Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Building a Behemoth: Upgrading the Hardware on a Windows 7 Machine

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Vol. 1, # 10 - Nov 12, 2009 - Issue # 10 
 Building a Behemoth: Upgrading the Hardware on a Windows 7 Machine

This issue of Win7News is sponsored by
  1. Editor's Corner
    • Building a Behemoth: Upgrading the Hardware on a Windows 7 Machine
    • Follow-up: Does Windows 7 Just Want to be Free?
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Integrate Bing into Windows 7
    • Windows 7 adoption is outdoing Vista's
    • Windows 7 Starter Edition on Netbooks: Is it Enough?
  4. How to: Using the New Windows 7 Features
    • How to start Windows Media Center without the startup animation
  5. Windows 7 and Vista Security
    • No Windows 7 fixes in this month's Patch Batch
    • Microsoft responds to Sophos claims about Windows 7 security
  6. Question Corner
    • Do I have to buy a full license or do I qualify for an upgrade?
  7. Windows 7 Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • How to configure parental controls
    • How to prevent the display from dimming
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Free PC Matic - Performance & Security Scan

Free PC Matic - Performance & Security Scan

PC Matic is a collection of PC Pitstop's award winning technologies in one integrated architecture. Including the world renowned OverDrive scanning technology with over 200 million scans run. No other product on the market today will do as much to improve the overall performance, security & stability of your PC.

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Editor's Corner

Building a Behemoth: Upgrading the Hardware on a Windows 7 Machine

I wrote last week in my Amazon End User blog about setting up our Windows 7 Media Center PC to watch and record clear QAM channels (the unencrypted digital channels from the cable company). We were mightily impressed with the quality of the high definition (HD) programs on the QAM channels, but there were a couple of small problems: a) only one of our two tuners supported QAM, so we could only watch or record one HD channel at a time, and b) the HD program files are very large - around 7 GB for each one-hour show, and that can fill up even a large hard drive fast.

We don't have all that many TV shows that we watch, but it so happens that three of the ones we like fall at the same time on the same night. With our tuner setup, we could record one of them in HD with the QAM tuner and the other two in Standard Definition (SD) with the analog tuners - but after you've experienced a program in ultra-sharp HD, it's almost painful to go back to the slight fuzziness of analog cable.

I had quickly come up with a workaround, but it wasn't very elegant. We recorded one program with the main Media Center's QAM tuner, another with the QAM (hybrid) tuner on the kitchen computer, and the third with an external QAM/ATSC/NTSC tuner attached to one of the desktop computers. We had Media Center on the other two Windows 7 machines save the programs in a folder that's shared over the network. Then, in order to watch the latter programs on the widescreen HD TV, we set up the Media Center's Recorded TV library to look in those shared folders to find the programs.

It worked, but it offended my "a place for everything and everything in its place" sensibilities (okay, some call it obsessive-compulsive). So I decided to undertake a major upgrade of the Media Center PC to make it capable of fulfilling all of our recording needs. Since Windows 7 supports up to 4 analog tuners and 4 digital tuners for a total of 8 (Vista only supported 2 of each type), I wanted to install two more QAM-capable tuners. To hold that those big HD files comfortably, I also wanted to install another internal hard drive.

The computer is a fairly powerful Intel quad core, but it only had 3 GB of RAM. I figured recording three HD programs at the same time night be taxing on the memory, so I decided that since RAM is relatively cheap now, I would upgrade to 8 GB. Finally, I had a video card in the closet that was much better than the one that came with the Media Center. How I got it is a long story; some of you might recall it from my blog post back in July:

For those who don't want to click over there to read it, here's the short version: One of the new Nehalems we bought had a video card with a defective fan. HP sent a new card as a replacement, but they sent the wrong model: a Radeon 4850 instead of a 4350. The card they sent was a much better card, but wouldn't fit in the case because it required a low profile card. I didn't want to go through the day-long hassle I had experienced getting them to send me a replacement the first time, so just went out and bought a new half-height 4350 for the Nehalem.

