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Scott's Column
XP SP2 on Laptop, Gaming, How Many Monitors

November 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

Well, information on Windows XP Service Pack 2 continues as my wife's laptop gets the upgrade. My in-laws have a field day with monitors and I finally get back into gaming... a couple of years out of date.

Laptop with SP2

My wife installed the Service Pack 2 upgrade to Windows XP on her laptop. This came in through the Windows Update system. Her experiences with it are not pleasant. For starters the Firewall prevented LimeWire from working. When she first started LimeWire after the upgrade XP asked if she wanted to let the program connect to the Internet. We said yes, and let it go. Shortly after it stopped working. I did a little digging and found that only the Java Virtual Machine was allowed to talk through the firewall. I manually added LimeWire to the programs that XP's firewall would allow.

All was fine for a short time, but LimeWire would stop working again. We turned the firewall off. I didn't want to do this, but it was the easiest approach. I have a router with a firewall, so I am not too concerned.

Even with the firewall turned off she was still having problems. It would seem the Internet would just stop working. She noticed it more and more when she would put her laptop down for a while. My wife almost never turns her laptop off. She just closes the lid and puts it aside. It is almost always plugged into an outlet (electric) as well.

I did a little digging into the properties of the wireless connection and saw a property that would turn off the wireless to save power. I set this to disabled. The problem seemed to be gone, but it was not.

Now I had to get serious. I started searching the Internet for people having wireless disconnect issues with Windows XP SP2. I came across a similar problem. The solution for the other person's problem was turning off all power saving features for all the USB "hubs." In this vernacular I think hub represents the individual "socket" that you can plug into.

I went to the Control Panel, System, Device Manager, and expanded the USB section. I highlighted each USB Hub, right-clicked and selected properties. I Navigated to the Power Management tab and unchecked the box that said "Allow Windows to shut down this device to save power." I did this for all three USB Hubs listing in the device manager.

Well, I haven't heard anymore about the laptop losing its Internet connection. It was a strange fix, but it did work. God and some whacked programmer at Microsoft seem to be the only ones that know why the wireless is connected to the USB Hubs for power management... even when the wireless has its own power management settings. Maybe that was a hasty statement. I doubt even the programmer that did this remembers doing it, no less why. So only God knows now.

Gaming

I have bit the bullet and started getting back into gaming. I installed Return to Castle Wolfenstein on both my desktop and my laptop. Of course a story goes with that.

I am using Virtual CD on both machines. I created the "virtual" CD of Wolfenstein once, and copied it to the laptop. I keep "copies" of CDs on my server for access from my desktop that has a 100 Mbit Ethernet connection. The Ethernet connection is at least as fast as any CD-ROM drive, so this works more than good enough. However, the laptop has an 802.11b wireless adapter and that is far too slow for me to use with Virtual CD. I keep a copy of games I want to play on the laptop locally. I am not hurting for disc space yet, so all is good.

I installed Wolfenstein on the laptop first just to see if I could get it to work. It worked. I didn't have any trouble getting it to run. However the frame rate was a little sluggish. That was not the big problem. I needed to play with a real mouse. The "touch pad" on the laptop is useless for first person shooters.

I installed Wolfenstein on my desktop. Two things leaped out at me. First, it ran much smoother on my desktop than on my laptop. Second, a real mouse makes all the difference in the world with a first person shooter.

I dug through an old draw full of stuff trying to find an old mouse I could use with the laptop. It has a PS/2 connector on the back so I figured I should be able to find a mouse I could use. The only mice I could find were a really old Microsoft serial port mouse and an old Logitech cordless mouse. I figured the cordless mouse would be good enough, especially since it has a scroll wheel.

The plug for the "base" to the wireless mouse would not connect to the PS/2 port. It looked a little different. I searched and searched through a mess of a closet and draws to find everything and anything that looked like an adapter. I found three adapters. Mostly they were all female. I needed a male. Go Figure!

