Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

December, 2006

  • The Mystery

  • Using the SIIG RAID ExpressCard with the Dell Latitude D820

    For those of you using the Dell Latitude D820 and Windows Vista, you should upgrade the Dell BIOS to the new A05 release.  It is in the x86 Windows Vista Drivers and Downloads area.  One of the fixes that came with this BIOS is a compatibility fix for the SIIG eSATA RAID ExpressCard I use.

    To be specific, I am using the SIIG SC-SAE612-S1 card with an external eSATA drive enclosure.  In order to use this card with Windows Vista, you'll need the Silicon Image drivers from the SI download area.  The x86 RAID driver I'm using for Windows Vista is still in beta but I expect it to be released very soon.

    Beware, the SIIG non-RAID ExpressCard fails to work properly with either of my Dell D820's.  The specific card I am referring to is the SC-SAE512-S1.  When I insert this card, it locks my machine tight as a drum so there is no opportunity to install the Silicon Image released x86 driver at  If I try to boot my machine with the card inserted, it will not boot and run Windows Vista.  It appears to be an IRQ issue, but I do not know for sure.  I am swapping the card I have today (if possible) to rule out a bad card.

    [UPDATE] I finally got to the office and traded out the non raid card (SC-SAE512-S1) and it worked so the card I had must have been bad or something.  The cables are pretty finicky as well, so make sure to test more than one cable. 

  • Want to win a Ferrari ???

    No, we aren't talking about the sleek Italian sports car, but we are talking about a kewl Acer Ferrari laptop.  In fact, we are giving away several and you'll have a chance to win one by checking out the webcasts listed at  As always, please check out the official rules at

    I don't know about you, but the Acer Ferrari laptops look pretty cool to me and I'd be happy to win even the "lowly" Acer Ferrari 1000.  I'm teasing about the 1000 because it has decent specs.  See for more details on their laptops.  Too bad Microsoft employees and family are ineligible to win.  Why is that anyway?  If my son sits through a webcast and earns the right to be entered into the drawing, why can't he win?  Appearances I guess...  baa Humbug.

    Here's an excerpt from the official rules:

    How to Enter/Prizes: You will be automatically entered into each monthly sweepstakes drawing when you complete and submit an evaluation form following a live or on-demand TechNet 2007 Office webcast during the Entry Period (“Webcast Series”). See landing page for webcasts. The available webcasts are subject to change at the sole discretion of Microsoft.

    On or around the last day of each month during the entry period, three winners will be selected in a random drawing from all entries received during that month to win one of three prizes:

    • 1st prize: Acer Ferrari laptop (Estimated Retail Value $2000)

    • 2nd prize: Windows Mobile powered Smartphone (Estimated Retail Value $500)

    • 3rd prize: Creative MP3/video player or Microsoft Zune (Estimated Retail Value $250)

    In addition, winners will also receive one 2007 Microsoft Office Beta 2 CD. Once the final RTM version is released, past and future winners will receive a copy of 2007 Microsoft Office professional via mail or download. 2007 Microsoft Office will be preloaded on the Acer Ferrari laptop, and original media will be included with the prize.

  • Windows Vista on a Compaq Evo N620c

    Over the past couple of quarters, my team has been demonstrating Windows Vista.  The problem with some of the demonstrations is that my team is using top tier equipment sponsored by Lenovo.  Some of you may not think that is a problem, but what if you don't have the bucks for new hardware?

    There was a considerable amount of "buzz" yesterday about this program where high end laptops were sent to bloggers to review Windows Vista on.  It appears Microsoft, AMD, Acer and others were probably involved but I don't have any facts.  Of course, the story then became a story of ethics and credibility since part of the deal was that you could keep the laptop.  Kewl!!!  Someone send me one.  My son needs one and he can't have my Dell D820.

    The reason I'm bringing all of this up, is because I've been telling my audiences for the past couple of quarters that if they have a machine that runs Windows XP well, then they should not have too many issues running Windows Vista.  I also mentioned at one point I'd install Windows Vista Ultimate on my aging Compaq Evo N620c laptop.  Huh?  Keith, are you kidding?  Nope!

