XP Mode and MS VPN Problems

by fwhagen Thu, 12 November 2009

Windows 7 XP Mode is probably the best feature added to Windows in a long time.  I won’t go into how awesome here, but this is the compatibility measure Microsoft should have pursued years ago.  That said, the main use I have for it is to VPN into my office network. 

The client site I am working at is using normal MS VPN connections which are easy to setup and use.  Their parent company, however, insists on the Cisco VPN client, which I am loathe to install on my clean Win7 installation.  So I have both setup in XP Mode and can use them interchangeably. 

Getting the initial setup was a little tricky:  First you must shutdown the VirtualPC then switch the network setting from “Shared Network (NAT)” to a named network card.  The funny thing is, the only symptom is the connection is made but times out on authentication.  weird.

However, I ran into a problem where I could no longer get the built in Windows VPN client to connect.  It couldn’t find the address.  Then browsing stopped working, even the Cisco VPN client failed.  After 2 re-installs (of XP Mode) I finally found a post that recommends removing the Virtual PC Network Filter Driver from the NIC, rebooting and re-installing.  Like magic, everything works.  Evidently a patch to XP Mode or Virtualization knocked it out.  (I did start with the RC of XP Mode 64-bit, maybe the reason…)  The blog was the Virtual PC Guy but the instructions were for XP and Vista, not 7.  The 7 instructions are below:

1.  Click on the network icon in the tray and Open Network and Sharing Center (or from the Start menu)
2.  Click on the active connection (Mine is Local Area Connection 2)
3.  In the Properties dialog, highlight the Virtual PC Network Filter Driver and Uninstall  (I deselected IPv6 while I was there; it’s not needed yet)
4.  Click OKs back to desktop and Reboot (evidently a critical step)
5.  repeat 1 & 2 and click Install in the Properties dialog
6.  Select Service and Add; the Virtual PC Network Filter Driver should still be there, select it and click OKs out to the desktop.

Fire up XPMode VPC and you should be good to go.  I was.

UPDATE:  I am still having this problem.  I have found a reboot is usually enough to reset it, but I am still looking for a way to reset just the VPN driver without a reboot.  I've found nothing, yet....

UPDATE 2:  Microsoft seems to have issued a Windows7 x64 hotfix for this issue quietly.  I am no longer having this problem, unless the system goes to sleep mode while VPC is running.  Then it's a reboot of the physical host to reset.

UPDATE 3: Turns out, a simple disable/enable cycle on the NIC is all that is needed. Still annoying enough that I have switched completely to the free VMWare client for work-related VPN sessions.


Filed Under: System

Windows Sidebar on XP

by fwhagen Thu, 15 October 2009


Dashboard-40 One of my favorite features in Vista is the Sidebar.  I have been using precursors of it since Windows 3.11.  Anyone remember HP’s Dashboard?  I bought and used that app every day on every system I used until Windows 98.  Since then, I’ve used Konfabulator, Stardock’s DesktopX and many others.  When Microsoft came out with Vista’s sidebar, it quickly became one of my favorite features.  In fact, it remains my sole disappointment with 7 so far; it just doesn’t work quite as well.

At work, I am forced to use a 32-bit XP system.  I miss many of the sidebar elements while working.  CPU, memory and network metering are part of my dev cycle.  And there are decent enough widgets that come close.  Clocks, calendars and other items are very useful.  But the sidebar wasn’t portable to XP.

Until, that is, I found a patched/hacked version on DeviantART that seems to work very well.  Called simply Windows Sidebar, Real One, Pack, it comes bundled with the Alky for Windows library that allows it to run within XP (you don’t need to supply a Vista key when it asks, by the way).  So with a couple of useful gadgets, especially the ones from Orb2k, I can have all of my monitoring loaded in one extensible process.  Very nice, and thanks to ~joshoon of DeviantART.com.


Filed Under: System

Windows 7 + x64 + 8GB RAM + VS08 = AWESOME

by fwhagen Thu, 15 October 2009

Windows_7_Logo Well I finally bought 8GB DDR2 for The Beast.  Before I installed it, however, I went ahead and installed Windows 7, in 64-bit mode, of course.  While I was a fan of Vista, I am very impressed with 7, though I still feel it to be a better chromed version of Vista.  But the 8 gigs is awesome!  NO more memory issues, pagefile thrashing, or even a need for ReadyBoost.  And I haven’t run into a limit of Visual Studios open at one time.  Now I can finish my micro netcast receiver project….  (Ok, I probably didn’t need 8G for that.)

