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GET A $25 BONUS @ Party Poker

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Frontside6 What’s Happening12 Digital Economy14 The Saint

12-Step Program For Microsoft

October 2006 • Vol 6 Issue 10®

The Experts

Rob “CmdrTaco”MaldaThe DepartmentOf StuffPage 87

Pete LoshinOpen SaucePage 83

Alex “Sharky” RossThe Shark TankPage 38

Barry BrenesalThe Cutting EdgePage 94

Rahul SoodWagging The DogPage 101

Alex St. JohnThe SaintPage 14

Mike MageeShavings From The Rumour MillPage 100



They Have A Program For That? 2006 EditionShareware/Freeware For Windows XP Power Users

Thinking Inside The BoxQuality Software Still Exists On Discs

Linux AlternativesOpen-Source Utilities To Power Up Your Penguin

Copyright 2006 by Sandhills Publishing Company. Computer Power User is a trademark of Sandhills PublishingCompany. All rights reserved. Reproduction of material appearing in Computer Power User is strictly prohibitedwithout written permission. Printed in the U.S.A. GST # 123482788RT0001 (ISSN 1536-7568) CPU ComputerPower User USPS 020-801 is published monthly for $29 per year by Sandhills Publishing Company, 131 WestGrand Drive, P.O. Box 82667, Lincoln, NE 68501. Subscriber Services: (800) 424-7900. Periodicals postage paid atLincoln, NE. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Computer Power User, P.O. Box 82667, Lincoln, NE 68501.

Did you find the hidden CPU logo on our cover? Turn the page for the answer.

Chris PirilloDialogue BoxPage 82


54Anand Lal ShimpiAnand’s CornerPage 37

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Page 30

Hard Hat AreaPC Modder39 Tips & Tutorials40 Intel’s Core 2 Duo E6300

Extreme Makeover

44 Advanced Q&A Corner46 X-Ray Vision: GPU Physics

Havok FX Brings Physics To Games49 White Paper: Silicon Photonics

Fiber Optic Communications In Your PC

Loading Zone71 The Bleeding Edge Of Software

Inside The World Of Betas72 Up To Speed

Upgrades That’ll Keep You Humming Along

73 Protect Your PINs, Passwords & Private InfoWe Compare A Six-Pack Of Password Vaults

76 Noteworthy Handheld SoftwareA Roundup Of PDA/Smartphone Applications

81 Attach Plus WinRAR 3.60 beta 8

82 Dialogue BoxDigital Life Dangers

83 Open SauceSoftware’s Dual Nature

Caught In The Web84 The Google vs. PayPal Smackdown

Wrestling For Your Virtual Wallet87 The Department Of Stuff


Digital Living88 Road Warrior

SanDisk Memory Cards Go Jumbo, Sony Mylo Takes A Bow, Franklin Puts Webster In A Flash Drive & More

90 At Your LeisureGames, Gear, Movies & Music

94 The Cutting EdgeFilms With Sound: What Will They Think Of Next?

16 Dream Hardware

18 Mainstream MayhemSix Slick Cards That Won’t Break The Bank

23 Seagate Mirra & Maxtor Fusion

24 Alienware Aurora m9700Addonics Cipher UDD

25 Voodoo Envy u734OCZ Mini-Kart

28 Monarch Nexus 2 Ultimate Gaming Desktop

29 ECS KA3 MVP ExtremeUltra Products VA Backup UPS

30 Corsair CMPSU-620HXAsus Z96JS

32 Falcon Northwest Mach V

34 Do-It-Yourself Quad SLIGuidelines & Expectations

37 Anand’s CornerWhy A Mac (Pro)?

38 The Shark TankWhat Would $5.4 Billion Buy You?

Heavy GearDead RisingPage 91

Infinite LoopsStrange stats and other oddball items from computing's periphery

86, 97, 99

Tips & Tricks96 Software Tips & Projects

Virtual PC Tricks98 Warm Up To Penguins

Installing Nvidia & ATI Drivers

What’s Cooking100 Shavings From The Rumour Mill

Everything PC Is All Mixed Up101 Wagging The Dog

AMD Is Creating A New Category Of Enthusiast

104 Technically SpeakingAn Interview With Craig J. Settles, Author & President Of

106 Under DevelopmentA Peek At What’s Brewing In The Laboratory

Back Door108 Q&A With Steve Perlman

Escaping The Uncanny Valley WithContour Motion Capture

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E D I T O R ’ S N O T E

Gotcha.Here it is.

Now that 2006 is heading into the home stretch, I’ve finally lived upto my New Year’s resolution. You know, the one about building abetter PC? Seems hard to believe the year is waning already, but

the point is that just as I’m finally ready to start living the dream (dual-coreCPU, top-shelf hard drives, a fancy new case, etc.), I look at my parts listand it’s already a little dated.

By early next year a dual-core CPU will be positively archaic, and the 7950GX2s and X1950s we’re snapping up today will be supplanted by even fastercards with DX10 support. The nature of the beast, I suppose, but it does giveone pause, doesn’t it?

In any event, it’s a good thing I finally got my component-ducks in a row,because I’ve had one of those months. In thespan of just a few weeks my cellphone’s interior and exteriorscreens went dead, my Xbox 360started flashing the Red Ring ofDeath, and my truck’s transmissiondecided it had had quite enough.

On the bright side, my new PCpretty much crushes any desire Imight have to call anyone, play con-sole games, or leave the house.

If you’re looking to spend somequality time with your PC,too, you’ll want to check outthis month’s cover feature,CPU’s annual software dust-up. Starting on page 54,you’ll find bottom-linedescriptions of what we thinkare some of the best utilitiesand applications you can get. Asusual, we looked at shareware/freeware, retail boxed stuff, andsome open-source programs, aswell, so chances are good that nomatter what you need or are into,you’ll find a program or 12 that willget the job done for you.

Chris Trumble, Publication Editor, CPU

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TThhee GGaannggEEddiittoorriiaall SSttaaffff:: Ronald D. Kobler / Christopher Trumble /

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Kathy DeCoito / Stephanie Contreras / AArrtt && DDeessiiggnn:: Lesa Call / Aaron D. Clark / Fred Schneider /

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Compiled by Steve Smith

W h a t ’ s H a p p e n i n g • H a r d w a r e

Giving Online Gamers That Killing (& Cheating) EdgeFor the gamer who has everything, except low network lag, BigfootNetworks says its upcoming $279.99 Killer NIC is ping paradise.Claiming to be the first network card to speed up online gaming, itprioritizes your game-related packets so that other processes don’tinterfere. Or so the company says, since the card wasn’t released atpress time. The Killer NIC claims to offload network processing sothat more of your CPU cycles go to game performance. But the craftyKiller isn’t above a little cheating, either. The PingThrottle adjustsping on the fly so you can fake an opponent into thinking you havenetwork lag and then throttle your performance back up once you’velured him—serial killer-style—into the game. ▲ Is a $279.99 NIC

worth a lower ping rate?

Notebooks Get Otter-izedHere at CPU we’re pretty much cubicle geeks, so you won’t catch us lugging our pricey notebooksto the rapids of Colorado. But it’s nice to know that we could with OtterBox’s resilient storagecases. The $169.95 laptop case is strong enough to stand on, and it’s fully waterproof. You can evenplug the unit in without opening the case. And an even more stylish option is the OtterBox FujitsuTablet Case ($299.95) that protects your Tablet from water, impact, and dust. This brings ourTablet up to military specs for field resilience—even if we aren’t. ▲

The OtterBox keeps your notebook dry, say,if you accidentally drop it in a lake.

Logitech Celebrates 25Years With A Mouse“Revolution”Logitech is marking its 25th anniversarywith a real leap forward in mousing. TheMX Revolution ($99.99) is a cordless lasermouse with entirely new innards such as aMicroGear Precision Scroll Wheel thatnow has a “free-spin” mode for scrollingthrough pictures and long spreadsheetslightning fast. A Touch-To-Search buttonruns searches on a word you highlight, andthe new thumb wheel ratchets through opendocument windows. Revolution? Maybe, but weare more thrilled that the new mouse, like its$79.99 notebook counterpart, communicates to the PC via a small wireless USB fob rather than theusual wired cradle. ▲

A scroll wheel that throttles up is the leadfeature in Logitech’s new MX Revolution.

6 October 2006 /

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W h a t ’ s H a p p e n i n g • H a r d w a r e

HH aa rr dd ww aa rr ee MM oo ll ee

Linux Lassoes LenovoIn a major coup for the Linux cause, Lenovo is the first major manufacturer to commit topreloading the alternative OS onto one of its mainstream models. According to, the Lenovo/IBM T60p will go on sale soon with the SuSE Linux Enter-prise Desktop onboard. Apparently, both Dell and HP have toyed with Linux in testlaunches in the past, but says this will be the first instance of a top-tier OEM making the OS standard on a particular model. The T60p isn’t a minoroffering either, with a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and ATI’s FireGLV5200 video card inside. The ThinkPad T60p preloaded with theLinux OS wasn’t available at the IBM/Lenovo site when we checked,but current prices for the T60p start at $1,919. ▲

The Lenovo/IBM ThinkPad T60p will become the first PC from a major OEM to have Linux preloaded.

Holographic Drives In Your Stockings?

Holographic storage should finally come to market this Christmas, but at$15,000 for the drives and $180 for a writeable disc, don’t expect them as stock-ing stuffers. Hitachi Maxell says that a 300GB version will ship before the end ofthis year, and an 800GB version will appear in 2008. The write-once media usesa special photopolymer that packs unprecedented amounts of data on recordingmaterial that is 1.5mm thick. Theoretically, consumer versions at lower capacitiescould fit 75 to 100GB of data on stamp-sized media. ▲

One Smart Bunny

The Nabaztag “Smart Bunny”(115 Euros) is a 23cm-tall plasticbunny that connects to your Wi-Fi network to deliver spoken andmusical messages. Free servicesinclude email notification, localweather, and even wake-up callsand Tai Chi exercises (the earsmove). You program the servicesfrom the Web site where the rest of us can rundemos of the bunny. ▲

The Eyes Have It

Solving computer interface andcontrol problems for the disabledcan push us onto new levels ofdesign. Helping users with severecerebral palsy and major spinalinjuries led to MyTobii, a PC thatlets users interact with softwarevia eye movements. A 30-secondcalibration routine lets anyonecontrol the special Tobii-enabledapplications, virtual keyboards,and games literally with thetwitch of an eye. ▲

The Wi-Fi smart bunny.

CPU / October 2006 7

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W h a t ’ s H a p p e n i n g • C h i p W a t c hCompiled by DeanTakahashi

Watching The Chips FallHere is pricing information for AMD and Intel CPUs.

*Retail price** Manufacturer's price per 1,000 units

Other current prices, if indicated, are lowest OEM prices available through

CPU Released Original Last month’s Currentprice price price

AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 1/10/2006 $999** $799 $784

AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 5/23/2006 $1,031** $1,045* $794

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4200+ energy efficient 5/16/2006 $417** $417* $215**

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4200+ AM2 or 939 5/31/2005 $537** $355 $289

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4400+ energy efficient 5/16/2006 $514** $514* N/A

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4600+ energy efficient 5/16/2006 $601** $601* $240**

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4600+ AM2 only 5/31/2005 $803** $539 $270

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4800+ energy efficient 5/16/2006 $671** $671* N/A

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4800+ 5/31/2005 $1,001** $620 $309

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 5000+ AM2 only 5/23/2006 $696** $682* $359

Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 955 3.46GHz dual-core 12/27/2005 $999** $899* $799

Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 965 3.73GHz dual-core 3/22/2006 $999** $999** $999**

Intel Pentium 4 661 3.6GHz 2MB cache 800MHz FSB 65nm 12/27/2005 $401** $400 $205

Intel Pentium 4 670 3.8GHz 2MB cache 800MHz FSB 90nm 5/26/2005 $849** $615 $630

Intel Pentium D 840 3.2GHz dual-core 2MB cache 800MHz FSB 90nm 5/26/2005 $530** $373 $229

Intel Pentium D 920 2.8GHz dual-core 2MB 800MHz FSB 65nm 12/27/2005 $241** $172 $159

Intel Pentium D 930 3GHz dual-core 2MB 800MHz FSB 65nm 12/27/2005 $316** $164 $179

Intel Pentium D 940 3.2GHz dual-core 2MB 800MHz FSB 65nm 12/27/2005 $423** $207 $187

Intel Pentium D 950 3.4GHz dual-core 2MB 800MHz FSB 65nm 12/27/2005 $637** $317 $221

Intel Pentium D 960 3.6GHz dual-core 2MB 800MHz FSB 65nm 5/1/2006 $530** $541 $323

Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 1.86GHz 2MB cache 1,066Mhz FSB 65nm 7/27/2006 $183** N/A $183**

Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13GHz 2MB cache 1,066Mhz FSB 65nm 7/27/2006 $224** N/A $224**

Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 2.4GHz 4MB cache 1,066Mhz FSB 65nm 7/27/2006 $316** N/A $316**

Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.66GHz 4MB cache 1,066MHz FSB 65nm 7/27/2006 $530** N/A $530**

Intel Core 2 Duo X6800 2.93GHz 4MB cache 1,066Mhz FSB 65nm 7/27/2006 $999** N/A $999**

SiliconPipe Proposes Wiring For The Top Of A Chip

Chipmakers are always looking for ways to speed up data moving from one chipto another on a circuit board. SiliconPipe, a startup in San Jose, Calif., hasbeen working for five years on a way to move data out of a chip from the topof the chip’s package instead of its bottom. This technique, dubbed OTT(Off-The-Top), promises speeds of up to 20Gbps, which is a big improve-ment compared to the typical 3Gbps in computers today, says JosephFjelstad, founder of SiliconPipe. The technique uses a lot less power andtypical copper wires to move data from the top of a chip to a distance asmuch as 30 inches. It has taken awhile for the self-funded company to gettraction in this area, and Intel has recently shown off a similar technique,Fjelstad says. “We got ahead of the curve, but the problems are catching upwith us,” he says. The technology requires changes in chip design tools and assembly techniques,but Fjelstad says he believes those changes won’t be hard to make and they’ll be worth it. He saysit will still take time to get the technology into the market, though. ▲

MRAM Chips Move Closer To Commercialization

Micromem Technologies has teamed up with engineering firm Strategic Solutions to try toconvert its laboratory technology into working chips. Toronto-based Micromem has developedan MRAM (Magnetic RAM) chip that combines the functions of flash memory (which canstore large amounts of data with computer power off) with DRAM (which is fast and storesdata with the power on). Computers with MRAM chips could instantly turn on and store datain chips much like data is stored in hard drives today. Strategic Solutions will try to takeMicromem’s designs through the process of commercialization. Also, other chipmakers areworking on MRAM, including Freescale. ▲

AMCC Offers New Chip For Apple MacStorage Hardware

AMCC has created a storagecontroller chip for Apple’s high-end Power Mac G5 Quadworkstation. The AMCC chipenables RAID performance for Macs with the new 3wareSidecar external RAID product.The chip is based on the com-pany’s StorSwitch architecturethat integrates custom firm-ware, hardware, and manage-ment software. With this kindof controller chip, Apple’s workstations will be able to offer up to 2TB of reliable stor-age expansion. The Sidecar storage products with theAMCC chips will cost about$1,299 and should be availableby the time you read this. ▲

8 October 2006 /

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W h a t ’ s H a p p e n i n g • I n t e r n e t

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Compiled by Steve Smith

Take A 360-Degree Whirl OnPictureCloud.comWe’ve all seen that cool“Matrix” 3D effect where anobject freezes and seems tospin before our eyes. Nowyou can put that same effecton your own Web site Simplytake your digital camera, walkaround an object taking pic-tures at regular intervals (20seems to be ideal), upload theimages on,and the site weaves themtogether into an animation.Adjust the speed and anima-tion type (spin or pan) andPictureCloud gives you anHTML link to paste any-where on your Web site.Voila, your site gets “Matrix”-ed. ▲

The Biography Of UsSocial networking meets biography meets timeline in the verystrange and oddly compelling Dandelife ( You can create a timeline of the major events, people, andplaces in your life and weave them into a never-ending skin thatyou can share with others. Dandelife calls this lifecasting, or anongoing chronicle of your existence. You can link entries on thetimeline into lengthy text, comments from others, and images(including your Flickr albums). You even have the option to turnevery Dandelife into an XML feed. This is your life on RSS. ▲

Life becomes aDandelifechain.

Diig Into DiigoEver want to make a comment righton a Web page just as you would apiece of paper? Want to point afriend to a page with the good textalready highlighted? Want to savejust the best parts of the pagesyou’ve read in a single collection ofclips you can review and even share?Call it social researching or socialannotation (as Diigo calls it), butthat’s what Diigo is all about. ▲

Call Yourself . . .TomorrowWith you cansend yourself a future wake-up call.On the site, just enter a phone num-ber, a text message, and a time, andthe site will call you with a computer-ized rendering of your message. Ofcourse, you could use the engine topunk a friend or enemy with bizarrecrank calls—but you would never dothat. (Plus the site warns explicitlyagainst using the service to harassanyone.) Our test calls never gotthrough, but creator Mike Bogo sayson his blog that volume is causingproblems. Hopefully, though, thingswill die down by the time you readthis, and you’ll be able send yourself afuture message. ▲

Name This Man! Who is Aaron Schwarz? Whoever you want him to be. He is offering$25,000 to the person who gives hima new name at willpick 10 final-ists fromthousands ofsubmissionsand legallychange hismoniker tothe winner assite visitorsdetermine. Claiming to be a 31-year-old millionaire and owner of ahumor T-shirt company, Schwarzsays in the past he was homeless, agambler running from the mob, andnow, apparently, another shamelessWeb self-promoter. ▲

CPU / October 2006 9

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Compiled by Steve Smith

W h a t ’ s H a p p e n i n g • S o f t w a r e

Xandros Offers The Third WayIf you’re tired of the Mac vs. PC propa-ganda wars, then Xandros version 4(, a Linux alternativeaimed squarely at the new generation ofhip digital mediaenthusiasts, is foryou. The newDesktop HomeEdition ($39.99)and HomeEdition Premium($79.99) havebuilt-in mediamanagers (music, photo, video, etc.), as well as broader compatibility withWindows files via applications such as and Codeweaver’sCrossOver Office. Xandros will mi-grate Windows “personalities” (email,photos, address books, settings, etc.) to the alternative OS. It even connects to an iPod. ▲

Nexus RadioNexus Radio ( isour new best Internet friend.This stunning online radiotuner maintains thousands ofworldwide stations that youcan separate into a dozen gen-res (’70s, alternative, comedy,news, etc.) in a database. Thetuner lists each station’s bitrate and can turn each into aFavorite with a single button click. The player can access your PC’s music collectionand add to it by recording music directly from the streams. The recording feature waspretty buggy when we tested it, but otherwise this is still one of the most convenientways to listen to live Web radio that we’ve tried. ▲

McAfee Wants To Help Protect YouIdentity theft is the new digital paranoia, for good reason: Our inboxes are bloatedwith phishing schemes from every purported bank and ecommerce vendor on theplanet. Security mainstay McAfee now embeds ID protection into all of its prod-ucts. Its SiteAdvisor runs Web sites against a database of known ID thieves andspyware planters, and a new antiphishing technology says it runs nine differentchecks on Web sites to ensure they are genuine. Another new feature actuallymonitors your outbound network traffic to detect when any personal ID infoleaves your computer. So now we’ll know when Junior is using our credit card tobuy bad music on iTunes. ▲

Can a user-friendly Linux alternative makethe Mac and PC guys shut up?

Who needs satellite radio when Nexus Radio offersmore than 4,000 stations at the click of a button?

McAfee says its latest security software stays ahead of the identity burglars.

10 October 2006 /

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W h a t ’ s H a p p e n i n g • S o f t w a r e

BIOS Upgrades Available OnlineBefore you send another motherboard to the landfill, consider upgrading the BIOS and giving your PC a new lease on life. Here are a few recently released upgrades. Readers can check out to see our entire upgrade list.

Motherboard Date Available URL

Abit AB9 Pro 7/20/2006

AOpen EZ661 8/3/2006

Asus P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP 7/31/2006

Gigabyte GA-M55S-S3 7/18/2006

Shuttle SK21G 7/11/2006

Tyan Thunder K8S Pro 7/28/2006

SS oo ff tt ww aa rr eeSS hh oo rr tt ss

Spy Sweeper’s Harder Shield, Softer Touch

Like a good Secret Service agent, Spy Sweeper 5 ($29.95; yearns to be stronger but more invisible. This seasoned counterspy software now uses advanced detection tothwart keylog software and has specific protection against rootkits.Behind all of this new protection is Phileas V, the newest versionof Webroot’s worldwide spyware research system. By spidering the Web 24/7 for potential spies, it’s a kind of homeland security service for your PC. ▲

Ad-Supported VoIP?

Watch an ad and get credits toward placing an Internet phone callto any landline with Globe7’s newest twist on the Skype model. Thedownloadable VoIP client has banner ads running throughout, butif you click the Internet TV tab, it will serve up video spots that addhalf a penny of international calling credit for every minute youwatch. That sounds like a lot of commercial viewing to us, and good

luck getting this scheme to work anyway. Inour tests, Globe7 couldn’t even proper-

ly register us: The servers gave us abusy signal. ▲

Leopard Spotting

Like hunting rare game, the latest Mac OS watchers are speculating about the features inApple’s upcoming Mac OS X Leopard. According to previews, Apple plans to outgun

Microsoft’s Vista with features such as Time Machine, which backs up everything on yourdesktop. The iChat messaging will gain media presentation features, and the OS will support

virtual desktops. Vista? Your move. ▲

Smart keylogger detection and less-intrusive operation highlight Spy Sweeper’s fifth version.

Globe7 promises free Internet calling to landlinephones in exchange for sitting through commercials.

Compiled by Steve Smith

CPU / October 2006 11

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Compiled by Steve Smith

How Much Is That Bandwidth In The Window?

The cost of broadband varies widely bycountry: from a mere $0.73 per

1Mbps in South Korea to a budget-busting $13.44 in Spain.

12 October 2006 /

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12-Step Program For MicrosoftAA fter years of being in denial about its

chronic anticompetitive behavior,Microsoft has finally taken the first step on along road to recovery by publicly admitting ithas a problem. On July 19, after years ofpressure from the U.S. and European Uniongovernments, Microsoft announced its“Twelve Tenets to Promote Competition”( One of themost important things for any recoveringaddict is a great support network to help theaddict face the problem and the damage doneto others and, of course, to help the addictresist temptation in the future, especially ifthe addict shows signs of slipping. As such, Ithought I would support Microsoft on itsroad to recovery by reviewing some of theTenets and then pointing out a few examplesof the company’s own violations of them inits yet-to-be-released Vista OS.

11Installation of any software. Computermanufacturers and customers are free to

add any software to PCs that run Windows.More broadly, every computer manufacturerand customer is free to install and promoteany operating system, any application, andany Web service on PCs that run Windows.Ultimately, end users are free to choosewhich software they prefer to use.

Wow. You may have taken for granted thatthis was always the case, but apparently this isa huge concession for Microsoft. Today, allMicrosoft OEMs have extremely rigid con-tractual guidelines about what software theycan install and promote on new WindowsPCs. With Vista, Microsoft is forcing OEMsto accept a Microsoft storefront on first bootto up-sell consumers on upgraded versions ofthe Windows OS. Although the OEMs aregenerously being permitted to include theirown offerings in the Microsoft-imposed store-front, its presence is not optional for them.

22 Easy access. Computer manufacturersare free to add icons, shortcuts, and the

like to the Windows Start menu and otherplaces used to access installed programs sothat customers can easily find them.

33Defaults. Microsoft will design Windowsso as to enable computer manufacturers

and users to set non-Microsoft programs tooperate by default in key categories, such asWeb browsing and media playback, in lieu ofcorresponding end-user functionality inWindows. Computer manufacturers are freeto set these defaults as they please when build-ing new PCs.

This despite Microsoft having hard-codedlinks to the most common media types con-sumers use from the Start button to point toits own offerings and forbidden OEMs fromredirecting them to competitive services.Games, Pictures, and Music buttons in theStart menu are all designed in Vista to pointto Microsoft-controlled user experiences.

44 Exclusive promotion of non-Microsoftprograms. In order to provide competi-

tors with the opportunity to attain essentiallyexclusive end-user promotion on new PCs,computer manufacturers will have the rightto remove the means by which end usersaccess key Windows features, such as InternetExplorer and Windows Media Player. TheSet Program Access And Defaults utilitydeveloped as part of the U.S. antitrust rulingmakes it easy for users and computer manu-facturers to exercise these options.

Let me translate this one for you: “In thetwo examples where we have completelyobliterated all hope of competition and estab-lished unassailable dominion over the rele-vant markets, we will make it easy to plug inan alternative solution.”

In Vista, Microsoft has hard-coded the top-level games, music, and video folders to pointto Microsoft-controlled “explorers,” which arereally Microsoft’s clever way of renderingcompeting media services (such as Napster,RealPlayer, and iTunes) irrelevant by makingthe entire experience of discovering and man-aging media a “feature” of the file system. Ithink a real, healthy demonstration of Mic-rosoft’s commitment to its Tenets would be tomake it possible for users to choose for them-selves what media discovery and managementservices they want to see from those links intheir start menus and to let the OEMs know

it’s OK to replace the Vista explorers withalternative media services. It also wouldn’thurt if the company made extending the Vistaexplorers possible for developers instead ofbuilding them to prevent devs from addingfeatures to them. Otherwise, it’s nice of themto say it’s OK to change things in Vista whenthey’ve made it technically impossible.

55 Business terms. Microsoft will notretaliate against any computer manufac-

turer that supports non-Microsoft software.

66 APIs. Microsoft provides the developercommunity with a broad range of innov-

ative operating system services via document-ed application programming interfaces for usein developing state-of-the-art applications. Inother words, third-party products should beable to do anything Microsoft’s products cando in terms of how they plug into Windows.

So what this means is that in Vista, Micro-soft has built the OS to prevent extension orenhancement by third parties. No APIs ex-ist for third-party developers to add value inkey places, so there is nothing to disclose. Of course, Microsoft is always free to changethe OS; it doesn’t need documented APIs todo that.

77 Internet services. Microsoft is contribut-ing to innovation in the area of Internet

services with services that we call WindowsLive. Microsoft will design Windows Live asa product that is separate from Windows.Customers will be free to choose Windowswith or without Windows Live.

Translation: Dear Symantec, don’t sue usor get a court injunction against shippingVista for crippling your ability to make yoursecurity products work well in Vista and thenlaunching a competing service, because wepromise not to tie ours to the OS. For youconsumers, you can either have a virus-infest-ed version of Vista or pay for Windows Live;you get to choose.

88 Open Internet access. Microsoft willdesign and license Windows so that it

does not block access to any lawful Web site

The Saint

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or impose any fee for reaching any non-Micro-soft site or using any non-Microsoft Web service.

Unspoken addendum: We will, however,ensure that the browser and Vista are as unhelp-ful as possible at supporting a free market foronline software distribution and services—in thename of consumer security.

99 No exclusivity. More generally, we wantthe developer community to know that it is

free to develop, support, and promote productsthat compete with any part of Windows. Con-sistent with the U.S. antitrust ruling, Microsoftwill not retaliate against any third party for exer-cising this freedom.

Have fun stormin’ the castle. Vista is such aclosed security environment that there is littlehope anybody will be able to distribute newproducts online or integrate them with Vista ina meaningful way.

10, 11, 12. Blah, blah, blah…Now that we’ve broadly surveyed most of the

Twelve Tenets and covered a few of the reasonswhy one might be skeptical of Microsoft’s com-mitment to them given the choices the compa-ny has made in Vista, I thought it would beinteresting to explore the roots of where some ofthis may come from. When I joined Microsoftin the early 1990s, I attended a company meet-ing where Ballmer proudly announced thatMicrosoft had booked its first billion-dollar rev-enue year, owing mostly to the major shift thecompany had made from selling the WindowsOS in boxes through the retail channel to ship-ping it preinstalled on new OEM PCs. Micro-soft’s relationships with the leading OEMsenabled it to bypass the traditional retail channeland established Windows as the default OS con-sumers experienced upon purchasing new PCs.As long as Windows shipped preinstalled withevery PC, no competitor with a simple boxedproduct could ever displace it in the market.Recognizing this, Microsoft crafted its OEMcontracts to make it as painful as possible forOEMs to ship alternative operating systems orcompeting applications with new PCs.

Beyond these agreements, Microsoft hasmany extremely effective, passive ways of pre-venting competition without resorting to

overt retaliation. It can simply ship an OSwith no APIs for extension or enhancementand block users from easily installing softwareonline and explain these things away as being“necessary for security.” Users and the mediawill wildly applaud its advances in protectingcomputers from invasion without realizingthat the approach the company has chosencasts a chilling pall over online software dis-tribution and severely constrains the opportu-nities developers have to improve on theWindows experience.

People love to complain about the “junk-ware” that many leading OEMs ship with allnew PCs, not realizing that to a large degreeMicrosoft mandates the user experienceOEMs can offer for non-Microsoft softwareand services on the Desktop. It is increasing-ly difficult to create and market a softwareproduct competitive with anything Microsoftmakes without distributing it via OEMs andonline. Microsoft’s Desktop dominion sim-ply overwhelms the value of traditional retaildistribution. Many years ago I predicted thatthe PC business would become like the con-sole business, a prediction that is now com-ing to pass. Game console companies sellconsoles at no margin or even at a loss and allthe profit is derived from the software andservices that the console enables. By blockingefficient online distribution of software inthe name of user security and mandatingless-than-stellar integration and presentationof competing products on OEM PCs, Micro-soft ensures that its own offerings alwayshave a considerable advantage.

Assuming the leading PC OEMs can holdMicrosoft to the terms of its new 12-step pro-gram, however, there is hope for a more com-petitive software market because all developerswill have equal access to the wildly valuableOEM distribution channel. Further, if OEMscan keep Microsoft from interfering with aclean, consistent first-boot experience, con-sumers may look forward to the day when anew PC boots up to a clean Desktop with asingle icon on it that leads to a marketplace fullof PC software and services to choose fromthat can all be easily purchased and activatedonline with a single billing transaction. ▲

I thought I would

support Microsoft

on its road to

recovery by review-

ing some of the

Tenets and then

pointing out a few

examples of the


violations of them in

its yet-to-be-

released Vista OS.

Send your feedback to [email protected]

Alex St. John was one of thefounding creators of Microsoft’s

DirectX technology. He is thesubject of the book “Renegades

Of The Empire” about the creation of DirectX and

Chromeffects, an early effort byMicrosoft to create a multime-

dia browser. Today Alex ispresident and CEO of

WildTangent Inc., a technologycompany devoted to deliveringCD-ROM quality entertain-

ment content over the Web.

CPU / October 2006 15

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These Gizmos Don’t Sing It, They Bring It

Y ou’re certain it happened. The Jeep passing you on

that moonlit logging trail had no driver. Your camera

told you so, and you can trust it not to lie. Not like the enor-

mous robot in your living room. To judge by some of the

insulting things coming out of its vocal unit, you’d almost

think that someone, somewhere was telling it what to say.

by Marty Sems

TThhee GGeennuuiinnee 77--FFoooott RRoobbbbyy TThhee RRoobboott

The definitive Hollywood android of a generation, RobbyThe Robot, first shuffled around in the 1956 film “ForbiddenPlanet.” He’s been recycled in various forms since then, but never before as a 7-foot stereo. Of course it’s HammacherSchlemmer ( offering this $49,999.95replica, meticulously handcrafted in fiberglass, titanium,brass, and aluminum. As Robby has always resembled a walk-ing Wurlitzer jukebox, it’s only fitting that this replica is onein truth. Robby’s integrated speakers belt out music, hismovie lines, and even your modulated voice as you speakthrough the included wireless mic. Lights flash and variousparts move as you play with Robby’s remote. Tragically, onlythe on-screen Robby could synthesize whiskey.

AAxxiioonn RRaacciinngg SSppiirriitt

Ever been up Pike’s Peak? It’s scary enough ascending thetortuous 12.4-mile road to the summit in a modern vehicle;I’ve no idea how my parents ever came back down in a ’60s-era vehicle with unpowered drum brakes and an overheat-ing transmission. (We should have a moment of silence to honor the poor souls who built the road in the firstplace.) Anyway, Spirit ( is a JeepGrand Cherokee that recently made the twisting climb injust more than 47 minutes. No big deal, until you considerthat no one was driving—not even someone with a remotecontrol. Using a brace of sensor devices, including lasers,GPS, FLIR, LADAR, Bumblebee binocular cameras, andaudio pickups, Spirit’s AI (running on Red Hat Linux-basedDell rack servers) made the on-the-fly decisions necessary tokeep the Jeep on the road. By the time you read this, theDARPA Grand Challenge veteran will compete againstother autonomous vehicles in another crack at the Peak.

NNiikkoonn DD22XXss

So what is reality, anyway? Photochopping has given anyonethe power to doctor digital photos untraceably, making ourview through the proverbial scanner a bit darker. Nikon’snew D2Xs ($4,699.95; takes a pro-prietary step toward digital photos that are legally tamper-proof, so that judges and others can believe what they’re seeing. The 12.4MP D2Xs can digitally sign images so that,when using the camera’s optional Image Authenticationsoftware, the user can detect altered RAW (NEF), JPEG,and TIFF files. Any attempt at creative editing should bevery hard to hide. It would be just the thing for KeanuReeves’ undercover cop character in “A Scanner Darkly” tosnap the evidence his reality-challenged psyche needs. ▲

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and 7600 GT, ATI immediately re-spond-ed with a new product of its own. At thetime, the Radeon X1900 XTX and X1900XT fared well against Nvidia’s new high-end 7900 cards, but ATI didn’t have astrong midrange product in its lineup togo head-to-head with the GeForce 7600GT. The solution to this problem was theRadeon X1800 GTO.

The Radeon X1800 GTO is essentiallya pared down Radeon X1800 XL with oneof its pixel shader quads and eight of itsROPs (Raster Operations Pipelines) dis-abled. The X1800 GTO has 12 pixelshader units and eight ROPs, as opposedto the Radeon X1800 XL, which has 16pixel shader units and 16 ROPs. Both theGTO and XL have eight vertex shaderunits, however. Currently, the Connect3D Radeon X1800 GTO is one of theleast expensive X1800 GTO cards avail-able, and it just made it into this roundupwith a street price hovering around $199.

Connect 3D included a basic assortmentof accessories and software with its RadeonX1800 GTO. Along with the card itself, wefound a simple getting started guide, aquick installation guide, and a basic driver

r e v i e w s | h a r d w a r e

Radeon X1800 GTO$199Connect● ● ●

Mainstream MayhemSix Slick Cards That Won’t Break The Bank


A s power users, we suspect many of youspend a good portion of your time

reading about or otherwise pining over thelatest and greatest graphics cards. Graphicshas been an exciting topic for quite sometime, and the pace at which the majorplayers have been innovating virtuallyguarantees a new, hot product will hit onlymonths after a previous generation’srelease. Reading about these cutting-edgeflagship cards is a different matter thanowning one, however. The bottom line isthe most powerful graphics cards Nvidiaand ATI currently have to offer are down-right expensive, with some preoverclockedmodels exceeding the $600 mark. Andonly a select few can afford to lay downthat much cash to boost the frame rate oftheir favorite games.

Fortunately, the scalable nature ofNvidia’s and ATI’s respective GPU archi-tectures means midrange and entry-levelcards with essentially the same features aseach company’s flagship products arenever too far behind. Perhaps best of all,these midrange and entry-level productsare always significantly more affordable. Infact, they’re so much more affordable thatit can make deciding which card to pur-chase somewhat difficult. In an attempt toquell some of the confusion, we’ve pulledtogether a half dozen sub-$200 videocards and detailed their individual featuresand performance on the pages ahead. Bythe end, we hope we’ll have armed you allwith the knowledge necessary to make aninformed buying decision.

Radeon X1800 GTOWhen Nvidia unveiled its spring-

refresh line of GeForce 7 series products,which included the 7900 GTX, 7900 GT,

CD. In addition to these items, Connect3D also threw in a Molex-to-six-pin PCIExpress power adapter, composite and S-Video cables, an HD component outputdongle, a VIVO (Video In/Video Out)dongle with S-Video and composite inputsand outputs, and two DB15-to-DVIadapters. Considering the relatively lowprice of this product in comparison toother X1800 GTOs, there is not much todislike about its bundle, but it would havebeen nice to see a game or some video-edit-ing software added to the bundle to exploitsome of the card’s more advanced features.

From its clock speeds and memorycompliment to the depiction of Ruby onthe fan shroud and the card’s red PCB, theRadeon X1800 GT0 strictly adheres toATI’s reference design in almost every way.The only discerning feature on theConnect 3D card is a sticker on the centerof its cooling fan with the company’s nameemblazoned across the middle. And whilewe’re on the subject of the cooling fan, weshould mention that this card is relativelyquiet thanks to its variable speed fan thatonly spins up during heavy load. And likeall of the other cards we’ll be looking at

Specs: GPU: ATI Radeon X1800 GTO; GPU Clock: 500MHz; Pixel Shader Units: 12;Vertex Shader Units: 8; Frame Buffer: 256MB; Memory Clock: 495MHz (990MHz DDR);Memory Bandwidth: 31.7GBps; Outputs: DVI/DVI; Video-In/Video-Out: Yes/Yes; Multi-GPU Support: Yes (CrossFire)

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7600 GT XXX Edition has arguably thebest warranty. XFX offers a DoubleLifetime warranty for its GeForce 7series cards, which basically means thecard has a lifetime warranty that you cantransfer to a new owner should youdecide to sell it.

All-In-Wonder 2006The hardware that dominates the sub-

$200 video card market is relatively tameand typically caters to casual gamers. Weunderstand that a video card with moremultimedia capabilities would serve a por-tion of you better, however. To that end,we acquired one of ATI’s entry-level All-In-Wonder 2006 cards.

The company’s Radeon X1300 GPUpowers the purple and gold All-In-Wonder 2006, which features four pixelshader units, two vertex shader units, andATI’s AVIVO video engine. The card wetested was also equipped with 256MBRAM, a DVI output, and a slim cooler.

r e v i e w s | h a r d w a r e


These features aren’t what make the All-In-Wonder 2006 interesting; it’s thecard’s multimedia functionality that setsit apart. An integral component of theAll-In-Wonder 2006 is a Microtune IC2121, a small component housed under-neath the gold shielding located at theupper-corner of the card. The MicrotuneIC 2121 gives the All-In-Wonder 2006its TV- and FM-tuning capabilities. ATIswitched to a silicon tuner on its popularAll-In-Wonder cards to reduce powerconsumption and free up PCB real estate.The Microtune IC 2121 has much lowerpower requirements in comparison to theolder (and much larger) “tin-can” tunersfound on earlier models. ATI says theMicrotune 2121 reduces power con-sumption by up to 11% over previousAIW products.

ATI’s Theater 200 chip works in con-junction with the Microtune 2121 tuner.The Theater 200 sports dual 12-bitADCs (analog-to-digital converters) and

Specs: GPU: ATI Radeon X1300; GPU Clock: 446MHz; Pixel Shader Units: 4; VertexShader Units: 2; Frame Buffer: 256MB; Memory Clock: 396MHz (792MHz DDR); MemoryBandwidth: 12.7GBps; Outputs: DB15/DVI; Video-In/Video-Out: Yes/Yes; Miscellaneous:FM In; Multi-GPU Support: Yes (CrossFire)

All-In-Wonder 2006 $● ● ●

here, its equipped with a single-slot cooler.The card also features two dual-link DVIoutputs, a VIVO connector, and 256MBof GDDR3 RAM. Connect 3D backs itscard with a one-year warranty.

GeForce 7600 GT XXX EditionA visual inspection of the XFX

GeForce 7600 GT XXX Edition quicklyreveals that this isn’t a run-of-the-mill,vanilla GeForce 7600 GT. Although thecard sticks to Nvidia’s reference design forthe most part, XFX spices things up a bitwith higher clock speeds, black PCB,neon-green connectors, a spruced-upcooler, and a metal reinforcement platethat runs along the top edge of the card.These qualities also make the XFXGeForce 7600 GT XXX Edition one ofthe more expensive 7600 GT cards, butsince when has being unique been cheap?

Aside from the aesthetic differencesbetween the GeForce 7600 GT XXXEdition and Nvidia’s base reference design,XFX has configured this card with higherGPU core and memory clock speeds. Infact, the GeForce 7600 GT XXX Editionhas the highest clock speeds of all currentlyavailable 7600 GT cards with its 590MHzGPU and 256MB memory clocked at1.6GHz. Unfortunately, the higher-clocked GPU means that this card gives offmore heat than other 7600 GTs, whichcauses its cooling fan to spin at high rpm.And the faster spinning fan made the cool-ing apparatus emit a high-pitched whinethat we could hear over the other compo-nents in our test system.

The XXX’s bundle and warranty arealso somewhat unique. XFX ships thecard with a complete users manual, amultilanguage quick installation guide, anobligatory drivers CD, and a self-promo-tional catalog full of XFX-branded gam-ing accessories. On the software front,XFX includes a full version of TombRaider Legend; on the hardware front, thebundle features two DB15-to-DVIadapters, an S-Video cable, and an HDcomponent output dongle. There is novideo input on this card, but the outputsinclude one single-link DVI, one dual-link DVI, and a video out.

