suspend to ram

Over the years I’ve encountered, and resolved many annoying software issues with Microsoft. This one surely counts as one of the more annoying ones.

The problem is that my previous PC had a beautiful suspend to ram feature, which basically means that whenever you put the machine in stand by mode the system turns of almost completely except for a bit of power to keep the memory going. The technical term for this is ACPI S3 mode. My new PC however, suspends using ACPI S1 mode which means it goes stand by with the harddisk still spinning and the fans still blowing, not my idea of stand by. Naturally this was something I wanted fixed really badly. So I enabled the feature in the bios, set all the power options in windows as they should be and …. no success.

My mistake was to assume that this is a hardware/bios problem. So I kept checking the asrock site for bios updates and browsed through their FAQ, double checked bios settings drivers, etc.. Since this isn’t a problem with their hardware, bios or drivers after all, no solution was found this way. Next stop was google, but I still had the asrock keyword as part of the query so nothing useful came out of that. Then I just gave up and for the past few months I’ve been shutting down the pc completely.

This morning I googled for “force s3 standby” and ended up on this site. I learned a things here:

  • My system supporst S3 just fine, I checked using this sleeper tool.
  • Users with completely different hardware are experiencing the exact same issue (and are equally frustrated).
  • There’s a registry hack you can do but it doesn’t do much good on its own.
  • There’s lots of useless advice on enabling/disabling wake up from standby options on usb devices (my mouse and keyboard are ps/2!).
  • There’s a tool called dumppo which supposedly does something useful.

Ok, the next google query concerned dumppo, which got me here. It appears that this is a Microsoft provided (but totally undocumented) utility that you can use to check and change the ACPI settings. Sure enough my “Min sleep state” was set to S1. The reason? I installed windows XP before I enabled suspend to ram in the bios. Doh! Apparently the ACPI settings are determined forever during setup and no functionality to fix this is included with the OS. After the installation you’re screwed no matter what you toggle in any control panel, bios or other screen. Windows XP just keeps insisting that S1 is the way to do standby.

Dumppo (download from microsoft) apparently is the only way out (short of reinstalling XP). A simple “dumppo.exe admin minsleep=s3” on the command line fixes the problem. Of course this wisdom is not officially documented anywhere on the Microsoft site. There must be millions of users out there that are unable to suspend to ram because of this. Basically all computers sold in the past few years are technically capable of suspend to ram. Many of them have the option disabled in the bios by default.

Anyway, problem solved :-). Just one of these issues ordinary users will never ever figure out. I must have solved hundreds of these issues over the years.

x-plane 8.32

The previous time I posted about x-plane, it was to comment on the then newly released world scenery, which at the time I could only admire via the provided screenshots. Also I was waiting to order a new PC. Well the new PC is in use for a couple of months now and today that 6 dvds I ordered last weekend arrived today. The six dvds cover the world until a little south of Helsinki (too bad) and north of Antartica. When I say cover, I really mean cover. Cover, as in 60 GB of goodness.

It shows. The x-plane world is very detailed. I only tried out a few areas. I took off from Newark to land (well sort off, didn’t make much of an effort to make it a proper landing) at la Guardia a few miles distance. This is a nice route that crosses manhattan and really shows off the flightsimulator and scenery. Basically the upper limit of what you get to see is cpu and memory bound. I have a dual core amd X4400 with 2GB. Plenty of horse power, but not nearly enough for the maximum settings. Clearly this architecture is built for the future (i.e. next decade). Luckily, it all scales down very well. Basically the scenery consists of very detailed terrain and generated objects. The generated objects take into account terrain type; area and expected building height. The settings for the amount you can display range from none, few, default, lots, tons to extreme. It’s tempting to go to extreme.

After all I have a dual core machine with a nice nvidia 7800 GT card. Plenty of horse power for running doom 3 or half life 2 at maximum settings at 1600×1200. However, extreme really is extreme. When flying over new york in real life there are buildings in every direction as far as the eye can see. With the settings set to extreme and visibility to 20 Miles, you literally have tens of thousands of objects in visual range. I doubt PCs exist that can draw that at a reasonable framerate today. And flight simulators require a reasonable framerate of course.

