Thursday, November 02, 2006

Firefox 2.0 is awesome, but could be better

Soon after Internet Explorer 7.0 was release, Firefox 2.0 was also released. Now both these browsers have tabbed browsing with ability to close tabs without actually activating the tab since they have the little close button on each tab. Firefox has an excellent feature to re-open previous session if it was not closed properly. I discovered how useful and perhaps risky this feature is.

At work I use a windows laptop (yeah I know, it is unlike me, but the tools I need are available only in windows). So I installed firefox 2.0 and liked it a lot. Ever since I used eclipse (the java IDE) with its close button on each tab, I have hoped firefox would do it one day. At that finally happened. Anyway, after installing a certain patch to the windows machine (forced down the throat by corporate update system), the windows machine wanted to restart (so what is new). It gave me 1 min to close all windows. I frantically saved all my work (I usually have a minimum of 10 windows landscaping on my two monitors), and closing window after window, close eclipse, close Visual Studio, close IDEA. There I was, breaking a sweat while the time is ticking, the hard drive thrashing even with the system's 1 GB memory. Finally the computer started to shut down before I was able to close my firefox.

After a reboot, I launched the web browser and it presented me with a dialog box, informing me that firefox did not close properly and asking me whether I wanted to resume previous session or start a new session. Hmm this is exciting, so I clicked restore previous session. Instantly all the previous tabs started opening. What surprised me most is that is automatically logged me into my gmail account and everything looked almost as it did before the dreaded reboot. Although I like that I can continue working from where I left off, I am worried about my gmail opening without questions. I guess the cookie from my previous session was still valid and gmail happily allowed login without user intervention. That is only a minor issue though. However some other sites did not automatically log me in after the restart. Phew...

Another interesting feature I liked a lot is the spell check. Firefox does spell check in any text box on the web page. This is espcially useful for sloppy spellers like me. Now I don't need to run spell checker when typing emails! This is one of the best features.

Other than those goodies, I did not find any more interesting features. The browser got a make over, and the buttons were more vista like. Unfortunately the browser still eats a lot of memory. If I leave it running for a while the memory usage goes as high as 150 MB. Don't know if there is a memory leak. Gone are those days when firefox used to be slim. Firefox always launched slower when compared to IE (which is fine since IE uses shared dlls which are already in memory), and it is becoming slower. Now with the increased memory usage I am worried if I will be tempted to use another light weight browser. But the main reason for me to stick with firefox, is because of its security. It is much better than IE.

I hope with the new features I will be able to pardon some of the short comings of firefox...

Monday, October 23, 2006

PC Mark 2005 results...

After a long time...


Dell E1705


Dell 9300

This is the continuation of the previous post. Just a couple more images to show the difference between Pentium M and core 2 duo and computing power. And again Core 2 Duo is almost 2 times faster than the equally clocked Pentium M. Awesome, just awesome. I am able to play Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Age of Empires III, with full visual effects and they still keep up a very good FPS. Finally I am able to play with bloom effects in AoE III. That said, I guess I spent way too much time with my new laptop, so this will be the last post about it ;-).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dell E1705 vs Dell 9300, 3DMark 2005 results...

Dell E1705 configuration
* Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz
* 1 GB @ 667 MHz
* NVIDIA 7900 GS

Dell 9300 configuration
* Pentium 2.0 GHz
* 1 GB @ 533 MHz
* NVIDIA 6800

3DMark results

This is Dell 9300 stock GPU (290 MHz / 590 MHz)

Dell E1705 stock GPU (375 MHz / 507 MHz)


Dell 9300 overclocked GPU (375 MHz / 761 MHz)

I did not try overclocking E1705 for 2 reasons. First the clock is locked, and the only way to override it is to flash a new BIOS into the GPU. The second reason is that the GPU is already running hot and I did not have faith in Dell's cooling. In any case all the games that I have run very well even with high settings. From the snapshots above we can see that the overclocked NVIDIA 6800 is still slower than NVIDIA 7900 stock.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gentoo, Xgl, Xen and Windows

So I got my new Dell E1705 (again). And this time everything was perfect. As usual instinctively I decided to install Gentoo after wiping all the partitions. However I did not purchase the windows backup cd from dell, which hindered my intense desire to wipe out everything. I carefully repartitioned around winXP partition and was able to cut out 25 GB for my Gentoo. After going through the normal process of compiling everything with CFLAGS="-march=nocona -O2 -pipe", I decided to install Xgl. A very good tutorial to follow is available at http://www.gentoo-wiki.com/HOWTO_XGL. I already used it on my old laptop, so getting Xgl to work is not all that exciting. Xgl brings all the super cool effects to Linux. My Gentoo looks better than Mac OS X! With the Beryl window manager, I can get the cool looking transparent window frames or a frame that looks like Windows Vista theme. Here are some screen shots







Next I installed Xen following the HowTo from http://gentoo-wiki.com/HOWTO_Xen_and_Gentoo. It works really well! I was able to run windows from with in Gentoo. No problems at all. I could not get internet and audio to work in the windows environment when using Xen, but that is for another day. I used the following configuration file to run win XP as a guest OS.

kernel = "/usr/lib/xen/boot/hvmloader"
builder = 'hvm'
memory = 128
name = "winxp"
sdl = 1

vcpus = 1
vif = [ 'type=ioemu, bridge=xenbr0' ]
disk = [ 'file:/root/winxp.img,ioemu:hda,w' ]
#, 'phy:/dev/sdb,ioemu:hdb,w' ]
device_model = '/usr/lib/xen/bin/qemu-dm'
#cdrom='/dev/sr0'
ne2000=0
boot='c'
audio=1


I was even able to run Xgl in my Domain 0 OS after modifying the Xen kernel sources and applying a patch to NVidia drivers (see http://www.nvnews.net/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=68648).

