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Week of 24 July 2006

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Monday, 24 July 2006
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08:35 - Four weeks left until the to-production deadline on the new edition of Building the Perfect PC, and three systems left to build. This week, we're building the Gaming PC, which will actually end up as Barbara's new main office system. It's a Socket AM-2 Athlon 64 FX 62 system with 2 GB of memory and a terabyte of disk space. That should keep her happy for a long time, probably until the third edition of the book. For the book, it runs a Windows Vista beta, but in real life it'll run Xandros 4 Home Premium.

We'll get that system built and written up this week, and then set it aside until I have time to migrate Barbara's data and applications over to it. She's happy with KMail/Korganizer, which I'll probably migrate to myself once things are a bit less hectic around here. I really don't like Evolution, and it's only by convincing myself that it would be insanity to attempt a migration in the midst of deadlines that I've kept using Evolution this long.

The final two systems we need to build are the Media Center PC and the SFF PC. We hope to build both of those around Core 2 Duo (Conroe) processors, but we don't have samples yet. We hope to have them by late this week or early next week, but if the Core 2 Duo samples don't arrive in time we'll probably end up building those systems around AMD Socket AM-2 processors.

As I told my friends at O'Reilly, we'll definitely make our 20/21 August to-production deadline. We're just not sure exactly what hardware configurations we'll be able to use with that timeframe. But, one way or another, it's going to be a good book.


Tuesday, 25 July 2006
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08:31 - Several people have emailed me to ask for my take on the conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah scum. I back Israel 100%. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

But I fear that Israel will accomplish nothing because it is unwilling to go far enough. Even if it were willing to do what it would take, world opinion would prevent it from doing so.

What needs to be done? Short answer. Expel all Islamics, including Druze, from Lebanon into Syria, handing Lebanon to the Lebanese Christians. Then, attack Syria and destroy its ability to make war. Annex all of Syria west of the Euphrates, and expel all Syrians except for the tiny Christian and Jewish minority into what is now eastern Syria. (Unfortunately, that's where what little oil Syria has is, but it probably wouldn't be possible for Israel to hold Syria east of the Euphrates against a resurgent Islamic Iraq.)

That's what it would take. It's doable militarily, but not politically, even assuming that the United States supported it, which it wouldn't. Anything less is at best a partial, short-term solution. The problem is the mistaken belief that Islamic terrorists are somehow different from the general Islamic population. They aren't. Every Islamic is a potential terrorist. Even if it were somehow possible to get rid of all of the Hezbollah terrorists, leaving the rest of the Islamic population in place, more terrorists would immediately spring up from that Islamic population.

The problem, as I've said before, isn't terrorists per se. The problem is Islam. If you want to get rid of terrorists, you have to get rid of Islam. That's what Israel faces.


Wednesday, 26 July 2006
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09:00 - Busy, busy, busy. We shot a couple hundred images last night of the Gaming PC build, and we've only gotten as far as inserting the processor in the motherboard. Once we complete the system, we'll install Windows Vista Beta 2, play a few games, and then blow away the contents of the hard drive and install Xandros 4. This system is destined to be Barbara's new main system, although the swap will have to wait until after deadline.

Scott Kitterman posted this on the messageboard:

The headline pretty much says it all:

WGA and Activation Failures Don't Faze Redmond

Anyone not starting to plan for migration away from Windows?  I'm curious why not?  (I understand not everyone can switch today.)

It's going to be an interesting next couple of years, assuming that Microsoft actually ships Vista within that time.


Thursday, 27 July 2006
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08:32 - Core 2 Duo officially launches today, and turns the processor market on its head. For the last few years, AMD has owned both the performance crown and the low-end. Intel has been competitive, in terms of price/performance, if not in terms of power consumption and heat, only in the mainstream segment. As of today, Intel owns the processor performance spectrum from high-end down through mid-mainstream.

To the extent that AMD is competitive at all, it is only so below mid-mainstream, and only that because it has taken a meat axe to its prices. For example, the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+, which until this week was a $365 processor, is now priced at $187 and competes directly with Intel's least expensive Core 2 Duo model, the $183 E6300.

Worse, from the standpoint of AMD's former stronghold of gamers and overclockers, AMD is no longer competitive at all. All of the Core 2 Duo models are easily overclocked, and the enthusiast web sites report that an overclocked Core 2 Duo is dead stable. By boosting the FSB speed and slightly increasing the core voltage, the $183 Core 2 Duo E6300 can easily be made to match or beat AMD's best, the Athlon 64 FX-62.

Overnight, AMD finds itself in the same position it was in K6 days. It can't compete on performance, and has no prospect of being able to do so for at least the next 18 months. AMD is once again a low-end processor company. And even that is at Intel's sufferance. At any time, Intel can cut off AMD's air supply by introducing less expensive models including the Core 2 Solo, that will outperform AMD's offerings at a lower price and with lower power consumption and heat production. AMD is, not to put too fine a point on it, screwed.

Of course, all of us benefit from this processor war. Today, we can go out and buy a processor for $125 to $200 that gives the same performance we would have had to pay $350 to $500 for just last week. For example, we're currently building the Kick-Ass Gaming PC for the new edition of Building the Perfect PC. We're using an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+, which is now a $187 processor. But the 4200+ is just as fast today as it was a week ago, when it cost twice as much.

