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Adobe Flash Player 10.1 conflicts with ATI Sideport RAM

Adobe Flash Player 10.1’s HD hardware acceleration feature can cause a green-screen error when attempting to play online high-definition (and even some standard-definition) video, such as on Youtube and Vimeo. It appears that it conflicts with the Sideport memory found on some motherboard with integrated ATI graphics, such as the Asus M4A785TD-V EVO with its ATI HD 4200 chip.

The  "Enable hardware acceleration" checkboxThere are two workarounds, neither ideal. The simplest is to right-click the video, choose “Settings”, and uncheck the “Enable hardware acceleration box” found under the “Display” tab. This, of course, means that the whole point of the Flash 10.1 update—HD hardware acceleration—is disabled.

The other option, and in my mind the preferable one, is to disable Sideport memory in the BIOS. In the AMI BIOS for the above-mentioned Asus board, the relevant options are found under Advanced → Chipset → Internal Graphics → Internal Graphics Mode → UMA. Of course, this ‘solution’ is also irritating: the Sideport memory then becomes another feature paid-for-but-disused.

The best option, is, of course, dependent on Adobe/ATI (whether the problem lies with Flash or with the ATI drivers isn’t clear) updating their software to fix the clash. Here’s hoping they actually do fix it, otherwise the users—as so often happens—will be left feeling shortchanged.

Running the L140 DVD-ROM from the hard disk

If, like me, you’re on the Open University course L140 En rumbo: intermediate Spanish, you may have been irritated by the fact that, despite the installer claiming to install to the hard disk, you’re still required to have the DVD in the drive when you want to perform the activites. Quite apart from the fact that it’s somewhat inconvenient to find and insert it every time, it’s also a major source of noise if you have a louder-than-average DVD drive. Since the DVD holds the audio files for the activities, this translated to significant whirring every time you’re trying to listen to, for instance, Spanish pronunciation…which is less than ideal!

You’ll be glad to know, however, that’s it’s possible to manually do what the OU should have done in the first place, and that is to have all the files on the hard disk, therebuy cutting out the need for the DVD-ROM. This should also benefit netbook users, who could then potentially dispense with carrying an external DVD drive.

A little technical knowledge would be helpful, though not essential. Advanced users will see that there are some quicker-but-less-easy-to-document ways of accomplishing some of the steps I’ve described. The usual disclaimers apply.

  1. Make sure you’ve previously installed the L140 activities as per the OU guidelines.
  2. Insert your DVD-ROM and open it to browse in Windows Explorer (it normally appears as your D:\ drive)
  3. The DVD-ROM should contain a folder called “assets”. You need to copy this folder (right-click and click Copy).
  4. Now browse to where the L140 files are installed. This may vary from computer to computer; on my Windows 7 system, the folder was C:\Users\Liam\AppData\Roaming\L140 DVD-ROM. I can’t say for sure what it is on Windows XP, but try looking in C:\Documents and Settings\Liam\Application Data.
  5. Paste the “assets” folder inside the “L140 DVD-ROM” folder you found in step 4. There are between 2 and 3 GB of small files to copy over, so this may take a while.
  6. For safety, you may like to backup the LocalVariables.js file (you may not see the .js part) in the “code” folder inside the “L140 DVD-ROM” folder.
  7. Open this in Notepad. To do so, open Notepad (Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> Notepad) and browse to the “code” folder inside the “L140 DVD-ROM” folder you’ve been looking at. (On my system, this folder is C:\Users\Liam\AppData\Roaming\L140 DVD-ROM\code.) In the drop-down menu “Files of type” click “All Files”. You should now see that this folder should contain a file called LocalVariables.js (you may not see the .js part). Double-click on it to open it.
  8. The second line of this file should start “var pathToDVD”. You need to alter it to be identical in every way to the line that starts var pathToRoot, except that it should start var pathToDVD. For instance, in my case, after alteration, the second line looked like this: var pathToDVD = 'C:\\Users\\Liam\\AppData\\Roaming\\L140 DVD-ROM\\';
  9. Save the file and close Notepad.
  10. You’re done. You should now be able to run the activities without the DVD being in the drive: in particular, the audio and video clips should play without problem.