I rummaged around an old box at work in a storage closet and came across a PS/2 mouse with a scroll wheel. I took it home and it would not plug into the PS/2 port of the laptop. I started thinking, "Damn, did they change the plugs on these things in the last few years."

I went to my desktop computer to look at it. Sure enough the PS/2 mouse plugged in just fine. I rummaged through the closet again until I found the stuff that came with the laptop. Oops... it was not a PS/2 port on the back of the laptop. It was an S-Video output connector. There are no PS/2 ports on the laptop. So, I took the Optical USB mouse from my desktop and plugged it into the laptop. Voila! It worked. I left the PS/2 mouse plugged into the desktop.

By the time I figured all this out I had put in two to three hours into Wolfenstein. I was at the beginning of the third level. Going back to playing on the laptop was difficult due to the slow frame rate. Plus, I had already been through all this stuff, so it was not fun since it was harder to do than it was the first time. Knowing the level should have been an advantage, but the frame rate was just too slow.

CPU Speed

I turned the CPU speed down on the laptop to keep it from overheating. It has a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4. I don't think it is a mobile version of the CPU. The laptop gets hot. The fan will kick on and it sounds like a small plane should be starting up. It is fairly loud. However, the fan just stays on long enough to get the CPU low enough in temperature to reach some safe level. Then the fan turns off. A few minutes latter it comes on again, and this repeats over and over.

If I leave the CPU at the second of 4 levels listed in the Power Setting utility I can run Wolfenstein for a while, but the fan will come on and not keep the laptop from shutting down.

I would like to see how Wolfenstein would play with the CPU at full speed, but that is impossible. The laptop will just run too hot. I may try it, but I would expect it to overheat before I get into the game. I did manage to play with the CPU at level 3. I lasted for about 15-20 minutes before the laptop shut itself down due to heat.

What I would really like is a way to control the fan speed myself and see what the CPU's temperature is. I have searched the Internet looking for a utility that would let me control the fan speed on a Toshiba laptop, but all I find are utilities for doing that running Linux. Nothing for Windows. If I could keep the fan running full speed from the moment the laptop comes on, it might keep the CPU cool enough to run under a decent load.

It's a shame the laptop is out of warrantee, but I have read a few horror stories online about Toshibas with overheating issues. My wife's laptop is a newer Toshiba. It too has a 2.8 GHz CPU. However, its fan speed seems to be about half that of mine. I assume they figured out how to keep them cool with her newer model, or have gotten the CPU to generate less heat. Once in a while her laptop will shut down due to heat, but it is rare, and now that she keeps it on a small board it is better than when it was directly on the bed which blocks airflow. The fan for both our laptops is on the bottom and "sucks" air from under the laptop to blow out the back and side. We each have a small board we keep under our laptops so they don't suck air though a blanket.

More Gaming

A friend lent me Need For Speed Underground to play. Unfortunately it runs in slow motion. It runs at what I can only guess is less than 1 frame per second (fps) on my laptop, and runs pretty slow on my desktop. The installation took up about 1.9 GB of disk space. My desktop is hurting for disc space on the C: drive so I uninstalled it until a later time.

Basically I need a better graphics card. I understand that ATI and nVidia are getting ready to launch some new "middle tier" graphics cards. By middle tier I mean cards that are in the $200 price range. However, one of them was looking to make a card that would be THE Doom 3 video card. This of course meaning that it would be THE card you would upgrade to if you want to play Doom 3.

Hopefully it will be out for the holiday season, because I am seriously thinking about upgrading my graphics card.

To Cheat or Not To Cheat

I don't like using cheats much. I would prefer a game that is difficult, but not impossible to beat. I don't mind dying a few times to "get it right." I ran into a problem with Wolfenstein. I was on the Forrest level and you are eventually in a compound. You need to kill all the guards except one... the one that is guarding the "exit." Your job it to hide on a truck that is about to leave the compound. If you kill the "exit" guard there is nobody that can let the truck drive off, and the mission ends in failure.

