Archive for the ‘computers’ Category

Free Computer Burn-In Software

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

I thought that free burn-in software would be easier to find.

Every now and then I cobble a computer together from parts, or I have to diagnose a PC that is crashing from time to time.  Unfortunately, even though a PC can boot, it doesn’t mean that it’s stable and ready to go. The tool for this job is burn-in software.

I used to use the free-as-in-beer version of SiSoft Sandra, but over the years it has gotten rather bloated.  Anyway, SiSoft Sandra is more geared towards benchmarking a computer rather than stress testing.

Today, I found a great little tool that seems to do a good-enough job of testing the CPU and RAM – it also puts a modest amount of load on the hard drive.

The free tool that I am currently recommending: CPU Stability Test by Jouni Vuorio. It seems to run fine in all current versions of Microsoft Windows.


It’s a bit old, circa 2000, and I can’t find a current website for it… but it works.  There are several “high-quality”, i.e. non-spammy, websites that host CPU Stability Test. Just Google for it if the link above goes stale.

There is still room to find a better free utility, but for now I’m satisfied.  But, if you have other suggestions for free burn-in testing software, please leave a comment!

Update: A free utility for testing memory (i.e. looking for bad memory sticks) that runs inside Windows – If you’ve got the ability to reboot the machine, then use Memtest86.

A free schtasks.exe equivalent for XP Home edition

Monday, December 15th, 2008

It’s funny how one stumbles upon the finer differences between XP Home and XP Professional once in a while. Every good geek knows the biggest limits to XP Home such as no ability to join a corporate network, no Remote Desktop, and no encrypted file system (EFS).  But who knew about a tiny utility that will run a Windows Scheduled Task from the command line? That would be “schtasks.exe”, and it’s not included in XP Home.

The background: I needed a Limited User in Windows to be able to do something requiring Administrative permissions.  There are a few ways to do this, but in this situation, running a scheduled task was the obvious best choice because the task was already there as an overnight maintenance job.

A quick Google search for “run scheduled task from command line” will lead you to the aforementioned schtasks tool.  Well, I could copy the file from an XP Pro workstation, but that would violate Microsoft’s copywrite.

Fortunately, more searching will turn up a reference to an old MS tool “jt.exe” from it’s Windows 2000 Resource Kit.  You can get individual tools from the W2K ResKit here: The license to JT and is much more permissive.  You’re free to use it, but at your own risk.

The “JT” syntax is not straight forward to me.  But these the two examples will probably help:

This lists all tasks: jt.exe /se

This will run (“activate”?) a task (you do not need to include the .job in the TaskName): jt.exe /sac TaskName /rj

On the XP Home Edition computer I was setting this on, the Limited User could run all the scheduled tasks, even when it couldn’t “see” the task in the list. YMMV.

One could  make this end-user friendly by wrapping a batch file around it and put an icon with a link to your script on the Desktop.

Free way to compare two folders in Windows

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Here’s my reasonably quick and free way to compare the files in a folder.  I’ve assumed a bit of computer knowledge, mostly, because I don’t have time to fill in the many little details.

Get a copy of WinMerge from Sourceforge – it’s a tool often used by programmers to see differences in text files.

Open a command window

– e.g. start –> run –> “cmd”

Create a text file with the names, sizes, and date stamps from folder “A”

– e.g. dir c:\the_documents\*.* > this_computer.txt

Do the same for folder “B”

– e.g. dir \\that_computer\c$\the_documents\*.* > that_computer.txt

Open both files in WinMerge.

– the differences in the two “dir” outputs will be higlighted for you.

Now if you’re still not sure if the files are the same or now, e.g. if the files are the same size but have different date stamps, then search for a utility called “md5sums”.  This will create md5 hashes of all files in a folder.

e.g. c:\tools\md5sums -n “\\distribution\c$\program files\cybex\*.*” > distrib2.txt

That’s it.  It’s been a couple weeks since the last blog post. We’ve been busy at Perceptus.  Our next project is going live soon – retailers with multiple locations in BC and Alberta, watch this space.  Our next product is geared for you!

