HOW-TO: Plug the Clipboard Security Hole

Do you find copy and paste to be a very handy tool? If yes, I share the same exact sentiment. But what if the clipboard (the limbo where the copied text goes to) is compromised by your browser? That very handy tool now becomes an annoyance rather than a useful utility, isnt it?

It is a very true fact that the text you stored in the clipboard (for copy and paste) can be stolen. Some experts call this the "clipboard hack". Websites can use a combination of javascript and ASP to send possibly sensitive data in the clipboard to another site or via email. The question then is: Is there a workaround to this? How is it done?

The answer to the question above is a definite "YES!". Read on as this post will discuss one of the many ways to safeguard yourself and plug the clipboard security hole.

Luckily the security hole exists only in the Internet Explorer (IE) browser (the hole also exists in Netscape but the browser seems to have been discontinued). However, IE happens to be used more than any other browser, and worse, the hole exists by default.

Plug the hole. In order to plug the hole, open a new instance of IE. From the menu bar, click on "Tools" and select "Internet Options"..


Doing so will open another window similar to the one below..


Open the Security tab..


Click on Custom Level and scroll down to "Scripting". Modify settings for "Allow paste operation via script" from Enable to Disable.


A warning pop-up window will immediately open after changing the security settings for this zone. Accept by clicking on the "Yes" button.

It is imperative to the same for the "Restricted Sites" zone. Nevertheless, if paranoia tells you to modify the other zones, do so.

IE needs to be restarted for the security change to take effect. The clipboard is now safe after the change.

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ARTICLE: Unattended Windows XP Installation

Slipstreaming Service Pack 3 is a fairly simple and straight-forward task to do. With just a few strokes of the keyboard, slipstreaming is done. The distribution folder can now be used to install on a new machine Windows™ XP Professional with Service Pack 3 integrated.

However, a more advanced installation can be done. Providing default answers to the common questions the installation steps would ask. This way, routinary inputs from the user are skipped during install and an answer file could be used to provide them to the installation wizard -- the unattended install.

From the Microsoft™ website, download the SP3 Deployment Tools (filename: deploy.cab, md5 checksum 7f95cc11fed63e35ce93cc77380957ee). It contains a file "SETUPMGR.EXE" which will create an answer file based on the answers given to the wizard. Extract the file and run it.. (follow the snapshots)


Tick "Create New"..


Tick "Unattended setup"..


Select "Windows XP Professional"..


Select "User controlled" or "Hidden Pages". Once tested out the answer file can be modified to "Fully automated".


Next, select "Setup from a CD", as the answer file will be used in a CD later.


Then, accept the EULA and start filling out the necessary information for the default answers to the installation. If skipped, the install wizard will ask for the information during the GUI set-up of Windows™. This is why "Fully automated" is not selected as the default user interaction in the previous page of the setup manager.

If you are sure on the data to be entered, make sure to fill-up the required fields and select "Fully automated" as the user interaction.


Save the file as "unattend.txt". Remember where it is located as it is important for later use. Save it in a directory where it is easy to find, like drive "C:\".


Since we are to create an unattended CD installer, copy "unattend.txt" as "winnt.sif" to the directory "C:\XPCD\i386". The directory C:\XPCD, is assumed to be the directory where the contents of the original Windows XP install CD was copied to.

Re-Create the Install CD. Create the image of the install CD using either cdimage.exe or oscdimg.exe. The binaries can be taken from the Windows OEM Pre-installation Kit CD.
cdimage -l XPCD -b etfsboot.com -n -h C:\XPCD XPCD.iso

After creating the install CD image, XPCD.iso can be burned to a blank CD. To ensure that the install CD is working without hitch, installation can be tried on a virtual machine prior to finally burning it to a blank CD.

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ARTICLE: You and Electrostatic Discharge (ESD)

What is ESD? ESD, short for electrostatic discharge, is the rapid discharge of static electricity from one conductor to another of a different potential. An electrostatic discharge can damage integrated circuits found in computer and communications equipment (definition taken from the webopedia computer dictionary). In fact, ESD can damage without the culprit knowing it.

Sometimes the term electrical overstress (or EOS) is synonymously used with ESD. EOS is an after-effect of ESD. It manifests as electrical hotspots visible only with the aid of a microscope or even a burnt area of a die, in a worse case scenario.

How then, is ESD and its awareness affect you? How is it related to electronics and the computer in particular? Read on as this article can brief you with knowledge on ESD, its causes, and how to prevent or avoid this natural occurring phenomenon.

Often times, if not always, this sticker, label or a variant of it is attached on electronics or computer parts and electronic accessories we buy. It is with a good reason why chips, electronics and computer parts sold, especially those with chips exposed, are tagged with these labels.

Most of the people around us are not aware of electrostatic discharge. As previously stated, this is a naturally occurring phenomenon very much like the revolution of the earth around the sun. ESD occurs on the atomic level, so allow me to delve into the realm of atoms very briefly.

An atom is composed of a nucleus of positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons. Freely revolving around them are almost weightless negatively charged electrons (refer to the diagram on the right). The protons and neutrons in an atom do not change, but the electrons can move from one atom to another. It is because of this reason that life exists and so does ESD.

