The Computer Blog

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Upgrading a Hard Disk on XP

It’s been several years since I’ve upgraded a hard disk on my Windows XP machine; but a great price on a Seagate 120GB hard drive made me undertake the task. My desktop's boot drive was a 7200RPM 60GB Maxtor; and though I never had any problems with it, I had been thinking about replacing it for some time with a larger drive with an 8MB cache.

On the Mac platform, cloning an operating system hard disk is easy thanks to a great utility named Carbon Copy Cloner by Mike Bombich. I routinely use it to back up and swap out hard disks and have never had any problems at all. Cloning a drive on the Windows platform has always been a pain, no matter what software I have used. (So, I’m always more hesitant to swap out a Windows hard drive than a Mac’s; and that’s just another reason why I moved most of my stuff off the Windows platform.)

Seagate supplied me with a bootable installation CD containing a utility named DiscWizard. After installing the new drive as a slave and using the software’s DOS and advanced options, I booted into a graphical window that let me select the drive to be readied and offered me choices about what file system to use and how many partitions to make. Even though I will probably install Linux on this machine at some time in the future, I partitioned the drive into a 30GB partition for Windows 98SE and a 90GB partition (give or take some for normal losses) for Windows XP. (I figured I’d use Partition Magic to later help me repartition for Linux, if and when I decided to go there.) I then told the software to copy files from the old drive to the new. It did; but several hours later when it had finished, it appeared to have copied only the files for the first (Windows 98SE) partition. I restarted the software and then used its disk maintenance utility to copy files from the old Windows XP partition to the new one. Both of the copies took hours!

That said, ordering the second copy operation was really insurance. The software might have actually copied the Windows XP files. I couldn’t tell because Windows 98SE will not see an NTFS partition, which is what I had installed XP on. After the first copy operation when I tried to boot the system, I got an all too common “cannot find hal.dll” message from Windows XP. Damn! I tried to boot into Windows 98SE but found I had an “invalid system drive”! To recover and get one operating system running, I booted the system using a Windows 98SE floppy disk and from the command line performed a “sys c:” command. That gave me back a Windows 98SE system. That didn’t help me with XP since Windows 98SE couldn’t see it; so, to be safe, I assumed that the software had not performed the file copy for XP and commanded it. A couple of hours later, I knew I had all the files from XP copied to the hard disk but the boot sector remained messed up. It would not allow me to into the Windows XP partition.

For many hours, I tried using Windows XP’s Recovery Console and tools in Partition Magic 7.0 to get each Windows’ installation to recognize the other. I never could. I could get Windows 98 to boot by using “sys c:” to take over the boot sector or I could use XP’s Recovery Console’s “FIXBOOT” command to give it to XP. I tried to get back into my old boot sector configuration by using Partition Magic 7.0’s Rescue Disks but had no luck. I tried to use Partition Magic’s PDQ Boot to link up the operating systems but could only find Windows 98 when I asked it find bootable systems.

I finally got the problem solved by taking a different tack in the very wee hours of the morning; I reinstated the Windows 98 boot sector (“sys c:”), booted from XP CD, went into Windows Setup, and told it to repair the XP installation. (This is an option within the Windows installation routine if you already have XP installed on your system.) After it finished reinstalling, it rebooted and I found had recovered access to both operating systems from the XP boot menu.

I still had a bit more pain to endure. Error messages during the installation had tipped me off that XP had not found the VIA motherboard drivers, and on the reboot I found that the operating system had lost my ATI Radeon 9000’s video drivers as well. A quick check of Device Manager also revealed that the OS was having trouble with USB 2.0 support. In response, I reinstalled XP Service Pack 1, VIA 4.46 drivers, and the latest ATI video card drivers. That seemed to get everything working.

I did discover a few interesting things I haven’t mentioned yet, so here they are:

(1) When I was having trouble with getting the Seagate software to clone my hard disk like I wanted it to, I went to the Maxtor website and downloaded their MaxBlast 3.0. It is the SAME software that Seagate is using, just rebranded. Both companies are using a utility built by Ontrack.

(2) If you’re running a dual-boot Windows 9X/Windows XP system, don’t count on the XP Recovery Console finding the 9X installation. Mine never has.

(3) Building a dual-boot OS X system on a Mac is a breeze compared to building a dual boot Windows system.

(4) Staying up all night troubleshooting computer problems is a great way to “burn off” months of stress, as long as you can make up for the lack of sleep the next day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

What PearPC Means to Apple…and Microsoft!