And the frosting?  XP Mode.  My client site has switched to Cisco VPN from whatever they were using that was MS compatible.  I hate the Cisco VPN client.  And of course, it won’t work on a 64-bit OS.  So I downloaded the RC version of XP Mode, fired it right up, installed the VPN and was connected to their network in under 5 minutes.  I’m gonna love that feature!


Filed Under: System

Quad Core: Useful or Waste?

by fwhagen Wed, 21 May 2008

There has been a lot of talk in the channels lately about the Quad Core CPUs lately.  Most of it has been along the lines regarding most applications only use 1 or 2 cores so the others sit idle.  Others say that in the future, that will change, but why spend the extra money on the purchase and in the cost of the power until then.  Essentially, expert opinion is that it is a waste of money.

I am not an expert.  I am, however, a professional developer and a experienced computer user (~30 years) that owns a Q6600 Core2Quad CPU.  My experience is that, indeed, while playing games, I probably see no performance increase over 2 cores.  Unless at the same time I am encoding video or audio, downloading something, or a myriad of other things that I do all the time.  With my last CPU, granted it was "only" a Prescott, I had to stop all other tasks, and frequently services, to play a heavy game, or to encode audio, or other high-priority tasks.  With the Q6600, I don't ever have to do that anymore.  My system will hum along, no matter how many things I have going on at once.  And to me, that is the advantage of the 4 cores.  Be realistic, how many things do you have running at the same time?

Also, I have seen many applications utilize more than one core at a time.  Almost all games I play use at least two.  Or more specifically, the ATI video driver uses more than one for itself, effectively offloading much of its performance cost to idle cores.  LAME only uses one, but I can now run up to 4 instances.  Or more to the point, I can rip and encode simultaneously, which gets high-quality CD ripping down to under 3 minutes for me.  And the H.264 video encoder I use pegs all four cores.

If the Q6600 was twice as much as the E6600 was when I bought it, I would have agreed that it was not worth it, but it was only $40 to $50 (~25%) more expensive.  And the G0 series chip only uses a bit more power (90W?), so yes, it is more expensive to run, but Vista S-states minimize that somewhat.  In my opinion, quad core CPUs are a must for the power user today.   While the benefit isn't 2X over a dual core, I believe that one day it will be.  I don't make these statements as a defense of my purchase, I made the purchase because I really believe that it is true.  The main reason I waited to upgrade my system was to delay until Intel dropped the price from the $500+ level to $279 so I could afford to buy one.

I cannot tell you how much Nehalem excites me.  I wish I could afford to get one, but there is no way that I am going to be buying a new mobo and memory any time soon.  I may buy a newer Core2Quad on the 45nm die for power and speed reasons, but the Q6600 is an incredible chip.


Filed Under: System

Windows Media Player - Black Bar on Bottom

by fwhagen Sat, 12 April 2008

I have looked this up 3 times now, so I am posting it here. 

Every once in awhile, WMP will add a black bar at the bottom of the display area.  This is not the letter-boxing of video, as it is normal in full-screen mode and also appears while playing audio files.  The bar is the Subtitle Area.  To disable, Right-Click the display area, select "Lyrics, Captions and Subtitles", and choose "Off".  It's gone.

Some key press activates it for me accidentally.  I doubt it's the default Ctrl-Shirt-C combo; that would be awfully hard to oops. Now we know.


Filed Under: System

Post-Build Pictures

by fwhagen Thu, 06 March 2008

Here are some pictures of the completed system:

Interior shots with the gigantic Ninja-Mini installed:

Here is the external view all ready to go:


Filed Under: System


by fwhagen Tue, 12 February 2008

My home server finally died this week.  Even my daughter was inconvenienced.  The old PII on a SE440BX-2 has been a faithful, long lived servant these many years, but finally passed on.  I bought this board a long long time ago and have been running it 24x7 as my home server for over 5 years now.  I don't remember exactly how long, as it was 3 major upgrades ago.  BTW, you can still run a nice server on 256MB RAM for file, print, Web, and FTP with Win2003.  I believe the failure was with some component of the BX2 finally wearing out.

