Saturday, June 16, 2001

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BOOK Reviews


Wintel Systems

Storage Devices




What I currently use and recommend. Necessarily incomplete. Note that this covers only stuff here at Chaos Manor. For MultiMedia Lab recommendations see the columns by our artist associate David Em and my son Alex. They have a LOT more and faster and fancier stuff over at the Media Lab. One day we will do a report on the denizens of our Lab.

 I am currently using:

 General Advice

Upgrading your systems


Wintel Systems

Storage Devices



Olympus D400 Camera

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Some General Advice


If you are not using an UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) then sooner or later you will wish you had. Let me say that again. If you don't use an UPS, you will eventually wish you had. If your work and time are worth anything at all, it's worth getting an UPS. I use Clary and APC. Clary costs more and the software for shutting down isn't as good as APC's, but the Clary unit is 'on line': that is, it's always running the computer off its batteries, which are continuously being recharged. This is the ultimate in reliability and I keep the system I write books on running on a Clary. Of course I am very paranoid about losing text. The APC systems have very good software, and their UPS are reliable, and I trust them. Most of my machines including my big NT server are on APC's. They are 'switching', meaning that if they detect line problems they 'switch' to battery. In theory you must let a switching unit discharge every now and then, I never do. So far I have been lucky and never had any problems including during the earthquake.

APC UPS systems are reliable, attractive in design, and easy to get. I have a bunch of them, and my "Monk's Cell" writing machine, my network concentrators, my experimental machines, and the Intergraph are all on APC UPS. You will not go wrong with APC.  Recommended.

If you want the ultimate protection I still recommend Clary "on-line" systems. My MAIN workstation is on a Clary on-line. Almost everything else in the house including my "Monk's Cell" fiction machine are on APC's.

Revision  July 2000: APC now makes (more expensive) "on-line" UPS, and their switching systems are greatly improved. I continue to recommend Clary and APC, but whatever brand you get, GET AN UPS!!!


Revised March 21, 2001

The right way to upgrade is not to do it

Many systems are best 'upgraded' by adding memory. Windows 95 really wants 32 megs of memory and you will notice the difference if you put in 64 megs. Above 64 performance improvements vary with the software. My advice for upgrading: put in 64 megs of memory first; then consider your next option, which in my case would be another computer and network cards.

(Windows Me which I do NOT recommend -- contraindicated! -- and Windows 2000 Professional which I do recommend both want at least 128 megs of memory and like more. Windows 98 SE can use 128; more doesn't seem to have much effect on it.)

Always get quality memory. Do NOT buy el cheapo. Buy Kingston or Crucial memory, and pay the premium. It's worth it.

Otherwise, don't 'upgrade' your old system. Buy a network card for it, then buy an entirely new system and network to the old. Windows 95 (and for that matter Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows NT, and Windows 3.11) networks work just fine and are easy enough to set up; I currently recommend Windows 98 Second Edition for home users, but Windows 2000 Professional is better if you don't have legacy games. Fry's today has an ad for two 10/100 megabit 10 base T PCI Bus cards, 2 15 foot cables, and a 5 port hub for under $45. The cables are  Level 5 and will support 100 megabit. 100 base T is now extremely cheap and reliable. Here you have an instant network to which you can add new systems (cards advertised at $20) up to a total of 5, and all for the price of a good dinner.

SOHOWARE (NDC), D-Link, and Bay Networks all work, and you can't even buy 10 megabit Ethernet cards. It's all 100 now. Go to Fry's or a discount store and get a concentrator and cards, Ethernet in a box. Most can be bought in a package with Level 5 cable.

New computer systems don't cost that much nowadays. You an build a top of the line for under $1000. See below.


I NO LONGER RECOMMEND OVERDRIVE OR ANY OTHER UPGRADE PACKAGES. I leave the following paragraphs purely for historical purposes.

... but if you are not up to that, Intel Overdrive systems work, and are extremely easy to install. They cost more than a new motherboard and of course they don't increase the buss speed, only the internal speed of the chip; but they work, and we got a dramatic improvement in performance on Pentafluge when we swapped the original Pentium 60 chip for a 120 Overdrive. The whole job took about 4 minutes to open up the system, 30 seconds to make the chip swap, and another 5 minutes to close things up again. We never had the slightest problems with it.

I have also installed five EVERGREEN upgrade systems, one to convert a Gateway 2000 Pentium 133 to Pentium 175 or so, the other to convert an ancient Gateway 2000 486 DX2 50 to something like a Pentium 100, and various others. They have all worked. In all cases the performance improvements were dramatic, and the conversions took under five minutes. It's cheaper to buy a new motherboard, but if you use an Evergreen or Intel upgrade kit, you're pretty well guaranteed that your memory will work, and it's sure a lot less trouble. If you do not know what you are doing, replacing a motherboard can be formidable, although in fact it is easier than you probably think it is. But the upgrade kits really work, and really improve performance. A lot.

Kingston also makes upgrade kits, and they work; the difference between Kingston and Evergreen hasn't been measurable by me at least. Kingston is best known for memory, of course, and it is worth every cent you'll pay to get Kingston premium memory. The cost isn't that much higher, and the peace of mind is worth it. If you do a LOT of systems work you may want to use Kingston when you set things up, then swap for generic cheaper memory after everything is stable; that way if you have a problem you will know it's memory. For me, though, it's worth the extra cost to have memory you know will work: as systems get faster, memory errors cause ever more subtle problems.

