Microsoft Windows 7 – Worth Upgrading To?

June 27, 2009

win7In the past, I’ve always upgraded to the latest Microsoft Windows OS when it became available, usually within 4-5 weeks of the product launch date. I’m currently running Windows Vista 32-bit on my main desktop PC, and I’m complete happy with its performance (4 GB RAM, Intel Quad Core Processor). Just for kicks, I’ve  been running the beta version of Windows 7 OS on my 4 year-old Dell Latitude laptop for about 4 months now. I’m amazed that Win 7 runs so well on my aged laptop (2 GB memory, older Celeron 1.6 GHz Celeron processor), however, I don’t see any revolutionary updated compared to Windows Vista.

Sure, lots of people complain about how crappy Vista is, but I haven’t come across any major issues. I’ve got Vista tuned to run at top speed and it works great for what I do.

A few days ago, I got a notice from Microsoft inviting me to pre-order Windows 7 (for an October 22nd release date) for one-half the regular retail price. So, I can get the Home edition for $50 US or the Professional version for $100 US. This is nice, however, I don’t see any big reason to upgrade from Vista. Does Win 7 run twice as fast as the current Vista? Does it consume half the memory? Does it have any REALLY cool features? If not, then there probably isn’t a big compelling reason for me to upgrade.


DVRMSToolbox for Video Conversions

May 7, 2009

video_conversionIf you’ve read my Zune Tips blog, you’ll know that I use a freeware product called DVRMSToolbox to convert my Vista Media Center recordings (from Cable TV) to WMV file format for my Microsoft Zune media player. DVRMSToolbox (Dtb) automates the entire process, where it monitors my “Recorded TV” folder for new completed files, and then does the processing and copies the generate WMV file to my Zune sync folder. It’s entirely automatic, so I just sync my Zune in the morning to my Desktop PC and I’m ready to watch my TV shows!

I had everything working just fine before the big Deskop PC upgrade, but I noticed that using the tool called DVRMStoWMVHD (to do the DVR-MS to WMV format conversion) didn’t work quite right on my upgraded system. For some reason, the audio gradually goes out of sync with the video while it is being played, to the point where after 45 minutes the audio is about 6 seconds behind the video. Really annoying to watch.

I ran a bunch of tests, and I can’t seem to figure out the problem. Usually this type of issue occurs with the installed Video and Audio Codecs on the Desktop PC system, but I was careful to only use known good codecs. I’ve also installed the AC3Filter application (as recommended by the maker of Dtb) but that didn’t seem to help.

My alternative solution was to replace DVRMStoWMVHD with using a two step process:

  1. Convert the DVR-MS file to MPEG format using the program ffmpeg
  2. Convert the MPEG file to WMV format using Windows Media Encoder 9 (WME9)

That seemed to work just fine, however, the Visual Basic script used to run WME9 bombed out under Vista with the message, “Console Based Script Host has Stopped Working. cscript.exe“. With some digging, I discovered that a protection scheme called Data Execution Prevention (DEP) was stopping the Visual Basic script from running. This “protection” scheme was designed to prevent malicious software from running on your system. The cause for this error, was a bug or improper compiling of certain DLL files used by WME9. To fix this, I had to follow the steps outlined by this Microsoft Hotfix.

Once I did that, the Visual Basic script running WME9 worked fine on my Vista system. So, I’d rather use the one-step approach with DVRMStoWMVHD, but it looks like I’ll need to use the two-step approach that I outlined to have audio-video synced WMV files.

Updated (8 May 09): I figured out the problem with DVRMStoWMVHD having the audio/video sync issue. It turns out version 1.0.1.0 works fine (which I was using on my old system before upgrading) and the latest version 1.0.1.4 has the syncing issue, so I think the current version has a bug. Since I still had the older version on my old hard drive, I switch back to using it and problem solved!


Desktop PC Upgrade is Complete… Yeah!

