Thursday, June 18, 2009

WINXP - DirectX Overview

This is an overview of DirectX and how it works. This is a quick-and-dirty summary, not exact.

First see the Wikipedia article at link above.

Under normal scenario, this is how software communicates with your video card:

Software <--> CPU <--> Video_Card_Drivers <--> Video_Card_hardware

Now, DirectX is essentially a set of drivers that supplement your Video_Card_Drivers, and work like this:

Software <--> Video_Card_Drivers_+_DirectX <--> Video_Card_hardware

The first thing you should notice is the use of the CPU (resources) is skipped. This is equivalent to what DMA (aka Direct Memory Access) does for memory.

Since drivers are memory resident, execution of any code/command is faster.

In addition, NOT using the CPU for video frees-up CPU resources for other tasks. Example, in games, the CPU can devote more resources to running the game-AI. Therefore software runs better, faster and smoother. This applies to ALL software that can use DirectX.

Note the qualifier. The software must be capable of using DirectX, otherwise the "normal scenario" is used.

Some software (especially games) MAY require DirectX. This is because the game's writers do not have to include the bulky code required to run in the "normal scenario" thereby having a lean-and-mean game.

IN ADDITION: Whatever video card you use MUST be able to support DirectX. Not all do.

Because of this, if you have "DirectX required" software, you MUST have a DirectX video card.

Friday, June 12, 2009

WINXP - Gathering Information on Your System

This article is about how to gather information about your system for your records and troubleshooting.

There are many individual ways built into WinXP to get this info, but you have to use many different utilities/functions to do this. Even then, some info is well hidden.

A better way is to use a tool/utility to gather, and summarize, all the info for you, then provide a way to save/print that summary.

There are 3 utilities that I have used at home and work:

  • Belarc Advisor
  • (free version)

    After installation, this utility gathers information including (motherboard, memory, CPU, Product Keys, Updates, etc.) and produces a HTML Audit document. It also runs a Security Benchmark with it's own HTML document.

    The Audit HTML will automatically open at the end of a run of Belarc Advisor.

  • WinAudit
  • (freeware)

    Gathers much the same info as Belarc, but includes the feature to [Save] the info to a PDF file. It is also a very small program that does NOT require install. What you download IS the entire program EXE, just one file that is small enough to fit on a floppy if you wish.

    We use this at work to produce a PDF Audit for our records before we ship to a customer, which means we have the hardware & software configuration of the shipped product.

  • SIW - System Information for Windows
  • (free version & $techsupport version)

    SIW is an advanced System Information for Windows tool that gathers detailed information about your system properties and settings and displays it in an extremely comprehensible manner.

    SIW can create a report file (CSV, HTML, TXT or XML), and is able to run in batch mode (for Computer Software and Hardware Inventory, Asset Inventory Tracking, Audit Software Licenses, Software License Compliance).

    Gives much more extensive information than Windows System Information tool or WinAudit and can be run from a USB Flash Drive.

Monday, June 8, 2009

WINXP - Boot Problems

I am posting this because of the many, many times that I have to repeat this advice in the WEB sites I monitor (sidebar).

WinXP boot problems fall into 2 broad categories:
  • When you try to boot to the hard drive you get an error of some type

  • When you try to install WinXP, Setup cannot find your hard drive

Possible solutions to these problems involve booting to your *original* WinXP Setup CD.

CAUTION: If your WinXP Setup CD is for WinXP SP2, but you have upgraded to SP3, the CD is useless for repair. AFTER upgrading to SP3 any repair option will insist you use a WinXP SP3 CD, which you usually do not have. Notice the qualifier "usually," this is because there are WinXP SP3 OEM Setup CDs available in limited quantities, for a short while. I bought one of these for repair purposes, for my home system.


This is the category where you get an error when you try to boot to your WinXP hard drive. This includes the infamous BSoD (Blue Screen of Death).

The mistake some people that have this problem do, is to reinstall WinXP from scratch. This wipes the entire hard drive AND all applications, My Documents, etc., that were installed. This "fix" should be a very last resort, AND should never be used to just "fix" a virus problem.

What should be tried FIRST:

  1. Boot to your WinXP Setup CD

  2. After loading, at the first dialog, there will be a Repair option on the bottom Statusbar, use this option to open the Repair Console

  3. When you get to the Repair Console Command Prompt, enter CHKDSK C: /R

  4. Let CHKDSK do its thing, then reboot

If the above does NOT work, try:

  1. Boot to your WinXP Setup CD again

  2. This time, at the first dialog, select the option to install WinXP

  3. A second dialog should show C:\Windows as existing (you have WinXP already installed), and there will be another Repair option on the bottom Statusbar, use this option to start a Repair Reinstall

  4. A Repair Reinstall will leave your current configuration, applications, documents, etc., as is.

    CAUTION: You must rerun ALL Win Updates. I highly suggest you install only 3 to 5 at a time, reboot asked to or not, repeat. Keep all SPs (Service Packs) for last and install one-at-a-time (they're big).


The WinXP Setup CD does NOT include SATA drivers. Therefore if your system uses SATA hard dives, WinXP Setup will not see your hard drives.

The fix is to go into your system's BIOS Setup and look at the SATA Setup/Configuration.

See if there is a Compatibility Mode or IDE Mode setting. Setting this will make your SATA Controller act like an EIDE Controller, which will allow WinXP Setup to see your hard drives.

After installing WinXP, if you want to use SATA (which has faster transfer rate), you must install SATA drivers. You should be able to get these from the original Driver CD that came with your system, or download from your motherboard manufacturer's site.

After installing the SATA drivers, go back into your BIOS Setup, SATA Setup/Configuration, and change setting back to original.