Memory problems can drive you crazy because at high speeds the errors are unpredictable and unrepeatable, and memory tests generally do NOT find the bad chips. I strongly recommend Crucial or Kingston Memory: pay a premium price and get reliable memory. Cheap memory can drive you MAD.


When buying a new Wintel system buy PCI Bus only. Don't even THINK about using your old ISA boards in a new machine. Creative and Ensonic make good PCI bus sound cards. Ensonic cards are very cheap now and are quite good enough. So is the Diamond Monster card.

WE HAVE HAD GOOD RESULTS with INTEL "integrated" boards, with video and sound and Ethernet on the board. I am quite fond of the Intel D815EEAL board, which has on-board "good enough" video and an AGP slot for higher end if you want that.

Do not get ISA cards of any kind, even if they give them to you. Note that any  ISA device not only causes IRQ problems, but can eat 40% of your CPU cycles. Get PCI Buss systems, use PCI cards, and you'll notice the difference. At WinHec in Orlando (1998) when they asked "How many of you would like to take the ISA bus out to the parking lot and shoot it?" there was a vast wave of applause from 5000 systems engineers and technical people. At WinHec 1999 there was no talk of support of ISA at all. I say this in 2001 because there are some ISA devices still out there. Avoid them.

Creative has bought out Ensoniq. Creative Live! is a great PCI sound card. The Ensoniq PCI card is Good Enough and more.


Windows/PC   Systems:

June, 1998

(This was originally entitled Wintel, but in fact we have many non-Intel systems running Windows and Windows NT. We also own 5 Macs, mostly used by Roberta for educational software development. We have had success with CYRIX and AMD chip systems.)

Operating Systems:

ALL THIS SECTION IS OUT OF DATE: I now use Windows 2000 Professional for "standard" workstations, Windows 98 SE for legacy software and CD-writer programs (we are finally able to use CD-R with Windows 2000 as of summer 2000); and I am experimenting with Windows ME. [THAT experiment is over. Windows Me is contraindicated.] None of the following is untrue, but it's OUT OF DATE. {Revisions in curly braces March 2001}

[I am just beginning to work hard with Windows 98; we use 95 OSR2 for most of our work on Windows 9x software and NT 4 Service Pack 4 for serious work. We also have LINUX and that will be described in another section. We are also using Windows 2000 AKA NT 5, and it is clearly superior to all previous versions of NT. {Remains true for me, but Bob Thompson still prefers NT 4 SP 6. SP 6 is very much worth downloading. It will take all night, but you can use it on all your machines, and you can use it DIRECTLY without having to install all the earlier Service Packs first.}

[We are converting to Windows 98 SECOND EDITION. We previously used OSR2, which is the 'b' version of Windows 95, but 98 Second Edition is stable and superior. The only reason to retain Windows 95 now is WIN-G games; they won't work in 98. Except for WIN-G support there is no reason to keep 95 a or b now. {Windows 2000 now runs WIN-G games; so I have NO Windows 95 systems at Chaos Manor. None. Zero. And we have converted to Windows 2000 Professional on most systems.}

[We like NT; for anything but games and portables, NT is the way to go. We have both workstation and server, and they are quite good. We also like Apple system 8.1 and if you don't have it, get it. Install 8 and download the upgrade. It will take you a while, but it is worth it.

[On NT and games: some games work extremely well with NT. Blizzard's STARCRAFT for example. All Microsoft games including Age of Empires. I have managed to get some older DOS based games to work. Some of the games that won't work on NT don't work on anything else -- that is, they want a 'boot disk' which I refuse to do -- so the penalty in NT for games is small. With a big dual Pentium NT system games scream while you can still have communications going in background; and of course on-line games benefit enormously from dual processors. The disadvantages of NT for home use are getting smaller all the time.

For now, we mostly use Windows systems. We are getting a good bit of experience with non-Intel chip sets.]


{This Section is ALSO out of date. Comments July 2000 in curly braces.}

 These are currently in constant use at Chaos Manor:

Regina: A COMPAQ Dual Pentium 750 SP/750 Professional work station. This is the main machine for internet work, maintaining my web site, and all other heavy duty work. I love this thing. It runs Front Page and Office 2000 on Windows 2000 Professional and it's really a lovely machine. The only improvement I would make in it would be to add a DVD-RAM drive; but since I have those in other machines networked to this system, I don't really need one. Regina has 512 mb of Kingston Rambus Memory. The only problems I have ever had came from installing new operating systems and software; there have been ZERO hardware problems.

COMPAQ SP/750 Professional Work Station: highly recommended as a main machine.

Galacticus: D815EEAL Intel Motherboard, Intel 933 Pentium III processor, Voodoo 5 video board. Runs Windows Me and should not. When I get time I intend to scrub this machine to bare metal and install Windows 98 SE. I am not happy with Windows Me and while the system has experienced lockups, I have other D815EEAL motherboard systems with both faster and slower processors, running Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 98 SE. They all work fine. The problem is Windows Me. Galacticus is a good machine.

