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The Best Method for Gaming with SSDs Safely

I recently built a new rig. It was time and I hadn’t ever treated myself to “modern” hardware. I assembled as many SSDs as I could scavenge from the numerous attempts to upgrade underpowered and ancient laptops laying around the house, all of them upgraded that year and then promptly abandoned. After configuring 4 120GB SSDs into a RAID0 and discovering that, not surprisingly, Samsung Magician, the software used to monitor and troubleshoot these amazing drives, does not recognize them in RAID. This isn’t generally a problem until the first time you decide to patch a drive with a new firmware release promising higher IO or increased longevity, then it’s a tragedy as you discover that you’re going to need to break apart the RAID to patch each drive individually, and to do this, you’ll need to wipe each drive and format it to be readable in Windows in order to run the patching utility, or Samsung Magician. Yikes! I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. You may have other needs.

Cooler Master Haf XB Evo chassis.

Cooler Master Haf XB Evo chassis.

Here is my humble recommendation for OS and drive configuration in order to ensure future happiness for your gaming rig:

1. Buy an OEM or system builder version of Windows. At the time of this writing, Windows 7 Home Premium OEM 64bit is still a viable operating system. I’ve seen many forum posts by folks concerned about RAM limitations with Windows Home. They’re likely referring to Home Basic. As the title would suggest, it’s Basic. Don’t buy this version. I don’t even know if they make a builder’s version of Basic. Either way, Basic in 64bit will utilize 8GB or RAM. Per Microsoft, Home Premium 64bit utilizes 16GB of RAM. If you need more than 16GB, you’re not building a gaming rig, you’re folding proteins and saving us all from cancer or mining for Bitcoins and devaluing the American dollar. Splurge on the >$100 OS.

NOTE: You can only activate Windows 7 OEM twice but don’t less this deter you. My configuration ensures this is a non-issue for your currently-configured system. Obviously, if you change the motherboard, your system is going to require activation again, which will count against your 2 attempts.

2. Use a mechanical hard drive when you first assemble your computer. Do your entire OS installation and configuration using the mechanical drive and do not install any SSDs. Install any software that you consider a major part of your system, like Steam, Origin, Nvidia driver software or a fan controller or benchmarking software. Do not install software that you use once and then wish you were without, like iPhone transfer wizards and desktop randomizers. Don’t install anti-virus or anti-malware software or office suites either. This software is problematic at best. Run updates for the OS and all of your applications but don’t install any games yet. DO NOT activate Windows yet. You have 30 days. Use them to ensure your configuration is working correctly. If you continually get BSODs or install malware, you can always rebuild. 30 days is plenty of time to make these mistakes; that’s why they give them to you.

3. If you’re using a Samsung SSD, install Samsung Migration Assistant, shutdown the computer, install the SSD on any available SATA and reboot. Run the assistant and it will make a bootable copy of your C: partition. Shutdown, unplug your mechanical drive but leave it in it’s installed bay and reboot. If you’re using a different drive or manufacturer which doesn’t provide migration software, use Clonezilla to create a bootable USB thumb drive which you will use to image the mechanical drive onto the SSD. Please note that this method is not foolproof and you may instead want to create a bootable USB thumb drive of GParted to clone your C: partition. If you’re concerned about this procedure, I strongly recommend the Samsung Evo 840 or 850. Note that the Migration Assistant will not copy the recovery partition to the SSD. This isn’t something to be concerned about because we will always have the mechanical drive available.

4. Install additional SSDs. I recommend using smaller drives because they’re cheaper and drive failure will result in less loss, yielding easier data recovery. For my build, I have 4 120GB drives. Mount your drives and boot into Windows. These will be used to store game installations so label each drive according to the game management software associated with that drive. Examples are “Steam1” or “GameDrive1,” etc. Go to Steam > Settings > Downloads and click on “Steam Library Folders” under Content Libraries at the top and you will be presented with a window to add Steam Libraries. Create a folder on each additional disk and name it something obvious, like “Steam” or “Steam Library,” then add it to this window. From now on, when installing a game with Steam, you will be presented with a selection window to select your installation directory.

