Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

July 23, 2007

Continuing last week's discussion:

Peter Glaskowsky (http://www.speedsnfeeds.com) fears that the difference between defects and design flaws is not made sufficiently clear. In response to my assertion:

I put it to you that a difference of 10% may be more meaningful to you than to Thompson, or for that matter, to me. I infer from what he said that it's a design flaw, and certainly a design flaw has the potential to affect 100% of the units.

Peter replied:

Well, it depends on the flaw.

I feel as if I ought to say this once more. A design flaw may not result in a defect in 100% of the products.

Consider-- if you buy a million microprocessors or graphics chips, some will dissipate more heat than others while performing the same work.

If the design flaw was that the heat sink wasn't large enough to dissipate the heat from the chips Microsoft was buying, it only creates a defect for the fraction of the processors that exceed the heat sink's capacity.

To be more concrete, if someone designed an 80W heatsink solution into the Xbox 360, but some of the processors actually generate 85W, the flawed design created a defect in those machines.

But for any machine that actually has a 75W processor in it, there is no defect. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that machine, and it will never fail because of this design flaw.

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I replied:

It still has the propensity to affect 100% of the products. A design flaw means that it's luck when it works. A defect means it's bad luck when it doesn't work.

Jerry Pournelle
Chaos Manor

Eric Pobirs gets the last word on this:

Well no, because that would require, using Peter's example, that 100% of the chips in question have a definite point where they go over 80W. I think it's safe to assume they wouldn't knowingly have used an inadequate cooling solution if it was known that 100% of the chips would get that hot. If it were the case there would be no argument the bean counters could make in favor of the cheaper solution. Especially since those same bean counters have to weigh the repercussions for failure modes and what levels of failure are allowable vs. the cost of warranty repairs.

It appears that much higher portion of the chips are running hotter than the early engineering samples indicated would be the case. At some point, somebody likely noticed the trend but crossed their fingers and hoped for the best rather than reject large numbers of chips and holding up production during a critical phase in the product's life cycle. MS had their new console launching while the competition's were still a year off. Maximizing installed base during that period was critical to the platform.

Sony had a similar circumstance when launching the PS2 a year ahead of Nintendo and Microsoft. (The yet earlier launched Sega Dreamcast was ultimately meaningless to that competition.) Sony went to some very expensive lengths to get that first generation of PS2 out in Japan, including the use of a chipset version never intended for mass production.

Over a hundred million PS2s later, it can be observed to have been worth the rough moments. Dominating a console generation is very lucrative. If Microsoft can do that with the Xbox 360 the cost of warranty extension will be a speed bump along the way.


Last week one speculation about the Xbox 360 problems was poor soldering done in China. When it was pointed out that the Xbox 360 is officially made in Taiwan, Bob Thompson points out:

It may also be worth noting that the difference between Made in Taiwan and Made in China can be very nebulous. Although the two countries are at odds politically, their manufacturers collaborate very closely, and it's often impossible to tell where a product was actually made.

For example, Orion Telescope & Binocular (one of the largest astronomy retailers) formerly sold Dobsonian telescopes that were manufactured by Guan Sheng Optical in Taiwan. They now sell very similar models that are made in China by Synta Optical. Despite the fact that the earlier models nowhere mentioned China and the current models nowhere mention Taiwan, both models incorporated major pieces from both countries. The current Synta 12" model, for example, actually uses a mirror made by Guan Sheng, because Synta doesn't have the technology to mass-produce decent 12" mirrors.

The same is true for electronics. Many of my contacts at various hardware companies have commented on the fact that manufacturing location can be almost a matter of opinion. If one of them contracts with a Taiwanese company to produce 1,000,000 units of a particular model, it's often impossible for them to tell where the product was actually produced. All of them may be made by various subcontracting Chinese factories, and the Taiwanese company may simply box them up and ship them to the customer with a Made in Taiwan label on them. At the same time, that Taiwanese company may actually be producing products that will be shipped to a Chinese company and subsequently labeled as Made in China.

A couple of years ago, one of my contacts at D-Link told me a long, sad story about QC problems with Taiwanese companies that subcontracted production to Chinese companies. The D-Link guy said that D-Link was the only company that sold consumer-grade WiFi stuff that actually made the products in factories that it controlled directly.

Robert Bruce Thompson

Peter Glaskowsky comments:

This is a good point. The law requires exactly one country to be named on the "Made in" sticker, but that country often is not where the work most critical to product quality was performed.