Intel D815EEAL motherboard. Recommended.


Imperator: Intel D815EEAL Motherboard, Intel 1 GHz processor, Windows 2000 Server. Main server and primary domain controller at Chaos Manor. Works like a charm. We have had some odd experiences with Windows 2000 Server but they were mostly getting used to it. When done right it works and Active Directory certainly gives better management tools than NT 4. Should you convert to W 2000 Server from NT 4?  Read the column and all the experiences; I did but I have a small and uncomplicated network.

Athlon is an Athlon



Paqgirl and Paqman:  COMPAQ iPAQ "Legacy free" systems running Windows 2000 Workstation. They work. See reviews in the columns; for most of what is done in most offices these machines are Good Enough.

PARSIFAL is a Pentium II 350 we built; see the column for details. It now runs Windows 98 Second Edition, is highly stable, and is the main writing machine. Parsifal has an ATI RAGE FURY video board, a Creative DVD drive, and the new ATI DVD software that goes with the Rage Fury board. It does movies without decoder card hardware. This is a truly nice system. It also has a Fujitsu 640 DynaMO Magneto Optical drive and a TEAC 6x24 CD-Recorder. All this works so well it scares me to write about it....

{PARSIFAL remains a useful system and much of my writing has been done on that machine. He will shortly be upgraded to Windows ME; we used Windows 98 SE for a year. And it all worked well, with a few war stories which I told in the column.}

Fortunately we didn't "upgrade" to Windows Me. Parsifal remains useful with Windows 98 SE and works fine.

BIGSYS is a Celeron system from SYS  computers ( ); see the column. It is highly stable, runs Windows 98 which we are converting to 98 Second Edition, and is more than good enough for nearly any task. {BIGSYS is now UPSTAIRS in the Monk's Cell, and is the machine I use to write fiction. He runs Windows 98 SE and Office 2000, and he's not networked (that would defeat the point of the Monk's Cell, wouldn't it?)} BIGSYS continues to work smoothly with Office 2000 and no other upgrades. Slow starting Office but after it's up all is more than well. Has an internal ZIP 100 drive and is otherwise an unremarkable Win 98 SE machine.




"Princess", a COMPAQ Professional Workstation with dual Pentium 200 running NT Workstation 4.0 with Service Pack 3 installed. {Princess has long had Windows 2000 Professional; she is about to be replaced with a Compaq DUAL 750 which will also run Windows 2000 Professional.} Lots of memory. Matrox Millenium PCI Bus video card; for a test we will shortly install a Number Nine video card; comparison in upcoming column. I'll do that Real Soon Now. (Still have not got around to it as of October 31, 1998.) {Never did get around to it; the Matrox was always Good Enough.} Built-in sound card driving Labtec 3-part anti-magnetic speaker system; the speakers are on an ingenious bridge that holds them on the ViewSonic PT813 monitor. With RealAudio the sound is astonishingly good, with really good lows and true pitch in the high and middle notes.

As with all ViewSonic monitors this gives crisp sharp-edged text. I like the speaker system, and the gizmo that holds the speakers up near the top of the monitor is way cool. Microsoft IntelliPoint mouse. The keyboard is a Ortek Technology programmable keyboard and I really like it. {All true as of July 2000}

Princess runs Office 97, which is stable and runs all right in NT; we have recently changed to Office 97 for everything. If you use 97 be SURE to get the upgrade issued in January 1998; prior editions were very bad, but the new one is quite good. It does use a lot of disk space, but disk space is cheap. Office 97 is very good at HTML document editing, and this web site is maintained using it.

To repeat: since SR-1 came out, Office 97 is stable and useful, and I use it regularly now. You can get SR-1 on a CD or from a BIG download from Microsoft. If you use 97, BE SURE to get the SR-1 edition, or you will be sorry.

{Above paragraph is true but we now use OFFICE 2000 for nearly EVERYTHING here. Get the current bug fix/  upgrade for Office 2000 if you use it, but in fact 2000 worked for a year right out of the box.}

{Communications are through an external US Robotics 56K modem attached to the NETWINDER from REBEL. The Netwinder runs LINUX, and is the firewall. At the moment we do not have DSL and the US RObotics works just fine.}

... In addition to the Intellipoint mouse, there is a WACOM art pad that serves as the mousepad; it doesn't interfere with the mouse unless you put the WACOM pen on the pad at the same time the mouse is there. Both are active at all times, and it makes it easy to draw with Expressions, a program from the company formerly known as Fractal Designs and now part of Meta Creations. If you are planning a career in graphics, get a Wacom and Expressions and learn to use them. Start now.

PRINCESS is no longer the MAIN system but remains on line running Windows 2000 Professional.

EAGLE ONE is an AMD K6-2 system running Windows 98 Second Edition. Stable, used as a general experimental machine. It was unstable until we got Windows 98 Second edition; that seems to have cured the problems. Prior to 98-2nd it never shut down properly but it does now. {Eagle One went to an associate in Seattle. Works fine there.}

Blurple is the newest TDZ-1000 from Intergraph. Intergraph is charging ahead in high end and now has a line of intermediate and lower cost systems as well. If you are thinking about getting new computers, look at Intergraph and Compaq; you probably won't have to look any further. Both really understand NT, and 'balance' their systems. Intergraph is leading the way in new graphics capabilities. I have nothing but praise for Intergraph. {Blurple is now Alex's main machine and has been in constant use. Works fine, and we love Intergraph.} Alas, Intergraph has vanished; they made the best affordable high performance machines in the business so far as I am concerned. Good outfit.