Making the headlines on the Apple news websites this week was a mention of PearPC. If you haven’t heard, “Pear” is an acronym for PowerPC Emulation Architecture. An open source software project has come up with an “emulated Mac” using software, and it is now possible to run Mac OS X on an x86 powered PC powered by Linux or Windows.

On his website, Kevin Rose of Tech TV’s ScreenSavers posted instructions on how to make OS X run under Windows. Following them, it’s not a relatively hard task to get OS X installed and running on a virtual Darwin hard disk, just like Virtual PC runs Windows on a virtual hard disk under Mac OS X. With a little tweaking, Mac OS X will run on an AMD powered 2800+ system using Windows XP as well as Windows 3.1 would run on a 386 powered PC. However, at least under Windows, PearPC cannot access the PC’s real hardware, so loading any application software on the virtual hard disk becomes a bit of a chore, if possible at all. PearPC is an interesting proof of concept, but not much more than that, at least right now.

It does fuel hope for those folks who want to be able to run OS X on PC hardware without shelling out the extra bucks for a Mac. I used to be one of them. I’m not any more. I’m really sold on the whole Mac experience; and though I hate the high price of entry as much as anyone else, I consider it worth it for what I get...most of the time. The cost differential to get into the Mac is not as high as it used to be; in many cases, several hundred dollars, money that my experience suggests will be recovered in joy of use and simple productivity. Additionally, every time I’ve tried running any kind of emulation, I have always been unhappy with the performance. It has been adequate for the most basic of tasks but not much else. It’s hard for me to believe that Mac emulation would pose much of a threat to the Apple platform. The people who would find emulation on a PC suitable would probably not buy a Mac anyway. At least Apple would have the dollars in their pockets from the purchase of the operating system.

Except, of course, that there’s a catch. The Apple license included in the Panther installation states that the operating system is licensed only for an “Apple-branded” computer. PC’s thereby do not qualify, and running Mac OS X on them is a violation of the license. Whether Apple would (foolhardily, in my opinion) go after the websites demonstrating how to get OS X running on a PC is anyone’s guess. Frankly, I think Apple needs to remove the “Apple-branded” restriction but make it plain they won’t support the operating system on anything but the Mac platform. They can take a page out of the Microsoft book and encourage adoption of more “virtual Macs”. Microsoft realized they could use Virtual PC as another means of selling Windows or at least, of gaining more foothold on the Mac platform; it doesn’t make sense that Apple would turn down the same opportunity for revenue. Removing the language that restricts OS X to Mac hardware could be done quietly…

The company that really needs to be concerned about PearPc isn’t Apple but Microsoft! PearPC represents another choice for users who currently have investments in x86 architectures. If Mac OS X were to eventually join Linux as another choice, both home and corporate users would have fewer reasons to stick with the Microsoft hegemony. Eventually, if PearPc evolved into a low resource, easily installed base layer that could run OS X on x86 architecture with only a slight performance hit, then the whole landscape of the software market could shift, eventually taking the hardware market with it. Apple might have to shift off their current price points; but their machines’ performance advantage, even if it eventually turned out to slight, over software emulated PowerPC hardware could be parlayed into market share. Instead of Apple switching to x86, Dell might be forced to switch to PowerPC.

It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Bad, Bad Apple!

My frustration level with Panther’s bugginess and its ability to kill off perfectly good programs is at an all time high. It initially killed off my CD labeling program (I keep Jaguar loaded on an external Firewire disk to run it.) and now, inexplicably, its VPN to my workplace has stopped working. Not completely. It connects up without error messages but web page loading and e-mail retrieval via Outlook 2001 stalls. (Outlook displays a “Communicating with server” dialog and the standard Apple blue and white “I’m doing something” striped progress bar. And displays it and displays it and displays it…) I’ve now spent more than half a day troubleshooting the problem. I can’t say for sure whether the problem is due to one of Apple’s Security Updates or whether it’s due to a Microsoft Security Update applied on the server side. I’ve tried different settings (including adjustments to the MTU), wiped out my configurations and re-established them, and even loaded up a clean installation of Jaguar (10.2.8) on a “spare” hard disk in my Quicksilver. None of that repaired the VPN connection, one that works just fine on my Windows XP machine from behind the same router. (A Belkin 54G wireless router.) The fact that a clean Jaguar installation also doesn’t work seems to point to the problem being on the corporate (Windows) side; and it might be, but I’m still suspicious since I know one of the Apple Security Updates affected Point To Point Protocol. (My VPN uses PTPP.) In any case, lately I feel like I’m doing no better than I used to under the Windows regime, i.e., I’m spending all my time troubleshooting instead of working.

