Mostly about my amusement

Tag: XPS 700 (page 1 of 2)

Raw NEF files and WD’s MyBook

I take pictures in Nikon’s raw NEF format because I can use Photoshop Element’s raw importer to tweak the exposure, clarity, black level, etc.  But the NEF files are often 9 MB files and I have almost 3,000 of them and that’s just since May.  That came out to 22 GB’s and counting. Even cleaning up the ones I don’t want to keep still leaves me with a mess.

Time to get more storage. Instead of just installing another drive in my system, I wanted to get an external drive.  In the past I was put off on USB hard drive cases, so this time I went looking for a complete out of the box solution.

Costco had a instant manufacturer’s rebate on the 1 TB Western Digital MyBook Home Edition.  We went and picked it up very quickly. It supports USB 2.0 (480 Mb/s max), Firewire (400 Mb/s max), and eSATA (3Gb/s max).

Guess which interface I picked?  But my Dell XPS 700720 does not have a built in eSATA port.  So I went to Bestbuy and picked up a DYNEX eSATA card and a 6 foot long cable (the MyBook only comes with USB and Firewire cables).

After I installed the card and hooked up the drive, I ran “Command Prompt” as Administrator and ran this command:

convert F: /FS:NTFS

The drive ships with a FAT32 file system and I prefer NTFS for Vista.  The mostly empty drive converted quickly and I started to move data to it.

It’s a fast drive when using eSATA.  I went to my Pictures short cut and right clicked the icon. I selected Properties -> Location, clicked Move…, typed in the new location on the MyBook and clicked Apply.

It moved 22 GBs of files onto the drive in no time at all.  Less than 10 minutes.  Using USB or my Firewire port would have taken a lot longer than that.

Right now I’m playing with my Photoshop Elements catalog, but so far I’m satisfied with the new drive.  It’s got a LED bar on the face of it that does the vertical Cylon eye thing.  I may keep that covered up when I’m watching old episodes of Battlestar Galactica just to be safe.

Ubuntu on a USB stick with XPS 720

Fixing the MBR on Vista 64 bit or how to remove GRUB from Vista. Keep this link handy, it saved me a lot of time.

Well running Ubuntu 7.10 beta did not work as well as I planned.

The 2 GB USB memory stick I had laying around was too small. This caused the installer to just stop and die around 70% or so. I printed out the coupons of the day and took them with me to BestBuy. I purchased a PNY 8 GB OPTIMA Pro Attache USB stick. It’s as no-frills as you can get and does not come with any software.

This time the installer ran, copied all the files, etc. It also installed GRUB into the MBR of my first hard drive.

Remember I thought that Vista would not play well with other operating systems? Oh, yeah that. My system could not boot off of the hard disk anymore.

This is how you can uninstall GRUB from a Vista partition:

I went to and read the whole page. I then downloaded and extracted MBRFIX.ZIP onto another USB stick. This stick was FAT32 formated and I put the contents into the directory called SAVED.

I booted off of my Vista 64 install DVD, ran the command prompt located the directory on that USB stick and ran

MbrFix64.exe /drive 0 fixmbr /vista

And all was right in the world. XP comes with FIXMBR but I could not find Microsoft’s equivalent for Vista 64.

After I booted up Vista a few times, I went back to the Ubuntu install CD. I mounted the 8 GB USB memory stick (it mounted it on /media/disk from /dev/sdc1) and ran

grub-install –recheck –root-directory=/media/disk –no-floppy /dev/sdc

On my system this put the root as (hd2,0) which just plain won’t work. While I was still on the live system I ran from a terminal window

sudo vi /media/disk/boot/grub/menu.lst

and located the entries I needed. All (hd2,0) had to be switched to (hd0,0) because in my BIOS when I select “Boot from USB device” that USB device gets treated like the first hard disk. I also removed the Vista section just because it makes sense.

I’m running that installation right now and doing a software update. On the 8 GB stick I have 4.4 GB free. Once I have it up to date the fun can really begin. Wonder if Compiz will like my setup?

Installing Ubuntu on a Dell XPS 720

Update 6/3/2009: Follow the instructions here at for Ubuntu 9.04, it works with the Dell XPS 720 very well. The only odd thing is that I have to re-enable the NVidia drivers between reboots. When you do enable it, don’t reboot. Just log out and let the auto login go and you can use the full Compiz effects.