Former System. Spirit is GONE.

"Spirit," a big NT 4.0 Server which we built up ourselves. It has a DPT caching controller, Micronics motherboard, dual Pentium 120 processors, Pioneer Six=Pack CDROM, DEC and Micropolis disk drives, and 3COM Ethernet card. Spirit is about 2 years old now. The name comes from the fact that many of its parts were from BIG CHEETAH, a wonderful 486 system that was years ahead of its time. Still current October 98. {Spirit is amazingly still in use; it's no longer "big" but it functions on NT 4 SP 6.} ALAS we retired Spirit in early 2001.

FORMER SYSTEM: This one has been retired. {CYRUS is LONG GONE.}  

["Cyrus", a Cyrix P-166. Alas, they don't make these any longer, but the Cyrix chip is available in various systems including COMPAQ consumer systems. I know no reason why one should not use Cyrix chips for any normal application (and for that matter I know of no reason not to use them for any purpose at all). This system runs Windows 95, and the Number Nine PCI Bus Revolution video card. I currently recommend the Number Nine for all general purpose Windows applications. There are faster game and high end video cards, but number Nine is more than Good Enough. Cyrus has a Creative Labs AWE 32 sound card, and Altec-Lansing 3 part speaker system. Microsoft IntelliPoint mouse. ViewSonic PT810 monitor. Northgate Omni=Key Plus keyboard in the "Pournelle" configuration with the backspace key up on the QWERTYUIOP line rather than up with the numbers (the brackets are up there, where they belong). Several external storage devices. Adaptec SCSI board.

Cyrus has been upgraded with an Evergreen technologies (AMD) chip, because the case does not permit an ATX motherboard, and the new Cyrix chip with MMX will not fit in CYRUS without a motherboard change. The Evergreen runs fine. The Cyrix MMX chip is in use in other systems here, and works fine also.

Cyrus has a Panasonic 24X ATAPI CD-ROM; this is not only fast, but has the property that it is the ONLY DRIVE IN THE HOUSE that will read a CD-R/W disk created by the Ricoh CD-R/W drive in Fireball (see below). All my CD-ROM drives will read CD/R "gold" CD's made by either the Phillips or the Ricoh drives; but only the Panasonic 24x will read CD-R/W disks. This has to do with CD-ROM firmware, and I presume most modern CD-ROM drives will read CD-R/W, but that fact is that the Panasonic 24x is the only one I have that does it. (That of course is no longer true; but d be sure that the "bargain" CDROM drive you buy will read gold disks.

CYRUS was recently (March 1998) upgraded with an EVERGREEN. There was no great improvement in speed, but this added MMX capability. CYRIX, now a division of National Semiconductor, makes a good 200 mhz MMX chip, but alas, it won't fit onto the P-166 motherboard, and worse, the new motherboards that can make use of the new Cyrix fast chip won't fit into the P-166. Thus the Evergreen, which is an AMD chip, so Cyrus the Cyrix no longer has a Cyrix chip in it. So it goes.

We have a CYRIX based Socket 7 system which we haven't finished yet; it exists as a mass of parts waiting for a couple of days to tune it up. Let me emphasize again, CYRIX chips make good, reliable systems, for less cost. (The new system is done and works fine; reports later. Cyrix chips are good stuff. So are AMD.

CYRUS was RETIRED in March 1999. RIP.]


PENTAFLUGE has been retired. "Pentafluge", one of the earliest Pentium machines; built up from a Micronics motherboard before either motherboard or Pentium chips were released. Early model DPT SCSI Controller, supporting a whole raft of external storage devices as well as a Siemans 4 gigabyte hard disk. The DPT guarantees really fast disk operations. Used in early Windows 95 beta testing including by Microsoft (they came down here, largely because I had a lot of SCSI drive stuff). The motherboard has been replaced a couple of times, and Pentafluge now uses an Intel Overdrive CPU making him the equivalent of a Pentium 133 for most purposes. I can recommend the Overdrive as a quick way to upgrade a system; it took about ten minutes. In general, presuming you can use your old memory in the new system, you are better off getting a new motherboard and CPU: it will be faster and will probably cost less. That assumes you're up to installing a new motherboard. If you're not, or don't want the bother, the Overdrive works very well. Pentafluge now sits at Larry Niven's work station. It's also used for games. It has an ATI graphics board. For an old system Pentafluge is still pretty spry.

Pentafluge is now dead. The reports are in VIEW. The case lives on as host to my Monk's cell machine for fiction.

FIREBALL HAS BEEN RETIRED. FIREBALL DIED, in fact. The story is in the column. Fireball was a dual Pentium Pro 200 with full megabit cache on each chip. It runs Microsoft Backoffice Small Business Server, and you'll be seeing a lot more in the column about it. At the moment Fireball is running Windows 98, but it will soon get NT Server and probably Backoffice.