ESD is primarily caused by the build-up of static electricity or static charge. Static electricity is created when electrons move back and forth between atoms. And when two objects that have different electrical potential or charge approach each other closely enough, this charge may pass from one object to the other in a fast electrostatic discharge. While this only lasts a microsecond or less, the peak discharge current can be several amperes and the peak power can be in the kilowatt range!

One cause of static electicity build-up leading to ESD is the triboelectric effect, in which certain materials become electrically charged after coming into contact or rubbing with a different material and then were separated. A very good example of this is combing or brushing your hair. And placing that comb or brush near torn pieces of tissue paper. The tissue paper gets attracted towards the charged comb. Sparks don't fly but electrostatic discharge occurred. Another would be walking on a carpet, then opening the car door. Be warned, carrying out an experiment with the last example could hurt.

ESD could also be induced. This occurs when an electrostatically charged body is simply placed near a conductive, but electrically neutral body. The mere presence of the nearby charged body causes electrical potential to redistribute themselves on the surface of the neutral body. Even though the object is still electrically neutral, regions of excess positive and negative charge develop, and a potentially damaging discharge may occur when one of these charged regions is suddenly grounded or when a nearby oppositely charged body is placed near it. Charged regions on the surfaces of plastic bags can cause ESD damage to nearby sensitive components via electrostatic induction.

Failures caused by ESD can happen in a number of different ways. The failure can exhibit one or more of the following signs: a short or burnout, resistor/metal fusing together a junction leakage, and a resistor-metal interface rupture. The failure via ESD could manifest immediately rendering a device worthless. Worse than this, a component may be partially damaged and weakened. In semiconductor linggo the failed device is referred to as "walking wounded". It may even remain within specification, but fail later when in use by a customer. It has been estimated that more than 80% of damaged devices may be discovered this way.

ESD can cause unseen damage to electronic devices. The chip or electronic part will still appear in mint condition but the insides already exhibit the damage. Check out a few screenshots of compromised devices upon closer inspection of a microscope.


Another shot of ESD..


The human body was originally the most common and damaging source of electrostatic discharge, thus the most common measurement of ESD sensitivity is by Human Body Model (HBM) electrostatic discharge. It is then proper that a person handling sensitive electronic equipment be aware of ESD and its detrimental effects. Since it is a naturally occurring phenomenon, it cannot be stopped but could be avoided or protective measures could be put in place to minimize its effects.

One of the most common practices in moving toward that goal is the use of a grounding material. The role of a grounding material is to release or discharge the potential before it builds to a harmful level. Another purpose would be to accept the discharge rather than it being released to an ESD sensitive device. Without grounding straps or grounding mats, it is recommended to often touch an unpainted part of a grounded metal surface before handling electrostatic sensitive devices.


ESD compliant clothing such as conductive shoes and smocks are worn by personnel in semiconductor and electronic manufacuring plants. Bunny suits are even required for stricter compliance in some assembly plants. Lining work areas with static dissipative material also prevents ESD.

So when the next opportunity to handle static sensitive devices present itself, remember what harm static electricity can do. Precautionary measures taken to prevent a destructive transfer of static will pay off in the end. We hope awareness of ESD will save you from future headaches.

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REVIEW: Crumpler "Whickey and Cox" Notebook Backpack

Travelling will impress on one the importance of having a very good travelling bag. I share this same experience. For quite a while now I have been on the lookout for a very good travelling bag that will fit my notebook, digital camera and a few other items. Please allow me to share my experience.

A good friend recommended to me to lookup Crumpler bags. I searched their website and found a shop with a showroom, so the bags displayed will help in coming up with a better decision on which to acquire. Upon visiting, I decided to purchase one -- The Whickey and Cox notebook and camera backpack.

I got the black and grey Crump. And my Dell Latitude D630 notebook fits perfectly in the bag's notebook pocket.


The bag has no identifying mark aside from the Crumpler logo on the bag itself. But the bag's model is inside, on the opening flap of the bag.


One of the many characteristics that attracted me to this backpack is the opening is toward the back of the person wearing it, which means the backpack cannot be opened while worn.


The backpack is also very ergonomic and its back support does not press on my spine, making it very sturdy even with a heavy load.

Below is a snapshot of the Whickey and Cox opened with its holders and partitions. It is very well suited for my needs. I can fit my notebook, digital camera, external drive, chargers, spare batteries and a wide range of electronic stuff.


The partitions and inside pockets can be detached off the backpack to make it serve another purpose which is at the discretion of the owner. For me, I also use it as an overnight pack and short trips.


The very nice thing about the Whickey and Cox is the protection it gives to the notebook. The chambers and partitions give the same sturdy protection as well. Thus anything placed in the backpack get very good protection from shock and hostilities of travel. These reasons made me purchase the Whickey and Cox.

However, this Crump can be very bulky when loaded. If you are not comfortable carrying a bulky notebook and camera backpack then the Whickey and Cox is not for you.

The other issue is that since the backpack can only be opened when unslung, there will be issues when reaching for your camera to take a quick snapshot or two of a perfect Kodak moment.

I hope that this review contributes to your decision in getting one. Consider a Crump if the budget allows for you to get one.