Ubuntu 7.10 beta being installed

I run Vista 64 bit on my XPS 700 720. Looking at how it boots up, I am not sure that Microsoft will work with another operating system. And I do use this computer for work-ish *cough* games *cough* reasons.

I’ve just downloaded the 64 bit iso image for Ubuntu 7.10 beta and burnt it to CD. I’m installing the software but not on my hard drives, I’m installing it onto a 2 GB USB memory stick I have lying around.

This should let me install what I want to play with without me having to take the plunge exactly on this computer. I just have to remember to hit F12 when I boot up so the BIOS presents me with a boot menu.

As the install image booted up it played with my monitor settings and set it for 1680×1050. That’s not bad; last time it insisted on 1024×768. The sound card was not installed for the live session but that’s probably fine for now.

It’s installing right now as I enter this; I’m using Firefox in the live session. It’s going slow and I’m tailing /var/log/messages in another window to see if the drive suddenly dies.

Once I have it working off the USB drive entirely then I’ll mess with the drivers to see if I can get sound and Compiz working at 1920×1200 with full acceleration.

XPS 700 to XPS 720 upgrade

The Computer Formerly Known As XPS 700Today the service technician arrived to do the scheduled upgrade of my XPS 700 to XPS 720 mother board. It was all professional and mostly well done with four not so big problems I noticed after he left.

  1. The color LED’s on the top half of the front panel are setup wrong. When I select the default diamond color, it comes up gold. Lucky for me the off setting works. This is probably due to the LED cable being put on incorrectly.
  2. The back panel where the ports for USB, ethernet, etc. is off by a millimeter so when I plug USB stuff in it goes in tightly. No big deal, I can live with that.
  3. The power button was not secured properly so it is recessed in more than it should be. Really annoying but I already see what he missed and how to fix it.
  4. He did not wipe off the old thermal paste from the CPU and heat sink before putting it all back together. That one worries me and Alek (Alek said “Uh, don’t play long CPU intensive video games. You do have a temperature sensor right?”)

That last one worries me. Saturday Alek will come over with thermal paste and we’ll clean the heat sink and CPU and apply new. I am sure it will be fine until then.

Using 20/20 hindsight I can see that it would have been better if Alek and I did the installation. I figured that the Dell technician would be trained, and I am sure that he was. I am also sure that he’s over worked and had lots more stops to go today so I’m not upset or anything.

I did have to call up Microsoft and re-activate Vista but that was expected and I did that as soon as my PC booted up.

Note: calling up Microsoft to re-validate something I paid for feels like a protection racket. I had to call because I activated too many times and the online activation no longer works for me. I had to speak with someone because the voice system either does not like my accent (huh?) or my activation is flagged as “what is this guy doing activating over and over again?” I hope Microsoft never get greedy and asks for more protection money. I am sure that would never happen.

The upgrade and the service were free and it’s a good deal. If you qualify for this offer, go to the web site and apply for this.

UPDATE: Nice! He forgot to connect one of my DVD drives.

Dell XPS free motherboard exchange

Found out about this on Engadet this morning. This is cool: go here are read this and maybe this link too. Then go to and put in your XPS 700 service tag and sign up for the free motherboard exchange.

I signed up early this morning. It’s a remarkable offer and I qualify for a free exchange as well as a free installation. I’m supposed to hear from them within 10 business days and will post an update at that time.

When I ordered my XPS from Dell I had some problems. They were taken care of and I am a happy customer. To now also offer this free exchange as a way of saying “Thanks for the business” is a great way to guarantee that I’ll buy my next PC or laptop from Dell.

Now I really, really, hope that the original XPS 700 roll out taught them about ramping up for high demand.

XPS 700 Vista re-install

I upgraded from XP to Vista. Since I purchased my XPS 700 as soon as it came out I did not qualify for Dell’s free Vista upgrade.

My XP install had a ton of junk left on from installing apps, removing them, games I did not play etc. So I figured that I’d just boot off of the Vista upgrade DVD and do a clean install.

The idea was to

  1. Backup the data to an external USB HD
  2. Wipe out the hardrive
  3. Clean install without putting in a product key (Vista lets you run unactivated for 30 days)
  4. Boot, and install the upgrade using the upgrade activation key

Sigh. Well I did backup my data and using the Vista clean install to wipe the hard drive worked perfectly.

Vista would not accept that my hard drive as a valid place to install on. Even putting the drivers from Dell and nvidia on a CD would not work.

I ended up having my two drives separated, installing an unactivated Vista, and downloading and installing vLite.