Anyway I did a quick benchmark on the laptop and the results are very interesting. More to come soon...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Dell E1705 LCD swap with Dell 9300

I received my Dell E1705 laptop and as I said in my previous post. One of the first things I wanted to do was to swap the LCD screens. Well I started out with confidence, but ended in a futile result. The whole ordeal lasted less than 15 minutes and left me devastated (well I really didn't need such a strong word just because it didn't work). Anyone who has experience in opening dell laptops already know all this but just a picture story goes here.

I opened the plastic covering and then the keyboard, its connection and the LCD controller connection.

Since the WiFi antenna resides inside the LCD display I also had to remove the connections from WiFi at the back of the laptop.


I proceeded with the same steps for my Dell 9300 laptop too, and swapped the displays. Now is the time to know the truth! After I switched on my E1705 with it's UXGA screen from my older 9300, I saw the screen go all white, then BIOS messages appeared as normal, no indication of any errors or anything. So I was glad the operation was successful, except of course for the screen going all white before booting up. But the screen kind of looked very dull as if the brigtness is set at minimum. I tweaked the LCD brightness in BIOS but to no avail. So I decided to give it the Dell Diagnostic tests. And there I found the problem. All the tests were successful except for the LCD controller test. The error message was "Error accessing the LCD inverter." Bad luck.

So I called up Dell and after 2 hours of explaining to 3 different departments they finally decided that the LCD cannot be swapped and more over they cannot send me a replacement for a different part. Basically I can excahnge for the exact same part. How unfortunate. The only way around this problem it seems, is to return the laptop and order a new one, with UXGA screen. And that is what I decided to do. I am returning this laptop for a full refund (free shipping and no restocking fee of course). And I ordered another E1705 with the correct LCD screen.

There is one more reason I cannot just swap the displays. Although the display from 9300 fits in E1705, the other way round is not easy. The E705 display has a small projection on one of its hinges and the platform it rests on (E1705) has an opening for the projection. But the 9300 does not have any such modifications, so I will have to file the projection. That will be too much hard work. So better off with a new laptop. Meanwhile I decided to do a quick 3DMark05 test. And got a score of 6200 something. Seems like the NVIDIA 7900 GS is almost twice as fast as the NVIDIA 6800!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Finally I will have Core 2 Duo

After waiting for a long time (from July 27th, till September 12th), I finally ordered a Dell E1705 with Core 2 Duo Merom processor (not to be confused with the older Core Duo Yonah processor)! It is such a happy feeling, to finally be able to use a dual core processor.

Configuration
  • Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor running at 2.00 GHz, 4 MB Cache, 667 MHz FSB
  • 17" XGA+ (I will swap this display with my UXGA display from my Dell 9300)
  • 1 GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667 MHz
  • 256 MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GS
  • 80 GB 5400 RPM SATA hard drive
  • Rest of the usual stuff like CD/DVD, wireless, network card etc.
I ordered an XGA+ display because as soon as the laptop arrives I will exchange the UXGA from my Dell 9300 which the E1705 will replace ;-). I called Dell technical support to make sure that they can be swapped and the result was a positive reply. I have to live with the slower NVIDIA 7900 GS since the GTX card was not available for E1705. Other than that I am very happy with the configuration. I could not resist the temptation of buying another laptop. Initially I contemplated on waiting till the Santa Rosa platform is released, with its 800 MHz FSB, but I could not wait!

Once I receive the shipment I will post some pictures and benchmark reports (stock and overclocked of course). I heard a lot of good things about Core 2 Duo when compared to Core Duo. Many people get confused between the two processors. But Core 2 Duo is supposedly 20% faster than Core Duo running at the same clock frequency. But to me the important jump from Core Duo is the 64-bit technology. Core Duo is 32 bit processor and Core 2 Duo is 64 bit. Also VanderPool was missing from some of the Core Duo processors. But all Core 2 Duo processors have it. With higher FSB and several new features I would definetly expect Core 2 Duo to beat Core Duo. However my benchmarks will compare Pentium-M 2.00 GHz / 533 MHz FSB with Core 2 Duo 2.00 GHz / 667 MHZ FSB.