Steam Libraries

For Origin, go to Origin > Application Settings > Advanced and click on “Change…” under “Downloaded Games.” Origin does not currently permit multiple libraries but you can dedicate an entire disk to the software. I recommend this over installing games on the same disk as Windows.

Origin

5. If you would like to keep backups of your games, install a large mechanical hard drive. If not, I hope you installed all of your games from DVDs or have a dedicated T3 to your house. To backup installations on Steam, go to Steam > Backup and Restore Games and select next. I suggest backing up each game individually so they’re easier to handle and restore. Select a game and click next, then browse to the large mechanical drive and watch your backup fly. You’ll use the same method to restore your game should you lose a drive or uninstall a game to create more space.Steam Backup

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RAID0 and Short-Stroking vs. standard Hard Drive Setup

I had some surprising results with this test. Let me start by saying that this wasn’t a scientifically rigorous test because there were far too many variables, but the results were still surprising.

I compared a Windows 7 installation on a single Western Digital WD1001FALS 7200 RPM 32MB cache 3.0 Gb/s max 1TB drive ( which WD has replaced with a faster model that I don’t yet own) to a Windows Vista SP2 installation on a hardware RAID 0 (striped) set of WD 160GB 7200 drives manufactured in 2005 and pulled out of some old iMac G5s. SiSoft reported these drives as running at 5400RPM, which would make these results more shocking. To reduce the distance the hard drive’s head has to move to transfer data, which is what makes magnetic storage media so slow, I created a 100GB partition out of the 320 available. That partition sits on the outermost edge of the drive platter, keeping the head ‘stroke’ distance very short. SiSoftware’s SANDRA 2014 reported this for each :
Windows 7 on single drive : 46.6IOPS, 44MB/s
Windows Vista on RAID 0 short-stroked drives : 242IOPS, 96.6MB/s

This has proven for me that downloading every game I own on Steam and Origin and storing them on a massive drive is making my powerful hardware a waste of money.

Choosing a Strong Password

I’m sure you thought that your dog’s name was an easy thing to remember when checking your email on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this is exactly what hackers and social engineers are counting on. Your password should have absolutely nothing to do with you on a personal level. That means no birthday, middle name, pet name, favorite food, or anything like it. In today’s social networking world, you give up your personal information voluntarily., so don’t rely on it to remember your passwords. Let’s begin with a few common complaints about complex passwords and find some reasonable solutions:

“If I make the password too complicated, I’ll never be able to remember it.”

Write the password down in a “password book” and keep it in a secure location. Never store your passwords and account information digitally (in a file on your computer), otherwise your password might as well be public information, because a single successful attempt to breach your firewall and gain access to your filesystem would also mean easy access to your passwords. Once you’ve referenced the book for your passwords a few times, you’ll remember them as easily as your ex-girlfriend’s phone number (which I still can’t seem to forget). Don’t write it down on a yellow sticky note and place it on your monitor or under your keyboard either. These are common places for social engineers to look (consider the film Terminator and the keys under the sun visor). Not being able to check your email until you get home to look in your password book is much better than leaving your password in an easily accessible place. If you’re going to do that, you might as well print your emails out and leave them on your desk. Never use complete words in your password, even if they aren’t english words. If you absolutely insist on using a word to help you remember a password, consider L33t.

“One secure password is good enough for all of my accounts.”

The problem with this notion is that different accounts use different security protocols. Some of your accounts may not accept more than alphanumerics (letters and numbers). Some accounts may store passwords in insecure locations, leaving you vulnerable every time you sign on. The best safeguard against this is to select a unique password for each account you have.

“I’ll just rely on a password generator to create random passwords for me.”