I suppose the only answer would be a sticker that says "If there's anything wrong with this product, it's probably the fault of workers in _______".

But personally I don't want that. I don't even want the current law, because it doesn't actually solve any problems.

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And one final Xbox 360 note:

Subject: Xbox 360s and Towel Tricks

Dear Jerry,

I just read your mailbag entries about the Xbox 360 warranty extension and some of the speculation on the design defects causing the failures.

Regarding the possibility that it is poor quality solder on the mainboard, it may be premature to dismiss the idea so quickly.

While overheating is something that can be a problem for just about any device under the right conditions, and these consoles do get used in cramped corners and for long hours, some users have actually found that after a hardware failure (indicated by the infamous "red ring of death" where three of the console's four front panel indicator lights turn red) it can actually help to deliberately overheat the unit.

The most common explanation for why this works is... bad solder. Apparently it's a little of both; when the unit overheats, the bad solder joints come free and a component becomes disconnected. By blocking the unit's vents with a towel, some users have been deliberately overheating the unit and finding that afterwards, it functions-- sometimes permanently, sometimes only temporarily. It is believed that the excess heat is causing the solder on the bad joints to melt and reconnect the disconnected component, and after cooling, this holds until the unit overheats again.

Googling for "xbox towel trick" will find quite a few links, but here's one:


Of course, with Microsoft extending the warranty, there is absolutely NO reason for anyone to attempt this now, but if true, I thought it might shed some light on the possible cause of the failures, since Microsoft has declined to be specific about it.

Many thanks for your column, I was a reader back in the BYTE days and I'm glad you've kept up the tradition on your site.

-- David "Narcogen" Josselyn

Interesting. As David says, DO NOT TRY THIS: there's no need, since Microsoft has extended the warranty. Peter Glaskowsky wants to remind us:

As far as I know, the Xbox 360 is made in China. My research showed only that the companies that make the Xbox 360 for Microsoft are not Chinese companies.

Secondarily, I showed that the Xbox 360 is made by two or three different companies, so it's highly unlikely that 100% of the machines could be affected by any one problem such as a poor local choice of solder. But it's possible that Microsoft specified the solder alloy; I have no idea.

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Which should be quite enough about the Xbox 360.

Here's something else I don't recommend you try:

Subject: thinkpad t4* series cpu upgrade

nice write-up on your experience upgrading a t41p... i've got a question for you... i rang up ibm earlier today asking them what cpu's would work in what models of the thinkpad T series and was told (quite predictably) that you should only use cpu assemblies that match the exact model #'s in their field replacement parts guide... but obviously you've successfully worked 'outside the box' on this subject, and now i'm wondering which intel centrino cpu's i can simply 'drop in' any of several thinkpad i've been spying on ebay recently. am i correct to assume that as long as the FSB speed, operating voltage, and thermal design power (tdp) are all equivalent to the original cpu built into the thinkpad that it would be a suitable match for an upgrade? (so for example, a 478 pin pentium m 755 with a tdp of 27w wouldn't work for a t42 whereas one with a tdp of 21w would.) thanks in advance for any info you can provide!

-- kris gale

I put this to the advisors with the comment, I suspect none of us have any ideas that would help this chap. I certainly don't.

Dan Spisak says:

This kind of CPU upgrade only works if the BIOS has been updated to support said CPU type(s) and if the motherboard chipset can support that CPU as well. Just because a CPU is physically socket compatible does not mean that it behaves the same way as far as the motherboard chipset and BIOS are concerned. One would have to look at the release notes documentation for the T41p BIOS updates to see if mention of support for that class of CPUs was ever added.

However, considering the age of the motherbaord chipset for that system I am pretty sure a "centrino" CPU (which, BTW, isn't an actual CPU designation) will not work in a laptop designed for an Banias pentium-m 1.7GHz CPU. The fact the T41p took an upgrade from Banias to Dothan is only because Dothan CPUs were backwards compatible with the same mobile chipset that supported the older Banias CPUs from Intel.

Peter probably can chime in on this I suspect.

-Dan S.

Peter Glaskowsky adds

There's no way to be sure. Even if that exact machine and BIOS was sold with more than one type of CPU, it still might not be possible to upgrade from one to another. There can always be unannounced and undetectable motherboard differences.

