Website Upgrades

I just upgraded a number of components on both my website and server, as well as made a few backend configuration changes. If you notice anything not working correctly, please let me know.

How to Install and Configure MS-DOS 6.22 (Yes, Really)

I just posted an extensive new HOWTO regarding How to Install and Configure MS-DOS 6.22. I'm sure you're probably thinking, "WTF?", and you have every right to, so let me paste a bit from the HOWTO introduction that explains why I bothered to take the time (quite a lot of time, actually) to write this up:

This walkthrough covers installing MS-DOS 6.22 from the original installation diskettes. Why write this in 2013? That's a very valid question, to which there are a few answers:

  • Setting up a fully working DOS system will give you great appreciation for how far computing has come. For old-timers, it will be a walk down memory lane; for youngsters who've never used nor even seen DOS before, it should be quite an eye-opening experience to experience first hand both how primitive DOS was and yet how capable it could be.
  • A working physical DOS system is the most authentic way to (re-)experience classic PC games. DOSBox does an amazing job of supporting DOS games on modern platforms, but for perfect accuracy, including the full memory management experience (which can be a game unto itself), a real DOS system can't be beat.
  • There is a dearth of detailed information about MS-DOS on the internet. This makes sense as MS-DOS predates the web as we know it today, but I don't want knowledge of this system to be lost to time. I did a significant amount of research for this project, and I want to document and share what I've discovered and re-learned for future reference.
  • Perhaps most importantly, why not? This project was inspired by a previous project to resurrect my old Packard Bell, my first computer that, not coincidentally, ran MS-DOS 6.2 and Windows for Workgroups 3.11. Rebuilding and enhancing it from a hardware perspective was a fun experience, and now I'm doing the same from a software perspective.

If you're curious, please continue reading, but take heed: geeky content ahead.

Desktop Upgrade 2013

Update: 11/04/2013
I finally settled on and ordered all of the components. I updated each item below to clarify my final selection, so please read on if you're interested in the details.

It's been over three years since my last post about upgrading my desktop, which can mean only one thing. It's upgrade time again! As I've done in the past, I'm going to post the details and part selection here, both to help organize my thoughts on the subject as well as solicit feedback. Unfortunately, unlike my previous builds, the comment system for this site is currently disabled (see this post for the details, if you're interested). So, if you do have any feedback or suggestions, please hit me up on IM or shoot me an e-mail; I'll post any feedback I receive in a future update.

My current desktop was originally built in 2007, and was upgraded in 2010. At this point, it sports a Nehalem-based Core i7 with 8 GB of RAM, a couple SSDs, an Nvidia GTX 460 video card, and other miscellany. If that sounds like a pretty beefy system to, well, that's because it is. I've actually been very, very happy with it, and it's still the fastest computer I've every used. It does everything I need, and does it well.

So, you may be wondering why I'm interested in upgrading at all. That's a fair question, and it comes down to three basic reasons:

  • Greatly improved motherboard/chipset support for certain features such as Serial ATA 6 Gb/s and USB 3.0
  • Front panel USB 3.0 ports on a case
  • After six years using, upgrading, and tinkering with the same basic computer, I'm just ready for a change

If not for the USB and SATA support (which I really want, and almost upgraded last year to get), this computer could easily last me another couple years as-is. I've been on a three year upgrade cycle for the past few years, and I've been building my computers with that cycle in mind, but this time I think I'm going to aim for five years. I'm sure there will be some new hot technology introduced within that time frame that I really want, but honestly, modern multi-core CPUs (especially the Core i7 processors with hyper-threading) are fast enough even for my generally crazy needs, and with solid support for super fast I/O interfaces now for my SSD and USB disk drives I think I should be good for a while.

Because I want to get a new case as well, I'm going do a complete build this time rather than another upgrade. As noted my current desktop is still quite capable, so I'm trying to figure out what I want to do with it once I'm done. I'll probably move it to HTPC duty (which also provides emulator-based gaming in my living-room, so all that horsepower won't be going to waste), with my current HTPC possibly being relegated to classic PC gaming duty. It'll be fun figuring out how exactly to handle all of that as well. :-)

I probably won't be ready to pull the trigger on this until July (the core components below have just launched, and I want to give things a few weeks to settle down), but since I've already begun my research I wanted to go ahead and document it here. So, with all that out of the way, let's get down to business.