    The Compaq Evo N620c I have is a little over 4 years old.  It's been a trusty machine and has delivered a lot of value.  It ran many a demo and has some great features.  I've used it mostly for a download machine the past year and I'm pretty sure it's downloaded over 70 Windows Vista builds since last January.

    My Evo specifications are Intel Pentium M 1.6 processor, 2GB of RAM, 60GB 7200rpm Hitachi drive, and for video it has the ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 with a whopping 32meg of memory.  The LCD panel native resolution is 1400x1050.

    Windows Vista Ultimate installed without issue and it recognized all of the devices in the machine including the 802.11b wireless module.  I was surprised at that.  My machine received the coveted 1.0 Windows Experience Index.  Now before you fall out of your chair laughing, this score is misleading.  The 1.0 is based on the low scores for the video card and gaming or Aero performance. 

    Obviously this isn't a gaming machine and it won't run Windows Vista Aero Glass.  However, the processor rated a 3.3, the memory clocked in at 3.9, and the hard drive received a 4.5.  This machine is plenty powerful and fully capable of running Windows Vista.  In fact, the performance is rather nice.  It's running the Windows Vista Basic color scheme along with all of the other services. 

    So here we have a laptop that is getting ready to be five years old running Windows Vista.  This should give you a data point to think about.  As always, the processor, amount of memory, and a fast hard drive are crucial, but that's the case for any operating system. 

    Time to join this bad boy to the domain and put it to work downloading Longhorn Server.  Hmmmm...  :)

  • DVD Adventures with the PSP, iPod, Zune and Zen Vision W

    Contrary to recent pontifications, black is still the elegant device color of choice for many of us.  Over the past couple of weeks, I have been converting DVD's to my black PSP, iPod, Zune and Zen.  Although many people feel it's terrible difficult to move video around, it's getting easier.  Here's some information on my adventure.



    I've been using a Sony PSP since they launched.  Come to think about it, my PSP will have a second birthday in March.  Although I'm a console and PC gamer, I didn't buy the PSP for gaming.  I bought it to be a travel companion so I could watch videos during my "spare" time.  It was my key requirement then, and still remains my main requirement today.  My audio interest is relatively low although it will pick up some in 2007 as we shake down the podcast tools.  That's another blog post down the road.


    The Cream of the Crop

    There are a bunch of kewl devices on the market, but I believe I have four of the top five or six devices.  If you read my previous blog post on the Portable Media Players (PMP) that I was interested in, you'll see I managed to acquire all but the top Archos players.  In my stable of players, I now have the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)Creative Zen Vision WApple iPod Video, and the Microsoft Zune.  Each player has it's strengths and weaknesses.  I will not give you in-depth analysis of each, but will offer some observations from my testing.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the PSP, it has one of the largest screens on the market (4.3"), but does not have a hard drive.  The PSP uses Memory Stick Duo media for storage and I consider this to be a key downside for the PSP.  The upside to the memory stick is the miserly power consumption.  Power is a key factor for extended use in situations like a flight of three hours or more.  I've never actually run out of power with my PSP and have used it on flights from Texas to Hawaii and Texas to Alaska.  Those flights are 10+ hours although the PSP was not in use the entire time.

    The second addition to my device portfolio was the Creative Zen Vision W.  I wanted the same size screen as the PSP and a hard drive.  My Vision W has a 4.3" screen and a 60GB drive.  I'm getting about 4.5 hours battery life out of the Vision W.  The Vision W has a rare feature.  Like the PSP, it has a removable battery.  This of course means you have the option to carry another battery for those long flights.  The Vision W uses a Lithium Ion battery so I'm sure the spare isn't cheap.

    The most recent additions to my device mix are the iPod and Zune.  They were purchased by Microsoft for a podcasting and screencasting project we kick off in a couple of weeks.  The iPod is the 80GB Video player and of course the Zune has a 30GB drive.

    The iPod has a 2.5" screen and has excellent battery life.  I was astonished to see it run non-stop for 9 hours.  The Zune has a 3.0" screen and the worst battery performance of the bunch.  My Zune will only play video for 3 hours.  My son managed to get 3.5 hours one day on his.  Compared to the 9 hours of the iPod, I was disappointed to say the least.  I'm hopeful better battery performance can be addressed in firmware updates down the road, but who knows.  Time will tell.