On to newer hardware!  I purchased a 35W Celeron to run the server on now.  Going to put it in a quiet Antec case with a Hi-Eff PSU.  Should be a simple and low-cost build.  Only spent $200 so far including the case (most expensive part), PSU, CPU, motherboard and optical (SATA).  I happen to have 1GB of DDR2 from a mistake purchase last year that I will use.

Yes, the comic feeds are down and will be for a few days.  Sorry.  I will get them up first thing.  *Heavy Sigh*

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Filed Under: Life | System

Final Build Notes: Mars Lives

by fwhagen Thu, 24 January 2008

Well, the system upgrade is complete, finally.  q6600_1 Almost everything went very well.  There were a few moments of panic, but the end state is very satisfactory.  The best part is the Q6600 is running very happily at 3.005GHz with nearly no effort on my part.  I am going to leave it there for awhile, until I get the urge to tweak some more.  I will eventually replace the fan on the cooler with a better one and will tweak the timings a bit more aggressively then.  For now, everything is very stable and Mars hums along pleasingly.  The final configuration is below:

Case   Antec P182 Advanced Super Mid Tower Case
PSU   Corsair VX450W Quiet High Efficiency PSU
Optical   LITE-ON 20X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe Black SATA
Motherboard   Asus Maximus Formula - LGA 775 Intel X38
Memory   Crucial Ballistix 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)
CPU   Intel Q6600 Core 2 Quad 2.4GHz
Cooler   Scythe Ninja Mini
Video Card   Sapphire Radeon HD3870 512MB GDDR4

What can I say about the case beyond that it exceeded all my expectations.  From everything being well placed, to thumbscrews on all the right places, great sound baffling and excellent airflow.  This case was worth more than the $100 I spent on it.  I even love the "Gun Metal Black" finish it has on it.  The only changes I plan to make to it are the addition of a fan grill on the lower 120mm fan to prevent the HDD cables from potentially rubbing on it, replacing the 2 upper fans with something slightly quieter but with Motherboard connectors for variable speeds and the addition of a forced intake fan on the front.  None of these are necessary, however.

The Maximus Formula is an exceptional piece of hardware also.  Its difficult to choose a single feature that stands out above all else on this board, but it may be the "Q-Connectors" as illustrated to the right.  This particular one is a detachable standoff that allows all of the case leads to be attached before attaching it directly to the motherboard.  That has always been a difficulty to me, solved here with a simple piece of hardware.  Of course the huge cost difference would be ridiculous if not for the excellent over-clocking tools (see 1st paragraph of this post), excellent cooling features, onboard power and reset switches, 6 USB ports on the I/O shield alone, excellent built in sounds, and many more that come with this board.  Wow.  My only concern was the PC speaker.  It doesn't have one built in.  The case doesn't either; most modern ones don't anymore because the motherboard generally has them.  This generated the first panic state when the temporary PCI video card that I was going to use failed and there were no diagnostic beeps.  I had to go find an old case that I had that I could steal the speaker from.  Then it was off to Newegg to buy a $32 PCIe video card for the interim.

Not much that I can add about the Q6600 processor that hasn't been said by far more capable people than I.  It has a stock clock of 2.4GHz, and mine is running happily at 3.005GHZ at 45C idle and 68C at full heat load.  Stable, solid and 4 cores.  You got to love it.  The stock cooler kind of sucks, but that has always been the case with Intel CPUs.

Update: I have since updated the ASUS bios on the mobo which fixes incorrect temperature reading of the CPU. It actually runs between 32C idle and 55C under load.

The cooler I chose, and it was last minute, was the enormous Ninja Mini.  This thing was a pain to install, and I ended up installing it twice.  Well, the 2nd install was my fault.  I bumped the monitor extension cable and didn't notice it was loose.  I ended up reseating everything, including the CPU before noticing.  The fan it comes with is not great, but gets the job done.  "Mini" is a ridiculous name for this thing.  It is enormous.  Maybe calling it "Not so huge as it's namesake" is more appropriate.  It drops the temperature of the CPU by 20C in about 10 seconds when load is removed which is pretty stunning.  I will be replacing the stock 80mm fan with a quieter 92mm fan later on.  At $35, though, this was a great value.

