Q I recently picked up a Compaq Presario 7222 with a 100MHz Pentium CPU and discovered that Compaq does not include a Level 2 cache in that unit. Local Compaq retailers want about five times the "generic" cache. Compaq will only tell me the Compaq part number. What to do?
A Compaq has an unfortunate, long-standing practice of withholding information about replacement and upgrade parts in the hope that it can force users to buy exorbitantly priced brand upgrades. A less than honest user might be tempted to order the Compaq cache module, note the original manufacturer's part number, return it and try to find a generic one for less. Volume purchasers, especially large companies, have long used this tactic to deal with manufacturers who pull this trick on their customers.
Q Several high-end notebook PCs, such as NEC's Versa 6030 and Toshiba's Tecra 720, are promoted as desktop replacements. However, as reviews demonstrate, they aren't as fast as desktops, though they seem to have similarly rated parts. Why?
A Two words: battery life. Users find a laptop that doesn't last at least two hours on a single charge to be frustrating, to put it mildly. Manufacturers, therefore, use all sorts of power-saving tricks, such as eliminating cache, slowing the processor, and shutting off the hard disk when it's not in use. Each of these tactics hurts performance. To make matters worse, these new laptops come loaded with the latest bloated, resource-consuming operating-system software - usually Windows 95 - and, most of the time, too little RAM. (Most laptops come with a standard 8Mb of RAM, and Windows 95 really needs at least 16Mb to run well.) This alone can make notebook PCs run slower than your older desktop machine.
As a powerholic who values productivity over flash, I'd love to see major laptop manufacturers ship a few models that substitute raw speed and hefty, long-lasting batteries for such fancy doodads as CD-ROM drives and stereo sound. These units could offer a choice between blazing performance and, say, six hours of battery life. I'd also be first in line to buy operating environments and application programs that emphasise performance instead of flashy GUIs. (Currently, the best option for power users is one of the many free Unix implementations with its kernel honed and customised for the machine.) These market niches will never be the biggest, but they are important ones that someone should fill.
Q You've written about transmitting data from airliners at 20,000 feet. But how do you access the Internet from a foreign country? How can I get to the Internet, or at least to my e-mail?
A The availability of Internet access varies so much from country to country that it's difficult to state any hard and fast rules. In some places there are dozens of commercial services from which you can choose, whereas in others the Internet is the exclusive province of a government-owned telephone monopoly.
If you want to use a single commercial service from many countries, CompuServe is by far your best bet. Because CompuServe's network is used for credit-card verification and electronic funds transfers worldwide, it has established more foreign points of presence than any other online service provider. Besides e-mail and forums, CompuServe now provides Web access, FTP, and other common Internet services via its proprietary access software.
Better still, CompuServe has a little-known feature that lets your computer communicate directly with the Internet using any protocol stack that incorporates TCP/IP and Point to Point Protocol. This will work through any CompuServe Point of Presence (I use this facility on the road as a portable Internet connection). This service, which is called PPP Connect, would be an extremely valuable selling point for CompuServe, but - believe it or not - CompuServe doesn't advertise it. In fact, CompuServe's telephone support staff doesn't seem to know anything about this wonderful facility. I consulted my own CompuServe technical guru to find out which TCP/IP settings and log-in commands would make PPP Connect work, and have relied on CompuServe during my travels ever since.
Q I'm setting up a modem pool for my office. I am running out of expansion slots in my server. How do I choose a good, inexpensive, multiport serial card?
A If you're running eight or fewer modems, a "dumb" multiport serial card should be more than adequate. I use STB's 4-Com, a simple, cheap four-port card based on a Startech quad UART. The 4-Com has only one serious drawback: its jumpering scheme lets you place UARTs at only eight possible I/O addresses. If other devices are already using some of those addresses, you cannot use even two cards in the same system, unless you disable some of the serial ports. It would be easy to redesign this card to allow as many as 96 different addresses, and I hope that STB will do this in the future.
If you plan to have more than eight ports, you'll want to unburden your server's CPU by using an "intelligent" multiport card from a manufacturer such as Cyclades or Digiboard International.
And lastly, one reader wrote in: "In a recent column, you mentioned many ways to avoid the WinWord.Concept virus. Here's one more: in WinWord, open a new, blank document, then insert the suspect document using the Insert/File command. This won't run the macros in the imported document, though the virus will still remain within the document."