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REVIEW: Zalman ZM-MFC2 Multi Fan Controller

The Zalman brand has become synonymous with silence. So it is fitting for them to breathe life into a product with the purpose of throttling fans. But the ZM-MFC2 is not just for throttling fans, it packs more than just that. Aside from that, the Zalman ZM-MFC2 did away with the rheostat filled panels and fully digital displays. How does this fare?

Having a sample of the product in hand, please allow me to share the experience of using this product with you. The product will be placed in a micro-ATX case and a working production rig.

Although, the packaging isnt meager nor extravagant it serves the purpose of protecting its contents. It introduces the product very well.


Installing the ZM-MFC2 in such a cramped space of the Focus Nemesis (the Aspire Q-Pack of our locale) is very much a challenge. But thanks to the short height of the ZM-MFC2 there is enough room for it to fit. All this is hidden by the facade of its front panel.


From another angle..


What makes the ZM-MFC2 unique is its ability to measure the overall power intake of the rig. In order to connect the "power meter" or in the MFC2 linggo, the Current/Voltage Sensor (CVS), to the front panel the ZM-MFC2 is equipped with a USB-like interface on the PCI bracket. Since the interface is USB-like, it can be mistaken for the real USB. Good thing the PCI bracket has the Zalman label on it.


The CVS module..


The CVS measures power consumption from 30W to 800W. So if your rig consumes electricity like a flat iron, the MFC2 is not for you.

Aside from power consumption, the MFC2 also has four channels of temperature sensors. Temperature range is from -9°C to +99°C. More importantly, the multi-fan controller has to control fan speeds. Another four channels of fan speed controls are present in the MFC2.

The problem with a lot of channels for sensors is the cable clutter that comes with it. And with the cramped space of the micro-ATX case, the problem is compounded. Patience is needed to route the cables for good case airflow.


But once the cables are arranged, it is time to test the fan controller and see it in action.


In the dark..


Success! The ZM-MFC2 fan controller indeed serves its purpose of fan speed control and temperature display. But its ability to display the rig's total power consumption and build quality is a big plus.

Kudos to Zalman for breathing life into a very innovative product in the ZM-MFC2. Addition of this will definitely pimp your rig. Consider having one when in the lookout for a fan controller.

Acknowledgments to mixmeister (of tipidpc.com) for reviewing the ZM-MFC2.

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ARTICLE: ACPI Uniprocessor to Multiprocessor HAL Upgrade

Dual-core systems abound nowadays that it is virtually impossible not to upgrade to them given the nice performance offering they promise. What's more, the sweet deals out there make them even more enticing. The question now is: Is it that easy to upgrade from a uniprocessor machine (single-core) to a multiprocessor machine (dual-core)?

It might seem that simple but one will run into complexities, especially to users running NT-based Windows XP or its modern variants. To answer the above question, upgrading the processor from a single core to a dual-core involves more than unplugging the old single-core processor and putting the new dual-core one in its place. That is just the first step.

That supposedly simple unplug-n-plug upgrade requires reinstalling Windows to load the appropriate Hardware Abstraction Layer (or HAL). But there is an easier way to upgrade HAL than a reinstall. Read on as this article will guide you into how to upgrade the HAL from a uniprocessor HAL to a multiprocessor HAL.

HAL Upgrade. Before the instructions on how the process is done, there is a requirement and it is a good thing the sole requirement can be downloaded off the internet. Since you are able to browse this article, you are also just as able to download the required program -- devcon.exe, which is in a zip file that you may download here (46,161 bytes; md5 checksum: 8B4D866B5B920B040A634D6B04096B10).

The downloaded zip file, devcon.zip (46,161 bytes), contains two binaries of devcon.exe. One binary for 32-bit (55,808 bytes) flavors of Windows and the other for 64-bit (92,672 bytes). This means the procedure can be used for all modern flavors of Windows whether it be 32-bit or 64-bit.


Extract the version applicable to your version of Windows. For our article we will use 32-bit version of Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2. Let us assume the workspace directory to be C:\HAL_UPGRADE. The same binary can be extracted to %WINDIR% or %WINDIR%\system32 as these directories belong to %PATH% environment variable and are automatically searched for executable binaries.

With the devcon.exe binary in place, all that is necessary is the upgrade script. Download the script and save as a .cmd file. For the purposes of this article, let us name the file/script HALupgrade.cmd.


Now all that is left is to execute the script and do a reboot. The script will automatically perform a reboot (devcon reboot) when it finishes execution.


Execute HALupgrade.cmd. The script takes less than five (5) minutes to execute. Allow your computer to reboot after it executes. Execution should get you a screenshot just like above.

After reboot, the Windows should be able to detect two cores. And device manager should be displaying the correct HAL loaded.


This script was tested on Windows XP Professional SP1/SP2 and Windows Server 2003 Standard SP1/SP2. Both operating systems are 32-bit x86 versions. Please let us know your success in using this procedure. Your feedback is highly appreciated.

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HOW-TO: Add SWAP Space (Solaris)

Although it rarely happens, sometimes a Solaris system would badly need more swap. But without a free device to use as swap, a file can be created instead to serve as additional swap space.

This happens due to several reasons, but one most popular cause is the filling up of /tmp. The /tmp directory is allocated from the system's swap resources. This feature means that as you use up space in the /tmp directory, you are also using up swap space. So if your applications use the /tmp directory heavily and you do not monitor swap space usage, your system could run out of swap space.