In addition to being the highestclocked GeForce 7600 GT, the GeForce

Specs: GPU: Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT; GPU Clock: 590MHz; Pixel Shader Units: 12;Vertex Shader Units: 5; Frame Buffer: 256MB; Memory Clock: 800MHz (1.6GHz DDR);Memory Bandwidth: 25.6GBps; Outputs: DVI/DVI; Video-In/Video-Out: No/Yes; Multi-GPU Support: Yes (SLI)

GeForce 7600 GT XXX Edition$● ● ● ●

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Specs: GPU: Radeon X1600 Pro; GPU Clock: 500MHz; Pixel Shader Units: 12; VertexShader Units: 5; Frame Buffer: 256MB; Memory Clock: 396MHz (792MHz DDR); MemoryBandwidth: 12.7GBps; Outputs: HDMI/DB15; Video-In/Video-Out: No/Yes;Miscellaneous: S/PDIF In; Multi-GPU Support: Yes (CrossFire)

Radeon X1600 Pro HDMI$● ● ●

handles all of the signal conversions fromthe card’s TV/FM tuner and variousinputs. During the conversion processfrom an analog-to-digital signal, the signalpasses through a 2D comb filter in theTheater 200 chip, and a video scaler opti-mizes the output for your screen. TheTheater 200 is also responsible fordemodulating and decoding audiostreams into separate left and right chan-nels. Although ATI has had the more

powerful Theater 550 in its arsenal forsome time and recently introduced theTheater 650, the company has yet to inte-grate it into an All-In-Wonder product.But it’s still very likely that ATI will even-tually phase out the Theater 200 in itsAIW cards.

ATI also bundles a wide assortment ofaccessories and software with the AIW2006. A dipole FM antenna, various“domino style” dongles with numerous

video inputs and outputs (S-Video, composite, component, etc.), an easy set-up guide, a complete users manual, aCatalyst driver CD with MultimediaCenter and Guide+ software, and anoth-er CD that contained a copy of AdobePremiere Elements 2.0 were all includedwith the card. As you’ll see in the includ-ed chart, the All-In-Wonder 2006 wasn’table to keep pace with the other cards wetested in the gaming performance arena,but this card can do a lot of things theothers can’t.

Radeon X1600 Pro HDMIWe first saw the Sapphire Radeon

X1600 Pro HDMI back in January atCES. Its configuration intrigued us, andwe were eager to get our hands on one.But it wasn’t until recently that cardsactually hit store shelves. What makesthe Radeon X1600 Pro HDMI special isits form factor and the incorporation ofan HDMI output. The card provides fullHDMI support, which makes integrat-ing an HTPC with this card into a home

Connect 3D Radeon XFX GeForce 7600 ATI All-In- Sapphire Radeon Evga e-GeForce

X1800 GTO GT XXX Edition Wonder 2006 X1600 Pro HDMI 7600 GT KO

3DMark06 (Default 1,280 x 1,024):

Overall Score 3250 3548 1154 2014 3435

Shader Model 2.0 Test 1229 1410 397 726 1367

HDR/Shader 1222 1294 417 732 1246

Model 3.0 Test

Half Life 2:

1,280 x 1,024 143.52 138.61 56.23 104.62 138.45

1,280 x 1,024 123.58 115.05 40.34 64.63 112.25

(4X AA/16X AF)

1,600 x 1,200 125.82 125.1 36.79 79.15 123.53

1,600 x 1,200 99.28 87.73 18.2 43.15 83.17

(4X AA/16X AF)

Quake 4 v1.2:

1,280 x 1,024 62.3 79.6 16.8 28.6 76.2

1,280 x 1,024 37.8 39.9 10.2 18.2 37.8

(4X AA/8X AF)

1,600 x 1,200 45.8 59.3 12.1 21.2 56.9

1,600 x 1,200 28.1 29.3 4.3 12.1 27.7

(4X AA/8X AF)

F.E.A.R. v1.06:

1,280 x 960 52 60 13 30 59

1,280 x 960 36 35 8 20 34

(4X AA/16X AF)

1,600 x 1,200 35 44 8 20 42

1,600 x 1,200 23 25 3 12 23

(4X AA/16X Aniso)


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theater a breeze. The card doesn’t haveits own audio codec, however, and mustbe connected to the S/PDIF outputheader on a sound card or motherboardwith integrated audio.

Unlike the other participants in thisroundup, the Radeon X1600 Pro HDMIis only a half-height card. It’s built uponblue PCB and features a surprisingly slim(but heavy) all-copper cooler. We suspectSapphire used a beefy heatsink on the cardso it could use a quiet cooling fan, and itsdesign seems to have paid off. Even thoughthe X1600 Pro HDMI has active cooling,we found it to be almost silent. Four mem-ory chips populate the PCB (two on eachside) totaling 256MB, and the card fea-tures DB15 and HDMI outputs and anS/PDIF input on its mounting plate.

The Radeon X1600 Pro HDMI’sHDMI functionality comes by way of aSilicon Image ASIC. Directly behindthe HDMI port resides a Silicon ImageSiI 1930 chip. The SiI 1930 supportsDVI 1.0, HDMI 1.1, and HDCP 1.1,which means this is one of the few cards

another with a mounting hole for theexternal S/PDIF input).

e-GeForce 7600 GT KOThe second GeForce 7600 GT card in

this roundup isn’t quite as flashy as XFX’soffering, nor is it clocked as high or haveas extensive an accessory bundle. Whatthe Evga e-GeForce 7600 GT KO doeshave going for it is solid performance at abargain basement price.

Simply put, the e-GeForce 7600 GTKO is a factory-overclocked GeForce 7600GT card that strays from Nvidia’s refer-ence design in only one meaningful way.Whereas Nvidia’s reference specificationscall for a 560MHz core GPU clock with1.4GHz memory, Evga’s offering isclocked at 580MHz and 1.5GHz, respec-tively. Other than its clock speeds and anEvga sticker at the center of its cooling fan,however, there is little to differentiate thiscard from its 7600 GT-based cousins. Thee-GeForce 7600 GT KO’s cooler, greenPCB, and dual-link/single-link DVI out-puts are just like Nvidia’s reference design.

Evga rewards owners of its e-GeForce7600 GT KO with a lifetime warrantyand a modest accessory bundle. The com-pany ships the e-GeForce 7600 GT KOwith a users guide, a driver installationCD, and two case badges. Along withthese basic items, Evga also includes anHD component/S-Video output dongle,an S-Video cable, two DB15-to-DVIadapters, and trial versions of SnapstreamBeyond Media and Ulead DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator. Not an awe-inspiring bundle by any means, it would

Diamond Multimedia ATI All-In-Wonder ATI Radeon Nvidia GeForce

Viper Radeon X1600 Pro Radeon X1900 X1900 XTX 7950 GX2

1931 4304 5964 8578

695 1568 2333 3971

700 1798 2611 3940

101.06 139.42 146.35 142.23

61.3 133.29 145.05 141.38

77.31 135.73 144.11 141.69

40.4 103.76 143.36 138.87

28.3 68.4 105.6 143.8

16.5 44.8 64.2 107.9

20.6 54.2 83.1 138.7

10.7 37.2 52.1 83.1

30 75 96 97

19 54 72 87

20 58 76 90

11 29 52 68


r e v i e w s | h a r d w a r e

on the market that is compliant withHDCP scheme.

Sapphire includes a quick installationguide, driver CD, and a case badge withthe card. The bundle also has the followinghardware accessories: an HDMI-to-DVIadapter, a 6-foot HDMI cable, an internalS/PDIF cable, and two additional half-height brackets (one with mounting holesfor the DB15 and HDMI connectors, and

e-GeForce 7600 GT KO$159● ● ● ●

Specs: GPU: Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT; GPU Clock: 580MHz; Pixel Shader Units: 12;Vertex Shader Units: 5; Frame Buffer: 256MB; Memory Clock: 750MHz (1.5GHz DDR);Memory Bandwidth: 24GBps; Outputs: DVI/DVI; Video-In/Video-Out: No/Yes; Multi-GPUSupport: Yes (SLI)

CPU / October 2006 21

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Although we looked at six video cards in this roundup, there are reallyonly two competing video playback and acceleration engines at workwithin the various GPUs—ATI’s AVIVO and Nvidia’s PureVideo.

Because of the programmable nature of the AVIVO and PureVideoengines, the features and performance of each can vary from driverrelease to driver release. At press time, however, both video engineshave similar features and both can accelerate and enhance a multitudeof different video formats. For a complete list of supported formats,please reference each company’s respective Web site.

To test the video engines, we used the Connect 3D Radeon X1800GTO and the XFX GeForce 7600 GT XXX Edition with Windows Media

Player 10 and Intervideo WinDVD 7 Platinum. While playing the1080p version of the “Living Sea” HD video clip available onMicrosoft’s WMVHD site, we found the ATI-powered card used onaverage roughly 20.1% of our host CPU’s resources (Athlon 64 FX-60), while the Nvidia card used about 22%. Although both cardsproduced similarly impressive images, we gave slight edge to ATIfor more vibrant color output.

We also ran the HQV DVD benchmark on the Connect 3D RadeonX1800 GTO and the XFX GeForce 7600 GT XXX Edition and found thatboth cards performed very well. The X1800 GTO posted a near-perfectscore of 123 out of a possible 130, while the 7600 GT hit 113. ▲

Video Playback: Avivo vs. PureVideo

Viper Radeon X1600 Pro$130Diamond● ● ●

Specs: GPU: ATI Radeon X1600 Pro; GPU Clock: 500MHz; Pixel Shader Units: 12;Vertex Shader Units: 5; Frame Buffer: 512MB; Memory Clock: 396MHz (792MHz DDR);Memory Bandwidth: 12.7GBps; Outputs: DB15/DVI; Video-In/Video-Out: No/Yes; Multi-GPU Support: Yes (CrossFire)


A few years ago, Diamond Multi-media—then owned by SONICblue—exited the high-end graphics business tofocus its retail efforts on the company’sline of Rio MP3 players and Supra-branded modems. Since Best Data’s2003 acquisition of the Diamond Mul-timedia brand and assets, however,Diamond has re-emerged with a new-found emphasis on desktop graphicsadapters, communications, and othermultimedia devices.

As its name implies, ATI’s midrangeRadeon X1600 Pro GPU powers theViper Radeon X1600 Pro. The RadeonX1600 Pro features 12 pixel shader units,five vertex shaders, and AVIVO support.The card is built upon blue PCB and it’soutfitted with 512MB dedicated framebuffer memory. The RAM chips on thebackside of the card are adorned withindividual, aluminum heatsinks, and aslim, aluminum heatsink/fan assemblycools the GPU and RAM on the front of

the card. Connectivity options include adual-link DVI output, an analog DB15output, and a video output.

The Viper Radeon X1600 Pro ships withan elementary accessory bundle thatincludes a generic installation manual, a dri-ver CD, and a bonus software CD that con-tains copies of Acrobat Reader, the demoversion of 3DMark03, VulpineGL, FinalReality, various free DVD codecs, andWCPUID. The bonus software CD seemsmore like a compilation of downloadableapplications, demos, and benchmarks thanreal bonus, however. In addition to theaforementioned items, an AOL starter CD,composite and S-Video cables, an HD com-ponent output dongle, and a DB15-to-DVIadapter round out the package.

Although the Viper Radeon X1600 Prowas the least expensive card in our round-up, we expected its performance to fallsomewhere in the middle of the pack. Wewere certain it would outpace the All-In-Wonder 2006 and thought it would fin-ish just ahead of the Sapphire RadeonX1600 Pro HDMI, considering it hastwice the memory compliment at thesame clocks. Surprisingly, the extra mem-ory didn’t help the Diamond MultimediaRadeon X1600 Pro, not even in the high-resolution tests with antialiasing andanisotropic filtering enabled. We suspectthe higher latency from having twice thenumber of onboard RAM chips hinderedperformance a bit, which gave Sapphire’sX1600 Pro HDMI a slight edge. (NOTE:To see our test system’s specs, go to ▲

by Marco Chiappetta

have been nice to see a game added to thebundle for good measure.

Because it was clocked slightly low-er than XFX’s GeForce 7600 GT, the e-GeForce 7600 GT KO finished justbehind XFX’s offering in our benchmarks.But at a price of about $160 you’d be hardpressed to find a sub-$200 video card witha better price-to-performance ratio. Thoselooking for maximum performance with aminimal investment will likely be pleasedwith the e-GeForce 7600 GT KO.

Viper Radeon X1600 ProIf you’ve been into the high-perfor-

mance computing scene for a number ofyears, the names “Diamond Multimedia”and “Viper” probably conjure up memo-ries of VESA Local Bus graphics slots andWindows for Workgroups 3.11. But thecompany that brought us the popularViper, SpeedStar, and Stealth “WindowsAccelerators” has undergone a number ofsignificant changes since its heyday.

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drive and save up to eight pre-vious versions.

You can share files on thedrive remotely via the Mirra ser-vice’s Web site ( emailing a recipient a link toyour marked file or folder.Seagate requires new users tocreate a free account with only a pass-word and email address. Onceregistered, recipients can pre-view and download files or even downloadentire folders. The UI is intuitive if not ter-ribly attractive. We noticed that bottle-necking in Mirra’s upload connectionhampered transfer speeds. Additional Website features include adding files andchanging share properties.

Those viewing this primarily as aphoto-sharing device may find it cumber-some, but if your priorities are splitbetween backup and data sharing, theMirra is a smart product for home andsmall business networks alike.

Maxtor Fusion (500GB)Maxtor’s Fusion transfers files either

through an internal upload tool (2GBsize limit) or drag and drop with a fileexplorer. This is done solely via theFusion’s internal Web server, so it doesnot require extra software, and you candirectly access from anywhere.

The Fusion automatically organizesstored data into four different categories:Pictures, Music, Video, and Documents.This and a great search tool make it veryeasy to find one small file in a 500GBhaystack. You can add storage capacityby connecting a USB hard drive to eitherof two USB ports.

You can share files sharing can bedone in three ways. Once you mark a fileas “public,” anyone who has the addresscan view or download it. “Private” filesare shared by sending to an email ad-dress and clicking on the share icon.Another icon creates “microlinks” thathelp add content to sites such as eBay or MySpace.

r e v i e w s | h a r d w a r e

Mirra Sync and Share Personal Server (500GB)$● ● ● ●

T he Seagate Mirra and Maxtor Fusionare similar add-on storage products

targeted at two different markets. Bothmake it easy to share digital content oraccess your files remotely, but that’swhere the similarities end.

Seagate Mirra Sync and Share PersonalServer (500GB)

The Mirra is primarily a network back-up device. You can’t drag and drop files tothe appliance; rather, any PC on the LANmust run Mirra’s software as a backgroundapplication. Users mark files and folders oneach system for backup and sharing. Afterthe initial “settling time,” which can takequite awhile depending on the dataset’ssize and LAN’s throughput, those foldersare monitored for changes. The Mirra willcopy any added or modified file to the

Direct external access to the Fusionrequires port forwarding and registeringwith a dynamic DNS if the router lacks astatic IP address. Daunting to some, thisprocess is a snap with Maxtor’s simple,comprehensive setup guide, which evenincludes specific instructions for individ-ual router models.

Looking Back The big question here is about value and

whether these drives earn their price tags.Street prices narrow their price gaps consid-erably, and this works in the Fusion’s favor.The Fusion has better expandability, afriendlier setup and UI, and I suspectupdates will soon turn this into a media col-laboration tool. Already, remote users can“rate” pictures; soon, I expect they’ll be ableto add comments, metadata tags, and more.

The Mirra is a smart backup tool, butso is the Maxtor Shared Storage II.Mirra’s flare for easy Internet sharing liftsit above the consumer NAS rank and file,and it’s a better fit for business use thanthe Fusion. But as a business device, itshould be more expandable. ▲

by Billy Ristle

Fusion (500GB)$● ● ● ●

Specs: MirraGuard Data Guarantee;automatic backup; remote Web access;128-bit SSL encryption

Specs: 16MB cache buffer; GigabitEthernet; USB 2.0 ports: 2; IEEE802.3/802.3u


Seagate Mirra & Maxtor Fusion

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A lthough most chipmakers are spendingtheir R&D bucks on all-day battery

life, Alienware is out to smoke your desk-top. The Aurora m9700 is one of the firstgeneration of SLI notebooks to includeNvidia’s dual 256MB GeForce Go 7900GS graphics cards.

Alienware equipped the m9700 withAMD’s fastest single-core mobile CPU, the2.4GHz Turion 64 ML-44, which has an800MHz FSB and 1MB L2 cache. My unitwas maxed out with 2GB 400MHz DDRmemory, two 100GB 7,200rpm harddrives in a RAID 0 array for 200GB totalstorage capacity, and an 8X dual-layerDVD+RW drive. Other notable compo-nents include an internal 802.11b/g card,Bluetooth, and high-definition sound.

Alienware’s m9700 is a polished offer-ing, literally and figuratively. The silver case

is smooth, and thanks to a slightly texturedappearance, masks fingerprints well. Liftthe 17-inch widescreen WUXGA display toreveal a full keyboard and number pad.

Notebooks such as the Aurora m9700are the reason nobody calls them “laptops”anymore. This unit measures 11.75 x 15.5x 1.8 inches (HxWxD) and weighs 11lbs.,11 ounces. That’s still half as much as theDell XPS M2010, but you won’t be lug-ging this notebook to Star-bucks every timeyou need a shot of caffeine. It’s just as well,because the m9700 couldn’t survive a fullrun of Mobile-Mark05; not surprisingly, itwent kaput after just 82 minutes.

On the upside, the Aurora m9700scored a 4956 in 3DMark06 and a 3877 inPCMark05. My test unit also blew througha custom Quake 4 demo at 60.8fps (1,280x 1,024). It also managed an average of

W hat if data security was as easy asputting a key in a lock? Addonics

makes it so with the Cipher UDD. Thisspecial version of Addonics’ Pocket UDDreader/writer encodes data with anASIC-based encryption engine, likethe company’s Saturn and Jupiterenclosure lines. Encryption and decryp-tion take place transparently in hardwarewith no user intervention and no long, jab-berwockish password. Hardware encryptionhas a theoretical hacking resistance advan-tage over software encryption, and less lag.

To access an encrypted storage device,simply insert your USB mini-B dongle.My bus-powered USB 2.0 unit came withtwo dongles, each with the same secret64-bit DES key. Addonics also sellseSATA Cipher UDDs, as well as oneswith 128- or 192-bit Triple DES keys.

The Cipher supports PCMCIA harddrives, ATA Flash cards, plus virtually anymemory card through adapters. Part

CUDD9U64 comes with two adapters fora variety of cards including CompactFlashTypes I/II, SecureDigital, and the Micro-drive. Models without adapters are avail-able, too. OS support spans Windows,Linux, the Mac, and Solaris.

The hardware encryption does addsome overhead. My Cipher UDD wrotedata to a 256MB Crucial SD card about80% as fast as a Pocket Drive reader in mytests, but it only read about 20% as fastdue to decryption. (A 512MB CrucialCompactFlash card didn’t work at all with

Addonics’ provided adapter. The companysays it’s tweaking compatibility, though.)

To access the encrypted data, I had tostick in my dongle before connecting theCipher to the PC. However, even if Iwithdrew my key after a successful access,I could still open, modify, and save fileson the card. Eject the card when youremove the dongle, in other words.

Other Cipher UDDs can read anencrypted card, but only when the donglethat encrypted that card is inserted. MyPocket Drive reader saw the Cipher’sencrypted SD card as blank. There wasnothing to stop it from destroying theencrypted files through formatting, but itcouldn’t reveal the data. ▲

by Marty Sems

50fps in F.E.A.R. (1,400 x 1,050), and anaverage of 117fps in Far Cry’s Researchdemo (1,280 x 1,024). If you have thechange to spare, this is one fine gamingnotebook. ▲

by Andrew Leibman

Specs: 2.4GHz AMD Turion 64 ML-44, 2GB 400MHz DDR memory, Dual 256MB Nvidia GeForceGo 7900 GS; HD audio; 8X dual-layer DVD+RW; 802.11b/g; 17-inch WUXGA 1,920 x 1,200 LCD

Specs: USB 2.0 or eSATA; 64-bit DES, 128- or 192-bit Triple DES; CompactFlash TypesI/II, SecureDigital, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, Multimedia Card, Microdrive

Cipher UDD CUDD9U64$● ● ● ●

Aurora m9700 $4, ● ● ● ● ●


Alienware Aurora m9700

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Addonics Cipher UDD

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Voodoo Envy u734

V oodoo’s middleweight gaming note-book, the Envy u734, is packed

with lots of powerful components, butit’s the dual-core CPU that makes thisnotebook soar. The Envy u734 I testedcame in a pun-worthy shade of greenand included Intel’s second-fastest CoreDuo processor, the T2600, which fea-tures a 2.16GHz clock speed per core,2MB L2 cache, and a 667MHz FSB.My test unit also came with 2GB dual-channel 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM and atri-mode Wi-Fi adapter.

Like any boutique offering worth itssalt, the Envy u734 ships with loads ofextras, including a built-in Web cam,Bluetooth, DVI port, CATV port, and ahigh-gloss automotive finish in yourchoice of color. The notebook doesn’tinclude an optical audio output, but itdoes have ports for a center channel andsurround speakers.

The Envy u734 utilizes Nvidia’s256MB GeForce Go 7900 GTX graphicsadapter to display modern games at crispresolutions. If that isn’t sufficient, youcan upgrade to the 512MB version for an extra $189.64. In my tests, the Envy

u734 scored a 4763 in 3DMark06, whichis less than 200 points shy of the 4956that the Alienware Aurora m9700achieved with dual 256MB GeForce Go7900 GS graphics cards in SLI.

The Envy u734’s Core Duo T2600beat the Aurora’s single-core AMD chip,the 2.4GHz Turion 64 ML-44, by 855in 3DMark06’s CPU test and 1645 inPCMark05’s overall score. As you mightimagine, the Aurora’s SLI configurationachieved superior frame rates in most ofthe game benchmarks. The one excep-tion was Quake 4, which is optimized totake advantage of dual-core processors.Even with the dual-core recognition dis-abled, the Envy u734 beat the AlienwareAurora’s score by 18fps (1,280 x 1,024).When I enabled the dual-core support,the Envy zipped through the demo at100.8fps compared to the Aurora’s60.8fps. As a gaming notebook, theAlienware was a slightly better value,but the Voodoo Envy u734 is still anexcellent performer. ▲

by Andrew Leibman

OCZ Mini-Kart

J ust when you thought portable USBflash drives couldn’t get any smaller,

memory manufacturer OCZ Technologycomes along with a product that makesmost other USB flash drives seem enor-mous by comparison. The OCZ Ultra-Slim Mini-Kart USB 2.0 Flash Drives arecurrently available in capacities rangingfrom 512MB to 2GB and are all barelylarger than a quarter.

The Mini-Kart’s housing is only2.8mm thick, 43mm deep, and 19mmwide. Also, the drive does not have ametal shroud that typically surrounds theUSB connector on competing products,

which truly makes it easy tocarry anywhere. TheMini-Kart, similarto other portableflash drives, comeswith a keychainattachment. Because itis so small and thin (evenwith the attachment), you cancarry it in your wallet or shirt pocketwithout a noticeable bulge.

The Mini-Kart’s performance was notstellar, with read speeds hovering around13MBps and write speeds in the 3 to5MBps range, but it is obvious OCZ’s

focus wasn’t on perfor-mance with the Mini-Kart. If you are in the

market for a small,portable flash drive, look into

a Mini-Kart. Ever since I com-pleted testing a 1GB model, the

Mini-Kart hasn’t left my pocket. ▲

by Marco Chiappetta

Specs: Dimensions: 2.8 x 19 x 43mm (HxWxD); Interface: USB 2.0; OS Support: Windows and MACOS X; Capacities: 512MB, 1GB, and 2GB; Activity Indicator: blue LED status light; Warranty: 3 years

r e v i e w s | h a r d w a r e

Mini-Kart$15 (512MB), $22 (1GB), $42 (2GB)● ● ● ●


Benchmark Numbers

Voodoo Alienware Envy u734 Aurora m9700

3DMark06 4763 4956SM2.0 1981 2570HDR/SM3.0 1885 2446CPU Score 1761 906PCMark05 5342 3877CPU 5008 3363Memory 2383 3028Graphics 6999 5117HDD 3926 4843Fear 46fps 50fpsQuake 4 100.8*/ 60.8fps

79fps**Far Cry 106.39/ 117.35/

76.59fps*** 83.78fps***MobileMark05 96 minutes 82 minutes

*both cores enabled**one core enabled***research demo/ training demo

Specs: 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo T2600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 memory; 80GB hard drive; 256MB NvidiaGeForce Go 7900 GTX; Realtek HD Audio; 8X dual-layer DVD+RW; 17-inch WUXGA LCD 1,920 x 1,200

Envy u734$ ● ● ● ●

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units—Monarch overclocks thecards and CPUs for customers, too.

The system also offers 2GB PC2-8500 Corsair Twin2X2048-8500C5,a 750GB, 7,200rpm SeagateBarracuda ST3750640AS storagedrive, and two 150GB, 10,000rpmWestern Digital Raptor hard drives ina striped array. Monarch powers therig with an Nvidia-approved, 750WThermaltake Toughpower W0117RU.Thermaltake targets this model at SLIsetups. The Armor has top-mounted USBports. Monarch added a media card readerand two Plextor PX-760A/SW dual-layerDVD+RWs to the front panel.

The bulky Thermaltake Armor case isn’tparticularly LAN-friendly, but I’d lug itwith me just for the attention. It has justenough blue lighting to catch your eye. Thefront of the system is one big stack of 5.25-

inch drive bays (10, three of whichare completely free). All of the bayshave vented bay covers. Two partialdoors add a little style, but theunique front is functional. A 120mmfan, which swallows three of thosebays, sucks cool air into the system. Amassive, slow-spinning, side panelfan also pulls in cooler air. A blow-hole fan and two rear exhaust fansfinish the air-cooling setup.

I’m a little surprised to see thatMonarch didn’t modify the case atall; custom builders often tweak orcompletely overhaul cases to suittheir needs. That said, it’s clearly agood case as is.

The side panel reveals a clean inte-rior. This is easily the best Monarchcabling job I’ve seen. Monarch usesmore than a dozen fasteners and tonsof cable ties and loom. Even the hori-zontal bar that stretches across thesystem hides cabling. You can’t seethe hard drives, as they hide justbehind the front panel fan (whichmeans those external bays blocked bythe fan don’t go to waste). You canalso add hard drives to the cage thatsits up by the PSU.

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Nexus 2 Ultimate Gaming DesktopMonarch Computer$5,● ● ● ●

M onarch breaks its top gaming rigsinto the following four categories,

based mainly on the processor and videocard(s) combination: Adversary(AMD/ATI), Axis (Intel/ATI), Nemesis(AMD/Nvidia), and Nexus (Intel/Nvidia).Monarch sent me its Nexus 2, whichboasts top-of-the-line parts in a roomyThermaltake Armor chassis. I put theNexus 2 through its paces to see if it’sworth its $5,150 price tag.

The Nexus 2 includes a 2.93GHz IntelCore 2 Extreme X6800 (overclocked to3.2GHz) that provides some real data-crunching strength. The Nvidia side ofthe Nexus 2 is a pair of 512MB EVGANvidia GeForce 7900 GTX cards in SLI.Monarch overclocked our cards to a corefrequency of 675MHz (from 650MHz)and memory frequency of 820MHz (from800MHz). This isn’t just for review

ThatExtreme X6800 issmokin’ fast. The Nexus 2 encoded theVOB file via Dr. DivX in only 4:49 (min-utes:seconds) and crunched our 500MBfolder with WinRAR in 2:50. It also pro-duced a PCMark05 score of 8546. Not sur-prisingly, the rig also handled gaming well,posting 6256 in 3DMark06 and showingstrong frame rates in the game tests. Iplayed the games without any trouble; thesystem was ready for action when it arrived.

In spite of its aircooling, the Nexus 2 isvery quiet. It’s not completely silent, butclose enough that you’ll be able to playyour favorite MMORPG (which probablyhas some quiet moments) without noticingthe noise. It’s a well-rounded gaming sys-tem: It’s upgradeable; it’s powerful; it hasplenty of storage space; and it even has agreat sound card. Monarch backs up theNexus 2 with a 90-day (free) standard war-ranty. It also offers a three-year warranty($199; included in review price) thatboasts on-site tech support and 24/7phone tech support. ▲

by Joshua Gulick

Benchmark Numbers*

Far Cry 8X SLI AA, 16X AF, Research 222.63fps

Far Cry 8X SLI AA, 16X AF, Training 172.39fps

Quake 4 8X SLI AA, 16X AF 88fps

F.E.A.R. Soft Shadows 123fps

3DMark06 8X SLI AA, 16X AF 6256

SM2.0 2417

HDR/SM3.0 2505

CPU 2765

PCMark05 8X SLI AA, 16X AF 8546

CPU 8169

Memory 6391

Graphics 7906

HDD 9504

Dr. DivX (minutes:seconds) 4:49

WinRAR (minutes:seconds) 2:50

*Games run at 1,289 x 1,024

Specs: 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 at3.2GHz, 2GB Corsair PC2-8500 Twin2X2048-8500C5, 512MB Evga Nvidia GeForce 7900GTX (x2 SLI), 750GB Seagate BarracudaST3750640AS, 150GB Western Digital Raptor(x2), Creative Labs X-Fi XtremeMusic, GigabitLAN (x2), Plextor PX-760A (x2), WinXP Pro

Monarch Nexus 2 Ultimate Gaming Desktop


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ECS KA3 MVP Extreme

E CS has been steadily bolstering itsExtreme line of motherboards in a

bid for market share in the enthusiastspace. The company is already a giant inthe OEM sector. But power users are astubborn bunch, and it isn’t easy to winthem over. Regardless, the companycontinues to march ahead, intent oncompeting against perennial favoritessuch as DFI and Asus. The KA3 MVPExtreme may be ECS’ best offering yet.

The KA3 MVP Extreme is based onthe ATI CrossFire Xpress 3200 chipsetfor AMD Socket AM2 processors. It’sthe first motherboard available at retailto sport ATI’s new SB600 southbridge;as such, the KA3 MVP Extreme fullysupports ATI’s multi-GPU CrossFiretechnology with true dual-PCI Expressx16 graphics slots, high-definitionaudio, and SATA II with RAID support.The SB600 doesn’t feature integratedEthernet, however, so network connec-tivity comes by way of Agere (Gigabit)and Realtek (10/100) controllers.

In general, the KA3 MVP’s layout isvery good, with no glaring issues. Thenorthbridge and southbridge are bothpassively cooled, however, the VRM isactively cooled by a simple duct and fanthat draws air over the components andexhausts it from the system.Aesthetically, the brightly colored con-nectors and pink PCB are a little toofunky for my taste. The board’s BIOS is

Ultra Products VA Backup UPS

N ot a week goes by that I don’t hear astory from a reader who has had a

component in his system damagedbecause of a power surge or other relatedpower problem. What hurts most abouthearing these stories is that using a qualitysurge protector or UPS could have pre-vented much of the damage. That $5power strip may be fine for an alarmclock, but a delicate PC needs much morepower protection.

Recognizing the need for quality powerprotection, Ultra Products, the makers ofthe popular X-Finity line of modularPSUs, has introduced an assortment ofUPSes. As their names imply, the 2000,1500, and 1025 VA Backup UPSes withAVR offer automatic voltage regulation

and protection from surges for up to sixdevices and battery backup support for upto four devices. And there are jacks on theback of each unit to protect Ethernetcables from surges, as well.

You can monitor the state of Ultra’sUPSes by connecting them to your sys-tem through a standard USB port andinstalling the included UPS MON soft-ware. The VA Backup UPSes with AVRoffer 50 to 65 minutes of backup batterypower, depending on the load, and UltraProducts includes a $125,000 limitedwarranty on each model. Let’s just hopeyou never have to use it. ▲

by Marco Chiappetta

also generally good and has a niceassortment of overclocking options, butI wouldn’t consider this a motherboardfor hardcore overclockers.

During testing, the KA3 MVPExtreme proved to be rock-solid andturned in some nice benchmark scores.With a pair of Radeon X1900 XTsinstalled, it put up over 89fps in Quake4 and 72fps in F.E.A.R. at 1,600 x1,200 with antialiasing and anisotropicfiltering enabled. For a little over a hun-dred bucks, fans of AMD processors andCrossFire would be hard pressed to finda better motherboard value. ▲

by Marco Chiappetta

Specs: Socket AM2; Chipset: ATI CrossFire Xpress 3200; Max Memory: 32GB; Audio: Realtek ALC883 8; LAN: Agere E1310I (GigE),Realtek 8100C (10/100); Slots: 1 PCI-E x16, 1 PCI-E x1, 2 PCI

Specs: Voltage (on battery): Simulated sine wave at 100V/110V/115V/120V or 220V/230V/240V + 5%; Frequency (on battery): 50 or 60Hz +1Hz; Voltage Regulation (AVR): Increases output voltage to 15% above input voltage if -9 to -25% of nominal and decreases output voltage13% below input voltage if +9 to +25% of nominal; Spike protection: 2,100 joules

r e v i e w s | h a r d w a r e

2000, 1500, 1025 VA Backup UPS w/ AVR$229, $199, $129Ultra● ● ● ●

KA3 MVP Extreme$● ● ● ●


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Corsair CMPSU-620HX

T he good folks at Corsair were one ofthe first companies in the industry to

introduce high-performance memorymodules to the enthusiast audience, andits products have been highly regarded theworld over from the beginning. In theDIMM market, it’s very hard to differen-tiate a product because significantly largerOEMs only care about overall quality atstock specifications. After that, it’s price,price, and price. However, Corsairfocused on the enthusiast niche, buildinga large majority of its business modelaround this segment of the market.

Power supplies, as with many standardPC components such as motherboardsand graphics cards, are very much akin to memory modules in that respect, aswell. Where volume is done at the OEMlevel but higher-margin/lower-volume

businesses carve outtheir own share bycatering to the pow-er user. Corsairrecently catered anice little spreadwith introduction of its first PSU, a real620-watt gem.

This 620W PSU has a modular cablesetup, a very quiet dual ball-bearing120mm fan, and a smooth black mattefinish. I tested the Corsair CMPSU-620HX with a fully loaded system thatincluded a Pentium 4 560 (3.6GHz)overclocked to 4GHz, a Radeon X1900XTX, 2GB Corsair DDR2 RAM, and a500GB WD hard drive. I even tossed ina BFG/Ageia Physics card to load thingsdown a little more. Then, I looped3DMark06 and SiSoft Sandra’s Burn-In

Asus Z96JST he “whitebook” or barebones note-

book has been around for a while.But as technology has allowed for furthercustomization and user configuration,these notebooks have recently caught onwith DIY and enthusiast communities.Today’s whitebooks can swap out RAM,processors, and hard drives, and with therecent introduction of Nvidia’s MXM(Mobile PCI Express Module) mobilegraphics standard, graphics are also inter-changeable to some degree. I recentlytook a new Asus whitebook, dubbed theZ96JS, for a spin after configuring it witha 2.16GHz Core Duo Centrino T2600,1GB DDR2 RAM, and a 5,400rpm,80GB Seagate hard drive.

One major shortcoming of this particu-lar model is its integrated ATI MobilityRadeon X1600 graphics. The operativeword is “integrated” because the Z96JSdoesn’t afford users the luxury of a modulargraphics subsystem, sticking them with

what Asus ships from its factory. On abrighter note, this machine, built onIntel’s 945GM chipset with an ICH7southbridge, is compatible for futureupgrades, such as the Core 2 Duo(Merom) in the CPU socket. In addi-tion, the Z96JS comes equipped with a15.4-inch widescreen LCD with anative resolution of 1,280 x 800, whichis a comfortable match for image qualityand strain-free text viewing. When assem-bling your own Z96JS notebook, be awarethat different retailers peddle differentpackages; read the fine print.

In fact, digital video playback was asheer joy on the Z96JS, withATI’s Avivo technology pushingthe pixels. Gaming was a mostlypleasurable affair, as well, as longas I didn’t push my systembeyond 1,024 x 768 resolution.On the whole, the Asus Z96JS isa decent barebones model forsomeone looking to custom-builda mobile PC that I would call

“mostly portable.”At 5.5lbs with a 6-cell battery and a

bit heavier with a 9-cell option, consum-mate road warriors need not apply, butthose looking for a solid multimedia experi-ence should take note. ▲

by Dave Altavilla

test for a couple ofhours and came upwith solid results.The PSU’s 12V,3.3V, and 5V neverdipped below their

rated levels, and our system remainedstrong without a hint of instability.

Although I didn’t have a chance totest a dual graphics setup with theCMPSU-620HX, it does have threeindividual +12V rails at 18A each. I’mconfident that it would be up to virtuallyany multi-GPU task short of perhapsQuad SLI. ▲

by Dave Altavilla

Specs: Active PFC = 0.99; ATX form factor; dual ball-bearing 120mm fan; Output capaci-ty: 620W continuous; Max. DC output: +3.3V (24A), +5V (30A), +12V1 (18A), +12V2(18A), +12V3 (18A), -12V (.8A), +5Vsb (3A); Universal AC input: 90 to 264V

Specs: Intel 945GM chipset; 15.4-inch widescreen display; 256MB ATI MobilityRadeon X1600; Max Memory: 2GB DDR2 SODIMM; Intel Pro 3945 802.11a/b/g card

CMPSU-620HX$169 (approx.)● ● ● ● ●


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Asus Z96JS Sony VAIO SZ150Office XP* 584 571Photoshop* 308 347Nero Burning ROM* 630 839

PCMark05CPU 5043 4243Memory 3328 2867Graphics 3073 2281

Asus Z96JS Alienware Area51 (GeForce Go 6600)

Quake 4 42.1 40.73DMark06 2028 956

*Lower scores denote better performancePE






Z96JS$729 (approx.)● ● ● ●

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Meet the Mach V: Stone Goddess, one of three new FalconNorthwest systems (the other two depict fire and water). Fal-con’s artist, Jeremiah Thiring, spent about 60 hours airbrushing

the case by hand. Falcon overclocked the rig’s new 2.93GHz Intel Core 2Extreme X6800 to 3.5GHz and packed the system with two 1GB BFGNvidia GeForce 7950 GX2s in Quad SLI configuration, which meansyou can run games at high settings and with high resolutions, such as2,560 x 1,600. The system also includes a 128MB BFG Ageia PhysXcard, which can handle in-game physics calculations, and a pair of150GB, 10,000rpm Western Digital Raptors in a RAID 0 array.

Falcon cools the Mach V with several fans and its Sanyo-Denke H20 CPUCooler. “It’s very expensive, tough to install, ugly when it’s not tucked away, it’s forthe CPU only, and it requires extensive custom case modifications to install,” says KeltReeves, president of Falcon Northwest. “But quite simply, it’s the best liquid coolerever made. Nothing can touch it for cooling performance and end-user friendliness.”

We ran all benchmarks at 2,560 x 1,600 on a 30-inch Apple Cinema display.The Mach V ate up our benchmarks, posting 8301 in PCMark05 and 8739 in3DMark06 while running at 8X SLI AA and 16X AF. We ran 3DMark06 again atdefault settings: The system provided an excellent score of 9795. It also conqueredour Dr. DivX and WinRAR tests easily, finishing them in 4:27 (minutes:seconds)and 2:35, respectively. The Mach V has a three-year warranty (including one year ofFalcon Overnight Service). ▲

by Joshua Gulick

The Stone Goddess is one of a series of hand-airbrushed rigs by Jeremiah Thiring,who tells us that he draws inspiration from the works of Luis Royo. We suspectthe exterior’s artwork will move you, but we’re certain the interior will. Falconloaded the Mach V with some of the best gaming components money can buy.

Mach V Stone Goddess$9,288.39Falcon ● ● ● ● ●

The Stone Goddess

r e v i e w s | h a r d w a r e

Falcon Northwest’s

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Benchmark Numbers*

Far Cry 8X SLI AA, 16X AF, Research 71.38fps

Far Cry 8X SLI AA, 16X AF, Training 54.58fps

Quake 4 8X SLI AA, 16X AF 62.4fps

F.E.A.R. Soft Shadows 56fps

3DMark06 8X SLI AA, 16X AF 8739

SM2.0 3538

HDR/SM3.0 3665

CPU 2996

PCMark05 8X SLI AA, 16X AF 8301

CPU 8865

Memory 6981

Graphics 6289

HDD 9401

Dr. DivX (minutes:seconds) 4:27

WinRAR (minutes:seconds) 2:35

*All benchmarks run at 2,560 x 1,600

Specs: 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 at 3.5GHz,2GB Corsair Twin2X2048-6400C3, Asus P5N32 SLI SEDeluxe, 1GB BFG Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 (x2 QuadSLI), 128MB BFG Ageia PhysX Accelerator, 150GBWestern Digital Raptor (x2 RAID 0), Creative Labs SB X-FiXtremeMusic, Plextor PX-760A, Sony DVD-ROM, LogitechMX 5000 Laser, WinXP Pro

The radiator hides at thetop of the system. Ventsat the top of the caseallow airflow.