Advanced users probably have already realised that the “assets” folder could actually be anywhere, so long as the LocalVariables.js file is altered to point to it. You could put it in your Documents folder or even on a USB drive instead.

Hasta luego!

Dynamic RAM Preview max can cripple Sony Vegas rendering

Bizarrely, rendering performance in Sony Vegas Pro 8 suffers by a factor of 3 if the Dynamic RAM Preview is set to use 0MB. Increasing it to 1MB results in a 200% performance boost.

Dynamic RAM Preview normally allows you to render a small selected portion of your project to preview it smoothly. This is especially useful if you have a portion of your project that includes many transitions and effects: without this facility, you may be unable to preview it at a usable frame rate. You can increase the amount of RAM reserved for this task, which increases the length of clip that you can preview. Mike J has a good explanation on the Digital Media Net forums.

However, if you don’t use this feature, the recommendation is to reduce the RAM kept aside for it, allowing it to be used elsewhere. I hardly ever use it, so I reduced it to 0MB—a mistake, as I found out.

John Cline over on the Sony Creative Software forums has produced a handy “benchmark” file, rendertest-hdv.veg to compare the rendering performance of different systems. For instance, in 32-bit Vegas, a stock Core i7 920 could chomp through the rendering in about 1 minute 50 seconds. A lesser Core 2 Quad Q9400 could manage in about 2 minutes 10 seconds. By comparison, at first I was clocking in at over 10 minutes! Something wasn’t right. I downloaded Vegas Pro 8.1, which is the 64-bit version, and the file rendered in under 2 minutes 40 seconds.

I realised, after some playing around, that the Dynamic RAM preview setting was to blame. Strangely, if I increased it to 1MB, the rendering time improved tremendously, dropping to around the 2 minutes 55 seconds mark.

Simple then—if you’re using Vegas Pro 8.0c or 8.1, don’t set the “Dynamic RAM Preview max (MB)” setting to 0MB. A rather silly bug; it would have been good if Sony had picked up on it.

Tesco website(s): major usability failure(s)

Rant warning. I’ve just spent a deeply unsatisfying 45 minutes trying to redeem a Clubcard voucher that was due to expire tonight. Not only are Tesco’s sites a horrible mishmash of differing designs with no clear consistent elements, their hyperlinking is confusing, misleading, and ultimately disappointing.

Take a look at this screenshot:

Clubcard website screenshot
Clubcard website screenshot

That picture on the left of the screenshot, just above the “CDs” label, is a link to Tesco Entertainment. Brilliant, thought I. I can grab a cheap Springsteen CD or something. Having eventually settled on The Rising, I went to checkout, only to be nonplussed by the registration. I entered my details to sign up: the system told me I was already registered. Huh? Oh, it must be thinking of my Tesco Groceries account – even though the two websites have little in common, and are not even on the same domain. Look at these two screenshots. Compare. Do you see much evidence of consistency?

Tesco Entertainment login screen
Tesco Entertainment login screen
Tesco.com login screen
Tesco.com login screen

Here I refer to Nielsen’s heuristics:

Consistency and standards: Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong, having the same login details for all parts of the Tesco site is a Very Good Thing. But obscuring this great feature by inconsistent interface design is just stupidity on a plate.

Moving on, I wondered where to enter the Clubcard voucher. There was nowhere clear to redeem Clubcard vouchers. I tried the promotional code box. Didn’t work. Went further on to the payment page to see if I could enter it there. No dice. The help page was useless. No mention of redeeming Clubcard vouchers. Where next?

Tesco Entertainment's help page
Tesco Entertainment's help page

Google, in the end. Suspecting Tesco might, unsurprisingly, have made a mess of communicating with their users, I Googled “tesco clubcard entertainment” and finally found another help page for Tesco Entertainment. Note the complete lack of design consistency with the site it’s supposed to be helping with, Tesco Entertainment. Nor is it clear why there need to be two separate help pages.