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And Alex closes with:

Agreed--and the bigger overall message is, "What? Are you nuts?" --unless you are planning to do it just as an experiment, the risks are very nonzero.


In other words, DON'T!

We have two comments on adding Exchange as a way to speed up Outlook:


Paul Dove is right and Alex and RBT are wrong. You DO want Exhange Server BUT you want it with what is called Small Business Server. Most people have never heard of Microsoft Small Business Server. It is Windows Servers 2003 PLUS Exchange 2003 bundled together in the Standard Edition for about $600 or Windows Servers 2003 PLUS Exchange 2003 PLUS SQL Server 2000 PLUS ISA Server 2004 for about $1200 in the Premium Edition. It comes with 5 user CALS included with either edition. Either one is a tremendous savings off what it would cost to buy the software seperately. PLUS they are required to run on a SINGLE server which means that you don't need multiple machines. Microsoft has seen to it that all the apps run peacfully together. I have set up more than one of these and the results are spectacular. Now this is not something that the average person can set up no matter what Microsoft says but in the hands of the right person it will run like a Swiss watch on an $800 server with mirrored hard drives and 2 to 4 gig of memory.

Exchange SP2 comes with an excellent spam filter and there is another that works within Outlook that you get with the standard Microsoft updates. The Exchange that comes with Small Business Server has a built in POP3 downloader that Exchange Server does not normally come with. Plus you can set it up so that you get mail at your own registered domain name. And if that were not enough you can still have your sorting rules but now they run on the server in real time when the mail comes in even if your not connected.

Still not sold ! How about getting a built in web based mail client that works and looks very similar to Outlook that will let you get your mail from anywhere you have Internet access.

Want secure remote web based access to your desktops when your on the road ? No problem ! Small Business Server will provide that too.

With Microsoft about to release Home Server which is a cut down version of Small Business Server no one can say that servers are not for the home anymore.

Dean Peters

Dr Pournelle,

Your advisors seem to have missed the point of the Exchange experiment. So lets recap, your personal choice is to use Outlook (2003 or later) as your email and PIM client, but you have large frustrations with how Outlook runs locally and takes over your machine when processing.

You are fairly uniquely served by a specialist hosting facility, so you can ask them to set up their systems so that a *copy* of all email sent to jerryp@jerrypournelle.com is also copied (at the mail relay level) to an relatively local Exchange service provider, such as www.4smartphone.com in Phoenix. You can then set up Outlook on your machine with two profiles, one as you already have it, and a second using a mailbox on 4smartphone (all it needs is a web HTTPS connection).

Then you can easily test the speed scenario. You will unfortunately have to recreate your mail rules in the second profile, but once complete, you will have access to your mail via very good webmail (best in IE unfortunately), and wireless enabled device (PDA) on GSM or CDMA networks running Windows Mobile. Please don't let the Linux fans (who have a good point) stop you experiencing this pretty useful and enabling technology.

I have for years used Forte Agent as a mail program, connecting to my (UK) very experienced hosting company (www.gradwell.com) who don't use proprietary systems, and run most servers on FreeBSD. Their systems are amazingly flexible, and so I have all mail delivered to a mailbox on their system, and copied via SMTP to my UK Exchange host. I will never go back to anything less functional.

I note that neither Novell's Groupwise nor IBM's Lotus Notes/Domino product has yet achieved this sort of seemless integration and connectivity, especially with PDAs and smart phones. Yet worldwide there are lots of Exchange mailbox hosts, but none running Lotus Domino! Forget Blackberry, this is the new cost effective idea for the individual, or very small business. For the larger business MS offers the "Small business server" which looks interesting.

(Farnborough, Hampshire, UK)

We had Small Business Server here at one time, but I didn't use it. In those times the BYTE column was one of my principal activities and we did a lot of silly things so you don't have to. Since then I have had to simplify a bit.

For those with a sufficiently complex business, Microsoft Small Business Server does look interesting. Alas, you won't learn much about it from me. I'm really trying to simplify my establishment.

On Franklin Ascend and PDA programs:


While I still religiously use the Franklin Planner paper products, the efforts I've put into the post-Ascend software products have, as in your case, ended in disaster. While I was trying to carry a Palm Pilot, the synchronization between Franklin, management of meetings on Outlook, and the Palm managed to generate most of my appointments in duplicate or triplicate, despite the ostensible compatibility of the Franklin with both products, and I couldn't get it to stop. The interface was also much less user-friendly than the Ascend interface. And there is, or seems to be, an inflexibility that requires that only the standard format of the Franklin forms can be used for printouts, whereas many of their specialized planner forms are now drawn with different line spacing and calendar functionality.

