You are here

Configuring Your PC

Here's my new drive configuration, showing the General, Music, Review, Backup, and Data partitions of my first 30Gb drive, and the Audio and temporary Corrupt partitions of my second drive.Here's my new drive configuration, showing the General, Music, Review, Backup, and Data partitions of my first 30Gb drive, and the Audio and temporary Corrupt partitions of my second drive.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, Martin Walker's PC rises once again, in a new (and hopefully more robust) configuration.

After the catalogue of computer disasters discussed in last month's PC Notes, I ended by saying that I intended to reformat my boot drive and start afresh, once I'd caught up with my SOS writing. However, what I actually did was take a long hard look at the available options to make my system less prone to software crashes in the future, and eventually decided on a somewhat more complex course of action. Having extolled the virtues of multiple‑booting PC environments in SOS May 2001, I designed a new configuration suited to my own circumstances.

I write a lot of articles for SOS, as well as sending and receiving email, browsing the Internet, and working with various graphics packages. For these activities I decided to create a general‑purpose installation running with Windows 98SE. To avoid any complications when installing review software and hardware, I wanted the former in a completely separate Windows partition, complete with its own word processor, so that even if the worst ever happened and something became corrupted, I could reformat that partition without having to reinstall any of my other software. Finally, for my own music applications, I decided to create a third partition, also running Windows 98SE in slimmed‑down form, so that absolutely nothing would compromise music performance.

It can be complex enough trying to choose the version of Windows best suited to your main music applications and soundcard drivers, without further complicating the issue by running otherapplications alongside. One case in point was my review installation of Cakewalk's impressive Sonar sequencer. This software requires Microsoft's DirectX version 8.0 to run properly, and insists on installing it if it isn't already on your hard drive. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this — except that, as I reported in February 2001's PC Notes, some musicians who have installed DX8 have had subsequent problems with Cubase 5, such that Steinberg have recommended sticking with DirectX 7.0a for the time being. By keeping my own music applications separate from everything else I wouldn't have to run any such risks.

Having decided on this course of action, it became obvious to me that my existing 2Gb boot drive wasn't big enough to cope, although a partition housing Windows and a selection of applications will nearly always fit into 2Gb or less. Three such partitions would still fit into a modest 10Gb drive with loads of room to spare. However, 7200rpm 10Gb drives seem almost to be an endangered species, and with 30Gb drives typically costing only £30 more, I decided to make my current 30Gb Seagate audio hard disk the new boot drive, and buy a new and even faster 30Gb drive for audio storage.

Carefully Does It

Drive Image 4.0 lets you capture an Image of the entire contents of a partition or drive, to restore later if anything goes wrong.Drive Image 4.0 lets you capture an Image of the entire contents of a partition or drive, to restore later if anything goes wrong.

Before I made any drastic system changes, I also decided to remove some existing expansion cards. My Adaptec SCSI card hasn't really been used since I replaced my SCSI audio drive with a fast E‑IDE one, and my ageing AWE64 Gold soundcard is now only used for its MIDI interface. So, since both of these add a fair amount to the Registry, as well as plenty of driver files, I removed them both, and instead reinstated an ancient Roland MPU‑401 ISA‑card MIDI interface that only requires a single driver file.

My 30Gb Seagate drive had been divided into a 28Gb audio partition and a 2Gb one for data (see screenshot in SOS May 2001). I started by resizing the 28Gb audio partition, using PartitionMagic, to provide me with 7.5Gb of free space at the beginning. I then used this to create three new and identical 2.5Gb Primary partitions, all formatted as FAT32. I wasn't unduly worried about their exact size, since PartitionMagic lets you resize them at will if you need more space later. I labelled them 'General', 'Music', and 'Review', and made the first one 'Active'. It took a considerable amount of time for PartitionMagic's batch process to move the existing audio data up to its new position on the same drive, but the whole string of commands worked perfectly.

You need to reboot before the new partitions will be recognised by Windows, but during the reboot I entered the BIOS to temporarily disable my ailing 2Gb C: drive, and then inserted a Windows 98SE Startup disk in the floppy drive. When I exited the BIOS and rebooted, my freshly formatted 2.5Gb Active partition became the new C: drive, and I could then install Windows 98SE on it. I deselected all the optional Setup components (any that you decide you want later, you can install on demand), and it took about 20 minutes to create a new and pristine desktop.

With this first installation of Windows up and running, I then rebooted, re‑enabled my old C: drive, and ran PartitionMagic from there to make the General partition Hidden and the Music partition Active. This time, when I rebooted and made my old C: drive disappear, the PC only found the Music partition, and I was able to install a second instance of Windows 98SE on it. Finally, by following exactly the same procedure, I was able to install a third instance of Windows 98SE on my freshly created Review partition.

A Question Of Choice

At this stage, I made my General partition the Active one once more, and then installed BootMagic (which comes bundled with PartitionMagic) on it. If I had left the default setting in place, every time I booted I'd be presented with a little menu offering a choice of the three operating systems. However, I decided to set the BootMagic startup delay to 'None', so that it boots straight into my General partition by default, without pausing to display the menu. Whenever I want to enter the Music or Review partitions I simply hold down the left‑hand Shift key during the boot, to launch the menu.