Filling /tmp is a symptom that the system is running out of swap. But note that /tmp can be free but swap is fully utilized. How is this checked? The answer with the "swap" command. The /usr/sbin/swap command is used to administer swap areas. Two options, -l and -s, display information about swap resources.

The -l option is to list the swap devices or resources:
[email protected] # swap -l
swapfile dev swaplo blocks free
/dev/dsk/c1d0d0s0 29,0 8 1638608 1600528


While the -s option is used to monitor swap devices or resources:
[email protected] # swap -s
total: 57416k bytes allocated + 10480k reserved = 67896k used, 833128k available


As seen from the example above, swap is hardly used up. Assuming swap is in critical usage, how is swap added to the system?
* use mkfile to create a suitably sized file to allocate as additional swap
[email protected] # mkfile 512m /PATH/WITH/SPACE/swapfile

use the above command to create a 512MB file (named swapfile) in the directory /PATH/WITH/SPACE. As alternative, the command to create a swap file in Linux. although it needs the proper permissions to be set (-rw------T). While mkfile sets it straight with the correct permissions for a swap file.

* tell the system to start using the newly created file as swap
[email protected] # swap -a /PATH/WITH/SPACE/swapfile

It is important to provide the full path to the swapfile, otherwise an error will occur.

Execution of the two commands above adds 512MB to the swap space of the system. To verify that the swap is in use, use the -l option of swap:
[email protected] # swap -l
swapfile dev swaplo blocks free
/dev/dsk/c1d0d0s0 29,0 8 1638608 1600528
/PATH/WITH/SPACE/swapfile - 8 1048568 1048568


This addition does not persist across reboots although the swapfile created will exist. Configuration files need to be updated to make the changes permanent. Add the line below in /etc/vfstab to make the additional swap space persist across reboots.
/PATH/WITH/SPACE/swapfile   -   -   swap   -   no   -


Once a permanent solution to the swap space problem is in place, the added swapfile can be deleted from the system's swap resources. Just like the addition did not require a reboot, the deletion likewise does not need a reboot. The swap utility can be again used for the same purpose.
[email protected] # swap -d /PATH/WITH/SPACE/swapfile


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ARTICLE: Slipstreaming Windows XP Service Pack 3

Have you ever had to install Windows XP on a number of computers? Did you also have to install the Service Pack 3 (SP3) after the install? That task seems easy but the job could be made simpler -- if SP3 is slipstreamed into the Windows XP install CD, two jobs can be cutdown to just one.

That is the purpose of this article, to illustrate the procedure of slipstreaming SP3 into the install CD. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to successfully get this done.

Requisites. The following are required to put together a custom Windows XP install CD slipstreamed with SP3:
* Windows XP install CD
* etfsboot.com or bbie.exe (download here)
* cdimage.exe (from Microsoft OPK)
* Windows XP Service Pack 3

Download etfsboot.com or create one from the install CD using bbie.exe.

Service Pack 3 needs to be downloaded from the Microsoft website. After downloading, copy/move the file to a location that is easy to get to in the command line. A good location for this would be the "C:\" directory. This is only temporary and the Service Pack file could be deleted after slipstreaming.

Slipsteaming. Start off by copying the entire contents of the install CD to the harddisk. For this guide, let us name the target directory C:\XPCD (this directory name can be changed to a name of your choice).

Then, open a command shell: Start --> Run.. --> "cmd.exe" (without quotes)

Execute on the command shell as seen from the screenshot below (click to enlarge):



Executing "WindowsXP-KB936929-SP3-x86-ENU.exe" with the switch /s instructs the file to integrate or slipstream the updates to the directory that follows the colon (:), in this case C:\XPCD -- the directory or distribution folder which contains the contents of the Windows XP Professional CD.

The Service Pack executable will then self-extract and proceed to patch the distribution folder, C:\XPCD. A window will prompt when SP3 slipstream is done.



Re-Create the Install CD. Create the image of the install CD using either cdimage.exe or oscdimg.exe. The binaries can be taken from the Windows OEM Pre-installation Kit CD.
cdimage -l XPCD -b etfsboot.com -n -h C:\XPCD XPCD.iso

After creating the install CD image, XPCD.iso can be burned to a blank CD. To ensure that the install CD is working without hitch, installation can be tried on a virtual machine prior to finally burning it to a blank CD.

I hope this article saves you time by cutting the job to a simple install directly to SP3. This tweak can be combined with adding SATA chipset drivers for better functionality.

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ARTICLE: Limited Browsing (Internet Explorer Lockdown)

Microsoft Internet Explorer, MSIE or IE as it is popularly known, is the largest used and most commonly used browser. Embedding a browser to an operating system has been successful for a software giant like Microsoft. No wonder why most website designs and back-end code are geared toward better functionality and display in IE and not cross-browser friendly. This has been the trend for quite a while now. And while condoning it does not really solve the issue, for now let us accept the fact that IE is here to stay.

This article will not delve into criticisms of IE or its flaws. But instead, will tackle how to block access to certain websites. If you ask your system administrator about blocking a certain site, more often than not you will be told that is hard to do, even impossible. Read on as we share to you the trick on how to get it done.