The mouse and its chargebase have the same paintjob the system boasts.The wireless keyboardand mouse communicatewith the PC via Bluetooth.

This Sanyo-Denke watercooling system doesn’t eat up muchspace, but it provides good CPU cooling. Falconoverclocked the CPU fromits stock 2.93GHz clockspeed to 3.5GHz.

This box o’ goodies accompanies new Mach Vs and gets yourgaming off to the right start: coffee, a large mug, a shirt, andsomething no gamer should be without: a quality mouse surface.

Two GeForce 7950 GX2s(each has two PCBs), anAgeia PhysX card, and aCreative Labs SoundBlaster X-Fi. That’s apacked motherboard.

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Each GeForce 7950 GX2 is comprisedof a pair of PCBs linked with an Nvidia-designed interface. Unlike early 7800/7900GX2s, a GeForce 7950 GX2 requires onlya single 6-pin PCI Express power feed, andcards feature a pair of dual-link DVI out-puts along with an S-Video/HD compo-nent output. The GeForce 7950 GX2 hasmulti-monitor support, but to use the GX2in multi-monitor mode multi-GPU modemust be disabled in the driver.

Choose A Motherboard The vast majority of SLI-capable moth-

erboards support Quad SLI, with onemajor caveat. Because the GeForce 7950GX2 is equipped with a proprietary PCIExpress switch, the motherboard’s systemBIOS must be programmed to recognizeGPUs that are connected behind theswitch. Although the Nvidia PCI Expressswitch is technically compliant with the

h o w - t o s | h a r d w a r e

I t has been almost a year since Nvidiaunveiled Quad SLI in a joint announce-

ment with Dell at the 2006 ConsumerElectronics Show. And since that initialannouncement, Quad SLI has undergonequite a few significant changes. The firstGeForce 7800 GX2 cards that were shownoff at CES were eventually supplanted bylower-power GeForce 7900 GX2s, andthen came the GeForce 7950 GX2 with amore streamlined design. Early 7800 and7900 GX2 cards were never released intothe retail channel; however, GeForce 7950GX2 cards hit the streets immediatelyafter they were launched.

At the time though, Nvidia did notsanction the use of a pair of GeForce 7950GX2 cards running in Quad SLI modeunless purchased as part of a full systemfrom one of a handful of strategic partners.Nvidia claimed Quad SLI didn’t havebroad compatibility at first, so the compa-ny decided against supporting do-it-your-self Quad SLI from the onset. Nvidia hasworked with its partners since the initiallaunch, however, and after a few driver andBIOS updates, and some education as tothe motherboard and power requirementsof Quad SLI, the company is ready to letdo-it-yourselfers take a shot.

The Graphics Cards As you’d expect, the main ingredients in

a Quad SLI system are a pair of GeForce7950 GX2 video cards. Each GeForce 7950GX2 is equipped with two GeForce 7950GPUs, each of which is equipped with512MB of GDDR3 memory, for a total of1GB of frame buffer memory per GX2card. The 7950 GPU used on the cards isbased on the same G71 found on theGeForce 7900 GTX, but on the 7950 it’sclocked a bit lower. Nvidia’s reference 7950GX2 specifications call for a 500MHz GPUclock with 600MHz (1.2GHz DDR) mem-ory. Please note, however, that some ofNvidia’s board partners offer factory-over-clocked models that can be clocked as highas 570/775MHz (1.55GHz DDR).

PCI Express specification, the system BIOSof some motherboards may not properlyrecognize the GeForce 7950 GX2. Ac-cording to Nvidia, this was one of the hur-dles the company needed to overcomebefore endorsing DIY Quad SLI. With thewrong system BIOS, the motherboardcould fail to POST or may not operate reli-ably with a 7950 GX2 installed.

The main ingredients in a DIYQuad SLI system are the videocards. A pair of GeForce 7950GX2 cards linked together via anSLI connector results in fourGeForce 7-series GPUs and 2GBof frame buffer memory, allworking together to increase 3Drendering performance.

An SLI-capable motherboard listed onNvidia’s GeForce 7950 GX2 compatibility listis a requirement for DIY Quad SLI. The AsusP5N32-SLI SE Deluxe is a prime candidatefor a Core 2 Duo-based system. We used anA8N32-SLI Deluxe coupled with an Athlon 64FX-60 for our rig, however.

Do-It-Yourself Quad SLIGuidelines & Expectations

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motherboards that have been tested andqualified by Nvidia.

Another thing to consider is that eachGeForce 7950 GX2 does not require a fullPCI Express x16 electrical connection towork in Quad SLI mode. A pair of GeForce7950 GX2s will function in older nForce4

h o w - t o s | h a r d w a r e

Nvidia has a list of supported mother-boards posted on its site ( Youshould refer to this list before purchasing amotherboard for Quad SLI, but bear inmind that it is not inclusive of all compati-ble motherboards; it only contains the

SLI-based motherboards and nForce 570SLI boards, as well. Because the data com-ing into the cards travels over eight PCIExpress lanes on these chipsets (from thechipset splitting a 16-lane PCIe connectioninto two eight-lane connections going toeach PEG slot), the PCI Express switchused on the 7950 GX2 will interface withthe eight-lane connection to the chipset,and pass eight lanes’ worth of data to eachGPU as needed. Quad SLI should work onall SLI-capable chipsets like the nForce 590SLI, nForce 570 SLI, nForce4 SLI X16, andstandard nForce SLI, provided the mother-board’s BIOS has been updated to supportthe GeForce 7950 GX2.

Pick A PSUWith four GPUs and 2GB of frame

buffer memory inside, not to mention ahost of other parts, a typical Quad SLI sys-tem has hefty power requirements. EachGeForce 7950 GX2 can consume up toapproximately 143 watts of power. Doublethat to 286 watts for two cards, andaccount for a CPU, RAM, hard drives, amotherboard, and the rest of the system’scomponents, and you’ll realize that a main-stream power supply won’t cut it. For thisarticle we used a PC Power & Cooling1KW (1,000-watt) unit, but there areother power supplies available that wouldhave worked just as well. A list of certified

power supplies is available on Nvidia’s SLIZone Web site ( Whenshopping for a Quad SLI-capable PSU, it’sbest to look for a model that has multiple12V rails that can each meet the currentdemands of Quad SLI. The total wattageof the PSU is not necessarily as importantas having multiple 12V rails.

Quad-SLI Performance: Are Four GPUsReally Better Than Two?

W ith four GeForce 7-series GPUs and 2GB of frame buffer memory working in tandem in aQuad SLI system, you’d expect it to be one heck of a performer, and you’d be right. But

due to some inherent limitations in DirectX 9, four GPUs won’t always perform better than two.DX9 doesn’t support queuing of enough back-buffers to effectively support high-performancefour-way AFR mode. This fact, combined with the GeForce 7950 GX2 GPUs and onboard memo-ry being clocked lower than those of a GeForce 7900 GTX means Quad SLI could actually beslower than 7900 GTX SLI in some configurations. Quad SLI will default to “AFR of SFR” mode formany Direct3D applications. And although this mode works well in some D3D apps, it is lesseffective with others. With OpenGL applications, however, four-way AFR works as you wouldexpect and performance scales accordingly, as evidenced by our Prey benchmark results.

Our Quad SLI system consisted of a pair of XFX GeForce 7950 GX2 cards, an Athlon 64 FX-60, an Asus A8N32SLI-Deluxe, 2GB of Corsair PC3200 RAM, and a PC Power & Cooling 1KWpower supply. The CrossFire rig had similar specifications, but used an A8R320-MVP Deluxemobo and a ThermalTake PurePower 680W PSU. Both systems ran Windows XP ProfessionalSP2, with either Nvidia’s ForceWare v91.45 drivers or ATI’s Catalyst v6.8 suite. ▲

The Cost Of Quad SLI

C onsidering how much horsepower a Quad SLI rig has lurking under the hood, it shouldcome as no surprise that building one is an expensive proposition. Just how expensive

the typical components that make up a Quad SLI system are, however, may be a bit ofshock. Excluding incidental components such as input devices, hard drives, or a case, thefoundation of a high-end Quad SLI system will usually require a sizable four-digit invest-ment. The parts that we used to build up our Quad SLI test rig were as follows:

• Processor: AMD Athlon 64 FX-60: $820• Motherboard: Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe: $199• Video Cards: XFX GeForce 7950 GX2: $570 x 2 ($1,140)• Memory: Corsair TWINX2048-3200C2: $220• Power Supply: Turbo Cool 1 Kilowatt: $500• Display: Dell 3007WFP: $2,199

• Total Cost: $5,078

Even without any accessories or supporting components, the core of our Quad SLI rigalone cost over $5,000. That kind of investment ensures that Quad SLI will appeal only to asmall group of hardcore enthusiasts. Even if you have the funds to configure such a system,though, be aware of its capabilities, requirements, and limitations. Is it cool? Yes, of courseit is. But Quad SLI is not for everyone. ▲

With each card capable of consuming upto 143 watts of power, Quad SLI hasstringent power requirements. The PCPower & Cooling TurboCool 1KW is up tothe task, but many power supplies arenot. Consult Nvidia’s Web site for a list ofcompatible PSUs.

CPU / October 2006 35

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a gargantuan 30-inch LCD with a nativeresolution of 2,560 x 1,600.

The Rest Of The RigTo avoid being a CPU bottleneck in

many of today’s games, a Quad SLI rig alsorequires a powerful processor to feed itsGPUs. Obviously, AMD’s Athlon 64 FXprocessors and Intel’s Core 2 Duo and Core2 Extreme CPUs are currently the pinnacleof desktop CPU technology. For our build,

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The Display: Low-Resolution PanelsNeed Not Apply

Nvidia designed Quad SLI specificallyto push the envelope of graphics perfor-mance at very high resolutions; if you havea smaller monitor and don’t plan toupgrade anytime soon, you should stickwith a single video card or a more main-stream SLI or CrossFire configuration.Quad SLI will function properly with vir-tually any monitor, of course, but if it’s notcapable of running at resolutions of 1,920x 1,200 or 2,560 x 1,600, for example,there’s really no point in using Quad SLI.At mainstream resolutions, a Quad SLIsystem will be CPU-bound, and the graph-ics cards will sit idle in many situations.

Due to the power of a Quad SLI setup,we’d recommend using a monitor nosmaller than 24 diagonal inches in size andthat supports a resolution of at least 1,920x 1,200. In some circumstances, a monitorcapable of 1,600 x1,200 will be accept-able, but only if you plan to use higherlevels of antialiasing and anisotropic filter-ing. For this project, we went for thecrème de la crème and acquired one ofDell’s 3007WFP LCDs. The 3007WFP is

we used an FX-60, but an FX-62 or Core 2Duo would have been fine choices, as well.

Memory is another major considerationfor a Quad SLI system. Nvidia recommendsmemory that supports EPP (Enhanced Per-formance Profiles), but any high-perfor-mance memory will do. EPP is designed tomaximize system performance by automati-cally tweaking memory and CPU frequen-cies, multipliers, and voltages when used oncompatible mobos. It is not a requirementfor Quad SLI, though. Quality memory ofany reputable brand will do the job; we rec-ommend at least 2GB for best results.

Nvidia doesn’t make any specific recom-mendations for the remaining componentsof a Quad SLI system, such as the harddrive, optical drive, or case that you shoulduse. We have a couple of recommendationsbased on our experience with the technolo-gy, however; where storage is concerned,your drives of choice will be fine. Justensure motherboard compatibility, as someMaxtor hard drives have issues with nForcechipsets. As for the case, we recommendquality mid- or full-tower enclosures thathave large intake and exhaust fans andpreferably a vented side panel. Having fourGPUs and 2GB of fast GDDR3 memory ina system means the system will generateplenty of heat, so good ventilation is anabsolute must. ▲

by Marco Chiappetta

Benchmark Numbers

GeForce GeForce GeForce Radeon Radeon7950 GX2 7950 GX2 7900 GTX X1900 XT X1950 XTX

Quad SLI SLI CrossFire CrossFire

3DMark06 (Default Test)1,280 x 1,024 (No AA / No AF)Overall Score 8112 8447 8944 9025 9339Shader Model 2.0 Test 3731 3943 4199 4013 4198HDR / Shader Model 3.0 Test 3620 3819 4190 4416 4639F.E.A.R. v1.07(4x AA / 16x AF)1,600 x 1,200 70 90 83 75 78 1,920 x 1,200 62 88 72 68 71 2,560 x 1,600 25 45 30 42 46 Prey(4x AA / 16x AF)1,600 x 1,200 86.2 123.8 102.7 100.1 107.8 1,920 x 1,200 75.7 116.1 90.4 89.4 97.1 2,560 x 1,600 41.8 75.4 50.8 57.9 64.1 HL2: Episode 1(4x AA / 16x AF)1,600 x 1,200 81.22 76.88 87.01 99.68 104.73 1,920 x 1,200 70.44 65.7 80.01 92.05 96.41 2,560 x 1,600 39.69 36.98 48.15 60.54 65.26

Quad SLI Rendering Modes

AFR (alternate-frame rendering): EachGPU renders every fourth frame. Whenproperly supported, AFR typically offersthe highest performance.

SFR (split-frame rendering): A frame issplit into four parts (not necessarily ofequal size) and each GPU rendersapproximately a fourth of said frame.

AFR of SFR (alternate-frame rendering ofsplit-frame rendering): Every other frameis split into two parts, and each pair of GPUsrenders approximately half of the frame.

To realize the performance potential of aQuad SLI system, you should connect it toa display capable of running at extremelyhigh resolutions, such as Dell’s 30-inch3007WFP LCD, which has a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600.

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Why A Mac (Pro)?AA bout two years ago, I was taking a class

on compiler architecture and design,and while looking around I realized that fartoo many people in that class were usingApple notebooks. The silvery lookingPowerBook was everywhere, and I had noidea why. After all, years of being a PC userhad trained me to know that all Apple com-puters were crash-prone, expensive, and onlyused by those who knew nothing about com-puters. So that month I challenged myself touse a Mac for 30 days as objectively as possi-ble, and figure out what all the hype wasabout. By now you can guess how that storyended: I actually got along quite well withOS X and was hooked.

What attracted me to the platform was itsability to handle the manner in which I multi-tasked. Window management was always aproblem for me under Windows XP, andalthough the move to tabbed browsers helpedreduce some of my taskbar clutter, enoughclutter still existed to really kill my productivi-ty over time. Through Exposé and the Dock,OS X was able to attract me with its ability tohandle lots of windows in a much better fash-ion. The next version of OS X, code-namedLeopard, appears to take this advantage ofwindow management even further by extend-ing it to a multidesktop environment, whichaddresses my main issue with multipleWindows Desktops: being able to managewindows across all of them.

Aside from window management, I foundthat OS X did a far better job of keeping justabout everything open in memory withoutgetting slower or growing unstable. Thismeant I no longer closed programs when I wasdone with them; I simply left them open untilthe next time I needed them, at which pointthere was no load time, just the time it tookme to switch back to the application. OS Xdid a much better job of caching, meaningthat the more memory I threw at it, the moreit used, something which WinXP didn’t do agreat job of once you really got past 2GB.

There were other things that I enjoyedabout the platform, such as extensive supportfor keyboard shortcuts for just about every-thing (and do I love keyboard shortcuts), but

the point of this month’s column isn’t to talkabout why I now find myself using both Macsand PCs, but rather the latest product inApple’s PowerPC to Intel x86 transition: thenew Mac Pro.

Based on Intel’s new Core 2 architecture,the Mac Pro uses two Xeons on a Foxconnmotherboard with Intel’s 5000X workstationchipset. You’ll note that all of these compo-nents are workstation-class parts, as Appleintends the Mac Pro to be used as a high-endworkstation. The problem is that as Apple’sonly standalone tower, the Mac Pro ends upbeing used by everyone from the high-endworkstation users to folks who just need apowerful desktop.

Compared to its predecessor, thePowerMac G5, the Mac Pro looks prettymuch the same from the outside. It’s inter-nally that the Mac Pro really differs; it’s nowactually got room for drive expansion withfour 3.5-inch removable drive bays, easilyaccessible riser cards for upgrading memory,and a much cleaner layout, made possible bycooler-running CPUs and their accompany-ing smaller heatsinks. As a cooler successor tothe PowerMac G5, the new Mac Pro is virtu-ally silent; the loudest noises you hear oftencome from the system’s drives.

Performance of the new Mac Pro is quitegood, ranging from quicker to ridiculouslyfaster than its predecessor. Unfortunately, itsuse of Fully Buffered DIMMs (FB-DIMMs),a requirement of Intel’s 5000X chipset,means that its memory performance is not asgood as a regular Core 2 system. The topicof FB-DIMMs is a bit beyond the scope ofthis month’s column, but I’ll talk aboutthem in greater detail next month. For nowjust know that they make things slow.

Even the price of the system is competitive;at $2,499 ($2,299 with educational discount,which Apple is very lax in enforcing), the MacPro is actually cheaper than a similarly config-ured Dell, or even a home-built system usingthe same components. While the system canrun Windows, there are currently some per-formance issues associated with it. Once thoseget resolved, the most attractive OEM PCmay just end up being a Mac. ▲


of the new

Mac Pro is

quite good,

ranging from

quicker to


faster than its

predecessor.Talk back to [email protected].

Anand Lal Shimpi has turned afledgling personal page on into one of theworld’s most visited and trusted

PC hardware sites. Anand start-ed his site in 1997 at just 14

years old and has since been fea-tured in USA Today, CBS’ 48Hours and Fortune. His site——receives

more than 55 million pageviews and is read by more than

2 million readers per month.

Anand’s Corner

CPU / October 2006 37

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What Would $5.4 BillionBuy You?TT he PC industry has long been rife with

rumors and tales of mergers and buyouts,some true and some not, but this year’s biggestnews is true and does indeed involve AMDand ATI. The rumor mills have been churningfor quite some time about a possible AMDacquisition of ATI, but looking back—whenthinking about it for more than a few min-utes—I actually didn’t think it was one of themore credible rumors. The announcement,however, was made on July 24 that—some-what surprisingly—AMD will be puttingdown a massive $5.4 billion (in a mixture ofcash and stock) to seal the deal, which is stillsubject to ATI shareholders and court and regulatory approvals. That’s a large sum ofmoney, indeed. For AMD—who, let’s face it,hasn’t had the best financial times as of late—to take such a large risk is certainly bold. Is thisjust a risk or is it just a necessary move for bothcompanies in order to continue to survive?

The days of AMD CPUs outperformingand being a better value than everythingIntel could throw its way are pretty muchover with the Core 2 processor. Further-more, the days of AMD relying on otherchip companies such as VIA, ATI, andprominently Nvidia to deliver viable plat-forms are changing drastically. To competewith Intel, AMD is long overdue to deliverits own platform for its CPUs—just likeIntel does. As far as the war of words, tech-nology, and marketing goes, the sun haslong set on ATI’s DX9 and Radeon 9700heyday. Nvidia has forever since been gob-bling up more and more market share anddoing so with superior technology. So, inhistorical terms, neither of the two compa-nies involved is coming at this from theirstrongest point financially or technicallyspeaking. Despite many inside Nvidia beinghappy at the thought of ATI “conceding todefeat,” or Intel taking a “wait and see”approach, or AMD/ATI fanboys pullingtheir hair out, the merger could yet prove to be a saving grace.

The changes that will go into place willtake time; therefore, these changes likely won’timpact the ATI and AMD that so many gam-ing enthusiasts know and love for months andmaybe years. AMD has even publicly statedthat it has no intention of changing ATI’sfocus on the GPU market and will continueto grow/invest heavily in that sector, as well asreap the benefits of ATI’s chipset experience.It remains to be seen if “ATI” (although thebrand name is said to be on its way out)graphics chips can keep pace with Nvidia evenwith AMD’s backing. But at least ATI willhave its own fabs, access to more engineers,financial resources, and marketing expertisenow. Perhaps with AMD’s backing futureATI GPUs will have a better chance in termsof execution and time to market. On thechipset side of the fence, Intel hasn’t yetpulled ATI’s bus license (there’s some ironywhen looking back at how long it took Nvidiato “purchase” Intel’s bus license), and spokes-men for both companies say that they intendto help further the chipset business for bothAMD and Intel CPUs. However, I’m not real-ly sure that this will actually take place long-term. This is not a strategy that I can see Intelwatching quietly from the sidelines.

Two other areas that could really benefitboth companies and indeed the industry isthe ability to produce far better embeddedgraphics and therefore platforms. Onboardgraphics never have been all that intriguinguntil now, but that could change. With that in mind, I scratch my head about thediscrete graphics side and then begin tounderstand why the Nvidia crew is pattingthemselves on the back for a job well done.

Make no mistake, AMD buying ATI iscertainly the biggest change that the industryhas seen in some time. Where this will all go is unclear, but the possibilities madeavailable by the two companies merging, Ibelieve, somewhat outweigh a lot of the nay-saying and skepticism that is lingeringon the Web. ▲

Is this just a riskor is it just anecessary

move for both companies

in order to continue to survive?

Email me at [email protected]

Disrupting Reuters’ newswire witha cheery Christmas greeting at agesix, Alex “Sharky” Ross became an

avid computer user/abuser, eventu-ally founding popular hardware

testing/review Web Exposing

shoddy manufacturing practicesand rubbish-spouting marketing

weasels while championing innov-ative products, illuminating newtechnology, and pioneering real-world testing methods was just a

front for playing with the best toys.The site acquired, he left in 2001.

A London native and LondonSchool of Economics graduate,Alex currently overclocks/tunes

Porsche 996 Turbos when he’s

not tweaking PCs.

The Shark Tank

38 October 2006 /

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Modding does the body good. A PC’s body anyway, inside and out. Here you’ll findhardware, firmware, tools, tips, and tutorials for modding your rig’s performance andappearance. Send us your own mod-related tips and ideas at [email protected].

Modding enthusiasts have a pen-chant for the latest toys. Fastprocessors, powerful video

cards, silent SFF enclosures, and radicallylit motherboards are all fair game when it comes to a modder’s creative mind.Recognizing the appeal of unconvention-al customization, an entire industry hasemerged to support the community.

Mods & Ends

Thermaltake Armor LCS

Enthusiasts who want to make the moveto liquid-cooling but don’t want to build acustom kit for an existing rig will want tocheck out Thermaltake’s slick Armor LCS($259) full tower. The new Armor LCSfeatures an integrated liquid-cooling sys-tem, so users won’t have to worry aboutparts fitting into the case or about makingcustom mounting brackets for third-partyradiators, reservoirs, or water pumps.

The Armor LCS is outfitted with 11customizable drive bays and has room forseven expansion slots. Its power and resetswitches are mountable in any availabledrive bay, and it’s compatible with MicroATX, ATX, Extended ATX, and BTXform factors (BTX kit optional). In addi-tion to the Armor LCS’ integrated liquidcooling system, large fans and strategicallyplaced vents keep air circulating throughthe case for increased cooling performance.

The integrated liquid-cooling systemoffers a powerful yet silent P500 pump tokeep the liquid flowing though the system.And its 240 x 120mm radiator featurestwin 120mm cooling fans to dissipate heat.A single solid copper CPU water blockwith a see-through top is included with the

Armor LCS, but the system can also sup-port additional optional water blocks forGPU or core logic chipset cooling.

Aerocool PowerWatch Multifunction Panel

When a simple thermal controller andseparate card reader just won’t do, look toAerocool’s PowerWatch Multifunctionpanel ($79.99). The Aerocool PowerWatchis equipped with a color LCD that reportsfan and temperature data. You can programthe unit to sound an alarm if your systemreaches a certain temperature threshold or afan fails. The PowerWatch’s easily-accessi-ble front buttons control up to four fans.

The PowerWatch also features two pairsof front-mounted USB ports (12v and 5v),headphone and microphone jacks, and a25-in-1 card reader. Aerocool offers thePowerWatch in either black or silver finish.

Thermalright S-Type Heatsink Clip

If you’ve ever upgraded your mother-board only to find out your processorheatsink no longer fits, Thermalright mayhave the answer. Using the company’s “S-Type” heatsink clip ($5), owners ofThermalright’s popular HR-01, Ultra-90,SI-97A, and SI-120 heatsinks can turn theirunits a complete 90 degrees, which is usefulfor those tricky installs where the capacitorsor other components surrounding the CPUsocket interfere with the base of theheatsink.

Fashionably Fresh Firmware

Ricoh Caplio 500G (v1.06)

The latest update for the Ricoh Caplio500G digital cameras resolves an issue relat-ed to the date stamp on modified im-agescopied from the camera’s internal memoryto an SD card and corrects the PictBridgeconnection procedure for better errorrecovery.

LiteOn SHM-165P6S (vMS0P)

A new firmware update for LiteOn’sSHM-165P6S internal DVD/CD recorderenhances the drive’s compatibility with dif-ferent types of media.

Casio Exilim EX-Z600 (v1.02)

An updated firmware for the Exilim EX-Z600 adds SDHC memory card support.

by Marco Chiappetta

PC ModderTips & Tutorials

h a r d h a t a r e a | p c m o d d e r

As its name implies, the Thermaltake Armor LCSincorporates a complete liquid cooling system.

In addition to a fan controller and thermalprobes, the Aerocool PowerWatch features auseful integrated 25-in-1 card reader.

Turn that heatsink 90 degrees with Thermalright’s“S-Type” heatsink clip.

CPU / October 2006 39

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Deluxe. Flashed with the latest 0502 BetaBIOS, the Asus P5B Deluxe offers a widerange of overclocking options, which wasexactly what we needed for this project.

Because the Core 2 Duo E6300 has alow default multiplier of 7 and the onlyway to overclock it is through FSB manipu-lation, we needed DDR2 RAM that wouldbe stable at excessively high clock speeds. Asof now, Corsair’s TWIN2X1024-8500C5is some of the “fastest” RAM on the mar-ket. The TWIN2X1024-8500C5 kit isguaranteed to run at 1,066MHz at CAS 5.We wanted to overclock our RAM in lock-step with the FSB frequency, so this kit wasa good match.

We also had to keep our processor niceand cool, but we didn’t want to use awater-cooling kit and didn’t want any-thing excessively loud. After testing ArcticCooling’s Freezer 7 Pro for the last issue(see page 21 of the September 2006CPU), we were impressed with its perfor-mance and low noise output, so we decid-ed to use it for this project in lieu ofIntel’s stock cooler.

Modding The HardwareWhen working on a project like this, we

rarely leave any components in their stockconfigurations. Because we planned on

For the past few months, we’ve beenbombarded with informationregarding Intel’s Conroe proces-

sors, which the company has since officiallynamed Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme.Since March, Intel had been leaking perfor-mance data regarding its high-end Core 2Duo processors, and when the press NDAslifted in July, a deluge of data hit detailingthe performance of the current flagshipCore 2 Extreme X6800 processor and itssibling, the slightly lower-clocked Core 2Duo E6700. These two processors repre-sent the pinnacle of Intel’s new micro-architecture. They featured relatively highclock speeds and 4MB shared L2 smartcache. Details regarding lower-clockedCore 2 Duo processors that are outfittedwith smaller 2MB L2 caches, however,were few and far between.

The relative lack of information regard-ing the entry-level and midrange Core 2Duo processors was a bit disconcerting,because most of us don’t have a grand ormore lying around to drop on the fastestprocessor in the lineup. Besides, modderstypically like to buy processors that repre-sent the best value and overclock them toincrease performance.

We recently got our hands on theleast expensive Core 2 Duoprocessor, the $183(MSRP) E6300,

and decided to do just that. Using somebasic mods that we’ve detailed for you inpast issues, a mainstream P965 mother-board, and an aftermarket CPU cooler,we took a Core 2 Duo E6300 to places itwas never supposed to go and ended upwith a sub-$200 processor that made a2.8GHz Athlon 64 FX-62 seem slow bycomparison. Here’s how we did it.

Parts SelectionWhen building a rig for overclocking

purposes, it’s best to select componentsfrom manufacturers that have a history ofbeing known good overclockers. We alreadyhad our CPU, so when it came time tochoose a motherboard, memory, and a cool-

er, we turned to Asus, Corsair, andArctic Cooling. After experimentingwith a couple of midrange P965 moth-erboards from Abit and MSI with less-than-stellar results, we decided tosplurge a bit and opted for Asus’ P5B

h a r d h a t a r e a | p c m o d d e r

Intel’s Core 2 Duo E6300Extreme Makeover

Could an entry-level Core 2 DuoE6300 coupled to an aftermarket

cooler and a mainstream P965motherboard outperform AMD’s

and Intel’s current flagship processors? Ourgoal was to find out.

Our processor’s integrated heat spreader and heatsink’s base were both smooth, but we polishedthem to optimize the mating surfaces, which would aid in cooling.

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doing some relatively major overclocking,we modded our motherboard, CPU, andcooler to optimize cooling performance andincrease our chances of a high overclock.

Our CPU’s integrated heatspreaderand heatsink were both flat, so we didn’thave to do any lapping to eliminate exces-sive peaks and valleys from their surfaces.However, we did want to maximizetheir mating surfaces. To that end,we spent some time polishing themwith a wadding metal polish.

Because of the machining of ourFreezer 7 Pro’s copper base, we wereunable to polish it to the kind ofmirror finish we were able to giveour processor’s IHS. We did mini-mize the grooves in the heatsink’ssurface, though, and made it muchsmoother than it was to begin with.We should also note that we didaway with the stock thermal padthat came installed on the cooler.

The Asus P5B Deluxe mother-board we used for this project gotsome attention, too. To help the mother-board’s northbridge and southbridgeheatsinks to work more efficiently, weremoved them from the board, cleanedthem thoroughly, and replaced some infe-rior thermal interface materials with ahigh-quality, ceramic-based thermal paste.Once we reinstalled the motherboard’sheatsinks, we installed our processor andapplied a thin, even layer of thermal pasteto it as well.

Cranking Up The ClocksOnce we had the foundation of our

Core 2 Duo E6300 system ready to go,we finished building up the rig in anHSPC Tech Station, installed the OS,and made sure everything was stable and

functioning properly. When we wereconvinced the system was stable, wewent into the system BIOS and be-gan overclocking.

We first entered the Advanced Chipsetsection of the BIOS and manually set theRAM clock speed and timings to ensurethat our memory would not be pushed

past its rated speed. Then we moved on tothe Jumperfree Configuration menu andaltered a handful of other settings. First,we increased the RAM voltage to 2.25Vand raised the CPU VCore voltage to1.4V. Then, we bumped the FSB termina-tion voltage to 1.4V, the northbridge volt-age to 1.35V, the southbridge voltage to1.6V, and the ICH chipset voltage to1.215V. Please note that it may not havebeen necessary to increase all of these volt-ages to maintain stability, but because wetested on an open-air bench and moddedthe cooling, we increased them anyway.

With the voltages set, we locked thePCI Express and PCI clock frequenciesto 100MHz and 33.33MHz, respective-ly, to keep our components and the

h a r d h a t a r e a | p c m o d d e r

Even after an extended period of load testing,our modded and overclocked system wascompletely stable and ran relatively cool, too.

To keep costs down, most motherboard manufacturers use thermal pads as the TIM (thermal interface material) between the chipset and theirheatsinks. We cleaned them up and replaced the thermal pads with a superior ceramic-based thermal paste.

motherboard’s integrated peripheralsrunning within spec. We then began toraise our processor’s FSB frequency.When all was said and done, we wereable to increase the FSB up from itsdefault clock speed of 266MHz to ahefty 387MHz, which resulted in animpressive 2.7GHz CPU clock speed—

an increase of over 800MHz.Windows would actually boot athigher speeds, but the system wasn’t completely stable until webacked it down to 2.7GHz.

The Fruits Of Our LaborBefore we benchmarked our mod-

ded and overclocked Core 2 DuoE6300 rig, we ran a number of tests toverify that the system was stable andmonitored temperatures to ensure we didn’t have any thermal issues.Fortunately, at 2.7GHz, the systemwas rock-solid: After hours of loadtesting, the processor never got anywarmer than 122 degrees Fahrenheit

(50 degrees Celsius), according to Asus’ PCProbe II software. ▲

By Marco Chiappetta

We tested our Core 2 Duo E6300 processor on an open-airtest bench to maximize overclockability.

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h a r d h a t a r e a | p c m o d d e r

Stock Clock Speeds Overclocked Speeds Stock Clock Speeds Stock Clock SpeedsCore 2 Duo Core 2 Duo Athlon 64 FX-62 Core 2 Extreme E6300 at 1.86GHz E6300 at 2.71GHz at 2.8GHz X6800 at 2.93GHz

SiSoft SANDRA 2007 ProProcessor Arithmetic BenchmarkDhrystone ALU 17,261MIPS 25,043MIPS 20,411MIPS 27,051MIPSWhetstone iSSE3 11,913MFLOPS 17,146MFLOPS 17,230MFLOPS 18,712MIPSProcessor Multimedia BenchmarkInteger x4 aEMMX/aSSE 102,113it/s 146,871it/s 52,936it/s 160,644it/sFloating-Point x4 iSSE2 55,258it/s 79,758it/s 57,642it/s 87,212it/sMemory Bandwidth BenchmarkInteger Buffered iSSE2 5,094MB/s 6,737MB/s 8,501MB/s 5,702MB/sFloating-Point 5,116MB/s 6,741MB/s 8,462MB/s 5,776MB/sBuffered iSSE2LAME MT MP3 Encoding (Mins:Secs)Single-Threaded 1:14 0:50 1:12 0:47Multi-Threaded 0:50 0:34 0:48 0:31Cinebench 2003 (Seconds)Single-Threaded 81.2 55.9 66.3 51.6Multi-Threaded 43.8 30.1 35.4 27.9KribiBench v1.1Sponge Explode Model 3.89fps 5.41fps 5.14fps 6.22fpsUltra Model 1.26fps 1.78fps 1.47fps 1.99fpsF.E.A.R v1.05Low-Resolution CPU Test(640x480—Low Quality) 181fps 255fps 221fps 251fpsQuake 4 v1.2Low-Resolution CPU Test(640x480—Low Quality) 139.9fps 197.6fps 169fps 212.6fps

Performance: Before & After The Mod

T o illustrate the effect ourmods and tweaks had on

the performance of the Core 2Duo E6300 processor, we ran ahandful of benchmarks on oursystem at its stock settings whileheavily overclocked. And to giveyou all an idea of how the mod-ded system performed vs. somemuch more expensive coun-terparts, we’ve also includedbenchmark scores from similar-ly configured Athlon 64 FX-62-and Core 2 Extreme X6800-powered systems. Consideringhow much more expensive theFX-62 and X6800 are than theE6300, our modded system’sperformance may surprise you.

We equipped all of the sys-tems featured with NvidiaGeForce 7900 GTX graphicscards, 10,000RPM WesternDigital Raptor WD1500 hard dri-ves, and Corsair DDR2 RAM. Weshould note, however, that ourCore 2 Duo E6300 system hadits DIMM slots populated with a1GG TWIN2X1024-8500C5 (2 x512MB) memory kit while wecoupled the Athlon 64 FX-62and Core 2 Duo E6800 to a 2GBTWIN2X1028-6400C3 (2 x 1GB)memory kit. We stuck with the8500C5 kit in the E6300 for itslower price and overclockabilityand used the benchmarks fromour “Ultimate AM2” and Core 2

“Extreme Machine” systemsfrom the two previous issues(see pages 69 and 66 of theAugust and September issues ofCPU, respectively) We installedWindows XP SP2 Professionaland Nvidia’s Forceware v91.33drivers on all of the machines.

The Core 2 Duo E6300’sstock clock speeds are indicativeof the system’s performancewithout any major tweaks. Theoverclocked speeds detail oursystem’s performance with theprocessor’s FSB frequencycranked up to 387MHz, whichalso resulted in a 484MHzmemory clock (968MHz effective).

The mods had a tremendouseffect on the performance ofour Core 2 Duo E6300 system.The Athlon 64 FX-62 and Core 2Extreme X6800 rigs handily out-paced the system in its stockconfiguration. But after the modand overclock, our Core 2 DuoE6300 system trounced the FX-62 and even outpaced theX6800 in the F.E.A.R. bench-mark, thanks to the combina-tion of our system’s higherclocks and increased memorybandwidth. Impressive resultsfor a sub-$200 processor,wouldn’t you say?

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Get informed answers to your advanced technical

questions from CPU. Send your questions along with a

phone and/or fax number, so we can call you if

necessary, to qq&&aa@@ccppuummaagg..ccoomm. Please include all

pertinent system information.

Although Nvidia’s

PCI-E switch is

compliant with the

standard PCI-E

specifications, the

system BIOSes of many

motherboards may not

properly recognize

the 7950 GX2

right away.

Each month we dig deep into the mailbag here at CPU inan effort to answer your most pressing technical questions.Want some advice on your next purchase or upgrade? Have aghost in your machine? Are BSODs making your life miser-able? CPU’s “Advanced Q&A Corner” is here for you.

Clare R. asked: I have a question about the GeForce 7950 GX2: Mycurrent system includes a DFI LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D motherboard, aGeForce 6800 GT, an Athlon 64 X2 4400+ (watercooled at 2.85GHz), and1GB of GeIL Value RAM. I’m wondering if I can use a 7950 GX2 with theLANParty motherboard. It’s not listed on Nvidia’s site, but a similar Asusmotherboard that uses the same chipset is listed. A friend of mine says Ineed an SLI-compatible motherboard to use even a single 7950. What’sthe deal? I really want to upgrade my video card, but I’m not about toswap out my motherboard because it overclocks really well and I don’twant to disturb my watercooling setup.

A: The root of the problem is a side effect caused by a customchip Nvidia designed for use on the GeForce 7950 GX2. The GX2 also has a PCI Express switch that lets each GPU

“Nvidia’s GeForce 7950 GX2 runs in a dual-GPU, SLI-like rendering mode,but unlike the other members of the GeForce family, it doesn’t requirean SLI-compatible motherboard to work.

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communicate with the system via a single PCI-E x16 link. Thetwo GPUs on the 7950 GX2 can interface through the switchpeer-to-peer, as well. According to Nvidia, the reason for in-corporating this switch was for broad motherboard compatibil-ity. The switch is what lets the GX2 work in motherboardsbased on chipsets that don’t permit splitting a 16-lane electri-cal connection into two eight-lane connections for each GPU.

Although Nvidia’s PCI-E switch is compliant with thestandard PCI-E specifications, the system BIOSes of manymotherboards may not properly recognize the 7950 GX2right away. This is likely your issue. Without a properly con-figured system BIOS, the motherboard could fail to POST ormay not operate reliably. Nvidia has informed us that it hasworked closely with many motherboard manufacturers tohave their system BIOSes updated to support the GX2, but itseems DFI hasn’t updated the BIOS for your motherboardjust yet. In fact, as of this writing DFI hadn’t updated theLANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D motherboard’s BIOS since April.It may be that the GX2 will work in your board and doesn’tneed an update; however, we’d recommend you put a call into DFI’s technical support line just to be sure.

Nvidia has a list available of known compatible mother-boards and their proper BIOS versions posted on its Web site(, but itdoesn’t include all of the compatible motherboards. The list,

rather, reflects the moth-erboards that Nvidia hasalready tested and quali-

fied internally. Nvidiasays it will update thislist over time as it testsmore new mother-boards. You will also

notice that the GX2works on several plat-forms, including the975X and CrossFireXpress 3200. A singleGeForce 7950 GX2 con-figuration doesn’t requirean SLI-compatible moth-

erboard; on the other hand, users do need an SLI-compatiblemotherboard for a dual-GX2 setup.

Erich asked: I recently purchased a Promise Technology EX8350 RAID6 controller. To my dismay I learned that the x4 slot on my Asus A8N-SLIboard is not really wired with four PCI-E lanes. I now have it in my secondgraphics slot and my storage array has now tripled in performance bench-marks. The problem with this is that the BIOS doesn’t show it from a bootmenu (it does boot though). Also, when I restart Windows, and don’t actu-ally power cycle the box, the BIOS won’t recognize the array at all or boot.

I was thinking about purchasing an Asus A8N32-SLI but haven’t foundsufficient information to tell me whether its x4 slot is really electricallyfour lanes or if it’s just two like the motherboard I have. I’ve also heardthat my EX8350 card will hit the heatpipe on that board, so I’m not sure

Asus’ A8N32-SLI does indeed support a full x4 connectionin its x4 PCI-E slot, but you’re also correct that the board’schipset heatpipe assembly may obstruct that full-length Prom-ise card from fitting into the slot. MSI’s K8N Diamondmotherboard, however, has an x4 PCI-E slot that is in thesixth position down on the board with plenty of room for afull length card. The board was also very reasonably priced asof this writing at about $130. If you decide to go the way ofthe Asus A8N32 SLI, we’d suggest finding the board at a localshop if you can and bring your Promise EX8350 card withyou to check for fit before you buy it. ▲

by Dave Altavilla and Marco Chiappetta, the experts over at

For bonus content, subscribers can go

A full-length PCI Express SATA controller card might be a tight squeeze in the PCI-E x4 slot of the Asus A8N32-SLI, but MSI’s K8NDiamond has an x4 slot that will accommodate one without issue and the board’s SATA ports are even positioned more closely to the slot for neater cable management.

if I want to try getting it to fit. Perhaps you could recommend an AMDsocket 939 board that would fit my needs?