Intel Core i7-4771 ($320 - Newegg)
Intel Core i7-4770K ($350 - Newegg)
Intel Core i7-4770 ($310 - Newegg)

Update: 11/04/2013
I decided to to go with the Intel Core i7-4771. This is a slight upgrade to the "locked" i7-4770 so that the default clock speed is now on parity with the i7-4770K. Given the rather shitty overclockability of the i7-4770K and the loss of other features, I decided trying to overclock this just wasn't worth it, and the i7-4771 should be fast enough as-is to last me five years.

The choice of CPU largely dictates the rest of the components, so I'm starting with that first. My last two builds/upgrades have used high(ish)-end Intel CPUs, and I've been very happy with both of them. Unfortunately, without a competing high-end offering from AMD to spur competition, Intel has gotten lazy on the desktop side. Their recent CPUs have only marginal performance improvements over previous generations (focusing instead on mobile-centric features such as power consumption), product selection is extremely limited, and prices are pretty high. Again, though, AMD doesn't have a high-end competitor, so if I want the best processor for a high-performing five year system that's at least reasonably cost-effective, then the i7-4770 line is pretty much the only option. So, while this is undoubtedly a stellar chip, I'm rather disappointed in the circumstances leading to this decision, which is kind of an odd thing.

One other item of disappointment is Intel's forced and rather arbitrary market segmentation, which restricts certain CPU features to certain CPU modules. The Core i7-4770K that I listed above, is part of their "unlocked" line of processors that allow overclocking. Unfortunately, unlocked processors are also feature-crippled, because apparently Intel feels that their customers shouldn't be able to get both a top performing and fully featured CPU. Nevermind that enthusiasts buying those high-end, unlocked parts are the also the people mostly like to take advantage of those additional features, such as VT-d, a feature I'm personally interested in that can be extremely useful in certain virtualization scenarios. Instead, they want their consumers to choose between the best performing parts, and slower, but more fully capable, parts. Assholes.

So instead of the i7-4770K I'm also considering the "locked" Core i7-4770. The specs are pretty similar, but the i7-4770 gives me VT-d support (potentially useful in the future for virtualization, which I do run on my desktop) and some other goodies, whereas the i7-4770K gives me the possibility of overclocking my CPU (potentially useful in the future so I can eek out some more performance if/when needed). But, because Intel has become lazy and has no real competition on this level, I can't have both. Assholes.

Right now I'm leaning toward the i7-4770K, but that's not definite. AMD also announced a new CPU refresh just yesterday, so I'll be interested to see how those look (especially considering my growing dissatisfaction with Intel), but I think it's unlikely they'll be compelling enough to change my mind. I really, really hope AMD can get back in the game over the next couple of product cycles, though. We need that competition, and I'd really like to give AMD another shot my my desktop if the can put out a compelling enough product.

For additional reference, here's AnandTech's review of the Core i7-4770K (and Haswell platform has a whole):

They also wrote-up a detailed analysis of the Haswell architecture a while back:

CPU Cooler
Noctua NH-U12S ($70 - Newegg)

Update: 11/04/2013
I went with the Noctua NH-U12S as originally mentioned. It's much larger than I would've liked, but at least slimmer than many of the alternative options, and should be whisper quiet even at high load. This is probably overkill since I don't plan on overclocking after all, but it'll be the first high-end air cooler that I've ever used, so I'd still like to get it anyway just to see how well it works.

I used the stock cooler on my previous two builds, which worked perfectly fine, but the fan was definitely noticeable when the CPU under load. For this computer, taking the five year plan into account, I'm looking at three main factors:

  • Near silent operation - I don't want to hear it even under full load
  • Great cooling performance - necessary to deal with Haswell's higher CPU temps (especially if I decide to overclock, as all reports indicate this CPU gets very hot quickly
  • Not intrusively large - some CPU coolers can, quite literally, occupy almost the entire case. I want something compact enough that it won't get in the way of anything else.

The Noctua NH-U12S seems to score well on all of these. Based on the reviews and comparisons, it doesn't excel at any one criterion, but is a solid, reasonably priced all-rounder.

Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD3H ($160 - Newegg)
Asus Z87-PLUS ($160 - Newegg)
ASRock Z87 Extreme6 ($175 - Newegg)

Update: 11/04/2013
I went with the Gigabyte motherboard. As mentioned below I had some quality concerns regarding the choice of components in the ASRock motherboard, and between Gigabyte and Asus I gave the nod to Gigabyte just because I have a Gigabyte board in my current computer and have been happy with it.

