Martin Walker grumbles about long‑winded install routines, and guides you through a few ways to check your system files and Registry for problems.
This month I suffered a very repeatable crash in Norton's Registry Editor, even though it had worked perfectly well for the 10 months since I first installed it. Unfortunately I'd installed three or four other applications in quick succession before discovering the problem, which made the cause difficult to track down. However, given the amount of publicity devoted to Millennium viruses, I decided to install and run Norton Antivirus 2000 first just to make sure. I wish I hadn't. Despite my continued enthusiasm for the Norton Utilities package, I don't think I've ever come across such a heavy‑handed install as that of Norton Antivirus 2000.
First I was faced with several pages full of options before the install actually started. I disabled most of them, because I didn't want anything running in the background waiting to pounce on any lurking viruses — all I needed was a utility that I could run on demand every so often to thoroughly scan my system. Once the install routine had finished copying files from the CD‑ROM, I was presented with a six‑stage survey that required me to enter my name and address, whether I was a business or home user, the amount of computer skill I had, and so on. There was no way around this, since at each stage you had to enter something to get to the next screen. I then attempted to bypass the automatic Internet registration procedure (which forces you to go online immediately), which again took some doing.
Finally my computer was ready to restart, and when I returned to the desktop I clicked on the icon to start Norton Antivirus. As I had half expected, the virus definitions provided on the CD‑ROM were long out of date, and I had to log onto the net anyway to update them before the program would run. The LiveUpdate feature did this for me automatically, but decided that a program update was needed as well. However, after downloading this, NAV insisted that my computer be restarted before continuing. So, I logged off the net, rebooted my PC, and then tried to run NAV again. Once again, however, it declared the virus definitions out of date, so I logged onto the net and went through yet another download procedure, ending with yet another reboot. Finally, even after all this, every time I launched NAV it still came up with the message that 'You must restart your computer before running Norton Antivirus'. I'm afraid I gave up and uninstalled it — I had fewer problems with my PC before I started! As a consolation, the LiveUpdate had also brought the more limited anti‑virus feature built in to my Norton Utilities fully up to date, so I ran this instead, and found no viruses on my PC.
Having ruled out viruses, I ran the excellent System File Checker included with Windows 98, which keeps a check on numerous files to see whether they have been altered. Since the last time I ran it various things had changed: a new version of the Echo soundcard drivers had been installed, for instance, and with these entries in its database I could simply click on the 'Update verification information' option.
However, various other system files had changed, including one called CTL3D32.DLL. This is part of the 3D Windows Controls, but despite the version number of the current file being exactly the same as the previously checked one, its filesize had dropped to 26kb from 44kb, and the file date had changed from 23/04/99 (all of the Windows 98 SE CD‑ROM files have this date) to 04/12/95. With this I opted to 'Restore file', which copied the backup held in the Windows\Sysbckup folder into the Windows\System folder. Files not found here can be directly restored from the Windows 98 CD‑ROM, or for those installed by other applications, from their original CD‑ROM.
If you face a choice like this, the newest version is generally preferable, although System File Checker does give you the option to save a backup of the existing one first if you're not sure. If you haven't a clue what the file does, you can use the Windows Find function: type in the filename in question, and when it appears in the main window, right‑click on it and select Properties. This will launch a new window with two tabs, and if you click on the one marked 'Version' you will also get a description of its function.
Sometimes a file with a newer version number will have an older date, but this is often because developers sometimes force every file on a particular CD‑ROM to have the same date, even if the files they supply are several years old. You can either click on 'Update verification information' if you're happy that the current file is OK, on 'Ignore' if you're not sure and want the same warning to appear next time you run the System File Checker. In some cases the seemingly newer file version will have a smaller size: this can be decidedly fishy, since files rarely get smaller as they are improved unless some of their functions are split off into a separate new file.
System File Checker will also note any system files that have been deleted since the last time it was run. It correctly found that the older virus definitions that had been removed during my LiveUpdate, and I could happily update this information. By the time I had finished running the utility it had checked a total of 1464 system files — a very useful double‑check when you get unexplained problems. Sadly, the Registry Editor still had the same problem, so as a last resort I visited the Symantec web site, where I discovered that this was a known bug with no solution to date! The moral of this story is to first check the web site of the developer whose application is causing problems, even if it has behaved perfectly in the past.
Sometimes you install a piece of software and then wish you hadn't. It might be a demo from a cover‑mount CD, a shareware application, or even a full commercial program, but for one reason or another it isn't suitable or desirable to keep it on your hard drive. Thankfully most installations now appear in the list held by Windows in the Add/Remove Programs applet inside Control Panel, and you can uninstall the software by clicking on the appropriate entry and then on the Add/Remove button. This will normally delete the files associated with the application, as well as associated shortcuts and Registry entries. However, this isn't always the case, and your Registry may still contain multiple references to long‑gone applications.