Adding to the problem is the roads setting, which, when set to extreme, draws every road it knows about in visual range. That too is quite a bit of road when flying over NY since it uses actual map data to render roads. So in short, reasonable framerates on my machine mean trading off between viewing distance, number of objects, number of roads, texture resolution (when set to extreme it eats video ram like crazy). Forget about using the maximum setting for any of those except maybe texture resolution. Luckily everything still looks great with the settings moderated a bit.

It’s just really frustrating to be constantly aware of the fact that you are not seeing close to 25% of the data available to you because your bad ass gaming machine just hasn’t got the super computer capability required to do so. It still looks very realistic of course, no complaints about that.

Besides, NY is just a place to take off or land. The beauty of this scenery is that you can fly to say Chicago and have plenty to see on the way. All terrain features are there, mountains, hills, canyons, highways, towns, small villages, rivers, lakes and other things you normally see from the air, all in the right place. Coastlines are extremely detailed (all the NY piers are there). Setting roads and objects to their default settings sort of removes the suggestion of flying over a real city but the rest of the terrain stays as detailed as it is.

When you leave new york in MS flight simulator (which fits easily on a single layer DVD) there’s not much to see. Grey and blue lines suggest where by approximation main roads and rivers should be. The terrain is dull with autogen scenery roughly corresponding to what it thinks the terrain should look like based on the limited data it has. It’s a desert of dullness out there.

good headphones

I enjoy listening to good music. In my opinion good music is good because it sounds good on anything from a cheap mono transistor radio to the most expensive badass soundset money can buy. However, having something decent to play music on can make even crappy music enjoyable and really adds to the experience when playing something genuinely decent as well.

So I replaced my sennheiser HD 210 headphones with a pair of new ones from the same brand. The previous pair has lasted me about four years. Lately something is vibrating in an annoying way for particular (low) frequencies. Other than that the sound is as clear as it was when I bought them. However, the HD 280 I replaced them with today sounds better and doesn’t come with the annoying vibrating. Like the HD 210 at the time, the HD280 is slightly over 100€. Really good headphones (also available from Sennheiser) come at as much as 600€ but connecting that to a budget sound card is a bit pointless IMHO.

Anyway, the HD280 so far sounds great and feels great. On top of that it seems to do a good job of blocking out ambient sounds such as the noise I’m making typing this and the fans of my PC. I’d say the HD280 is definately way better than the HD210 I listened to for quite a while and was pretty happy with as well.

wlan gone paranoid

My new PC has a smc wlan pci card. It seems to work very nicely with none of the problems my previous siemens usb stick had. However, I appear to be not connected, currently. Which is strange since I seem to have no problem browsing the web, downloading stuff, etc. But the windows wireless icon insists on displaying a red cross (usually that means trouble). Weird. If Idouble click it, it will confirm that it isn’t connected, along with a text “you are connected to this network” below the text “not connected”. It also displays four out of five green bars which tell me the (dis)connection is excellent. Ah well, it’s only service pack 2.

New PC & moving itunes library

Update 30/07/2009I just bought an imac and moved the same, but now consolidated, library over to it. Check out the instructions here.

Whoohoo! My new hardware has arrived, last week. I’ve been busy playing with it so that explains the small delay in posting.

Right now I am still going through the tedious procedure of getting everything the way I want it. I have a local network so I can access my old PC. However, dragging my external HD between the two machines is much faster.
Tediousness includes copying my itunes library. Tricking itunes into accepting the old library is somewhat of a challenge. But that’s what’s google is for. Since I found google’s answers a bit disappointing (lots of drag this folder there type of stuff from Apple users), I’ll post some detailed instructions for real users who do not “consolidate” to the itunes folder but choose to keep their music organized manually. To add some difficulty, my new machine has no second harddrive so the paths are different after copying.

If all goes well everything is moved (music, playlists, play statistics, ratings) AND I can sync my ipod with the new pc without that requiring it to be wiped and refilled with the moved library. I’m moving the library, not recreating it.