A different Tesco Entertainment help page
A different Tesco Entertainment help page

There it was. Under “How do I use my Clubcard Vouchers online?” it said the following: “We are very sorry, Clubcard Vouchers cannot be used to buy CDs, DVDs and Games on Tesco Entertainment.” Then why on earth does it link to Tesco Entertainment on the Clubcard website?

Fantastic. Thanks for wasting my time. Tesco, you managed to fail in all these ways, by:

  • using woefully inconsistent designs across your different websites, especially for login screens;
  • implying Clubcard holders can redeem vouchers where they cannot, in reality; and
  • maintaining two separate help pages for the same site, one of which has to be found and accessed externally by Google.

Clubcard is supposed to be a loyalty scheme. I certainly don’t feel very loyal to Tesco after tonight.

As a bonus, as a further example of Tesco’s complete inability to even maintain consistency on the same sub-site, compare these two screenshots from the Clubcard website:

Navigation bar for Tesco Clubcard home page
Navigation bar for Tesco Clubcard home page

Click on the “Clubcard rewards” navigation bar link and you get this:

Navigation bar for Tesco Clubcard Rewards page
Navigation bar for Tesco Clubcard Rewards page

As you can see, it’s exactly the same, apart from everything. Not the slightest bit confusing, of course.

Dell will provide free Vista x64 disks for customers with Vista x32

It seems that if you’ve bought a computer from Dell with Windows Vista 32-bit, they’ll provide, upon request, disks of Vista 64-bit.

It can be a bit of a struggle, though. The key, it seems is to quote the following document to them: DSN Document ID: 158098 (Operating System Changes and Operating System Swaps – Dell Global Policy).

When I asked back in April 2009, my Dell Chat online support conversation went something like this:

Liam: “I need a copy of Vista Ultimate 64-bit to replace Vista Ultimate 32-bit.”
Agent: “Can you tell me which particular Windows came with your system?”
Liam Cromar: “Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit.”
Agent: “The cd or dvd installers we have are the ones that came with the system.”
Agent: “We can only send the Vista Ultimate 32 bit.”
Liam: “Thanks. I understand, however, that Dell Global Policy specifies that the customer is to be provided, on request, with two copies of the 64-bit versions as well. This is according to DSN Document ID: 158098 (Operating System Changes and Operating System Swaps – Dell Global Policy).”
Agent: “Thanks let me check if we can provide you.”
Agent: “Let’s check if your system is capable of having 64 bit. Click Start, click Run, type MSinfo32, and click Enter Look under the system type and see what it is listed.”
Liam: “X86-based PC.”
Agent: “This computer is not compatible with 64 bit OS. For Dell computers when you checked the system type and it list X86-based PC, it is only for 32 bit OS. For computers compatible with 64 bit, you will see X64-based PC.”
Liam: “With all due respect, I am an IT consultant and I know perfectly well that this machine IS compatible with a 64-bit OS. What appears in the System Information utility only refers to what OS is CURRENTLY installed on the computer. Since it CURRENTLY has a 32-bit OS on it, it says X86-based PC. To find out whether it could support a 64-bit OS you have to check the underlying hardware, in particular the motherboard and processor.”
Agent: “Thanks for additional information. Please give me a minute.”
Agent: “All indications point to 32 bit compatibility only. I have double check this and I got the same answer.”
Liam: “What indications?”
Agent: “We have reference where we can check compatibility with a certain system. No 64 bit OS is listed as compatible.”
Liam: “It has a Core 2 Quad processor, definitely 64-bit compatible. Please tell me exactly what is claimed not to be 64-bit compatible.”
Agent: “Let me check your processor information.”
Liam Cromar: “Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600.”
Agent: “Please give me a few minutes again thank you.”
Agent: “Thank you for waiting. Your request was approved. Since the warranty is active, I can send you a Vista 64 bit OS. I apologize for the delay in approving your request.”

Note the amusing attempt to try and persuade me that 64-bit Vista would not be compatible. All’s well that ends well, however; the disk arrived quickly.

Note also that I have no idea whether this policy is still in force, or whether it has been changed. If you want to try this, don’t leave it too long.

Much credit and thanks go to the moderator Chris M on the Dell forums who explained the necessary document to refer to on the Technet forums.