    DVD Conversion Tools

    There are a million utilities on the Internet for converting from one video format to another.  My first taste of transcoding was using the Sony PSP software to convert Windows Media Center 2005 recorded TV to the MPEG4 format used by the PSP.  See the old blog post at for that information.  Next came the need to convert DVD video to the PSP.  Again, there are lots of tools that can be used to convert DVD to a variety of formats.  PSPVideo9 turned out to be a handy little tool for that, but it was the second phase of a two step process.  See for more detailed information on using PSPVideo9.

    What I really needed was a tool that would convert to all of my devices.  It just so happens, I stumbled across a great software program that met my needs perfectly.  Let me highlight that last phrase again.  MET MY NEEDS.  As I see people rant and rave on this subject, one thing become very clear to me.  Most people want a free tool that does everything quickly and efficiently.  They want batch processing.  They want it to work with all forms of DRM.

    Reality check!!!

    I have yet to see a tool do everything.  My primary need was to be able to convert DVD video to my player(s).  Since the Zen Vision W is my new personal workhorse, the utility must obviously work with it.  As it turns out, the Xilisoft DVD Ripper Platinum (XDRP) worked the needed magic across all of the players.  I made up the XDRP acronym and will use it for most of this post.  You can download the XDRP trial version and create five minute video segments to test the output.  After I did initial testing to all of the players, I forked over the $45 to purchase the product.


    Using Xilisoft DVD Ripper Platinum

    If your collection is like mine, then you have a variety of movies in 4:3 and 16:9 formats.  In fact, I'm sure you also have 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 widescreen formats.  For this reason, my testing included using all of those formats and outputting them to the four players I have.  The only corner I cut was on the PSP since I've been doing that on it for almost two years, and it's getting close to end of life (for me).

    XDRP comes with a variety of profiles already predefined for the various players.  Since the Vision W is new to the market, they did not have a profile.  So, copied the existing Creative Zen Vision profile and added some widescreen resolutions. 

    I had a few videos with some juttering, so I queried the support folks at Xilisoft.  They suggested some settings changes.  I went into the Settings | Preferences | DVD (Global) tab pane and turned on Detect progressive 24Hz, Force progressive 24 Hz, and Audio/Video synchronization.  This solved the juttering and audio sync issues nicely.

    Creative Zen Vision W Output Details

    4:3 Full Screen DVD - I used the base Creative Zen profile, 640x480 resolution output, 1200bit rate, Pan Scan Zoom setting.  This produces a nice .AVI file and although you can see some blockiness, the result is very good.  Since the Vision W is a widescreen, the output is pillar boxed with black bars on the left and right.  The Vision W lets you stretch the screen to use all of the pixels resulting in fat characters.  I prefer to watch that way but it annoys other people.

    1.85:1 Widescreen DVD - this is the best format DVD for most home theatre HDTV's as well as the Vision W.  The resulting output does not have the black bars above or below the picture.  I used the custom profile I created although the base profile will work as well.  I used the 480x272 output resolution, default bit rate, pan scan zoom.

    2.35:1 Widescreen DVD - this is the prevalent widescreen format.  It has a wide field of view and black bars above and below the picture.  I prefer to crop the output on this type of video, or at least crop the black portion thus giving me the option to stretch the screen with the player.  For this reason, I created a custom profile, but could have just added the needed resolutions to the existing Creative profile.  I output the .AVI file in 480x210 resolution with pan scan zoom.

    XDRP comes with a Windows Media Video (WMV) profile.  I copied it and changed the description, then added some resolutions I wanted to test.  I have read a number of complaints about this tool from people trying to use it.  Now I know why.  The WMV transcoding takes three times longer than the transcoding for other formats.  Since I began my adventure looking for a tool that would handle the Vision W well, I couldn't understand what all the bitching was about.  Three times as long is a big difference but heck, it still works nicely.  I'm using a dual core machine for transcoding, so your mileage will vary.

    [UPDATE] I altered some comments in the paragraph above and changed the wording from Zune, to Windows Media Video (WMV) which is much more accurate.  By the way, my son has five movies on his Zune now and off showing off his Christmas present to his friends.  I'll let you know in a few days what his peers think.  I'm betting his iPod buddies will be impressed as hell.