For all intents and purposes, blocking access to a certain website takes into account basic knowledge of internet protocol, or IP (TCP/IP), and domain name system, or DNS. Before going deeper into the tips and tricks let us understand the underlying principles behind IP and DNS.

Internet Protocol (or IP) as defined by Wikipedia:
The Internet Protocol (IP) is a data-oriented protocol used for communicating data across a packet-switched internetwork.
IP is a network layer protocol in the internet protocol suite and is encapsulated in a data link layer protocol (e.g., Ethernet). As a lower layer protocol, IP provides the service of communicable unique global addressing amongst computers. This implies that the data link layer need not provide this service. Ethernet provides globally unique addresses except it is not globally communicable (i.e., two arbitrarily chosen Ethernet devices will only be able to communicate if they are on the same bus).


To keep the definition short, IP is an established protocol for data communication. It does the communication by packet encapsulation of datagrams in a manner very much similar to how mails get delivered -- with an address. For mails it is a shipping address or mail stop address while for IP it is an IP address -- a unique set of numbers that identify a certain member of a network.

On the other hand, based on Wikipedia's definition, DNS is:
The domain name system (DNS) stores and associates many types of information with domain names, but most importantly, it translates domain names (computer hostnames) to IP addresses. It also lists mail exchange servers accepting e-mail for each domain. In providing a worldwide keyword-based redirection service, DNS is an essential component of contemporary Internet use.


From the above, the most important function of DNS in browsing is to translate a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) to its appropriate IP address. Given those knowledge and brief definitions, it is time to discuss the tricks behind blocking websites.

Loopback Redirect. In fact, blocking a website can be a very easy thing to do. Given the knowledge of IP and DNS from the previous page, it is easy to trick the browser. What do we mean by this? The below example will illustrate the point better.

First of all, close all Internet Explorer browsers that are open. Launch a Windows Explorer window and try finding the file "hosts" (location: %WINDIR%\system32\drivers\etc). Try to create a new line to the end of the file and add this line:
127.0.0.1       www.microsoft.com
or
0.0.0.0 www.microsoft.com

Now, open an Internet Explorer window. Try to browse Microsoft's website: "http://www.microsoft.com". Are you able to browse the website?

The above example is one of the many ways to block a website from access by the local computer. What this trick does is to point the DNS entry of the website to the loopback IP 127.0.0.1, which is your local machine's IP. This trick is one of the many ways to block access to a certain website. However, if you wish to block a number of sites, the process could be tedious. Imagine trying to block more than a million sites on a bunch of computers to administer. What a task that would be!

Domain Blocking. In order to limit the browsing of a machine to a domain or two only, the system administrator does not have to block the whole DNS realm of the internet using the above method. There is a simpler way to accomplish the same goal.

The main gist of the tweak is to trick the browser to point to a bogus proxy (and port) -- one that does not exist. And for intranet sites, configure the browser to bypass the bogus proxy.

WARNING: Before proceeding, bear in mind that the procedure is destructive and can render the "guinea pig" computer browser-less, if not executed with caution.
* Open the Group Policy Object Editor. This can be done via Start --> Run... --> "gpedit.msc" (without quotes).
* On the group policy editor, browse to User Configuration --> Windows Settings --> Internet Explorer Maintenance --> Connection. A similar window like the one shown below should be open.


* Open the Proxy Settings Tab by double clicking on it. The Proxy Settings window will open. Tick all the boxes to Enable proxy settings, Use the same proxy server for all addresses and Do not use proxy server for local (intranet) addresses (see below). For the Address of proxy, key in an unused IP Address and a bogus port. For the Exceptions box, key in all the site resource URLs that the machine is allowed browsing access to. For multiple values, separate each value with a semi-colon.


* In order to make the policy changes permanent, restrict access to the Connection Tab of Internet Explorer. Browse to: User Configuration --> Administrative Templates --> Windows Components --> Internet Explorer --> Internet Control Panel (see below). Open the Disable the Connections page by double clicking it. The Properties page will open showing the current configuration.


* By default the Disable the Connections page is set to Not Configured. Set this to Enabled and click OK.

Close the Group Policy Object Editor. The changes made will manifest without requiring a reboot of the machine.

With the lockdown in place, try browsing your favorite websites. Most certainly when trying to access an external site, you are likely to get this:



Now, try browsing the intranet sites for the domain that was configured to bypass the proxy. The website should be accessed like before. Revisit the procedure if the website does not work.

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HOW-TO: Enable AHCI on Intel Chipsets

After executing the procedure previously posted and having installed Windows XP to your brand new laptop, how would you like to turn on the AHCI that was disabled?

What benefits does enabling AHCI bring? And what is AHCI in the first place? According to Wikipedia: The Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) is a hardware mechanism that allows software to communicate with Serial ATA (SATA) devices (such as host bus adapters) that are designed to offer features not offered by Parallel ATA (PATA) controllers, such as hot-plugging and native command queuing.

I used to ask if it is possible to enable AHCI after Windows XP has already been installed. There is an existing post on the internet about it which I tried out for myself. Indeed it is possible to re-enable AHCI after disabling it on the BIOS before the installation. The original article is posted here.

