Tag Archives: Windows 7

Windows 7 Logo

Windows 7 Rebuild

Windows 7 Logo

Logo Credit: Yaxxe – click image for more of his work

In the last Trail Log I mentioned I was having problems with my Windows 7 PC so had decided to rebuild it. I got around to doing it this weekend. Just some notes from the rebuild, mainly to jog my memory for the next time I do it.

I wasn’t planning on any hardware changes but this was a good time to open up the PC and blow out the dust balls. This was my first opportunity to use the Metro Vacuum ED500 DataVac Electric Duster. It was better than expected, well worth the cost. It’s typically compared to 5 cans of compressed air as a way to justify the cost. The reason to use it is that it’s so much better than compressed air. It’s electric, so there’s a twelve foot cord which may limit its use for some people. It’s metal so it’s heavy. And it’s noisy. But it gets the dust out. I feels well built and has a five year warranty. There’s a variety of attachments for directing the air and it was easy to blow the dust out from between the cards, drives and fans.

Since I had the case open I did decide to pop in a 2TB Hitachi drive that I had. I run a lot of VMs on the PC so this will give me more space for snapshots and additional VMs. I can also split the VMs between this and the other drives which would improve performance (in theory) if I run them at the same time. We’ll have to see on that last point.

Some additional tips from the installation:

  • Before booting the install DVD I pull the power to all except the system drive. I’ve had problems in the past where windows installs some pieces on a second drive and then I remove that second drive, breaking windows and requiring a repair.
  • I don’t enter any activation key until my trial period nears its end. This way I can re-install without burning an activation (and I re-installed twice over the weekend to try different ways of moving the profile).
  • I used the procedure found on Lifehacker to move my user profiles off the SSD drive C: and onto a Velociraptor (10000 rpm drive) drive. The procedure worked as described in the article.
  • There were a lot of patches even though I installed from a Windows 7 SP1 DVD, 85 to be exact.

I archived my Windows Home Server 2011 backup of the PC before doing the installation. This brought on the “Monitoring Error” problem that’s been happening since Roll Up 2 was released. (In short, if there an archive PC it generates a monitoring error alert since the OS is unknown.) Theirs is a patch but I’ve decided to ignore the alert until I delete the Archive in a week or so.

My data is all on my Windows Home Server 2011 server so there’s no day to day data on the PC. I just made sure I had the latest virtual machines backed up and then I flattened the PC. I was treating this like a PC restore. If I didn’t have a good backup the files would be lost. This is another way of saying I was too lazy to verify everything and decided to go for it. No issues so far.

The computer is significantly faster. There’s less crud and any file system problems I was experiencing are behind me. I’ve yet to re-install everything, I’m waiting until I actually need the software before I install it. I’m also deciding if I should change the way I do things (like e-mail on Windows). Most of my apps are cross-platform or web based so having my MacBook Air means I don’t have to rush to do the re-installs.

Quick Bits tile for Windows

Windows 7 Service Pack 1

Quick Bits tile for WindowsMicrosoft unleashed Windows 7 Service Pack 1 today, making it available (but not defaulted to install) through Windows Update. I went ahead and installed it on all my Windows installations, both physical and virtual. The installation through Windows Update went without a hitch.

I used the same process on each:

1. Install any pending patches (except SP1) and reboot

2. Do a full backup to Windows Home Server

3.Install Windows 7 Service Pack 1 through Windows Update

The installations took varying degrees of time, with most of the time spent downloading. My SSD equipped machine installed in minutes with the virtual machine running on it taking about 6 minutes. The other machines took longer, seeming to spend an inordinate amount of time downloading the patch files. Maybe the MS servers were busier by the time I got to them. Each machine needed 60 to 90MB of files although the message indicated up to 570MB might be needed. I keep the machines up to date with patches so it appears SP1 was smart enough to not repeat them.

SP1 is mainly a patch compilation but Microsoft says there’s a few additional enhancements:

Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) is an important update that includes previously released security, performance, and stability updates for Windows 7. SP1 also includes new improvements to features and services in Windows 7, such as improved reliability when connecting to HDMI audio devices, printing using the XPS Viewer, and restoring previous folders in Windows Explorer after restarting.