Scythe Ninja works well with Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600—even passively

I had cause recently to upgrade the cooler on a Q6600, and chose to use an old Scythe Ninja that was lying about spare.

Under Prime95 load, with the stock Intel cooler I was reaching high 70s. With the Scythe Ninja, high 60s…in passive mode.

Considering how old this cooler is (note that it’s the original Ninja, not the Ninja II) I was immensely impressed with its performance. I had been prepared to add a 120mm Zalman fan but saw no need to: it’s rarely placed under maximum load as it is. The only fans in the case were the graphics card fan and the PSU fan, which is starting to annoy me now noise-wise.

What can I say? Not much. If you’re an average end-user who hasn’t yet changed from the stock CPU cooler, don’t look further. Seriously, buy a Scythe Ninja II. I know what I’ll be looking for for my next build.

Has anyone else any positive or negative experiences with the Ninja?

Error 0x80070643 when installing Microsoft Security Essentials? Lose Microsoft AntiSpyware

Clever, isn’t it. I was trying to install Microsoft Security Essentials on a laptop running Windows XP Professional; installation kept failing with error 0x80070643. Picked up hints around the web that other anti-malware programs might be interfering. I had already uninstalled Avira AntiVir Premium, but though I might as well try getting rid of Microsoft AntiSpyware.

Surely these two Microsoft security products couldn’t be conflicting with other…surely not…oh. Yes they could, it seems. Removed Microsoft AntiSpyware and Microsoft Security Essentials installed with no problems. Something for Microsoft to sort out, I think…

Asus M3A76-CM motherboard review

The Asus M3A76-CM is a decent yet mildly disappointing affair. A mATX offering, it can’t seem to decide whether to aim to please HTPC owners or overclockers, and pleases neither.

A fairly bare motherboard box
A fairly bare motherboard box

Notable features include:

  • Socket AM2+: Athlon, Phenom and Phenom II processor support
  • DDR2 1066 support (for two of the four channels)
  • Maximum of 8GB RAM supported
  • Onboard graphics (ATI HD3000) with Hybrid CrossFireX Support
  • Onboard sound
  • RAID support
  • HyperTransport 3.0
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • PCIe 2.0

A full list can be found on Asus’s website.

Processor and RAM

Apparently supports Phenom, Phenom II and Athlon processors. Mine is currently running with the AMD Athlon X2 7750+ Black Edition. As for RAM, it does support DDR 1066, but for only officially one DIMM on each channel, making a maximum of 4GB. You might get away with more, but it’s at your own risk. The memory can be run in Ganged or Unganged mode, the latter providing more performance, in theory, for multi-core processors. I’m running a Corsair 4GB kit of 2 x 2GB DDR2 1066MHz/PC2-8500 XMS2 with 5-5-5-15 timings at 2.1V. Crucial RAM should be good as well, though.

Also useful is the provision of AMD-V technology, which offers the potential for virtualisation. In other words, on Windows 7 Pro/Ultimate, you should able to run Windows XP Mode.

Chipset

The M3A76-CM uses the AMD 760G chipset and is coupled with the SB710 southbridge. This provides RAID facilities in the form of RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, and JBOD arrangements. Note, however, that RAID 5 is not available – for that, you need to look at the SB750 or some other similar chipset.

Unfortunately, XP doesn’t like this RAID setup. I had massive issues trying to install Windows XP Professional SP3 on a RAID 0 array. Neither loading the necessary drivers from a floppy disk nor slipstreaming them worked. Setup would fail with the message: “Setup did not find any hard disk drives installed in your computer.” After a lot of head-bashing, I tried Windows 7 RC on the first day it was released. The RAID 0 array was picked up by Windows 7 straight away without any quibbles whatsoever. Thumbs up to 7 for its built-in support.

The 760G is a cut-down 780G: it lacks the high-definition hardware acceleration of the 780G. Seeing that one of the main aims of this board might be the HTPC market, this could be a deal-breaker. You really don’t want a CPU fan going at full whack during a quiet period of your latest Blu-ray acquisition. Budget for a decent quiet CPU fan such as the Scythe Ninja II (or its smaller brother, the Scythe Mini Ninja, more suitable for HTPCs) if you must buy this board.

