Thursday, October 26, 2006

Zalman 7700 on a Socket A can be done!

Apparently I missed the nerd announcement about the release of the Zalman CNPS7700-Cu. Silly me thought it was the same thing as the Zalman CNPS7000-Cu. They look the same, they do the same thing, but there is one minor difference that might be hard to catch when purchasing one of these heatsinks. The 7700 doesn't support AMD Socket A, also, it's freakin huge! My girlfriends computer runs great with with her Socket A Athlon 2500+, but the noisy Thermaltake Volcano 11+ had to go. Being a big fan of Zalman, I logged onto and ordered me up a heatsink. The wrong heatsink.

Of course I didn't know it was the wrong one until I was trying to actually put it on my girlfriends Socket A. "Where are the Socket A accessories?" I said to myself. After some on line research, I was sad to see I hadn't done my homework before I purchased the 7700. While doing my post-purchase homework, I discovered that the only big difference between the 7000 and the 7700 was the little aluminum brackets that allowed it to be screwed to a Socket A. Of course it made me wonder if I could make my 7700 fit on a Socket A with the 7000 bracket, unfortunately I had to buy a 7000 from a local retailer to get the bracket. Now having both a 7000 and a 7700 it would be stupid to use the one that's not supposed to go on a Socket A.... but it would be fun.

I did think long and hard before actually going through with this little project. Worse case scenario: have to replace girlfriends motherboard and CPU, probably pay for overnight shipping, and have to spend the evening of her being upset with me. I can live with that because the up side was I'd have a freakin' giant heatsink in a place it's not supposed to go!

Considering the circumstances, installation went well. I had to remove a fan grill on my power supply to give the 7700 just enough clearance. I also had to spread some of the fans of the heatsink so they could fit around a capacitor that was a smidgen too tall. Another draw back was that the heatsink's diameter is so large that it I can no longer slide the motherboard tray out of the case without removing the heatsink. I was worried about the heatsink not making good contact with the CPU, but with her Athlon 2500+ barely cracking 30 degrees celsius under a load I've put that worry to rest (to be fair, speedfan shows it at 35 but the bios shows it at 31). In any case, there is no doubt in my mind this heatsink is a total over kill for this CPU, and in all likelihood I'll one day put the 7000 on there and move this monster 7700 to my 64 bit Athlon. Until that day, it's definitely cool, and nice to know it's possible.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Piracy vs Windows Genuine Advantage

I have turned a new leaf in regards to software piracy. When I was younger I really didn't care if it was legal or illegal as long as it worked. A couple of things made me change my views on software piracy, the first of those being With something as good, and legal, and free as, why bother pirating the latest version of Microsoft Office? Now that open source software is coming of age, it's actually more of a hassle to try and pirate the corporate counterparts. Open source is not only legal, it's on the verge of trendy, and it's definitely smart. No one will catch me purchasing a copy of Microsoft Office anytime soon, even the cheaper gimped Student and Teacher Edition. Not only is free and legal, it saves me a trip to the store.

The second thing that turned me away from piracy was Windows Genuine Advantage, which is a fancy name for "Way Better Copy Protection." I'll be the first to say I think Windows XP, and edition, is overpriced. I'm also one of the few geeks that will give Microsoft credit where it's due. Windows XP is the most user friendly operating system available on the planet for PC's (Mac's OS is a different topic for another day). On that note, users of Windows XP should grudgingly pay for it. Windows Genuine Advantage is actually a good thing. It ensures you paid for your software and that you have access to all the updates and novelty features Microsoft has available. The disadvantage is that it's a pain for unsuspecting users that don't know they have an illegal version of Windows XP, and that happens more often than it should.

This particular home built PC came to the shop, and in this case the customer knew that at one time he has an illegal copy of Windows. Wanting to do the right thing he contacted Microsoft, paid them a discounted rate for a real version (nice of them to make him pay twice huh?), then sent him a Windows Genuine Advantage Kit for Windows XP Professional. I'm not posting this in my blog to complain. In fact I'm actually posting because I had very little trouble and found it interesting.

