Category Archives: Computers

Keeping a Dinosaur Alive

The PC I use for ham radio is old. Very old. The CPU is a Pentium 4 running at 3.0 GHz with 2.5 GB of system RAM. The operating system is Windows XP Professional. It has three monitors attached, each running at a resolution of 1920×1080. It runs most of the DX Lab suite 24 hours a day, 7 days a week plus Firefox, Loop Recorder, DX Atlas, and a few other essentials. This is really too much for such an old system, but I need to get at least a few more years out of it. Typically it has been taking four or five minutes to reach a stable desktop after a restart, plus another three or four minutes to load the apps. Logging a contact takes ten to twelve seconds of CPU time, making it rather impractical for use during contests or other “run” times. I use N1MM Logger for that, later exporting the log and importing to DXKeeper. It is very fast even on slow systems. Unfortunately that means running without many of my favorite tools, but one cannot have everything!

This morning, while downloading new SRTM and land cover data for use with Radio Mobile Deluxe, I received a not-too-friendly message from Windows informing me that I was about to run out of hard drive space. This system only has a 40 GB drive. The SRTM data and my collection of DX sound files take up a lot of space. Obviously I was going to have to do something!

I cleaned up the drive, using the Windows utility and manually. I moved some infrequently used files over to the linux box. The advantage of this over archiving them on DVD or similar media is ease of access – the linux box is always on the network. In the end I was able to free 5 GB of space. Whew! After this operation and subsequent defragmenting of the drive, I checked for any performance increase. None. Rats! But at least I wasn’t running out of disk space any more.

Then I decided I might as well go all in and take a risk. Some time ago I had installed Advanced System Care 4 on the system, following the recommendation of a trusted and very knowledgeable software developer. I had tried it back then (two or three years ago) and found no real improvement in system performance. But it had done no harm either. After backing up some critical data and creating a system restore point I nervously started ASC, which immediately told me I had better upgrade to version 6. Immediately following the upgrade to version 6 it informed me version 7 was available. Uh, OK. So I upgraded again. I let it perform a system scan. It said I had several hundred assorted problems. Well, duh! The system runs MS Windows! Naturally it has countless problems. My apologies to those who like MS. I don’t, but until good ham radio software becomes available for linux I allow it to remain under my roof. After a good bit of hesitation and trepidation I committed to making the recommended changes. I noticed it marked a couple of things to be completed on the next system restart: chkdsk to repair a disk data problem, and defragmentation of the Windows registry file.

The predominantly blue screens on reboot (one each for the deferred actions mentioned) were a little scary but everything seemed to go well. Blue screens anywhere near a boot-up make my stomach queasy! I can’t begin to count (nor would I want to count) the blue screens of death I had back in the Windows 95 days! I was quite surprised to see the desktop appear in less than 90 seconds following the final reboot-within-a-reboot. Most interesting. I just about fell off my chair when the DX Lab suite plus extras was up and running within ~80 seconds of starting launcher! Whatever ASC did, it made a big difference. I have spent a few hours testing the system and software for any signs of problems. I have not found any. Everything is significantly faster than before, though still much slower than one would like. Thanks, IObit! Hopefully this will help the system hang on and slow my descent toward insanity during the years before I can ultimately scrap the dinosaur and build a replacement.