Generating your own random passwords really is more secure, because it’s based on algorithms that you create. It doesn’t have to be overly complex either. Consider this method: Open a book or other analog document that isn’t personal to you and select every 15th character (or every 7th. This number is random, but generally depends on average sentence length), whether it be a letter, number, or punctuation. Perhaps a mathematics or programming book. Even a cook book would be sufficient. Do this between 12 and 24 times, until you’ve found a reasonable character set. This blog would not be considered a particularly good dataset because it lacks a decent mixture of numbers and punctuation. In the first 15 characters, only one punctuation character appears (hnnci.taie). The longer the selected character string, the greater the variation of the string, allowing you to select a password from within he character string. For example, in the character string “Eqi%v3FW4)saI,vhe%G”, you could select the first 8 characters, or the last 8, or the middle 10 if you desired. Keep in mind that longer passwords are inherently more secure.

“How could they even guess my password? It’s not posted on my Facebook account.”

One type of brute-force password-obtaining method works like a tumbler, working on each character in sequence from the beginning of the password to the end. Most accounts have a minimum character requirement of 6, so modern tumblers don’t bother testing string lengths shorter than 6. Depending on the tumbler method, it may start with the string “aaaaaa”, or “zzzzzz”, or some obscure string based on an algorithm designed to guess obvious passwords, such as by comparing it first to dictionary words. Assuming the first method, a tumbler would be able to break the password “aaaaaa” on the first try. If the tumbler varied string length before characters, any number of ‘a’s would still require very little time to break. If the tumbler attempted capitalization of each character first, the password “Aaaaaa” would be defeated on the second attempt, and the password “AAAAAA” on the seventh (or much later, depending on the algorithm used). If the password contains only lowercase alphabet characters, which insecure passwords often do (and modern tumbler often attempt these combinations first), then each character will be one of 26 possible characters. A string length of 6 means 26^6 attempts are required to exhaust all possible combinations, or approximately 300 million. This may seem like a large enough number, but anyone with access to multiple machines can reduce the time required significantly. An alphanumeric password jumps the attempts to 36^6, or approximately 2 billion combinations. Allowing for capitalization effectively doubles the alphabet to 52, requiring 62^6 attempts to break a 6 character password, or approximately 57 billion combinations. Adding special characters to this (punctuation is one type) increases this number to around 91 (depending on the password protocol), requiring over 560 billion attempts to exhaust all combinations. Since password length increases the attempts exponentially, a bare minimum of 8 is the safest. Thusly, 26^8 is around 208 billion, which quite a deal larger than 300 million, and an extremely secure password might utilize any of the 91 characters 8 times, requiring 4.7 trillion attempts to exhaust all possibilities. This is why “chuckles” is a bad choice.

To sum up: create a randomized password with a bare minimum of 8 characters and utilize capitalization, letters and numbers, and random special characters such as commas and hashes and asterisks. Create your own from texts so that even the source of the password is obscured. Never store your password anywhere digitally and do not write it down anywhere but in one secure location, preferably in a book which only you have access to.

Rip a Streaming File with Firefox

Download or launch Firefox 3.5 or newer and download Video DownloadHelper 4.6.4 or newer and follow the instructions.

Navigate to your favorite streaming site such as youtube.com and click the dropdown menu arrow to the right of the linked red, yellow and blue orbs. It will list what files are available on this site for download.

If the site is more ornery and causes the colored orbs to grey out and go inactive, consider this: load the page with the file in question but begin the download while the video is in the early stages of caching. This may trick the server into allowing the transfer.

Transferring Large Files between Vista and XP over an Ornery Network Using the Mac OS X Finder

Assuming your Vista and XP machines are communicating happily enough to see each other and you own an Apple on the same network, go to Finder and hit command + k. Type in the name of the Vista server as smb:// followed by the name of the computer as it appears on the network. Note that this is the same name as you would use in Explorer; i.e. \\ComputerName. Do the same for the XP machine. Now transfer the file between your Windows computers through Finder on your Apple.