All of that happened well before the customer came to me. When he came to me he came with a dead hard drive, and his Genuine Advantage Kit. I came to find out the kit is nothing more than a Windows XP Pro CD with a different holographic on it, but the catch was it didn't come with the 25 digit product key needed to reinstall Windows on the customers new hard drive. The only complaint I had was that I had to wait until Monday to call Microsoft and get the key. It was impressive they were able to issue a key with nothing more than the customers name and phone number. I didn't even have to give her any numbers off the odd ball Certificate of Authority. For the record, pictured is a CoA I found on Google, not the customer.

I guess, all in all, I really don't have a problem with copy protection as long as they keep it simple and don't lock out people willing to pay for software. I would like to see Microsoft keep reasonable prices on software, but from what I've seen of Vista they're headed in the wrong direction. On thing is for sure, with all the open source alternatives out there, I'll only be paying for Windows and games.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Goal and Direction

Yesterday two unrelated things happened that made me want to come back to my neglected blog. The first of these was an idea I had. My new idea was to basically take notes about computers that come into the shop. Not every computer, that would get monotonous, but some of the more interesting ones. I hope that by writing about my own experience with unique computer problems, other will be able to learn from my experiences. Personally I find reading about others experiences with computer problems, and what they did, more useful that reading some technical paper.

The second thing that made me come back to my blog was the editors note about blogging in the latest issue of Maximum PC. Will Smith (the Maximum PC editor not the rapper) is a writer I've come to really respect. What he said in his editor's note was exactly what I felt about blogging.

Since the dawn of the blogging era, I've been of the opinion that blogs should be highly targeted affairs, honing in on specific, well-defined topics to maximize the hard benefits for readers.

- Will Smith
When I read that it was like Mr. Smith was reading my mind. The first thing I thought of was my own blog and, "what readers?" My girlfriend is probably the only solid reader I have, and she reads it to get an insight to my life. My personal life is the last thing I want to write about because not even I find it that interesting. True, those that go back through my blog will find some personal posts, but over all I try to keep it on a geek related topic.

Will Smith goes on to read my mind even furthar by talking about the reason he quits writing in his blogs. He's limited himself to write about the blogs topic, and eventually looses interest. This coming from a real writer makes me feel better about my own lack of interest to write in my blog.

I thought about wiping everything in my blog and starting from scratch with my new goals in mind, but going back through some of the older posts I'm glad I haven't deleted anything just yet. I've decided to keep my bloggin history, as embarrising as it may be, in hopes that I will be able to see my progress (whatever the direction of the progress may be).

All in all one thing is for sure, my writing skills lack. I don't understand why some people can write a paragraph and eliquently elaborate their thoughts and feelings to everyone that reads it, but I can't put a sentance together that articulates a simple idea.

For the curious, Will Smiths new "write about anything" experiment blog is cleverly named

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gateway Essential 933C

This Gateway has been in the shop before, so have many like it. Two big problems with this particular series, Power Supplies and USB ports. Which is really a bummer considering it doesn't have any PS/2 ports and can only use USB input devices.

Last time it was here because one of the three rear USB ports broke. The three rear ports are stacked on top of one another, and it's always the top port that breaks. I'm not sure if it has something to do with the top port, or just coincidence. The plastic piece inside the USB port that holds the four pins in place is usually the culprit. Some times the port just won't work anymore, other times the pins get bend and short out the computer so that it can't even turn on. In any case, the cheapest way I've found to fix the USB problem is to cut the pins off and put electrical tape over the port. These computers are worth what it would cost to replace the motherboard or solder new USB ports in place.

The power supply is also a problem, as is the case today. The computer still comes on, but gets exceptionally hot. No surprise to see it's the fan. I know if I really wanted to I could take this small power supply apart and replace it with any old 80mm case fan, but that requires dismantling the "not so cleverly" designed power supply. If it was simply a job that required me to take the case off, unscrew the fan, put a new one in place, and rig some wiring, then it might be worthwhile. The small power supply is designed so that I would have to remove the case and the circuit board that converts AC to DC power to get to the fan. No thanks, this customer can get a new power supply.