Another thing, you cannot be detected. This means killing the other guards quickly and quietly. This took some doing. I had to sneak up on a few and stab them with a knife instead of shooting them in a blaze of glory. You will eventually pick up a sniper rifle with a great scope. I think the scope is a night vision scope as well. You can use this to pick off guards from very far away.

The problem I have is that you must cross this small area in the compound to get behind the truck. No matter what I did the exit guard always saw me, and set off the alarm... ending the mission in failure. I tried everything. I even tried walking along the wall to drop in behind the truck. I was spotted every time. I can't shoot this guy or the mission ends in failure, and I can't get across the area without being seen.

I eventually had to resort to cheating. I entered the cheat code called "notarget." The enemy will not attack you with this cheat. I walked right across the area and climbed in the back of the truck. Mission accomplished. Turn off the cheat.

I hate it when a game is impossible. And don't think I did try hard enough. I searched the Internet and found a half dozen web sites that told me to run from a particluar building to the section behind the truck. This did not work. Every site made it seem like this was an easy run, but it never worked. I HAD to cheat to get past this level.

Well, at least the next level was just a major shoot-fest, so I enjoyed that a lot.

Monitor Trouble

The Monitor on my in-law's computer died. The monitor is attached to a computer I built for them as a gift. They let us live with them for five months as we finished building our house. The computer is three years old. The monitor showed a slight gray blur at the top of the screen. Clearly it was getting power. I told them they needed a new monitor. In the mean time I took my old Gateway monitor and let them use that.

The Gateway monitor is about 9 years old. It is a 15" Trinitron (Sony tube) monitor. I was using it to let my server boot. The server in my closet will not boot unless a monitor is attached. I don't know why, but that is the case. The Gateway monitor doesn't even have to be plugged into an electrical outlet (perfect) for it to allow the server to boot. This makes living with the server a lot easier. If I ever have to reboot it I can, without lugging a monitor into the closet.

I decided to plug my in-law's monitor into the server to see if it would let the server boot. It did not... unless I plugged the monitor into an electric outlet. The closet was in such a bad state that I could not plug the monitor in inside the closet (there is electric in the closet, but I can't reach the outlet anymore). I ran the plug to the outlet in the room right next to the closet. That did the trick, and the server boot. I would leave the monitor unplugged until I needed to boot the server. This only happened twice during the month or two that I was using that monitor.

My in-law's computer ate my Gateway monitor. I don't know what the deal was, but the Gateway stopped working. My brother-in-law (their son) gave them an old monitor he had (also about 9 or 10 years old). I brought the Gateway home and decided to see if it could still be used to boot my server. Lo and behold it worked. My server still boots with the Gateway monitor attached and unplugged from the wall.

While I was moving all this monitor stuff around in that closet I took the time to finally clean it out. I threw my in-law's monitor away, and nicely placed the Gateway monitor face down on the floor in front of the server (which is on a shelf with all the other equipment).

My brother-in-law was going to get his parents another computer. They asked if I wanted the computer that I built them back. I said yes. I figured the worse case would be to stick a new video card in it and buy a cheap monitor and put the computer upstairs for my kids. It is too slow for anything else (1.1 GHz Celeron, integrated graphics and sound, 256MB memory).

However, another brother-in-law (living with the in-laws) wanted the computer, and this would keep him off his parents computer... when they get it. So the computer was going back to the in-laws. I bought the cheapest video card I could find. I picked up an ATI Rage PCI card with 8 MB of memory. The motherboard had AGP video, but no AGP slot. $34 later I had the computer up and running. My in-laws decided they didn't want to get a new computer and bought a new Samsung 17" monitor.

My mother-in-law noticed after they got their computer back it was a lot quieter. Hmmm, all I did was vacuum out the machine and stick a new card in. I think it is time to vacuum out my own computers. So far I have not heard any complaints with the new video card eating any monitors.

Conclusion

That's is for this month. Next month... HDTV!

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