Ah, the Radeon HD3870.  First time I have ever bought ATI's flagship product when released.  But for $250, it was a good buy, and only $50 over budget.  Too bad MSRP is only $220.  Very good performance and I haven't even considered over-clocking yet at all.  There were a few odd things about this card:  First off, it is a single slot cooler.  All the other 3870s, including Sapphire's are dual slot.  Nice, but odd.  Secondly, you can't even find this card on Sapphire's website; they only list the dual-slot version.  Finally, mine came without the hot-chick sticker.  I don't really care, just thought it was odd.  Anyway, I really like this card.  Very fast, great digital video performance and not a bad price.  All the games I have run (except Crysis, of course) are super smooth at the max settings so far.  I am very impressed.

In conclusion, I am very happy with the new setup.  This has been the most extreme "upgrade" I have ever performed for myself.  I was boxed into it with the AGP/Prescott setup I had before.  In order to upgrade the CPU, I needed to get a new motherboard, memory and a PCIe The video card.  It only made sense to go ahead and get the improved case and DVD-RW drive too.  It was also a very enjoyable build and blissfully successful.  It passed all my burn-in tests with flying colors.  Vista's performance score is maxed out at 5.9; I kind of hope that they raise the maximum value with SP1 so I can see the relative score increase over my last one.  Pure vanity, of course.  Overall, the system is very quiet.  I cannot hear it under my desk at all as long as the wife's machine or the server is running.  (They will be upgraded next.)  And so far, all I have lost is my CoD4 profile; no great loss. 

Final pictures are still on the camera, so I will post them at a later time.  For now, time to play more MOHA!


Filed Under: System

The Build Is Complete (Nearly)

by fwhagen Thu, 17 January 2008

The last two pieces finally came in.  The new Sapphire HD3870 is a very nice single-slot card that looks great and performs well.  Haven't had a chance to really stretch its legs yet.  Will do that this weekend.

And the Scythe Ninja "Mini" is here.  There is nothing mini about it.  It's HUGE!  I will install it tonight.  I hope.  It may be a tight fit on a Maximus Formula motherboard.  I will update this thread with those results later.

Then its migration of systems.  Not the fun part.  Reinstall Vista, reactivate, reinstall apps, load games, restore backups.  The drudgery of the upgrade....  But it's all worth it! 

UPDATE:  I got the cooler in.  It was the hardest part of the build.  The 775 cooler mounting specs are not easy to deal with.  But it's all together.   Had a moment there when I thought I broke something, but turned out to be a loose connection on the monitor extension cable I was using.  whew. 

I am going to tweak the build a bit later.  Different cooler fan, maybe different case fans that can attach to the motherboard for variable control and maybe an forced intake fan as well.  But not for a while.  I am full concerning the build hunger.


Filed Under: System

It's Alive!

by fwhagen Mon, 14 January 2008

I got everything together again this weekend for the system build and everything works well.  Very well.  I learned a couple things, too.

First:  While the stock cooler on the Q6600 is very nice and much better than any previous cooler I have used from Intel, it is a bit small for the CPU if you ever intend to do much with it.  Under full heat mode of Prime95, it reached 75C, which is not terrible, but a bit higher than I am comfortable with.  So a $35 Ninja Mini is on its way to replace that.

Second: $270 for a motherboard is a lot of money, but you really get what you pay for.  The Asus Maximus Formula is the easiest board I have ever used both for installation and configuration.   I have Overclocked the Q6600 from 2.4GHz to 2.94GHz with no effort at all, simply by setting the AI settings to Q6800.  Once I get the Ninja installed, I hope to push it up one more level and get 3.2GHz.  The irony being that is what my Prescott runs today.  I even got STALKER included in the box.

I wait for the Sapphire HD3870 to be delivered later this week, then it's super gaming season for me!  I can't wait to see how Stalker runs on the new rig with full dynamic lighting compared to my old system that would only run without.  And you should see LAME run, it's amazing fast 20x at high quality VBR settings.  That's 4 to 5 times the Prescott, and only on one core.  I can't wait to see video encoding performance.


Filed Under: System