Fireball runs NT Server, and uses a DPT SCSI RAID Array. It works realizably except for a minor annoyance having to do with fonts; problem was covered in VIEW and will be described here later. {Fireball worked until he died. The story is in view for the weeks in Spring 2000.}

You probably do not want a dual Pentium Pro 200 now that Intel has new chips out for speed; Fireball thus becomes useful but not particularly recommended, and you will probably see no more updates to Fireball reports.



Praetorius is a Pentium III running Windows 2000. Experimental at the moment, but appears highly stable, and we like it a lot.

SCARLET is another AMD K6-2 system with Windows 98 second edition used by Mrs. Pournelle to record speech sounds for her reading program. The sound card is an Ensoniq PCI bus card and is plenty Good Enough. {Scarlet was replaced as Roberta's main machine by an Intel 650 on an Intel Board. More in the book on these. Scarlet continues to work and Roberta did a lot of sound editing with that machine.}

NEW in 2000: Enough machines that I do not have time to describe them today. Imperator is an Intel motherboard Pentium III 650 running Windows 2000 Server as the primary domain controller for all of Chaos Manor.  The story is told in the columns for Spring and early Summer 2000 (which also tell of the demise of Fireball)

Various Gateway 2000 systems. "Joizy" is Mrs. Pournelle's Gateway 2000 Pentium 200; she's very happy with it. Let me emphasize: We have used Gateway 2000 systems for many years, and I have yet to have one I didn't like. Joizy has a CD/R writeable CD ROM drive as well as a normal 12X CDROM.

 {Joizy is still in use but semi-retired;  continues to work. We no longer have any Gateway machines because Gateway no longer sends them to us. It is as easy for me to build new machines for tests as it is to get them from companies like Dell and Gateway, so I do that; I think it might be better for readers if I still got consumer-level machines from Gateway so I could spot problems and tell Gateway about them as I did when the company was starting up, but that isn't happening any more. This is NOT a criticism of Gateway. As of the last system we got from Gateway all their stuff worked until it wore out or became hopelessly obsolete.} 

March 2001: Joizy is still on line but retired. See column. She will be shut down when we are certain there are no more useful files lurking on there.


ALL my systems now have CD/R and some have CD-R/W. Teac and Plextor are the right CD-R/W devises. Plextor Plexwriters are reliable and they work hard on drivers. When I wrote this: the TEAC CD/R is about the best CD/R we know. All that changes like dreams of course.

As of July 2000 I continue to recommend Plexwriters and TEAC CD-RW drives.


"Old Cow" IS RETIRED" Old Cow was a Gateway 2000 486 DX2 that I keep upstairs (there are two upstairs areas in Chaos Manor) in the "Monk's Cell" which used to be Alex's room. I go there to write fiction. Old Cow is deliberately kept simple: no games, no network, no modems. There's no telephone up there either. When I go up there a couple of hours a day I do fiction because I have to: it's pretty boring otherwise. Old Cow was recently upgraded with an Evergreen Pentium kit, and that has dramatically improved performance. The upgrade took nine minutes from start to having the case closed again, and that includes having to re-open the case to reseat the SCSI cable which I had loosened while inserting the upgrade chip.

Old Cow has been retired as has Supercow. I may haul Old Cow back out to use as a LINUX box.


SuperCow is in use by Space Access Society. Supercow was a Gateway 2000 486 DX2 VL Local Bus machine upgraded several times; SuperCow served as the test bed for a whole lot of equipment, was carried to the beach house in the trunk of the car every month for a year or so (and there served as the writing machine for Niven and me as we blitzed novels) and was in every way abused. We have had no trouble with it, and SuperCow now serves as the fax server for Chaos Manor. SuperCow is living proof that Gateway makes rugged systems. Supercow will probably be given to a space advocacy organization pretty soon.

Supercow has been given to the Space Access Society. It was given an update first. Works fine.


"Racing Cow" is still in use by an Associate. Racing Cow was a Gateway 2000 Pentium 150 which is often used as a test bed for new stuff; just today we installed a new ATI "All-In-Wonder" video board that does TV from a newly installed DVD system as well as a lot of other stuff. We also have a Diamond "Monster" 3D soundboard in Racing Cow. From time to time other stuff gets put in there. Eric is running Windows 98 on Racing Cow. We recently used an Evergreen upgrade kit on Racing Cow, to convert him to something close to a Pentium 200. Conversion took about 3 minutes, and works fine.

[Eric is pleased with our beta versions of Windows 98. We had Win 98 Release Candidate Zero blow up one machine here, but Microsoft has all the details and has fixed that problem. I have been impressed with the Microsoft Win 98 team; they have taken seriously all the suggestions and problems I have given them. Of course you may not get that level of cooperation.

[Eric has Racing Cow at his home and uses it with Windows 98. He's happy  except that the BIOS would not support a 6 gigabyte disk. All new Gateway systems will.]