So far everything is fine, although I haven’t run everything. Anyone else diving right into the deep end with Windows 7 SP1.

Random Access - System Builds category tile

PC System Build: Does Future Proofing Matter?

Random Access - System Builds category tileAfter upgrading my hard drive to an SSD drive and seeing the performance boost I was eager to on with my next planned system upgrade and replace the video card. Unfortunately my mini-ATX motherboard wasn’t going to handle a full-size video card due to the the SATA ports being too close to the card slots. So I’d need a new motherboard before proceeding. Since I was planning some major upgrades by year end it didn’t make sense to get a motherboard for the same CPU and go through all that work for a couple of months. So it was time to accelerate the upgrades.

This got me considering designing for future proofing. I put together my current build just under 2 years ago. The core i7’s were just out and if I wanted to future proof my PC by going with the LGA 1366 socket (the 1156 was available then) I would have paid a significant premium. I also question if I’d be upgrading just the processors, assuming I future proofed the motherboard. So this time around I’ll document my thinking and look back in a couple years to see how right (or wrong) I was.

What’s the PC For?

The first thing to decide in any build is what I’ll be doing on the PC. So between what I currently use it for and what I want to use it for, this was my list:

  • General PC stuff like web surfing, some browser based apps and general office applications. Pretty much anything I get will handle this.
  • Virtual Machines: I’ve tried setting up VMs on a remote “server” but it hasn’t worked well for me. It’s not that it didn’t work technically, it just wasn’t compatible with the way I like to work. I like having them all available on the same keyboard and screen in front of me at one desk. This will probably be the most resource intensive task I run on this PC. I’ll also want to be sure the CPU supports virtualization technology within the cpu.
  • Light photo editing and management: Nothing as intensive as Photoshop. Although it’s possible this could change in the next couple of years.
  • Multiple monitors: I currently have one window’s monitor on my desk (along with a Mac monitor). It will be awhile but I do want to add a second Windows monitor to the mix. I’d be going multi-monitor rather than a large single monitor.
  • Video encoding and playback: This will also be CPU intensive, especially the encoding.
  • Most of the above could be happening at the same time with many apps or browser windows open.
  • Hardware tinkering/overclocking: This isn’t something I’ve done, sticking to stock settings for their stability. While I still want my primary PC to be stable, all my data is server based and my Dell laptop meets my basic daily needs. So I could stand to be out a PC while I do a restore or figure out a problem.
  • I’m not a gamer. I may install one or two but I don’t need the ultimate game machine.

Basic Future Proofing

This time around I wanted to stick with quality component parts that would last several years and several builds.  So the case and power supply I picked should last 10 years or until the technology changes. I got the same power supply and case as I used on my Windows Home Server build so I knew I was getting quality. Being a full tower case it not only had plenty of room to work, but also plenty of room to expand.

Picking the Brains & Nervous System

That was the easy part, the hard part was next. Picking the CPU. I started off figuring I’d pick a Intel i7 but questioned that assumption early on. I started looking at AMD alternatives as I had a couple small AMD builds picked for their low cost. AMD’s rep was still one of a budget friendly CPU.

Among the Intel vs. AMD comments I found around the web were those that indicated an AMD chip was more “future proof” than Intel since AMD maintained more socket compatibility as it released chips. While this sounds good I completely discounted it from my consideration. Even if the new i7’s were socket compatible with my motherboard I wouldn’t upgrade since there’s been to many other changes.

On the other hand if I could upgrade the motherboard with one compatible with my current CPU and I’d be able to upgrade some technology (SATA III/USB III) and still be able to upgrade the cpu at a later time. This makes a bit more sense in theory, but I see the CPU and motherboard as hooked for life. I’m more likely to move them to another PC when the time comes for an upgrade. (My current motherboard & cpu will live on as a pretty beefy test box.)