A: We’re sorry to hear about your trials and tribulations withthat x4 slot on your A8N-SLI. True, the actual connector slot onthe board is a PCI-E x4 physically, but if you look at the specs ofthe board, Asus does note that it operates in an x2 mode. Thereason you’re having issues soft resetting or restarting Windowsand the BIOS screen not showing up is because the PEG slot youhave the Promise card in now is typically configured for use witha video BIOS and your motherboard’s BIOS may not be gettingthe messaging correctly. Hardware-wise that x16 PEG slot willwork, though, as you’ve found out.

CPU / October 2006 45

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FX works with both Nvidia and ATIGPUs. (For more background informa-tion on the benefits of physics processing,see “White Paper: Ageia PhysX” in theOctober 2005 issue of CPU page 44.)

HHaavvookk’’ss PPhhyyssiiccss

Havok FX uses Shader Model 3.0 toperform its calculations. It also uses a rigidbody object, called a Debris Primitive,which is a representation of a 3D object.Developers can have the CPU render aDebris Primitive as part of the game’s staticart or on the fly as part of natural gameplay.

Once the CPU renders a Debris Prim-itive, it passes the data on to the GPU forphysics processing. For example, the CPUmight render a brick wall as part of thegame’s static art. If a missile strikes the wallduring gameplay, however, the CPU wouldpass the brick wall’s data to the GPU for

physics processing. The GPU then wouldcalculate the physics of how the debris fromthe explosion on the brick wall would flythrough the scene. The GPU also woulddetermine any potential collisions betweenbrick wall fragments and other objects inthe scene (called secondary collisions).Additional collisions may occur later, asother objects move following collisionswith the brick wall rubble, and the HavokFX engine would track it using the GPU.

(NOTE: As of this writing, Havok hasannounced two games that support HavokFX software: Alone In The Dark fromEden Games and Atari and Hellgate:London from Flagship Studios. Havokexpects more announcements of support fromgame developers in the next several months.)


Using the GPU to handle physics pro-cessing—rather than the CPU—makessense because a GPU has far greater rawfloating-point power and memory band-width than a CPU. By fully using theGPU for physics processing, Havok FX’sengine avoids the need to share largeamounts of data between the CPU andGPU, which helps prevent the systemfrom bogging down.

GPU PhysicsHavok FX Brings Physics To Games

Physics calculations can bring a newlevel of realism to gameplay. Theeffects of smoke and fluids and

debris collisions all become more realisticwhen using physics processing. Also, itemswithin the game react to each other morenaturally with physics processing, such ascloth moving realistically on a character.

Ageia recently introduced a hardwaretechnology for physics processing called aPPU (physics processing unit). And with-in the past few months, Havok introduceda software technology for physics process-ing called Havok FX. The technology,unlike a PPU, works with the GPU toperform physics processing. (Without spe-cial software or hardware for handlingphysics calculations, the CPU handlesphysics processing, but because of its con-figuration, the CPU can’t perform suchprocessing as efficiently as a GPU.) Havok

Sources: Nvidia, Havok

Nvidia’s SLI technology lets dual- and multi-GPU configurations work wellwith Havok FX’s physics processing engine. SLI helps distribute the load oneach GPU. In this example, SLI splits the work-load, having GPU number 1 perform standardgraphics processing and GPU number 2 perform the physics processing and additional SLI graphics processing. ▲



SLI graphics or physics on GPU 2

Graphics on GPU 1


SLI & Physics

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As systems begin to use Havok FX,gamers may see more dual- and multi-GPUconfigurations. By distributing the physicsprocessing over multiple GPUs, the overallsystem performance should improve. Andthe more power that GPUs can offer, themore realistic all of the effects.

Game developers should realize some ofthe excellent benefits from Havok FX, aswell. Developers no longer should have toindividually code each collision. The phys-ics calculation engine built into Havok FXwill let the software automatically calculateeach physical reaction without the need forindividual coding from a game developer.

BBoottttoomm LLiinnee

When running a Havok FX-enabledgame, the game’s developer determineshow to distribute the GPU’s workload.Game players also have the ability to setthe game’s configuration, letting themachieve the best mix of physics processingand game performance.

Havok FX works best running in a sys-tem with more than one GPU, but it alsoworks well in a single-GPU system thatsupports Shader Model 3.0. Havok saysrunning Havok FX won’t force the gamerto sacrifice frame rates. However, Havok

recommends using “higher-end models” ofgraphics cards for best performance.

Running the physics software on aGPU would be less expensive for gamers.However, some developers say thatbecause the CPU or GPU already haveplenty of tasks to perform, a dedicatedPPU can handle the job more efficientlythan any software technology. For exam-ple, if the GPU is heavily taxed by render-ing complex 3D images, it might not beable to handle a large load of physics pro-cessing as efficiently.

Some of the earliest benchmark testsshowed how the PPU was unable toimprove system performance, but thetechnology should improve as i tmatures. It should be an interestingcompetition between Havok FX andAgeia PhysX in the next several months.Either way, gamers will be the beneficia-ries with improved gameplay and morerealistic graphics. And what’s moreimportant than that? ▲

by Kyle Schurman

Sources: Nvidia, Havok

Havok FX’s physics engine allows for high-endprocessing of physical effects, such as 10,000or more collisions in real time. As you play agame, collisions take place between movingobjects and rigid objects. The CPU identifiespotential collisions and then passes that information to the GPU and Havok FX physics engine for processing.

Find potentialcollisions


Gameplay Physics FX Physics

Once perframe




Object Transforms


CollisionResolution Integration


Body DataMoving Objects

CPU MemoryGPU Memory

Rigid Bodies


Object pairsContactPoints

(Optional second SLI GPU)

Velocity Impulses

The CPU memory stores all objects. As Havok FXcalculates the positions and velocity of eachobject in the game once per frame, it stores suchcalculations in the GPU’s memory. Havok FX thenuses its physics engine to determine where andwhen collisions will take place, determining theorientation of each object based on any collisions. ▲

Havok FX At Work

As you can see from this game demo featuring Havok FX, the software cancreate thousands of debris in real time.

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Silicon PhotonicsFiber Optic Communications In Your PC

h a r d h a t a r e a | w h i t e p a p e r

Source: Intel

Fiber Optics Unveiled

Some fiber optic systems use splitters and switches to add to thesignal or drop the signal at a particular location. To create thesetypes of fiber optic systems, manufacturers typically must useuncommon materials, such as gallium arsenide and indium phos-phide, and must perform manual adjustments during the manu-facturing process, which adds cost and time to the manufacturingprocess. Such costs typically make fiber optics unattainable formost users; only customers and applications with the need formassive data transmissions can justify the cost of using fiberoptics for data transmissions and communications.

By using silicon in fiber optics, Intel hopes to simplify theoverall manufacturing process, using the more commonlyavailable silicon with more automated manufacturing tech-niques. Also, because numerous high-tech companies havebeen using silicon for decades to create extremely smalldevices, much of the knowledge companies have gained whilemaking other devices will transfer to fiber optics research.Overall, these advancements should significantly lower the cost of using fiber optics, making it more readily available for a wide range of customers. ▲


light beams

Modulatorencodes data

onto wavelength

Multiplexer placesmultiple wavelengths

on one fiber

Fiber transmitsdata streams at

high speed

Demultiplexer splitsoff the individual


Photodetectorsconvert optical datainto electrical data

System processes dataas if it had arrivedover copper wires

Right now, fiber optics is the bestway to move large streams ofdata among computing devices.

To find fiber optics, you need look nofurther than the large-trunk, fiber opticlines that carry telephone and Internettraffic among service providers around theworld. But what about moving largeamounts of data inside your computer?

Computer manufacturers don’t use fiberoptics to move data from component tocomponent inside your PC because it’s ex-pensive to use and implement fiber optics

inside computers, which is why they rely onelectrical copper links. However, as com-puter components and chips work faster,those slower copper links will begin to holdback PCs. The copper links won’t be ableto move data quickly enough to let thechips and other components work at topspeed. The chips may be waiting for data toarrive over the copper links, leaving themidle. Fiber optics can carry thousands oftimes more data than can copper links.

Silicon photonics may be the answer tothese problems. Silicon photonics brings

laser technology to silicon, allowing for theuse of fiber optic communications from asilicon chip. Because silicon is inexpensive,implementation of fiber optics in manynew areas—including among servers,across networks, and inside computers—may become possible. (For more uses ofsilicon and its evolution, see our sidebars at

Intel and UCLA have led the researchinto silicon photonics. Intel’s researchinvolving silicon photonics has focused on

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h a r d h a t a r e a | w h i t e p a p e r

Source: Intel

Intel researchers announced the first continuous silicon laser beam,based on the Raman effect, in 2005. This announcement was amajor step in the development of silicon photonics. (Researchers atUCLA were the first to create a laser out of silicon in late 2004, butit was a pulsed beam, which isn’t good for transmitting data.)

Because of the crystal lattice structure of silicon, Intel says the

Raman effect is 10,000 times stronger in silicon than it is in glassfiber, which makes it work well for creating lasers. Another benefitof using silicon for laser light is the fact that it’s transparent toinfrared light, which lasers use. (Silicon is opaque with light in thevisible spectrum.) Silicon can successfully direct the infrared laserlight, thanks to its transparent nature.

Before further discussing the Raman effect, we should discusshow standard lasers work (see Figure A). Lasers amplify energy tocreate a strong beam of light that contains one wavelength. To cre-ate a laser, energy is forced into a gain medium, which is a devicethat amplifies a light beam. As the energy moves inside the gainmedium, it strikes mirrors surrounding the gain medium, bouncingback and forth. As it moves, the electrons in the energy stateschange, releasing photons. The released photons all contain thesame optical properties, such as wavelength and phase. Becausethe photons are moving in the same wavelengths and phases, theybecome stronger (see the left side of Figure B). Having the wave-lengths move in sync is important because if the photons havewavelengths opposite each other, they cancel out each other (seethe right side of Figure B). Finally, as the photons begin moving in parallel, they becomestrong enough to develop into a laser beam. The laser beam then leaves the laser cavity(see the right side in Figure A).

Although numerous materials can create the photons laser light needs, silicon can’t cre-ate photons without using the Raman effect.

With the Raman effect, a laser beam carrying data enters a material, such as silicon. Inthe silicon the photons collide with the atoms and, via Raman effect, transfer ener-gy to photons of longer wavelengths. The photons then pick up additional photonsand become stronger and amplified. The disadvantage of the Raman effect is that itrequires using a pump laser; the system can’t create the photons any other way.

The weak data beam enters the silicon and combines with a laser beam fromthe pump laser (see Figure C). Intel uses CMOS manufacturing techniques toetch a channel into the silicon wafer (called the silicon waveguide). As they col-lide, the wavelengths carrying the optical data become longer and amplified as aresult of the Raman effect. ▲



Gain medium

The Raman Effect

C A view from above

bringing Intel’s expertise with silicon intooptical devices and technological areas thathaven’t traditionally used silicon.

AA BBrriieeff IInnttrroo TToo PPhhoottoonniiccss

Fiber optics uses light waves to transmitdata over glass fiber. The light waves aresent in bursts of laser light to carry the digi-tal data. There are many advantages fiberoptics has over copper links when movinglarge amounts of data, including the abilityto move data over distances of 50 miles ormore without the need for amplificationand without a loss of signal intensity.

Similar to fiber optics, the field ofphotonics deals with light, especially withusing light for optical communications.By applying silicon research to photonicsand by using silicon to create the “build-ing blocks” that photonics uses, Intelresearchers are helping to advance thefield of silicon photonics.

Silicon photonics will bring high-speed data transmissions that occur withfiber optic communication, but suchtransmissions will cost less to run be-cause of the lower hardware costs associ-ated with silicon photonics.

Significant advancements in siliconphotonics didn’t occur until the pastfew years, but extensive research into thetechnology began as far back as the late1980s. Most of the advancements in thefield have come about because of workat Intel and UCLA. (See the sidebarsaccompanying this article for moreinformation on Intel’s research.)

UUCCLLAA’’ss DDeevveellooppmmeennttss

In mid-2006 UCLA researchers, led byBahram Jalali, presented their most recentdiscoveries concerning silicon photonics in

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h a r d h a t a r e a | w h i t e p a p e r

We’ve already mentioned that using a pump laser is a disadvantageof the Raman effect. This disadvantage is a result of using thepump beam to amplify the signal inside the waveguide, which cre-ates stray electrons that aren’t part of the laser beam (see FigureD). These free electrons can absorb light and work against theamplification of the laser beam if they remain inside the waveguide.

To overcome problems of attaining enough amplification of thelaser light in silicon, Intel designed the silicon waveguide, called aPIN, similarly to a semiconductor, containing P-type and N-type sili-con areas (see Figure E and Figure F). By applying a voltage to the P-type and N-type areas, the PIN device acts like a vacuum, pulling thenegatively charged free electrons toward the positively charged N-type area. Removing most of the free electrons from the waveguideprevents stray electrons from absorbing the pump beam and, conse-quently, negating amplification.

Intel developers placed amirror coating at theends of the of the PINdevice (see Figure G)—similar to a traditionallaser cavity—whichhelped create a continu-ous laser beam in siliconfor the first time. ▲

A view from the front and above.

A view from the front and above.

A view from the front.



F A side view.G

KKEEYYPink (-):P-type silicon; negative voltage

Orange (+):N-type silicon; positive voltage

V:Voltage applied

Green dots:Laser beam

Yellow and white dots:Stray electrons

Vancouver, British Columbia. (See the“UCLA’s Bahram Jalali & Silicon Photo-nics” sidebar for more information.) Theresearchers used silicon to combine lightamplification with a photovoltaic effect tocreate power; similar to what a solar paneldoes to generate power. With this discov-ery, the UCLA researchers say it’s possible

to create optical amplification in siliconwhile generating power rather than con-suming power. This discovery couldincrease the speed with which silicon photonics becomes a viable option.

Research into silicon photonics isn’tnew: UCLA published its first papers onthe technology more than 15 years ago.

The recent breakthroughs at UCLA andIntel, however, are making the projectedbenefits from silicon photonics morerealistic than ever. Silicon photonicslooks like one technology that’s trulyworth the wait. ▲

by Kyle Schurman

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h a r d h a t a r e a | w h i t e p a p e r

“A holy grail of photonics is to provide optical communicationbetween [silicon] chips and within,” says Bahram Jalali, electri-cal engineering professor at the UCLA Henry Samueli School OfEngineering And Applied Science. The problem, of course, isthat the amplification and lasing required for successful opticalinterconnects requires a large amount of power, which in turngenerates a large amount of heat—and heat and silicon don’tget along. However, Jalali and his team have found a way toreduce the heat the optical networking process produces, mak-ing it more likely that a convergence of photonics and electron-ics could become a reality in the next three to five years.

At high intensities necessary for performing the key func-tions of optical networking in silicon, such as amplification andoptical switching, a process called TPA (two-photon absorption)generates excess electrons that absorb the light and turn it intoheat. This not only decreases the circuit’s ability to carry data,but also exacerbates the overheating problem. TPA is one of thefundamental challenges of silicon photonics.

The UCLA engineering team recovered the excess electronsTPA produced by reversing the voltage bias of an attached elec-trical diode, effectively pulling the electrons out of the device.The process recovered about two-thirds of the power lost toTPA and created a few milliwatts of electrical power that werethen used to power the chip’s circuitry. Jalali says, “We haveshown that this problem can be solved in a way that does notcompromise the power efficiency of the device.”

Professor Jalali sees the work as a significant leap forward inthe field of silicon photonics and looks ahead to the next steps:“What still remains to be done is size reduction. If we canreduce the size of these devices by about a factor of 10, thenyou will see them appear in optical interconnects, where a sili-con electronic chip will communicate with other chips throughoptical light paths that terminate on the chip itself.” ▲

by Kristina Spencer

Multichannel TransmitterIntel has demonstrated how it can use the Raman effect laser to create a multichannel transmitter by splitting the pump laser beams as they enter the waveguides.

Source: Intel

UCLA’s Bahram Jalali & Silicon Photonics

As the laser splits and enters the four waveguides, it creates fourlaser beams with different wavelengths because the placements ofthe silicon mirrors yield cavities of different lengths. (In this exam-ple, the multichannel transmitter creates four different laserbeams, each shown in a different color.)

After creating each laser beam, a silicon modulator encodes a

data stream on it. The transmitter then combines the laser beamsusing a silicon multiplexer before sending the data-encoded beamsalong an optical fiber. Because each laser has a different wavelength,this technique sends multiple data streams on a single optical fiber,hence creating an inexpensive way to send large data streams with-out the need to expensively upgrade the optical fiber. ▲

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s is our wont and pleasure here atCPU, each fall we round up thelatest, the most useful, thewildest, and often the mostoddly obscure downloadableWindows XP tools to passacross our desks in the last year.From the exceptionally ambi-tious but often overlooked

Mozilla SeaMonkey (see the “CorporateHandouts” section) to the ridiculously sin-gular end-user agreement analyzer (seeEULAnalyzer in the “Security” section) webeat the bushes this year for undiscoveredgems. Some old standby programs reap-pear here, only because their updates areworth noting. Generally, however, wefavor the new or previously under-report-ed utilities in our annual roundups, so youcan consult CPU’s online archives for themany great shareware and freeware pro-grams we have featured in the past.

The good news this year is the open-source and freeware programming com-munities are robust. A surprisingly highpercentage of our finds are free to use oravailable in demo versions that are them-selves feature-rich. There is also some con-solidation of tools, as we notice a numberof the standalone utilities such as drivecleaners and Registry tweakers are nowcombining into suites with more integrat-ed functionality. Even as Windows XPstreamlines many of the file- and drive-management tasks that required sharewarein previous Windows versions, Microsoft

has left plenty of holes in its OS that begfor the shareware/freeware developers rep-resented here.

In addition to scores of downloads inthe main sections, we turn again to ourcolumnists in the “What’s On YourDesktop?” sidebars for their quick takeson indispensable tools worth trying.

Performance TweakersCPUFSB

For uber-geeks who can’t get enoughtweaking, CPUFSB lets you tinker end-lessly with the speed of your system’sfrontside bus to augment system perfor-mance. The rudimentary tool requires thatyou know your motherboard well, so it isnot for the fainthearted and can producecrashes. Built for hardcore overclockers, itlets you toy with the FSB settings andapply them at startup.PPooddiieenn’’ss SShhaarreewwaarree aatt wwwwww..ccppuu--ccooooll..ddee//iinnddeexx..hhttmmll,, $$1155

NVTweakFor optimizing Nvidia cards, this pro-

gram was formerly known as Coolbits anddrills into your Forceware driver to openup hidden settings. It reveals overclock-ing, AGP settings, fan control, tempera-ture settings, etc.HH44cckk 33DD aattwwwwww..llaappttooppvviiddeeoo22ggoo..ccoomm//nnvvttwweeaakk,, FFrreeee

Process ExplorerTweakers looking to squeeze every last

cycle from their PCs usually tinker withthe many ephemeral processes Windowsis always running in the background. Thisgreat freebie gives you all the details youneed about every running process: itssource, its importance to your system, etc.It even graphs any CPU usage eachprocess requires. For ultimate tweakers,this is the boss.SSyyssiinntteerrnnaallss aatt wwwwww..ssyyssiinntteerrnnaallss..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

PureText Sometimes the best performance boost

comes from tools that make the littlethings faster . . . like pasting text from aWeb site to a document without transfer-ring the fonts and styles of the original.PureText strips formatting and font codes

from items in the clipboard. A config-urable hotkey combo pastes the pure textinto the current window. Now why can’tWindows do that by itself?SStteevvee MMiilllleerr aatt wwwwww..sstteevveemmiilllleerr..nneett//ppuurreetteexxtt,, FFrreeee


This remarkable Radeon tool can over-clock your ATI graphics card and apply arange of special display settings to a spe-cific program. Just right-click a programfile or icon and the RadLinker profiler isavailable to bolt custom settings onto it.Great for accelerating games, as well asoptimizing gamma and brightness for TVor imaging programs. CChhrriissWW aattwwwwww2288..bbrriinnkksstteerr..ccoomm//cchhrriisswwww11994422,, FFrreeee

RVM Integrator If you reinstall WinXP more than a

couple of times a year, then you need thishomegrown tool. It helps you make aWinXP installation disk that includes notonly the SP2 update but also the subse-quent hotfixes since SP2’s release. Thisadvanced version of slipstreaming reinstallsWinXP in its fully up-to-date version withno further need for tedious downloadsfrom Microsoft.RRyyaannVVMM aatt wwwwww..rryyaannvvmm..nneett//mmssffnn,, FFrreeee

SecurityAdvanced WindowsCare v2 Personal

The Beta 3.5 version of this free program(a “Pro” version is $29.95) is a one-buttonsecurity scanner that removes spyware,

s p o t l i g h t

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closes security holes, cleans the Reg-istry and manages temp and startupfiles. Designed for novices or IT proswho just don’t want to be botheredwith a suite of cleanup and lock-down tools, WindowsCare is a freealternative to Microsoft’s OneCare. Itcan even optimize your system anderase histories and other traces of use.Still in beta, so use with caution, butwe are impressed so far with its speedand thoroughness.IIOObbiitt..ccoomm aatt iioobbiitt..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

Avira AntiVir Personal EditionClLast year we recommended AVG asgood, basic-but-free antivirus protection,and this year an alternative arrives inAvira’s personal edition. Arguably morepolished and user-friendly than AVG, ithas multiple tabs to monitor quarantinelists, logs, profile status, etc. The freeversion does not include email integra-tion and spyware guards, but Aviraseems to provide rudimentary protectionin a stylish package.

AAvviirraa aatt wwwwww..ffrreeee--aavv..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

EULAlyzerThis strange, cool tool analyzes the

EULAs we all ignore during softwareinstallations to red-flag policies that can

compromise your privacy. Run the pro-gram and drag a cursor onto the EULAitself, and EULAlyzer imports and high-lights the questionable phrases for yourcloser scrutiny. The Pro version automati-cally detects and analyzes EULAs withoutuser interaction.JJaavvaaccooooll SSooffttwwaarree aatt jjaavvaaccoooollssooffttwwaarree..ccoomm,, FFrreeee aanndd $$1199..9955 vveerrssiioonnss

Microsoft Live OneCareAmong downloadable security suites,

OneCare is unique if not stellar. In addi-tion to the expected virus and spywareprotection, the OneCare service also has atune-up advisor that offers advice on opti-mizing your system and a file backup ser-vice. Although other familiar suites are

more comprehensive, OneCaredoes have the benefit of sheer sim-plicity. It may be a good option forthat novice friend or family mem-ber who gets easily confused bybells and whistles.MMiiccrroossoofftt aatt oonneeccaarree..lliivvee..ccoomm,, $$4499..9955 ppeerr yyeeaarr ffoorr uupp ttoo tthhrreeee PPCCss

Kasperky Anti-Virus 6.0Arguably less expensive, intru-

sive, and resource-hungry than thebigger brand names, Kaspersky’svirus- and spyware-fighting pack-

age is also backed by a substantialresearch lab. It stands out for its efficien-cy of operations: a new “economy” modefor laptops and much leaner profiles forfaster downloading of updates. Kas-persky accelerates scans by analyzing onlyfiles updated since the last scan, and itcan suspend scanning when you are usingthe PC for other, heavy-duty tasks. Leanand mean.KKaassppeerrsskkyy LLaabbss aatt wwwwww..kkaassppeerrsskkyy..ccoomm,,$$4499..9955 ppeerr yyeeaarr

LeakTestThey don’t come more straightforward

than GRC’s LeakTest. The downloadableprogram deliberately makes a call out tothe Internet to test your current firewall.If you get a warning from your securitysystem and deny LeakTest a path to theWeb, the program reports that you areprotected. This is just a good, simple wayto make sure the wall is up and runningon any system. GRC also has a Web-based security tester.GGiibbssoonn RReesseeaarrcchh aatt wwwwww..ggrrcc..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

RootKitRevealerThe worst new examples of malware

are rootkits that literally burrow into theWindows kernel. This program does adeep scan, finding areas of the Registrythat are hidden from Windows APIs anda number of other anomalies in theRegistry and file structure that are com-mon signs a rootkit has done its work.Not for amateurs, RootKitRevealer doesnot fix anything. It only puts you on thetrail of possible system malignancies.SSyyssiinntteerrnnaallss aatt wwwwww..ssyyssiinntteerrnnaallss..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

s p o t l i g h t

Spyware-Free Zone: How We TestedWhile our entries in this roundup are not thorough reviews, we downloaded, ran, and likedalmost everything we included this year. We rejected out of hand any program that includedattached adware and/or spyware. To guard against unscrupulous distributors who bundleadware in unannounced, we ran two lines of defense on our test systems. First, we usedZoneAlarm with its firewall at its most sensitive setting. This way, the suite alerted us to anyattempts by installers and programs to access the Internet, load at startup, or add anythingto our Web browsers. ZoneAlarm’s built-in spyware monitor also ran in background. Werejected any program that tried to install elements that were suspicious or not part of its corefunctionality. In addition, we added resident protection from Webroot’s Spy Sweeper 5.0, thelatest spyware detection software, and updated its profiles daily. We eliminated any programthat SpySweeper even suspected of installing adware.

As every PC and online veteran already knows, there is no surefire protection against mal-ware and adware in every instance, so despite our best efforts here any wise user should becareful of downloading even familiar shareware and freeware. Some versions of a package atdifferent download sites could contain adware/spyware and other malicious hitchhikers. Thebest defense is, well, a strong defense. Use a third-party firewall (and no, Windows XP’s isnot sufficient) that can flag inbound and outbound Internet traffic. Don’t just use a spywarecleaner but maintain a spyware detector in memory, especially when you download, install,and first launch anything you get from the Web. ▲

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TrueCryptThis open-source encryption project

locks down files, folders, or entire parti-tions. It lets you create containers that aremounted as drive volumes and password-protected. Encryption/decryption happenson the fly as you save and access files fromthe virtual drive. A handy wizard walksyou through the process, and you get tochoose from about a dozen algorithmsthat let you choose the security vs. perfor-mance tradeoff that’s right for you.TTrruueeCCrryypptt FFoouunnddaattiioonn aattwwwwww..ttrruueeccrryypptt..oorrgg,, FFrreeee

XpyThis open-source widget is a security

hole filler. It toggles off or on many of thefunctions and services that can openWinXP to attack. A simple tree menuindexes the options into Services, InternetExplorer, General, Media Player controls,etc. Handy mouseover descriptions tellyou what each toggle controls, and theprogram even offers several prefab profilesyou can apply. This is the fast cure forWindows insecurity.JJaann TT.. SSccootttt aatt xxppyy..wwhhyyeeyyee..oorrgg,, FFrreeee

Miscellaneous Tweak UtilitiesAirSet Desktop Synch

This isn’t a standalone program but adownloadable desktop tool that synchro-nizes your Outlook calendar and alertswith AirSet’s Web-based scheduling ser-vice. The tool essentially lets you accessyour Outlook calendar from any Webbrowser, add appointments and set alarms,and have them synchronized back to yourDesktop and vice versa. Why bother withcostly remote access programs when thisfree tool keeps your calendar available andeditable all the time?AAiirrSSeett aatt wwwwww..aaiirrsseett..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

FinePrintFinePrint supercharges your printing

options. Print multiple pages on a sheet,add headers and footers, make letterhead,etc. You can save a print job as an imagefile or save it to Windows’ Clipboard. Pageand toner savers help you manage materialsmore efficiently, and booklet-making is abreeze. If you need more flexibility from

your computer’s output, FinePrint may bewell worth the price.FFiinneePPrriinntt SSooffttwwaarree aatt wwwwww..ffiinneepprriinntt..ccoomm,, $$4499..9955

The Gizmo Project

Skype gets some worthy competition inthis very slick PC-to-PC Internet phoneproduct. The interface lets you see whichbuddies are online and accepting calls. Likea good cell phone you get a full call history,custom voicemail messages and ringtones,etc. But the killer feature for businesspeopleis the Record feature that lets you commitmeetings and interviews to digital memory.Low-priced per-minute pricing is availablefor calling landlines.GGiizzmmoo PPrroojjeecctt aatt wwwwww..ggiizzmmoopprroojjeecctt..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

HyperSnap The venerable screen capture program

gets a novel feature in version 6: the powerto capture editable text from anywhere onthe screen. Other cool recent additionsinclude capturing a hand-drawn region,image-stamping, and direct uploading toan FTP server. If you need to snap animage of anything on your screen, this isstill our favorite tool after all of these years. HHyyppeerriioonniiccss aatt wwwwww..hhyyppeerriioonniiccss..ccoomm,, $$3355

K-Lite Codec Pack 2.75Having trouble playing those down-

loaded video clips? Then you almost cer-tainly must have this must-have collectionof the latest video and audio codecs,which decode all of the obscure formatswandering the digital mediasphere. Everyflavor of MPEG, DivX, Indeo, and all of

the audio formats (AAC, FLAC, etc.) arecovered. The polite installer lets you pickyour codecs or install selections accordingto usage profiles.KKLL SSooffttwwaarree aatt wwwwww..ccooddeeccgguuiiddee..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

Paint.NETThe undiscovered gem for fans of

free, open-source alternatives such, Paint.NET is indispensable.This image editor has layers, specialeffects, infinitely customizable palettes,and even editing histories. And get this—Paint.NET is a robust image lab thatdoesn’t make you drill five menus deepjust to eliminate red-eye. Finally!PPaaiinntt..NNEETT TTeeaamm,, wwwwww..ggeettppaaiinntt..nneett,, FFrreeee

ReNamerIf you have a batch of files that need

renaming or reassigning to another format,

s p o t l i g h t

What’s On Your Desktop?

Microsoft Voice Commander (Microsoftat, $39.99). Thisutility requires zero training and I rarelyhave to repeat myself.

Omega One Battery Pack Pro (OmegaOne at, $19.99).Forget about any other toolbar/today utili-ty. I can access pretty much all the fea-tures I need right from the Today screen,and it doesn’t take too much real estate.

Omega One Journal Bar (Omega Oneat, $29.99).Updated news, world time and weather,stock market information, and loads moreinformation all on my Today screen.

Opera 8.6 Mobile (Opera at, $60). You all probably knowabout the Opera Web browser. Opera on aMobile 5 device is an absolute must-have.

SPB Backup (SPB Software House, $19.95). Iback up my entire Mobile 5 device to myPC. If I ever have a meltdown, I can simplyexecute a restore file and I’ll be done. ▲

Rahul Sood Rahul spends most of his time on an HP

iPaq 6915 with EDGE-enabled phone accessrunning Microsoft Mobile 5. His picks all

involve utilities for that emerging platform.

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this program lets you apply simple rules for automating the renaming pro-cess. You can rename prefixes, cut par-ticular phrases from a set of names, and even insert media file ID tags. Wereally appreciate that ReNamer previewsthe changes before making them on thefiles themselves.DDeenniiss KKoozzlloovv aattwwwwww..rreeddbbrriicckk..ddccuu..iiee//~~ddeenn44bb,, FFrreeee

UpShotNew this year, UpShot moves the art

of photo-editing forward simply bymaking it accessible to mere mortals.Using an advanced imaging engine, itmakes one-click color and contrast corrections (including red-eye removal)and lets you edit all other attributes in a side-by-side, before/after format.While UpShot is fat and sluggish onolder machines, it is a gem for interme-diate photographers.BBeellllaammaaxx aatt wwwwww..uuppsshhoottpphhoottoo..ccoomm,, $$2299..9999

Xfire For gamers who just can’t stop, Xfire is

an IM client that works within even themost complex 3D shooters and RPGs as away to communicate with the rest of theworld or fellow gamers. More than that,the client helps you track your gamingfriends online so you know who’s in-gameor unavailable. From outside a game, Xfirelets you join a contest and launch thegame simply by clicking on your buddy’sname. The client does run ads in the inter-face, but with this favorite of MMOGplayers the sponsors are underwriting aprogram with obvious value.XXffiirree aatt wwwwww..xxffiirree..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

Media File UtilitiesFireAnt

Hipper than iTunes, this podcast andvideo podcast player/aggregator is TiVofor vidheads. On top of a great guide towhat is available online, FireAnt sub-scribes and arranges Vlog episodes intoplaylists for later viewing or transfer todevices. Built-in tagging lets you createindexes of material. You can pull anymedia-laden RSS feed into FireAnt, andthis versatile viewer plays back just abouteverything, from QuickTime to MP3s,Flash to RealPlayer files.MMyycceelliiaa NNeettwwoorrkkss aatt wwwwww..ffiirreeaanntt..ttvv,, FFrreeee

Easy CD-DA ExtractorOne of our favorite rippers and convert-

ers does just that: pulls data and audiofrom CDs and converts it to just about anyformat. At the same time it lets you choosebit rates, choose file-naming conventions,and pull in metadata. You can morph yourCDs into any data type you like and burnit onto audio, MP3, or WMA CDs.PPooiikkoossoofftt aatt wwwwww..ppooiikkoossoofftt..ccoomm,, $$3399..9955

GearVolt MP3Other MP3 taggers are getting long in

the tooth, but GearVolt is polished andnew and regularly updated. This oneworks in a simple worksheet mode thatlets you perform a number of taggingoperations on files in batches: retag, con-vert tags among formats, and create tagsfrom playlists. Although it doesn’t havethe most streamlined interface we’ve

seen, GearVolt can be powerful in theright hands.GGeeaarrhheeaaddFFoorrHHiirree aattwwwwww..ggeeaarrhheeaaddffoorrhhiirree..ccoomm,, $$1144..9955


Even if we paid for this free open-source media conversion tool we wouldbe impressed with its polish, versatility,and ease-of-use. Translate just about anyimaginable audio and video file type intoanother with this little gem. From OggVorbis to MP4 to mobile phone format,this thing just regurgitates everything, andit even has a built-in player that previewsthe final product. Nice view.SSttaannlleeyy HHuuaanngg aattmmeeddiiaaccooddeerr..ssoouurrcceeffoorrggee..nneett,, FFrreeee

Media MonkeyMedia Monkey is that rare animal that

combines great player and encoding fea-tures with strong media library manage-ment. Especially good for large collectionsof diverse media materials, the directorytree interface lets you sort by album,artist, song, etc., with one click. Add ingood ripping and burning features andeasy transfers to portable players, and thisis one monkey you’ll want on your back.VVeennttiiss MMeeddiiaa aatt wwwwww..mmeeddiiaammoonnkkeeyy..ccoomm,,$$1199..9999 aanndd FFrreeee vveerrssiioonnss

mp3DirectCutThis is a down-and-dirty, quick-and-

easy audio file snipper that is perfect forquick music or podcast edits. The naviga-tion buttons are fully configurable so youcan define the number of frames theyskip. You can add fades, cut out pieces ofaudio, or just select areas and change theirvolume. A homemade editing deck thatgets the job done.MMaarrttiinn PPeesscchh aatt wwwwww..mmppeesscchh33..ddee,, FFrreeee

s p o t l i g h t

What’s On Your Desktop?

Maxthon (Maxthon at, Free). Yeah, I’m the only geek whoisn’t using Firefox. I’ve tweaked and opti-mized Maxthon to be an amazing browserfor my needs.

CFi ShellToys (Cool Focus at, $37). Every power toyimaginable rolled into a single utility. Ican’t live without the extended clipboard.

PSPad (PSPad at,Free). A fantastic, free text editor, betterthan Notepad (although I’d chooseMetapad from if I had togo with a simpler text viewer).

FastCache (AnalogX, Free). This DNScaching tool has saved me days of time over the course of a couple of years. I use this now in combination with

WinSCP (WinSCP at, Free). An amazing S/FTPclient that has direct hooks into PuTTY.Any other file transfer program is sim-ply uncivilized. ▲

Chris Pirillo

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Nexus RadioThis is hands-down the best and most

affordable Internet radio tuner we havetried lately. It indexes literally thousandsof stations worldwide (German standupcomedy? Check!) and includes recordfunctions, bookmarking, and TiVo-likeprescheduled recording, as well. While itdoesn’t have the burning capabilities ofReplayRadio (see below), it is more afford-able and has great international coverage. EEggiissccaa aatt wwwwww..eeggiissccaa..ccoomm,, $$1199..9955

QuickTime AlternativeTired of having Apple QuickTime

install a weighty player program with mul-tiple memory-resident bits and pieces? Trythe slimmer, less-intrusive QuickTimeAlternative. Using fewer resources andrunning most QT file types with ease, thefree program is simply more polite andgets the job done without adding a bunchof background processes to your WinXPoverhead. In other words, a sweeter apple.KKLL SSooffttwwaarree aattwwwwww..ccooddeeccgguuiiddee..ccoomm//aabboouutt__qqtt..hhttmm,, FFrreeee

Replay RadioAudio TiVo for Webheads. The nicely

constructed recorder captures streamingaudio and video live or according to a setschedule. You can pull iTunes radio, burnprograms to disc, or just quickly startrecording whatever audio is coming intoyour PC at any moment. A Media Guidehelps you find online audio program-ming, and a URL Finder picks up theaddress of the current stream.AApppplliiaann TTeecchhnnoollooggiieess aatt wwwwww..aapppplliiaann..ccoomm,, $$3399..9955

Disk & File ToolsActive File Recovery

In a field of pricey undelete programsand services, this is among the more

affordable ways to restore files youthought were lost. The program can scanall varieties of FAT and NTFS partitionsand does a good job of finding shards ofdeleted material. We especially like thefile preview function, which peeks into an item to confirm it is the right file.Thankfully, the program is understand-able to mere mortals yet still powerful.AAccttiivvee DDaattaa RReeccoovveerryy SSeerrvviicceess aatt wwwwww..ffiillee--rreeccoovveerryy..nneett,, $$2299..9955

Alcohol 120%This is a tried and true DVD and CD

drive emulator. It creates a virtual CDdrive on your hard drive so you can copya CD\DVD and start it without the origi-nal disc. This year’s updates haverevamped the virtual drive engine andadded support for many newer opticaldrives, as well as support for Unicode file-names. By creating separate drive lettersand running programs from the harddrive, it loads and operates many pro-grams at up to 200 times the speed theywould run from an optical drive.AAllccoohhooll SSooffttwwaarree aatt wwwwww..aallccoohhooll--ssoofftt..ccoomm,, $$5522

CCleanerAlso known as “Crap Cleaner,” this is a

well-done WinXP cleaning and optimizationtool that scours your drive for temp and out-dated files, scans the Registry for old linksand errors, and even includes a handy unin-stall function that is faster to load thanWindows’ own Add/Remove Programs tool.It tracks cookies and tosses those, as well,and it can run directly from the Recycle Bin.This is as good as crap gets for free.PPiirriiffoorrmm aatt wwwwww..cccclleeaanneerr..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

Disk Space InspectorEver wonder where all of your hard drive

space is going? This cool tool analyzes drivesand reports on usage in simple worksheetsor accessible bar and pie charts you can drilldown into to see at a glance which programsand folders are chewing up those gigabytes.It even works across network drives. AAddvveexxssoofftt aatt wwwwww..aaddvveexxssoofftt..ccoomm,, $$3344..9999

Disk Wiper 7When you pass along a hard drive to

another owner or just need to be obsessive

about security, you need a tool that willpermanently erase data. It can eliminateeverything, including the lowest levelbootstrap data for a drive. A Wipe Wizardmakes it easy for novices, and a built-intool can make a bootable DOS disk forerasing files from damaged hard drives.Partition management, sector viewing,and drive surface scanning are also in thispolished and complete program.PPaarraaggoonn SSooffttwwaarree GGrroouupp aatt wwwwww..ddiisskk--wwiippeerr..ccoomm,, $$2299..9955

IsoBusterFor anyone who needs to re-create an

optical boot disk, such as slipstreaming aWinXP installation, ISOBuster is theindispensable tool for extracting bootinformation. It is also a great data recoveryand exploration tool for CD and DVDdiscs of all stripes. It drills into all aspectsof the file structure and even detects erasedfiles on rewriteable media.IIssooBBuusstteerr aatt wwwwww..iissoobbuusstteerr..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

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What’s On Your Desktop?

The Dude (SIA Microtik at, Free). This automatic networkdiscovery and layout tool will scan andmonitor your subnet for all networkeddevices and automatically lay out a map foryou. Now that’s geeky and free!

2hotspot (2hotspot at, Free). This service lets you cre-ate your own wireless hotspots. Coffee andDanish not included.

SharpeReader (Luke Hutteman, Free). This iscurrently our favorite news aggregator.

FireTune (TotalIdea at, Free). If you use Firefox, this isa must-have free optimization tool. (If youdon’t use Firefox, where have you been?)

Alt-Tab Thingy (Nymithium Techn-ologies at, Free). ThisALT-TAB replacement is hard to describe,but you will be surprised that you livedwithout this “thingy” once you use it. ▲

Jim McMahonJim McMahon is co-keeper of the files at, one of the leading share-ware/freeware libraries online.