Anyway right after the benchmarks I will do what I usually do to all my laptops, format and reinstall Win XP, and install Gentoo. But this time I have some more plans. Thanks to the Virtualization Technology (VT, previously code named VanderPool) in Merom, I can run unmodified Windows from inside Linux. So the plan is to install Gentoo, Xgl and Xen. I can play windows games from Linux and since Xgl gives eye-candy like MacOSX, I can ask for nothing more. I think it will be quite an adventure to make use of NVIDIA acceleration in Windows using VT. But let's see. My Dell 9300 laptop will then become my Freevo media center and my older Dell 5160 which is currently the media center will become part of a cluster.

Intel's Core 2 Duo website shows the addition of the following features:
  • Intel® Wide Dynamic Execution, enabling delivery of more instructions per clock cycle to improve execution time and energy efficiency
  • Intel® Intelligent Power Capability, designed to deliver more energy-efficient performance and smarter battery performance in your laptop
  • Intel® Smart Memory Access, improving system performance by optimizing the use of the available data bandwidth
  • Intel® Advanced Smart Cache, providing a higher-performance, more efficient cache subsystem. Optimized for multi-core and dual-core processors
  • Intel® Advanced Digital Media Boost, accelerating a broad range of applications, including video, speech and image, photo processing, encryption, financial, engineering and scientific applications
Netburst is dead, and long live Core!

More soon...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dell Recalls Batteries

Ahh the news could not have come at a better time. I was having problems with the battery that came with my Dell Inspiron 9300. Just 7 days before Dell recalled the batteries, I found out that my laptop battery was getting very very hot. I usually put my laptop on my lap and so I could feel the severe heat coming from right under the battery. It became very hot at one concentrated location. May be one or two cells in the battery has problems and were heating up. So I immediately switched off my laptop. Opened battery pack and inspected it for any leaks or burns. But seemed perfectly OK. So I put it back in and this time it did not get so hot. I though the issue might have got fixed. How wrong I was!

A day after that incident occured, I unplugged my laptop's power supply to move it to a different room and that was my mistake (and my luck too). As soon as I unplugged it my laptop died because the battery was dead. I lost all my unsaved work :-(. I always leave my laptop on 24/7 and I like to keep it that way so that the random cron jobs on my Gentoo Linux, can do their thing. And I usually move my laptop from room to room and that is pretty much all I need the battery for. I have it plugged in all the time and rarely work on battery. So it was all too hurtful to buy a battery just for the few minutes I need my laptop to run on batteries. Anyway I decided to buy one. But kiss my good luck, Dell is recalling the batteries. Read more at

CPSC, Dell Announce Recall of Notebook Computer Batteries
Dell recalls 35,000 notebook batteries
Dell Recalls Batteries Because of Fire Threat

Before my battery died completely I was observing that it was holding less and less charge for the past 3 months. When I first brought my laptop I could get around 2 hours of battery life. But over the past month or two, the time came down from 30 minutes to 10 minutes to 5 minutes. I know batteries tend to loose the capacity overtime but not this drastic.

I was surprised that Sony with it's reputation for producing excellent products made this mistake. At least there is some good news for Dell since Sony has agreed to share the cost of battery recall with Dell. More information can be found at Sony to help pay for Dell recall.

An interesting comment from the above article, "The defect was caused by a short circuit that happens when microscopic metal particles break through the lithium ion cell wall and contact a battery anode, said Sony spokesman Rick Clancy." That explains why my battery became so hot near 1 or 2 cells. One more interesting quote from the same article "Dell is not known for their engineering prowess, are they? Sony is an engineering company, and Dell is a marketing and sales company."

For now I am happy my battery will be replaced for free. Good that I did not make a hasty decision to buy another battery!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

This is my first stab at blogging!

Heard the good news about the latest Intel Processor? I have been waiting for this processor for a long time. The conroe (for desktops) and merom (for mobile platforms) are out. I am so glad that Intel finally did something new and innovative, lessons mostly learnt from AMD. The processor has better performance/watt. I love having laptops with the latest "stuff" and so usually end up purchasing one every year. But this time around I held off the though just to buy a laptop with Intel Core 2 Duo. Intel announced the new processors on July 27, but looks like the desktops/laptops equipped with this latest processors won't be out until perhaps end of August. Even then they will be in limited numbers I guess. Interesting to note that Intel announced the mobile version at the same time as the desktop version since initially the roadmap looked like the merom would be released towards the end of August.

Here are a few links proving that this new processor is much faster than the latest AMD processor and yet consumes lesser power.
Game Over? Core 2 Duo Knocks Out Athlon 64
THG Tuning Test: Core 2 Extreme vs. Athlon 64 FX-62

But this is by no means to say Intel is better than AMD. AMD did not yet make any big steps except than AM2. Intel still has to get the memory controller right. With AM2 socket AMD has integrated memory controller using DDR2 memory and provide almost double the bandwidth than the extreme version of the Intel Core 2. There are rumors that Intel might follow AMD style memory controller. If that happens Intel can really have an advanced processor. I am still debating whether to buy a laptop with napa platform in the next couple of months or wait for almost another year for the santa rosa platform which seems to be very promising with it's higher FSB clock rate of 800 MHz, lower power consumption and 801.11n WLAN chipset. Time will tell! But for now time does tell us that Intel's NetBurst architecture will be history and for all the good reasons too...