"Armadillo" is a Compaq Armada portable. I love it. Review in September BYTE. I really love this machine. You could run your whole business on this. The docking station works really well, too. {Armadillo survived the Great Desert Crash, and was returned to Compaq for testing.}

Royal Armadillo is the 266 mhz version, and runs as well, and of course faster. I LIKE that Armada line. I recently carried Royal Armadillo throughout Israel, down to the beach for work on a novel, then to New York City. Worked fine, including in Israel on odd electricity, and never a moment's problems. Good on airplanes, too. {Royal Armadillo is now Mrs. Pournelle's portable; still in use.}

{Armadillo King is the latest Compaq; I carry it everywhere; it's an Armada E500 and I love it.}
"Fireball One" is a system we built up from a Seagate hard disk, PC POWER AND COOLING case and power supply (if you are building your own system don't even THINK of using anything but a PC Power and Cooling power supply and fans), TEAC 8x 6 disc CDROM (works great, six CDROMS which can be seen as 6 different drives or one drive), DPT RAID controller (with Seagate, and two random other hard disks), and an Intel Pentium Pro 200 with a full megabyte of cache. At the moment it has a Number Nine Revolution video board, which is one of the fastest in the business. In the next day or so I will add a second chip to the MICRONICS dual processor motherboard (we have had great success with Micronics mother boards over the years) and convert this fireball into an NT 4 server. It really screams, as you might imagine.

Fireball One has a RICOH CD-R/W internal SCSI drive. This makes both CD/R and CD-R/W disks using Adaptec EZ CD Creator, otherwise known as the ARRR! or Pirate Special program. It has copied all kinds of things. See columns for details.
"Fireball Two" is a system I built for my son Phillip who is in the Navy. We used a generic motherboard I bought at Fry's, a Seagate 4 gigabyte hard disk I got on sale at Fry's, and an AMD 200 megacycle CPU with PC Power and Cooling Chip fan. The chip fan is extremely important for this machine; that chip gets HOT. Fireball has an STB video board because Phillip likes games and STB makes some really cool games boards; if he did more 3D modelling at professional levels I would have put the Number Nine board in his system.

"Winnie" is DEAD. Winnie was a WINCHIP system built here. It ran W 95 OSR2 and does it well. She's described in VIEW and at some point I will pull all that stuff into here. For now you'll just have to look for WINCHIP in my VIEW reports. {I no longer use WINCHIP systems.}

WE HAVE A NUMBER OF SYSTEMS BUILT FROM INTEL AND iWILL motherboards. I'll try to describe them another time. 

We also have Compaq iPAQ legacy free W 2000 Workstation which is a heck of a good deal for offices needs a bunch of workstations. See VIEW and the Column.


Storage Devices

{Following stuff is true but WAY out of date. IDE has got good enough that you don't need SCSI for many applications, and disk drives are remarkably cheap...}

We have had good luck with the latest crop of Seagate IDE hard drives, and for most machines this is more than adequate. However, for really fast servers, you want SCSI drives, and my recommendation is that you get a DPT controller. DPT controllers have cache and a CPU chip on the disk controller board, and thus manage complex disk operations such as simultaneous multiple requests for reads and writes, without bogging down the CPU. Pournelle's Law is one user, at least one CPU; and in fact the more CPU chips you have working for you, the better. No one deep down inside wants to time share with anyone including himself. DPT controllers work. We've been using them for years.

My latest storage adventures involve DPT RAID boxes and Seagate Barracuda SCSI drives. This all works, and is easier to set up than it is to describe; all this in upcoming columns.


WARNING: I like external storage devices, and I use them a lot, but KEEP THAT SCSI STRING SHORT. Nearly every one of my SCSI devices has failed when it was put as the last item on a long SCSI string with extraneous cable lengths. Keep the cables as short as you can! And always set up with Granite Cables. Granite Cables work. Since about 85% of all SCSI problems are caused by cables, start with Granite. Then when it is all working you can try the cables that came with the device, or cheaper ones, but start with Granite. Granite cables are not cheap, but they WORK, and when you are setting up the last thing you need is a cable problem so that you don't know if you were setting up wrong. If you don't use Granite for setup, I bet you'll wish you did.

DRIVE LETTERS: Almost any SCSI storage device is going to displace your CDROM drive: that is, if your CDROM was E: before you installed a removable--any kind of removable--then it's probably going to be F: after the installation. There's nothing you can do about that. You can make the CDROM the R: drive and leave it that way, in which case the new device won't usurp the drive letter, but:

If one of the devices is, say, a writable CDROM, and it has a lower drive letter than your regular CDROM, some software that needs a CDROM to run (games, data bases, map programs) is so stupid that it will look at only the first CDROM in the string; if it doesn't find what it wants there, it looks no further, and you're dead.

If you boot up with no cartridge in your removable drive, it may not displace certain other devices (displace = usurp the previous device's drive letter). On the other hand, it may. I have found no consistency here.

I am told there are various ways to do BIOS configurations that can help with some of the above, but it's all complex and not all the suggestions readers have sent work on all my systems. In general, just be aware of the problem.


Larry Niven and I use ZIP Drives to transfer book files, and ZIP has become one of the main "standard" storage systems. I also use ZIP to move files from my networked systems to the "Monk's Cell" machine I write fiction on. We have both parallel and SCSI ZIP, and they work so reliably I tend to forget about them. I do not have a similar experience with JAZZ drives. This is not a negative recommendation on Jazz, but be warned, I don't have Jazz drives. I have had trouble reports from readers. I have no estimate of the frequency of problems. It is my general impression, but an impression only, that Syquest removables are more reliable than Jazz; this is based solely on my good experience with Syquest and reader reports about Jazz problems.