May 6, 2009

computer_upgradeMy battle to upgrade my Desktop PC is finally over. Everything seems to be working good from a hardware standpoint, and I’m quite pleased with the results. To start, here are the basic components in my main Desktop system:

  • Intel 2 Quad Core Processor (2.33 MHz, 4MB Cache) – New
  • ASUS P5QC Motherboard – New
  • 4GB DDR2 Kingston 1066 MHz RAM (on two sticks) – New
  • Western Digital 500 GB SATA Drive (16 MB Cache) – New
  • Gigabyte 7300GT 256 MB, 128-Bit Video Card PCI Express x16
  • D-Link DWL-G122 Wireless USB Adapter
  • Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150 PCI TV Tuner Card

Now, I’m pretty much a perfectionist so I try to keep my system as lean and as efficient as possible. So, I only install my essential software and do my best to tweak and fine tune the Vista settings for optimum performance. As such, I carefully went through and implemented several suggestions that I found on the Internet for improving Vista’s performance (e.g., turning off disk indexing, reducing application shutdown times, etc). My new system seems to be running just as snappy as my previous Intel Core 2 Duo Vista system, so I definitely did not lose any performance in the upgrade. 🙂

Now, you would think that with the faster RAM and faster Quad processor that I would notice a speed up in performance, however, I didn’t see that with interactive use of my system. But, I did notice that when running a software package called DVRMSToobox (for converting recorded DVR-MS files to WMV format for my Zune player) it did do the conversion operation much faster than on my previous Core 2 Duo system. During the conversion I noticed that all four Quad processors were busy, so the additional processors along with more memory certainly helped. So overall, I’m very pleased with my new setup. Read the rest of this entry »


Desktop PC Upgrade From Hell!

May 4, 2009

I’ve spent all last weekend trying to upgrade my Desktop PC, and I’m ready to pull my hair out! 😦

As I mentioned in my last posting, my Desktop PC (running Vista 32-bit) started to freeze up randomly, so I decided to upgrade my system. Now, when say upgrade I don’t mean simply buying a pre-built computer system from Best Buy or Fry’s, but rather upgrade the internal components as a normal geek would do. So, I was planning to buy a new motherboard (since I suspected that was the problem) along with a new Intel 2 Quad CPU (might as well). As always, it seems that you can’t just swap out the motherboard since over time the various components in your PC may have become obsolete. Luckily, my PCI-Express x16 Video card still seems to compatible with the newest motherboards, and my 2 GB of RAM memory (DDR2 800 MHz) seems ok also.

As of today, I’ve gone through two different Gigabyte motherboards with no success. The first board wouldn’t boot up, and the 2nd board (different model) had intermittent trouble with the USB ports as well as reboot issues. So, I decided to give it one more try with an ASUS P5QC motherboard (same brand that I was replacing originally) and this time I decided to get two new sticks of RAM (Kingston DDR2 1066 MHz, 4 GB total) just in case all my problems are RAM-related. Also, it can’t hurt to have new faster RAM. 😉

After assembling these new components, I began the process of installing Windows Vista on a new 500 GB Western Digital SATA hard drive. After spending a few hours of installing, updating, and more updating of the Vista OS, my new system appears to be running well (knock on wood). I didn’t have any hanging restart issues, or USB port glitches as I did with those damn Gigabyte motherboards. And best of all, no intermittent freeze ups.

So, who knows what the problem was with my original system. Was it a bad motherboard or bad RAM sticks? The old Intel 2 Core Duo CPU crapping out? A corrupted boot partition on the hard drive, or a stealthy virus? A loose video card? Fault case power supply? Who knows. What I do know, is that upgrading my PC this time around was a lot harder compared to my past several upgrades.

Now that the OS is installed and updated, I’ll try installing my WinTV PVR Tuner card (PCI slot) and see if I can get it working with the latest drivers. Once that is working, I’ll go through my list of tweaks to optimize Vista for my personal use. Finally, I’ll copy over all my data files from my old hard drive and go through the process of installing my various applications. It’s a huge undertaking, but in the end I should have a clean system to use until the next upgrade (to Windows 7 later this year, probably).

Hopefully, everything will work ok with this new setup and I can get back to using my Desktop PC again. I miss not being able to record TV shows with my TV Tuner card for watching on my Zune media player!

What I learned this weekend: Don’t buy or upgrade using the Gigabyte Motherboards!


Microsoft Virtual PC: Microsoft’s Incompatibility Savior

April 25, 2009

virtual_pcIn a recent computer magazine help section, someone wrote in with an issue of running a Windows 32-bit application on a Windows 64-bit system. Apparently, his application would not run on the 64-bit platform. The author of the help section responded by suggesting the reader run his 32-bit application inside of Microsoft Virtual PC. That same response is often give to Windows Vista 32-bit users who have a troublesome application that ran under Windows XP, but not Windows Vista (I had that problem with some old Microsoft Compilers).