Words of CAUTION: Before going any further, make sure you have a backup of the sensitive data in your notebook. This procedure might render your notebook unbootable or in a worse case with a corrupt disk. I'm not responsible for the actions you take as part of this procedure.

Let us go about the steps taken to perform the enabling of AHCI:
[1] Download 79im05ww.exe. And extract the file to C:\DRIVERS\WIN\SATA.

[2] Download chiputil.exe, to know the chipset used by your notebook.



[3] If you have the ICH7M southbridge or I/O controller, skip this step. Open C:\DRIVERS\WIN\SATA\PREPARE\IMSM_PRE.inf and replace instances of DEV_27C5 with the following as applicable:
ICH6R ==> DEV_2652
ICH6M ==> DEV_2653
ICH7R ==> DEV_27C1
ICH7DH ==> DEV_27C1
ICH7M ==> DEV_27C5
ICH8M ==> DEV_2828 or DEV_2829 (Check the value in device manager)

For DELL Latitude D630 where this tweak was done, the value for DEV_27C5 was replaced with DEV_2828. Save the changes and exit the editor software.

[4] Execute INSTALL.CMD:
Start --> Run.. --> C:\DRIVERS\WIN\SATA\PREPARE\INSTALL.CMD

[5] After executing INSTALL.CMD, restart your computer. On the Power-On Self-Test or POST, enable AHCI on in your BIOS Setup (before Windows boots).

[6] When Windows XP boots up, it will find a new hardware (the AHCI controller) open the new hardware wizard.
* Click No, not this time then click Next.
* Select Install from a list or specific location (Advanced), then click Next.
* Select Search for the best driver in these locations.
* Select Include this location in the search: and specify the path, C:\DRIVERS\WIN\SATA, and click Next. The drivers will then install.



[7] Finally, download and install the Intel Matrix Storage Manager. Running the Storage Console will show the screenshot below:



[8] When the System Settings Change window pops up, restart the computer.

I hope this article helps out to enable AHCI on your computer. Enjoy the benefits that AHCI brings.

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ARTICLE: Windows XP on Your Brand New Laptop?

Is Windows Vista installed in your brand new laptop? If you hate the experience and you are interested in installing Windows XP, you have come to the right site for the instructions on how to get Windows XP installed instead.

Most OEM laptop makers provide the option to downgrade your laptop to Windows XP so obtain the media from them if they provide this option. Otherwise, now is the time to secure a legitimate copy of Windows XP install CD.

Assuming you have the install CD ready. Let us go through the process of slipstreaming the SATA chipset drivers into your Windows XP install CD so that it can be installed.

Requisites. In order to make the experience smooth, ensure that all the required utilities and software are readily available. The requirements are :
* Windows XP install CD
* etfsboot.com or bbie.exe (download here)
* cdimage.exe (from Microsoft OPK)
* mobile chipset SATA driver (download here)

Download etfsboot.com or create one from the install CD using bbie.exe.

Slipstream SATA Drivers. Assuming all the required software are intact, let us start the activities leading to the tweaking of the Windows XP install CD. Copy the entire contents of the install CD to the harddisk. For this guide, let us name the target directory C:\XPCD.

Open the intel chipset SATA driver (f6flpy32.zip) zip file. Extract the .sys and .inf files to the directory C:\XPCD\i386. Once done, it is time to modify the file txtsetup.sif.

* insert the following lines under the heading [HardwareIdsDatabase]:
[HardwareIdsDatabase]
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2922&CC_0106 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2929&CC_0106 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2822&CC_0104 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2821&CC_0106 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2829&CC_0106 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_282A&CC_0104 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_27C3&CC_0104 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_27C1&CC_0106 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_27C6&CC_0104 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_27C5&CC_0106 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_3A22&CC_0106 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2682&CC_0104 = "iaStor"
PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2681&CC_0106 = "iaStor"

* insert the following lines under the heading [SCSI]:
[SCSI]
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH9R/DO/DH SATA AHCI Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH9M-E/M SATA AHCI Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH8R/ICH9R/ICH10R SATA RAID Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH8R/DH/DO SATA AHCI Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH8M-E/M SATA AHCI Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH8M-E/ICH9M-E SATA RAID Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH7R/DH SATA RAID Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH7R/DH SATA AHCI Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH7MDH SATA RAID Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH7M/MDH SATA AHCI Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ICH10R SATA AHCI Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ESB2 SATA RAID Controller"
iaStor = "Intel(R) ESB2 SATA AHCI Controller"

* insert the following lines under the heading [SourceDisksFiles.x86]:
[SourceDisksFiles.x86]
iaStor.sys = 1,,,,,,4_,4,1,,,1,4
iastor.inf = 1,,,,,,,20,0,0
iaAHCI.inf = 1,,,,,,,20,0,0

* insert the following lines under the heading [SCSI.Load]:
[SCSI.Load]
iaStor = iaStor.sys,4


Disable AHCI. Before starting the install AHCI needs to be disabled in the BIOS. Different laptop models have different ways of implementing this feature.

For my experience, this is done in a DELL Latitude D630. The same should be similar to DELL laptops. To disable AHCI, boot up and press F2 in the POST (power on self-test) to enter BIOS (or setup).
Onboard Devices --> SATA Operation --> ATA

For Compaq/HP laptops, boot up machine and press F10 to go to BIOS Setup.
System Configuration --> Device Configuration --> SATA Native Mode --> DISABLE

For Asus notebooks, boot up and go to the BIOS.
Advanced --> IDE Configuration --> SATA Operation Mode --> Compatible

For other notebooks please let me know so I can update this post.