The vLite application lets you create an install DVD image with the update drivers. It even lets you burn the DVD directly from the application. Until I got the image booted I was in a pretty foul mood since the update XPS BIOS on my machine would no longer install XP Media Center 2005 that came with my XPS 700.

Once that was done I went into the BIOS and re-established the joined drives and started from scratch.

Now steps 3 and 4 worked and I’m keeping the DVD I burned. Using vLite saved me from making a Dell support call that would have ended really badly.

No need for Vista upgrade

no need to upgrade to vistaI have been kicking around the Vista upgrade to Home Premium and it reminds me of the PS3; for now get an Xbox 360 instead.

Vista is like that. If it comes with your new PC great. But there is no need to upgrade.

Overall I like it, but I also like working with broken things.

The upgrade

When I first tried to run the upgrade it told me that I had to remove my Symantec System Works 2006, upgrade my driver for SCSI/RAID, and the firmware on one of my DVD writers.

Dell’s support web site did not have the updated nvidia drivers so I had to get the nforce one’s from Nvidia’s web site. They did have the firmware update for the DVD hardware.

I ran the upgrade and it rebooted. I left the DVD in the drive and naturally it booted up. I thought that it would continue the upgrade from there.

No such luck. After removing the DVD and rebooting the upgrade failed.

SCARY! I ended up turning of booting from the DVD drive in the BIOS but that was not good. I was afraid that the PC would be left unstable but it recovered well. Re-ran, waited, upgrade was successful.

Driver support is goofy. After all was done I went to Nvidia and Creative’s web sites for driver updates. The Nvidia one’s are good but the Creative drivers for the X-Fi sound card are beta and act like it.


The User Account Control is annoy-ware and I suspect that anti-virus vendors will opt to have their users turn it off and let the anti-virus app do it’s work.

The increased security from UAC is IMHO not really increased security at all. It’s just “Well YOU selected to install that code, so WE’RE off the hook”.

If Vista had something such as sudo to escalate privileges then I might be inclined to like it. But that assumes an informed user who knows what privilege escalation is. That’s not Microsoft’s fault exactly but click through security is not really useful.

I’m not turning it off (yet) but comparisons to the TSA’s war on liquids comes to mind.

User interface

Well it sure is pretty and I’ll admit easier to use. It’s also a pretty blatant rip of OSX 🙂

The Start Menu has been revamped and takes some getting used to. The Start Search field is good, you type part of the name of the app and it locates it. The old Start -> All Programs always dissolves into a mess if you install lots of apps in the default location. This does not really fix a disorganized menu as much as makes it less obviously disorganized.

The Window effects are nice eye candy. If you use other video codecs then you should follow the instructions at Respect Sakura. I use the Media Player Classic all the time and this makes it work better (and look nicer) in Vista.

Built in gadgets side bar is cool. It’s naturally better integrated than Konfabulator but feels less developed.

Media Center

I have a Hauppauge PVR-350 card in my PC hooked up to my cable line. I like to watch TV in a window from time to time.

The Media Center is more responsive and does work better than the same one in MCE 2005. In MCE 2005 pausing live TV or re-winding always worked badly if at all. Now it is very responsive and works well.

Firefox, iTunes, Games oh my

No Firefox integration yet. Clicking on links runs Internet Explorer 7. Seriously annoying.

The iTunes works oddly. I ran the iTunes fix and that helped but iTunes get’s twitchy when I sync up my iPod and locks up a lot.

My games work well mostly. Every now and then the sound dies and I need to restart the PC. That will probably change once the sound drivers are no longer beta.


As I’ve said there is no reason to upgrade. A tuned Windows XP with good AV and utilities works better right now. I’m not going to roll back (can I?) but I think Vista is too immature to make the switch.

If I get a new PC it will have Vista but other than that Vista is a pass.

XPS 700 BIOS update

Version 1.1.6 of the Flash BIOS is out and can be downloaded here. This version supports 64 bit operating systems.

The prior 1.1.3 release would not boot up an x64 Ubuntu live disk. Nice to have a 64 bit Core 2 Duo (what a lousy marketing name) and not be able to play with a 64 bit operating system. After I applied the update I loaded up my Ubuntu 6.06 x64 CD and booted into the live desktop. Cool, previously it would hang on just after unpacking the kernel.

This is probably done to support 64 bit Vista, but now I have the possibility of running a 64 bit Linux on my box just for fun.