Technology news and commentary by the staff

Archive for December, 2007

TechSpot’s frontpage receives the pagination treatment

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(This is a reprint from a frontpage news story, reposting for those who missed the annoucement given further news coverage followed shortly after).

To kick off the post-Christmas news coverage let me tell you about a new feature I implemented in the TechSpot frontpage during the break, news pagination.

Although this feature is widely used by blogs based on WordPress, it’s not a common feature for other platforms including the CMS (Content Management System) we run. Nevertheless it’s quite an useful feature from a reader’s perspective, we can reduce the load off the frontpage, making it quicker, and you can browse up to 60 of our latest news stories by using the page links at the bottom of our frontpage as seen in the image below:

Many of you are probably aware our news coverage is on-going throughout the day, but for those who can’t spend as much time hitting the reload button in a single day, you can now stop by whenever possible and still be able to browse through our past news with ease.

Written by Julio Franco

December 28th, 2007 at 3:24 am

Posted in blog,techspot,the web

Reboot or Shutdown from Remote Desktop Connection

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If you have ever feel frustrated because you have been unable to reboot a machine from a remote location (using Microsoft’s own RDC), here’s a solution. While I recall having the option to send a Ctrl+Alt+Del to the remote machine that doesn’t seem to be available in most recent versions of the software, or at least not in the obvious places.

So, what you are left with right now is disconnect and log off options. To be able to reboot or shutdown the remote system you can call up the Command Prompt (cmd.exe) or just type the following in XP’s Run or in Vista’s search line that also serves the purpose of launching programs:

“shutdown -f” to shutdown
“shutdown -r -f” to reboot
“shutdown -i -f” to get a GUI
“shutdown -l -f” to logoff

Written by Julio Franco

December 24th, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Adobe bloated software, and how to disable automatic updates

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Personally, I hate the trend of software adding bloat in subsequent versions as much as I hate people saying an application is bloated just because it’s no longer a simple one-dimensional kind of program. That said, Adobe current crop of products have to be some of the worst in this sense.

At this point I’m sure nobody doubts the deserved dominance of Photoshop in the world of digital photo editing, just like Microsoft Word or Excel are your overall best bets for documents and spreadsheets despite of its cost. But when the very creators of the PDF format ship its latest reader which takes twice the amount of time for opening files than third-party software like Foxit Reader (on a high-end PC, for slower machines it can be as much as a 10x difference!) you know something is very wrong then.

But that is just one of the many examples I can give you. The Adobe installer is just damn horrible. For a moment I thought this would be limited to the Windows version of the CS3 Suite, but when I downloaded trial versions of Fireworks and Dreamweaver for the Mac, it was quite the unwelcomed surprise to see that the bloated and painfully slow installer is also used under OS X. I have to admit that adding a bunch of ‘required’ middleware like the “Extension Manager” is not something I enjoy, but I find much worse the inclusion of the stealth Adobe Updater. You may be surprised the first time this updater pops up because it doesn’t leave any traces in the Windows registry and is not listed as a startup program. So, unless you are running a full fledged firewall (which you should but there aren’t many good ones for Vista yet), the program could run and download updates without your consent. In fact it’s quite likely you won’t notice this running unless it’s taking away your bandwidth, or CPU time (bloat, remember?) or an interruption in your Internet connection happens, which will make it complain and thus become evident it was running behind your back.

Furthermore, Adobe doesn’t give you an easy way to turn this feature off beforehand, but rather you can configure it while it’s running – there’s no access through the Adobe programs’ options menus – or you will have to manually edit a configuration file (AdobeUpdaterPreferences.dat) as detailed here. Adobe, you still make really good software, but I may have to look elsewhere in the future if you make this an on-going trend.

Written by Julio Franco

December 20th, 2007 at 1:00 am

New MacBook Pro owner, joining the dark side?