So while others may upgrade cpu’s or motherboards independently it wasn’t something I’d be likely to do. So future socket compatibility wouldn’t be a consideration for me. Well, maybe if all else was completely equal and I needed a tie breaker, but it’s unlikely.

I looked at the high-end AMD Athlon II x6. My thinking was the six cores will help with the virtual machines and provide better performance running multiple apps. A six core Intel CPU is over three times the cost so that’s not even a consideration for me. A comparably priced i7-860 or i7-870 generally get better benchmark results in the reviews I read and seems better with apps that won’t use all the cores. And these days, most apps don’t use multiple cores. The AMD is also an “Black” edition which provides more overclocking options.

I ended up going with the AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Editionalt. I figured the additional cores would benefit me more than benchmark scores. If I was looking for the  most power for a single app or game I’d probably be better off with an Intel. I think the AMD hexa-core will give me better performance for my needs, or at least not noticeably worse. Plus the AMD seems like it will be more fun to play with.

In theory the next gen AMD cheap is supposed to support the AM3 socket, at least in early versions. If it does and I want to upgrade the CPU (and the mobo mfg updates the BIOS to support it) then great, but it didn’t factor into my decision. My bet would be the next cpu and motherboard upgrade happen at the same time.

As for the motherboard to go with it, I’ll want at least one SATA III port for my existing SSD which is SATA II compatible. If a board has one SATA III then it has at least 2, providing some future expansion. I’ll also look for a external USB 3 port or two for when USB 3 devices start to appear. The standard for USB 3 header on the motherboard is to new for them to actually exist so that’s not a requirement.

I’ve had good luck with both Gigabyte and MSI motherboards and have liked them. That’s not guarantee these days but it’s where I started my search. I picked the MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardalt. It was a bit more expensive than a Gigabyte version but it has an extra PCI Express x16 slot and supports overclocking higher speed memory. I may never need the slot or overclock the memory so I may be paying for future proof insurance I’ll never use. The MSI board also seems better organized to handle longer video cards, with the SATA ports being lower on the board.

I’ve had a bit of buyer’s remorse since I clicked the buy button. But I should have them in hand soon and may feel better once I get them installed. The main thing gnawing at me is the performance. Logically I think I bought the best combo for my needs, but since I won’t be getting the Intel counterpart I’ll never really know for sure. The bottom line is benchmarks don’t matter so as long as it runs fast when I use it I’ll be happy. If I see all those cores in use at peak times I’ll have made the right decision. If I see cores still sleeping then I probably should have gone with better performance per core.

Quick Bits tile for Windows

Windows 7 Family Pack Returns

Quick Bits tile for WindowsThe Windows 7 Family Pack has returned. It’s a 3 license bundle of Windows 7 Home Premium for $150. The license does specify that all 3 licenses must be used in the same household although there doesn’t seem to be anything built in to enforce what a household is.

Amazon is currently discounting it to 139.99 which is one of the few places I’ve found it discounted. It’s $149.99 at Newegg. Both currently offer free shipping. Amazon limits the orders to one per household while Newegg limits it to 3.

If you need 3 copies of Windows 7 then the Winds 7 Premium Family Pack is an economical way to get them. Windows 7 Premium is also typically the best choice for a home PC, with the higher level versions providing little benefit.

Microsoft is saying the family pack is available for a limited time, “while supplies last”. For a product built with bits this is a bit strange. Sure, it’s not available for download so CDs do have to be manufactured, just seems strange to say while quantities last instead of just promoting a special offer with a firm end date. Guess they want to keep there options open.

While not a global offer, it is available in more countries now than it was in the past:

United States, Canada, UK, France, Germany, China, Russia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Australia, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Romania, and Ukraine.

Picture of a Dell Inspiron 15R

New Laptop Joins the Quest: The Choice

A little over a month ago I decided I wanted to add a laptop to my PC collection. I haven’t had a capable laptop since my Macbook lost an argument with a cup of coffee over a year ago. I’ve had a Netbook since the coffee mishap and a iPad more recently. Neither one gave me the portable computing power I really want, so I decided to look around.

