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Week of 15 October 2001

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Monday, 15 October 2001

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9:50 - I didn't get around to working on the new Pentium 4 system yesterday, so I'll do that today. I'll strip it down to bare metal and reinstall Windows 2000 Pro. This time, I'm going to install SP2 before I mess with the networking problem. Because the new system can't connect to my network, that means I'll have to burn SP2 onto a CD and sneakernet it over to the new system. If that doesn't work, I'm going to have to install a separate Ethernet card, just so that I can connect to my network. 

The Register reports that VIA has decided to enter the motherboard market. Motherboard makers have been staying away from VIA's P4X266 chipset in droves, and it seems that VIA has decided that the only way to sell those chipsets is to make the motherboards themselves. That's probably a huge mistake. If motherboard makers perceive VIA as a direct competitor, they're likely to stop using VIA chipsets entirely. And that's a realistic possibility, with Intel and SiS chipsets available for the Pentium III/4 and Celeron markets, and AMD and SiS chipsets available for the Athlon/Duron market. VIA may have just shot itself in the foot.

And speaking of AMD chipsets, AMD announced new models of their SMP Ahtlon MP processor today. They run at 1.33 GHz (model 1500+), 1.40 GHz (model 1600+), and 1.53 GHz (model 1800+), and are priced at $180, $210, and $302, respectively. That means you can put together a dual-processor AMD system at very low cost--$180 each for a couple of processors and another $225 for a Tyan Tiger MP motherboard. 

Note that the objections I made last week to the stability of systems running AMD processors is actually an objection to VIA chipsets. Although I don't have a 760MP motherboard yet (Tyan won't even reply to my email), by all accounts the 760MP is a remarkably stable chipset, and systems built on it should be as robust as those built on Intel chipsets. Or so I suppose. Until I get one I can't say for sure. The problem with leaving AMD processors on my recommended list is that the overwhelming majority of Athlon/Duron motherboards use VIA chipsets, and those I regard as simply not reliable enough to recommend.

I'm not sure why Intel has abandoned the entry-level SMP market. For years, most Intel processors and the primary Intel chipsets were dual-capable. Many good dual motherboards were built on the 440BX, so I was surprised when Intel decided to make the 815 officially only uniprocessor. The same thing with Pentium IIIs. Building a high-speed SMP-capable CPU is difficult, so I wasn't surprised when the 1.0 GHz and faster Coppermine-core Pentium IIIs were rated for only uniprocessor operation. But I was surprised that the Pentium 4 was uniprocessor-only, and later when Intel announced that the Tualatin-core Pentium IIIs were uniprocessor only. I suppose the latter makes sense, since Intel basically decided to use the Tualatin core only for their new line of Celerons, but the absence of SMP support in the Pentium 4 was a surprise. 

In retrospect, I guess it shouldn't have been. In the past, the Pentium II and Pentium III supported dual-processor operation, although the Pentium II Xeon and Pentium III Xeon were Intel's "official" SMP processors. There really was a difference between the Pentium II and the Pentium II Xeon. The latter had a much larger L2 cache, up to 2 MB versus 512 KB. But the Pentium III Xeon was basically just a standard Pentium III with greater than 2-way SMP enabled. It had the same L2 cache size as the regular Pentium III, so there wasn't a lot of point to buying PIII Xeons for dual-CPU systems. And that may be why Intel decided to get rid of SMP support in their newer mainstream processors.

With the proliferation of Windows 2000/XP, Linux, and other SMP-capable OSs, I think that was a bad move. Today, if you want to build a reasonably priced SMP system, the only real option is the Athlon MP.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2001

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9:05 - Success. Bastet, the new Pentium 4 system, is now a member of the TTGNET domain. The only problem is, I'm not exactly sure how I did it. I did a complete reinstall of W2K Pro. When the system did its final restart, it fired up the Network Wizard, which I cancelled out of, hoping that it wouldn't create a workgroup. It did, though. I'd burned a CD with W2K SP2 on it, so I stuck that CD in the drive and fired off the SP2 update. That went normally. I then stuck the Intel motherboard CD in the drive and installed the recommended updates, which were the INF file, DirectX 8, the SoundMax sound drivers for the AD1885 audio chipset, and the LAN drivers.