Tweak the Install CD. Create the image of the install CD using either cdimage.exe or oscdimg.exe. The binaries can be taken from the Windows OEM Pre-installation Kit CD.

cdimage -l XPCD -b etfsboot.com -n -h C:\XPCD XPCD.iso

After creating the install CD, XPCD.iso can be burned to a CD and Windows XP can now install on your brand new laptop.

The same procedure can be done to add other drivers. Addition of drivers is not exclusive to only one. Several drivers can be added.

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REVIEW: G.Skill F2-8000CL5D-4GBPQ DDR2 Dual Channel Kit

The transition between DDR1 and DDR2 breezed fast that it seemed to have happened overnight. DDR2 took over as the mainstream memory and has since dropped prices. Dual channel memory modules are available in 1GB, 2GB and even 4GB kits.

We got the G.Skill F2-8000CL5D-4GBPQ DDR2-1000 kit for a while now and have been using it eversince. The kit has been tested with a plethora of motherboards without any compatibility issues whatsoever. Please allow us then to share the experience in using this dual channel kit

The 4GBPQ kit is a rare find, as it is not available in our locale. It is a blessing that a good friend brought it home after purchasing it from Newegg. And at 2048MBx2 PC2-8000, rated CL5-5-5-15 (2.0V-2.1V) it is one of the fastest of its kind. With a lifetime warranty coverage as added bonus.


Inside the package..


The 4GBPQ dual channel kit was tested on a rig with the following specs:
* E6600 (OC'd to 3.2GHz)
* Asus P5K-E Wifi/AP (NB @1.4V, CPU-Z Validation)
* Inno3D 9600GT OC Edition
* 2 Seagate 500GB 7200.11
* Enermax Liberty 620w
* Lian-Li PC-A17 Black

So how did the 4GBPQ perform? An amazing 1066MHz @1.9V! The screenshot below will further illustrate the result of running the memory at 1066MHz.


The 4GBPQ is stable at 1066MHz and 1.9V. The stability tests ran were OCCT and memtest.

Remarks. Having a dual channel kit that runs more than its rated speed is more than a blessing. It is indeed one that will make an enthusiast drool over. To those who already have this kit, lucky you!

Add to it the capacity to run stable at lower than its rated voltage. In fact, due to its running at 1.9V only the memory does not need any active airflow as they run cool. Score another win for the 4GBPQ.

The G.Skill F2-8000CL5D-4GBPQ is a must have dual channel kit. Try to get one, if available. Having one will pimp your rig!

Acknowledgements and thanks to my good friend Xavier Zulueta for sharing the results of his tests of the 4GBPQ.

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TWEAK: Firefox Cache Tweaks (Move Cache, etc)

One of the many tweaks that can be done to make firefox faster is to move its cache to a faster, larger disk. This set-up can also affect the defragmentation level of the operating system disk, thereby improving performance.

I have noticed this in my PC. Moving firefox cache to a different slice or partition performance has vastly improved as the partition where my windows is installed does not get fragmented by the firefox files over time. How then is this done?

To move Firefox’s disk cache, use about:config to create a new preference.
* type about:config into Firefox’s Address Bar and press Enter.
* right-click any row, then click New, String. Type or paste the following preference name into the dialog box that appears browser: "browser.cache.disk.parent_directory"
* click OK, then enter the following string into the next dialog box, representing the directory name to the full path of the cache (e.g. D:\CACHE)
* click OK to close the dialog box, then close all instances of Firefox and restart it.

RAM Cache. Another trick to make firefox run faster is to tweak its RAM cache. Depending on your machine and the applications you run, this tweak frees up memory for other apps, speeding up everything to a greater (or a lesser) extent. As always, test out the value that best suits your requirement or gives better performance than previous settings.

To tweak Firefox's RAM cache, use about:config to create the preference.
* type about:config into Firefox’s Address Bar and press Enter.
* right-click any row, then click New, Integer. Type or paste the following preference name into the dialog box that appears browser: "cache.memory.capacity"
* click OK, then enter the following integer number into the next dialog box, representing 16 MB of RAM for the cache: 16000
* click OK to close the dialog box, then close all instances of Firefox and restart it.

Enjoy the speedboost the tweaks above can give.

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HOW-TO: Add SWAP space from a file (Linux)

It may often be necessary to add swap space to an existing Linux machine as the application or service hosted demands additional space.

Swap in Linux is an entirely different beast from the /tmp. While Solaris or SunOS treats /tmp and swap as one. Adding swap can be done in two ways: [1] adding swap from a free partition; or [2] adding swap from a file. In this how-to, we will add swap from a file. How is this done?

In order to see the swap space and its usage, use "swapon -s" or "cat /proc/swaps" to get more information. The output will be somewhat similar to this:
 Filename        Type            Size    Used    Priority
/dev/sda1 partition 859436 0 -1

To add swap, follow the directions below:

1. Determine the size of the new swap file and multiple by 1024 to determine the block size. For example, the block size of a 64 MB swap file is 65536.