I've narrowed down the list of motherboard contenders to the above three. Each has their pros and cons, but the general difference is that the ASRock board seems to pack more features than the Gigabyte and Asus board, but at the cost of lower quality components. I still need to sift through the details a bit more before I'll be able to decide on one.

Unfortunately, while each of these are perfectly adequate, none are ideal because, as discussed in the sound card section below, I'm constrained by the need for a conventional PCI slot. For this product cycle, motherboard manufacturers are only including PCI slots on their low- to mid-range motherboards. So, if I want to be able to carry forward the last great sound card fully supported under Linux, I need to give up the higher end stuff. Honestly, it doesn't seem like it's going to be a big loss, but I would like a bit more options - the three above do cover my needs, but only barely, and aside from the ASRock (which I have some quality concerns about) none feature much in the way of niceties.

G.Skill RipjawsX F3-2133C9D-16GXH ($151 - Newegg)

Update: 11/04/2013
Decided to go with some fast DDR3-2133 low latency (CL 9) memory. There were only a few options available in this range, and I chose G.Skill just because I had good luck with them in the past. I went with a 2x8 GB kit for 16 GB total RAM, with the option to add an additional 16 GB later (though, honestly, even 16 GB is more than I really need, so I don't expect to upgrade beyond that).

Haven't begun researching this yet. If I decide to overclock my system I might pick up some higher frequency RAM to go along with that, but most likely I'll stick with a fairly conservative standard option.

Power Supply
Seasonic SS-660XP2, ATX, 660W, 80 Plus Platinum ($140 - Newegg)

Update: 11/04/2013
I decided to stick with the Seasonic SS-660XP2. Looks like it has all the qualities I'm interested in, and managed to pick it up on sale for a great price.

Not a ton to say here. PSUs are pretty boring, but are nonetheless one of the most critical system components, as a misbehaving PSU can cause no shortage of problems. The Seasonic SS-660XP2 gets high reviews for being a quiet, efficient, and reliable product, all of which I'm looking for. Unless something else catches my eye, I'll probably stick with this.

Cooler Master CM 690 II Advanced ($90 - Newegg)
Rosewill Blackhawk ($90 - Newegg)
Thermaltake Armor Revo ($140 - Newegg)
Zalman Z12 Plus ($70 - Newegg)
Zalman MS800 Plus ($114 - Newegg)
Cooler Master HAF XM ($110 - Newegg)
Gigabyte Luxo M30 ($53 - Newegg)
Apex PCV-588 ($35 - Newegg)

Update: 11/04/2013
As noted previously, this was by far the most difficult decision to nail down. I'm still not crazy about the case I ended up choosing (the Cooler Master CM 690 II Advanced), but it does meet all of my requirements, and isn't hideous. As a bonus, it includes an adapter to mount two SSDs in one of the internal 3.5" bays, as well as dust filters for all of the fan intakes. It's also supposed to be reasonably quiet, which was an important requirement I forgot to list previously. Hopefully it'll work out.

The case has proven one of the most difficult components to find. I have a number of criteria, a some of which aren't really in line with the latest design trends:

  • I need at least 3 external 5.25" drive bays - not too difficult
  • The external bays need to be directly accessible; ie., no door or other covering - more difficult; most higher end designs feature a door that blocks access to the drive bays for some dumbass reason
  • I need at least 1 3.5" external drive bay, or a fourth 5.25" bay with a 3.5" adapter - very hard to find on modern high quality cases, but needed for my media card reader
  • I want a reset button - this should be a no brainer, but some case manufacturers still follow the big OEMs lead in pretending that no computer problems ever happen, and hence there'd be no reason, ever, that a person may need to recover from some abnormal condition (such as this "crash" thing I've heard about)
  • I need at least 4 front panel USB ports, with at least 2 of those (preferably all four) USB 3.0 - this, sadly, is still not common. I don't know what's taking so long, but USB 3.0 has been around for over three years now. WTF?
  • I'm looking for a reasonably classy design without so many LEDs it can illuminate a city block - here are some examples of what I do not want

The above listed "possibilities" are the few that come close to meeting my needs, but none quite cover all of them. I'm still doing research here, but would love any specific suggestions.

Hard Drives
I'm rocking two SSDs in my current desktop: a 240 GB OCZ Vertex 3 for my home drive, and a 128 GB Crucial M4 for my system drive. Both are Serial ATA 6 Gb/s, and are still amongst the fastest SATA drives available. There's no good reason to upgrade either of these at this time, so I'll be reusing them in the new computer.