The easiest way to convert FLAC to MP3

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Sometimes the things that should be stupidly easy… aren’t. Converting a bunch of audio files at once, is one of those things.

My previous method of converting FLAC files (those are lossless, i.e. exactly like the CD, sound files that some people use to rip tracks from CD’s) to MP3’s (those famous files that work on your cellphone, mp3 player, dvd player, and just about everywhere else) involved Winamp, a plug-in, and a lot of file renaming.  It wasn’t a system I could recommend to others.

Today, I found the need to make a few MP3’s.  So, I searched for a “better way”.  Here’s my FLAC to MP3 recipe:

  • Install foobar2000.  It’s a free media player from  It appears to be safe to use, but YMMV.
  • To create MP3’s you will need to find a (Windows) binary copy of LAME, the open source MP3 encoder.  Google for it.
  • Load your files in foobar2000.
  • You might want to set your default file naming and file quality preferences. Or do that after the next step.
  • Right-click to bring up a context menu that brings up a “convert” option – how thoughtful.
  • Answer a couple easy questions about finding lame.exe and the destination folder.
  • And let it go.

So far so good.  This setup should be good for converting WAV and many other audio files too.

Using an Old Printer with Windows Vista – and other Vista issues.

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

So, I bit the bullet and got a new PC with Microsoft Windows Vista.

Yes, like every informed geek, I expect a few issues.  However, sooner or later I will need to support Vista at client sites; besides, XP is getting on in years.

Today’s post is mainly about getting my old, but reliable, Brother HL-1030 to work in Vista.  The Brother laser printer is shared over the network by a Windows XP machine.

Some inter-related problems when trying to map this printer in Vista:

Immediately after trying to map the printer, this error comes up: “The printer driver is not compatible with a policy enabled on your computer that blocks NT 4.0 drivers”.  The Microsoft KB describing this, with no real work around other than “find a compatible driver”, is KB931719. Honestly, given the error message, wouldn’t you expect the KB article to provide a way to change the local policy?

Vista has no built in driver for my old HL1030, nor are there compatible drivers on the web.

On the driver front, a quick Google search told me that the built in Vista driver for the Brother HL-2030 would work fine.  But how do I use it? Every time I try the add printer wizard, it tries to install the incompatible point-and-click NT4/2K/XP drivers.

* Update – 2009-04: I had some intermittent problems with the HL-2030 driver, once in a while a page would not print completely and would cause the printer to require manual intervention to get it going again.  A quick search turned up this page which suggested using the Vista built in driver for the Brother HL-1430.  I’m trying that now.

So, I used an old trick. I faked a local port for the printer. I don’t remember the terminology, but I do recall this mapping system being common in the past – maybe with Novell or DOS?

Anyway, create a new local port using the share name, e.g. \\server\brother. You will be prompted to pick a driver. In my case, using the Brother HL-2030 driver does indeed work fine.

Some other Vista problems that I’ve had to resolve:

I’ve disabled User Access Control.  I can’t officially recommend this to other people, but it just doesn’t jive with me.

I’ve removed all but the US keyboard from my keyboard settings. Canadian PC’s (maybe it’s dependent on the regional settings?) have English, French and a “combo” keyboard mapping installed by default.  That’s fine until you accidentally hit the hot-key to switch to the French format – for some reason you do not get a confirmation prompt (!?!).  It happened to me on day two with this computer.  I’ve previously helped others fix this too.  While you’re at it, those with Intel Graphics, disable the hot-key that rotates the screen – everyone stumbles on that one eventually.

I had issues with an Access “.mdb” database on a network share that I use for tracking stuff. The resolution for that was to add the “serving” machine’s host name to my Internet trusted zone.  Adding only the IP address did not work, despite a MSKB Knowledge Base article I found.

I’m sure more Vista issues will pop-up.  But, so far, it’s been manageable.  I quite like the new 3-D flip task thing and the search tool.