Thus I had this 4850 with a gig of memory just sitting around, waiting for a home. The Media Center had a GeForce 9500 with 512 MB that was not nearly as good. So I thought that while I had the case open anyway, might as well replace the video card, too. By the way, if you ever have a situation where you're wondering which of two graphics cards is better, check out the Hierarchy Chart on the Tom's Hardware web site at

I ordered the tuner cards, RAM and a 2 TB hard drive from NewEgg and they arrived within a few days. I scheduled the "surgery" for Saturday and on that day, my son came over to assist. Getting the patient prepped and ready for the operation was no small feat, because the Media Center lives in an entertainment center that also holds the 65 inch TV. It has to be pulled out and I have to crawl back there, amidst about a million various wires and cables that connect the PC, TV, home theater sound system, Blu-ray player, cable box and a few other components, to unhook everything. You can see the setup here:

Once it was all undone, we moved the PC to a table and opened it up. Surgeons always request "suction" but electronic patients need the opposite: a few blasts of air to clear out the dust that always seems to gather inside. Immediately we realized we had a problem. I had thought there was an empty PCI slot so that when I removed the old non-QAM PCI tuner, there would be two empties into which I could put the two new QAM tuners. I was wrong; there were two empty PCIe slots but I could only install one of the new PCI cards. I'd gotten Hauppauge HVR-1600s to match the QAM card that was already in there, and it only comes in PCI. Oh, well. At least I would have one more QAM tuner than I'd had before, and I could get an HVR-1800 (or two) later since it has a PCIe interface.

The rest of the parts went in easily, and we closed him up and put him back in his cubbyhole. I crawled back behind again and - foolishly optimistic as I was - reconnected all the cables. Those F connectors on the coax are the worst, and now there were six of them. I'd had to split the signal and run it through a signal booster so I could run a piece of coax to one analog and one QAM connector on each of the three tuners. Finally got them all screwed in, turned it on, turned on the TV and ... nothing. Oh, the computer made its usual boot noises, but there was no video.

After various troubleshooting attempts with no luck, we accepted that the patient was rejecting the transplanted video card, and put the old one back in. Now we had video, and our 8 GB of RAM showed up nicely, but the BIOS wasn't recognizing the new hard drive. I decided to skip that for the moment, and check out the QAM tuners. Both showed up in Device Manager as working properly, but when I went to set up the TV signal in Media Center, no QAM channels were detected. I found this strange because Windows 7 had found the QAM channels before, with no problem. Tried uninstalling and reinstalling the drivers, with the same results. Further examination of the boxes indicated that the new tuner we had put in, although the same model, was not exactly like the one that was already in the machine. It included an FM tuner and RCA jacks that the original one didn't have. However, the other new one, still in the box, appeared to be identical to the old one. So we lugged the box out again, took out the new card and replaced it with the other new card. While we were in there that time, we also checked the connector cables on the hard drive and moved the SATA cable to a different SATA connector on the motherboard.

We hooked it back up one more time, and this time it immediately detected all the QAM channels. After a bit of fiddling, our hard drive also decided to make an appearance. So I considered the surgery a success, even if I didn't quite get everything I wanted. The video card we have produces a beautiful picture so that's not really a problem. I would still like to have three QAM tuners and maybe I'll add a pair of HVR-1800s, but not today. After it was all over, I felt like those cardiothoracic surgeons who spend 15 hours in the O.R. - I was wiped out. It was all that squatting down while attempting to turn those little F connectors that were all bunched up next to each other - over and over and over - that did it. But it was worth it. Making multiple upgrades at one time is always fraught with risk; seems as if there's always at least one component that doesn't work. But it's the final result that counts and now we can record two HD programs simultaneously and have plenty of room to store those shows, with a snappier computer, to boot.

Tell us about your experiences upgrading the hardware in a Windows 7 machine. What devices did you have problems with? Which ones installed without a hitch? Did you take a more methodical approach than I did, installing each new component and verifying that it worked, one at time, instead of transplanting multiple organs in one fell swoop? Do you have pet peeves like my dislike of coax F connectors? (And yes, I know you can get the push-on type but I've seen them work loose). We invite you to discuss this topic and share your own experiences in our forum at

Follow-up: Does Windows 7 Just Want to be Free?

