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A Techs Blog

Whilst we are broadcasting 7 days a week the small technical team are working behind the scenes. For those that might be interested I thought I start a blog of the sorts of technical problems and projects we have at Vintage Radio. I only enter stuff in this section at random, as and when the moment occurs. 

A good engineering day in the studio

Had a good day in the studio. Steve, our new tech support team member sorted out the foam sound insulation. The manufacturer had told us to use a particular adhesive. We did and the tiles started to drop off – admittedly it took 2 years to do so. Steve did the regular updates on three of our PC's. I swapped out a Win 8 PC that runs our desk encoder function in the back office system with another. Both Windows 8 PC's work well but they refused to see our network drives. One was persuaded (after a lot of Googling) to speak to our net drives. The other is still sulking! Windows 7 never gave us a problem. Why does Microsoft always seem to have problems with networking.

Icecast decided to play hard ball but Steve sorted me out. Steve has now sorted out the WiFi in the studio and improved the Studio Live light.

The Desk Encoder PC, now that it can see the net drives, will hopefully start doing the auto backups again. Also we hope that the desk encoder on the new PC will start on our Tuesday Live day tomorrow. Radio DJ – our programming system always seems temperamental after a few days of not switching to the live studio feed. Its almost as if it wants a rest! I shall be sitting there at 8am waiting to see if it all comes on-line. It worked when I tested it today!

Took another PC home. The last one that's running Windows XP. Its used to run Audacity and provide an editing function in the studio. It will be converted to Linux Mint. Mint runs well on old PC's. We have three elderly PC's which ran XP. Two now run Mint and Firefox. They are only used for browsing.

Win XP to Win 8.1 upgrade on Atoms

We had a two Intel Atom Windows XP machines running back-office systems which we needed to convert to Win 7 or Win 8. Whilst Win 7 basic will run on these devices you can't buy it and I'd had problems with putting Win 7 'standard' on low spec machines. I'd tried out Win 8 on another low spec machine and it runs very well. True the interface takes a bit of getting used to BUT and its a big BUT once you go to Win 8.1 you  can boot into a desktop automatically and there is a start button (a windows icon where the start button was) of sorts. You can set up all the icons and quick start menus exactly as if it were Win 7 or XP. Microsoft is shortly to rectify this lack of start button  and make it more obvious. So the two PC's were an Asus eeeBox nettop and a Dell A100 Vostro. Running the MS Win 8 checker on both proved positive. The Asus was converted first as a clean build. Absolutely no problems, all drivers and functions came on-line. Everything worked as it should. We needed it to tempoarily replace our Desk Encoder system which takes audio from the desk and serves it over our studio LAN via an Icecast server. We installed it and it ran for 2 weeks  - rock solid. On Monday this week we installed the Dell Atom system running Win 8 replacing this system as it had a larger hard drive. It lasted until Wednesday! Logged in via LogMeIn and it was running at about 100% CPU occupancy. There are only three apps running - BUTT, Icecast and the PlayIt recorder. The forums all recognised the problem (System Interrupts process running at about 40 to 50% CPU ocuppancy) but no definite solutions. A reboot eased the problem but it recurred again the following day. So no chose but to replace the system with the one we had just taken out. The  replacement was now running at about 40 to 50% occupancy including Task Manager and LogMeIn. So the Dell is due to get a good talking to and probably a rebuild. So Win Xp to Win 8 is fine on Atoms in principle but has about a 10% performance hit over XP. As this is a sample of 1 and we were running no bench marks this is a completely non-rigorous and non-scientific result but sort of sounds right.  As we are short of Win 8 licences I may change over the Desk Encoder to a Linux distro as BUTT and Icecast are available running under Linux. The PlayIt recorder is a different matter but I am sure I can find something equivalent.

Broken SD cards

The SD recorder in the studio keeps spitting out my memory cards! The problem was a broken bit of plastic that had jammed the SD card retention mechansism. It was only a few millimetres long and very difficut to see let alone remove. I now know how to take the recorder apart.

Vintage Radio PC upgrades - April 2014

All of our PC's are now upgraded to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Linux Mint. We have no PC's running Windows XP. One is still to be finally upgraded to Windows 8.1 and then the application software downloaded and configured.

 

Whilst its not difficult, it does take quite a while to upgrade a PC. Firstly I have to collect the PC from the studio - an hour round trip plus time taken to extricate it from the  cabling and take it back (about 3 hours in total),  then I have to check that the PC is compatible with whatever OS is being loaded. Then I have to load Windows 8.1 etc. and then load all the subsequent updates since the Windows install disc was made. This typically takes several hours both to download and then install the updates. Then the application software has to be downloaded and confgured. This can also take several hours. Finally the PC has to be returned to the studio, installed and commissioned. All this, when  you add it up, typically takes a good day. Thats right - about 8 or 9 working hours per PC, if I am lucky.  So far I have upgraded 4 with a 5th waiting in the wings. The 5th is waiting finding sufficient funds to get a new Windows 8 licence. Until then we have to rely on nothing failing!

Windows XP is dying - what can you do?

How many of you use a PC or laptop that runs Windows XP? Regretfully the answer should be very few or none. Microsoft is withdrawing support for this version of Windows software on April 8th 2014.

After April 8th Microsoft will not be issuing any security updates for this version of Windows.

What does this mean to you? If you never ever use it on the internet e.g. browsing or email and never plug in memory sticks or CD's etc. from 3rd parties then you should by and large be OK.

But after this date in April using your PC on the net will be potentially dangerous, especially if you do internet banking or shop on-line. Yes, your anti-virus and anti-malware software (which you do have , don't you?) will afford some limited protection for a short while but unfortunately that's not the only way the bad guys can compromise your PC and get access to your personal details, files etc.

What can you do? It does depend on how old your PC is. It may be possible to swap out Windows XP for Windows 7 or Windows 8. Oddly Windows 8 tends to run better on older equipment than Windows 7. Not only that its very easy to set Windows 8.1 (not Window 8,  but its a free update to 8.1) to start into a familiar looking desktop rather than those pesky tiles if you don't use a Windows tablet. All your Windows XP software should also work. But you do have to back up all your files first as Windows 8 doesn't keep the data from Windws XP when you upgrade. 

Typically a new version of Windows will cost around £80 to £90 plus you need someone to install it if this is not something you feel confident in doing.

There is some test software you can download from Microsoft which will tell you if Windows 7 or Windows 8 will run on your PC or laptop. If it can't upgrade your PC to run Windows 7 or 8 then your only option is to replace your PC or install something like Linux - not really for the faint hearted.

A stark and potentially expensive choice. But look at it another way, if your raincoat lets in water what do you do - you buy a replacement.

If your PC is running Windows XP then it’s quite old. Probably the only exception being if it’s one of the small netbooks that were popular a 3 or 4 years ago before tablets and iPads took off.