With all of that done, I tested IP connectivity. This time, I was able to ping other systems from bastet and ping bastet from other systems. That was a start anyway, although I still didn't have any Windows Networking connectivity. So I went into My Computer -> Properties -> Network Identification and tried making bastet a member of the TTGNET domain. Once again, it told me that it couldn't find the TTGNET domain. At that point, I was looking at My Network Places -> Entire Network on thoth, my current main system. The domain was showing up, as well as the workgroup named Workgroup that installing bastet had created. That was as it had been in the past, but in the past when I double-clicked the Workgroup item thoth would just go away for a minute or so until finally the applet was showing as Not Responding in Task Manager. This time, double-clicking Workgroup showed me that it had one member named bastet. That was some progress anyway.

While I was looking at Entire Network, I noticed that thoth listed the domain name as "Ttgnet" rather than "TTGNET". Could it be possible that the domain name was case-sensitive in this instance for some reason? I've installed W2KP many times and never encountered that. I just typed in the domain name in the default case. But I did seem to recall something about case-sensitivity in domain names, so back I went to bastet. I went into My Computer -> Properties -> Network Identification and told bastet it was now a member of the Ttgnet domain, whereupon it displayed an hourglass. That seemed to be progress, at least of a sort.

At that point, Barbara announced she wanted me to install the new mailbox and blow out the gutters. After we installed the mailbox (I got to use a masonry bit...) I came back to check and found that there was now a message displayed welcoming bastet to the Ttgnet domain.

I spent some time yesterday benchmarking the new system. It's very fast, faster than I expected. Running a Pentium 4/1.7G, I expected it to have about the same overall performance level as a Pentium III/1.1G or an Athlon/1.0G, but it "feels" faster than that. Despite its use of PC133 SDRAM, memory performance on the D845WNL is quite good. Not up to RDRAM, of course, but much better than I expected. The Seagate Barracuda ATA IV disk drive is the quietest drive I've ever tested, and its performance is nothing to sneeze at, either. It's pretty obvious that Seagate has "tuned" the Barracuda ATA IV for best performance on a Windows desktop system. I'll be using the photographs and notes I made during construction as the basis for the "Building a PC" chapter in the new edition. With some added stuff, such as a tape drive, this will probably end up as my new main system.

As I was surfing the pair Networks web site the other day, I found a notice that they are swapping out all of their IBM Deskstar 75GXP hard drives, "Based on an amazingly high failure rate." Regular readers of this site won't be surprised to hear that. We've been recommending Seagate and Maxtor drives for years. We used to have quite a few IBM and Western Digital drives here, but we've retired all of those.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2001

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9:45 - We ended up going up to Bullington last night to observe. We've come to trust the Clear Sky Clock page forecasts of observing conditions. So much so that we left Winston-Salem and headed for Pilot Mountain despite the fact that the Winston-Salem cloud cover was 7/10 or 8/10. Sure enough, when we got to Pilot Mountain, the cloud cover was about 1/10 and clearing. It was a bit cool and breezy. The temperatures dropped into the low 40's (5C) and there was a breeze through most of the evening that dropped the wind chill to below freezing. Early on, we had wind gusts of about 30 MPH (~50 KPH), which were enough at one point literally to blow away our observing chairs and tables. I had some concerns about the scopes, but fortunately the breeze died down later. Other than the temperature and breeze, the night turned out to be almost perfect, with Sagittarius visible even before full dark. The moon was new, and even if it hadn't been it set early enough that it wouldn't have interfered with observing. We bagged many deep-sky objects. Barbara found M2 for the first time. She's getting very good at finding DSOs.

Tonight is the monthly meeting of the Forsyth Astronomical Society. It's now getting dark enough early enough that we'll take the scopes along so that we can set up in the parking lot after the meeting. This Saturday is the club observation, and if you can believe the weather liars that far ahead, the weather is likely to be decent. Before the club observation, we're scheduled to set up in the southern part of the county for a special session for the Boy Scouts. We'll then head up to Bullington for the club observation.