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Depending for how long you’ve been reading TechSpot you may have read a variety of comments about Apple products, from hate to well, less hate :). No, but seriously, despite of being mainly a Windows site we have tried to remain balanced and objective when time has come to report on any product, no matter if it came from Nvidia or ATI… Intel or AMD, Microsoft or Apple. We have said it like it is, and backed it up as needed and as possible. It’s what we owe to our readers.

Part of this objectivity comes from recognizing when a company is doing things wrong, and applaud their efforts when they make a brilliant comeback. For example there was no room left for fanaticism when Intel kept pushing the horrible Pentium 4, while AMD had to offer a better product in the Athlon. Likewise, how not to love the speedy and efficient Core 2 Duos nowadays.

But the discussion of the better operating system makes for a much stronger and subjective case, not to mention it’s been around almost as long as the Personal Computer itself. I can remember how Apple still had some loyal following during some of its darkest days in the mid 90s, and around the time TechSpot opened its doors in 1998, I could not help but hate the brand for its delusional claims that did nothing but mislead the end consumer.

In our eyes, Apple had no game in the computer world until the first consumer version of OS X was released in 2001. And even then it was severely lacking in the hardware department until they finally ate their own words to partner with Intel in recent years.

Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Leopard

Which takes us to the present day, a revived Apple that is looking healthier than ever thanks to the iPod revolution along with some good long-term decision making on its computer division. The reaction from hardcore Apple fans is evident today throughout the web and even more so in the blogosphere. But like many PC users have begun to notice the fanaticism sometimes goes too far, and what you get as a result is a lot of subjective noise all-around that is certainly not helped by Apple’s own commercials.

But going back to the original purpose of this post, after a failed experiment using a Mac two years ago (Mac Mini G4 running Tiger, I couldn’t stand the slow hardware), I have decided to invest once again in Apple hardware, namely a MacBook Pro running a cool Core 2 Duo processor and OS X Leopard.

The thinking behind my decision was varied, for starters my old trusted ThinkPad T42 was needing a rest and another Vaio TX laptop I own, while very portable at 11″, is sometimes too small to get work done comfortably. Making a long story short, the MacBook Pro offered hardware that was on par with other major manufacturers ‘performance’ models, industrial design that is on par with Lenovo’s and Sony’s top models, and finally I got the choice of ditching OS X for Windows Vista or even XP, if I never found my way around it or needed to use Windows-only software. Of course, if I was going to believe all those Mac lovers out there, that could never happen.

I should add that it was also easier to swallow the $2000 spent on this laptop considering that as TechSpot’s Executive Editor, it comes handy when I can make a knowledgeable and up to date opinion on where OS X stands today against Vista or any other current Operating System, let’s face it it’s an ever recurrent topic.

I have been using the MacBook Pro for about a month now, and my experience has been mixed. The hardware is indeed beautiful and while I was expecting more from the LED lit screen, it’s still very very acceptable. There are small details that add to the overall experience like the backlit keyboard, the magnetic power connector and double finger scrolling, all in one portable package that is also the closest I have ever got to the performance of my custom-built desktop PC.

There are a few drawbacks that for the most part are inherent to every laptop that offers this kind of performance, so I won’t bother mentioning those. In the software side, I came across more than one surprise though.

Whatever you have heard about OS X Leopard’s ability to put Windows Vista to shame is probably not true… at least not from my perspective. In the first 24 hours I experienced two hard crashes, and in the first week I came across a reportedly software bug that locked my keyboard from functioning after waking up from sleep (it forces you to restart). So perhaps Tiger was more polished than Leopard is, and those early reviews that told you otherwise are pure bull.

Not to put the latest incarnation of OS X down, there are a number of things that work much better in the Mac than in Windows, like Spotlight – now that is powerful search that works – but I’m afraid it’s still an above-average consumer platform with flaws here and there, and a far cry from an Apple’s fanboy dream claims.
But my evaluation of the MacBook Pro’s hardware and software is far from over, this is an experiment I may actually be able to pull off (forgive my Windows roots), and hopefully it will also open the door for further Mac-related coverage and perspective at TechSpot for a very valid and growing consumer base.

