Windows 7 Beta 1

Like with Vista, I’m beta testing again. This time, I’m using something a little more powerful, my laptop. Since it came with Vista, some direct comparisons can be done. The first thing to note is Windows 7 Beta 1 is just that, a beta. Though I have yet to have something on it crash, there are some visual bugs that need to be worked out. In certain circumstances I am getting visual corruption in Aero. One thing that was improved right off the bat was wireless networking support. Vista was much better than XP, likewise Windows 7 is much better than Vista in this regard.

Booting does not seem much faster than with Vista, but I am using a slightly slower hard drive, and all my ready boost stuff is disabled at the moment. The sound driver that was installed did not work for the built in speakers on my laptop, but installing a Vista driver for it resolved the issue. Like Vista, the automatic installation of drivers is improved greatly over XP. Unlike Vista, in Windows 7 more information about the devise, and process the installer is following is available. Most devices are just plug-n-play with Windows 7, even more so than with Vista.

The window peaking, and new taskbar are two things I’d throw onto the improvement list. On the taskbar you can move around the currently active applications in a manner that reminds me of Avant Window Navigator (OS X is probably like that too). The mouse gestures will take a little bit to get used to and fully learn, so I won’t comment fully on them at this time.

There are still quite a few problems, but hey, it’s a beta so it’s my job to let Microsoft know about them. The first issues is FTP support, it sucks. Vista FTP support wasn’t much better than XP, they both have issues if you double click on an file (they both try to open the files in Internet Explorer). In Windows 7 Beta 1 I can not even log into my FTP folder, all authenticated FTP accesses fail with the error “The handle is invalid.”

Printer drivers for older USB devices do not exist. My HP Officejet v40 (which is built better than most new printers) had drivers built in to Windows since XP. In Vista the included drivers were slow and made printing painfull, in Windows 7 the drivers are not there. HP does not even distribute Vista drivers for the Officejet v40, so unless you have Vista and rip the drivers out of it, or are resourceful with Google, you are SOL.

There are some screen corruption issues, where Aero flakes out, or the font does not render properly. The font issue is reproducible, go add a printer, and scroll quickly through the driver listing (not using the scroll wheel but instead the scroll bar). It is a flaw in the rendering of the letter ‘e’, and specifically the horizontal line is too thick (two to three times the thickness it should be). The fact that a screen capture using the Print Screen button captures this points to a rendering issue caused by windows rather than a driver issue. Using the ClearType configuration utility (a quick, six step, which text chunk looks best ‘test’ ) seems to resolve this issue.

The Aero corruption issue may be a graphics driver issue. So far I have not found a method that reliably reproduces the issue. It will some times affect the taskbar, when opening and closing windows, or minimizing and maximizing them. Sometimes it will affect the titlebar of an application.

Overall Windows 7 is shaping up to be a good replacement for Vista and XP. Sure the Beta has some bugs, but then again it’s a beta.

-John Havlik

Refreshing Vista

The installation went fast, the updates, on the other hand did not. Rewind a bit, back to a few weeks ago. Some troll over at Digg was spamming links to shock sites. One of them causes thousands of popups of shock images to display. It also happens to take advantage of some security flaws in many web browsers. That was last week, but going back a bit further the real odd behavior began.

It began with Adobe Flash security warnings. They were triggered by advertisements (flash based advertisements should be illegal for more than one reason) that are part of the Microsoft Mojave campaign. The warning stated that code in the flash object attempted to redirect about:blank to some other address. One would think a large corporation such as Microsoft would keep its advertisements out of the realm of malice, but then again they are still spamming stats with fake arrivals from their live search service.

Even though the Flash warning was odd, it was not the thing that was really bad. Out of nowhere no execute bit errors start killing Firefox. Most of the time on a website with an Adobe Flash based advertisement. Did I mention I believe Flash based advertisements should be outlawed–and all websites that have them should be added to the malware harboring website lists?

Well, after having enough of the stupid NX bit errors, Firefox and Flash player were reinstalled. No luck, the problems still occurred. Time for drastic measures, reinstall Vista time. After backing up the few files not on my home server (running Gentoo Linux), the Vista DVD made its way into the DVD drive. After rebooting and clicking through some options, the installer did its thing. Fifteen minutes later–surprisingly fast–the familiar welcome screen appeared. First order of action was installing the WiFi driver. Rather than before I let the additional intel tools to be installed. Surprisingly, I’m connecting at 802.11N speeds all the time now (verses when ever Windows felt like it before). Next up was the graphics driver. Previously, the dell driver did not allow the one distributed by intel to be installed so I was running a year old driver.