Even a low cost Macbook would be over a grand, so while I didn’t rule absolutely rule it out, it was never a serious consideration.

I had the iPad for web browsing and media consumption and it filled the role pretty well. (Although web surfing suffers due to the lack of flash support.) But a low-end laptop with a bigger screen and keyboard wouldn’t provide enough additional bang for the buck. I’d be using it for web development, basic photo editing (cropping, minor adjustments and such) and general PC applications. Nothing overly intensive except I wanted to be able to run Virtual Machines for web development and other testing. So I listed out my requirements:

  • While I wanted a laptop for it’s portability, I didn’t need it to be small or especially lite. While I would occasionally travel with it, I’d mainly use it around the house, on the patio or the couch.
  • Minimum 14” screen/1260 X 768 resolution – I wanted to be able to put windows up side-by-side, even if they aren’t large windows.
  • A CPU that has hardware virtualization support. So either a Intel CPU with VT-x support or an AMD CPU with AMD-V support.
  • Minimum 4GB of RAM to support the VMs, but more memory would be better. A laptop with a 4GB hardware limit would be unacceptable, even if I got 4GB to start with I may want to upgrade, so expandability to 8GB would be required.
  • A built-in CD/DVD drive, not external. Since I wasn’t looking for the smallest, lightest laptop I wanted a built-in optical drive. I still had enough use for a optical drive and I wanted everything to be self-contained. I don’t really see a need for a burner but I suspect that’s what I’ll get.
  • 500GB Hard Drive – I want the space to be able to have several virtual machines on the local hard drive and that will take disk space. I don’t want to have to worry about keeping an external hard drive nearby.
  • 802.11N Wireless along with a built-in wired Ethernet port.
  • Built-in SDHC card reader. My camera currently uses SDHC cards and I can foresee taking both on trips.
  • A reasonable expectation that the laptop will provide acceptable performance for 3 years.
  • A maximum price of $1000, including any shipping, taxes and other fees.
  • If a back-lit keyboard is available as an option I would get it but it doesn’t rise to the level of “must have”.

I checked both HP and Dell. Both have Employee Purchase Programs (EPP) with my employer so I figured I may get a better price through the EPP. I also checked out other brands at Newegg. I ended up buying a Dell Inspiron 15R. Unlike the typical Dell purchase process, the Inspiron is sold in various packages, rather than being able to pick a chose each piece of hardware. This resulted in differences between the regular Dell website and the EPP website. I bought through the regular website since the EPP site through in a Blu-Ray drive once I picked the other hardware I wanted. So while a good price for the drive, it was an extra $50 for something I didn’t want and wouldn’t use.

These days I have no particular loyalty to any brand out there and can probably find horror stories about any of them. I went with the Dell because it had better reviews overall than anything else I considered. I also stopped by Best Buy to take a look at one and liked the screen and keyboard.

What I got was:

  • Intel Core i5-450M 2.66Ghz processor (w/VT-x support)
  • 6GB DDR3 RAM (expandable to 8GB)
  • 15.6” Display (1366 X 768). Also listed as 720p
  • ATI Mobility Radeon™ HD5470 video card, 1GB RAM
  • 640GB 5400rpm hard drive.
  • Media Card Reader (7 in 1) which includes SDHC
  • CD/DVD Burner
  • Four USB ports, one of which is a combo eSata port.
  • Windows 7 Premium 64-bit

The PC arrived just before I was going on vacation so I didn’t flatten the install and was left with the crapware. I uninstalled McAfee right away since it was impossible to ignore. I did want Windows 7 Premium x64 anyway so at this point a complete re-install would be more trouble than it’s worth.

I haven’t used the laptop much while I was traveling, so while I have no complaints yet I still haven’t used the PC enough to recommend it. While I like the keyboard I’m not liking the trackpad. The trackpad isn’t a huge issue since I prefer an external mouse anyway, but I find the trackpad buttons hard to press. They have to be pressed just right, otherwise the click is ignored. I’ll write more about it as I use it, but so far the trackpad is my only complaint and I’m happy with the performance.