    Zune WMV Output Details

    For 4:3 Full Screen, 1.85:1 Widescreen, and 2.35:1 Widescreen DVD, I used my Zune WMV profile and the 320x240 resolution, pan scan zoom, and either 1200 or 1500 for the bit rate.  This produced a nice .WMV file.

    iPod Output Details

    Like the Zune, the XDRP software comes with an iPod profile.  Also like the Zune, I used 320x240 as the output resolution and pan scan zoom on the 4:3 Full screen and 2.35:1 Widescreen DVDs.  However, I found that the Letterbox zoom setting worked best for the 1.85:1 Widescreen DVDs.  The output was a rich MPEG4 format that looked very nice on the screen.  The MPEG4 format that was produced was also the smallest in the base testing.  It was hard to see blockiness or other defects on the small screen, but I was actually pretty happy with the results.  The video results combined with the long battery life and 80 freaking gigs of disk space... no wonder Apple stock is where it is.

    PSP Output Details

    I did not transcode a bunch of DVDs for the PSP.  I did however do a speed and size test with one DVD and targeted all of the above platforms.  The XDRP tool comes with several PSP profiles and I used the Excellent Quality profile with 368x208 resolution, 768 bit rate video, pan scan zoom, etc.  The base DVD I used for the timings was transcoded the quickest using this profile at 1 hour 4 minutes. 



    If you are looking for a fast utility for the Zune, you might look elsewhere.  However, if you are looking for a tool that can handle the Microsoft Zune, Sony PSP, Apple iPod and the Creative Zen Vision W players, then your search is over.  The Xilisoft DVD Ripper Platinum utility will convert your DVDs in a single pass to the desired format.  Download it from and try the trial version before you buy.  Good stuff.

  • Exchange Server 2007 RTM downloads now available

    Well, I missed the Christmas present from the Exchange team but for those of you eager to test the next generation messaging server, you have several new options.

    If you are a TechNet Plus Direct subscriber, you'll see the non time bombed RTM bits available in the subscriber download center.  I can't tell yet if the .ISO image includes both the x86 and x64 versions.  I'll update this post after my download completes.

    If you aren't a subscriber, then head on over to and get the evaluation versions of the product.  The eval area has both the x86 and x64 versions.  Remember, x64 is the supported production version of the product.

    Before you download and install, you might want to check out the tips and tricks located at  There are a number of good resources there.  And of course, don't forget to review the Exchange Server 2007 product documents at

  • Merry Christmas again - how about an Adminpack ?

    Merry Christmas world!  Anyone get a really kewl toy?  How about a new Ferrari?  No?  Well the Microsoft Windows team didn't want you to feel left out so they have finally released the information about how to install the Administrator Pack for Windows Server 2003 so that it will run on Windows Vista.

    See for the details and installation gotchas.

  • Merry Christmas from the Xbox team

    This holiday season, shoppers can buy with added confidence as Microsoft expands its warranty coverage of the Xbox 360™ video game entertainment console from 90 days to one full year. Microsoft has announced that any Xbox 360 purchased in both the United States and Canada will include this added warranty coverage, and it even applies to those who have already purchased an Xbox 360 console and who are still within their first year of ownership!

    Effective today (December 22), the one year warranty is now the standard for all Xbox 360 consoles. Customers that experience hardware issues with their Xbox 360 within one year of purchase will have their consoles repaired at no cost. Moreover, the new warranty policy is retroactive, so consumers that may have already paid for out-of-warranty Xbox 360 repair within one year of the console's purchase will be eligible for reimbursement of their console repair charges.

    "Our number one priority for the Xbox 360 is customer satisfaction," said Jeff Bell, Corporate Vice President of Global Marketing for Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business. "Now, in addition to Xbox 360 offering features such as jaw-dropping high definition graphics, an amazing variety of more than 160 games, and social online and entertainment experiences found on Xbox Live®, this warranty upgrade is an exclamation at the end of an already compelling home entertainment offering."

    Customers who have already paid for repairs within their first year of ownership can expect reimbursement checks for the amount of their console hardware repair in approximately 10 weeks. These will be automatically distributed, so customers do not need to proactively contact Microsoft. Customers who have any questions regarding this policy change or who have experienced any hardware issues should visit: or call 1-800-4-MY-XBOX and speak to an agent.