Since I'm now mostly working in environments where supplemental use of hardware is discouraged, if not prohibited, I've completely reverted to Franklin's paper planners for most of my records (and upgraded to the Monarch sizing for ease of insertion of electronic printouts when relevant).

Their web site remains www.franklincovey.com for the interested.


I have thought of going to the paper version of the Franklin Planner, but what I really want is for someone to take the 1999 version of Franklin Ascend, disassemble it, and fix the Y2K bug. I have never seen a better PDA program. If that can't be done, I'd like to find a program that works as well as the old Franklin Ascend did. One of the best things about the old Ascend was that both program and data files were contained in one folder. The whole thing was only a few megabytes and easily fit on a Zip drive. By copying that folder you could run Ascend on any computer. I sure miss it.

And a final comment:

Subject: Thinkpads may not be the answer much longer...

Jerry :

Well, the end's in sight for some of us road-warriors using Lenovo (born IBM) Thinkpads, I think...

I've used Thinkpads for years, and they've been the mainstay of the consultancy that I formed some years back. Over the last two decades in various positions, I've had five Thinkpads, and they've been - hands down and the gripping hand, too - the best laptops for me. I travel three to four weeks a month, use a laptop/notebook every day, every night, weekends, on 'planes, in airports, sitting in deserts and islands (I draw the line at using a laptop at meals - some things need to be kept aside). Thinkpads have been in every industrial environment that I work in, through every climate on various continents. With a Thinkpad at hand, I've pulled rabbits out of hats with hares in order, sized, and colours to match the moment.

I've had to use other brands at different times, but, frankly and bluntly, no other laptop has done as many things as well as a Thinkpad. The balance of attributes of the Thinkpad line has always been a case of doing many things extremely well, a few things exceptionally well like the keyboard, and never being below that standard, even though not on the bleeding edge of technology. They've been the boon companion of my work, my travels; even as they've been run hard and long, they've performed as thoroughbreds do.

But I think that I've just purchased my last Thinkpad.

Y'see, I'm not some kid who wants to use the Thinkpad as a video game or a DVD player substitute. It's a tool for me as an engineer, scientist, and industrial troubleshooter, and it's a tool that I need to work "just so".

And now they're all going to be widescreen models. All of them...

...except perhaps the one that I ordered Friday, all fully kitted out for a few years of travel and work. The Lenovo website abruptly dumped from an order for a Thinkpad and I telephoned to make the order thinking that there was a problem with the site. But the salesperson, "Brad", cheerily informed me that IBM/Lenovo Thinkpads wouldn't come with a standard display type after the T60 model. I snapped up the best model still available of the T60 line.

No more "normal" screen sizes, only widescreen. Feh.

Have you tried to get laptop bags related to work to transport these things ?

Aside from that, editing and working on text is almost a dead-loss with the short vertical travel. There's no possible way to get the materials in a format for serious work, and although I'll freely concede that it makes wider spreadsheets easier to read, it's purely hell for any text work, various scientific and engineering applications don't fit properly, and, given that many aren't intended for the MTV/XBox crowd, instead for desktops and workstations, probably won't be resized for widescreen. I suppose if I watched DVDs every night while in a hotel, whiled away the days with streaming television, ah, this might be interesting. But then, I'm a working man...

A real pity, this, another device that works so damn' well being "improved" so that it's no longer any use.


Welladay, back to the tasks at hand.

John P.

P.S. I ordered the T60 configured with Windows XP. Thank you so much for the quite lucid and cogent discussions recently on Vista!

I am not sure I understand. I have a T42 and a T60, and the T60 series seems to be offered for sale. I also have a Titanium Z61, which has a screen precisely as wide as the T series screens, but not as tall; that is, the T series screens are 13" wide by 11" tall, while the Z is 13" wide by 9" tall. I prefer the larger T series, although if I spent a lot of time in steerage seats on airplanes I might prefer the smaller screen. Actually, if I spent a lot of time working in tourist class airplane seats, I'd prefer a TabletPC.

I completely agree with you about the value of Thinkpad laptops. My T42p is several years old, but we still think of it as "new" and I get a great deal of work done with it.