A Registry containing unwanted or corrupted entries can slow down your PC slightly, as well as causing unexpected problems, and periodically it's worth cleaning these out using an automated utility (don't attempt this by hand using the Registry editor unless you really know what you are doing — a corrupted Registry is far worse than one containing a few unwanted entries!)
The easiest way to help keep your Registry fighting fit is to run Microsoft's own RegClean utility (you can download the latest version 4.1a from the Microsoft web site, but I found it quicker to do so from www.zdnet.co.uk/software/free/ut...). RegClean scans the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT section of the Registry looking for errors; if it finds any, you can either click on the 'Fix Errors' button to remove them, or simply 'Exit' without doing anything. The beauty of RegClean is that it saves all the entries it removes in a special 'Undo' file that you can find in the 'Program Files\RegClean' folder. If you later find that it has removed an entry that is still needed (never in my experience) you can double‑click on this file to reinstate the trimmed items. It can also be interesting to open up these Undo file using Quick View to see what has been removed.
Steinberg are finally shipping their Nuendo recording software for Windows 98/NT. Designed as a high‑end solution for those who want to record up to 200 tracks of 24‑bit/96kHz audio, Nuendo also features video and MIDI tracks, and it can sync to any time source that can be translated into MTC information. It is compatible with the VST 2.0 architecture, so will run all existing plug‑ins, and supports surround sound and graphic automation.
Yet another classic hardware synth will soon be available in VST Instrument form. Waldorf have released details of the PPG Wave 2.V, a recreation of the famous Wave 2.3‑series digital wavetable synth originally launched in the early '80s. The PC/Mac software version has the same two‑oscillator/filter/amplifier design, holds 32 wavetables each containing 64 different waveforms, is 8‑part multi‑timbral, and can play as many voices as the host processor can manage. It looks ideal for those who want a more individual sound, and should be available shortly for worldwide distribution by Steinberg.
Abit have launched a new 'SlotKET !!!' adaptor, designed to allow those with Slot1 motherboards (as fitted to most PCs with Pentium II or III processors) to fit any of the new Pentium III Coppermine models with the 'flip‑chip' package. In addition, sets of colour‑coded jumpers allow you to adjust the processor voltage settings, and select front side bus speeds from 133MHz, 100MHz, and 66MHz, to suit the motherboard being used.
Since my feature on reducing background noise in the studio in SOS January 2000, I have heard about a new distributor in the UK who specialises in PC noise‑reduction products. Set up by Glenn Garrett after the difficulties he had in finding products to keep his own PC quiet, Quiet PC already have various products available for purchase, and plan to stock more soon. The Ultra‑Quiet PSU is designed as a plug‑in replacement for any ATX‑format 230‑Watt power supply, and is fitted with a thermally controlled fan. Glen also supplies the SilentDrive hard disk sleeves I discussed in my feature, and fits them with an additional temperature‑sensitive sticker, so that you can try using them with drives faster than the manufacturers' recommended 5400rpm. He has personally installed an IBM 27Gb 7200rpm hard drive in a SilentDrive casing and it still runs within safe temperature limits.
If you are running Windows 95 versions 4.00.95.0b or 4.00.95.0B, or either version of Windows 98, you have the option to use FAT32‑formatted hard drives. As I've discussed before (see 'Easy Access' in SOS December '98), formatting your hard drives using the biggest cluster size available will give the best performance when hard disk recording, since there will be slightly less overhead than when reading lots of smaller clusters. However, as I was reminded this month, when you are storing lots of smaller files, using a smaller cluster size can be far more efficient.
I have a 2.5Gb drive that I moved over from my old PC into the current one for extra storage, but it's not used for audio recording at all. I formatted it as two partitions: the first one is 650Mb, formatted as FAT32, and running Windows 95 for review purposes, while the remaining 1800Mb is used for general data storage. After some FAT16/FAT32 comparison tests I had inadvertently left it formatted as FAT16 with 32k clusters, and the empty space available had dropped to 336Mb. However, this format is very wasteful of space, since even tiny files of a few bytes still occupy a single 32kb cluster, so using Partition Magic I changed the format 'on the fly' to FAT32 with 4k clusters. It's not often you get something for nothing, but this format change left me with 690Mb free — an improvement of 354Mb. It certainly pays to make sure that you format each partition in the most efficient way! Partition Magic is now up to version 5.0, and can be obtained from most software retailers. Further information can be obtained from www.powerquest.com.