These area few useful tech points I've accumulated and thought I'd post them in case they help anyone else.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Is Apple a one-product company?

The iPod Touch was an industry landmark product, announced Sept 5th, 2007.

Apple added a phone app, and came out with a new brand (iPhone), releasing it before the arrival of the "iPod without the phone app", in January of the same year.

The screensize was made bigger, with a new brand (iPad), announced January 2010.

While Apple's marketing department is keen on the word "different" and slogans such as "This changes everything", adding a phone app and changing the size of the screen cannot really be described as completely new products, let alone keeping the product almost identical and changing the screen resolution.

There has been a dearth of innovation, and imagination, since the original iPod Touch. Even end-users, asked "what do they want in the next iPad", hold out for not-very-revolutionary features such as a still higher resolution screen, higher resolution camera, maybe a connector or two. Apple are one of the few companies that will be able to announce with a straight face a new iPad with a higher-speed USB connection and say "This changes everything".

Apple did an incredible job designing the iPod Touch in the first place, and an even more remarkable job in marketing it as if it were so many different products. Ultimately, a product that is clearly derivative from a 2007 design will be beaten by a new product, the question is whether the new product is from Apple or somebody else.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Managing space on a Windows SSD

To get the most benefit from an SSD in your PC, you want to make it the boot drive. And, particularly if you're a gamer, you want to get your latest favorite game on that drive too. But if you're using Steam, or dependent on the stock install script, you can tell this SSD is never going to cope with the space requirement.

What to do?

There is one technique for managing SSD's that just kicks ass - anyone that doesn't know this method has just received a major freebie piece of advice here.

To cut to the chase, the secret to know is the mklink /d command. The method described below allows you to install the SSD as 'C:', install Windows on the C: drive, and install your applications and games to the C; drive, and manage the space by moving non-speed-critial content off the C: drive to your hard drive (e.g. folders containing video material) while linking that stuff back into your SSD so the applications (and Windows) are unaffected.

I.e. after you've moved stuff, it still appears to your PC that it's still on the C: drive.

1) Install the SSD as your BOOT drive (i.e. C:) - say min 60GB - now you have a fast boot but have already used 25GB. FYI turning hibernate off (see web) saves at least the amount of mem you have, e.g. 8GB so it's worth considering.

2) Install a decent sized hard drive - e.g. 1TB (e.g. E:)

3) Create a folder on your hard drive, say E:\Games (I also have E:\My Documents, same idea)

4) Install applications as per normal to the C: drive - this makes things easy with Steam

5) When an application is less performance-critical (e.g. you play a game less), e.g. Left 4 Dead:
5.1) COPY the C:\..\Left4Dead folder to E:\Games
5.2) RENAME the C:\..\Left4Dead folder to C:\..\Left4Dead_backup (just in case you mess up)
5.3) Open a "CMD" window as administrator in the C:\.. folder that has Left4Dead
5.4) Use the command mklink /d "C:\..\Left4Dead" "E:\Games\Left4Dead" i.e. create a symlink pointing to the new E: folder with the exact same name the folder used to have.
5.5) test your game Left4Dead and it should be fine. If so, delete the C:\..\Left4Dead_backup folder.

This method simply moves whole folders from your SSD to your hard drive, and then creates a 'symlink' back on the SSD where the folder used to be so that PC software still thinks it's on C:. It's easy to check in Windows Explorer - you just click through the C: folders as normal and you'll move onto E: as you click on the folder that still appears to be on C:. I.e. to software the PC behaves 100% as if the "C:\..\Left4Dead\Zombies\BloodEffect\Spurt" folder still exists on the C: drive. The move is so seamless even Windows Explorer will give you folder-size stats for the Steam folder that include the stuff that's actually been moved (confusing, given the point of all this) but the *disk* stats correctly show the saved space on C:.

Major plusses of this approach are
* it's actually pretty simple
* you can move huge chunks of the filesystem over to the hard drive using the same technique, e.g. My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, without applications noticing you've done it
* the 'default' install of all software to C: is unchanged - Steam in particular installs to C: always so if you want an SSD boot drive you need to know how to do this
* it's not a 'sudden death' cutover - you can leave the C: folders in place (renamed) for a while until you're 100% confident you haven't messed up - delete the link and rename the folder back reverses out the move.
* the 'default' for an application install is to have all files on the SSD for fast access, and you then move big chunks that you know are large volume, low performance. This is easier that starting with the game on E: (hard drive) and trying to find the bits that turn out to be important for performance and moving them to C:.
* there's a subtle benefit - moving some stuff that was in C:\Program Files to E:\ actually moves it out of the UAC controls, so pre-Vista software (like FSX) that clashes with UAC actually work better if you move their executable folders (i.e. Modules in FSX) over to E:\. In my case all the FSX scenery is still on the SSD so the app runs fast. The 'SimObjects\Airplanes' folder is huge but doesn't affect flight framerates (only aircraft load times) so that's moved to the hard drive. If/When I get bored with FSX I'll move all of it to the hard drive using the method above, not uninstall it. With the symlink in place FSX will actually continue unaffected, but I will have saved space on the SSD.