Hard drive cooling

Having had my main PC’s case hot to the touch last summer, I was wondering what was causing it. Components like CPU’s and graphics cards would need to generate a lot of heat to manage that. However, my main suspects are the hard drives in the machine: they do run hot after all and sit in a drive cradle connected directly to the case framework. As it happens, I was in Manchester’s branch of PC World yesterday and spotted Akasa hard drive coolers in stock for just £7.99 each. These dualfan units screw onto the base of your hard drive and their power connector can couple between a PATA power socket and a PSU power cable so that they can draw the power that they need without adding to case clutter. I bought two of the things and installed them; I’ll now see how they get on.

Vista incompatibilities starting to appear

Windows Vista is only out a week and the incompatibilities are already rolling in. Yesterday, it was iTunes that hit the headlines with Apple making an announcement on its website. More importantly for the likes of me because it affects my work, SAS has announced that Vista compatibility will not be assured until it launches SAS 9.2. This is not exactly a surprise because they have been advising against using Internet Explorer 7 with their products as they have not carried out their validation. Given that this company is cautious about operating system support anyway, it may be that SAS 9.1.3 runs on Vista but they have not validated it to the standards that a large enterprise user would expect. Now, the BBC’s Robert Peston writes an open letter to Bill Gates in his blog following a lost weekend with a laptop running Vista. His problems were hardware related.

There is one surprising thing about all of this: test versions of Vista have been out since last summer and OEM since November or thereabouts. Why have other software and hardware vendors not being looking ahead for this sort of thing? SAS’s advice regarding IE7 is in the same vein and even more surprising. I realise that there is only so much that can be done with a non-final version or, for that matter, in two months but some forward thinking surely could have been employed. I know that full legacy compatibility is a big job but it does look as if someone sat on their laurels. Or else, they are not allowing the release of Vista to upset their development and launch schedules and, given that Microsoft’s offering is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, they might well have a point. I think I’ll sit on the fence for a while longer…

Hard drive partitioning

It has to be said that hard drive partitioning isn’t something that most people do very often, if at all in these days of cheap storage and system virtualisation. I must admit to having several disks in my main machine and can vouch for the virtues of virtualisation: VMware allows me to run multiple operating systems on the same machine, a very useful asset so long as enough memory is available. We can expect to hear more about virtualisation with the likes of Intel and AMD looking at hypervisor solutions for this.

Partitioning does give you what appear to be multiple drives from just the one and that is very useful when you only have a single hard drive in your PC. This was very much the case in my early computing days when catastrophic Windows 9x crashes (some self-inflicted…) often resulted in the pain of a complete re-installation of everything that had been on there. The independence offered by partitions certainly offered me peace of mind back then but 100MB Iomega Zip disks were a very useful defence in depth.

Without partitioning, my curiosity regarding the world of Linux would not have been sated though an approach involving multiple hard drives certainly came into play later on. Having been a Sun Solaris user at university, Linux certainly aroused much interest in me and I have to say that it has come a long, long way since my first ventures into its world.

While the Windows tool FDISK could partition hard drives for you, it wasn’t non-destructive: you had be prepared to restore all of your files from a backup and do a complete software re-installation following its use. It was designed for setting things up at the outset and not changing them later and that thinking seems to have pervaded the design of the Disk Management console found in XP.

For more flexible and non-destructive partitioning, Powerquest’s Partition Magic became the tool of choice, though I did have a dalliance with a package called Partition It before taking the plunge. Partition Magic is now in the Symantec stable and not a lot seems to be heard of it. Version 7, the last from Powerquest before its takeover, has been my staple but 983 errors have been thrown by the application at times and one partitioning operation went awry, forcing me to depend on my backups. Version 8 still throws 983 errors so I started to look beyond Partition Magic altogether. In my search, I happened on version 10 of Acronis Disk Director Suite. It got a strong recommendation from reviewer Davey Winder in PC Pro magazine (backup software True Image 10 from the same company also got a thumbs up from a different PC Pro reviewer) which gave some reassurance and I have to say that I agree. An operation refused by Partition Magic was completed successfully and safely so I know where my vote goes.

Adding a new hard drive

Having during the week obtained a new 320 GB hard drive, today I am adding it to my system after yesterdays scare with the PSU. As with any such item, you need to format and configure it to work with your operating system, be it Windows, Linux or whatever. Good old Partition Magic can help with this (I have version 7 from the Powerquest days) but Windows XP (Professional, anyway) does offer its own tool for the job: the Disk Management console. Unfortunately, it’s a bit hard to find. The easiest way to get to it is to type diskmgmt.msc into the Run command box. Otherwise, it is a matter of setting your Start Menu to show the Administrative Tools group (Taskbar and Start Menu properties> Start Menu tab > Customise > Advanced tab) and accessing through the computer Management console for which there is a shortcut in this group. Of course, you need to have administrator access to your PC in order to to do any of this.

PSU shorting: one adventure too far…

This morning, I got up to find my main computer powered off after I left it on overnight for a spyware scan by Webroot Spy Sweeper. After satisfying myself that it was dead, I tried popping a new fuse in the plug. What I saw next was far from being a pretty sight: shorting in the PSU. The fact that it took out a new 5 A fuse was neither here nor there (they are 20p a piece at where I replenished my supply: they may be cheaper elsewhere but what’s 20p these days?); thoughts of fried PC hardware are far from pleasant, especially the vision of losing data and expensive software purchases because a hard drive got fried by a shorting PSU. A whole new bare bones system from the likes of Novatech were appearing very ominously in my horizon.

There was only one thing for it: try another PSU and see if everything works. So, it was off to a nearby branch of PC World for a replacement. I know that there were other options but I preferred to get this problem sorted out pronto to put my mind at ease, if at all possible. The old PSU got taken out and the new one plugged in as part of pre-installation testing. Thankfully, I saw the Windows start up screen and the omens were good; it later turned out that my data were safe too. Initial problems with keyboard and mouse recognition were resolved by a reboot, as was an IP address conflict that had resulted because my back up machine was on throughout all of this. All in all, things turned out well after a solid lesson in backing up data outside of the PC on which it resides. Maybe an online service such as Diino could be very useful.

I do seem to have an issue with PSU’s giving up the ghost; maybe its the fact that I run them overnight a lot. This incident caused to upgrade from 450 W Jeantech unit to a 500 W one. The PSU that I had before the 450 W unit was higher rated but it couldn’t cope with the power demands of the machine it was powering up. The result was that it cut out a lot on start up, an annoying habit that I tolerated for longer than I really should. I’ll keeping an eye on things as I go…