The other main issue I have with the chipset is with its limited overclocking facilities. I understand that if this is not aimed at enthusiasts, there may be little point in releasing enthusiast options. However, in this case, the SB710 hardware would be able to support Advanced Clock Calibration (ACC), which has the potential to unlock disabled cores in Phenom X3 processors and even Athlon Black Editions…and what have Asus done? Not enabled it. If the hardware can support it, why not provide the BIOS option? It’s annoying. As of BIOS version 1001, no ACC option is available.

Onboard sound and graphics

Not much to say here. It features onboard video in the form of the ATI HD3000. Interestingly, it does allow Hybrid CrossFireX, which allows another compatible ATI card to be paired with the onboard graphics for supposedly better performance. Personally, without having tested it, I’d be concerned about memory bottlenecks; however, I’m not a gamer, and would be interested to hear if it does provide benefit.

On the plus side, the onboard DVI connection is HDCP compliant, so provided you’re running Vista or above, you should be able to play Blu-ray films with little problem.

Conclusion

The Asus M3A76-CM is a mixed bag. It provides a decent array of features, and is probably adequate for normal business use. Yet it has a below-average northbridge paired with an above-average southbridge. It ends up just being frustrating, though: it’s being held back by a string of underwhelming BIOSes that fail to make full use of the hardware. Asus need to realise that since it’s not quite good enough for the HTPC market, it should be made as palatable as possible to overclockers. And that means enabling ACC.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Firewall causes Rails update failure in NetBeans

If you are receiving the following error message when trying to update Rails in NetBeans 6.7:

ERROR: While executing gem … (Gem::RemoteFetcher::FetchError) SystemCallError: Unknown error – An established connection was aborted by the software in your host machine (http://gems.rubyforge.org/gems/actionmailer-2.3.3.gem)

…try momentarily disabling your firewall. In my case, Windows Firewall seemed to be torpedoing the process: after disabling it for a moment, the update went through perfectly.

Perhaps obvious, but also easily overlooked.

Credit: This post by “joseph george” reminded me to check the firewall settings.

Mazda MX-5 mk.1 spark plug lead change

Misfiring between 2000-3000 rpm suggested all was not well below the bonnet of my 1996 Mazda MX-5. On one journey, fortunately close to home, the misfire was so bad that it was reluctant to move above 3000 rpm at all, necessitating a gear change to force the revolutions up.

I had a new set of NGK BKR6E-11 spark plugs sitting around waiting to be fitted, but they didn’t seem to make any difference, so the next things to look at were the spark plug leads (also known as high tension leads). If the spark plug leads didn’t make a difference, the next thing to look at would be a coil pack; at over £200, this would be getting costly. So, at about £30, it made sense to try changing the ignition leads first. Again, MX5parts provided the spark plug leads at a reasonable price.

As usual, changing them was a simple task, but here are the photos anyway. If you need further guidance, you might want to consider buying the Veloce Mazda MX-5 1.8 enthusiast’s manual, or alternatively the 1.6i enthusiast’s manual, should that be more applicable.:

Spark plug leads ready
1. Spark plug leads ready
2. Old spark plug leads in the engine
2. Old spark plug leads in the engine
3. Remove electrical connectors; twisting them may be required
3. Remove electrical connectors; twisting them may be required
4. Grip tightly and remove each lead from engine
4. Grip tightly and remove each lead from engine
5. Reverse the process with the new leads
5. Reverse the process with the new leads
6. Step back and admire the new leads
6. Step back and admire the new leads

You can probably see from the last picture that the leads are a touch on the long side for the MX-5; I suppose that’s the result of buying budget leads.

As far as performance goes, however, the engine seems much happier. Not had any misfiring yet, and the engine is a lot happier at low revolutions, allowing me to stay in a lower gear. That, I believe, is having a positive effect on my fuel economy: by my calculations, since changing the leads and plugs, I managed over 30mpg from my 1.8i for the first time. And that’s without any motorway cruising, albeit a bit of dual carriageway driving.

Your mileage may vary, quite literally; let me know how you get on!