I recently got some internal ZIP drives that work as slaves off the IDE primary or secondary. Installation took minutes, and software installation was automatic. This is a great way to have an instant sneaker net. These things are simple to install, and quite reliable. Zip Drives are nearly indispensable now.

My favorite external storage devices are glass disks. I used to use the big ones: Maximum Storage, Pioneer, Maxoptic; we have them all, and they all still work. They are, however, obsolete. Nowadays the best glass disks are Fujitsu DyanaMO magneto opticals. Olympus makes one just as good, and Fujitsu and Olympus drives read each other's formats (actually they use the same format). Fujitsu has been at it a bit longer, and if I had to choose between them I'd probably go Fujitsu, but you're safe enough with either one. They are naturals for digital images, such as one gets from the Olympus digital camera.

The neat thing about glass disks is that while they are slower than electronic disks like Syquest and Nomai, they are extremely stable. The media is cheap, durable, and widely available in Fry's and other such places. Media life is decades, meaning that if you use optical disks for backup storage you won't have to worry that your files will vanish. Magnetic storage is good for years, but not decades; over time the 1's and 0's fade to become 1/2's, and your data will vanish...

In theory you can buy 640 megabyte small magneto optical disks, but in practice I have never seen more than 230 meg disks for sale. Those tend to be cheap, and I pick one up every time I'm out at Fry's.

One thing I found: if you store digital images you will want Thumbs Plus, a shareware utility that makes thumbnail images for your graphics files, making it possible for you to know what's IN the file without opening. it. Thumbs Plus requires that you have a VOLUME LABEL on your removable disk; if you don't, it will appear to work but there won't be any thumbnails available.

While I have never had any problem finding 230 MB and smaller Magneto Optical media, I do have problems finding the 640 MB cartridges. The 640 Fujitsu DyanaMO reads smaller cartridges made by Fujitsu, and cartridges written by Olympus drives without problems.

My next favorite is another glass disk, Writable CDROMs. The media is as stable as Magneto Optical, and CHEAP. I bought some name brand writables at Frys for under $4 with discount and rebate. That means I can make a lot of copies of everything and store them at Larry Niven's house, in a safe deposit box, and elsewhere; if Chaos Manor burns down or is destroyed by earthquake I can restore at least one machine to where it was before, and I won't have lost any text.

There are a lot of writable CDROM drives. I am at present using a Phillips. We also use RICOH CD-R/W drive, which will make CD/R as well as CD-R/W. One problem with CD-R/W is that while nearly any CD-ROM drive will read CD/R disks, only very modern CD-ROM drives, such as the Panasonic 24x Atapi, will read CD-R/W. Whatever the drive, get the newest ADAPTEC CDROM writing software. As of now (Fall 1997) there isn't anything else remotely worth considering. Just get the Adaptec. It will write both data and sound disks, incidentally. Try it. You'll like it. It works on DPT as well as Adaptec controllers.

Digital Audio Tape: I used to like this a lot, but now I have a DAT drive I haven't connected up. Tape is just a lot more trouble than CD/R and Magneto Optical. However I now have a new DAT tape unit that is apparently as fast an as older disk drive, and holds a heck of a lot of material; full report in the column. It is a very neat system capable of multimedia streaming. Read about it in the column. I like it.

Streaming tape (I once saw a COMDEX exhibit someone had misspelled: it said STEAMING Tape drives.) Tape is cheap and reusable, and Exxabyte tape drives are reliable. I don't use tape any more, because the amount of storage I do can be done on a $4 writable CDROM once a week. My daily backup system is to Magneto Optical drives, plus I use the network to make multiple copies of everything in Chaos Manor; but see above about the new DAT units.

MAGNETIC Removables: the leader here in sales is Iomega, and their Jazz drives are used by graphics artists to store big graphics images. David Em uses them a lot. My preference here is SYQUEST, because it has been my experience that it's easier to set SYQUEST drives up as BOOT DEVICES. Using a removable as a boot device is a black art, but it can be done.

We have over time come to like the SyQuest SyJet SCSI (1.5 gigabyte) drives a LOT. They come with good backup software. The drivers are small and stable and well written. They go on NT server or workstation as well as Windows 95 and 98 without problems. One problem: the mechanical act of mounting the disk in a SyJet external can be maddening. The best way is to turn the drive off; insert the disk; and turn it on. Sometimes it requires evil and potent magic. We haven't had that problem with internal drives.

We have managed DOS, DRDOS, Windows (2, 3, and 3.11), Windows 95, and NT 3 boot from Syquest drives. We have NOT been able to make it work with OS/2 and I am now informed that it's probably impossible. It's also not worth the bother.

As of November 1998, SyQuest is in financial trouble and may not survive. [It now appears they are dead. The drives are good, but there's nothing to back up their warranties. Alas. I liked SyQuest.]

