Saturday, September 26, 2009

Windows 7 vs Fedora Core 11, and Linux in general

This year, my father also wanted to upgrade his computer, as did my mother. I had a shop build one with the exact same parts. I imaged my mother's computer drive with Acronis, and imaged it back to my father's computer. So far so good. But I had installed Windows 7 with its default setting, which creates two partitions - a "recovery partition", which was about 100 MB, and a regular Windows 7 NTFS partition, which was about 931 GB.

My father has been a Linux user for a very long time, and only desired Windows for very occasional use. In the past, it was fairly easy to dual-boot Windows & Linux. Not so this time.

First, I had to shrink the Windows NTFS partition using the "shrink" tool. But this didn't work. There were a variety of unmovable system files towards the end apparently. Even after defragmenting the drive, the shrink feature of the Windows disk manager could only reduce the drive by a measly 300 MB ! The solution was very complicated : I erased all the partitions, reinstalled Windows 7 with a small partitions, and then re-restored my mother's computers into the small partition from my backup drive using Acronis True Image 2009. Now, I had a working Windows 7 installation, and some free unpartitioned space.

The next 3 days were spent trying to install various versions of Linux, mostly Fedora Core 11 64 bits, as well as Ubuntu 8.x. This was always unsuccessful. Typically, the Fedora installation program just crashed with exceptions. Just hours before I was supposed to leave, I got the idea to delete the 100 MB Windows 7 recovery partition. I then restored its content from the Acronis backup onto the large Windows partition, and booted with the DFSEE tool to make the Windows 7 partition active. But Windows 7 still didn't boot correctly. I then booted the Windows 7 DVD and used the recovery option. Amazingly, that worked. I now had a single 212 GB NTFS Windows 7 partition that was booting. After that, the Fedora Core 11 installation proceeded like a breeze.

Moral of the story : if you want to dual-boot Windows 7 and Linux - do not let the Windows 7 installer create the recovery partition when you get prompted to let Windows create additional partitions. Just say no !

Windows 7 vs LSI Logic 53C1030 Ultra160 SCSI controller

I have been using SCSI controllers in one form or another in some of my PCs for over 15 years. At this time, I have only a couple of SCSI devices left - one 36 GB hard drive made by Seagate that spins at 15,000 rpm, and a DAT DDS-4 tape drive made by HP. The last SCSI controller I bought was purchased in 2001 and is based on the 53C1010 Ultra160 SCSI chipset by LSI Logic, formerly Symbios, formerly AT&T, formerly NCR. This chipset worked wonderfully under a variety of operating systems, from OS/2 up to and including Windows Vista x64.

Enter Windows 7. Earlier this wednesday, I attempted to migrate the system containing this SCSI controller from Windows Vista x64 to Windows 7 x64. I was told that there was no driver for Windows 7 for the controller. This was quite disappointing, after 8 years of loyal services. I disabled the device in the device manager, and proceeded with the installation of Windows 7 anyway.

At the time of this writing, I have been unable to locate a proper driver for this controller under Windows 7 x64. This means the OS can no longer see my two SCSI devices. I don't care much about Windows no longer seeing the DDS-4 tape drive as I wasn't using it under Windows. But I am bothered by no longer seeing the SCSI hard drive, which still contains a bootable copy of OS/2 Warp Server for E-Business SMP. While that SCSI hard drive is formatted as HPFS, and can therefore not be mounted under Windows 7, it could still be imaged and backed up with Acronis True Image Home, at least under Windows Vista back when the SCSI controller worked. I may end up going back to Windows Vista on this system if I can't resolve this issue. Or I might move my OS/2 installation to another drive.

Windows 7 vs Kaspersky Anti-virus 2009

I recently acquired the above anti-virus for the low of sum of "FAR" (free-after-rebate), ie. I only paid the sales tax on it. This is a good program that performs well under Vista x64.
When I attempted an upgrade of one of my computers to Windows 7 RTM (final version), the installation program instructed me that KAV was incompatible with Windows 7. I was forced to uninstall it before proceeding with the upgrade to Windows 7. At the time of this writing, Kaspersky only has a beta program for Windows 7. I hope they will issue fixes soon, as Windows 7 final version has been available to developers for a month.

Windows 7 vs Acronis True Image Home 2009

For the last 6 months or so, I ahve been using the excellent Acronis True Image Home 2009 software to image the hard disks of several home computers under Windows Vista x64. During a recent trip to France, I traveled with a hard drive containing a drive image so I could get to all my files.
To my dismay, I found that I was not able to fully access the data under Windows 7 (RTM, ie. final version). True Image Home 2009 still has some issues under it. Specifically, at the time of this writing, it's unable to mount drives from the backup archive as local drive letters under Windows 7. All is not lost, since the restore feature of True Image still works. However, it takes much longer. I wanted to mount the drive to use the command-line XCOPY program to only copy certain types of files from the archive. Unfortunately, the True Image Restore feature is limited, and does not allow such file filters. I ended up having to restore a full directory, and then deleting all the unwanted files, which took much longer - in fact about 4 more hours than it should have.

Let's hope that Acronis will issue a patch for True Image 2009 to fix the drive mounting issue under Windows 7.

Video memory setting in VirtualBox with 30" monitor

In recent months, I have been running Sun's Virtualbox software to run multiple guest operating systems. One of my two monitors is an HP LP3065 30" LCD, which has a 2560x1600 resolution (4 million pixels).
Virtualbox has a very nice feature which allows the desktop to be resized up to the host's resolution. In theory. When I tried to use the feature, I noticed that the guest couldn't be maximized. The reason turned out to be that the default video memory in Virtualbox was insufficient. 2560x1600 at 32 bit color depth requires 16384000 bytes of video memory. Once I increased the video memory to 16MB, I was able to maximize the guest OS window to fill up the entire screen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Windows 7 ATI HDMI audio vs digital coax audio issue

A few weeks ago, I was in France. I took advantage of the occasion to upgrade my mother's computer to much more recent hardware, as well as her television to a new 46" LG LCD HDTV. The PC was setup with the final version of Windows 7 x64.

She kept her old PC monitor, a 15" LG LCD, with only a VGA connection, as well as her old Yamaha RX-V420RDS amplifier, which long predated HDMI.

The PC sported a Sapphire video card with an ATI Radeon HD4850 chipset and dual DVI outputs. One output went to the 15" LCD with a DVI->VGA adapter, and the other went to the TV with a DVI->HDMI adapter and a 15m HDMI cable.

The PC audio was connected to the digital coaxial input Yamaha amp via a 15m coaxial cable.

After I taught her how to switch back & forth between her 2 displays in Windows 7, my mother noticed a very odd problem : when she was using the TV as her display, all sound disappeared ! But when she switched back to the 15" analog VGA LCD, it came back. I was unable to debug the issue for her over the phone. But I still had some more time before flying back home, and determined the root cause of the problem in person : Windows 7 had seen it fit to automatically redirect all audio to the HDMI output of the video card when the display was switch to the TV !

This was of course not what was desired for her setup. The TV's audio was muted and we had no intention of using its built-in speakers. We wanted the audio to always stay on the digital coax output hooked up to the Yamaha amplifier . I fixed this in the Control Panel by disabling the ATI HDMI audio output device. I hope this will help someone else running into the same issue of lost sound when switching displays.