New Computer

I finally ordered a new computer. In the PC clone line of computers, my first computer was a 286 with MS-DOS. It was not a productivity machine, but I did play a stock market game and Duke Nukem quite a bit. I have upgraded a few times since then and my desktop now is a P4/1GB/Vista/Ubuntu modded several times starting in 2002. It served me well as I made a living off the system by writing software and technical books. And yes, Doom was played heavily to mom’s chagrin. Vista was not a good upgrade for this aging system. Even in its most optimized state, the lag in video playback, game response, and DHTML processing made it a pain to use for day to day entertainment purposes. AGP video cards and Vista don’t mix, so it’s time to look at SATA, more RAM, and PCI Express/SLI video.

On a tip from Darth Kevin, Shadowlord’s nemesis in the real-world, I purchased a custom SLI machine from CyberPower. I was able to build a system that will fit my needs (gaming, AJAX development, updating online dating profiles, using Google, watching the Matrix, etc.) and fall into my budget of $2000.

The first system I configured was absurd – 2TB of storage, 4GB of RAM, dual SLI video cards, Quad processor, and floppy drive. I have trimmed off some excess and now looking at a solid configuration. When I settle into the machine, I will let you know how it stacks up.

Case and Power Supply

Apevia X-Juniper Jr. (S Type Metallic Gray)
Apevia ATX-LCD650W Quartz

Motherboard and Processor

Asus P5N-E nForce 650i SLI
Intel Quad Core 2.4GHz/64bit/8MB

Internal Drive

500GB SATA-II

Sound and Video

3D Wave On-board Sound Card
GeForce 8800GTS (XFX Extreme Edition) 320MB/16X PCI Express Video Card

External Drives

LITE-ON LH-20A1H – 20X, Double Layer, DVD burner and player
12in1 Flash Media R/W
Floppy Drive

OS

Vista Ultimate

Connectivity

10/100/1000 On-board LAN Card

Peripheral

Logitech G15 Keyboard
Logitech MX Revolution Mouse
Dual Samsung SyncMaster 204B 20" Monitors

Reiner Knizia at Gen Con 2007

If you play RPG’s, computer games, or board games, then Gen Con is the gaming convention for you to attend. A group of my friends, who call ourselves “The StruebSquad”, a group of game players and designers, go out each year. The competition is tough, but the time spent is a great departure from the grind of the real world.

Gen Con 2007 turned out to be one of the best. The last day of the four day convention, the squad got to meet a hero of ours — Reiner Knizia. Reiner is a german game designer that has created some of my favorite board games and continues to put out challenging, fun, and creative games several times a year. Two of my favorites are Lost Cities and Ingenious.

Reiner Knizia at Gen Con

Commodore 64 Hack

My second PC was the Commodore 64 (the first one was a Timex Sinclair 1000). I often reminisce about programming into the late nights to make a pixelated wizard move around the screen with crazy 8-bit sound effects. I did waste a lot of time sitting in front of a flickering screen. I guess not much has changed, but at least now I get paid to do it. My beverage of choice back then was Tab instead of Mountain Dew.

Now I have my wish, Jason Winters of PicoBay has developed the Picodore 64 – an ultraportable Commodore 64 laptop. It is an impressive hack of many systems all packed into one stylish case. Check out the project and his site – you just may learn something. Jason is a true hacker.

Picodore 64 – Commodore 64 Laptop

Windows Vista Optimization

A few months ago I upgraded an older PC with Microsoft’s newest Operating System (OS) called Windows Vista (Home Premimum Edition). My older PC has 256MB of dedicated video memory, 1GB of RAM, and a 2.4GHz Intel Processor. Vista ran very sluggish and gets unresponsive with a few browsers tabs open and couple of programs running, so I became frustrated. There is something good found in everything, so I was dedicated to make this OS purr. The irony was that I was also contributing sections to a new Windows Vista Technician’s User Guide. The design applications to write my sections of the manual ran so slow on Vista, I had to figure it out. The following information applies to Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate editions.

Here are some ideas and tricks that I used to optimize Windows Vista:

  • Minimizing and Maximizing Windows
    Once you start using Vista, you will notice there is animation sequence that happens as you minimize and maximize a window or vice versa. It makes the transition look smooth but takes up 100% of your processor to accomplish the task. The animation has to process, allocate memory, execute it, and then the window reacts. This sluggish response to just moving between windows becomes annoying with just a few windows open. Stopping this animation will be the biggest noticeable change you can make.

    Follow these steps to stop the animation:

    1. Select the Start Button, enter “SystemPropertiesPerformance” into
      the Start Search Box, and press Enter
    2. On the Visual Effects tab, uncheck Animate Windows When Minimizing/Maximizing
    3. Select OK to apply the settings

  • Window Transparency
    The windows in Vista are transparent around the top edges to accomplish a 3D experience as you notice whats behind the window. The effect works and looks great although it takes up RAM and processing power to update the transparency effect as things change.

    Follow these steps to turn off window transparency:

    1. Right-click on the Desktop and select Personalize
    2. Select Windows Color And Appearance
    3. Uncheck Enable Transparency
    4. Select OK to apply the settings

  • Windows Vista Services
    There are services that run in the background that process data, user actions, and protect the stability of the PC. Some of these are just not needed. On a new install almost all of them are installed and running. You can safely stop some services that will free up system resources. Follow the procedures at your own risk and only disable services that you actually don’t need.

    Here are few services that you can safely disable:

    1. Windows Defender
    2. Tablet PC Input Service
    3. Telephony (if you are not using your dial-up modem)
    4. Parental Controls
    5. WLAN AutoConfig (if you are not using wireless)
    6. Routing and Remote Access

Follow these steps to disable a service:

    1. Select the Start Button, enter “Services” into the Start Search Box, and press Enter
    2. Right-click on a Service to disable and select Properties
    3. Under Startup Type, select Disabled
    4. Select OK to apply the settings

Passive Packet Capturing

User A to User B packet data traffic can be monitored through a HUB by User C using a “receive‑only” Ethernet cable.

On the HUB end of the cable, there is a loop between TX and RX to activate the HUB port. Any traffic through the HUB will now include this port in the broadcasts.

User C taps onto the loop by its receive pins.

Once the connections are made to the HUB, User C will receive all packets that flow through the HUB, but User C will not transmit any packets towards the HUB (no DHCP requests and no ARP requests).

The NIC on User C is in promiscuous mode capturing all incoming packets only.

Using a receive-only Ethernet cable in this configuration allows for the ability to passively capture packets, while not actively being a part of the network.

Network administrators can actively test for devices in promiscuous mode, monitor for DHCP and ARP requests, and review MAC tables to determine the presence of a packet analysis tool.