The Itunes library consists of only two files, its own itunes music folder and whatever external directories you imported (two in my case). One of the two files is a binary file, the other one is an xml file with data on all your songs, including path names, statistics, ratings, etc. Essentially, the xml file contains everything we want to migrate except for the mp3s. Unfortunately, moving the itunes library is not as simple as copying the files to the new machine. Sadly, Apple deliberately made it hard to do what you are about to do. So here’s a step by step guide (windows specific though Apple probably is about the same):

  1. At all times, keep at least one intact backup of all files mentioned in this post. Never work on the originals. Preferably, leave the original library untouched, you can always go back to that.
  2. Start by copying your mp3 folders to your new machine. That may take a
    while. Make sure they are where you want them to be. It took 20 minutes for my folders using an external HD, not
    counting the time it took to create the backup from scratch on
    the external hd (basically I used my incremental backup). Also copy both Itunes files (xml and itl) and the itunes mp3 folder (if not empty)
    onto the external hd.
  3. Now dowload, install, run & close itunes. It will create an itunes
    directory for you the first time it starts, that’s where it will look for its files. Replace the stuff inside this directory (My Documents\My Music\iTunes) with the
    backups on your external hd (including the itunes music folder). Now here comes the tricky part. Thanks for
    this post for putting me on the right track! DO NOT start itunes again until after the steps below.
  4. First fix the pathnames in the xml file. They still point to the old location. Open the file in a capable editor, the thing to look for is search and replace functionality. Search and replace the parts of the path names that are now different: your itunes music folder and any other folders you imported in your old library. Save the file.
  5. Now this is important: iTunes will ignore whatever path info is in the xml file! Unless the itl file becomes corrupted. We can fix that! Open the itl file in an editor, delete the gibberish inside, save. Your itl file is now corrupted, normally this is a bad thing. You still have the xml file though (and a backup of the itl).
  6. Start itunes, it will ‘import’ your music and afterwards complain that the itl file is corrupted, let it fix it.
  7. Check if everything is there. In my case I messed up with the search and replace and some files were missing. Just go back a few steps, copy your backups and retry.
  8. Done. Everything now is on the new PC. What about the ipod? Just plug it in!. You already installed iTunes on the new machine so you have the drivers for your ipod. The key or whatever itunes uses to recognize you ipod is in the xml file. And now also in the recreated itl. Apparently the xml file is sort of a backup of the itl. I suspect the itl is a bit more efficient to manipulate programmatically. I have no idea if this preserves any itunes store stuff you purchased. Presumably, this involves deauthorizing your old machine and authorizing the new one. I never used the itunes store so it’s not an issue for me.

The only thing I lost in the transition is some iTunes preferences that are easy to restore. For example I had some of my playlists set to shuffle. The imported playlists no longer had the shuffle enabled. Big deal. The preferences probably aren’t part of the library. I noticed that the shuffle settings do not sync to the ipod either. This is annoying actually because the shuffle settings is deep down in some menu on the ipod and I only want to shuffle playlists. I like my album songs served up in the order that they were put on the album.

I’ve used winamp for most of the past decade (I think from 1996?). Only when I got my ipod a few months ago, I started using iTunes, by choice. There is an excellent winamp plugin which will allow you to sync winamp with your ipod. Presumably, moving a winamp library is a lot more easy since winamp uses a file based library rather than a database. However, the main developer has left AOL, so winamp development seems a lot less interesting these days. AOL seems to just pile on commercial crap with every release. So I’ve given up on it for now.

wireless hell (3) & new hardware

After the zillionth crash I’ve given up. I managed to get the freezing down to once every few hours but it’s not good enough. I just got the good old cat 5 cable out of the closet and connected the pc to the cable modem the old fashioned way. That seems to work very nicely. I can still use the wireless connection with my laptop from work.

Naturally, I’ll take the siemens gigaset usb stick 108 crap back to the store. See what happens. If you’ve googled for that piece of shit and read my blog posts: don’t buy it or if you bought it, trade it in for a different brand. I’ve updated everything: drivers (kt400 chipset, wlan), bios. Nothing seems to work and the pc consistently not crashes without the usb stick. It might be a compatibility problem with my motherboard, it might be faulty hardware, it might be crappy siemens drivers. My guess is the latter.