    This warranty extension only applies to the hardware and software of the actual Xbox 360 console itself. It does not apply to any Xbox 360 accessories, including any that may have been packaged with the console at the time of its original purpose. Xbox 360 accessories retain their original 90 day warranties. For full information on the Xbox 360 warranty, click here.

    Swiped directly from

  • Zune and Windows Vista now play nice

    Ok Zunesters, we have released the Windows Vista compatible version of the Zune software.  Go read about it at  Notice Windows Vista is now listed in the available operating systems.  This also means it's fully supported in case something goes wrong.

    One more step towards 100% pure Windows Vista across all of my machines.  I figure the rest of the software world will start to catch up in earnest after we launch in January.

  • On this day in history...

    In 1903, the Wright brothers did the unthinkable.  Wilber and Orville Wright managed to get the first powered manned flight off the ground in Kitty Hawk North Carolina.  It's seems so long ago now, but can you imagine how impressive that technlogy was in 1903?  By the way, this is officially Wright Brothers Day so take the day off.

    Thirty two years later, the Douglas DC-3 began flight operations and set off the revolution in air transportation.  American, TWA, United and Eastern ordered over 400 of the new plane because with one stop, transcontinental US flights were now possible.  They also had in-flight kitchens.  Bet they weren't serving peanuts.

    Following that class act, in 1989 FOX Broadcasting Company aired the first episode of the Simpsons.  So far, there have been 386 episodes created and it's still going strong.

    Oh, and somewhere between 1903 and 1989, Keith Combs was born.  This is widely regarded as the most significant technical event of the millennium.  :)

  • Have you registered for the Microsoft 2007 Launch events?

    In just a few short weeks we'll be coming to a city near you, or at least many of you.  Make sure you've registered for the launch events because I seriously doubt there will be much chance of getting in on a walk-in basis.  A number of my southern brethren have asked how to go about registering.  You have to work at it a bit, but the key area is as follows:

    Make sure to pick a role applicable to your job.  If you don't find one, please use one that is close.  After that, you'll get the map of the US so click on your state.  You should see a popup of the events.  The map and event list popup is using Flash so make sure you have that installed.

    In the case of Texas, we'll be going to my birthplace first.  Houston starts off the Lone Star State tour on 2/13/2007.  After that we hit Dallas on 2/21, San Antonio on 2/27 and Austin on 3/1.

    For those of you from gator country in Louisiana, we'll be in New Orleans on 1/16/2007 and Baton Rouge on 1/18.

    Oklahoma City is on 1/23 and we visit Tulsa on 1/25.

    Sorry Arkansas, for some reason there is not event planned in the January though March timeframe.

  • Can your data center handle a hurricane? Ours can

    Usually we discuss hurricane or typhoon force winds in the warm tropical climates of the world.  Well, unless you haven't been paying attention, Seattle and surrounding areas got hammered about 24 hours ago and a lot of essential services are still being affected.  People got killed and the area will take days to recover.  I am sad about that.

    From an IT perspective, it's been interesting to watch from 1600 miles away.  It has effected some of our services.  We canceled the webcasts on Friday.  My blog pictures are gone because my ISP has been done due to a lack of power.  Power in our office buildings in Redmond is sparse but a few folks did find places to jack in and get power.

    One thing that has not been down is email.  In fact, many of our internal servers have been up round the clock.  I've been using email all day.  I submitted an order for some software and hardware for a project.  I attended LiveMeeting online conferences to discuss our launch events.  I've been in and out of our sharepoint and file servers via VPN all day.  In fact, I'm pulling a massive content session off a server in the Redmond data center as we speak using a multithreaded copy tool and it's clipping along at about 650k per second.

    Now lets reflect upon that for a second...  We have literally thousands of servers in the data center and from where I sit, there has been zero impact to my day.  When people talk about mission critical, this is what it's all about.  Those services above are using Microsoft email, web, database and portal services all run in a data center of dedicated IT Pros.

    In short, the Microsoft IT folks freaking rock baby!!!

    I'm sure we'll have all kinds of interesting stories about this storm.  It's sad to see there was loss of life.  It's also sad so many people are going to be inconvenienced for many days ahead.  I hope the recovery is swift, and Seattle people can have a decent Christmas. 