Now, this answer sounds easy to do, but let me tell you from experience that using Microsoft Virtual PC is really inconvenient. Because you’re actually emulating a PC inside your own PC, it’s like having a 2nd desktop PC. As such, you have to install Windows XP (or whatever OS you need for your application) on your “Virtual PC”. So whenever you want to run your one or two troublesome applications you have to start up Microsoft Virtual PC, wait for it to “boot up” completely, THEN run your application. It’s a contrite answer to the problem, and not a very good solution in my opinion.

So my solution to the incompatible Microsoft Compiler was to upgrade to a newer version. And if I come across other incompatible applications, I’ll just dump then and find a better solution!


Upgrading My Desktop PC

March 21, 2009

mechanicFor the last several years, I’ve always built my own Desktop PC instead of buying a pre-built system (from HP, Dell, etc.). I like the fact that I can select every single component that gets installed in my system, and thus have control on issues like quietness, speed, etc. So far, my current system (Intel Core 2 Duo at 1.83 GHz, and 2 GB RAM) seems to be running fine with Windows Vista 32-bit. My primary usage for my Desktop PC is web surfing, email, programming, web page building and testing, and TV recording and processing of video files. I don’t do any gaming, so I don’t have a need for a super-high powered system with intense graphics. But, every few years I decide on upgrading my system for faster hardware based on the latest technology.

I’m at the two year mark now with my current system, and I’m considering my upgrade options. As it turns out, my system is still close to the current technology and far from being obsolete. So what options do I have for upgrading?

First, I was thinking of upgrading the CPU from a Intel Core 2 Duo (1.83 GHz) to a Intel Core 2 Quad CPU (3.0 GHz). Having effectively four processors instead of two (at a higher clock speed) would certainly help when processing videos in the background while I’m using my PC for other tasks. Luckily, my current motherboard (ASUS P5N-E SLI) will take the Intel Quad processor so I won’t need to swap out the motherboard for this upgrade.

I was also thinking of switching from Vista 32-bit to 64-bit to have access to more installed memory. I currently have 2 GB of RAM installed, and it would be nice to increase that to 8 GB and have access to all of it using the 64-bit Vista OS. RAM is pretty cheap now, so now’s the time to upgrade. But that brings up another big issue: Moving to the 64-bit OS. Read the rest of this entry »


Switch to a Mac? (Wife’s Turn)

March 16, 2009

One of my first postings on this web blog was titled the “The Great Mac Experiment“, where I describe my investigation into switching to a Apple Mac Mini system. This exploration was brought on by some difficulties my wife was having with her HP Vista System, and her off comment of, “…maybe I should switch to a Mac!”

As I stated in that posting, I concluded that it was much better for me to stay with my current Microsoft Vista PC than switch over to a Mac Mini. When you compare the hardware between a current Mac system and a PC, you can get a much more powerful and faster system with the PC hardware for the same or less price than a Mac system.

For example, compare an Apple iMac system (where the components are integrated into the LCD Monitor display) with these features:


Apple iMac – $1,349 US

imac

  • 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 4 GB Memory
  • 320 GB 7200 RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth
  • 8x Double-layer SuperDrive
  • 20-inch LCD Monitor
  • Built-in Speakers
  • Mac OS X
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse

With this Windows PC system from Dell.com:

Dell Studio Slim Desktop PC – $879 US

dell_slim

  • 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad
  • 6 GB Memory
  • 640 GB 7200 RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • 16x DVD+/-RW Drive
  • 22-inch Dell LCD Widescreen Monitor
  • External Dell Speakers
  • Dell 19-in-1 Media Card Reader
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64-Bit OS
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse

Note, that the Dell price is with a $230 discount (which Dell seems to always have available). So, you can see that there’s a $470 difference in price, and the Dell system also comes with more memory, more disk space, faster DVD burner, and a larger LCD screen. It also uses a Intel Quad Processor versus the Intel Duo Processor in the iMac (so that’s basically 4 CPUs over 2 CPUs). In addition, the Dell system has internal slots allowing the user to add in higher performance graphics card, TV Tuner Card, etc. while with the iMac you would need to add on extra components as external USB devices. Read the rest of this entry »