Optical Drives
Pioneer BDR-208DBK ($70 - Newegg)

Update: 11/04/2013
I decided to pick up a blu-ray burner for the new computer. Went with the Pioneer mostly 'just because' - it was between this, an Asus, and an LG, and based on prior experience I think Pioneer is probably the highest quality of the three. Plus, the Pioneer was on sale for a good price. :-) Some preliminary reports suggest this may be a good ripping drive as well, but it's still mostly luck of the draw, so I'm not too optimistic. Will certainly put it through it's paces, though.

I'll probably stick with my previous drive. Would love to pick up a shiny new drive that excels at ripping audio CDs (yes, I still rip audio CDs), but finding those are a matter of pure luck - I've never seen one documented in recent years as good for ripping until long after they're off the market. Again, any suggestions here would be welcome.

Video Card
My current video card is an EVGA GeForce GTX 460 FTW 1024MB 01G-P3-1377-TR (Newegg, which I bought about a year after my last upgrade. It still has enough oomph to handle the games I play (on Linux, which means they're rarely high end), and I don't see anything particularly compelling on the market right now, so I'll probably hang on to this for another 6 months to a year and then upgrade. Once I do, I'll almost certainly go with Nvidia, though; while the price per performance of the Radeon cards looks quite compelling, I need something that's going to work reliably and be supported for a long time on Linux, and AMD has not been able to prove themselves on either of those fronts. My last three desktop cards have been Nvidia, with the deciding factor being their Linux support every time, and despite some obvious drawbacks they have delivered quality Linux support with timely updates and long-term support. I hate to ride the fanboy train, but until AMD catches up on the Linux side, I have to stick with Nvidia.

Sound Card
I currently use an Audigy 2 Platinum. Despite Creative's extremely half-hearted attempts at Linux support over the years (which has proven almost entirely ineffectual), it works fine on Linux. It actually even offers some features that are difficult (if not impossible) to find on modern sound cards, such as a real MIDI synthesizer, soundfont support, multiple hardware mixers, etc. (and if stuff like "MIDI synthesizer" sounds antiquated keep in mind that classic gaming is a hobby of mine and I take full advantage of all the hardware capabilities of my sound card).

Unfortunately, the Audigy 2 is a conventional PCI card, support for which has been largely phased out on modern systems in favor of PCI Express. I've searched, tirelessly, for a well-supported (in Linux) PCIe card capable of matching at least most of the Audigy 2's capabilities, and I have yet to find it. So, I'll one again have to stick with my Audigy 2 for this upgrade, which is going to limit my motherboard selection as most high-end motherboards no longer support PCI. Most lower-end boards still do, and it appears that a smattering of higher-end boards do as well, so I'm hopeful I can find something that will work for me. This will almost certainly be the last upgrade through which I can carry this card, though. Hopefully at some point in the next three years or so I'll finally be able to find an adequate replacement.

As noted in my last upgrade discussion, I'm still using two 22" Viewsonic CRTs for my desktop. They're big and heavy, and one appears to be starting to go slightly fuzzy, but given the retro gaming I do on my desktop (at a great many different resolutions), these CRTs still beat every LCD monitor I've seen on the market for my typical usage scenarios. As a result, I'll be sticking with these monitors once again, probably until they die (which will be a very sad day).

I recently had to replace my computer speaker system because of a lightening strike, so I have a fairly new Logitech Z906 (Newegg) 5.1 channel surround system. There's absolutely no reason to replace this.

nMEDIAPC ZE-C288 ($27 - Newegg)

Update: 11/04/2013
I also decided to pick up a new media card reader. My old 3.5" reader works fine, but since my new case has four 5.25" bays, I thought I'd take a look at alternative options and found the nMEDIAPC ZE-C288. It has a few things that I like; in addition to basic multi-card reader functionality, it also provides a native microSD card slot, which is the type of card I most frequently use with it), two additional USB 3.0 ports, and two fan controllers (which I'm not sure I'll use, but the option is nice). Unfortunately, it has a rather low review score on Newegg due to not-so-great quality parts, but on paper the features look really nice, and for $27 I thought it'd be worth taking the chance.

Probably not going to change much here, either. I have a fairly old Logitech USB keyboard (Elite) and wireless mouse (Performance Mouse MX) that are rather worn at this point, but, sadly, are still the best options out there for my needs. Everything else - printer, scanner, network, etc., just works, so no need to mess with any of it.