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NTFS Reader DOS Boot DiskA one-trick pony with a good trick. This

tool is a small executable program that runsfrom a bootable floppy in order to read fileson otherwise unreadable NTFS partitions.The program can preview some data in thefiles and copy the files to a FAT partition orto network drives. It can recognize longfilenames, as well.AAccttiivvee@@ aatt wwwwww..nnttffss..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

SyncBackSESyncBackSE equals folder synchroniza-

tion for simpletons. On-screen wizardswalk you through the process of targetingfolders for backup purposes or keepingthe contents of two folders identical.Great “what if” options let you designatehow the auto-sync should behave underdifferent conditions in either folder: somefiles have been deleted/created, if changesare found in both directories, etc.22BBrriigghhttSSppaarrkkss aatt wwwwww..22bbrriigghhttssppaarrkkss..ccoomm,, $$2255

Total CommanderThis is the sort of file management sys-

tem Microsoft still can’t seem to get right inExplorer. It gives you side-by-side windowsfor easy copying, a batch renamer, directorysynchronization, and even integrated FTP.

The Quick View panel alone, which givesyou quick displays of many file typesfrom the directory tree, is worth the priceof admission.CC.. GGhhiisslleerr && CCoo aatt wwwwww..gghhiisslleerr..ccoomm,, $$3344

ZSoft UninstallerFor pesky programs that won’t unin-

stall properly or leave too many traces ofthemselves scattered about your system,ZSoft Uninstaller is a great free tool forsniffing out the remnants. It can do athorough uninstall of a program, includ-ing deletion of leftover files the program’sown uninstaller ignores. ZSoft is great atfinding temp files throughout your sys-tem and freeing drive space other cleanupprograms overlook. After we finish testingall the programs in this roundup, we’ll beusing this one to clean up the mess. ZZSSoofftt SSooffttwwaarree aatt wwwwww..zzssoofftt..ddkk,, FFrreeee

Diagnostics & OverclockingCPU Burn-in

Specifically designed for overclockersto stress the overclocked CPU and discov-er whether it’s stable at the current speed.The simple program lets you run the testfor hours or minutes at a time and reportsany errors as it simulates a heavy applica-tion processing load. This helps take theguesswork out of how much you reallycan push your current system.cclluusstteerr22kk@@hhoottmmaaiill..ccoomm aattuusseerrss..bbiiggppoonndd..nneett..aauu//ccppuubbuurrnn,, FFrreeee

Hot CPU Tester Pro In a compact and user-friendly inter-

face, Hot CPU runs stability tests, doesburn-ins with multiple passes, and offersbenchmarks that break down perfor-mance by specific CPU tests and memoryattributes. The beauty of this test andbenchmark program is that it lets youadjust most aspects of the tests for cus-tomized stability and performance mea-surements. You can save or print allresults. For a quick read and burn-in, HotCPU Tester Pro is as easy as it gets.77BByyttee CCoommppuutteerrss aatt wwwwww..77bbyyttee..ccoomm,, $$1199..9955

HWiNFO32 This system diagnostics tool gives you a

wealth of system information, including

the details about your CPU, bus, memo-ry sticks, etc. You can also monitor yoursystem’s health and issue reports in text,CSV, or XML formats. The tool is per-fect for anyone needing to ID the hard-ware, firmware, and drivers installed ona system.HHWWIInnffoo aatt wwwwww..hhwwiinnffoo..ccoomm,, $$1155

Network Magic

Finally a tool expressly designed to helpmonitor, troubleshoot, and expand thecapabilities of a home network. NetworkMagic gives you a clear view of your router,its settings, the computers on your net-work, shared folders, etc. The free versionlets you lock out wireless hitchhikers andadd new devices. The fee-based editionadds remote access, easier file and printersharing, and network health and securityalerts. This is the user-friendly home net-work tool we have been waiting for.PPuurree NNeettwwoorrkkss aatt wwwwww..nneettwwoorrkkmmaaggiicc..ccoomm,,FFrreeee aanndd $$1199..9999 vveerrssiioonnss

NiBiTorNot for the faint of heart, the Nvidia

BIOS Editor lets you tweak core GPUspeeds, memory speeds and voltage set-tings on most GeForce models. It alsogives you a read on what card is in yoursystem, its various boot settings, its cur-rent temperature, etc. A GPU BIOS isnot to be trifled with, but advanced userscan squeeze every last bit of performancefrom their Nvidia cards with this.MMVVKKTTeecchh aatt wwwwww..mmvvkktteecchh..nneett,, FFrreeee

Notebook Hardware ControlThis diagnostics and tweaking tool is

one of the few designed specifically for lap-tops. It monitors CPU speed, temp, andvoltage, and GPU and fan settings.

s p o t l i g h t

What’s On Your Desktop?

Horas (Basta,, $15). This highly config-urable program views times in differentplaces around the world. Pretty useful fornot waking up your friends in the middleof the night.

4Diskclean Gold (Res Systems, $29.95). Did youknow your PC is staggering under theweight of thousands of .TMP files? Thisutility kills them and frees up space.

NewzToolz (TechnSono at,Free). This decodes the unusual com-pressed file formats.

Fire Client (Firebolt Software at, Free). Originally developed asa MUD client, it’s versatile enough to usefor other purposes, too. ▲

Mike Magee

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Although you need to do so with care, youcan use this program to tweak various per-formance settings both to increase speedbut also to prolong battery life. The pro-gram also lets you control hard drives andeven tells you how much of a charge yourbattery was designed to hold vs. what itcurrently is capable of holding. Notebookowners, your tweaker is finally here.MMaannffrreedd JJaaiiddeerr aatt wwwwww..ppbbuuss--116677..ccoomm,, FFrreeeeaanndd 1155--EEuurroo PPrroo vveerrssiioonnss


If you really want to know what pro-grams are running on your system andidentify their source files, then this isabout the clearest and more comprehen-sive index we have seen. Using a treedirectory, StartupList analyzes your sys-tem and tells you what drivers are loaded,which processes and services are running,where those DLLs and EXEs are locatedon your PC, and even which Registry keycontrols them. We have to admit, we’venever seen anything quite like this gem.MMeerriijjnn..oorrgg aatt wwwwww..ssppyywwaarreeiinnffoo..ccoomm//~~mmeerriijjnn//iinnddeexx..hhttmmll,, FFrreeee


After four years of watching the sameWinXP boot screen, isn’t it time for achange? BootSkin is one of StarDock’s (seeObject Desktop below) freebies that swapsin different boot screens with their ownanimations. The program has half a dozenscreens built in and lets you download andapply more from Youcan also link to simple instructions formaking your own boot screens. SSttaarrddoocckk aatt wwwwww..ssttaarrddoocckk..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

FlyaKiteOSX Yearn to join the Mac side? Chris Kite

has crafted a very comprehensive and con-vincing WinXP transformation kit thatmorphs much of the Windows interfaceinto a Mac OS X Desktop. The animatedicons run on the base of the screen,including icons for most of your openprograms and basics such as Email. Thesound scheme mimics Apple’s, and mostwindows sport Mac-like contouring andsymbols. Even the System Tray changesappearance in this thorough transforma-tion pack. And unlike some others in thisgenre, Kite’s uninstalls thoroughly whenyou tire of the effect and want to rejointhe Windows fold.CChhrriiss KKiittee aatt oossxx..ppoorrttrraaiittooffaakkiittee..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

HotKeyControlThere are macro programs and there

are hotkey configuration programs, andthis one combines both and more intohighly usable, easily managed tools forcustomizing input. A tabbed interfacemakes quick work of compiling new

hotkey combos, but this program shinesin giving you hotkey control over mediaplayback functions. The macro recordercan track mouse movements as well askeyboard input, and we really like thesimple conveniences of being able to printa quick list of all current key assignments.IInncchhWWeesstt aatt wwwwww..iinncchhwweesstt..ccoomm,, $$2299..9955

Object Desktop

If you love to play with Windows, thisis the must-have bundle of Stardock cus-tomizations. WindowsBlinds radicallychanges the interface look and feel andIconPackager does the same for any iconon your system. RightClick creates cus-tom right-click menus. Virtual Desktopscreates multiple screens to work on. Itgoes on and on. For PC customizers, thisis one of the best bargains around.SSttaarrddoocckk aatt wwwwww..ssttaarrddoocckk..ccoomm,, $$4499..9955


RSIWarrior is as serious as the repetitivestress injury problem. More than the usualreminders to take breaks, the programdemonstrates helpful exercises and recordsactivity to analyze what programs are themost stressful. Best of all, a mouse applica-tion minimizes click stress by clicking for

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you when your cursor hovers over a spotfor a set period. We feel better already.RRSSIIWWaarrrriioorr aatt wwwwww..rrssiiwwaarrrriioorr..ccoomm,, $$4499..9955

X-Setup ProOK, we’ve recommended this brilliant

tweaking program three years in a rownow, but we’re not stopping becausenothing else beats X-Setup Pro, and it justkeeps getting better. There are literally1,900 WinXP hidden settings to tweakhere now, which requires a “seek andtweak” feature for finding the right inter-face customization, performance settings,and network adjustment. New recordingand Safe Mode functions help protectagainst excessive tweaking. If somethingabout WinXP can’t be changed in thisprogram, then you probably should leaveit alone.XXQQCCDD aatt wwwwww..xx--sseettuupp..nneett,, $$1144..9955

ZMatrixIf you want to feel as if you have joined

The One, then this cool open-sourcebackground program turns your currentwallpaper into a matrix of dripping digits.The control center lets you set the size,font, rate of descent, and most otherattributes for the effect. You can apply thedripping effect to any wallpaper youalready have, but of course it was justmade for one of those monochrome stillsof Keanu Reeves staring blankly at usfrom behind those futuristic shades.ZZMMaattrriixx aatt zzmmaattrriixx..ssoouurrcceeffoorrggee..nneett,, FFrreeee

Internet ToolsFasterfox

This add-on for current Firefox ver-sions (not the 2.0 beta) uses prefetchingto speed up browser performance. Whilethe system lies idle, Fasterfox preloadsdata from the links on the current pageso you click through faster to anythingyou might choose. Other controls let youconfigure Firefox’s open connections,cache, and pipelining settings for optimalperformance. Even if the prefetchingdoesn’t work for you, it gives directaccess to the browser’s less accessible per-formance settings.MMoozzddeevv..oorrgg aatt ffaasstteerrffooxx..mmoozzddeevv..oorrgg,, FFrreeee


There are countless extensions forFirefox, but this control for media play-back is too good to miss. FoxyTunes runstiny player controls in the bottom ofFirefox so you can run scores of compati-ble players without leaving the browserwindow. It includes pop-up descriptors ofthe current track.FFooxxyyTTuunneess aatt wwwwww..ffooxxyyttuunneess..ccoomm,, FFrreeee


Browsing gets supercharged by this IEand Firefox add-on that lets you pop uppreviews of any link on a page. Simplyhover over the Browster lightning icon onany link and a Browster window pops upwith the page, which usually has beenpreloaded for added speed. Mouse off thepage and it disappears. It feels like Websurfing in 3D.BBrroowwsstteerr aatt wwwwww..bbrroowwsstteerr..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

WebarooThis unique offline Web browser has a

memory-resident program that subscribesand regularly updates Web content for

offline viewing from your hard drive. Youcan select pieces of a site or subscribe topremade “Web Packs” of content such asentertainment news or guides to NewYork and San Francisco. Very cool for lap-top users who only connect occasionally.WWeebbaarroooo aatt wwwwww..wweebbaarroooo..ccoomm,, FFrreeee

Internet Download Manager

The downloads just keep getting bigger,and even widening bandwidth can’t alwayskeep up, so it may be time to revisit an oldfavorite of the narrowband days. IDM isless obtrusive than earlier versions and ituses multipart, multisource file downloadsthat are lightning fast. Of course, it alsocan schedule massive downloads for afterhours. Better still, it now integrates seam-lessly into Firefox, Opera, and even thenew Flock browsers, for those of us wholeft Internet Explorer eons ago.TToonneecc aattwwwwww..iinntteerrnneettddoowwnnllooaaddmmaannaaggeerr..ccoomm,, $$2299..9955

Miranda IM

This is a very small, resource-efficientinstant messaging client that works acrossmost of the major networks: AIM, Jabber,IRC, ICQ, Yahoo!, and MSN. It is open-source and hundreds of developers haveadded various plug-ins that add sounds,games, themes, event alerts, etc. Youexpand functionality only as you see fit.Now, that’s a “personal” messenger.MMiirraannddaa IIMM aatt wwwwww..mmiirraannddaa--iimm..oorrgg,, FFrreeee ▲▲

by Steve Smith

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Not all companies are stingy. The smart hardware and software firmswant you to make the most of their core products and so they supplysome often-overlooked goodies for free. Many are hidden deep withintheir online support sections, but they are worth the drill down.

Abit uGuru

This suite of system optimization tools from Abit promises to takeits motherboards to new speeds and efficiencies. It combines theOCGuru overclocking tool with the Abit EQ utility (for hardware/temperature monitoring), FlashMenu (BIOS updating) and BlackBox,which communicates your configuration directly to Abit.

AMD Clock

A simple display that shows the current speed of each core of anAMD dual-core processor.

AMD Dual-Core Optimizer

According to AMD, some games lose video performance on dual-core systems because of the way they bypass Windows APIs to moni-tor system timings. This tool synchronizes the hardware’s time stampcounters to optimize gameplay on most AMD dual-core systems.

Gelato 2.0

This high-powered freebie from Nvidia turns your GeForce GPUinto a floating-point calculator that can render 3D scenes with profes-sional detail. It handles antialiasing, unlimited image resolution,motion blur, volume shadows, and every conceivable 3D renderingfeature. It does require an Nvidia chipset to run, however.

Intel Desktop Control Center [30bbbC10.gif]

For select Intel motherboards, this snazzy-looking tool monitorsCPU load, temp, memory usage, etc., and performs stress tests toensure your system is stable after tweaking. Be warned, this workswith a handful of motherboards and they require recent BIOS updates.

Media Connect 2.0

Microsoft’s special connectivity software turns your Xbox 360 intoa streaming media client. The cool freebie runs on a home-networkedPC so that digital photos and even MP3s can load directly to your TV

and home theater via a connected Xbox 360. Setup is easy and rela-tively secure, letting you authorize specific devices to access the PCand limiting that access to select folders.

Microsoft Windows Memory Diagnostic

Part of Microsoft’s Online Crash Analysis, the Memory Diagnosticcreates a bootable startup CD or a bootable floppy and runs automati-cally when you boot from the new disc. In one to two passes the pro-gram tests your system RAM and reports errors. It can even detecterrors in specific memory modules so you can determine which stickof memory needs replacing.

Microsoft Windows Power Toys

Any tweaker worth his salt already knows about this longstandingseries of free Windows add-ons, but have you checked on what isnew lately? The recently updated SyncToy keeps two directories insynch and has some clear wizards to help. The Image Resizer willreduce oversized images for emailing from the context menu of mostpicture files. And the venerable TweakUI is expanded to give muchmore granular control over the look and feel of your Desktop, menus,and Explorer windows. Still indispensable after all of these years.

Nokia PC SuitePC software from Nokia? If you have one of their late-model phones,

this software lets you link PC to phone and synchronize contacts, use thephone as a modem (good for laptop users), and transfer music, graphics,photos, and other files. The tools convert MP3s to AAC format forphones that support it and can sync with Outlook. You can even sendSMS text messages from the PC.

Opera 9

Think Firefox is cool? In many areas, the much-overlooked Opera 9does it one better. It is very fast, has integrated BitTorrent support, abuilt-in email client, pop-up previews of tabbed browser windows, andeven voice command recognition. Much more compatible with a rangeof Web sites than previous versions, Opera 9 is a genuine must-try forpeople who live on the Web.


Less famous than the Firefox and Thunderbird members ofMozilla’s oddly named menagerie, SeaMonkey is a full, all-in-oneInternet suite. From the taskbar in the bottom-left of the browserscreen you also get direct access to email, newsreader, and chatclients, a contact manager and even a fairly robust word processor.For a truly integrated online Desktop, swim with this monkey.


From optical drive maker Lite-On, this tool analyzes CD/DVDrewriteable media to determine its topmost write speed, manufactur-er, and disc type. On certain Lite-On drives, the tool can use thisinformation to optimize burning performance, but the disc analysistool works on any drive. Write on. ▲

Corporate Handouts

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here’d you get that pro-gram?” Chances are if youare like most people, itcaught your eye when youwere walking up the aisle of a local computer retailer. It’sstill one of the most commonways to not only buy softwarebut also know about what’s out

there in the first place. Here, we look at thebest-of-breed boxed software in a numberof categories and speculate a bit about thefuture of boxed software in general.

CD, Disk & File ToolsAcronis True Image Workstation 9.1

This is an extremely powerful and user-friendly backup/restore utility that goes sev-eral extra miles. Instead of just offering theability to backup and restore files or folders,Acronis also lets you clone entire drives (forinstance, if you’re migrating from one driveor computer to another) and automaticallyprepare a newly addeddrive with little hassle.Most intriguing is the“Secure Zone,” a pro-tected area of a harddrive Acronis createsthat lets you store databackups that you can’taccess or damage byaccident. For low-levelrecovery, you can build a special boot CD,install a boot-time recovery agent, and puta copy of the recovery agents on any back-up media you create. ($79.99)wwwwww..aaccrroonniiss..ccoomm

Norton Ghost 10.0The original Ghost was a computer-

and drive-cloning program that booted

from its own floppies and was a favorite ofmany IT departments. Symantec boughtthe product and reinvented it as a highlyversatile tool for system and data backup.Think of it as Windows’System Restore on ste-roids: You can back updesignated folders on-demand or on a sched-ule. It also backs up toremovable media or an-other hard drive. Ghostlets you image the wholesystem to a new hard drive, and if there’s adisaster, you can roll back to a previouspoint in time to recover system settings,data, or both. ($69.99)wwwwww..ssyymmaanntteecc..ccoomm

Nero 7 Ultra EditionNero’s CD/DVD creation and manage-

ment tool has more to offer with each itera-tion—so much so that it could fit intomany of the program categories listedhere—but you havethe option of installingas little or as much of itas you want when youset it up. Version 7includes (among manyother things) a video-transcoding app thatlets you copy unpro-tected DVD content to a Sony PSP, back-up and restore tools, audio- and picture-editing programs, the InCD utility that letsyou drag-and-drop files to CDs or DVDs,digital TV/PVR applications, and forward-compatibility for writing to Sony BD-Rdrives when they become broadly available.Nero is also amazingly punctual aboutupdating its software; you’re guaranteed at

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least one new bug fix and feature updaterevision of the program every few months.You can also get a full (albeit time-limited)trial version of the program directly fromits Web site and unlock it at any time with the purchase of a registration code.($99.99; $79.99 download)wwww22..nneerroo..ccoomm

CustomizationsStardock WindowBlinds 5.0

The king and emperor of system-skin-ning and desktop functionality programs,WindowBlinds let users create customskins for Windows long before Windowsitself did. The newest version integrateswith XP’s native Desktop theme and

skinning functions andincludes effects such as window transparen-cies and per-applicationthemes. You can alsoelect to selectively over-ride effects, such as notapplying the skins to

certain controls, and use hardware accelera-tion to speed up skin rendering (if it’savailable). On a decently fast computer(2GHz or better) there’s no noticeable lagor slowdown, and the free themes availablewith the program and from third-partysites are pretty impressive. People havebeen calling WindowBlinds “the Vistalook for Windows, right now,” and it’s nothard to see why. ($19.95)wwwwww..ssttaarrddoocckk..ccoomm

DiagnosticsLavalys EVEREST Ultimate Edition 2006

A good all-around system reporting andanalysis tool, EVEREST used to be avail-able in a stripped-down free edition, but as

of 2006, the only ver-sions available are thefor-pay Corporate andUltimate editions.

Aside from providing rundowns of what’sin your system, EVEREST can performstress-testing with live thermal monitoringand generate benchmark reports for every-thing from CPU speed to disk throughput.The Corporate edition emphasizes softwareand hardware auditing and reporting fea-tures, while the Ultimate edition is more

aimed at the hobbyist and overclocker, butthey’re both very handy. The free version is available from some download sites, but Lavalys no longer actively supports it. ($29.95)wwwwww..llaavvaallyyss..ccoomm

Media Organization & Image EditingAdobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 for Windows

Originally a stripped-down version ofPhotoshop, Elements has matured tobecome a powerful organizational andimage-management tool with image-edit-ing capabilities. Most of the functions aregeared toward dealing with photos. Whenyou import images into the program’s

library, for example,one of the automaticfunctions is “EliminateRed-Eye.” Its image-editing tools will beinstantly familiar toPhotoshop users, butthe software’s organi-

zational tools are second to none: You cancreate any number of hierarchical cate-gories or subject tags for your images andassign them en masse with only a coupleof clicks. The date and timeline views forimage collections give you a graphical ideaof when you shot a particular image, andAdobe has integrated online print order-ing into the application. ($90)wwwwww..aaddoobbee..ccoomm

Corel Photo Album 6Corel’s image and media organization

tool is only slightly more expensive thanUlead’s but has an equally impressive

feature mix and is a lit-t le more polished insome ways. Photo Al-bum tracks media onremovable disks as wellas your local hard drive,and you can send mediato Photo Trays—essen-

tially queues for batch processing suchas emailing, printing, and uploading.The usual gamut of editing functions(removing red-eye, etc.) are all here, butour favorite tool is the panorama cre-ation wizard, which can automatically

stitch together multiple images horizon-tally by detecting where they’re meantto join up at the edges. ($49)wwwwww..ccoorreell..ccoomm

SecurityTrend Micro PC-Cillin Internet Security 2006

Trend Micro’s powerful and lightweightcollection of Internet and PC security toolsdoes its job and then some; you’d be hard-pressed to find another collection thisimpressive at this price. PC-Cillin’s anti-virus is a fine product, and Trend Microcomplements it with a versatile and power-ful firewall, antispyware scanning, anti-fraud/antiphishing tools, parental controls,and more. We liked the Private Network

Protection tool, whichwarns you if someoneelse is surfing your Wi-Ficonnection without yourauthorization. If youhave multiple copies ofthe suite installed in your

home network, you can manage them allfrom a central console. ($49.95)wwwwww..ttrreennddmmiiccrroo..ccoomm

Zone Labs ZoneAlarm InternetSecurity Suite

Nominally available as a download butalso offered as a boxed product from manyretailers via Avanquest (, this suite bundles the widely-praisedZoneAlarm firewall product with the fol-lowing good-to-excellent utilities: antivirusand antispyware tools that user feedbackhas helped keep up-to-date, identity theftand privacy protection functions, instant

messenger security, andparental controls. A setof genuinely useful anti-spoofing/antiphishingtools guard against scamsfrom people pretendingto be some of the mostcommonly spoofed sites.A new “Game Mode”

feature lets you silence all but the mostcritical alerts when you’re running some-thing full-screen and don’t want to bebothered. ($49.95)wwwwww..zzoonneellaabbss..ccoomm

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System OptimizationIolo System Mechanic 6

System Mechanic 6 provides a well-organized suite of all-around utilities at a good price, and sometimes that’s all you need. Some of the included tools aremediocre. For instance, the memory opti-mization tools are of debatable value, andthe pop-up blocker is probably superflu-ous at this point. But the whole collectionis more than worthwhile. The program’sopening screen pro-vides you with a set ofanalyses and recom-mendations (not all ofwhich you have to fol-low, but which mightbe useful nonetheless),and you can performthe majority of the cleanups with oneclick. The defragmenter is one of thewell-thought-out tools. It has provisionsto do boot-time defragmentation, defrag-ment locked files on a subsequent reboot,and even defragment the normally im-movable MFT if needed. ($49.95)wwwwww..iioolloo..ccoomm

Diskeeper 10 Home EditionHow often you need to defragment a

computer is a bone of contention betweenexperts—some say as often as once a day;some say no more than once a month isreally necessary—but there’s little questionthat Diskeeper remains the de facto, best-of-breed, third-partydefragmenting applica-tion. It provides the fol-lowing host of functionsnot available in the built-in Windows defrag-menter (which is itself astripped-down version ofDiskeeper): the ability to defragment sys-tem file structures which can’t normally bemoved, optimized file-placement algo-rithms, boot-time defragmentation, andscheduled defrag cycles with a plethora ofoptions. The program has a trial download,and you can generally run it long enough toget a feel for how much of a benefit yoursystem will reap from the Diskeeper treat-ment. ($29.95)wwwwww..ddiisskkeeeeppeerr..ccoomm

Web ToolsTenebril GhostSurf 2006 Platinum

If you’re uneasy about having your IPaddress or other trackable data exposedwhen you use the Internet, GhostSurf 2006Platinum gives you a layer of anonymity

both outside and inside your computer.GhostSurf routes Internet traffic through alocal proxy, which then securely forwards itto one of a number of proxy servers on theInternet. By default, it routes Internet Ex-plorer through the proxy; you may have tomanually configure other programs individ-ually, but this lets you decide which pro-grams you want to hide in anonymity bysimply choosing whether to use the localproxy. You can declare individual sites

exempt from anonymiz-ing and configure thetype of data to makeanonymous—cookies, IPaddresses, transferreddata, or any combinationof the above. Plug-ins foranonymous AIM, IRC,

USENET news and other services are alsoavailable. ($49.95)wwwwww..tteenneebbrriill..ccoomm

Copernic Agent PersonalThe Internet is an ocean of information,

and search engines alone aren’t always thebest way to navigate that ocean. CopernicAgent Personal is one of a handful of toolsthat helps you perform and make sense ofWeb searches, whether it’s for your ownpersonal use or in a more professional con-text. It’s like having a Web-savvy personalresearch assistant that never takes coffeebreaks. Type in a search term, choose acontext (Internet, shopping, news, etc.),

and you’ll get resultsaggregated from dozensof different sources—notjust search engines butalso for-pay services thatoffer information notalways available to thegeneral public. The free

version of Agent lets you search a numberof basic categories (e.g., the Web, News-groups, and Shopping) and can search forone additional foreign country outside theUnited States; the for-pay editions of theproduct unlock a broader range of searches,including business and marketingresources. ($29.95) wwwwww..ccooppeerrnniicc..ccoomm ▲

by Serdar Yegulalp

Download & SaveAlthough we set out to gauge the currentcrop of retail boxed offerings in this article,it’s pretty hard these days to find any soft-ware that isn’t also available as a Web down-load. In fact, over the past few years, the vastmajority of software sold is now available asa download as well as a physical boxed prod-uct. And many of the programs listed herehave free trial downloads available, as well.

High-speed Internet connectivity is a bigreason why this has become not only possi-ble but also desirable. A user can download atrial version of a program that’s byte-for-bytethe same as the full version—the only differ-ence is that the full version requires a user tounlock a registration code. Publishers sendthe code in an email and use technologies toinsure that the user doesn’t use the codeoutside of the software’s license agreements.

Because the program doesn’t require anymedia for installation, you can burn it to a CDor DVD for backup and many vendors thatsell downloads will also sell the software onCD for the cost of the media. The license keybecomes the real element of value, becausewithout it, the program is just unusable data.

Sometimes the benefits and drawbacks todownload-only software distribution are thesame. If you buy a program online, you usu-ally don’t get printed manuals—just theproduct documentation in a help file or PDF(which is usually the source of the printedmanual). On the plus side, this means thatthere is potentially less wasted paper. Thedisadvantage is that many people like havinga printed manual for the sake of offlinebrowsing and don’t like wading through elec-tronic documentation if they can help it.

But the trend is clear. In another 10years, boxed software might end up in thesame niche as the LP record—a rarity onlyused by the few who still prefer it. The restof us may be downloading the bulk of oursoftware libraries from home rather thantearing open shrink-wrap. ▲

s p o t l i g h t

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fine in any desktop, but some integrate abit better than others. The GNOMENautilus ( file manager provides a host ofapplications for browsing and manipulat-ing files and directories, while Konqueror( does the same, plusWeb browsing, in KDE.

KDE offers more eye candy and GUIcustomization, while GNOME apps seemmore stable. Mail client/PIM Evolution( isdesigned for GNOME but works withKDE, while some K-utilities (such asKonserve and amaroK) work moresmoothly in KDE. KDE is the defaultdesktop for most commercial Linux distri-

y nature, Linux is perfect forpower users who shun all thingsstandard and aim to tweak theirsystems for maximum perfor-mance and usability. If there’s aparticular aspect of the OS youdon’t like or if you feel that youcan build a better mousetrap

yourself, Linux affords you theopportunity to do so.

And if you’re relatively new to theLinux scene, rest assured that there is averitable treasure trove of utilities to maketasks such as managing your media orchecking your email easy to do. Bundledutilities vary from distro to distro, sowe’ve assembled a list of applications youcan add if your particular Linux distrodoesn’t include them.

Customization/Desktop EnvironmentsIn Linux, your desktop environment

controls your GUI experience, usuallyeither GNOME ( or theKDE (, but there are manymore choices for the adventurous. Yourdesktop environment defines the frame-work within which GUI programs run-ning on your system are displayed. Youcan customize your desktop endlessly,changing the appearance and behavior ofwindows (active on mouse-over or on aclick), window titles (font, size, position),action buttons, taskbars (number, posi-tion on the desktop, and default size andappearance) and more.

GNOME and KDE, respectively eachinclude their own universes of utilities,applications, and applets. Usually, a “K”in the name of a program indicates it wasdesigned for KDE; “G” denotes the app isa GNOME project. Most programs work

butions; the increasingly popular Ubuntu( defaults to GNOME.

Remember NeXT? Window Makeremulates its widely hailed NeXTSTEPGUI in a smaller yet still highly config-urable and easy to use package. Its sizemakes it useful for running on older sys-tems or on LiveCD rescue discs.

Disk & File ToolsKonserve

Konserve offers a quick and easy wayto back up critical data files on a regularbasis, without having to become anexpert in Linux system administration.Built for the KDE desktop environment(see below), Konserve is a system tray

The GNOME desktop lets you control not just how your windows look but also howyour desktop handles almost all interaction with your system.

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backup utility that backs up any files ordirectories to any mounted storagedevice. You can drag and drop items forbackup or schedule automatic and peri-odic backups. It lets you back up yourworking documents directory to a USBthumb drive and store it safely (and sep-arately from the PC) at night. AlthoughKonserve works best with KDE, it’s alsousable in GNOME or other desktops.kkoonnsseerrvvee..ssoouurrcceeffoorrggee..nneett

Knoppix LiveCD/DVDEveryone should have a Knoppix

bootable Linux CD or DVD to run Linuxon a Windows PC, recover a crashed harddrive, troubleshoot Windows, do securityaudits, or save an obsolete PC from the gluefactory. Knoppix boots on most Intel-com-patible PCs, chock full of hardware drivergoodness, so it automatically recognizes sys-tem components and loads appropriate dri-vers. It boots with as little as 32MB RAMto a command line and 96MB to a GUI. IsKnoppix a disk/file utility, security tool,system tweaker? Knoppix wears all of thesehats, among others. Perform a file rescue,re-partition drives, sweep systems for mal-ware, and test hardware. Even if youadminister only one computer, keepKnoppix handy just in case.wwwwww..kknnooppppiixx..oorrgg

wipeIt’s shocking what’s left on old hard

drives for dumpster divers to discover.Wipe is a simple shell command for,well, wiping data off hard drives beforetossing or selling them. Wipe is a hard-ware-level secure file data destructionutility but use it with extreme caution; itterminates data with extreme prejudice.A tip for aspiring secret agents: hook upa shell script on your laptop to detectunauthorized access attempts and auto-matically wipe down your sensitive datato protect it from snoops.wwiippee..ssoouurrcceeffoorrggee..nneett

CLI (Command line interface)/shell commands

No matter how many fancy powertools you have, sometimes the only thingthat works is a good old-fashioned screw-driver or hammer. Why fire up a big,slow GUI application file browser when asmall, fast shell command gives what youneed, now. For instance, instead ofscrolling a GUI file manager to seek aWord document, try locate:

pete@linuxpete@linux:~> locate -d*/pete/*.doc

But even cooler, if you know just a partof the filename that’s a relatively commonset of characters, you can combine locate

with less (a scrolling text reader) and grepto find a a character string, so:

pete@linuxpete@linux:~> locate -d*/pete/*.doc | grep work | less

That command pipes the results of thelocate command to the grep command,which searches for lines in the text outputof locate that include the string “work.”Then, it feeds those results to the less pro-gram so you can page or scroll throughthe results. Less includes its own searchcommand. If you’re clever, you can useother commands to do things such as findonly files that have been changed in thepast week or that are read-only.

Most functions on a Linux system areimplemented as shell commands with GUIfront-ends to make them easier to use, butif you have a little patience, you can auto-mate repetitive tasks with shell scripts thatcall those commands to get results faster.

Diagnostics and OptimizingWireshark

Wireshark (formerly Ethereal), a veryeasy to use network scanner, collects a sys-tem’s network traffic and writes the resultsinto a file for analysis. Because it interpretsalmost every networking protocol (wiredand wireless) in common use, Wiresharkhelps you track down who’s talking to yourcomputer and what they’re saying. You canscan every packet going in and out of yoursystem or filter traffic based on source/des-tination, protocol, and more. As of thiswriting, many current Linux distros stillincluded Ethereal 0.99.0, but you canupdate to Wireshark 0.99.2 for keyimprovements beyond the new name.wwwwww..wwiirreesshhaarrkk..oorrgg

GConf GNOME Configuration EditorThere’s no “Registry” in Linux, so

there’s no need for a Registry editor. Butmost applications under *NIX (Unix-like)OSes create a file to store their configura-tion options. GConf began as a systemadministrator’s tool for browsing orupdating multiple networked systems withdefault configurations, or for pushing outupdates to those systems, but it’s handyfor reviewing and modifying configs on asingle system. As a shell program, GConfis accessible through a GUI front-end,

s p o t l i g h t

KDE’s Control Center application permits a high degree of customization of your desktop, controlling everything from adding extra buttons to windows appearance.

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GConf-editor to graphically browse yourown system’s application configurations.wwwwww..ggnnoommee..oorrgg//pprroojjeeccttss//ggccoonnff

GKrellMAs the ne plus ultra system monitor,

GKrellM not only monitors usage of basicsystem resources including CPU, memory,disk, network traffic, file system access, andmailboxes, but also supports plugin mod-ules that let you monitor almost anything.Plugin support runs the gamut fromCAPS/SCROLL/NUM LOCK key statusand to-do list tracking to intrusion detec-tion systems and uninterruptible powersupplies. If you don’t like the defaulttheme, you can build your own or down-load one of almost 200 from the GKrellMskins repository (


Banshee is average as a music player,but it’s the easiest ripper you’ll find forLinux. Pop in a CD, click the CD icon inthe upper right, and off you go. The latestupgrade (version 0.11.x) makes Bansheelook as good as amaroK. You can listen toand rip a CD simultaneously, organizeyour iPod, subscribe and listen to pod-casts, and grab covers and metadata auto-matically. Plugins extend functionalityeven further, with smart playlists based onmetadata, recommendations based onyour listening history, and an Internetstreaming radio player.bbaannsshheeee--pprroojjeecctt..oorrgg

K3bSmart software knows what you want

to do before you do, and K3b is smart

software when it comes to data andmusic, CDs and DVDs. Right-click toopen an ISO file with K3b, and it auto-matically assumes you want to burn theISO file to a CD and starts verifying theimage while you decide what to do next(burn the CD, of course). Click a soundor music file, and K3b builds an image toburn to CD or DVD; click more files topopulate the image and click again tostart burning when you’re finished. K3beven does audio file format conversions.wwwwww..kk33bb..oorrgg//

amaroKIf you’ve backed up a library of CDs

to your PC, amaroK will turn your sys-tem into your own private DJ. The soft-ware randomizes tunes, plays singlealbums, makes up random 50-tuneplaylists, and downloads album coverart, artist and title information, andlyrics. With amaroK, you can controlplayback with keyboard shortcuts or byright-clicking the amaroK icon in thesystem tray; in full window mode,amaroK you can manage your iPod’smusic, download podcasts, and listen toInternet radio streams.aammaarrookk..kkddee..oorrgg//

Xine CSS (Content Scramble System) was

Hollywood’s amateur attempt at buildingan encryption system to prevent you fromskipping over its ads and the FBI warningat the start of DVDs, as well as to stoppeople in Europe from watching DVDsbought in the US (and vice versa). DeCSSis a simple program that defeats CSS, andif you download the libdvdcss packagefrom Videolan (

/libdvdcss), you can watch your DVDson your computer with Xine, a multime-dia playback engine that drives many dif-ferent GUI front-ends. For more aboutmaking it work on SUSE, see JemMatzan’s article “Hacking OpenSUSE”(

Web ToolsFirefox

What else is there to say? Firefox rules;even Microsoft finally updated InternetExplorer with tabbed browsing to lookmore like Firefox. Sure, there are stillsecurity issues, but Firefox comes with allkinds of security aids (see below), not tomention other rad features, such as inte-grated search bar, click and drop search,page search, live bookmarks and automat-ic software updates. Plug-ins make Firefoxeven more powerful, with almost twothousand to enhance your Web experi-ence, including specialized search tool-bars, video downloaders, ad blockers andmany others including site-specific toolsfor popular Web sites such as PartyPoker,eBay, and LinkedIn.wwwwww..mmoozziillllaa..ccoomm//ffiirreeffooxx

ThunderbirdFrom the same people who brought

you Firefox, Thunderbird is a full-service,cross-platform (*NIX plus Mac OSX andWindows versions), highly configurable,and user-friendly email client. And likeFirefox, you can choose from hundreds ofadd-ons and plug-ins for added featuresor more exotic-looking themes. UnlikeEvolution, though, Thunderbird is onlyan email and address book application.You can find add-ons that will supportscheduling (such as Mozilla Calendar) ortask lists (such as ReminderFox), but ifyou must have it all in one place,Evolution is the way to go.wwwwww..mmoozziillllaa..ccoomm//tthhuunnddeerrbbiirrdd

SecurityGNU Privacy Guard (GPG)

Philip Zimmermann’s PGP (PrettyGood Privacy) software is free for personaland non-commercial uses, and its code is

s p o t l i g h t

The WindowMaker desktop environment is significantly different from—and faster than—KDE or GNOME, but it can be less

friendly to users familiar with other GUIs like Windows or Mac OS.

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partially open. But that’s not enough foropen-source. For a fully free solution, thePGP protocols are implemented in GnuPrivacy Guard (GPG), a powerful com-mand line program included with Linuxdistributions for encryption and digitalsignatures. You could use it from the com-mand line or incorporate it into a script,but it’s more likely you’ll encounter itembedded in your email client and GUIfront-ends, such as GNOME’s Seahorse( or KDE’s Kgpg(

Security Tools Distribution (STD)It’s a barebones version of Knoppix

but loaded with security, forensics andcryptography tools. It’s not for novicesor anyone without at least basic “l33t”skills in networking, system administra-tion, and general security. As a LiveCD,you can take it anywhere for proactiveand reactive security functions. You can

use it proactively to create an ad hocsecurity appliance, firewall, intrusiondetection system, honeypot, forensicstoolkit, network security workstation,and more. Or, use it to react to systemfailures, perform system audits, andrespond to intruders. ss--tt--dd..oorrgg

Firefox/mozilla configurable security settings

Firefox comes with a plethora of securitysettings that allow you to protect Web sitepasswords, control who sets cookies (andsee exactly what cookies are stored on yoursystem), permit or forbid Web sites toinstall software, clear all personal informa-tion with one click, and even control theextent to which you’re comfortable lettingJavaScript programs take over your sessions.It can remember your logins, favorite Websites, or all your passwords and user IDs foreach site. And If that’s not enough, thereare add-ons such as Password Exporter

( forexporting your passwords or NoScript( for creat-ing a whitelisted that allows you to runJava/JavaScript from trusted domains whileblocking all others.

TweaksThere are usually at least two different

programs for any function in Linux, andPDF file viewing is no exception. You canuse Adobe’s official Linux version ofAcrobat, but for a fast and no-nonsensealternative, try Xpdf ( An X-window front-end for a pack-age of PDF utilities, Xpdf grabs text (or,when that’s not possible, an image) intoyour clipboard. It loads much faster thanAcrobat, and if you like the speed butwould rather have more eye-candy andfeatures, try KPDF (, a KDEfront-end GUI for the xpdf package. ▲

by Pete Loshin

s p o t l i g h t

Although there are plenty of open-source utilities available forWindows and Mac OSes, some utilities are in a group that catersexclusively to Linux. We gathered of some of the best utilities youcan only find for Linux.