Think Secret, one of the Apple rumor mill websites, reported that OS 10.3.4 will impact USB devices and TWAIN scanners! HOW? You can be certain I will not be applying the update for days if not weeks after it’s been released because of my growing skepticism about Apple’s checkout of it. I appreciate that Apple is working hard to improve usability, squash bugs, and add features; but most updates introduce as many bugs as they solve. It boils down to a lack of good quality control. I’ve bitched about Apple’s lack of QA (quality assurance) many times on this site, and I’m not the only one who’s written about it. If Apple can’t get a handle on its bugs with only 3% of the market share, how can it possibly handle more? iPods are only going to carry the company so far….

After much hunting, I found a mention in the discussion forums of Apple’s Support website of a VPN client named “DigiTunnel”. The program is a product of Gracion Software located at: DigiTunnel has gotten my VPN connection under both Jaguar and Panther working again. But it’s still maddening to have to fork out $58 for something that used to work. If I find out that one of Apple’s updates killed my VPN and 10.3.4 doesn’t solve it, I’m going to let Apple have a piece of my mind!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Living with a PowerBook, Part Deux

I’m pretty impressed with the PowerBook. I really like being able to use it as my primary personal machine whether at home or at work. When I bring it home, I plug it into a 17 inch Apple Studio LCD, an Apple keyboard, and a Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer (the one with the tilt wheel) and go to town. It does have a few quirks I’ll comment on, but they’re nothing I can’t live with or fix at some point.

First, the native video quality of the LCD, at least from a brightness and color saturation standpoint, in this PowerBook is not as good as it was in my iBook. It’s not so bad that it bothers me, but it is noticeable. I read in a forum that the new PowerBooks (the 12 inch 1.33 GHz in my case) have better screens than the older generation. If you’ve ever seen the difference in brightness and clarity between Apple 17 and 20 inch displays, then you know what I’m talking about. The screen on my PowerBook looks closer to the 17 inch display; the newer PowerBooks look closer to that of a 20 incher. If you haven’t seen the difference (and especially if you’re trying to decide between the two), beat feet down to an Apple Store or Apple retailer and take a look.

Secondly, I kept wondering whether it was hard disk performance or dual processors that made web surfing and general tasks so much faster on my Quicksilver PowerMac. I answered that question by booting the PowerBook from a Firewire 400 hard drive running at 7200 rpm. From what I could see, launching applications and viewing web pages became almost indistinguishable from performing the same chores on the Quicksilver. I could get the same performance out of my PowerBook by installing a 7200 rpm hard drive into my notebook. There aren’t too many 7200 rpm notebook hard drives out there, but Toshiba does make a 60GB model that would exactly meet my needs and desires. I could get it from Other World Computing for under $300, but I’m going to delay buying it until I get closer to the end of my year-long Apple warranty. I am considering buying a LaCie D2 Firewire hard drive and running from it when I am at home; but for the moment, I like the near total silence the internal hard drive yields, so I’m leaving the whole subject alone for now.

Lastly, I encountered one little quirk running the PowerBook as a desktop. The 12 inch PowerBook has a mini-DV port on its left side that can be used via adapters to hook up an external monitor. Since I’m using Apple monitors with ADC ports, I also have to use an Apple DVI to ADC adapter in conjunction with the mini DV adapter. The DVI to ADC adapter contains a USB connector that plugs into the PowerBook to carry the USB functions. My mouse is plugged into a port on my Apple keyboard; I plugged the keyboard into a USB port on the Apple Studio display thinking that it would be the same as plugging the keyboard directly into the side of the notebook. Not so. With the keyboard and mouse plugged into the display, the PowerBook would frequently not recognize either on boot up (via the DVI to ADC adapter’s USB connector). Unplugging the adapter’s USB connector and re-plugging it back into the PowerBook would sometimes solve the problem but not always. However, plugging the keyboard directly into the PowerBook always results in a successful boot up. That’s how I run now. I haven’t seen any information out there that details this problem or whether plugging the keyboard and mouse into a display is simply an unsupported configuration. I also haven’t tried booting into Jaguar; I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Panther is the problem.

No Tigers for me…

Mac news sites are saying that Steve Jobs is going to preview Tiger, the next iteration of OS 10, at the WWDC Conference in June. I will be interested in seeing what he brings forward, but it will be more of curiosity than anything. Apple’s operating system update cycles are simply becoming too expensive from both a time and money standpoint. My next one more than likely will be when I buy a G5 and need 64 bit support. That’s a year or two away.