NOMAI makes removable drives, and they are compatible with the Syquest formats. Since Syquest isn't making drives smaller than a gigabyte now, if you want Syquest compatibility and the speed of an electronic removable, your best bet is Nomai. Nomai drives work, install easily (provided you don't get the cable too long, but that's not just a Nomai problem) and work reliably. The media are easily obtained. Nomai drives must be the LAST DRIVE on the SCSI string since they have only one SCSI cable connector. They have good switched termination, and a limited address capability (your choice of device 1 or device 5). (May 1998)

{SYQEST is now dead. I use ORB, but in fact DVD-RAM is a good storage system. See the column.}

Our NOMAI drives DID NOT survive in extended testing. They overheat, make loud noises, and DIE. This happened to three of them. NOT Recommended. Alas. November 1998




I use ViewSonic monitors, and my best advice is get the biggest ViewSonic you can afford. I love the ViewSonic Professional Series. I'm looking at a ViewSonic PT813 as I write this. It's clear, crisp, fast, faces a bright window without glare, and is in every way a pleasure to work with. I cannot recommend ViewSonic too highly.

Nanao makes good monitors and I have had success with NEC, and lately with Nokia. I haven't worked with many others.

I prefer ViewSonic because they have better line resolution: the lines are sharper. Nanao has slightly better color fidelity, which may be an issue for some. See the BYTE web page and David Em's graphics reports (included in my columns) for more details.

Always get the biggest monitor you can afford. You will not regret that. I am tempted to say get the biggest ViewSonic you can afford, but there are other brands you won't be unhappy with. I love the ViewSonic PT 813 I'm writing this on: I don't even have to change to my computer glasses to work with it.

The ViewSonic flat screen monitor is Good Enough for an executive desktop. If you think you can live with a laptop screen, you would certainly find the ViewSonic flat more than adequate. It takes up a lot less desk room than a full bottle monitor, and three people (but not more) can view it at the same time (after that the viewing angle is awful; if you routinely have 3 or more people looking at your monitor at the same time, get a glass bottle). There is a newer model that rotates. I have the older flat screen, and while I don't use it a lot, if I had to set up an office where I did something other than write all day I would seriously consider it. 

NOKIA also makes excellent monitors, positioned somewhere between ViewSonic and Nanao in both price and performance. We recently did considerable work with Nokia, and Roberta's Gateway "Joizy" uses a 21" Nokia; she loves it, and it gets a "cold dead fingers" award: that's the only way I'll ever get it back from her.

Look at ViewSonic, Nokia, and Nanao for monitors; you will not need to look further. Buy a big one.

I bought at 17" Princeton (see columns) in an emergency and found it more than Good Enough. It was under $200 at Frys on a sale. At that price they're giving it to you. But in general, I recommend the three above.


Peripherals: we use PaperPort scanners and Olympus digital cameras. You will not regret getting either. More another time.

The new Olympus D400 Zoom is the camera to get. It has 1.3 megapixels, comes with a device to allow a floppy drive to read your film memory and thus download your pictures FAST, and with 64 Megabyte "film" memory cartridge will hold 120 VGA pictures. It is now simple enough for Aunt Minnie. You will love this camera. You will love just about everything about it: small enough to fit in a pocket, holds lots of pictures, downloads fast. Highly recommended.

While you are at it, get the NiMH batteries and charger: simplest battery system you will ever see. You can go about a day on 4 NiMH charged batteries, and it takes about 7 hours to recharge them fully. Get a second set to be sure, and you'll not have battery problems. Digital cameras EAT batteries.

There is also a small direct printer that will make photos from the camera, no computer needed, if that's what you want. All told the Olympus D400 system is what we have been looking for, and there's no reason to put off buying it: sure, it will cost less some day, but it's worth what they charge NOW.

KEYBOARDS: ORTEK Technology makes a WONDERFUL Programmable keyboard. I owe you all an essay on keyboards. You will also find some keyboard material in VIEW. Sorry it's not as well organized as it ought to be.

From View 16:

I like two brands of keyboards. One, ORTEK, is programmable and for web stuff it's great since I have hardware macros for passwords,, and stuff like that. The other comes from Avant. Both are made on the same frames and with the same positive key feel that Northgate used to have. You can find the Avant at:

and their quote from me is accurate. I gave them a User's Choice once. See

However those addresses seem a problem. So:

There is a link on
relating to Avant keyboards.
  The link is
when you click on it you get the following error:
  Not Found
The requested URL %s was not found on this server.
  Instead of the above link, you may want to point to:
The new link lists the features of the Avant Prime and Stellar keyboards with a link on how to order each.  Now if I could only afford a keyboard that costs more than many multi-gigabyte drives...   Aloha,   Dan

And a reader says:

Suggest you add a link to 

to page

almost at the end, where you mention keyboards.

Yeah, I know -- "In Your Copious Spare Time".

Thanks. Got it.



Web development software: see the section on web creation for details. At present I am using Microsoft Word 97 and a program called Web Express. Web Express has some infuriating limitations, but it also has some nifty features. See the other section for details.



 It's getting late: I'll update this another time, and add the Macintosh systems; we have several, and Mrs. Pournelle is a Mac Software Developer. (Now that Mac is back in the game we'll definitely have more; also I've just been to Siggraph and there are things to report.)

At least this is a start. Vootie.


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