Dave Coffin’s dcrawIn 1997, software engineer Dave Coffin decided to simplify extrac-

tion of original RAW images from digital cameras, largely becausethe only way to do it at that time was with proprietary software pro-vided by manufacturers for only Windows or Mac OSes. Althoughthere is no formal standard for RAW files and using the lossier JPEGformat is easier, it is also roughly equivalent to using scanned photokiosk prints rather than working with the original. Coffin’s dcraw.cANSI C program has become an industry standard for both open-source and closed-source software. wwwwww..ccyybbeerrccoomm..nneett//~~ddccooffffiinn//ddccrraaww

EvolutionMicrosoft may not port Outlook Express to Linux anytime soon,

but GNOME Evolution is an Outlook-style email/calendar/contact/tasklist/groupware client for Linux (and other *NIX OSes) only. Designedfor GNOME, Evolution will work in KDE and other desktops and pro-vides a stable and full-featured productivity tool supporting collabo-ration, message encryption and digital signature, multiple emailaccounts, smart filtering, and junk mail control. Also configurable asan Exchange 2000/2003 or GroupWise client, Evolution can help

overcome one of the greatest obstacles to acceptance of Linux as adesktop solution in the corporate world.wwwwww..ggnnoommee..oorrgg//pprroojjeeccttss//eevvoolluuttiioonn

Linux LiveCDsKnoppix wasn’t the first complete OS on bootable CD, but it’s

become one of the most popular not only with users but also devel-opers. You can use Knoppix for seemingly endless specialty tools,such as KnoppMyth (, which boots yoursystem as a TV set-top box, and Helix (,which is for forensics and security work. Ubuntu Linux, one of thehottest and most user-friendly distros, is an installable Linux/LiveCDon a single disc with its own set of cleverly named variations, such asKubuntu (KDE desktop instead of GNOME), Xubuntu (for the Xfcedesktop environment) and Edubuntu (for classroom use).

GNOME Partition EditorGParted is the GNOME Partition Editor, which you’ll find in many

LiveCDs; it’s intended to be used for system repair. It’s an awesomehigh-powered package for creating, destroying, resizing, checking andcopying partitions and file systems—just the thing when you need tocreate space for new OS installations, copying hard drives, or diskimaging. Most LiveCDs set up for emergency rescues include GParted,or you can use its own tiny bootable CD, the GNOME Partition EditorLiveCD; there’s the bootable USB version for even greater portability.ggppaarrtteedd..ssoouurrcceeffoorrggee..nneett ▲

For Linux Only

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The BleedingEdge Of SoftwareInside The World Of Betas

Foxmail 6.0 Beta 4

B y now you’ve probably heard of Picasa,the tool that many call a Windows/

Linux version of Apple’s iPhoto. In fact,Picasa has always been better than iPhoto,and the latest beta widens that gap. Googlehas added usability enhancements and inte-grated the entire program with its new WebAlbum service yet has kept Picasa free.

Picasa is a photo viewer/editor for userswith a large digital photo library. Picasascans your computer for photos and orga-nizes them chronologically by your on-diskfolders. Click a folder to see thumbnails ofthe photos; double-click a photo to edit it.Also, Picasa doesn’t alter the original graph-ics file, so you can undo modifications oruse another program to edit your photos.

When dealing with photos in groups,Picasa shines. You can print dozens of pho-tos at once and Picasa remembers your opti-mal printer settings and paper types andsizes regardless of Windows Control Panelsettings. You can send photos to Google’sWeb Album and mark them Public orPrivate. Also, you can back up photos toCDs or DVDs or create slideshow discs.

Picasa easily performs its tasks, lettingthose with few computer skills print, share,edit, and manage photos like a pro. None-theless, Picasa’s interface is slick enough thateven experts feel like they’re using a qualitytool. Combined with Google’s online tools,Picasa is about as close to photo-manage-ment perfection as you can get. ▲

Picasa 2.5 Beta

Official product name: Foxmail 6.0 Beta 4Version # previewed: 6.0 Beta 4Publisher: TencentDeveloper and URL: Tencent; www.tencent.comETA: Q4 2006 Why you should care: A fast, free emailclient with many unique features is worthchecking out.

Official product name: Picasa 2.5 Beta 32.41Version # previewed: 2.5 Beta 32.41Publisher: GoogleDeveloper and URL: Google; Q3 2006Why you should care: There’s no better or easier way to manage, edit, share, andprint photos.

by Warren Ernst

l o a d i n g z o n e

I nterested in a freeware Outlook Express-like email program? You may think that

most email programs are pretty much thesame, but Foxmail offers a few features thatyou probably don’t already have, and itlooks good, too. Although you’ll need todeal with some issues before using Foxmail,you may find the effort worth it.

Like Outlook Express, Foxmail displaysyour mail folders on the left, message head-ers in the top-right corner, and the selectedmessage in the bottom-right corner, so itwill be familiar. Conventional features suchas Bayesian (and other) spam filtering,text/HTML message viewing, an easy-to-find View Source command, and spellchecking make it worthwhile for powerusers. Unconventional features, such asbeing able to go onto the mail server andmanipulate the message queue directly using

a built-in SMTP server to bypass your ISP’soutgoing mail server, seal the deal. Messageand address book importing and exportingare great, and there’s a built-in RSS reader.

As with any beta, there are issues, butsome have been around for several versionsof Foxmail. For starters, Foxmail, the com-pany’s Web site, and the program installerare in Chinese. The download the link isobvious enough, however, and you can getthrough the installer by clicking the Nextbutton repeatedly. Before you start the pro-gram itself, delete the file chinese.lgb in theinstallation directory, or Foxmail won’t runin English. Still, the Help Topics HTMLpage and a few tool tips are still in Chinese.

Your reward for your efforts is a light-ning-fast email client that can do thingsthat other email programs can’t, at a costthat can’t be beat. ▲

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UUppggrraaddeessAlcohol 120% handy CD/DVD emulator program’slatest release updates its Virtual Driveengine and fixes some minor bugs. Thisrelease adds support for more optical drives.

Get it at:

AnyDVD DVD ripper adds initial support forFluxDVD protection and new versions ofSony Arccos protection. There are alsominor fixes and language support updates.

Get it at:

BitComet (Beta) Build 20060731The BitTorrent client fixes bugs thatcaused file progress not to update and theconnection limit per task control not towork. The crash report can now detect“out of memory” errors.

Get it at:

Easy CD-DA Extractor 10aThe CD ripper now has full Unicode sup-port so that you can use foreign languagecharacter sets. You also get cover artmetadata and an updated interface.Version 10a also improves volume level-ing and updates the Ogg Vorbis codec.

Get it at:

Gelato 2.1The freeware version of the $1,500 profes-sional rendering program now enhances raytracing performance, adds texture baking,and improves lighting functionality. BothWindows XP and Linux versions available.

Get it at:

Paint.NET 2.70The best free paint program around getsnew effects, including glow, bulge, polarinversions, tile reflection, and twist.

Get it at:

SeaMonkey 1.04This release improves stability and addssecurity fixes. It also cleans up a bug intro-duced in the last versions and streamlinesits own auto updating feature.

Get it at:

SpeedFan 4.29The freeware fan monitor gets several up-dates and improvements: support for IntelICH8, Nvidia MCPO4, K8 chips. You’llalso get better event handling, includingSend Mail operations, with this update.

Get it at:

Yahoo! Music Jukebox known as the Yahoo! MusicEngine, this player and music library willorganize, rip, and burn your audio collec-tion, stream Web radio, create playlists, andso on. The new release upgrades the inter-face and fixes bugs.

Get it at:

Run—don’t walk—to download this month’s most critical update: a

security fix for the wireless networking on Intel Centrino chipsets. And

once your network is secure, try updating your Yahoo! Music Engine and

that cool 3D rendering tool (Gelato) from Nvidia.

YamiPod for Windows 0.99.4b2 BetaThis tool manages iPods, music transfers,podcasts, and more. The new version sup-ports the latest iTunes, fixes issues,and offers Korean and Farsi translations.

Get it at:

DDrriivveerr BBaayyATI Catalyst 6.7The new Radeon video drivers enhanceCrossFire support but also resolve someissues in Oblivion (CrossFire-related) andQuake 4. The release also fixes some prob-lems with several nForce4 motherboards.

Get it at:

Intel PRO/WirelessFixes for the 3965ABG, 3945ABG,2915ABG, 2200BG, and 2100 chipsets.They relate to the vulnerability to worminfestations via Intel’s Centrino chipsetsand WinXP. The package covers a series ofnecessary drivers to fix the problem.

Get it at:

Nvidia GeForce Go 7800/7900 84.63These drivers for the mobile graphicschipset add support for Dell XPS M1710and Inspiron E1705 laptops. This updateadds new PureVideo features and supportfor DirectX 9.0c and Open GL 2.0

Get it at:

Nvidia nForce 590 SLI Intel Edition 9.37For the new nForce 590 motherboardchipsets with Intel inside, these are theWHQL-certified drivers for most of thenetwork, drive, and bus features.

Get it at:

Sound Blaster X-Fi 2.09.0001 BetaFor all models of X-Fi audio cards, the newdrivers provide full OpenAL 1.1 supportand resolve issues with audio “crackling.”This update also fixes issues related to sys-tem freezes when playing Prey and Quake 4and improves audio in Battlefield 2 andDoom 3. There are numerous other fixesfor audio recording, headphone support,and developer modes, as well.

Get it at:

by Steve Smith

s o f t w a r e | u p g r a d e s

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Though none excels in all four categories,one is likely to fit the way you work.

AccountLogon 2.5AccountLogon only works with IE to

record and display your logins and pass-words automatically, yet it does so from asingle toolbar button, instead of the typicalfull-width browser toolbar. Even thoughyou might have to use ALT-TAB a bit towork in AL’s Winamp3-like window, mostof the time AL functions automatically, andmost of its commands are available from aslim pop-up toolbar menu.

Although several browser-based pass-word vaults automatically scan every Webpage for a new login and password to addto their collection, AL requires you to manually turn on its password collectionroutines. This then opens a new browserwindow with a message that asks you toenter the site’s URL along with a request toname and categorize the password withinAL’s filing system. When the site’s loginpage appears, AL double-checks the URLwith you. Finally, once you log in, it popsup a confirmation window. Even if thismay seem like a lot of interruptions, return-ing to a site and automatically logging in

r e v i e w s | s o f t w a r e

Protect Your PINs, Passwords & Private InfoWe Compare A Six-Pack Of Password Vaults

Y ou may have more passwords, PINs,and private security information than

you can remember, but what are the alter-natives? Using the same password for allyour accounts may be simple, but thenthere’s the possibility that a hacker couldbreak into all of your accounts if he’s fig-ured out your only password. Instead, youcould use a unique password for each of your accounts, but how could anyone possibly remember something such as“V47gT0kjL” without writing it downsomewhere (which is a security hazard)?

Most Web browsers have some form of“password memory,” but several utilitiescan crack Internet Explorer’s memory, andFirefox doesn’t password-protect your pass-word list by default. Additionally, neither isvery transportable, meaning as soon as youuse another computer, all your stored pass-words are left behind.

A password vault program is just theticket for these situations. Generally, suchutilities store logins, passwords, PINs, bankaccount numbers, and any other informa-tion in a secure, encrypted state, requiring amaster password to unlock it all. This leavesyou free to commit just a single, uniquepassword to memory to get to all of yourother passwords. Also, many of theseprograms work with a USB drive or ahandheld device, meaning your infor-mation can securely travel with you.

Generally, you can divide passwordvaults into two categories: standaloneapplications and those that integratewith Web browsers. The latter tend tofocus on account logins and passwordsyou use online and can help you savetime by filling out online forms. Stand-alone applications can store this infor-mation, too, but are usually set up tostore personal information you need inthe physical world, such as locker com-binations and bank account numbers.

I looked at three of each type of pass-word vault program, evaluating security,ease of use, cost, and transportability.

tends to be much more streamlined thanthe competition, requiring just a click ortwo to access your passwords from a singletoolbar button, the Taskbar, or the previ-ously mentioned pop-up toolbar menu.

You can store your bank account num-bers, credit cards, and other private infor-mation with AL, but the storage systemseems inappropriate because you only getfour fields and a longer Comments AboutThis Account field for each entry. You caneasily backup and restore the 448-bit Blow-fish-encrypted data file and run AL from aUSB drive (though you’re on your own tofigure that out) when you’re on the go, butyou’ll need to manually log on to Web siteson different PCs.

Login King Build 2088When a bunch of former Microsoft pro-

grammers get together to solve the pass-word storage problem, you can be prettysure the result will be slick, and LoginKingis certainly slick. Available as an applicationyou can install that works with both IE andFirefox (via an LK extension) and a USBdrive-compatible version complete with aportable version of Firefox, LK works pret-ty much any way you like.

At startup LK prompts you for yourPIN, which it uses to encrypt your pass-word file via a 256-bit AES system.Once you begin, LK scans Web pagesfor a login prompt and automaticallyrecords your login and password. Whenit does, it verifies that you want to savethe information and asks if you want tostore the login as a 1-Click Login, whichmeans you can click the 1-Click Loginbutton on the browser’s toolbar to log into the Web site. Or you can go to aWeb site, register it with LK, and thenthe program will automatically fill outthe login and password fields for you,logging you into the Web site. Further-more, if you need help generating trulyrandom, secure passwords, LK’s StrongPassword Generator comes in handy.

AccountLogon 2.5$24.95Rhodes● ● ● ●


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logins. To return to site, choose the site’slogin icon from the RF toolbar and itimmediately logs you into the site.

For real-life secure information storage,RF uses a free-form, tree-based structure,letting you organize information howeveryou see fit with the ability to rename fieldsas necessary. RF protects this information,along with your logins, via 128-bit AESencryption by default with RC6 and Blow-fish protection available, as well. You canconfigure RF in many ways, but combinedwith personal data, passwords, and real-lifedata storage, the interface is cluttered andsometimes confusing.

Siber Systems licenses RF Pro on a per-computer basis at $29.95 for the first PCand $9.95 for additional PCs. The compa-ny licenses the USB drive version per driveat $19.95, making it a better deal. Both RFversions work with Firefox and IE. ThePalm or PocketPC/Windows CE add-on,which lets you securely view your pass-words on your PDA, runs another $9.95,but it only syncs with the desktop version.

SplashID 3.32SplashData specializes in software for

portable devices, and its Windows/Mac OSX desktop versions of SplashID can secure-ly share and store your information onPalmOS, PocketPC/Windows Mobile,BlackBerry, Nokia Series 60, or SymbianUIQ handhelds with certain limitations

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Some Web sites, such as Slashdot andDigg, use an AJAX-based login promptthat hides and unhides the fields, but,unlike other password programs, LK is ableto decipher these sorts of sites. On the neg-ative side, when you manually log outfrom some Web sites, LK prompts you tologin again, which can be annoying.

Login King isn’t set up to store thingsother than logins and passwords, but if thatisn’t important to you, its speed, simplicity,and portability make it seriously useful,especially for road warriors.

RoboForm Pro 6.7.8RoboForm arguably created the category

of password vault software, and the result ofits continual evolution is that it offers morefeatures and supports more hardware thananything else on the market. However, thiscan increase the program’s complexity andcost compared to the competition, especial-ly when you enable every feature.

After installation RF Pro asks you for amaster password and lots of personal infor-mation, such as your name, date of birth,credit card numbers, and so forth. Youdon’t need to fill in everything, of course,but the more you do, the more RF is ableto automatically fill out every online formyou encounter with a single-click on the RFbrowser toolbar icon. Password collection ispractically automatic: Log in to a site andRF will prompt you to save it for future

among platforms. There isn’t a direct linkto a specific Web browser, but hotlinkswithin SplashID still make it simple toenter logins and passwords.

SplashID resembles a basic databaseapplication with a long list of your accountsand passwords listed on the left of thescreen and the record’s information youselect on the right. The application won’topen without your master password, andSplashID encrypts the database via a 256-bit Blowfish algorithm, even on a handhelddevice. Unlike RoboForm’s handheldapplication, you can actually add and mod-ify entries on your PDA instead of onlyviewing them, and everything syncs up cor-rectly. (For more information about theSplashID handheld version see page 80.)

You’ll notice that SplashID categorizesentries by Types, such as Web Logins,Insurance, and so forth. Once you register,you can create your own Types and desig-nate whatever field names you need. Youcan also categorize entries by Category,such as Business and Personal. Either way,you can whittle down potentially hundredsof entries to just a few by filtering them bythese Types and Categories.

Web site addresses appear as hypertextlinks, so clicking one loads the page intoyour default browser; it’s up to you to man-ually type in your login and password.There are separate hotkeys for copyinglogins and passwords, but you’ll need to

RoboForm Pro 6.7.8$29.95; $19.95 USB versionSiber● ● ● ● ●

Login King Build 2088$● ● ● ●


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sometimes drops off characters or doesn’twork at all. Ultimately, you can just useyour eyeballs and read your info from theKP dialogs or manually copy and pasteyour logins/passwords. (Don’t worry aboutcopy and pasting; KP will automaticallyclear the clipboard after 10 seconds.)

If you’re willing to manually copyand paste and want cross-platform com-patibility, or you’re looking for an open-source, multiplatform option, KeePass isworth considering.

Password Safe 3.02Password Safe is the classic, basic, open-

source password vault. It’s intended to besimple, fast, secure, and compact, and itsucceeds admirably. It’s not integrated withany Web browser, but PS still manages toreliably input logins and passwords intomost Web sites, and you can easily trans-port it via a USB drive.

Originally written by noted securityexpert Bruce Schneier, PS uses the Twofishencryption system and enforces a fairly rig-orous master password system. Unlike theother products I reviewed, PS lets you usemultiple password storage files.

Password Safe organizes passwords viaa free-form, hierarchal tree, but eachentry has only a few fixed fields and a big Notes section. When you put the cursor in the login field on a Webpage, switch over to PS, and then press

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ALT-TAB between your browser andSplashID to do this, which gets annoying.

KeePass 1.05KeePass is one of the most popular

open-source password vaults. It offers sever-al unique features but lacks some commonones. In addition to the more fully devel-oped Windows version, KP offers partialsupport for Mac OS X, Linux, PalmOS,and Pocket PC (no HotSync conduits, yet).

On the surface KP is similar to Splash-ID, but it organizes entries in a hierarchaltree structure complete with user-selectableicons, which makes locating one entryamong hundreds easy. You can’t configurefield names, but the Notes field is large,and you can attach any file to any entry.KP uses a 256-bit AES or Twofish algo-rithm to encrypt data via either a masterpassword or a special key file it stores on aUSB drive. In the latter situation, you don’tneed to remember a password, but youcan’t ever lose that drive. (NOTE: You caninstall KP directly on a USB drive, but youmust use a master password.)

Although there’s a plug-in to automati-cally capture and add logins and passwordsin development, KP normally requires youto use the keyboard and mouse to manuallyrecord logins and passwords. There’s also ahotkey to automatically paste your loginand password from the database into yourbrowser, but it’s not always successful and

CTRL-T, it will automatically copy,paste, and enter the Web site for you. Ifa site requires special characters to login,you can modify each entry to suit it.

There isn’t much more to PasswordSafe, other than a straightforward Get Helpfile—but then that’s the whole point. ▲

by Warren Ernst

SplashID 3.32$● ● ● ●

KeePass 1.05FreeDominik● ● ●

Password Safe 3.02FreeRony● ● ● ●


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backups to an expansion card and Backup-Buddy.NET, which provides full wirelessbackup for Treos.

FileMan 3.3 (Palm OS)$12Bits ’n

FileMan is afull-featured filemanagement appfor Palm OS de-vices. A tabbed in-terface organizesfiles by location(main memory orexpansion card)and you can sort

each window to show files by size, date,type, or creator ID. Select multiple files toperform mass operations such as move,copy, or delete, or use the pop-up contextmenu to see a list of all associated files,which is extremely helpful for finding filesorphaned by incomplete installations.

LauncherX 1.2 (Palm OS)$19.95GoTreo

LauncherX 1.2 is a complete re-placement for the built-in applicationlauncher on PalmOS devices. Thetabbed interface letsyou switch quicklyamong categories ofapplications, and

you can locate the tabs at the top, side, orbottom of the screen. Quick launch iconsat the bottom of the screen provide accessto commonly used functions, such as back-light, brightness, contrast, file information,file beam, and trash. Active Skins let you

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Noteworthy Handheld SoftwareA Roundup Of PDA /Smartphone Applications

W e’ve come a long way from the mid-to late ’90s when there weren’t

many add-on programs for handhelds.Today, however, there are literally thou-sands of applications available for Palm OSand Pocket PC/Windows Mobile devices.

I’ve rounded up some examples of tried-and-true apps for handhelds, as well as afew new apps that proved extremely usefulduring testing. You can use this roundup asboth a source for some must-have apps thatyou can add to your own handheld arsenaland as a jumping-off point for your ownexploration into the vast world of PDA/smartphone software possibilities.

UtilitiesBackupBuddy 2.1.6 (Palm OS)$34.95Blue

BackupBuddy is the gold standard forPalm OS devices with good reason: It backsup everything on your device, includingfiles standard HotSync operations don’tback up. You can restore everything on adevice or certain data files and/or applica-tions. If a synchronization error corruptsyour contacts database and you don’t dis-cover the problem right away, BackupBud-dy keeps multiple copies of each file so thatyou can immediately get them up and run-ning. BackupBuddy is available for Win-dows and Mac desktops, and the companyalso offers other options such as Backup-BuddyVFS for self-contained mobile

change the way LauncherX looks and actsby forming a new user interface layer overthe application.

MemMaid 1.72 (Pocket PC 2002/2003and Windows Mobile 5)$

MemMaid isan indispensabletool for PocketP C / W i n d o w sMobile deviceowners who needto free up memo-ry and take morecontrol of their

handhelds. The six main functional areasin MemMaid include: a Cleaner to deleteunnecessary registry entries and files; aNotification Queue to get more informa-tion about alarms and system events andto remove duplicates; Startups to getmore information about processes run-ning after each soft reset and controlToday screen plug-ins; Tweaks to choosewhere PIE and AvantGo store theircaches; Storage Memory to search for filesand find large programs/directories thattake up a lot of space; and Running Pro-cesses to show you exactly what programsare running on your device.

SKMenu 1.2.160 & SKTools 2.3.34(Pocket PC and Windows Mobile 5)$7.99 SKMenu; $9 SKToolsSK

These two applications offer an excel-lent combination of utility and ease of use.SKMenu lets you customize the Start button on your Today screen by creating custom cascading menus to launch applica-tions, close open tasks, and perform com-mon functions, such as rotating the screen,


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ability to use the volume buttons on theside of the device to scroll up and down orto switch applications. If your Treo is everlost or stolen, Butler has a special secu-rity feature that lets you lock the deviceremotely by sending an SMS message.

VolumeCare Pro 5.46 (Palm OS)$19.95GoTreo

If you’re disappointed with the volumelevel on your Treo, you should install thisapplication. VolumeCare Pro increases thevolume of your Treo no matter how youuse it—as a handset, a speakerphone, orwith a wired headset. Preference settings let you choose the volume level for eachspeaker separately and for each application.You can also increase the microphone vol-ume so that you don’t have to shout whenyou call your friends and family.

Productivity/PIMAgendus 11.01 (Palm OS)$29.95 Standard Edition; $39.95Professional EditionIambic

Agendus is similar to other PIM appli-cations for handhelds in that it integratesappointments, tasks, and contacts, but italso offers a unique approach that’s espe-cially helpful for those in sales and othercontact-driven professions. Contact histo-ries and linking are particularly strong, asare the 16 calendar views that are sure togive you all the information you need toplan your day. The Standard Edition isideal for entry-level users and adds a greatdeal of functionality, but the ProfessionalEdition adds an impressive array of fea-tures such as contact networking, integrat-ed voice recording support, email, SMS

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soft resetting, tak-ing a quick screen-shot, and so on.SKTools is bestknown for its en-hanced uninstallutility, but it canalso help clean upinvalid Registry

entries; clean out cache and temporary fold-ers; remove duplicate tasks, contacts, andappointments; and much more.

Spb Pocket Plus 3.1.2 (Pocket PC 2002and Windows Mobile 5.0)$24.95Spb Software

Spb Pocket Plus is an app that doesmany things and does all of them very well.

It’s a Today screenplug-in that lets youcreate a customizedmenu of favoriteapplications, files,and functions in a tabbed interface,making excellent useof space. Spb Pocket

Plus also enhances Internet Explorer withthe ability to open multiple windows, usefull-screen mode, and view the source ofWeb pages. You also get an innovative and unobtrusive battery meter at the top of every screen on your device with SpbPocket Plus, and it makes the X at the topof each application actually close the win-dow instead of minimizing it.

Treo UtilitiesButler 3.65 (Palm OS)$14.95Hobbyist

Butler includes all of the little tweaksthat should have been built into the Treoin the first place, making this applicationessential. Features include the ability tolaunch any program with a single press onthe integrated keyboard, an enhanced keyguard function that shows the time anddoesn’t disable alarms, enhanced alarmsusing ringtones or MP3 files, and the

messaging (for supported devices), to-dolist charting, time zone support, and powersearch mode. Agendus Professional also has several wireless components that maylessen your need for separate applications;you can get everything from the Quote OfThe Day and This Day In History featuresto weather forecasts, driving directions,and verifying/mapping a contact’s location.

Beyond Contacts 3.0082 (Palm OS)$

Beyond Contacts brings the power ofMicrosoft Outlook to your Palm OSdevice by replacing the built-in Calendar,Contacts, Tasks, and Notes applicationswith more full-featured applications andadding support for more Outlook fields(up to 19 phone numbers, three emailaddresses, and three mailing addresses for each record). The 16-category limit in Palm OS isn’t a problem if you useBeyond Contacts, and you can also down-load, read, and respond to all of yourOutlook email. Beyond Contacts is idealfor corporate users who must use Micro-soft Outlook, as well as those alreadyfamiliar with Outlook who want to contin-ue to use it on their handheld devices.

Pocket Informant 2005 Rev 5 (PocketPC and Windows Mobile)$24.95Web Information

Extensive options and customizableviews let you harness the power of PocketInformant 2005 and make it work the wayyou want. Although overwhelmingly pow-erful, Pocket Informant is easy to use andoffers tightly integrated views and featuresthat can help you get things done faster.Tabs at the bottom of the screen offerquick access to a variety of calendar viewssuch as a quick appointment list, dailyagenda, weekly view, monthly view, and aninnovative timeline view that helps youplan projects on your handheld. Appoint-ment bars in all calendar views help youplan your day at a glance by highlightingyour free and busy times. An integrated


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your appointmentsand tasks, searchyour contacts, ref-erence your notes,and view messagesand emails withoutlaunching anotherapplication. Youcan also create new

tasks and appointments by using the tapand hold menu option and filter everythingby category or date. The tabbed interfacemakes switching among views quite easy,and the Spb Diary also integrates with SpbWeather to show your daily forecasts with-out wasting valuable screen space.

Reference/TextBritannica Concise EncyclopediaSubject Edition 2006 (Palm OS andPocket PC/Windows Mobile)$

This applicationhas more than25,000 entries onan impressive arrayof subjects. It alsoincludes more than2,300 maps andimages to help youget a better grasp

of subjects you choose. A keyword searchfunction helps you find the informationyou’re looking for and cross references ineach entry make it easy to explore the sub-ject further. Font options are available, andthe PocketPC/Windows version also fea-tures ClearType for enhanced readability.

eReader Pro (Palm OS and all PocketPC/Windows Mobile 5 devices)$

eReader Pro is an upgrade to the freereader available from andincludes several enhancements that improvethe handheld reading experience. You canuse reference works such as dictionaries tolook up the definitions of unfamiliar wordswithout leaving the ebook reader, and you

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search function makes finding informationa quick and painless process; you canchoose to search by type of information orsearch across all appointments, contacts,tasks, and notes. (NOTE: As of this writingPocket Informant 2007 was in beta.)

Pocket Quicken 2.5.1 (Palm OS) or 2.1(Pocket PC/Windows Mobile)$34.95 download; $39.95

Pocket Quickensynchronizes withQuicken on yourdesktop to helpyou keep your fi-nances in check.You get PIN secu-rity for sensitivedata, quick reports

for expenses when you’re on the go, cus-tomizable views by account or category,payee and category reports, and support for scheduled transactions with PocketQuicken. A budgeting function lets you set up budgets on your handheld either manually or automatically so that you can make more informed decisions about your purchases. Pocket Quicken also includes abuilt-in basic calculator and view prefer-ences that let you choose the font, sortingoptions, and row shading colors.

Spb Diary 1.7.6 (Pocket PC 2002 andWindows Mobile 5.0)$14.95Spb Software

Spb Diary is a Today screen plug-in thatlets you see detailed information about

can also create yourown custom colorschemes. The appli-cation also offersgreater control overpreferences, such asjustification and linespacing, and has an

auto-scroll feature that lets you read with-out having to use the buttons or your stylusto advance the text.

GamesGamebox Gems (Palm OS and PocketPC/Windows Mobile)$

GameBox Gems isn’t just one game—it’s a collection of eight puzzle games tiedtogether by a common theme—we bet youcan’t guess—gems. PDAmill puts the package together very nicely with excel-lent graphics and music, superior sound

effects, and cleverstories that explainwhat you need todo and why. Theeight games inGamebox Gemsare Crystal Cave-in, Jewel Master,Rising Diamonds,Ruby Connec-

tion, Sapphire Spires, Stone Stacker, StoneStacker +, and Sunstone Swap.

Resco Sudoku 1.30.1 (Palm OS) or2.31 (Pocket PC/Windows Mobile)$

There many great Sudoku games outthere for handheld devices, but RescoSudoku stands out as one of the mostattractive and unique examples. Rescoincludes many helpful features such flag-ging wrong answers as you enter them intothe grid and a progress check that helps yousee how well you’re doing on solving thepuzzle. Standard options, such as variedlevels of difficulty and the ability to “pencilin” potential answers while you’re trying to

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To Go, and Yahoo!Music Unlimited.Additional featuresinclude custom play-back controls offer-ing gapless playbackand crossfades, aswell as support for a wide variety of

music formats, including MP3, WMA,Ogg Vorbis, and more. You can sort yourmusic library by album, artist, or genre,create custom playlists, and choose from alarge variety of skins to customize the but-tons and appearance of Pocket Tunes. Thedeluxe version of Pocket Tunes has every-thing the basic version offers, but you canalso stream Internet radio from Live365 or ShoutCast.

Pocket TV Browser 1.77 (Palm OS andPocket PC/Windows Mobile)DonationwareDoubleBit

The Pocket TVBrowser can cer-tainly add a greatdeal of entertain-ment value to yourlife. Once you geteverything set upon your PC, theapplication will

automatically download customized TVprogram listings for your area. You can getinformation on just a few channels or forevery channel in your broadcast, cable, or satellite lineup. With the Pocket TVBrowser, you can search by time, channel,or category, set favorite channels and pro-grams, and much more. Tap a director’s oractor’s name to automatically launch asearch for other shows that include theactor or director showing in the next twoweeks. A special upcoming Favorites searchlets you see all of the listings of particularinterest with a single tap.

CommunicationChatterEmail+ (Treo)$39.95Mark


figure things out,are all here, too.The most creativepart of the game is Resco’s skinning ability: Instead ofjust changing theway things look,Resco Sudoku also

changes the way you play by featuring sev-eral skins that rely on color instead of num-bers. This new twist really shakes things upand makes Resco Sudoku into a brand newgame instead of a tired old clone.

Warfare Incorporated 1.2 (Palm OSand Pocket PC/Windows Mobile)$

Warfare Incorporated has been aroundfor a while, but it’s still arguably the beststrategy game available for handhelddevices. The storyline is engaging, the

graphics and soundare excellent, andthe variety of unittypes and level ofdetail are outstand-ing. You play as ajunior executive atACME ExplorationCorporation work-

ing your way up the corporate ladder. Onceyou finish the main campaign, you’ll findthat the replay value is quite high, thanks inlarge part to a thriving community of ama-teur developers still creating new scenariosfor this game. (You can also create Warfaremissions with the free Mission Editor app.)If you’re looking for a handheld tacticalchallenge, you can’t do much better thanWarfare Incorporated.

Media Managers Pocket Tunes 3.1 (Palm OS)$14.95 Basic; $34.95

Pocket Tunes offers many features forPalm OS devices, and the latest versionadds support for music subscription ser-vices such as Napster To Go, Rhapsody

ChatterEmail+provides full pushemail with IMAPand POP3 supportand has a variety of great features. A special color-cod-ing system helps to organize yourinbox, and it workscompletely in thebackground, letting

you use your Treo for other tasks while it’sretrieving your mail. It’s possible to set dif-ferent types of notifications such as audiblealerts, vibration alerts, or LED flashes foreach mailbox so that you know where mes-sages are coming from before you evenopen them. Mark Blank also includes SSLsupport for extra security.

NewsBreak 1.2 (Pocket PC/WindowsMobile)$19.95Ilium

NewsBreak isan RSS readerthat lets you keepup with the latestnews and yourfavorite Web sitesby automaticallydownloading ands y n c h r o n i z i n gRSS feeds when

you dock your device. A wide variety ofRSS feeds are available for you to downloadfor free from the Ilium Web site in specialdocuments by category; tap a site name toadd that feed to NewsBreak. You can alsoadd your own feeds manually, and anoptional Today screen plug-in will showyou how many new stories are available toread. If you have Wi-Fi or wireless data ser-vice on your smartphone, NewsBreak willdirect you to the full story with a single tapof your stylus.

Opera Mobile (Pocket PC 2003 andWindows Mobile 5)$

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SplashData includes a Windows or Macdesktop application with purchase so thatyou can enter your data on the desktop andsynchronize it with your handheld device.(For more in-depth information about theSplashID desktop version see our review on page 74.)

Handwriting/Text EntryCalliGrapher 8.3 (Pocket PC 2003 andWindows Mobile 5)$

CalliGrapher isa replacement forthe built-in hand-writing recogni-tion system onyour Pocket PCdevice. You don’tneed to train the applicationbecause it uses

improved “fuzzy logic” to more accuratelypredict what you are trying to enter. Also,a Quick Correct window lets you moreeasily make corrections if CalliGrapherdoes improperly convert your text. You geta full spell checker and unique PenCom-mander macro function with this app, andyou can purchase a wide variety of foreignlanguage packages, as well.

TextPlus 5.8 (Palm OS) & 1.1 (PocketPC 2003 and Windows Mobile)$

TextPlus is an application designed to speed up text entry by suggesting possible words and/or phrases when you enter one or more letters into anyapplication on your handheld. Anassortment of word lists and databasesare available for several languages, aswell as specialized professions such aslaw and medicine. You can also enteryour own words and phrases to cus-tomize TextPlus, and because the pro-gram learns as you enter more and moretext, the preditions become much moreaccurate over time.

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Opera Mobile replaces IE to add numer-ous features typically found on your desk-top to your Pocket PC 2003 or WindowsMobile 5 handheld. With Opera Mobileyou get browsing and the ability to zoom inon a portion of a Web page. Also, the soft-ware provides pop-up windows and youcan either choose full-screen mode or fit-to-screen mode. A padlock icon identifiessecure sites, and Opera Mobile includes fullnavigation and history features, as well.

SecurityPocket Secure 3.0.2 (Pocket PC 2003and Windows Mobile 5)$13.95Pocket

Pocket Secure replaces the built-in secu-rity function on your Pocket PC handheldand lets you set an eight-digit alphanumericpassword and auto-locking options for acertain period of inactivity or when youturn on or reset your device. You can dis-able ActiveSync, as well. Pocket Secure letsyou completely customize your device’slock screen. You can use custom images,fully control font and colors, and choosewhether to display owner information(such as user name and telephone number).

SplashID 3.4 (Palm OS and Pocket PC2002/2003 and Windows Mobile)$

SplashID is asecure informa-tion managerthat organizesall of your sensi-tive informationsuch as creditcard and bank

account numbers, email passwords, andmore with 256-bit Blowfish encryption.Record types are fully customizable and theincluded templates are already set up forthe most commonly used kinds of informa-tion. A password generator helps you createstrong passwords, which is especially usefulin high-security corporate environmentsthat require frequent password changes.

OfficeDocuments To Go 8.003 (Palm OS)Standard $29.99; Professional $39.99;Premium $

This application lets you view and editMicrosoft Office documents on your PalmOS handheld. The various editions sup-port Word, Excel, PDF, and more. ThePDF support is nicely done with the abilityto open encrypted and password-protectedPDFs and has many zoom levels, portrait

and landscape ori-entation options,word wrap view,and support forembedded graph-ics. The Premiumedition includescharts and photoviewing support, as well as the abili-ty to open docu-

ments you receive as email attachments.Documents To Go is a must-have applica-tion for business users.

RepliGo 2.0 (Palm OS and PocketPC/Windows Mobile)Free RepliGo Viewer; $29.95

RepliGo is a mobile document formatsimilar to Adobe’s popular PDF format. Itconverts Microsoft Office documents suchas Word and Excel files, PDF, Web pages,and much more into a much smaller pack-age that you can view on a variety of plat-forms, including handheld devices. Thereader applications are available to down-load for free; if you want to convert yourown documents, you must purchase theconversion software. RepliGo documentslook exactly like the original, and the readerapplications can either zoom in for a closerlook at the document in the original formator can reflow documents for easier readingby stripping out the accompanying graph-ics, charts, and tables. ▲

by Jen Edwards


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Attach Plus

Y ou’re well aware that encryption,compression, and PDF creation can

protect and shepherd the files you send asemail attachments. Unfortunately, usingany of these often seems like more hasslethan it’s worth. Attach Plus is a TSR thatputs these tools where you need them,making it more likely that you’ll use themwhen you should.

After installing Attach Plus, open youremail client, start a new message, andopen its attachment browsing window.Choose a file to attach and click the newAttach Plus button. In the panel thatappears, you can zip one or more attach-ments. If the file you want to attach is adocument, you can convert all or part ofit to a PDF, as well as merge multipledocs into a single file. You can encryptyour attachments (256-bit AES for ZIPs,128-bit Triple DES for PDFs), but makesure your recipients have at least WinZip

9 or Adobe AcrobatReader 7, and phone aheadwith the passwords. If yourattachment recipient is onthe same network, tellAttach Plus to give herinbox a break by sendingLNK shortcuts to sharedfiles and folders.

Attach Plus also addsitems to the context menus of files andcommon MAPI-compliant apps, such asWordPerfect and Excel. Some examplesinclude the Send To Mail Recipient func-tion in Windows Explorer and new Printdestinations in Word. Context menuitems aren’t as obvious as, say, WinZip’siconed entries, so you’ll need to dig a lit-tle to appreciate Attach Plus’s scope.

Client support is broad, covering vari-ous versions of ACT!, Eudora, Goldmine,Thunderbird, Lotus Notes, Netscape, and

Rarlab WinRAR 3.60 beta 8

W inRAR has long been a favoritecompression utility for many

power users despite ZIP support inWindows XP and never ending trial versions of WinZip. Multithreadingsupport lets the version 3.60 beta catchup to WinZip and WinACE in the multicore arena.

WinRAR opens most archive formatsyou’re likely to use (except for SIT andHQX), and it can compress folders in ZIP2.0 and the proprietary, efficient RAR format. Context menu shell integration,

a wizard, UI themes, and drag-and-dropoperation make WinRAR much friendlierto newbies than in years past. OS and lan-guage support are, as always, broad.

WinRAR’s ZIP performance is aboutas good as its rivals’, but its ZIP support isonly for convenience. The RAR format isWinRAR’s whole point. With the “solid”mode option enabled, which treats files asa single stream of data, the utility canmake a RAR nearly 1/2 the size of a ZIPand about 20% smaller than an ACEarchive. (See our test results in the chart

below.) WinRAR also can createmultivolume RARs to span acrossmedia, update RARs or lock them

against future changes, and even recoverdata from damaged RARs. MaximumRAR size is too big to worry about (about8,600 petabytes), although the utility’sZIPs are limited to 2GB.

Other apps offer stronger encryption,and can open and create more types ofarchives. If you want to make ultra-compressed RARs, however, your 29bucks stop here. ▲

Groupwise, in addition to Outlook and OutlookExpress. Even the Web-based Hotmail and Ya-hoo! Mail are mostly supported (read the FAQs;our Hotmail balked atencrypted ZIPs). AP’sdeveloper is looking intosupport for Gmail and

Microsoft’s new AJAX-based WindowsLive Mail, too.

Attach Plus gives you the best parts ofbloatware you’d normally have to buyseparately and lets you implement themwith fewer mouse clicks. Nicely done. ▲

r e v i e w s | s o f t w a r e

WinRAR 3.60 beta 8$29 (40-day free trial)● ● ● ●

Attach Plus$49.99 (30-day free trial)Attach● ● ● ● ●

Dual Threading Single Threading

Core Duo T2400 1.83GHz, 1GB RAM, WinXP SP2 (archive size/min:sec)

100MB folder Default Best Compression 1GB folder RAR, Best

WinRAR 3.60b8, RAR 77.8MB/0:40 44.2MB/0:47 (solid) Single core* 409MB/11:25

WinRAR 3.60b8, ZIP 78.2MB/0:11 78.1MB/0:13 Dual core 409MB/9:35

WinZIP 10.0, ZIP 78.2MB/0:14 78.1MB/2:03 (PPM) Speed increase 19%

WinACE 2.65, ACE 55.0MB/1:00 55.0MB/1:00 * Process affinity set to CPU0;

WinACE 2.65, ZIP 78.3MB/0:28 78.3MB/0:28 core 0 often maxed out

by Marty Sems


CPU / October 2006 81

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Digital Life DangersWW hen I first put my email address front

and center on a business card, nobodywas sure what to make of it. Of course, thatwas 1994, when the Internet was largely rele-gated to educational institutions, the UnitedStates military, and high-tech corporations inSilicon Valley. The Web was just starting tospin, and I couldn’t wait for true interactivityto come to fruition. Fast-forward to the pre-sent day.