Unfortunately ordering a new power supply for this model is a pain. There aren't many left and sellers are hard to find. It seems that every time we order this particular power supply it's from a different vendor. Today I found it at, and if the boss takes my suggestion we'll get more than one.

Dell Dimension 1100

This morning a customer came into the shop with a Dell Dimension 1100 stating the typical remark of "It just stopped working," though I have to give the customer credit. At least he was able to tell me it booted. Most of the time customers will tell me it doesn't even turn on when in all actuality it powers up and POST's just fine. Right from the start I knew it was software related, so I did what I always do with software problems. Fire up some msconfig and start turning things off. In this case I had to do it in safe mode, but after disabling everything under the start up tab and all but Microsoft's services in the services tab, it booted up just fine.

Software issues likes these are usually related to malicious software. I include viruses, adware, spyware, malware, just about anything you can imagine that any normal person wouldn't want. Malicious software being the obvious culprit I went straight to AVG's website to download their free anti-virus program. Opening IE was horrifying; I counted no less than six tool bars. How many tool bars do people really need? Personally I've done just fine with zero for years. Although I was able to connect to the Internet I was unable to download on the customers computer. Coming back to my bench machine I proceeded to download both AVG and their free anti-spyware program called Ewido and copy those to my trusty Corsair thumb drive.

Side note:
Disappointingly, as I used the customers computer I saw a familiar "G" show up in the system tray by the clock with a bubble that said something to the effect of, "Your default search engine has been changed." Now I'm a big fan of Google and anything they do, provided it stays on the Internet. Gmail, Google Video, and Calendar is just the tip of the online miracle iceberg Google can preform. Anything Google makes as a download, on the other hand, I'm not a big fan of. I'm not saying they make bad software, I'm just saying Google's IE toolbar feels just as dirty as Yahoo's and Google Desktop Search feels just as clunky as Microsoft's. Googles downloadable programs make me cry a little inside because they came from the same place as the ingenious Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Google Earth is the only minor exception to this rule, but I find Google Maps, the online equivalent, just as useful. I am interested to see how much cooler Google Earth gets now that I know about Google SketchUp, a program designed to make 3d models for the 3d portion of Google Earth.

Getting back to the Dell, no surprise to see a lot of spyware was found. Fortunately there were no viruses, but it'll take some time before I find out if removing all this spyware does it any good.

Side note:
Ironicly, the reason I was having trouble downloading AVG Anti-Virus and Ewido on the customer's computer had more to do with Grisoft's website than the customer's computer. Turns out they were updating to release AVG Anti-Virus 7.5. The new AVG Anti-Virus 7.5 is very similar to it's predecessor, but Ewido has been renamed to, go figure, AVG Anti-Spyware 7.5. I'll take this opportunity to play with the new AVG.

After taking a few moments the only differences I really see are visual. I like the new visual changes, but I like to know about the more substantial changes. Checking out the Grisoft website I found this short list of new features.

  • Improved virus detection based on better heuristics and NTFS data streams scanning
  • Smaller installation and update files
  • Improved user interface
  • Windows Vista ready

I'm glad to see they made the installation file smaller. The small foot print AVG leaves on a system is exactly why I recommend it to customers over other anti-virus programs like McAfee and Norton. For those, like me, wondering what the heck heuristics are check out wikipedia's two articles on it.

Later in the day I got a custom built machine still running Windows 98. I was able to use AVG Anti-Virus 7.5 on it. However, AVG's new Anti-Spyware 7.5 program requires Windows 2000 or better.

Without all that spyware, this Dell is starting to run normal again. Usually I run a couple of different anti-spyware programs. Grisoft's and Lavasoft's respective anti-spyware programs are my preferred choice, but sometimes I mix it up a bit and try new ones. is a great site to make sure you're trying a legit program and not some Internet scam. I also check with that sight for computers that come in with questionable anti-spyware programs already installed. I also took the liberty to remove some programs that are rarely used from the Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel. I used to be very hesitant about this, but over the years I've found most customers don't care about what I take out. Usually I only take out programs I know shouldn't be there, free trial programs, and rarely used programs.