I've about finished burning in and benchmarking the new Pentium 4 system. I have to sort through a couple hundred photos we took while building that system, pick out the best 20 or so, and drop them into the Building a PC chapter. Once I've done that, and made sure that I haven't overlooked anything, that system goes from being a project system to being my main production system. That means installing a thing or two that aren't part of the project case-study system but that I'll want in my own system--stuff like a tape drive and perhaps a DVD writer.

Back to writing...

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Thursday, 18 October 2001

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8:28 - Barbara is off for a couple of days. She left about 7:45 this morning, heading for her friend Fletch's house in South Carolina. They'll play golf this afternoon, and then she's heading to Atlanta for an all-day meeting tomorrow. She'll be back late tomorrow night. None of the dogs got to go along, and they're not happy about that.

I'm going to take a couple of days off as well. Barring unforeseen circumstances, there won't be anything here tomorrow, and may not be this weekend. I'm going to try to get in some quality writing time.


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Friday, 19 October 2001

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Saturday, 20 October 2001

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9:48 - Barbara got home about 9:30 last night. Mom was happy, the dogs were happy, and I was happy. The dogs and I did our little circle-dance to welcome Barbara home.

I spent Thursday and yesterday working on chapters. I now have five or six chapters "open", including those on Processors, Memory, Designing a PC, and Building a PC. I'm re-writing all the system guides over on the web site, which will also form the foundation of the chapter about designing a PC.

I'll work some more on that stuff today, but tonight we're heading up to Bullington to observe. It's the scheduled club observing night, so we should have plenty of company. Conditions are to be nearly perfect. Luna sets at about 21:30, but from 7:00 until 8:30 it should be perfect for observing. After that, there are lots of deep-sky objects up. Later in the evening, Saturn rises, and by midnight even Jupiter and the Orion nebula will be up high enough to view. We're looking forward to this trip.


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Sunday, 21 October 2001

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10:07 - We did go up to Bullington last night. The weather was perfect for observing. Clear, calm, and the moon set early. It was the official monthly club observing night, and the Orionids meteor shower was to peak last night, so I expected there'd be quite a few people there. Barbara and I got there just after sunset and got set up. Priscilla Ivester and a new couple were the only other people that came. Those who didn't come missed an excellent night. We spent the early part of the evening observing Luna, followed by some DSO hunting. The night was clear enough that I bagged the Andromeda Galaxy naked eye for the first time in recent memory. I also got M33 (the Pinwheel Galaxy) with binoculars, although I couldn't get it in the scopes. It's very large and diffuse, and has very low surface brightness. Some objects are actually better with binoculars than scopes.

Saturn rises early now, so we spent some time observing it and the Pleiades, waiting for Jupiter and Orion to rise. By 11:30, Jupiter was up high enough to observe. It was still in the muck, so we couldn't see any surface detail, but the Galilean moons are pretty. By that time, the main "hourglass" of Orion was lying flat along the horizon, clearly visible naked eye. It was also still in the muck, however, so we couldn't make out M42 (the Great Orion Nebula). Even Betelgeuse, which is clearly red under normal conditions, appeared white and washed out. The time change will soon be upon us, however, so Jupiter and Orion will soon be observable at a decent hour. I was going to suggest to Barbara that we stick around at least until 0100 or so, by which time Jupiter and Orion would be high enough to provide a satisfying view, but everyone else had started packing up by 11:30, so we decided to make an early night of it as well.

Gary and Sandra (the new couple) had come up primarily to look at (and through) our Orion XT10. He has a Meade ETX-125, which is a decent lunar/planetary scope, but he wants something with more aperture for DSOs. Everyone who looks at the XT10 is impressed with it. Gary said he planned to call Orion today to order an XT10 for himself.

Time to get to work doing the normal house cleaning, laundry, and other Sunday chores. After that, I think I'll get some work in while Barbara watches her race. Next week will continue to be short shrift time, as will following weeks until I get this book finished up.

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