2. At a shell prompt as root, type the following command with count being equal to the desired block size:
 ==> 64MB
[email protected] # dd if=/dev/zero of=/PATH/swapfile bs=1024 count=65536
==> 512MB
[email protected] # dd if=/dev/zero of=/PATH/swapfile bs=1024 count=524288
==> 1GB
[email protected] # dd if=/dev/zero of=/PATH/swapfile bs=1024 count=1048576

3. Setup the swap file with the command:
[email protected] # mkswap /PATH/swapfile

4. To enable the swap file immediately (but not automatically at boot time):
[email protected] # swapon /PATH/swapfile

After adding the new swap file and enabling it, make sure it is enabled by viewing the output of the command "cat /proc/swaps" or free.

To permanently enable the swap file at boot time, edit /etc/fstab to include below line:
 /dev/sda1       swap      swap     defaults  0      0


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REVIEW: Vantec UGT-ST350CB eSATA Cardbus Adapter

For the past year, the storage industry has had unprecedented figures in terms of gigabytes per dollar. Thanks to massive capacity drives sold at relatively lower costs. Not only that technology breakthrough such as perpendicular recording technology has given a big boost to transfer speeds. Also, platter density has increased providing increased read and write speeds. These are among the technological milestones.

On the controllers side, external SATA or eSATA is starting to become widespread. Not only is this technology available to the desktop but is starting to become available in notebooks as well. USB drive cages used to be the only available means of expansion for storage, now eSATA is available. We have with us Vantec UGT-ST350CB dual port eSATA cardbus. Let us see how viable it is as an alternative to USB storage expansion.



Since most (if not all) laptops are equipped with a PCMCIA port, eSATA can now be available to the laptop as well. Let us compare its performance by comparing it with the USB transfer speeds. USB which has a bandwidth of 480Mbps translates to a theoretical maximum of 60MB/s transfer speed; while SATA 1.5Gbit or SATA/150 sets a theoretical maximum of 187.5MB/s. Although none of the devices available is able to attain the max transfer speed of both, there is a big disparity in terms of raw bandwidth.

Is eSATA faster then? The answer we will soon see. But for now allow us to introduce the test rig. The UGT-ST350CB will be tested on a Dell Latitude D630, with Windows™ XP Professional SP2 installed. Applications such as HD Tune and HD Tach will be used to test performance.

On the storage end, a Seagate ST3400832AS drive mounted on a Vantec NexStar3 (NST-360SU-BK) will be plugged to the UGT-ST350CB and directly to the USB port of the D630.

Upon installation, device manager should also be showing a tab similar to this. The device will be shown under "SCSI and RAID Controllers" as Silicon Image SiI3512 SATALink Controller.



HD Tune.The storage was tested with USB connection first to establish the baseline. Below is the result:



Clearly the bottleneck presented by the limited USB bandwidth is seen in the above benchmark. This is very much evident from the result, wherein the average transfer speed is pretty much the same as the maximum.



When the external storage is plugged on the eSATA connection, the average transfer speed almost doubles. eSATA is indeed a very promising technology as seen in this benchmark.

CPU usage is also noted to have gone down significantly from USB's 13% to eSATA's 4%. Not much difference is seen from access times. This could be attibuted to the disk, rather than the protocol used.

HD Tach. Similarly, the storage was tested with USB connection first to establish a baseline. Below is the result:



Again, the bottleneck presented by the limited USB bandwidth is seen in the above benchmark. This result affirms the result of HD Tune from the previous page.

Note that burst speed is also clamped down by the USB bandwidth, this benchmark was ran with only the external storage attached to the USB port, providing it exclusively all the bandwidth it demands.

The storage was removed from the USB interface and plugged on the eSATA port of the UGT-ST350CB. With the same benchmark, below is the result:



As if deja vu, eSATA doubles the raw transfer speed of the USB. Notice the burst speed, it is limited by the storage and not by the bandwidth of the PCMCIA port.

Remarks. As seen from the tests performed, the Vantec UGT-ST350CB is a very versatile addition to a laptop and further expands its capabilities. You may want to compare the price of an internal mobile drive with the price of its desktop brethren and notice that the price deltas are huge. This solution can be an option to work around that problem. Not only that, it can now hold two more storage devices thanks to the additional eSATA ports.

Also, laptops with limited USB ports can now cater to additional storage requirements and with very good speeds at that. The Vantec UGT-ST350CB opens that possibility through eSATA.

But the advantages above comes at a sacrifice, with external devices attached mobility is somehow sacrificed. There are eSATA devices that do not require external power, but they too are limited in capacity.

During the course of the tests, we noticed that there will be a slight freeze when the eSATA storage is plugged into the UGT-ST350CB. As observed, the duration of this freeze can vary from 2 seconds to 5 seconds. This surprised us at first but noted later that the system will not hang entirely. We have not yet tried eSATA on desktops to really confirm whether this is abnormal or not. Also, we cannot verify if this is due to the external storage or the device itself. But it is worthy to note just the same.

Conclusion. The Vantec UGT-ST350CB is an excellent addition to a laptop. It frees the USB port for other USB devices and opens the possibility to add additional storage, and faster ones at that.

The Vantec UGT-ST350CB will definitely pimp your laptop! Having one is definitely worth it.

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