Written by Julio Franco

December 14th, 2007 at 2:50 am

Unlike Creative’s SB X-Fi, the Auzentech X-Meridian works fine with 4gb+ RAM

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Just got me a new computer, went with 8GB RAM.
Felt sensible since it costs about as much as a day’s lunch. Put it in my Asus Maximus Formula, along with a Creative SB X-Fi ExtremeGamer.

Took the absolutely latest WinXP x64 drivers off Creative’s site, only over 1 year old.

Launched up Crysis and was greeted with most sounds missing and no 5.1 at all, some of the sounds from my front speakers were mirrored in the rear speakers though. Read up a bit on some forums, there I found the great info that Creative’s very fine drivers fail to work in 64-bit OS’es if you have 4GB RAM or more. It’s good to know Creative’s testing team has the right priorities. Making sure 4GB of RAM works in a OS that has as its main advantage access to more RAM should not be a priority. Oh, and it seems they have been feeling this way for over a year, because those threads were quite old… (I did pull out some RAM (2GB in total) and the sound in Crysis was then just as it should, perfect 5.1 positional).

But then I logged into Windows Update and found some drivers dated June 2007, so I installed those. Now I lost all 5.1 sound completely, even in Winamp I could only get Stereo, but at least they were WHQL certified, so I know the drivers must be well written and be of good coding practices up to Microsoft’s top notch standards.

Next I took out that very nice soundcard and put it someplace nice.

I then installed my X-Meridian, fired up Crysis with 6GB RAM installed (I haven’t gotten my mobo to POST with all 8GB, so that’s why). Wasn’t expecting much, but got perfect 5.1 positional sound. I don’t know if Crysis supports EAX or not, but it wasn’t something I noticed. I did notice the improved sound quality however.
But I did so more in Winamp, guess I had gotten used to the fine sound output by the Jamicon badcaps on the X-fi, oops, was that a typo? caps I meant…

Written by Per Hansson

December 7th, 2007 at 12:01 am

Posted in blog,gaming,hardware

Firefox crashes, CPU utilization at max

with 18 comments

Update #2:  I keep hearing from more people that their Firefox installation is broken but for some reason there’s not much noise around the web about this. Disabling add-ons seems to be a partial solution only, I suggest you go back to or try the recently released Firefox 3.0 Beta 1. You will see this last one is very very speedy but lacks support for a majority of add-ons out there which hinders its immediate potential.

Update: On a second thought (and further testing) Firefox still seems to be using too much CPU power, but disabling the add-on permits the browser to remain functional and not crash like before.

Last week Firefox received two updates, version which fixed security vulnerabilities and later a version .11 which fixed a regression bug. During the weekend however I reported in our frontpage’s weekend picks post that even this latest version was broken:

Mozilla Firefox released (broken!): This one fixes some regressions from the other recent releases. If you are running anything earlier than I suggest you don’t upgrade to any of the newer versions until an even newer revision is released. Several complaints from users about random crashes and high CPU utilization have risen in the past week. This editor is just another of such users feeling the pain in multiple OS versions, for sure the latest updates are to blame.

As stated I started having trouble in all of my Firefox installations, that includes multiple platforms like XP, OS X and Vista. Being a Firefox junkie, I couldn’t get myself to use an alternative browser for too long, so I had to fix Firefox. As it happens the bug doesn’t seem to be present in Firefox itself but an incompatibility with the Tab Mix Plus extension, one of the most useful and popular Firefox extensions out there.

So if you are suffering from insanely high CPU utilization in Firefox as of recent, there you have the answer. Disable the add-on and wait until an updated version is out.

Could this be sloppy patching and coding as a side effect of Firefox 3 becoming a priority?

Written by Julio Franco

December 3rd, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Posted in blog