Now the only problem is the cable connection itself. That too is not working to well. I’ve had several disconnects already. The online led just goes off and the modem tries to reconnect for a while, which, so far, it manages to do after fifteen minutes or so. I suspect the cable signal isn’t to good. This is an old building after all.

I almost ordered a new PC last friday. Unfortunately the video card I wanted had to be ordered and the guy from bt-mikro (right across the street) couldn’t guarantee he’d have it within a reasonable time frame so he recommended me not to order right away. Otherwise the setup seems nice: dual core amd 4400+ with an octek motherboard, 2 GB of memory, a nice 300GB disk, a samsung 204TS 20″ lcd screen and logitech mouse and keyboard (wired, I’ve had enough of this wireless shit). I’ll buy it when the video card is available again: a nvidia 7800 GT card. This card (and it’s slightly heavier brother the gtx) seem to be the card to have at the moment.

That should keep me happy for a few years. My current geforce 4200 still works very nicely despite its age. I recently played doom3 on it with reasonable framerates and some of the eyecandy turned off.

Update: hardware has been ordered now 🙂

X-plane Global Scenery

A few months ago I posted a review of x-plane and compared it with ms flightsimulator. My conclusion was that while x-plane is technically superior, ms flightsimulator looks better because of the quality of the included scenery with ms flightsimulator and the lack of proper v8 scenery for x-plane.

Well, they fixed the problem:
Global Scenery. The people from global-scenery.org have processed terrabytes of information from all sorts of sources and have come up with a mostly autogenerated scenery pack for x-plane of close to 60GB. It ships on 7 (seven!) dvds. Check out the screenshots. It’s advertised as the most detailed scenery, ever. I believe they might be right … for auto generated scenery.

You can get scenery for ms flight simulator based on the same data for some areas. But here the technical differences enable x-plane to draw far prettier landscape then ms flightsimulator. Of course ms flightsimulator also has lots of non autogen scenery with e.g. the statue of liberty and the empire state building looking more or less recognizable when you fly over New York. X-plane on the other hand has lots of buildings of more or less the appropriate height aligned with the very detailed roads it generates from actual map data. In other words, you’ll see every block in manhattan with buildings inside them. The result definately looks like New York.

I’m planning to buy this software as soon as I have a new PC. I’ve had lots of fun with x-plane already. My current hardware is too old to properly enjoy all this new stuff but I will make sure the replacement will run this stuff well.

Oh yeah, this is just a 1.0. More features (3d forests, more planet surface, custom objects) are planned.

going offline

I’m about to disconnect my PC. Tomorrow the movers will come and take everything away so that means I’m offline for a few weeks. I’ll try to occasionally check some mail. Next post should be from Finland.

Anamorphic aspect ratio calculator

Anamorphic aspect ratio calculator. I sometimes play movies from my PC to my widescreen TV. Unfortunately the tvout of my Geforce 4 card does not support widescreen. In other words, it sends a signal with a 4:3 aspect
ratio to my tv. Luckily my tv can stretch the image to 16×9. Normally this would result in a flattened picture on the tv, which is not the intention. So suppose you have a cinematic dvd movie (aspect ratio 11:5) and want to play it on the tv. If you just send it to the tv, you’d have a 4:3 picture with enormous black bars ontop. Using the zoom function of the tv it will display fine but you are also not using a significant amount of tv signal so you’re losing precious pixels!

What you can do instead is change the aspect ratio of the movie and let the tv stretch it back to its orginal 11:5 aspect ratio. The new aspect ratio for the film is called the anamorhic aspect ratio and you can
calculate it with this neat little calculator I created. You can enter the results in bsplayer,
which allthough enormously feature rich does not have an anamorphic setting built in (at the moment of writing) and play your movie using the full available resolution and enjoy the extra detail :-).

The jar file can be started by double clicking on it (windows, must have a Java 2 jvm installed of course) or running “java -jar anamorphic.jar” from the commandline. Source code in the form of an eclipse project can be found here.

If this all sounds too nerdy, just download media player classic from sourceforge.net and use the options->pan&scan->scale to 16:9 option to get the same effect.