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Computing At Chaos Manor

Mailbag for October 2, 2006
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2006 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

October 2, 2006

A mixed bag of mail this week. As usual...

Subject: 64-bit XP sucks

Thursday I got a copy of 64-bit Maya 8 from Autodesk. Last night I tried to install it. As usual, the software loaded, but the license, which I tried to attach to a dongle, didn't.

Last year we went through a several-day dance with Alias (ex-makers of Maya), Nvidia (makers of the mobo), HP, and Microsoft to get the system to recognize the dongle so we could run 32-bit Maya 7 (problem was MS drivers).

At present the system does not recognize DVD burners, sees the wireless mouse and keyboard intermittently (latest drivers from Logitech), and at 2:00 AM stopped recognizing a USB keyboard entirely, even on reboot, at which point I went home to sacrifice a chicken.

-- David Em

Sorry to hear it, but not enormously surprised. We have had much the same experience with Vista 64: there are just too many missing drivers. When I asked my correspondents about Vista 32 vs. 64 I got the same opinions. I would guess that 64-bit is the wave of the future, but until there is a lot more work on drivers, it's a pretty small wave.


Jim Woodhill is a Silicon Valley Magnate who can and does have any and all computing equipment he fancies. I thought this interesting in response to last week's discussion of increased computer speed:

Jerry,

The way I compute is that I carry around whatever Apple's fastest current laptop and when I am at any of my three main residences I boot Apple's fastest desktop machine off the laptop (in Mac "Target Disk Mode"--the laptop appears to be a bootable external FireWire hard disk), for the fastest PC experience possible.

I have the very latest G5 PowerMac here in Del Mar, and it has 2 Ethernet ports, so your correspondent is mistaken about this being new in the Mac Pro. (However, I know that the previous 2.7GHz dual-processor (the very latest G5 is a 2.5GHz "quad" (dual dual-core) only had 1 Ethernet port).

What do I need so much compute power for? Eudora 6.2.3 and Microsoft Word! And I can't *wait* to get faster machines!

Jim Woodhill

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the new Intel Mac systems are the way to go. Intel Mac with OS X and Parallels allows us to run everything except the very most demanding games, and do so without much worry about viruses and security intrusions. We have a lot of computers at Chaos Manor, and we're not likely to get rid of them all, but I am seriously contemplating a Mac G5 and a Core 2 Duo laptop for all the main computing jobs here.

Of course I also have to do justice to Linux systems, which cost a lot less.


There are those who simply have to have the best gaming systems:

Subject: Ultimate gaming system

Dr. Pournelle,

This mini-review of nvidia's quad-SLI is a bit of a look at what is probably the ultimate gaming system. Although focusing on nvidia's quad-SLI technology, the components used to build up this system can almost be considered the absolute last word in PC gaming performance.

[ Hard|OCP quad-SLI review ]

To a gamer, some of the screenshots are amazing. A non-gamer won't know why, but a true gamer will appreciate the high texture quality and lack of image aliasing that are the biggest image quality problems with today's games.

Sean

Thanks.


The Chaos Manor Gang had a discussion of storage devices and obsolescence in which I mentioned that Niven and I used Zip drives until quite recently because they were convenient and reliable. That generated a mail exchange:

New Iomega Product

This caught my eye after recent discussion. I'd somehow completely missed the first generation of this product when it appeared.

[ Iomega Rev product review ]

For the money, you'd have to have a really specific need for what it does.

Eric Pobirs

Which generated this reply from Peter Glaskowsky:

That reads like a puff piece, a "thank you" for sending the hardware.

A sustained read/write bandwidth advantage of less than 80% over some random USB hard disk put the competition "to shame." But 3:1 and 16:1 (!) disadvantages in random-access performance is described merely as "the Rev performs rather poorly." I'm pretty sure that the author could have found a USB hard drive with much better sustained throughput, but no.

In the cost-per-gigabyte comparison, the Rev is the second most expensive alternative out of four, yet the reviewer says :

"The Rev shines in several scenarios here."

C'mon, it's four to six times as expensive as DVD-R or external USB hard disks. For the price of a Rev drive and enough carts to back up an average 300G drive (about $800), you can get two terabytes of USB hard disks from NewEgg.