And the 4200+ still qualifies as a kick-ass processor, because Good Enough is Good Enough. Sure, there are now faster processors available for what we would have paid last week for the 4200+, but there's not really any point to using them. The performance increase would be visible only in benchmarks, not in actual use. So, Intel with its introduction of the Core 2 Duo and AMD with its price cuts have succeeded in bringing high-end performance to the mainstream price segment. Paying more than $250 for a processor has always been a case of diminishing returns, but that is now more true than ever.

Perhaps just as important is the effect of these changes on the low end. Intel has kept several Pentium D models on their price list, the fastest of which is priced in low-end Core 2 Duo territory. That leaves the less expensive and only slightly slower Pentium D models, along with several Athlon X2 models, in what used to be the high-end of the "value" segment. That means that many people who would formerly have bought a mainstream processor can now instead buy a value processor and get the same or higher performance. With the pricing changes this week, even a $100 processor is now a force to be reckoned with.


Friday, 28 July 2006
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08:54 - Intel must be enjoying themselves immensely with the Core 2 Duo rollout. After being beaten up by AMD for a long time now, Intel again has the whip hand. The Empire Strikes Back, indeed. As part of the rollout, Intel has produced a limited edition PC that features the Core 2 Extreme. It sells for $4,500. One of my colleagues, who requested anonymity, reports that he picked up one of these systems yesterday. Here's what he found.

It's one of a limited edition of 100 units.

It's factory overclocked to 3.2GHz with the full warranty in effect. The front-side bus is operating at 1.28GHz, which means the bus multiplier was changed as well, which proves the Core 2 Extreme is "unlocked."

It has the high-end ATI X1900 Crossfire setup. One Crossfire-specific card, one ordinary card, one special external cable between them.

It has two 150G WD Raptor 10K RPM HDs in a RAID configuration as drive C: and one 400G drive as drive D. (The originally promised configuration was one 750G drive, so this is a little bigger and a lot faster.)

It has 2G of the high-end Corsair overclocking-friendly DRAM.

It's in a standard Cooler Master Centurion case with a Thermaltake 700W power supply.

On the other hand, it is NOT a Media Center machine.

So, my colleague now has one of the 100 fastest PCs on the planet, at least for a while.

I'd hoped to have the Gaming PC chapter done today, but that won't happen. I lost most of a day this week to pleading with component vendors for parts I need for the final two systems and other administrative stuff. We'll shoot more images of the Gaming PC this evening. Barbara is taking a day trip bus tour with her parents and sister tomorrow, so we won't be able to shoot any final images for the Gaming PC until Sunday.


Saturday, 29 July 2006
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09:19 - Barbara left at oh-dark-thirty this morning to join her parents and sister on a bus tour for the day up to Asheville, North Carolina. She's due back around 10:00 tonight. I'll spend the day working. I'd hoped to have the Gaming PC chapter completed yesterday, but that didn't happen. I should be able to finish the writing part today, and Barbara and I will shoot the final images we need tomorrow.

FedEx should be showing up shortly with a package from Intel, at which point we'll have all the hardware we need to finish the Media Center PC and SFF PC chapters as well. Those systems will both be Core 2 Duo.

One year of Netflix. I said I'd report on my experience.

08/05 - 25 discs (all readable)
09/05 - 23 discs (one cracked)
10/05 - 22 discs (three unreadable)
11/05 - 20 discs (all readable)
12/05 - 20 discs (one unreadable)
01/06 - 14 discs (one logged out and then back in by Netflix without me receiving it)
02/06 - 20 discs (two unreadable)
03/06 - 22 discs (one disc sent by Netflix cracked and already repaired)
04/06 - 25 discs (all readable)
05/06 - 22 discs (two unreadable)
06/06 - 24 discs (one unreadable)
07/06 - 22 discs (all readable so far; the final two for the month arrived today)

So, in 12 months, we've received 259 discs, of which 11 were cracked or unreadable, for a net of 248 discs, or 20.67 discs per month. For those 248 discs, Netflix has billed us $226.18, or a net of about $0.91 per disc. By my calculations, if the Netflix "Unlimited Plan" were truly unlimited, they'd have shipped us an average of 26.5 discs per month, for a net cost of $0.725 per disc. That means Netflix was about 6 discs/month short of truly unlimited service, which I can live with.

In fact, I'll probably drop Netflix soon, not because I'm unhappy with their service, but because we've already gotten just about everything we're interested in watching. Between Netflix and discs we have borrowed or can borrow from friends or the library, we're just about sated on videos. We'll probably re-join Netflix for a month at a time once a year to get any new stuff we want to see, and spend the other 11 months of the year reading.

Some people insist that American Islamics are Americans first and Islamics second. I don't believe it. I think all Islamics are Islamic first, last, and always. Here's more evidence.

Understand that I have nothing against non-Islamic people of Arab or Persian ethnicity. Here, for example, is a video that features an Arab-American woman who is welcome in my home any time. It's a pure pleasure to me to watch an intelligent Arab-American woman ripping into a mullah, revealing him for the evil martinet he is.


Sunday, 30 July 2006
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