Printing Labels on an Incomplete Label Sheet

I’m going to assume that you’re using Microsoft Word 2007 and have downloaded a template for the Avery 5366. If you don’t need to print all 30 labels at once but valuable pre-formatted text already exists for each label on the form, consider this:

Edit the label text for the labels you wish to print. Save the document as something other than the original template. Now select all of the text in the cells (labels) that you don’t want to print, select the Home tab at the top left, then select the Font Color button under the Font section to change the font to white.

Remember to place the labels upside down (with the print surface facing towards the center of the earth) and correctly oriented. If you are unsure of how your printer feed handles paper, place an X at the bottom left corner of the topmost paper in your paper feed, then print something. This will give you a reference for the orientation of your labels.

Correct a Migrated or Missing SQL Mail Merge File in Word 2007

When you move a mail merged file and it’s list to a different folder or computer, the links don’t dynamically change. But the solution is easy enough.

When the message requesting to open the SQL command pops up, select No. If you selected Yes and the response was an error locating the file, exit and reopen, this time selecting No. It will circumnavigate many wasted clicks.

Navigate to the Mailings tab at the top and select Select Recipients from the Start Mail Merge section. Select Use Existing List… and locate your list. Save. When you open this document, you will now be able to select Yes to the SQL request as your normally would, unfettered again.

How to Create a Mail Merge Document in Word 2007

Mail Merge has always been a useful time saving component of Microsoft’s Word and 2007 is no exception. To create a Mail Merge document, go to the Mailings tab at the top. You’ll notice that this opens up a list which is divided into sections based on function. The section labeled Start Mail Merge is where you’ll create a mail merge document. Click on Start Mail Merge and select the type of document you wish to create. If it’s just a letter, select Normal Word Document. Then select Select Recipients and Type New List. Select the button labeled Customize Columns at the bottom of this window Delete any of the columns which aren’t necessary as this will save you future trouble with this document. Finally, select Add and add as many columns as are necessary. Select Ok and begin entering your data into the columns. You can add the entire list right here, right now. Select Ok when you’re finished.

This next part is important. Save the Mail Merge List (what was just created) in either a central location with all other Mail Merge Lists, such as on a server, or in the same location as the document you’re creating. This will help to prevent future problems with lost files. If you do move either of the files anywhere other than where they were originally created, see this article to relink the files.

You will now want to insert merge fields into your document. Under the Mailings tab is a section called Write and Insert Fields. Place your cursor in the place you want a merge field and Select Insert Merge Field. In order to preview this document as it should appear, select the Preview Results button under the Preview Results section. Now you can navigate your way through your data entries with the arrows or the number of the entry. When you would like to print all of your entries, click Finish & Merge in the Finish section, then select Print Documents, All and Ok. Note that you have the option to print any range of entries, if you’re editing a continual database.

In case you are just editing a document which already has Mail Merge setup:
1. Open the document
2. Select Yes to allow the SQL command to run. Provided you haven’t misplaced the list, it should open immediately.
3. Select the Mailings tab at the top
4. Select the Edit Recipient List button below in the Start Mail Merge section
5. Select the Data Source in the bottom left list and select Edit
6. Add and remove entries as you see fit and select Ok when finished
7. Select Yes to allow the database to be updated and Ok again to go back to the main document
8. Select Preview Results from the Preview Results section at the top right and check your spelling
9. Select Finish & Merge in the Finish section, then select Print Documents
10. Select All and Ok to print all of your entries.

Games for Windows Live is Still “Calculating Download Size”

Is anything more frustrating than a Microsoft product? If you’re already sitting pretty with the latest operating system updates and the latest version of Games for Windows Live, yet your Downloadable Content is still “calculating download size,” disable all non-Microsoft Services and Startup items. Do this by clicking START > RUN , typing msconfig, clicking on the Services tab, the Hide All Microsoft Services box below, the Disable All button to the right the Startup tab above, the Disable All button below and finally Apply. Cycle the power and enjoy your DLCs.

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