Then Windows Update in its infinite wisdom decided to try grabbing over 30 updates. Naturally, there was no dependency handling causing numerous blue screens of death at boot. To compound the issue I had at one time tried to install about ten of my commonly used programs. After the first blue screen of death, and doing a system restore, they were all missing (System Restore shadows many more things than it used to). Instead of trying to reinstall the programs again, I focused on the Windows updates.

That is when things became fun. Not only does Windows Update not properly handle dependencies, it seems to always have problems installing more than twenty or so updates at a time. Even worse, it seems to generate error codes that are random when encountering this situation. Another fun fact is Windows Update seems to not check the hash sum of the updates it downloads until it attempts to install them. If the hashes at that time do not match it returns an error code instead of redownloading and trying again as it should. Installing only four or five updates at a time, along with the oldest first seems to help. However this is taking forever. If I wanted to spend two full evenings working on this I would have installed Gentoo, which I would be done installing by now as well.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Vostro 1400’s 5.1 Surround Sound

Believe it or not the Vostro 1400 does have built in 5.1 Surround Sound and can drive analog outputs for such a setup. The plug-order from left to right on the front of the laptop is front (green plug), center/sub (orange plug), rear (black plug). After plugging into the ports, go to your control panel, and open up the SigmaTel Audio panel. Under the “Jack Setup” tab right click on each of the jacks (which each should have a green check mark over if you have plugged something into them). In the pop-up menu select the appropriate setting. Then back in Control Panel go to the Sound Panel select the Speakers/Headphones option/device and click on the configure button, select “5.1 Surround” in the Audio channels list. Continue on through the setup and when done everything should work in full 5.1 surround goodness. Naturally, the on board sound isn’t as good as the sound from my X-Fi, but I don’t have the 5.1 breakout box for the X-Fi yet. Dell’s choice to place the audio jacks on the front of the Vostro isn’t the best of design choices as they get in the way of the keyboard a little bit. However, it really isn’t that bad.

I really wish all laptop manufactures would standardize on a common docking station interface which would consist of a PCI Express x16 connector plus an express card interface located in the port (plus power of course), which in the base station would allow for full sized x16 graphics card to be installed and either a normal PCI, x1 card, or express card to be installed as well, plus 4 or so USB ports on the dock. That way you can game with the laptop when docked (Geforce 9800GT anyone?) yet get the power benefits of having an IGP while mobile (I really enjoy my 5+ hours of battery life with the normal 6 cell battery).

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio Express

A package arrived from ebay today, it was the X-Fi Xtreme Audio Express Card for my Vostro 1400. Hopefully I’ll be able to find the 5.1/7.1 extension for docking with my speakers. Sound wise, it’s much better than the on board sound, which through the internal speakers is not that great. It’s not that bad, but with external speakers the on board sound is much better, and the X-Fi is that much better. Vista didn’t automagically get things working right away (sort of disappointing since everything else just worked). Creative is now better with their driver installer as they allow just installing the driver without the other added software (read as more or less crapware). Software installation was quick and painless, required a reboot as I chose to install ALchemy. Some actual testing will occur later this weekend.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]

Core 2 Duo X9000

What is fast? When in Vista you double click on Firefox’s desktop icon and it’s ready to go. When Thunderbird loads just as quickly. When Visual C++ 2008 loads even quicker. When MPLAB, something that usually takes quite some time to load takes the amount of time Firefox used to take to load. Intel’s Core 2 Duo X9000 is one fast beast. It runs at a slightly higher voltage than the T5270 when powering off of the battery (1.0375V vs 1.01V), but it does correctly clock down to 1Ghz when appropriate. Vista estimates the same battery life as with the T5270. Vista’s performance checker evaluates the processor as a 5.6, up 1 whole point from the T5270’s 4.6, additionally the memory metric went up a full point to 5.0 from 4.0. The only thing holding this back now is the X3100 graphics, but the purpose is not a gaming laptop so I can deal with that. Though I must say it does run Sim City 4 quite well.

Installing the chip was easy. The thermal assembly was held on with four screws near the processor and one near the heatsink. Finding my Arctic Silver 5 took longer than replacing the processor, this was mainly due to the remodeling that we are doing. I did a quick 20 minute burn in with CPU burn-in, one process for each core, and then shut down the laptop. The performance gain was not entirely noticeable until after letting it cool down for the first time. A few more CPU burn-in cycles and that Arctic Silver will get setup for better thermal conductivity.

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]