Last week's editorial drew quite a few reader responses, as I suspected it would. A recurring theme seems to be that many people think you should be able to buy software and support separately, thus getting the software at a lower price if you forego the tech support. You believe that if you do all your own troubleshooting and fixes, you shouldn't have to pay the same as someone who makes use of the vendor's support lines, and that makes sense. Some did express a bit of cynicism, though, at the possibility that vendors would deliberately make software buggy so more people would pay for support.

It also appears that although most of you don't think Windows 7 should be free, you do think it's priced too high. In fact, several said that if prices were cut in half, that would be about right. I have to disagree with the reader who said there should be only one edition offered. There are just too many enterprise features that consumers don't need, and shouldn't have to pay for, but that medium and large businesses do need. I do think it would be nice if the basic offering were paired down to three editions, though: a very basic, stripped down, low-cost edition for netbooks and those who only use their computers for simple tasks; an edition equivalent to Home Premium, and a Business edition that includes all of the features that are in Ultimate and Enterprise. That would simplify the pricing structure without forcing many people to pay for features they don't want or need.

As for one reader's counter-rant (in response to my post about my experience with Ubuntu), I found it interesting that he labeled me as "ignorant" for saying things about Linux that he considers untrue, while in the same post saying things about Windows that are untrue and even defamatory. I guess that's sort of like writing a 16-paragraph forum post in which he calls me "long winded." I would also point out that no, the commercial Linux distros don't "have to be free." The GNU GPL in fact specifically allows you to distribute copies of your Linux distro free or for a fee, as you choose. Section 4: " You may charge any price or no price for each copy that you convey, and you may offer support or warranty protection for a fee."

Oops - looks like I'm not the only one who allegedly didn't research what I was talking about.

To join in the debate and voice you opinion, visit the forum post here:

For the record, if I just hated Linux and Mac and didn't want to be objective, I would not spend hours and hours of my time (on Linux) and hundreds of dollars of my money (on a Mac) in order to give them a try, over and over. I'm really not that much of a masochist *grin*.

Thanks to all of you who wrote this week, and whether we agree or disagree, I always appreciate your willingness to express your opinions.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong. - Leo Rosten

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. - Robert F. Kennedy

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. - Sun Tzu

Kiss Your Antivirus Bloatware Goodbye

We asked users of antivirus products what they didn't like about their AV software. They told us they are resource hogs and slowed their computer down. They told us that scan times took way too long, and that the AV software nagged them. In short, old-style AV software takes too much Memory and CPU. Time to switch to VIPRE! It gives you malware protection that combines antivirus, antispyware, anti-rootkit and other technologies into a seamless, tightly-integrated product.

Even if you run "free" antivirus software, it hijacks 20% of your PC, so it's really not free at all! Get VIPRE now and see how fast your PC can really be:

Cool Tools


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Search for a driver and you get a ton of Driver Software offers instead. But how do you know which one is good? Try Driver Genius 9.0. Free scan.

ExpertPDF 6.0: View, Create, edit and convert any PDF document. Discount for Win7News readers!

What was that password again? Organize password and order info with RoboForm. Saves me a ton of time and hassle! Secure password storage:

WhiteSmoke 2009 is an innovative proofreading and editing tool with a single aim - to help you write better.

Advanced Vista Optimizer does a great job tweaking Vista for Max performance.

Backups? Why back up when you can sync? Simply replicate every piece of data to another drive in real-time. Set it and forget it.

Your Uninstaller! 2008 takes the place of the clunky Windows Control Panel "Add/Remove Programs" and offers many other useful functions

Kill the background tasks belonging to (legitimate) software that run all day. Why? To get your speed back! But which ones can I kill? Try this:

News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Integrate Bing into Windows 7

You can integrate Bing directly into Windows 7 Explorer by downloading and opening the Bing OpenSearch description document. When you install the Search Connector, Bing is integrated into Explorer and you can search the Internet from within Explorer's Search box. Get it here:

Windows 7 adoption is outdoing Vista's

According to reports from Net Applications, which tracks which operating systems are being used by Internet users, Windows 7 already has a market share that took five months for Vista to attain. It seems most of the new Windows 7 users are coming from Windows XP, although Vista's share is also on a downward path. Interestingly, Mac OS X's share dropped, too, while Linux was up by a fraction of a percentage point. Get the full story here:

Windows 7 Starter Edition on Netbooks: Is it Enough?