But worst of all:

Using DVD media and hard drives as backups tends to do better on a cost-per-gigabyte ratio. However, it's important to note that these media are not especially long-lasting, are prone to more types of failure than are tape or Rev, and have additional drawbacks. DVDs, of course, are prone to scratching, and their longevity is neither proven nor especially promising.

It's also not especially pleasant to think of the effort involved in the task of backing up 250GB to DVD, each of which can contain only 17GB maximum after 2:1 compression. Hard drives are typically less-than-portable, offer questionable long-term reliability while in regular use, and suffer from the annoying habit of succumbing to silent death when not in use.

This is outrageous. Good DVD media has an official shelf life longer than what Iomega claims for its media, and it's FAR more likely that you'll be able to get a DVD-compatible drive in 2056. How many operational Rev drives do we suppose there will be in the whole world by that time? A dozen? Zero?

USB hard drives are as portable as anyone could ask, with 1.8", 2.5", and 3.5" drives all readily available at very low prices. And USB mass storage devices will also be very well supported for decades to come.

Used for backup purposes, hard drives will almost certainly be more reliable than Rev drives. The biggest problem with Rev drives will be contamination by external dust, of course-- which isn't a "type of failure" to which hard drives are particularly prone. Drive-motor stiction will be at least as big a problem with Rev cartridges as it is with hard drives. Hard drives are cleaner inside and made in much higher quantities, so if some model is prone to stiction, we'll probably hear about it promptly. Iomega isn't exactly well known for publicizing problems with its crappy products.

.    png

Robert Bruce Thompson comments:

I agree with everything you [png] said, but in this case these people are just plain wrong. They quote sequential R/W speeds of about 11 MB/s for the Iomega unit and 6+ MB/s for the USB hard drive. I have a Seagate 500 MB Barracuda 7200.10 in a USB 2.0 external enclosure, and I've timed transfers. It routinely does between 24 MB/s and 32 MB/s, with lower numbers when transferring many small files, and larger numbers when transferring a few very large files.

I'm guessing that they had their external drive plugged into the same USB controller as their mouse and/or keyboard.

I timed it just this morning when copying my working data set off my primary hard drive to the external USB hard drive. It took 62 seconds to transfer just over 1,900 MB. I don't doubt that Linux is faster than Windows, but even so my drive has throughput about five times faster than their USB drive and three times faster than their Iomega drive.

Robert Bruce Thompson

And Eric concludes:

I wasn't recommending the thing, just noting that Iomega is still trying to sell this sort of thing.

I frequently use the Seagate 100GB 2.5" USB drive to transport multi-gig video files, and it is surely far faster than those Rev numbers. I have an old Accom 40GB drive from the first generation of USB 2.0 parts that is very slow by comparison and more on par with the Rev. Fast compared to USB 1.1 but it was nearly free for a reason.

Eric Pobirs

I find that the USB 2.0 Seagate 100 GB "pocket book" drives - now as large as 160 GB - nearly essential for those who travel. I always carry one for backing up any work created on the road, and they are a very fast way to transfer large files by sneakernet as well.

I have tried almost every "removable cartridge hard drive" ever made from the earliest SyQuest 5MB models on. I never found one of them to be reliable over time, and I don't think I have any readable cartridges from that era. I did use and rely on 100 MB Zip drives. They were rugged, in a convenient form factor, and large enough to hold any nove complete with maps and illustrations. Even so, we used them more for transport than for real backup. As they increased the capacity of the Zip drives they developed problems including backward compatibility, and we began to see errors. Fortunately the all silicon thumb drives came in about then.

I don't think anyone will ever solve the problem of small reliable removable cartridge hard drives; for that kind of purpose, silicon is cheaper than iron.


Subject: Wow!!!! ChaosManorReviews is THE place...Thanks

Mr. Pournelle,

Fantastic website for older techno-nerds like myself who were born before the Air Force existed (when it was still part of the Army for whom my Uncle Roy flew Flying Tigers in Burma in 1939). I taught high school technology courses until recently (my students were building websites in 1997). I would have used your ChaosManorReviews as a mandatory-to-read and explore website...quizzes to follow.

Thanks for breaking away from whatever restrictions BYTE placed upon your postings. Your own website is much better & I have paid $36 to you thru my new PAYPAL account..see info below from Paypal website..

Bruce

Thanks for the kind words.


To Be Continued...