When it comes to uploading any part ofyour life, be careful when you place that datain someone else’s hands—trusted or otherwise.

My first anecdote is a bit on the personalside, but that’s only because I need to captureand keep your attention throughout the entirearticle. I met my fiancée through a popularonline dating service a few years ago. My pro-file was dripping with creativity, and a simplecall to action prompted her to send me a per-sonal message. In a couple of days, we meteach other face-to-face for the first time (andhit it off, naturally).

The date stretched late into the night, butas soon as I got home, I Googled her. Actu-ally, we Googled earlier in the car . . . I mean,I showed her how to search the Internet frommy cell phone. Anyway, I only discovered oneresult for her name (Latthanapon Indharaso-phang); little did I know that she was alsoGoogling my name and discovering manythings about me that she didn’t necessarilywant to know.

Both of us came from previous marriages,though my relationship was extensivelychronicled online, which made for a some-what awkward second date. She ultimatelydecided to discover me for herself. Some peo-ple would not have given me that courtesy. Infact, many would not have given me the ben-efit of the doubt.

Forget about love for a moment. What ifshe were a potential employer? I wouldn’twant to work for someone who didn’t knowhow to use a search engine to research apotential employee, yet they might discoverthat I’ve done crazy things in the past thatmight curb my appeal. What if CPU editorsdiscovered I did anddecided that it didn’t fall in line with their

code of ethics? I’d have lost the opportunity totell you, again:

Be careful!It’s great that we can easily blog about cats,

publish photos of puppies, upload videos ofour lipsync sessions, etc. But with great powercomes great responsibility. Even if you placecontent onto your own Web server, once ithits the infobahn, it’s there forever. With thiscaveat in mind, let’s swing the argument inanother direction.

We’re in the middle of an Internet renais-sance right now, with new Web companiesbreaking ground at breakneck speed. Businessplans are replete with useless statements suchas “Client-focused Compositional Phenom-ena” and “Systematized Solution-orientedFramework.” But the buzzphrase that fright-ens me most? “User-Generated Content.”Great idea for investors, bad idea for you.

Let’s say a new photo-sharing site comesalong and it’s better than what’s already outthere. You decide to start uploading your lifeinto the service, foregoing local copies altogeth-er after a few years. Suddenly, that company istaken over by a large Internet conglomeratewho believes that users come last. This newmanagement won’t allow you to easily extractyour data and is holding your photos for ran-som, unless you pay their new subscription fee,which is more than your monthly rent.

That’s quite a dramatic example, but itcould happen. Businesses go out of businessoften, and if you’re not careful, your docu-mented personal life could go out of busi-ness with them. Need another reason to beparanoid? There are thousands of Web ser-vices vying for your attention, though manyof them don’t have a clearly visible “data ex-port” mechanism. Your profile is no longer your own.

You don’t own yourself if you put your-self in their hands, which is exactly whatyou’re doing by furthering the cause ofsocial media. Now, digital social inter-changes are both fun and functional, butthey’re also placing control of your identityat risk. Remember that the next time afriend asks you to sign up for YASN. ▲

Businesses go out

of business often,

and if you’re not

careful, your


personal life could

go out of business

with them.You can dialogue with Chris at [email protected].

Chris Pirillo meow meow, meow meow,, meow meow meow.

Meow meow meow meow.

Meow meow, meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow.Meow meow meowmeow meow meow meow. Meowmeow, meow meow meow. Meow

meow meow - meow meow!Meow meow meow. Meow meowmeow meow meow, meow meow.Meow meow meow meow meowmeow meow meow meow. Meowmeow meow meow meow meow,meow meow meow meow meow;

meow meow meow. Meow meow:meow?

Dialogue Box

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Software’s Dual NatureWW e can stop pretending open-source

software is always given away and pro-prietary software is always sold. For starters,vendors like Oracle, Microsoft, and VMwaresell some of their closed-source products butalso give some away. Meanwhile, companieslike Zope (, MySQL (,and SugarCRM ( sponsoropen-source projects but also sell open-source software.

How does Red Hat get away with sellingbundles of free software? Why does Oracle giveaway fully functional versions of its databasesoftware? And which is better: Oracle’s no-cost proprietary software or no-cost open-source MySQL?

Let’s talk about commercial software. Linuxand other open/free software work as well asproprietary software—or better—for my pur-poses. But IT managers who use open-sourcesoftware still prefer to pay for their software.

The difference is not just a matter of seman-tics. “Proprietariness” and “commerciality” areorthogonal properties, so software falls into fourcategories, even though we mostly think aboutsoftware as being either:

Non-Commercial and Non-Proprietary: It’sfree, and you can freely use, see, share, modify,and distribute the source code. By definition, allsoftware under an open-source license is non-commercial and non-proprietary; or

Commercial and Proprietary: You pay for it,but you can’t freely use, see, share, modify ordistribute the source code. This is the traditionalway software has been distributed for PC users,with Microsoft OSes as the most common.

But there are two other options:Non-Commercial but Proprietary: You can’t

buy Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but neithercan you see the source code. Likewise for anynumber of other fully-functional programs dis-tributed free for various reasons. Some are freebut lock you into a service like Skype . Oraclegives away Database Express and VMware givesaway its Player and Server software to get moredevelopers working on those platforms andstimulate development of new applications aswell as sales of their commercial products. Youcould also argue that shareware is not trulycommercial (if you can use it without paying)

but if distributed in compiled code only it is stillproprietary software; and

Commercial but Non-Proprietary: Whenopen-source software is packaged and/orlicensed for sale allowing a company to profit,while users can still freely see, share, modify anddistribute the source.

The key words here are “package” and“license for sale.”

Red Hat sells Red Hat Enterprise Linux eventhough the vast bulk of RHEL consists of open-source software that Red Hat didn’t create andto which it holds no intellectual property rights.If you don’t have the energy to re-create theRHEL distribution from source yourself, othersare making non-commercial versions of RHELavailable. Red Hat profits by packaging its particular brand of Linux with extras you can’t simply download. You aren’t really paying for Red Hat software; you’re paying for immediateaccess to patches, fixes, upgrades, and an assur-ance of stability through ongoing support andcertified hardware support.

Alternatively, an open-source project’s own-ers have the option of changing or adding totheir licensing options. For example, MySQL5.0 Community Edition is published under theGNU Public License, and you can freely use,see, share, modify, and distribute the sourcecode; or you can pay for MySQL 5.0 ProCertified Server. Both versions are effectivelyidentical, but the commercial license lets yousell your proprietary MySQL applications andentitles you to enterprise-grade support.

These days there’s so much enterprise-quality,open-source software available from for-profit,open-source companies at no-cost for develop-ment or evaluation; it’s no wonder vendors arereleasing more proprietary software for free.

With open-source vendors often selling theircommercial licenses for less than their propri-etary competitors charge for comparable prod-ucts, developers save again. Those developingtheir own commercial product can drop prices;those developing for corporate IT departmentsincrease corporate profits.

When independent developers must choosebetween paying big bucks for commercial devel-opment software and getting it for far less, it’seasy to see that everyone wins. ▲

These days there’s

so much enterprise-

quality, open-source

software available

from for-profit,


companies at

no-cost for

development or


it’s no wonder

vendors are releas-

ing more proprietary

software for free.You can get saucy with Pete at [email protected]

Pete Loshin, former technicaleditor of software reviews for

Byte Magazine (print version),consults and writes about com-

puting and the Internet. Healso runs www.linuxcook He owns shares ofboth Microsoft and Red Hat

and believes that Windows isn't for everyone, but neither

is Linux.

Open Sauce

CPU / October 2006 83

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A s if Google didn’t have enoughcash on hand, the world’s ubiqui-tous search brand now wants to

put its hands in our wallets—virtual wal-lets, that is. Launched this summer,Google Checkout is an online paymentsystem that seems on the surface to chal-lenge eBay subsidiary PayPal as the cyber-cashier of choice online. But as with mostthings Google, all you need to do is scratchthe surface of this new experiment to find acagey vision and business plan that couldchange the way we buy things online.

No Killer . . .Soon after signing up for a Google

Checkout account, it’s apparent that this isno PayPal killer. Much like any ecommercecheckout, Google takes your personal ship-ping information and keeps your creditcard on file. From there, participating ven-dors such as Starbucks and Jockey now letyou pay for items at their online store bysimply signing into your Google Checkoutaccount at their checkout screens. Google

The Google vs.PayPal SmackdownWrestling For Your Virtual Wallet

provides the buyer with security and conve-nience because he only enters his creditcard information once with Google, whichthen makes the payment to the vendor.The user doesn’t have to re-enter the samepersonal information and spread his creditcard number across countless companiesonline. Google not only shields your creditcard information from the vendor but also can optionally shieldyour email identity, as well.And because the sellers mustapply to Google to partici-pate in the program, thesearch engine has a directrelationship with the stores,so Google is in a position toresolve any conflicts thatmight arise and police thesystem for fraud. Further-more, the service promisesreimbursement for unautho-rized use of your account.

Sound like PayPal? Notquite. eBay’s successful

company is more like online banking.PayPal also maintains your personal infor-mation so that it can pass it onto a part-nered vendor and also acts as a go-betweento resolve conflicts. But PayPal can holdmoney on account or draw directly from areal-world bank account. More important-ly, PayPal is a peer-to-peer system that cantransfer funds to any of the 100 millionother people or groups that have PayPalaccounts. Google Checkout only keeps acredit or debit card number on accountand can only charge it on behalf of a ven-dor. This gives PayPal a distinct advantageon eBay, where individual auctioneers takepayment directly. Google Checkout isexclusively for established businesses.

. . . But Still ThreateningNevertheless, PayPal clearly feels threat-

ened. eBay banned the use of GoogleCheckout within the auction service, claim-ing it has no history of reliable service.Although Google Checkout and PayPal docompete for retail partners, some analystssee Google more directly threatening’s 1-Click method of orderingproducts. But Google is applying the con-venience across thousands of independentcompetitors to Amazon’s many ministores.

Neither company was first to try solvingthe “virtual wallet” problem, an easy, safe,and universal online payment solution.Microsoft Passport and Yahoo! PayDirectfailed to grab consumer interest, yet peoplecontinue to find entering their credit cardinformation for every purchase a tediousand insecure way to buy things online.

c a u g h t i n t h e w e b

Google Checkout gives you one-click purchasing at a growing number of vendors.

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consumers, Google offers rebates and cou-pons for initial purchases at retailers.

But it’s the search engine itself thatultimately will power Google Checkout.Partners get a special blue shopping carticon next to their sponsored listings atopsearch results. When users search for services on Google, these icons on theresults page signal to the users that apurchase here will be that much easierthan a transaction elsewhere. Google andits partners are relying on making a fric-tionless, seamless flow from search queryto final purchase. And as users click linkswith Checkout icons more often, theseads themselves start floating to the top ofthe Google ad listings; popularity, too, isone of the criteria Google uses for deter-mining ad placement on a page. Googleofficials say that preliminary statisticsshow that a Checkout badge does indeedincrease click-throughs on an ad and alsoimproves the rate at which those usersmake a final purchase. The search enginewill effectively feed the ecommerce

Forrester research shows that 62% of con-sumers don’t buy on the Web primarilybecause they fear putting their credit cardnumbers online. Online payment systemsalso expand the Web economy by makingit less expensive for smaller merchants toaccept payments online and competedirectly with larger retailers. PayPal mayhave eBay, but the world’s biggest search

engine has tens of thousands of large andsmall companies that already buy AdWordstext ads that advertise their wares in Googlesearch results. On that basis alone, saysDavid Berkowitz, director of strategic plan-ning at 360i, “Google Checkout can have areally significant impact on ecommerce.”

Fire Up The EngineThis is why Google is

pulling out several stops tolure both users and mer-chants to its Checkout ser-vice. For merchants, GoogleCheckout is the better deal,charging only 20 cents pertransaction and 2% of thepurchase price vs. 30 centsplus 2.9% for a PayPal-enabled exchange. CurrentGoogle AdWords partnersalso get price breaks on thetransaction fees accordingto how much they spend on text ad buys. To attract

c a u g h t i n t h e w e b

Google results on a simple “coffee” search bring up a screenof partnered merchants.

CPU: 360i has recommendedthat its clients wait and see onGoogle Checkout. What are thegreatest areas of concern?

Berkowitz: If they’re usingAdWords, then Google willprovide complete insightinto the consumer researchand buying process forthose marketers, which maybe more than they are com-fortable with. Second, thereisn’t much information abouthow well it actually works, ifconsumers are happy withit, and if Google is ade-quately resolving any con-flicts consumers have.

There are a lot of questionsthat marketers should ask.

CPU: Is it good for users?

Berkowitz: It can stream-line the conversion process,especially for those whotend to make one-off or spo-radic purchases from anarray of different retailers.Anecdotal evidence, suchas blog postings, hints thatconsumers are satisfied withthe experience. I’ve tried it. Iwould use it again.

CPU: How big a challenge couldGoogle auctions via Base and

Checkout pose to eBay andPayPal?

Berkowitz: eBay has saidthat at least for the timebeing, eBay merchants can’taccept Google Checkout, andGoogle doesn’t let AdWordsadvertisers pay throughPayPal. If Base and Check-out became significant alter-natives to eBay, then in time,anyone retailing online couldbe forced to choose betweenthe two platforms.

CPU: Does Google risk beingdistracted from its core searchbusiness by sidelines like this?

Berkowitz: Google doesn’teven see itself as being inthe search business. It says it’s in the business ofgathering the world’s infor-mation and making thataccessible, and it countsadvertising and products as‘information.’ So far, whilesome of its offerings havebeen successful (such asNews and Maps and itsAdSense network) andsome have been less so(Orkut and Froogle, forexample), nothing has dilut-ed its search experience.

David Berkowitz, director of strategic planning for search marketing firm 360i, is alongtime columnist and expert on the search business. He says Google Checkoutoffers a great user experience, but online merchants may want to wait and see.

David Berkowitz: Waiting To “Checkout”Q


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try to anticipate Google’s next move tosee whether it threatens or bolsters theirown businesses. Google Checkout maycompete with PayPal as a payment sys-tem for major e-tailers, although there’sno reason why a vendor couldn’t offercustomers both payment methods. Thereal and deeper threat of Checkout maycome in how it supercharges otherGoogle projects down the road, namelythe Base classifieds. If that productevolves, as many suspect, into full-blown online auction services, jobs list-ing, and/or a mall for small merchants,then “you have a game changer,” saysBerkowitz. “Google Checkout withGoogle Base takes on HotJobs,,, and eBay. Youname a major player out there, andGoogle is a potential threat.”

Google vs. the world: Now that’s a smackdown.

by Steve Smith

engine. Although others such as Yahoo!and Microsoft have failed to make thevirtual wallet pay, this is the first timethat a payment system has been tied toan advertising engine, let alone one withthe reach of Google.

Although eBay/PayPal sees a challengerin Google, other systems such as micro-payment vendor BitPass hope it somehowcan integrate with Google. “That Googleis entering the online payments spacereflects how much the digital downloadand premium content space is growing,”says Doug Knopper, CEO of BitPass.

Far from a slam dunk, Google Check-out is just the latest in a long line of“let’s-see-what-sticks” projects from thecompany, with unremarkable initiativessuch as Google Base (classifieds), Froogle(ecommerce), and Orkut (social network-ing) that have yet to catch on. Googlemay be venturing into areas it doesn’treally understand. “Checkout is not reallya fit in some ways,” says Danny Sullivan,editor at Search Engine Watch. “They aredoing so many things, it is difficult totrack them as clearly as they would like.”In this case Google has to contend withthe potential for fraud, people usingstolen credit cards on its system, and ille-gitimate vendors. PayPal has invested tensof millions of dollars in staff and technol-ogy to detect financial cheats.

PayPal Fights BackIn 2002, eBay paid $1.5 billion for

PayPal, which it quickly integrated into

its auction engine. The bet paid off big, with $27.5 billion in transactionsprocessed last year, up about 45% fromthe previous year. It boasts over 100million accounts, although its late 2005public statements reveal that only 28million of those are considered active atany time. AC Nielsen found that 29%of online shoppers in North Americahad used PayPal to purchase items.

Nevertheless, PayPal suffers limitedcoverage with top-tier online retailers,and there’s room for a universal pay-ment system online. No one has theaudience reach and commercial relation-ships of Google. And so, PayPal isn’tstanding still. It recently launched amobile payment plan that uses SMSmessaging to debit offline purchases.Also, an upcoming Virtual Debit Cardwill work at sites that don’t acceptPayPal but do accept MasterCard. Adownloadable toolbar would let usersget a unique MasterCard number tomake purchases using their PayPalaccount balance for payment.

Expanding Google’s BaseNo one ever accused Google of being

dumb, and the smartest part of Checkoutmay have less to do with cash than withthe market knowledge the search enginegains about how people move from que-rying a term to actually buying goods.What if Google now sees that certain key-words result in higher sales for it advertis-ers? It could add a premium price to those

terms on the AdWordssystem. Jeffrey Grau,senior analyst at eMar-keter, says that ultimate-ly, Google is after whatit’s always after: moreinformation. “The morethey can learn about thepeople who use theirsearch engine, the betteroff they are in the otherside of their business: ad targeting.”

And so the gamecontinues, in which aweb of content andcommerce companies

c a u g h t i n t h e w e b

Unlike Google Checkout, PayPal is an online virtual bank whereyou can add and draw down funds or make direct transfers amongany other PayPal account holders.

You’ve probably noticed that whilespeedily typing along, you can press the

wrong key. Luckily Word corrects some mis-spellings, but what about when you PRESSTHE DARN CAPS LOCK key? Annoying? Yes,but to some it’s more than just a nuisance,it’s life or death—for the CAPS LOCK key thatis. Pieter Hintjens is so irritated by the CAPSLOCK key that he’s petitioning computermanufacturers to eliminate the key fromkeyboards. If you despise CAPS LOCK, checkout Hintjens Google Group ( forum to join theCAPSoff Rebellion. ▲














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rfidhell.txtRR FID is a crazy, double-edged sword that

could revolutionize many aspects ofbusiness, but at the same time it could vio-late privacy and put people at serious risk.Simultaneously, huge databases collectingevery tidbit of information about you arecoming online. Your credit history is just thebeginning, and the mainstream is barely pay-ing attention to it.

Hardly a day goes by without a gloom-and-doom, paranoid story about RFID. It contin-ues to get more difficult to separate what isreally a threat from the delusions of privacyfreaks hell-bent on guaranteeing that we canall have the same level of privacy in the digitalage that we did when we were cavemen. But,both sides are wrong.

Let’s start with what is good: Putting RFIDtags in merchandise in stores can optimize inven-tory management, trackshoplifters, and, in general,streamline the retail environ-ment. A computer can tellwhen someone puts hisCheerios in his shopping cart,but then changes his mind andreplaces them with LuckyCharms, leaving the box in thewrong place.

Everyone has had to havetheir CDs or DVDs demagne-tized before they leave themusic shop. But a theft deter-rent is nothing compared to knowing whenyou need to stock more of an item.

Next we have issues surrounding personalidentification: From driver’s licenses to pass-ports, the issues here are complex. Some peo-ple are simply opposed to having big databasesof information. Others are scared to have theinformation on their license available in a“swipable” format. Many modern driver’slicenses have magnetic swipable strips onthem, but those typically contain only the verysame information already printed on the frontof the card.

But what happens when your passport hasa tiny radio signal broadcasting inside of it—alittle device pinging over and over againAmerican? This is a substantially different

situation. The act of swiping a card impliesthat the swiper and the swipee have an under-standing. You may not like that the cop isswiping your license after he pulled you overfor speeding, but at least you will be on yourway a few seconds faster then if he had tomanually key in your driver’s license number.

The RFID transmitter in proposed pass-ports is a signal that is always on, broadcast-ing to the world much information aboutyou—and they have already been cloned.Now most Americans don’t carry aroundtheir passports, but imagine an RFID driver’slicense: Suddenly the “Minority Report’s”shopping malls become a frightening reality.

As you enter the store, your driver’s licensetells the store you are available. Your shoppinghistory is made available to salesmen. If youenter the TV section, TVs start playing scenes

from DVDs you might haverented from Netflix, or morelikely, commercials for productsthat, demographically, you willlikely want.

Now I’m all for these sortsof things. If it aids and im-proves my shopping experi-ence, bring it on. But I wantthe ability to choose. I want to know who is scanning myRFID and decide if I want toallow it. If I’m uncomfortableexporting my music playlist

and Netflix queue to the mall, then thedefault needs to be “off.”

If you’ve used a shopping card at your localgrocer and bought Preparation H in the past,it’s only a matter of time before you enter theTV aisle and see a commercial for what you’vepreviously purchased. Or even scarier, whenalone in a dark alley a mugger with a scanneris able to pick his mark. You’ll want to buy agun just to make sure it’s on your purchasehistory to scare off the would-be mugger.

As immense databases of your personalinformation merge with a beacon broadcastingwho you are to any listening machine, scarythings become possible. I think it’s critical thatwe all have the right to choose who is listening,but so far that’s looking very unlikely. ▲

Hardly a day

goes by

without a




story about

RFID.Contact me at [email protected]

Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda is thecreator and director of the pop-ular News for Nerds Web site He spends histime fiddling with electronicgizmos, wandering the ’Net,

watching anime, and trying tothink of clever lies to put in hisbio so that he seems cooler than

he actually is.

The Department Of Stuff

CPU / October 2006 87

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W aterfield is well-known for its laptop SleeveCases andlarger carrying bags, and now it has your digital cam-

era covered. The case is made of black ballistic nylon withyour choice of Indium or leather side panels. A self-lockingzipper covers two sides of the case, and the interior’s plushneoprene provides plenty of padding for your camera. Smallpockets on each side can hold extra memory expansioncards, as well as ID and credit cards. A carabiner is includedto attach the case to a belt loop or another bag.

The Pic Pocket case is available in eight sizes and six colors,and a handy chart on the Web site helps you choose the rightone for your camera. Prices are based on the material youchoose, not the size; the Indium (blue, silver, or yellow) fabricmodel costs $29, and the leather (pink, black, or orange) sidepanel option is $33. You can order them online at ▲

PPrrootteecctt YYoouurr DDiiggiittaall CCaammeerraa WWiitthh PPiicc PPoocckkeett FFrroomm WWaatteerrffiieelldd DDeessiiggnnss

SSaannDDiisskk OOffffeerriinngg MMeemmoorryy CCaarrddss WWiitthh LLaarrggeerr CCaappaacciittiieess

S anDisk has several new memory cards this month, includ-ing its 4GB SDHC (SD High Capacity) card. It’s exactly

the same size and shape as traditional SD memory cards, butoffers a higher capacity and sustained transfer speed of no lessthan 2MBps. The new card is only compatible with SDHCdevices, so SanDisk includes a free MicroMate USB 2.0 cardreader with each purchase. The 4GB SDHC card is availablenow for $199.99.

Citing the exploding demand for MP3 music phones,SanDisk also announced a new 2GB microSD card, whichmarks the highest capacity card currently available in that format. It is currently available from Verizon Wireless stores for $99.99.

Finally, SanDiskintroduced the ExtremeIV CF line of memorycards. Aimed primarilyat high-end digital photog-raphers, the Extreme IVcards are the fastest cur-rently available, offeringminimum read and writespeeds of 40MBps . Thecards are available now, with prices starting at $159.99 for the2GB card, up to $559.99 for the 8GB card. SanDisk has alsointroduced two new card readers designed to make transferringdata from the Extreme IV CF card to a desktop computer as fastas possible—the Extreme FireWire Reader ($79.99) and theExtreme USB 2.0 Reader ($24.99). ▲

by Jen Edwards

SSeeee TThhee BBiigg PPiiccttuurree WWiitthh iiPPoodd VViiddeeoo PPeerriipphheerraallss

T wo companies have announced products designed to enhance mobile video on the AppleiPod. The iFlip from Memorex has an 8.4-inch screen and integrated speakers to provide

a better viewing experience than the 2.5-inch screen on the 5G iPod. It looks similar toportable DVD players currently available, but it substitutes an iPod dock for the DVD slot.An S-Video jack also lets you send video output to a TV if desired. The iFlip should be avail-able by the time you read this for about $200.

ATO has announced a successor to its iSee 360i, which let owners of iPod models releasedbefore the 5G iPod enjoy mobile video entertainment. The upcoming device partitions your iPod’s memory intotwo areas, using one for regular music storage and the other for DivX and MPEG-4. The new version will appealto 5G iPod owners thanks to the high definition H.264 support. Specific details have not yet been released, but thesuccessor to the iSee 360i is expected to be available by the end of the year for $200 to $250. ▲

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M ylo is a multifunctional device designed to entertain users and keep themconnected to others. The device has a 2.4-inch screen and includes Wi-Fi

wireless networking for instant messaging with Google and Yahoo!, as well as email,Web browsing, and VoIP calls using Skype. Mylo can display JPEG pictures and

MPEG-4 video, and a built-in music player can handle MP3, ATRAC, and WMA audio.Battery life is expected to be quite impressive, letting Mylo browse the Web for up to sevenhours or play music for up to 45 hours on a single charge.

Additional features include a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a headphone jack, and aMemory Stick Duo slot to supplement the 1GB internal memory. Mylo is quite small, mea-suring approximately 2.5 x 4.9 x 1 inches (HxWxD), and it comes with a neoprene storagecase, USB cable, headphones, and microphone adapter. Mylo is expected to be available bythe end of September for $350 from the SonyStyle online store. ▲

SSoonnyy UUnnvveeiillss

MMyyllooPPeerrssoonnaall CCoommmmuunniiccaattoorr

BBrrookkeenn SSwwoorrdd:: SShhaaddooww OOff TThhee TTeemmppllaarrss Now Available For Windows Mobile

P art game and part interactive ebook, Broken Sword:Shadow Of The Templars is now available for Windows

Mobile devices. Originally developed for desktop computers,PSOne, and GameBoy Advance by UK-based RevolutionSoftware, the Broken Sword series of games has long captivatedadventure gamers looking for a slightly different experience.

The game tests your sleuthing skills and attention to detailas you try to solvethe mystery, play-ing the role ofGeorge Stobbart,an Americantourist vacationingin Paris. TheWindows Mobileversion includesthe full originalgame, includingvideo cutscenes,spoken dialogue, amusical score, and outstanding graphics. Because of thisgame’s large size (130MB), a memory expansion card with atleast 130MB of free space on the device or a memory expan-sion card is required. Broken Sword: Shadow Of TheTemplars ($29.95) is available for Windows Mobile 2003and Windows Mobile 5 devices from Astraware( ▲

FFiinndd TThhee RRiigghhtt WWoorrddss:: USB Dictionary & Thesaurus, New Franklin Electronic Dictionary

M erriam-Webster is nowoffering the MWD-170,

a USB drive that comes with abuilt-in dictionary and the-saurus. It includes 300,000 def-initions and 500,000 syn-onyms, but the drive still has

more than 200MBspace for personal data storage. Additional features includephonetic spelling, a grammar guide, information on com-monly confused words, a crossword puzzle helper , and aneBooks and eNews Manager. The Merriam-Webster USBDictionary & Thesaurus is available for $49.95.

If you prefer a standalone device instead of a USB dic-tionary, you might consider the new MWD-480Merriam-Webster Dictionary & MP3 player. The unitfeatures a four-line grayscale display and a full QWERTYkeyboard to make looking things up fast and convenient.It includes 274,000 definitions, plus the same phoneticspelling, commonly confused words, and crossword

solver applications from the MWD-170.The MWD-480 also includes an MP3 player function for

music, audio books, and podcasts. If the 119MB of internal mem-ory isn’t enough, there’s also an SD memory expansion slot avail-able for extra storage. It requires two AAA batteries and measures4.13 x 2.83 x .72 inches (HxWxD). You can get one for $79.95at the Franklin online store. ▲

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BBrriicckkWe were intrigued with this film from the first time we saw a trailer, and happily itwas every bit as good as we thought it would be. “Brick” is the story of Brendan, ahigh school kid who lays it all on the line to find out who is responsible for the deathof his ex-girlfriend and winds up getting uncomfortably cozy with wrong crowd.Brendan isn’t the average high school kid; in fact, none of the characters in this filmare believable as high school students. But that’s OK, because director Rian Johnson

is channeling Dashiell Hammett and the “kids” are all very cool and very inter-esting. The rapid-fire dialogue is a little hard to follow at times, but that aside“Brick” is a great way to spend 110 minutes.

VV FFoorr VVeennddeettttaaThe Wachowski brothers and one or two of their “Matrix” cohorts put together this filmadaptation of the DC/Vertigo comic, which deals with such very timely themes as personalfreedom, rebellion, terrorism, and more. Natalie Portman does a good job with her role asEvey Hammond, a young woman whose narrow escape from the secret police in a futuretotalitarian England is aided by a mysterious masked insurgent known only as V. Artfullyplayed by Hugo Weaving, V is a character whose intelligent and cultured demeanor belies

his capacity for shocking violence. The movie is cartoonishly simplistic in its presen-tation of political and societal commentary, making it hard to take too seriously, butit is an entertaining film nonetheless. Plus, John Hurt’s in it.

At Your

Leisure The entertainment world, at least where it pertains to technology, morphs,twists, turns, and fires so fast it’s hard to keep up. But that’s exactly why welove it. For the lowdown on the latest and most interesting releases in PCentertainment, consoles, DVDs, CDs, and just leisure and lifestyle stuff we (forthe most part) love and recommend, read on.

AA uu dd ii oo VV ii dd ee oo CC oo rr nn ee rr DVDByte

August 29The Sentinel


The Tick vs.Season One

September 5United 93


Hustle:CompleteSeason One

September 12Star Wars Limited Editions

The Office Season Two

Lucky NumberSlevin

September 19Battlestar GalacticaSeason 2.5

My Name IsEarl SeasonOne

Roar: The Complete Series

DVDs by Chris Trumble, CDs by Blaine A. Flamig

$19.98Universal Home

D i g i t a l L i v i n gGames




$28.98 ($34.99 2-Disc SE)Warner Home

OOuuttkkaasstt——““IIddlleewwiilldd””Whew! Those of us who read the rumors that Andre 3000 and Big Boi were going theirseparate ways and tearing Outkast apart after 2003’s double-disc set “Speakerboxxx/TheLove Below” can breath a sigh of relief. The oddest, strangest, and arguably most talentedduo in hip hop is back with this 25-song companion/soundtrack to its big screen musi-cal/movie of the same name. Set in the prohibition-era South, “Idlewild” the movie pro-vides the impetus for these tunes, which are filled with funky, genre-bending touches ofjazz, juke-joint blues, swing, rap, and R&B. Andre 3000 and Big Boi work more apartthan together here, but it works. If Outkast ever does break up, it will be a sad day.

VVaarriioouuss AArrttiissttss——““RRoogguuee’’ss GGaalllleerryy:: PPiirraattee BBaallllaaddss,, SSeeaa SSoonnggss,, aanndd CChhaanntteeyyss””

If the sea tales are true, during the filming of “Pirates of the Caribbean II,” director GoreVerbinski (with some prodding from Johnny Depp and Brett Gurewitz, head of Anti/Epitaph) became enthralled with pirate culture, especially songs surrounding the piratelifestyle. Noted music producer Hal Wilner lead the project, compiling 43 songs fromvarious archives for this double-disc set, which includes the likes of Sting, Bono, LucindaWilliams, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, and many more. Wilner has done historians a favor bydigging up some long-lost gems and put together one of the coolest collections of artists

and songs in many, many years.

$17La Face


See the full reviews from A/V Corner at

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Finally, A Good Reason To Go To A Mall -by Chris Trumble$59.99 (Xbox 360) • ESRB: (M)ature • Capcom •

D ead Rising is the latestthing in zombie-survival

video games, and not surpris-ingly it’s from Capcom, thecompany that brought us theexcellent Resident Evil series.Don’t worry, though, DR isn’ta Resident Evil retread; thegame is different in a numberof pretty important ways, andas stoked as we already are toget our hands on Resident Evil5, we couldn’t be happier.

For one thing, DR’s controlsfollow the usual 3D actiongame scheme where the leftanalog stick is for movementand the right for cameraadjustment. Control is logical,so pushing the left stick leftmakes your character (atough, resourceful freelancephotojournalist) move left,and moving the stick rightmakes him go right. Control isfast and responsive and shouldbe a crowd pleaser.

Second, DR trades ResidentEvil’s dark, foreboding atmos-phere for a more modern,urban look a la “Dawn of theDead.” This isn’t really betteror worse, just different, and we like it.

The third big distinction(and probably the mostimportant) is that DR goesbeyond the usual survival-hor-ror formula, which is largelyaction-based to gameplaythat combines action with analmost RPG-like characterdevelopment path. You getPP (prestige points) for takingout zombies, snapping goodphotos, and various otheractivities, and as you accumu-late PP your character FrankWest levels up. Leveling upincreases Frank’s healthpoints, gives him more iteminventory slots, and gives himaccess to new skills. This isn’tFinal Fantasy, where you can

spend hours obsessing overminutiae like attribute scores,but the character develop-ment angle gives the gamejust enough depth to give it arefreshingly novel feel.

As you might expect, DRlooks brilliant, especially inhigh-def. Its character modelsare very good considering howmany characters the gameputs on-screen at once (a lot),and everything else looks crispand realistic, as well. Andspeaking of “everything else,”that’s essentially what you canuse to fight the gobs of zom-bies you’ll face in DR. There isan almost ridiculous variety ofobjects you can pick up andswing or throw at the blood-thirsty undead, includingeverything from soccer ballsand stuffed animals to gunsand tasers. The variety ofweapons and the entertainingthings Frank does with them is

enough to keep you playingfor hours without even payingattention to the story (whichis stock but fun) or your mis-sion objectives. ▲

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Joystick Ahoy! -by Dr. Malaprop$39.99 (PC) • ESRB: (T)een • CDV •

Short But Effective -by Dr. Malaprop$19.99 (PC-DVD) • ESRB: (M)ature • Electronic Arts •

C lassics such as Elite, Privateer, and Freelancer arerare occurrences in today’s releases of simplified

PC and console games. And although the golden ageof space combat sims is seemingly well in our past,the release of a new space combat sim never fails togive us cause for excitement. Thus it was with greatanticipation we awaited the release of Germandeveloper Ascaron Entertainment’s DarkStar One.

As the game begins, you inherit the DarkStar Onefrom your father and set off to save the galaxy. As istraditional in these types of games, you can trade,but DS1’s implementation of trading came off feeling

a bit clunky, whichwas OK because thegame doesn’t forceyou to trade to besuccessful. You canjump right into thespace combat por-tion of the game if

you don’t want to play the economy. Theopen-ended gameplay isn’t very openbecause all choices feel like they’ll even-tually lead you to the main quest.Most games of this ilk let youtrade up your ship, but DS1 isdoesn’t. Your ship is modular, andyou can outfit it the way you want, but that doesn’tmake up for the fact that you can’t purchase otherships. Also, the game’s storyline is a sci-fi space com-bat cliché, and the voice acting is cheesy.

It’s plain to see that DarkStar One was inspired byseveral space sim classics. Shortcomings aside, thespace combat is entertaining, and the mouse/key-board interface works well. Graphically the gameis attractive, but the game begins to lose itsfreshness because it resues game art. Overall,DarkStar is an enjoyable, beginner-friendlyspace combat sim with several flaws thatkeep it from classic status. ▲

Episode One’s gameplay beginsimmediately after the end of

Half-Life 2. It’s not your typicalexpansion pack because you won’tneed a copy of the original HL2;however, playing Episode One with-out any HL2 background is akin towatching “Matrix Revolutions”without seeing the prior two films.

Jumping into Episode One is likecontinuing past the ending of HL2because there isn’t a break betweenthe two. Valve was probably going

for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”methodology of game design. Yes, itdoes still work, but you can’t helpbut get a nagging sense of beenthere, done that. That’s where side-kick Alyx comes in. Alyx has evolvedinto a true digital character thatGeorge Lucas could have only wishedexisted in his three prequels. Herimpeccable timing and interactionwith Gordon gives you the sense ofhaving someone “real” in the gamewith you and is Episode One’s biggest

accomplishment during its (approx-imately) five-hour experience.Though the game is incredibly short and there’s not much to serveup in new features, you’ll get a goodplot twist, improvements to thegraphics and physics engines, and aparticularly memorable scene withAlyx’s flashlight, your gun, a dark tun-nel, and a zombie. After completingthe game, it’s well worth enabling thedeveloper commentary and playing through again.

The term “Episode One” mayconjure up bad memories thanksto “Star Wars: Episode 1.” Valve,however, turns that around withits own Episode 1. Episodic gamingcontent is still experimental, butwe’re on board with it if the com-pelling gameplay and narrative ofHalf-Life 2: Episode One is an earlyindicator of what to expect.Episode Two is due in early 2007,but more frequent releases wouldmake us feel better about it. ▲

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Give War A Chance -by Dr. Malaprop$29.99 (PC) • ESRB: (E)veryone • Take 2 Interactive • Give War A Chance -by Dr. Malaprop

$39.99 (PC) • ESRB: (E)veryone • Take 2 Interactive •

C ivilization IV, released in October 2005, is a game whose infinitereplayability we’re still thoroughly enjoying nearly a year later. If

you’re going to be spending a few years on a deserted island (withelectricity), then Civ IV would be part of your survival kit. TheWarlords expansion pack is a no-brainer purchase for fans of Civ IV,but it’s definitely a luxury add-on.Warlords adds eight new scenar-ios, 10 new leaders, six more civi-lizations, unique building for various civilizations, three newWonders, and some gameplayfeatures that culminate in a fewmore years of replayability.

The original game placed a heavier emphasis on economy and culturein the race to the finish. So even though you could build all manner ofweapons, it didn’t necessarily behoove you to use said arsenals against theenemy. Warlords has no such misgivings; you’re going to get ample oppor-tunity to get militaristic on rival civs with your stockpiled arms and armies.The new scenarios focus on the old world, which leads us to believe thatthere will be another expansion pack focused more on present day/futuremilitary conflict. However, Warlords feels like it could have used a betterblend of scenarios (both old and new).

Warlords’ game mechanics weren’t specifically built for wargaming,so the battle-oriented (turn-based, mind you) focus doesn’t play quite

as elegantly as Civilization IV.That and the lack of new-world scenarios are marksagainst the game. However,they are minor in comparisonto the hours of gaming plea-sure any veteran Civilization IVplayer will get for the $29.99

entry price. Are you ready to let your Civilization IV addiction takeback control of your schedule? ▲

T ake SimCity, toss in the Civilizationtech tree, liberally sprinkle in the typi-

cal city building game concepts, and youhave CivCity: Rome. This game doesn’thave much in common with Sid Meier’sCivilization franchise, and without thename it would have made an even smallerdent. When a game bears the Civilizationbranding, you have expectations of excel-lence or at least above-average gameplayvalue. We’ve recommended Civilization IVhighly and enjoyed the new Warlordsexpansion (see left), so it’s disappointingto play a game that cloaks itself in another game’s good vibe.

CivCity: Rome is your typical city builder. Like SimCity, your goal is tobuild a city, grow the economy/population, and keep the residents happy.Did we mention that you don’t actually build Rome? That’s right, the cityalready exists. Your goal is simply to keep the city supplied and growing bybuilding mills, farms, granaries, and other items to improve Rome’s infra-structure. It’s a great game for novices, but they’ll be bored with in a week.

Graphically the game looks dated. Civilization IV was lauded for itsimproved and gamer-friendly graphics,and in comparison, CivCity: Rome lookslike it’s a few years late. There are someneat effects—for example looking inunder the roof to see what your citizen’sare doing—but this doesn’t make thegameplay better over an extended period.

Our advice? Skip this game and use the money you save toward pur-chasing Civilization IV and the Civilization IV: Warlords expansion pack.If you’re desperately looking for some Roman-period gaming, take a lookat Vivendi Universal’s September release of Caesar IV. ▲

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Films With Sound:What Will They Think Of Next?FF rom time to time we’re going to break

“The Cutting Edge” out of its orbit aroundcomputers and send it spinning into the broaderuniverse of electronics. This month, we take alook at the first sound film.

Hollywood would have you believe it was“The Jazz Singer,” a 1927 feature starring AlJolson, and that nobody had thought aboutsound films before then. But like so muchinvolving Tinsel Town, this is arrant nonsense.There were several hundred sound films before1927, but powerful Hollywood producers didn’tdeem them a good return on the studios’ moneyso they didn’t make it into the mainstream.

In fact, sound films can be verified as far backas 1895, when the brilliant WKL Dickson wasworking with Thomas Edison. Dickson hadhimself filmed playing an Offenbach waltz onthe violin while a pair of his technicians dancednearby. Simultaneously, the event was beingrecorded on a phonograph cylinder with a hugehorn. (They didn’t have microphones in thosedays.) The two pieces were then synchronized,resulting in a motion picture with sound. Longthought destroyed, the cylinder was located inthe 1960s in extremely poor condition while thefilmed portion survived only in a short frag-ment. Recently, thanks to modern editing gear,it was possible to repair some of the damage.