Now that my new triple‑boot configuration was up and running, I ordered a 30Gb IBM Deskstar 75GXP, which only cost me £115, as a new audio drive. Sadly, though, my run of bad luck wasn't yet over, since the first unit proved to be dead on arrival. However, its replacement did work well, and it was time to carry out the final stages in my master plan.

To keep noise levels low, I only wanted two hard drives in my PC, each in its own SilentDrive sleeve. However, my old 2Gb drive still contained every software application I'd installed since August 1998. So, to retain access to these until I was sure that everything was safely reinstalled and backed up to my new Windows installations, I decided to create a temporary 2Gb partition at the beginning of the new audio drive, and then use the 'Disk To Disk Copy' function of Drive Image (see box) to recreate the old drive, warts and all.

Having done this, I removed my old 2Gb drive altogether, reconnected the 30Gb Seagate drive as Primary Master, and left the new 30Gb IBM drive as Secondary Master. This not only gives me access to the three Windows installations on the first drive, but also allows me to boot into the corrupted 2Gb partition whenever I need to, by changing the BIOS boot sequence, as described in SOS May 2001 — you can install up to four operating systems on each drive, if you really must!

After The Event

To avoid any confusion about which partition is currently active, and therefore which of my three operating systems is running, I chose different Desktop colours for each — green for General, mauve for Music, and red for Review. I've already made great progress in installing the various applications required on each one, but this will take some time to complete, since some will need to be separately installed on all three partitions.

However, long‑term I feel all the extra effort will be worth it. Each of my three partitions is slimmed down for more streamlined performance, I can reformat my Review partition if any review or Beta‑test software throws a wobbly, and my Music partition should never be compromised in any way, ever again. Famous last words!

PC Snippets

  • Ntonyx have taken a new direction with the release of their SoundFont Pro Stereo Collection. Comprising real acoustic instruments, voices created using their physical and performance modelling techniques, DX7‑style voices created using "voice morphing", and a 32Mb GM set for more general‑purpose applications, these SoundFonts ought to prove very popular.

The company have also released a new MIDI FX plug‑in for Cakewalk software. Drum Walker lets you convert any MIDI track into a Sonic Foundry Drums Project — you assign WAV files to each drum sound, and each drum then appears on its own track when imported into Sonic Foundry's Vegas digital recorder/editor, with MIDI velocity converted into clip loudness." target="_blank

  • Steinberg have also been busy, releasing new versions of both Cubasis VST and Clean! Cubasis VST 2.0 (£99) can now play back up to 48 audio or MP3 tracks, as well as 64 MIDI channels, ships with the 70Mb Universal Module for GM playback, and supports In‑Wire for Internet composition. It can export in RealAudio format, and comes with a CD‑ROM containing 600Mb of samples and songs.

Steinberg have added new De‑rumbler, Phase Correction, VariSpeed, Stereo Spread and LoudMax functions to their popular Clean audio CD‑burning package, but the main addition is a phono preamp for directly connecting a record deck to any soundcard. You can plug the preamp into any soundcard with a gameport socket, from where it takes its power, and the bundle (called Clean! Plus) costs just £79.99.

Powerquest Drive Image 4.0

To provide additional data security for my new regime (see main text), I invested in PowerQuest's Drive Image utility. Unlike a simple file‑by‑file copier, this creates a complete Image file of a partition or drive, including all its hidden files, Registry, and preferences. You can use it to back up an operating system, so that if the worst happens and your PC suffers an unrecoverable crash, you can restore the Image file and return your hard drive to exactly the state it was in at the time the Image was taken. Given my circumstances, I was keen to see how it performed, and I wasn't disappointed.

There's no way you can copy a Windows partition while it's running, so Drive Image actually runs from DOS, although it has been designed to look exactly like a Windows application. You can install and run the package from Windows 95, 98, ME, NT 4.0, or 2000 Professional, and then either create a floppy 'rescue diskette' that lets you boot your PC even if its Windows partition gets completely scrambled, or launch the version installed on your hard drive from inside Windows.

There are three options on the main screen. 'Create Image' lets you select one or more partitions on any available drive for imaging, and provides optional compression at Low and High levels, should you wish to cut the image size down by 40 or 50 percent. This slows down the imaging process, but is handy if you want to save image files onto Zip or Jaz cartridges, or on CD. Also helpful in this case is the 'Span Image File Into Multiple Files' option, which allows a large hard drive image to be spread across several such removable media. I decided to save my images onto the remaining acreage of my combined 60Gb of hard drive storage, and I therefore selected 'No Compression' for fastest operation.

'Restore Image' reverses the process, saving either to the original location (to allow you to return to a previous version of your drive contents), or to a new partition (to recreate the contents elsewhere on the same PC). 'Disk To Disk' lets you copy the contents of a partition on one drive to another drive, and is ideal if you buy a new drive and don't want to reinstall applications from scratch.

Tools are also provided for creating, deleting, hiding, and making partitions active, while the Drive Image File Editor, which does run from Windows, lets you split existing image files for subsequent storage onto removable media, join them together again, and restore individual files or partitions contained within them to the original or a new location. Drive Image worked perfectly on my PC, creating 1Gb image files in less than 10 minutes, and restoring them perfectly on demand. At a price of around £40, it could prove invaluable.