross your fingers and hit “Start”. If all goes well a popup info window should appear. Now, your USB drive is DOS bootable with a barebones set of files. But we want more than just barebones, right? We want a tricked out, fully prepared MS-DOS distro. To do that, browse to the contents of that “msdos71b” folder you extracted. Select all, and copy all the files to the root of your USB drive. Just hit no when asked to replace anything (the HP USB Tool already used the same files).

When done, your USB drive’s contents should be something like the following. Note that some files may not appear in Windows Explorer since they are regarded as system files.


At this point your MS-DOS USB bootdisk (bootstick?) is ready to go. Simply pop it in on any computer with USB booting support, and you should be rewarded with a nice, old command prompt:


Some things never change.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Get your TV fix for (almost) free


Cut the Cable Bill - PC World

Long time no see, I know. That’s what a dose of Florida sunshine will do to you.

Anyway, PC World just posted a decent article on the many choices out there for getting national-network TV content for free. Hulu has always been a perennial favorite, but did you know that YouTube is also starting to host a select variety of shows (including MythBusters)? One can also connect directly to the major networks’ websites, but this often has more location restrictions – BBC is available only to those in the UK. More exotic options include desktop apps like XBMC and Boxee. Those not afraid of spending some cash might look at an Apple TV (ahhh, Apple!) or even running out and buying that entire season of a show on DVD.

Last but not least, I would like to shamelessly plug the option of torrenting your TV content. ‘Nuff said.