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Re: The Acer TravelMate 8215WLMi

A sizeable minority of searches which bring people to this blog seem to have to do with enabling hardware virtualization on the Acer Travelmate range of notebooks.

Although this feature – specifically: Intel Virtualization Technology (VT for short) – is present in at least some of the Intel Core 2 Duo processors which ship in the TravelMate 8210 series, such as the T7200 powering my 8215WLMi, it is disabled in BIOS by Acer.

This (probably) allowed them to share a single BIOS image across multiple models; maybe even across their entire Centrino/Centrino Duo range. And, at the time, other notebook manufacturers did something similar – Sony, among them, with most models in their Vaio range.

Recently, my own 8215 wore out – after two-and-a-bit years of near-constant use, the fan quite literally ground to a halt. Lest the innards melt and ooze out through the vents, I replaced the machine outright with a shiny new Dell.

Up until the end, I had periodically checked on-line for ways and means by which one might enable VT on the 8215. The last such trawl threw up a pair possibilities: upgrading the BIOS with a compatible version from an alternative vendor; and patching the existing BIOS NVRAM so as to unlock VT.

I never got around to pursuing either, but I post them here on the off-chance that someone else might find them useful. It’s timely, as well: the recently announced XP Mode of Windows 7 will require hardware-accelerated virtualization to work.

Upgrading the BIOS from an Alternative Vendor:
The BIOS in the 8215WLMi is based on PhoenixBIOS, from Phoenix Technologies. BiosAgentPlus.com claims to be able to “quickly identify and update” PhoenixBIOS, among others. This is a paid-for subscription service (USD$29.95/year, as of writing) and there’s no indication (or claim), anywhere, that they will provide a subscriber with anything other than the latest BIOS from the manufacturer. In fact, having checked this out to write it up here, it’s not clear that this is worth pursuing any further.

Patching the existing BIOS:
As noted above, the BIOS in the 8215WLMi is based on PhoenixBIOS, in common with several other makes of notebook, such as the aforementioned Sonys. At least some of the users in this forum claim to have successfully patched the PhoenixBIOS-based BIOS in their respective Vaios to enable VT, and this poster claims to have been able to patch the BIOS in his Acer 5684 “in order to enable the VT flag.”

In one respect, this seems a more promising option, for which the Phoenix BIOS Editor may be useful. But to mess with a PC’s BIOS like this is to run the risk of bricking the computer. So, caveat hax0r.

An engineer, a mathematician and a computer scientist..

An engineer, a mathematician and a computer scientist are being interviewed to become CFO of a big company. The CEO asks, “What is two plus two?”

The engineer whips out his cell phone, uses the calculator, and shows it to the CEO. “Two plus two is four!”

The mathematician whips out his portable whiteboard, scribbles some stuff one it, and shows it to the CEO. “This proves that two plus two is four!”

The computer scientist whips out a computer model, shrugs, sighs and asks, “How much do you want it to be?”

Via ./

The Great Zucchini

It’s a bit long (and not new), but still the best thing I’ve read thus far this year.

GoogleUpdate.exe

Like many others, I installed Google Chrome on my computer shortly after it was released to the Web earlier in the week. There is much about it to like: the interface (literally, the “chrome”) is easy on the eye – contrasting strongly with Firefox’s rather utilitarian out-of-the-box experience – and very smooth in operation; click-dragging tabs to open as new windows being a particular highlight.

The practice of hosting each tab in its own process seems like overkill if/when most tabs contain a document for reading rather than an application for interaction, although this may seem a quaint observation in a few years’ time, when eight-core (and more) PCs are all the rage. It was with one eye on the proliferation of “chrome.exe” processes in Windows Task Manager that I spotted “GoogleUpdate.exe”.

As a rule of thumb, automated update processes and services which run all the time one is logged onto’s one’s computer but for which new downloads are only occasionally made available seem a bit of waste of time and space. And then there are so many of them: Apple has one for iTunes/QuickTime, Sun has one for Java, and Google has at least three of them – a “Google Update Service” (which is installed as a Windows Service) for Google Earth, “GoogleToolbarNotifier.exe” (which is installed as a start-up program in the Windows Registry) for the Google Toolbar, and now “GoogleUpdate.exe” for Google Chrome; and these are just the ones of which I have recent personal experience.

Would I that they adopted Firefox’s approach – checking for updates while the software is actually running. But they don’t, so I killed “GoogleUpdate.exe” on sight. A short while later, however, it was back; I just presumed that Chrome, which was still running, had detected its absence and re-spawned it, which seemed logical, given the nature of the application, and thought not more of it. Shortly after booting the computer, from cold, the following morning, I came across it again, but before I’d launched the browser; lacking an equivalent for either Live Bookmarks or Flashblock, Chrome has not yet supplanted Firefox.