Those who have been testing the betas and RC of Windows 7 and loving it may be a little disappointed if their first experience with the final release is on a netbook. Many of these small, inexpensive laptops run the Starter Edition of Win7, which unfortunately doesn't include such basic features as the Aero Glass interface, DVD playback, or multi-monitor support. According to a recent survey, 54% of participants said they wouldn't be satisfied with Starter Edition. Read more here:

However, it works well for doing basic netbook tasks - and the good news is that most of the machines that come with it are capable of running Windows Home Premium, if you want to upgrade. For a full discussion of what Windows 7 Starter Edition does and doesn't include, see

How to: Using the New Windows 7 Features

How to start Windows Media Center without the startup animation

Sure, it looks nice the first few times, but the startup animation for Windows Media Center in Windows 7 may be a little overly dramatic for everyday use. Besides, it takes up precious time when you want to get right down to watching TV or playing your music. Here's how to edit the shortcut to start up the application without the animated opening:
  1. Right click the WMC shortcut on your desktop or taskbar (if you have it pinned there) and select Properties.
  2. Click the Shortcut tab.
  3. In the "Target" field, you'll see %windir%\ehome\ehshell.exe
  4. Leave that there, but right after it, type and space and then add /nostartupanimation
  5. Click OK.

Windows 7 and Vista Security

No Windows 7 fixes in this month's Patch Batch

November's Patch Tuesday fell this week, and Microsoft released six security updates, but none of the vulnerabilities affects Windows 7 computers. There was one critical security update for Windows XP and a couple for Office. Read more here:

Microsoft responds to Sophos claims about Windows 7 security

You may have seen the news stories, where anti-virus company Sophos made a big deal over the fact that "Windows 7 failed to prevent 80 percent of malware attacks." Well, duh. Windows 7 is an operating system, not an AV program, and it doesn't come with an AV program built in. Of course you need to install anti-virus protection; Microsoft has never said otherwise. But Sophos isn't the one I'd pick - especially after they published such misleading "research."

Question Corner

Do I have to buy a full license or do I qualify for an upgrade?

I'm still confusing about how much I have to pay to install Windows 7, if I have a computer that came with XP installed. I was told I can't upgrade but have to do a full installation. Does that mean I have to buy a full license instead of an upgrade copy? Also, I have a Vista computer that I upgraded from XP. I want to install Windows 7 on that computer too. Full license or upgrade license? I want to do the right thing but I don't want to spend more $$ than I have to. Thanks. - Tim R.

There has been a lot of confusion over when you have to buy a full Windows 7 license and when you can use a (less expensive) upgrade license. First, just because you can't do an "in-place" upgrade, keeping your old OS (for instance, from XP to Windows 7), that doesn't mean you have to pay for a full license. Basically, if you have a valid fully licensed copy of Windows XP or Vista on your computer, you're eligible for the upgrade price - whether you "upgrade" or do a clean installation. And yes, that includes OEM copies of Windows. One caveat, though: if you intend to keep your old operating system and install Windows 7 to dual boot with it, then you need to buy a full license for Windows 7. It's only when you are replacing your qualified previous Windows OS that the upgrade price applies.

For more detailed info on subject, see Ed Bott's article on ZDNet at

Windows 7 Configuration and Troubleshooting

How to configure parental controls

To those coming from Windows Vista, parental controls is a familiar concept. For those of you who moved to Windows 7 from XP, you might not realize that you can manage how your children use the computer. This includes time limits and what programs they can run. Find out how to set up and configure the parental controls feature here:

How to prevent the display from dimming

If you have a Windows 7 laptop, you may notice that the display dims after a short period of inactivity and then turns off completely a few minutes later. The purpose is to save energy and preserve battery life, but it can be highly annoying if you're trying to read something and don't want to have to press a key or move the mouse to keep the display "alive." Find out here how to configure or disable this feature:

Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: VistaNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

Product of the Week

Free PC Matic - Performance & Security Scan

PC Matic is a collection of PC Pitstop's award winning technologies in one integrated architecture. Including the world renowned OverDrive scanning technology with over 200 million scans run. No other product on the market today will do as much to improve the overall performance, security & stability of your PC.

Run Free PC Matic Scan now to see what this incredible new application can do for your computer.

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