Within a few years, many firms sprang up inEurope and the United States, all competing tocreate an audiovisual film that would providegood reproduction, and whose playback equip-ment would impress investors by being bothinexpensive and simple to operate. Prescienttypes knew there was a goldmine lurking inthese sound-and-motion pictures. They justweren’t sure what equipment would be neededto dig it out. But many tried, and some of theirmethods were grandiose indeed.

Consider Phonorama of 1897, built aroundthe French-invented Cinemamacrophonograph.The device consisted of 12 phonographs linkedto a motion picture camera, with an electricallydriven shaft to assure synchronization betweensound and image. Three films were made thisway, to whose soundtrack the audience listenedvia primitive earphones. The films themselveswere colored by hand—so that Phonorama

actually offered multitrack sound and color, allbefore the 20th century.

Within a little over a decade, there were atleast a dozen companies marketing their soundfilm systems to prospective investors. There wasPhotophone, Vivaphone, Photokinema, and theChronophonograph. Carl Laemmele, pioneerfilmmaker and founder of Universal Pictures,invested in Synchroscope. Simultaneously, manyfilm companies were producing sound films.Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre attempted to play theculture card in 1900 with sound films based onclassical literature: Falstaff, Cyrano de Bergerac,and Le Duel d’Hamlet, to name a few. InBritain, Walter Gibbons tried a more populistapproach in his 1900 Bio-Tableaux Companysound films, all guaranteed to last three minuteseach and offering such lowbrow musical delightsas Sally in Our Alley, The Cornfields Quartette,and Louisiana Lou. One of the most dedicatedfans of early sound film technology, inventorLéon Gaumont, is credited with producing atleast 90 films from 1906 through 1908.

Most of these films have disintegrated frompoor maintenance or exist only as rumors. Forexample, it is believed that a businessman did anexperimental sound film at the 1904 St. LouisExposition. If so, he just might have recorded ayoung, celebrated composer by the name ofScott Joplin playing around one of the saloons.

Yet Hollywood’s tyrannical moguls remainedconvinced that sound pictures were a giantmoney sink, even when the great inventor, LeeDe Forest, perfected a method in 1919 of plac-ing sound directly on films, bypassing synchro-nization problems, instead of running it throughphonographs. No one in Tinsel Town was inter-ested, so De Forest had to produce “shorts” (asopposed to feature length films) and distributedthem to independent theaters with no advertis-ing. More than 200 motion pictures were madeusing this method throughout the 1920s—again, years before Hollywood suddenly “discov-ered” sound-on-film, and “invented” it in 1927.

What’s the moral of our story? You shouldgreet with a healthy dose of skepticism any“facts” coming from people who would also haveyou believe that John Wayne took Iwo Jima, orthat Jennifer Lopez is a great actress. ▲

. . . sound films

can be verified

as far back as

1895, when

the brilliant

WKL Dickson

was working

with Thomas


Barry Brenesal has writtenmore than 1,000 published

articles and reviews on electronic technology since

1987. His first personal computer was a Radio Shack

TRS-80 model 100. It was last seen functioning

as a boat anchor.

The Cutting Edge

Wax nostalgic with Barry at [email protected]

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Virtual PC Tricks

you set up the Calendar, click Settings(top-right corner) and the Notificationstab. In the bottom section, labeled NotifyMe On My Cell Phone, you can registeryour number to have Google send SMSreminders of your upcoming events to you.Use the checkboxes in the Choose HowYou Would Like To Be Notified section todirect your notices to go to email or SMS.

This cell phone reminder feature is greatto use to remind you of regular events, but

the coolest new feature in Google Calendarinvolves genuine interaction with your cell phone. If you want to access your next appointment in Calendar, you cansimply text “next” to 48368 (GEVENT).For the current day’s full agenda, text “day”to the number, and for the next day’sschedule text “nday.”

And how many times have you tried toarrange a meeting with someone whenyou are away from your daybook? Youcan create an event in your Google Cal-endar from your cell by sending a textmessage to GEVENT with the eventname followed by a day, date, or even rel-ative temporal reference such as “tomor-row.” Google will interpret the message,plant the event in your Calendar, andreturn a text message confirming theaddition. If you send a message with adate but without a time, the calendar willmake it an all-day event.

Bookmark Your Spreadsheet Google Spreadsheet is a wonderful

example of how Web services are embrac-ing a range of applications. But thereis a lesser known alternative, Edit-Grid (, that ismore versatile in many ways. For in-stance, you can turn a spreadsheetinto a bookmark and directly access it from your browser.

Create an account in EditGridand upload the spreadsheet that youwant accessible from anywhere onthe Web. Use the My Workspacetab and click the tool icon next to the relevant file name to enterthat file’s properties page. (If yourspreadsheet is already open, click the

Someday your current PC, ladenwith standalone applications anddata files, will be as quaint asblack-and-white TV now seems

in the HDTV era. Last month we lookedat remote access programs that link you toyour home desktop from afar. But what ifall of your applications and data alwaysexisted on the Internet? If Microsoft andGoogle have their way, word processors,spreadsheets, and perhaps even operatingsystems will no longer live on yourPC’s hard drive but become Web-based “services” that flow onto yourdesktop. You can get a taste of these“virtual computing” or Web 2.0 ser-vices with programs such as EditGridand Google Calendar.

Your Calendar Is CallingWhen was the last time your day-

book or Outlook Calendar calledyour cell phone with an appointmentreminder? Google’s new Calendar( is smartenough to phone in reminders. Once

T I P S & T R I C K S

Microsoft’s free Image Resizer PowerToy is one of ourfavorite utilities that resizes images without having to loadand navigate an editor. Now with Image Resizer you canshrink a JPEG, BMP, or GIF for easier emailing by right-click-ing the image file and selecting Resize Pictures. The pop-upwindow gives you three default dimensions that can reducethe overall file size by multiples and still retain its aspectratio and much of the detail. A Custom option lets youresize the image to any dimension.

Smooth scrolling is a great attribute that gives you a smooth feelwhen you scroll down documents and Web pages in Windows. On low-power systems such as old laptops, however, you may be able tofree up some resources by turning the feature off. In Regedit, go toHKEY_CURRENT_USER\CONTROL PANEL\DESKTOP. Right-click Desktopand select New and DWORD Value. Name the value SmoothScroll if itdoesn’t already exist. Set the value to 0 to disable smooth scrolling and1 to re-enable it. Click OK and reboot for the change to take effect. Thevisual change amounts to slightly more jagged scrolls.

Google Calendar can now talk with your cell phone to sendevent reminders and add new events to your online schedule.

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come in and tick off items and add andreorder them. Also, friends can leavenotes for you in the to-do list by click-ing the Notes button. Backpack is agreat way to create casual collaborativework spaces.

by Steve Smith

T I P S & T R I C K S

email address all on thesame logon screen. Onthe next screen you caneither compose a docu-ment or paste text fromyour own word proces-sor. As you will see, thiscan be a much moreefficient way of collabo-rating on short docu-ments such as lettersand press releases thanpassing along versions in email.

Once you make your document, youcan use the Invite People button to sendothers a link to the document and a pass-

word for access. But thebest part of Writeboardis tucked away at thebottom of a saved docu-ment screen. Look forthe Subscribe Via RSSbutton and use your RSSreader to subscribe to thelink. By subscribing tothe link, you can moni-tor the document andsee when other usershave saved changes. Sim-ilar to EditGrid, you can right-click the This

Writeboard Is Located At link in mostbrowsers to bookmark the document.

Share A To-Do ListLast but not least, Backpack (www is a kind of virtu-al storage service that lets you share and collaborate on different types ofcontent. The free area of the serviceallows for common notes as well as to-do lists. To start a new virtual sheetof paper in your “backpack,” create aBackpack account and click the Make ANew Page button. After you enter thetitle of your project, click the Createbutton and then the Body button toenter general text describing the list orgiving fellow users instructions. Next,click the List button to enter newitems and the Sharing buttonto enter friends’ email addressesto send notices and a link toyour to-do list. Friends can then

tool icon in the upper-right corner toswitch into Properties View.) Next clickthe Permalinks tab. Click the Add ToBookmark icon in the Live View sectionto bookmark the current spreadsheet foreasy access in your browser. Also, you canturn your spreadsheet into an Excel-for-matted version by clicking the Excel linkin the Exports section. Likewise, you canturn the spreadsheet into an HTML pageby clicking its respective link.

There are a number of other usefulfunctions available in EditGrid, includ-ing a set of spreadsheet templates that letyou make movie and book lists, calen-dars, and so forth. New users should keep

in mind that follows apublic sharing model of sites like, so your spreadsheets are publicby default. You need to manually makespecific files private, password-protected,or accessible to select other EditGridusers. Use the various Share tabs to makethese adjustments.

Document Collaboration Via RSSSeveral Web-based word processors

have popped up lately, not the least ofwhich is Google’s newly acquired Writely.As of this writing, however, Writely wastemporarily out of service while it trans-ferred operations to the Google servers.Writeboard (, how-ever, is a fascinating alternative that com-bines Web services in a truly unique way.

Creating a collaborative document onWriteboard is as easy as naming the docu-ment, assigning it a password for you and others to use, and registering your
















N o, we’re not talking about the ’70sR&B group, but rather three of the

five components (earth, air, fire, space,and water) of feng shui. This ancientChinese art was developed to promoteharmony between people and nature,but today experts in both feng shui andvaastu shastra are turning from earthlyelements to virtual ones, attempting tomake the Internet more harmoniousone graphic at a time. ▲

Earth, Wind & FireFor Your Web Site

With EditGrid you can actually bookmark your spreadsheets sothat they come up in a browser with a click of a button.

Backpack lets you collaborate on to-do lists.

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software management tools lets youexpand how much software you haveaccess to and automatically grab newversions as they come available.

If there is a risk to using reposito-ries for your graphics drivers, it’s thatsometimes they don’t keep up withthe latest kernel, and your driver ver-sion has to match your kernel version.As long as you keep the previous ver-sion of the kernel and driver, you canuse them as a fallback until such a sit-uation is rectified.

If you are not sure whether yourdistribution has a repository withthese drivers or not, try a Web searchon the terms “ati,” “driver,” and thename of the distribution, such as“SuSE.” You may find that there is no such repository or that the driversfrom the repository cause you prob-lems or aren’t up-to-date. Regardlessof the reason, you can also get the dri-vers directly. Just keep in mind thatyou will have to watch for new ver-sions and manually download themeach time.

If you didn’t download and installthe driver using package management,continue reading.

To get the ATI driversdirectly from ATI, go to, select Drivers &Software and Linux DisplayDrivers And Software. There,you will find both 32- and 64-bit drivers for a number of ATIhardware options along withlinks to some useful docu-ments. Once you know whichdriver you need, select it andclick through until you reachthe Knowledge Base page forthe driver you need (Figure 1).Be sure to read the instruc-tions, as they make it clear—in intermediate to advancedterms—what you need toinstall beforehand and how toproceed manually.

You want to download theATI Driver Installer. Whenyou run this tool (check to seeif it’s executable; you may have

T I P S & T R I C K S

Although both ATI and Nvidiaoffer Linux drivers above andbeyond the more “generic”default ones, these drivers are

often not included in distributions. Theprimary reason for this is that the driversare not open source, and many distribu-tions will not include software that isn’topen source. So, adding the best videodrivers for ATI and Nvidia cards involvesgetting the drivers, installing them, andkeeping them up-to-date. You may needto do additional configuration work, aswell. Don’t let what sounds likea cumbersome process fool you.You’ll discover that for manyLinux users, the procedure isrelatively simple and self-sus-taining once you have it set up.

Before we continue, if youdecide to manually install thedrivers, be sure that you installall packages necessary to com-pile C code in Linux. Theseprograms include the GCC tocompile, the kernel source codeand headers, and other develop-ment packages. Most distribu-tions offer “C development,”“software development,” and/or“kernel development” sectionsthat you can choose in theirpackage management systems.It wouldn’t hurt to add thedevelopment materials for yourpreferred desktop environment(KDE or GNOME), either.

Find & Install The DriversMany distributions may not formally

offer the official ATI and Nvidia dri-vers, but volunteers often package andoffer them through external reposito-ries. For example, Fedora Core userswill find ATI and Nvidia drivers atLivna ( See the site’sConfiguration page for how to activatethe Livna repositories on your FedoraCore system and its main page for howto install the ATI or Nvidia driver fromthere. Adding such repositories to your

Installing Nvidia & ATI Drivers

Figure 1. ATI’s Knowledge Base page for the 32-bit RADEON Linux driver.

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to run chmod u+x on the filebefore you can run it), youneed to do so with root per-mission. Most people willprobably choose to use theAutomatic option because itinstalls everything related tothe driver. Fussier folks willselect Custom to pick andchoose. Some might try theGenerate Distribution SpecificPackage option to create apackage that fits with theirdistribution’s package manage-ment scheme and then installthe driver, but you will stillhave to manually get the sub-sequent versions of the driver.

Also note that you need torun a configuration utility—the aticonfig tool—in orderto correctly set up your GUIto use the driver after youinstall it. If you encounterproblems, ATI suggests returning

For Nvidia users, go to Findyour Linux OS and hardware (such asIA32 for a 32-bit PC) in the listing andthen click Latest Version link underthat section. This action takes you tothe page for that version of the driver(Figure 2). Here, you will find quickinstructions regarding how to down-load the installation program and sothat it can install the driver on yoursystem. Again, you will have to run theinstaller with root permissions and mayneed to chmod the file before you canexecute it. When the installation iscomplete, run the nvidia-xconfig toolto alter your GUI configuration file.Notice the instruction page links to anNvidia forum to discuss Linux driverissues with other users.

Additional ToolsOnce you have the ATI or Nvidia

driver in place, you have tools avail-able to work with those drivers fromthe GUI. ATI users will find the ATIControl Center tool in their menus,but if you’re used to this tool in

Windows, it is far more limited in itsLinux incarnation. In the ControlCenter, you can see information aboutyour card, configure a multimonitorsetup, and input gamma correction settings for the color on each of yourmonitors. If you want to use Cross-Fire, ATI didn’t support this featurefor Linux at press time.

Nvidia users will find a more fea-ture-rich alternative. There will betwo new menu entries after installingthe drivers: Nvidia Display Settingsand Nvidia X Server Settings. You canuse either to see information aboutyour graphics card, such as how muchRAM it has and more, along with the ability to alter the card’s handlingof OpenGL, cursor shadows, colors,card temperature, monitor(s), andmore. The Display option refers to an individual GUI sess ion (the one you’re working in withyour Desktop and all of your

windows) while the Serveroption covers server-wide settings. Both of these tools will be set identically unlessyou or your distribution has specified otherwise.

All in all, a good numberof Linux users should find the process relatively painlessthanks to software reposito-ries. Those who have to man-ually install drivers may findthe steps vary in difficultydepending on whether theyhave the prerequisites alreadyin place or run into anystrange problems along theway. If you’re stuck, sitessuch as LinuxQuestions.orgare great places to ask for helpfrom large numbers of Linuxusers . Just make sure toinclude as much informationas possible in your initial post

so people can help you quickly.

by Dee-Ann LeBlanc

T I P S & T R I C K S

Figure 2. The Nvidia 32-bit Linux PC Display Driver page.

O n Sept. 13, 1956, the first hard drivestorage device was unveiled as a

part of the IBM System 305. Half a centu-ry ago, the RAMAC (Random AccessMethod of Accounting and Control) massstorage drive was the size of a Buick, fea-tured 50 24-inch platters, and boasted a

whopping 5MB storage capacity.Earlier this year, Seagate delivered

the first hard drive’s great-great-grandson in the form of a

12GB hard drive as small asa wrist watch. Cheers

HDD, you’ve come along way. ▲





















Happy Birthday,HDD!

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Everything PC Is All Mixed UpWW hat’s next? Microsoft buys AMD? The

usually quiet summer months havebeen made much noisier by a series ofannouncements which essentially turn theCPU and PC scene upside down.

While the AMD ATI takeover was widelyrumoured for some months, the fact it’s hap-pened will change the PC landscape. ATICEO Dave Orton said to me just a fewmonths back that in a few years there wouldonly be two or three chipset firms left.

It might well happen sooner than that.Two of the biggest motherboard makers,Asus and Gigabyte, started a joint venture.Another large Taiwanese player, ECS,bought Uniwell. There’s widespread consoli-dation afoot and there’s no saying where wewill be in a year’s time.

Nvidia might well be left sitting prettybecause there’s no way charismatic CEO Jen-Hsun Huang is playing second fiddle to Intel.Perhaps unfortunately for Nvidia, persistentrumours suggest that Intel is hiring a hugeteam of designers to produce its own graphicschip, code-named Larrabee. These rumourssurfaced before the ATI-AMD rumourskicked off. There are plenty of things militat-ing against Intel being successful, the chief onebeing that there are only a handful of graphicsarchitects that can successfully design GPUs.A secondary consideration is that Intel triedthis before and failed to make headway.Hiring novice engineers in the hundreds orthousands is not necessarily the best strategy.

Still, the unfounded speculation that Intelmight snap up Nvidia to retaliate against ATIitself spawned a more interesting and feasiblerumour. That is that Nvidia could buy Via.Via has a few things going for it aside fromchipsets. It has a viable X86 licence and somegraphics engineers to boot with S3, as well asa reasonably profitable embedded business.You think this is all crackers, right? Well, it isa fact that at one stage Nvidia was activelyengaged in talks with Transmeta, the reasonbeing Transmeta’s X86 licence was in goodshape, as well as the fact it excelled on low-power computing.

While it’s ludicrous to suggest that Microsoftcould or would buy AMD because the very ideawould send government monopoly watchersinto a highly overclocked state, neverthelessthere’s a kernel of truth behind this tale thatexplains why the entire industry is in a tizz. ATItold me just a few weeks before the officialannouncement how excited it was about theintroduction of Microsoft Vista and, in particu-lar, Aero. Practically every consumer who buysor upgrades to Microsoft Vista will want thesuper graphics features. And that means thatATI will be able to sell its high-end boards to afar bigger pool than enthusiasts and gamers.

So where does that leave Intel? Certainlynot up graphics creek without a paddle. Itmay or may not be designing its own GPUbut according to the latest Intel road mapswe’ve seen, it already has plans for platformsfor early 2007 that support Windows VistaPremium. These include its Bearlake-G andBearlake-P chipsets, Intel high-definitionaudio, NCQ SATA drives and Dual Core 2Extreme and Dual Core 2 Duo chips.

Intel is also promising a chipset in Q3 ofnext year called Bearlake-G+. Details on thisare sketchy, but we can’t see Intel findingitself compromised after the misses it loggedup over the last few years.

Which brings us to Dell. As we were com-pleting this column, Dell announced it wouldput AMD desktop processors into itsDimension desktops. It’s also renewed its vowsto Intel. But we think that while it’s a wisemove for Dell to use AMD chips, it’s beenvery slow in coming to that decision. It seemspretty clear that it would have sold more PCsthat way, rather than be faced with the inven-tory glut that forced its profits down betweenMarch and June as Intel took the axe to exist-ing old-generation processors and prices.

However, the good news is that Dell stillhas fantastic reach in the industry, andbecause it will now have a second source forprocessors, that is likely to lead to more com-petition, which can only be good news for allof us who like the very best from our CPUsand, therefore, our PCs. ▲

Dell announced

it would put

AMD desktop

processors into

its Dimension

desktops.Send rumours to “Mad Mike” Magee at [email protected].

Shavings From The Rumour Mill

Mike Magee is an industry veteran.He cut his teeth on ancient products

like the Dragon and the JapanesePC platforms long before the IBM-

PC won. He worked for a corporatereseller in the mid-’80s and saw the

Compaq 386 sandwich box andevery GUI known to humankind.

Mike decided that the way to go wasthe Interweb around 1994 after

editing PC mags in the late ’80s and’90s. A co-founder of The Register,

Mike started the chip-drivenINQUIRER (

in 2001. He has contacts from topto bottom in the business, spanning

the entire chain, who help him root out interesting rumours

and speculation.

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AMD Is Creating A NewCategory Of EnthusiastFF or the last few years, AMD has transformed

itself from an underdog incumbent to amainstream alternative with big OEM support.Under the management of Hector Ruiz, AMDwas able to take the performance lead over Intelwithout any warning, which paved the way towhere the company finds itself today.

AMD had successfully fought against Intel,and against all odds AMD has gained marketshare while producing solid numbers. In orderto achieve this considerable feat, AMD had tobuild a better mousetrap, and that’s just what itdid—but now it faces a challenge.

In late July, a bloodied and worn Intel finallyreleased a desktop killer. The Core 2 Duo, oth-erwise known as Conroe, beats AMD’s Athlonsin pretty much every major benchmark. Core 2Duo is by far the best processor on the marketright now for enthusiasts, and AMD is busyworking to make up the difference.

Intel created a monster with Core 2 Duo byusing similar DNA as its Pentium M proces-sors. Yes it is true that Intel has a better plat-form, but in terms of architecture the companyis still behind AMD and Intel’s people knowthis. By architecture I am referring to the scala-bility of the company’s current product line.AMD will scale better under multiple proces-sors thanks to its integrated memory controllerand HyperTransport, but Intel’s processors arenow arguably more efficient as they draw lesspower and produce less heat.

As most of you are no doubt aware, AMDannounced its 4x4 technology in July. Manyquestions have come up since the announce-ment regarding the potential real-world bene-fits for gamers and enthusiasts. With IntelKentsfield around the corner and AMD 4x4on the way, the concept of multithreaded gam-ing is becoming an exciting reality. Of courseit’s not all about multithreaded gaming forAMD; there are many more benefits of 4x4which may be realized thanks to the company’sflexible architecture.

With 4x4 we’ll be able to install two proces-sors into a machine, each with its own dedicat-ed bank of memory. So, for example, we could

install two dual-core processors (or two quad-core processors, for that matter) with 2GB ofRAM each for a total system memory of 4GB.What does this mean to the enthusiast? Itmeans that you can run multiple instances ofcertain games under specific circumstances.

Consider, for instance, the World of War-craft player who has multiple characters underdifferent accounts. With a properly configuredsystem it’s possible to load two instances of thegame at once and trade items back and forth, orskin with one while killing with the other. I’mcertainly not suggesting that this is what peoplewant, but there are some extreme users out therewho will appreciate such capabilities. Anothergreat feature of dedicated memory banks is theability to encode movies in the backgroundwhile playing a game and not sacrificing oneiota of performance. Or, even better, you canoperate a dedicated server while playing thegame and not even notice the difference. All ofthis will be possible with 4x4.

With the help of Asus, Nvidia, and others,AMD is creating an entirely new motherboardconcept for 4x4. It’s not your standard-issueworkstation motherboard; rather, it’s anenthusiast-class multiprocessor motherboardwith support for unbuffered non-ECC enthu-siast-class memory. AMD also promises torelease three tiers of 4x4 in the box whereprocessor kits will start “well under $1,000”and go up from there.

The problem that I see us potentially run-ning into is that of power. AMD needs to bemindful that not many of us enthusiasts, letalone OEMs, want to use 1K PSUs in ourmachines. We aren’t interested in using loudcooling systems and effectively going back-ward for the sake of getting a few incrementalsales. I am sure that AMD is looking at thisfact, and if somehow it is able to get its EElow-power processors online, we’ll probablyhave a winner.

Either way I believe AMD is paving theway for a new category of enthusiast, andmany of us will be supporting it. There arecertainly some exciting times ahead. ▲

AMD needs

to be mindful

that not

many of us


want to use

1K PSUs . . . .

Send your opinions to this opinionated guy at [email protected].

Rahul Sood's love for computersstarted at the young age of 11.

Much to the shock and dismay ofhis parents, he ripped apart his

brand-new Apple //c and paintedit red before turning it on. His

parent’s dreams of having a doctorfor a son were shattered when

college drop-out Rahul foundedwhat is now one of the mostrespected high-end computer

companies in the world, Voodoo Computers.

Wagging The Dog

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CPU: Wireless Taipei has been some-thing of a disaster in the public WLANfield. The network (priced at only$12.50 per month) currently has 4,100hotspots reaching about 90% of the pop-ulation, but only 40,000 of Taiwan’s 2.6million people have signed up sinceJanuary. What are the lessons to belearned here?

Settles: I think that, in many respects,the shortcomings there reflect three of thekey elements of either success or failure inpublic WLAN development. The first ishow well has the city or city and its con-sultants/vendors done a needs assessmentof the people that they’re developingthese networks for?

If you look at Taipei, they brought outa network with an ambitious plan; butthey were in a city that was, if you will,heavily wireless already—and at muchbetter rates than we have here in theStates. They had both speed and price in Taipei. So was there really a need for

anything that they were going to offerand charge money for? Here in the StatesJupiter has done surveys showing thatmore than 50% of the general publicdoesn’t want to use a system like thisunless it’s free. If you apply that to Tai-pei, it’s possible the problems there werethe result of bringing out a great systemin an environment where there really wasn’t a pressing need.

By looking at what the needs were,they could have better developed a net-work, or conversely decided not todevelop a network because there was noone wil l ing to have it at the priceoffered. Or they could have found outthat they could provide the networkaccess but had to also offer certain content or certain services; and thatwould’ve been the draw.

CPU: Are you suggesting that now,since the damage is done, the best waythey can fix matters is by analyzing andupgrading the offer of services?

Settles: They probably need to go backto the drawing board and think, ‘Is therea segment of our potential market that isnot being served either with wirelessaccess in general, given the type of wire-less that we’re offering? Or, is there someset of services, some business portal thatwe can provide that is not being providedanywhere else, and pick up that 12% or15% or more of the population that isnot using any kind of high-speed service?’That is the best after-the-fact approach.

Or in the position that’s exactly thereverse, too. In Winston-Salem, the gov-ernment started building out the networkand suddenly the usage was much greaterthan they had expected. They had to stopthe deployment and go back over theircoverage area and add more transmitters.That’s a positive problem, though. Itmeans your system is popular, and it’seasier to go back and add what’s re-quired—though I’d have to say they stillcould have done it cheaper if they’d doneit correctly the first time.

C raig J. Settles is the President of, technologyconsultants on Internet and wireless strategy development to

high-tech businesses. His most recent book is “Fighting the GoodFight for Municipal Wireless” with previous ones including “Pilots toProfits: Getting In Sync with the Mobile Mandate” (co-authoredwith Rip Gerber) and “I Only have ROIs for You.”

by Barry Brenesal


An Interview With Craig J. Settles,Author & President Of

WWhhaatt’’ss Cooking . . .

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community. Their reservations about anew network are great, but unfortunately,I haven’t seen or heard a lot of people intheir RFPs asking about marketing plansor about the viability of business models.You say it’s going to be ad driven? Fine.Where are the ads going to come from?Where’s your sales force going to sellthese ads? We have found these key resis-tance points to new networks. Peopledon’t want to join up unless it’s free.Businesses don’t want to join up becauseit’s highly insecure. What are you goingto do to overcome these factors from amarketing perspective?

Many city governments don’t usuallyconsider this when planning citywidenetworks. They just think they’re goingto provide a service—like the cities withbasic billboard Web sites that are just abunch of text: ‘Here’s our government,have a nice day.’ But those cities thathave aggressive online service delivery,what’s referred to as e-Government, usu-ally understand the need for good mar-keting because they’re playing in a digitalspace already. If you go down that pathand work to get people, as Mayor Streetof Philadelphia says, online and not in

line, you’ve already done some basic,competent level of marketing.

CPU: It sounds like the problem you’redescribing is that of the technologistapproach in providing a product with thebelief that people will telepathically findit, understand it, and use it.

Settles: Exactly. And that’s why compa-nies have marketing departments—andwhy if you’re lucky, your company’s mar-keting department doesn’t get trumpedby the technology people.

CPU: So they should have done a needsassessment right at the front end?

Settles: I gather Taipei did some amountof work. It’s a question of the level of theirresearch, their assessment. Their problemstell me among other things that there was asegment of the business community thatthe city government probably hadn’t talkedto. Once the politicians announce theWLAN, the IT folks are stuck with havingto move forward on it because it’s nowbecome a main issue: the mayor’s on theircase, etc. Political expediency will some-times trump technology expertise.

What makes me think this is how fastthe process often goes from public procla-mation to Request For Proposal to award.And, in some cases, it’s done within acouple of months. One of the reasonsthat I wrote the book about Philadel-phia’s network development is becausethey did the most extensive amount ofneeds analysis, technology due diligence,and business planning, all before the RFPwas issued. They did 20 focus groups,which even by business standards, whenlaunching a multimillion dollar project,comes across as extreme. They figured

out very early on that assumptions theSteering Committee and politicians hadabout network usage were very differentfrom what people actually wanted to dowith it. Then if the network’s built andit’s a big success, everybody just looks atthe high-profile activities of the project.They don’t see all the groundwork thatwent into it—the due diligence.

It should be said that some cities dosee and understand the need for all thiseffort. For example, in St. Paul, Minn.,they’ve done a lot of legwork so theywouldn’t be stampeded into makingannouncements about what they weregoing to do. They tasked their consult-ing group to come back with three dif-ferent ways they could go, as well as the

pros and cons of each rather than pub-licly stating up front exactly what theywere going to do from the start andeverything the WLAN would have. Allthose proclamations put you in a strait-jacket that may have no bearing on thereality of your situation.

From another standpoint, if peopleknow in advance they’re going to needequipment in a building to boost the sig-nal and they realize that it’ll cost less than$100, they’re fine with that because fromthe beginning they’ve been told what toexpect. WLANs need tweaking in theearly planning days. I don’t care howmuch due diligence you do, and how closeyou come to what you want, there still isgoing to be a need to tweak the results.When I start to hear people griping andcomplaining about cost and other factors,it’s because they haven’t been prepped suf-ficiently in advance about project needs.

So managing expectations is whereyou can either go very right or verywrong. Some of that may have been inplay in Taipei.

CPU: You’ve discussed two of the keyelements in creating a public WLAN:

needs assessment and due diligence.What’s the third?

Settles: How we market these services;easily the last and least considered of thethree factors. But again, this was consid-ered in Philadelphia where their origi-nal business plan had a section on it.Someone figured early on that just as youcan’t have a network without content andservices yet remain effective, you alsocan’t tell people you’ve turned on a net-work without proper marketing. Thisholds true particularly for the business

WWhhaatt’’ss Cooking . . . Technically Speaking

Subscribers can read bonus content with Craig J. Settles at wwwwww..ccppuummaagg..ccoomm//ccppuuoocctt0066//sseettttlleess

“If you go down that path and work to get people, as Mayor Street of Philadelphia says,

online and not in line, you’ve already done some basic, competent level of marketing.”

—Craig J. Settles

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by Kristina Spencer

WWhhaatt’’ss Cooking . . .

PP erhaps you’ve been hesitant to make useof biometric security based on a finger-

print scan because you know that many sys-tems can be fooled by either a well-designedfake finger or the unwilling removal of yourreal one (ouch). That’s because conventionalfingerprint readers only measure a fingerprint’ssurface ridges and contours without takinginto account whether the print is attached toan actual finger . . . or whether the finger isattached to an actual person.

In order to keep both your digits and yourdata secure, Nanoident has developed a “mul-timodal” biometric sensor that is much moredifficult to fool. It combines the surface scanof the fingerprint with a subdermal scan of theunderlying tissue structure, obtainedby illuminating the finger with vary-ing wavelengths of light. Both theprint and the subdermal data mustmatch to authenticate a user. Thesensor reportedly produces a 99%accuracy rate.

“Our sensor is an optical sensor,which is even more sensitive thanCCD or CMOS image sensors usedin many applications like Webcams or digital cameras. Since thelight source is integrated within thesensor and acts as a backlight, it ispossible to adjust or tune lightsource and the light level to getoptimum image quality,” explainsAlain Jutant, Managing Director of Nanoident’s newly formed Bio-metrics division.

Nanoident will manufacture thesensors using inkjet printing tech-niques, resulting in a substantial costsavings over silicon sensors. Nano-ident CEO Klaus Schroeter says thatthe sensors are expected to cost $1 to$2 apiece to produce.

Jutant expects we could see thebiometric sensors embedded incell phones, USB memory drives,

Under DDeevveellooppmmeennttA Peek At What's Brewing In The Laboratory

Fingerprint Scanner Looks Below The Surface

I f you sometimes feel unfairlyburdened by a significant

other who expects you to be amind reader, take heart. Pro-fessor Peter Robinson of theComputer Laboratory at theUniversity of Cambridge and Dr.Rana el Kaliouby of MIT’s MediaLab are working jointly to devel-op an “emotionally intelligent”computer system that can infera user’s mental state by ana-lyzing head movements and facial expressions.

The system captures real-time images of a user with an

attached digital video camera,then identifies and tracks 24facial feature points. Then, itanalyzes the movement of thosepoints as the user makes differ-ent head and facial gestures.Next, the program compares theresults to a series of emotionalstates it has been trained to rec-ognize from the Mind ReadingDVD, a computer-based guidedesigned to help people on theautism spectrum learn to readfacial expressions to determineemotions. Finally, using proba-bility theory, the system ana-

lyzes the data and pre-sents the most likelyinterpretation of theuser’s emotional state.

Other computer sys-tems have been able toidentify the six basicemotions of happiness,sadness, anger, fear,surprise, and disgust.

But this system’s multilevel analy-sis produces a 77.4% accuracyrate in identifying the more com-plex mental states of agreement,concentration, disagreement,interest, thinking, and uncertainty.

Robinson points to a numberof possible applications for themind-reading system. A Web sitecould show certain productsbased on a consumer’s reactionto other products or an onlineeducation system that couldmodify instruction based on howwell the student appears tounderstand the presented mate-rial. Finally, wearable systemscould aid people with austism inidentifying and responding tosocial and emotional cues thatthey might otherwise miss.

And what if you don’t wantyour computer to know whatyou’re thinking? You can alwaysswitch the camera off . . . can’tyou, Dave? ▲

laptops, and other personal electronicswithin the next two years. Beyond thesedevices, one of the most interestingapplications could be in the form of a biometric smart card. A secure

microcontroller within the card com-pletes the identity verification process,eliminating identity verification with acentralized database that could be vul-nerable to data thieves. ▲

A Computer Chip For Your Thoughts

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MM any gamers who have spent uncounted hours play-ing World of Warcraft (not that we would know

anyone like that, of course), or any of the other popularMMOGs, would cite the social aspects of the games as oneof the major reasons they spend so much time playing.Thus, game developers might attract more players by givingthem additional opportunities and well-designed spaces tosocialize with one another, right?

Yes, but not in the ways you might think. It turns outthat players are more interested in social situations thatprovide an audience, give them a sense of social presence,and allow them to become or witness a spectacle than theyare with direct social interaction with other players viachat or guild memberships.

This is just one of the conclusions a PARC (Palo AltoResearch Center) team has drawn. The team’s project,called PlayOn, undertakes an investigation of the socialdimensions of MMOGs, focusing specifically on issues ofcommunity, interactions, and culture. Researchers NicolasDucheneaut, Eric Nickell, and Robert J. Moore, along withNicholas Yee of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab,have spent nearly three years collecting data from MMOGssuch as World of Warcraft, EverQuest, Star Wars Galaxies,and Second Life, in order to gather data about how playersuse virtual worlds.

Although their work may be focused on gaming, thedata collection and analysis is a serious business. To drawconclusions on social interactions in World of Warcraft,the team observed 150,000 characters, capturing dataevery 10 minutes about each present character’s level, loca-tion, grouped status, and guild affiliation. By examiningsuch massive amounts of player data, they’ve been able tomap social networks within the worlds and make recom-mendations on how to increase “interactional realism”between avatars.

The team hopes that its work will be valuable to gamedevelopers and publishers in answering the question“What do players want?” as well as the lucrative corollary“What will players pay for?” ▲

WWhhaatt’’ss Cooking . . . Under Development

Studying La Vida Virtual

Giving Your Computer TheFinger . . . In A Good Way

AA s humans, we use our hands to interact with and understandthe world around us. We gesture during conversation (and

sometimes when we’re cut off in traffic) to convey meaning and useour sensitive fingers to feel an object’s shape and texture. Now,researchers at the University of Buffalo’s Virtual Reality Lab havedeveloped a device known as the Fingertip Digitizer, which cancapture and interpret those gestures and sensations. This allows thewearer to interact with electronic devices via finger movements.

Developed by Dr.Young-Seok Kim and Dr.ThenkurussiKesavadas, the Fingertip Digitzer is worn on the tip of the indexfinger and uses a force sensor, accelerometer, and motion trackerto monitor the position, velocity, acceleration, and pressure at thefingerpad. Wires connect the device to a computer, where soft-ware collects and interprets the data in real time.

“The purpose is to use typical fingertip events in a 3D space soyou don’t have to be stuck on the touch screen or pressure pad;your finger is more free with both contact and noncontact activi-ties,” observes Dr. Kim. “Any activities—including rubbing, tap-ping, nail-scratching, or wagging, to say the least—can be aninput modality.”

The technology has many potential applications. As a comput-er or PDA input device, the Fingertip Digitizer replaces a mouse,stylus, or keyboard; as a drawing and sculpting tool, it could letartists create digital works in midair; and as a video game con-troller, it turns your finger into a virtual gun while you play Halo.Because the Fingertip Digitizer can collect detailed informationabout the physical characteristics of objects, it could also be a use-ful tool in medical diagnostics.

To accompany the device, the UB team has developed TouchPainter, a touch-based painting application; Touch Canvas, atouch-based projection system; and Tactile Tracer, a 3D object-digitizing application. They are also working on a wireless versionof the Digitizer, expected to be available within a year.

When can you start pointing at your computer and expectingit to respond? Dr. Kim estimates that a commercial version of theFingertip Digitizer will be available in two to three years forabout $500. ▲

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IIf you noticed something eerie aboutTom Hanks’ character in “The PolarExpress” or wondered why charactersin most video games seem so wooden,you’ve encountered the Uncanny

Valley Effect. Coined in 1970 by MasahiroMori, the term basically describes howhard it is to convince anyone that some-thing artificial looks real. Steve Perlman,who created WebTV and Moxi Digital, istrying to change that. The 45-year-oldentrepreneur has created a new start-up:Mova ( Funded over thepast four years by his own Rearden compa-nies, researchers at Mova have created a44-camera tool dubbed Contour that cancapture human faces and convert theminto a form that computer artists can easilymanipulate. Perlman promises it will nowbe far easier to create realistic human char-acters, with proper facial and lip move-ments, in video games and animatedmovies with this new camera tool. Cre-ating realistic characters is as easy as spong-ing fluorescent makeup on a person andthen capturing the light reflected from themakeup into a 3D mapping system. Lastly,a computer process will convert the set-uppoints into a 3D wire-frame model that anartist manipulates with simple tools. Thesystem goes on sale for game developmentand movie production houses by thefourth quarter of this year.

QQWhere did the original idea forContour come from?

SSPP Contour started out with a verybroad goal: develop a facial cap-

ture system that could cross the UncannyValley. By this time we were about to pur-chase our three-optical motion-capture sys-tem, so we had a pretty good idea of thetrajectory of the technology; it was notevolving in the direction of achieving pho-torealistic faces in a production-efficientenvironment, so we set out and tried every-thing. Contour in its current form evolvedout of a series of perhaps two dozeninsights we gained from a succession of

experiments, each getting uspart of the way there.

QQ Can you give us thetechnical explanation

in terms of how Contourworks? How, for instance, doyou get the depth informa-tion by triangulation?

SSPP Let’s consider twocameras each, say,

30 degrees apart from eachother. The two cameras arelooking at the same object inspace, say, a person’s face, butfrom different angles. Let’ssay we are trying to figure outthe position in ‘Z’ of a spoton the person’s right cheek.We use one camera and seethe particular random phos-phor pattern that happens tobe on that spot on the cheek. Next wetake the second camera and compareevery pattern that it sees with the firstcamera’s random pattern, until we finallyfind the exact same pattern that the firstcamera saw. Then we triangulate betweenthe two cameras; we measure the anglefrom each camera to that spot on theright cheek, and, using geometry, wedetermine the ‘Z’ of that spot.

QQ What’s your view on the future of digital entertainment? Will it

take over?

SSPP This is a pretty big question!The answer to that is, I think

that you’ll be seeing an increasing overlapbetween motion pictures and video gamesto the point where a motion picture as weknow it today will be viewed as a purelylinear entertainment experience and avideo game as we know it today will beviewed as a highly interactive entertain-ment experience. And, I would expectthat most experiences made would fallsomewhere in between.

Already you can get DVDs withmovies/TV shows where you can choosealternative endings. The first season of“24” has two choices for an ending. And,of course, you can get video games thathave very sophisticated cinematics thatapproach movie-grade quality. These arevery simple examples of convergence, butthey do illustrate how the two worlds arereaching out to each other.

QQ Besides good facial expressions,what else do you need to conquer

the Uncanny Valley?

SSPP Realistic motion. Conqueringthe Uncanny Valley takes both

very accurate facial features and very real-istic facial motion. An artist can handpaint a still image of a face that we thinkof as photorealistic and cross the UncannyValley, but it is extremely difficult andperhaps impossible to hand-animate aface that crosses the Valley. ▲

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b a c k d o o r | q & a

Q&A With Steve Perlman

108 October 2006 /

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