Auto-update programs such as “GoogleUpdate.exe” are often launched, at system start up or user login, via HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run or HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run in the Registry, or maybe as an “Automatic” Service. But “GoogleUpdate.exe” is started via a task added to Windows’ Task Scheduler Library by Chrome’s installer. On my machine, this task was triggered to start “When [the] computer is idle.” It will literally start when you have your back turned to it.

Disabling the task prevents the program from being restarted at the next opportunity, and – as of the current version of Chrome, anyway – seems not to have any effect, adverse or otherwise, on the operation of the browser. Section 12 of the EULA does require users to “agree to receive.. updates” to the software and to “permit Google to deliver these to you”, but specifies neither a mechanism nor a schedule, so to invoke “GoogleUpdate.exe” manually (the path to the program is given in the task’s properties) would seem to be in compliance.

“The open positions require extensive travel on Earth and in space.”

NASA are recruiting (U.S. citizens only).

KB937061

Like some others I had a problem yesterday with one of the updates pushed out by Microsoft as part of “Patch Tuesday“: ‘Security Update for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Service Pack 1 (KB937061).’

Windows Update downloads and attempts to apply this update to machines on which one of the matching Visual Studio 2005 SKUs (see here) has been installed. The update addresses a “Vulnerability in Crystal Reports for Visual Studio [which] Could Allow Remote Code Execution.” However, Crystal Reports for Visual Studio is an optional component of Visual Studio 2005 and so, as was the case on the Acer, is not always installed.

So although Windows Update would report that the update as having been “successfully” installed, it would in short order re-prompt to install it again. And again. And again, ad infinitum. (On Vista, I have entries in WU’s ‘update history’ for one, two, three.. eight “successful” installations of this update..)

On the Acer, adding Crystal Reports to the Visual Studio 2005 installation enabled WU to properly install the update and subsequently recognise it as having been installed; incidentally, the process of actually installing the update seems to happen perceptibly more quickly than that of not really installing it but reporting it installed all the same.

Finally, subsequently un-installing Crystal Reports for Visual Studio seems also to un-install the update, whereupon Windows Update prompts, again, to install it and one is, presumably, apt to find oneself back in the same cycle.

This Ain’t Your Grandpa’s Derivative-Securitized Derivative

Capital Spreads, a financial spread betting firm operating out of The City in London, publishes a daily commentary on the state of the markets. Of last Thursday, they wrote (amongst other things):

[Thursday’s] comment made the point that the current trading activities were not sane ones for punters to be involved with, as a trading company I am happy to se [sic] that our clients completely ignored this piece of advice and managed to trade around 22,500 times in the 24 hr period (a quite spectacular record for Capital Spreads). I wish I could be as happy with their overall performance but sadly given the volatility this was not the case. Some punters made very good money but, in the main, most were caught in the headlights and run down.

Quite.

Statement on Security

I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis David Cameron placed on the role of the “public” in reference to the recent attempted/failed “attacks” in London and Glasgow during his response to the Prime Minister’s Statement on Security; a reference to John Smeaton?

My Enemy’s Enemy is my Friend. On Facebook.

(Indirect) Link (it’s #4):

i’ve always thought it rather limiting that facebook only has a friends list. i’d certainly use it more if it had the option of an enemies list. i mean knowing your friends’ enemies is certainly more informativethan knowing their friends.

Feisty Fawn and the Waved Dead Chicken

Given the positive experience of the, erm, dead chicken, I had to try out Feisty Fawn on the Acer.

Since the Acer’s CPU is (notionally) 64-bit, I tried my luck, first, with the 64-bit version of the distro. Somewhat to my surprise, this worked, virtually perfectly, out-of-the-box. But the (apparent) absence of a 64-bit version of Skype fairly quickly had me switching (downgrading?) to the 32-bit build.

Feisty Fawn ships with an out-of-the-box option to tart spruce up the desktop with 3D visual effects, but this would not work, on the Acer, without installing the restricted graphics drivers and XGL and using the latter to configure a login session.

I hit upon this more or less by accident whilst using this guide to configuring Beryl. Having installed the bits, configured the login session and then used it to log into the system, I found I was able to enable the built-in Desktop Effects from the system’s Preferences menu, and thereafter never felt the need to bother with Beryl.

A few weeks in, and I’ve not noticed any effect (good or bad) on system stability. From time to time, three of the four workspaces which were available when the system was installed disappear. There are various guides out there to restore the additional workspaces and, thereby, the cube, but coming from the worlds of uni-workspaced Windows and OS X, this goes unnoticed, most of the time.

By contrast, the effect of the appallingly-named “Wobbly Windows” can linger with one even after logging off: coming to Ubuntu from Windows, the effect is sufficiently subtle not to distract; but move from Ubuntu to Windows and its absence can seem (at least for a short time) jarring.

Suddenly, Windows Vista’s windows appear a bit old-fashioned and, well, fragile..


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