  • Seattle wind storm - webcasts canceled

    FYI, there was a rather serious storm last night in the Pacific Northwest area of the US.  As a result, many people are without power and that is having an impact on a variety of services.

    As I understand it, we won't be delivering the 10 webcasts that were scheduled for today.  A lack of power has impacted people, process and technology in this case.  Sorry for the inconvenience but I'm sure you understand.

    As you can see, the server that hosts my blog pictures is down.  I'm actually surprised is up.

    Say some prayers for the folks in Seattle.  They have a mess on their hands.

  • New USA Rules of Civil Procedure

    Make sure you take some time looking at Kai Axford's recent blog post.  As Kai reminds us, there are some new rules that went into effect on December 1st, 2006 that impact when and how email may be deleted.  Kai links to some other articles on the subject.  Check it out.

  • The scariest phone call a parent can get

    Saturday morning at 1:30am...  "Hello, this is the Ft. Worth police...".  If those type of calls don't get your blood pumping, the scene of my daughters wreck 30 minutes later will. 

    We arrive on the scene and I see the Honda Civic had been rolled and crushed.  My first thought was, "Who got killed?  How is Anna?"  Nobody got hurt.  She barely had a scratch.  Bumps and bruises, that's all.  Obviously, we are very thankful and she's VERY lucky to be able to walk away from this wreck.

    Someone once told me to buy her a Civic, it may save her life.  I'm a believer.  Best investment I've ever made.

  • The Trifecta is done - Exchange Server 2007 RTMs

    It's an exciting time.  First there was Office 2007, then Windows Vista.  Now we have released Exchange Server 2007 to our manufacturing process.  I'm sure we'll have the RTM bits on the TechNet and MSDN download centers soon for you online subscribers.  Hint hint.

  • New Halo 3 Trailer - Halo 3 Public Beta Signup information

    Humanity is about to experience another exciting look at the world of Halo® 3, one of the most anticipated entertainment launches for 2007. Airing in North America, Monday, December 4 on ESPN's Monday Night Football and in Europe, the new 60-second Halo 3 trailer offers an exclusive look at the iconic Halo universe and provides telling, new hints as to what Bungie Studios has in store for the highly regarded Xbox 360™ exclusive.

    Master Chief makes a Monday Night Football appearance.

    Master Chief makes a Monday Night Football appearance.

    Tune in to ESPN on Monday, December 4 between 5:50 and 6:20 P.M. Pacific Time to catch this stunning new look at Halo 3. Additionally, the ad will be aired that same evening on at 8:00 P.M. Pacific Time.

    One Time Only
    The ad, created by McCann Worldgroup San Francisco, includes a mixture of live action and computer generated animation, will air one time only and will then be made available online worldwide through Xbox Live® Marketplace and

    "Halo is a pop culture phenomenon! The Halo franchise has changed the face of interactive entertainment and it's only fitting that we take an innovative approach to how we market and advertise the brand," said Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of global marketing for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft Corp. "This invites a new audience with a rich back story, and continues to galvanize gamers around the world for the launch of Halo 3 in 2007."

    Beta Testers Wanted
    In conjunction with the ad, Microsoft today unveiled further details and an official call to entry for the Halo 3 beta program. Beginning Monday, December 4, visit and register for the opportunity to be one of the select members to join the unprecedented Halo 3 public beta program, scheduled to kick off in spring 2007. Be among the first to experience the most anticipated game of 2007!

    The Xbox Live multiplayer public beta, which is a pre-release version of the multiplayer experience of Halo 3, is scheduled for availability in spring 2007 exclusively on Xbox 360. This beta also represents an opportunity for you to participate in the development of Halo 3. Through the resulting feedback, Bungie Studios will be able to further refine and hone the end result of Halo 3.

    Unveiled earlier this year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Halo 3 represents the third chapter in the Halo trilogy, an international award-winning action series that grew into a global entertainment phenomenon, selling more than 14.7 million units worldwide, which equals nearly $700 million in sales, and logging in excess of 800 million hours of multiplayer action on Xbox Live.

    [UPDATE] Get the Windows Media HD 720p version of the video at