This post ended up being much more long-winded than I originally anticipated, but I guess that's not terribly unexpected for me. I've also been working on this off-and on for a few weeks now, so... yeah, it's time to get this first draft posted.

If you stuck with it through the end, I hope you found it at least marginally informative and entertaining. If you have any feedback on my product selection, or in fact any of my comments above, please let me know (you'll need to e-mail me as comments are still disabled). I'll update this post as I finalize product selection, so stay tuned.

Website Issues

I upgraded part of my website a couple weeks ago, and made a configuration change that required updates to a number of files on the backend. I thought I had made all of the necessary changes, but I apparently missed a few. Someone just notified me of this earlier today.

If anything didn't seem to be working correctly lately (most visibly, UniExtract downloads), it should be working again now. If you notice any other issues, please let me know.

Minor Modify Path Update Released

I just posted a small update to my Modify Path Inno Setup script. It fixes an issue I just discovered in the previous version that prevents it from being used in the same package with CLI Help. This is a bugfix release only; no other changes are included.

The new version can be downloaded from the script's home page:
Modify Path General Update

There hasn't been much news posted here lately, so I wanted to give everyone an update on what's going on in regards to the website and various projects hosted here.

Website Spam
As anyone viewing the forum or old posts has undoubtedly noticed, this site has been overrun with spam. Since moving to Drupal 6 a couple years ago, the anti-spam module I used never worked quite right, resulting in a lot of extra work on my part to keep things tidy. After a while I got tired of dealing with the spam, and have simply neglected it since then. This is not good for several reasons, not the least of which is that legitimate posts got drowned out by the noise and never received any attention.

I spent just spent a couple hours deleting all of the spam I could find, so all that should be left on this site are legitimate posts. Unfortunately, at this time I have no good way to keep it that way, which leads into my next topic...

Forum, Comments, and User Accounts
Effectively immediately, the forum and news posts have been switched to read-only mode, and the ability to create new user accounts has been disabled. The end result is that no one can post new comments or topics to either the forum or website, and no one that doesn't already have an account can (automatically) create a new one. I was hoping I'd never have to resort to this, but until I get the time to upgrade my site again and implement an entirely new anti-spam system, I simply have no other way to keep the site clean.

Continuing on the topic of users, I'm also working on cleaning up all of the accounts. Some quick math showed I have about 6500 registered accounts when I started working on this, and I can guarantee that over 6400 of those are simply for spam. As I have no great way to distinguish the difference between legitimate and non-legitimate accounts when dealing in this volume, I'm taking the following approach. Any accounts meeting the following criteria will be deleted:

  • Have never logged in
  • Have not logged in for more than one year
  • Has a last access time within one week of their account creation
  • Has a suspicious looking username

I have no doubt this will include some innocent and legitimate users in the mix, and for that I apologize. As noted above, though, I don't have a better way of dealing with all the spam right now, and drastic actions are needed to get things back in order.

If you have a legitimate need to access the site, e-mail me. I can still create accounts manually. If you want to use the forum to post a question about Universal Extractor, I recommend posting to the MSFN forum instead. A bunch of great people frequent those forums, and you're more likely to get a timely response from them then from me for the foreseeable future. For anything else, e-mail me. My address isn't that hard to find if you really need it.

Software Projects
This really isn't anything new, but just to formally announce it: for now, all software projects are on hiatus. This does not mean that I've abandoned them or no longer plan on working on them, just that I don't have the time and/or desire to do so right now. As I said, this isn't anything new - most of this site in general has been on hiatus for a couple of years, so not much will change. When I resume development, don't worry, I'll be sure to post an update. :-) SSL Certificate Changes

The SSL certificates used by this website and other related services are expiring soon. As a result, I'm taking this opportunity to revamp the process I use for generating and managing my certificates. The end result will (at least I hope... ) be more flexible and easier to maintain system for me, with less interruptions necessary for my visitors going forward.

Unfortunately, this change also means that all existing certificates are no longer valid (if you received an error when viewing the page through an "https" link today, this is the reason). If you use the SSL version of this site or e-mail, you will need to update your copy of the certificate. In order to do so, please refer to the new SSL Certificates page I created. It's also available through a handy link in the Navigation menu on the left side of the site.

This page covers why I use self-signed certificates on this website, what that means to you, how certificates work, and how to install the CA certificate in a few common browsers and mail clients.

Please let me know if you encounter any problems.