The Low End Mac Mailbag

Some Haxies Worse than Others, Web Page Design Options, Free Email Warning, Really Wiping a Drive, and More

Dan Knight - 2003.03.03 - Tip Jar

The Cost of a Big Cache

In response to my reply to More from Andrew Prosnik, Ed Hurtley explains:

Okay, most of my complaints about Andrew Prosnik's comments have been addressed. Now I have a comment addressed at your comment. :-)

Any CPU would benefit from bigger caches. Why Motorola, Intel, AMD, and IBM don't just throw a 1-2 MB level 2 cache right on the CPU is beyond me. Sure, it would make for a more costly "pro" CPU, but imagine the extra efficiency. This would also help demonstrate the full potential of CPU designs, since they would be less limited by their connection to the motherboard.

Why not? Because die space is hideously expensive. For large caches, there are two options: Put it in the same die (same piece of silicon) as the main processor core, or put it on separate chips. With most "consumer" processors, the former is used. The Pentium 4 has 512 KB of level 2 cache in it's main core. The Athlon XP has just been upgraded from 256 KB to 512, with the 512 KB models just now hitting the shelves. Even Motorola is in on this, with the PowerPC 7455 having 256 KB of level 2 cache.

But the larger you make the piece of silicon, the more expensive it has to be (as each "wafer" has a fixed cost, so the fewer processors you can put on a single wafer, the more you have to charge). So putting tremendously large L2 caches in the same die as the processor core gets expensive fast. Intel is planning on releasing two "consumer" cores with 1 MB of L2 cache soon, the Pentium-M (Banias/Centrino) mobile processor and the upcoming "Prescott" core of the Pentium 4. This can largely be done by decreasing the "process technology" used, or the micron size of the gates. (Most current consumer processors use a .13 micron size, with Intel's "Prescott" scheduled to be the first .09 micron processor.)

As for putting the L2 cache on a separate chip, again, there are two ways of doing it. One is to use commodity chips and just put them very close to the processor core, such as what Apple does with the G4's L3 cache (before the G4 had an onboard L2 cache, they did the same thing for the L2 cache). Intel also did this with their Pentium II and early Pentium III chips, putting the core and the L2 chips in one processor "package." AMD followed suit with their first Athlons.

At that time, trying to put an L2 cache in the main processor core was considered "too expensive" by everyone, including Intel. So Intel made high-performance models (Pentium Pro, Pentium II Xeon, and early Pentium III Xeons) by making their own L2 cache chips, making them very fast, and putting them closer to the core than had usually been done. Even today, Intel's Itanium and Itanium 2 use this approach.

I have friends who still work at Intel, and one got me a picture of the inside of the Itanium's package. (See http://www.hurtley.org/itanium.jpg, sorry, it's pretty big.) The "large" chip is the main core; the four side chips are the L2 cache. This is what the Pentium Pro and the Pentium II Xeon basically looked like. You can see that the cache takes up more silicon than the core! That is the real reason that the Itaniums are expensive. That is also why the Xeon versions of the Pentium II cost $6000, when the same speed 'normal' Pentium II cost $800.

Intel could probably produce a sub-$800 Itanium-based processor if they put very little L2 cache in it. (The L2 cache is also the biggest power draw in an Itanium.)

Slow memory is cheap. Fast memory is expensive. If anything can deep six the PowerPC 970 as the heart of future Macs, it's the 970's insistence on accessing memory at half CPU speed. Fortunately the 970 design can interleave two memory banks, but that still means 625 MHz memory will be necessary to support the 2.5 GHz PPC 970 - and it will only get worse as the CPU gets faster.

One way to make a cheaper computer is to use slower memory, but then the CPU has to wait even longer when it accesses motherboard memory. To minimize this, we have level 1, level 2, and level 3 caches. L1 caches have always been quite small and right on the CPU. Until a few years ago, L2 caches were separate chips. On G3 Macs, they were usually 256 KB or 512 KB and often ran at 40-50% of CPU speed.

In the past few years, it has become common to put a smaller L2 cache (256 KB has been common until just recently) on the CPU die, allowing it to run at the same speed as the CPU. The theory is that the faster speed would help offset the smaller size.

And that also made L3 caches important, since the smaller L2 cache made it that much more likely that a call wouldn't be within the cache. With a 1 MB or 2 MB L2 cache running at half CPU speed - just like the L2 caches of a few years ago - there's a much smaller performance penalty for a miss, at least when that data is in the L3 cache.

By doubling the 512 KB L2 cache that's becoming common on today's higher-end CPUs, the number of CPUs per wafer would be reduced, and this might increase the cost per CPU by 50%. On the other hand, not only would this further reduce the odds of a L2 cache miss, but it could also eliminate the need for the L3 cache sitting between the CPU and motherboard memory.

It would still be more expensive, but with today's multithreading, multitasking operating systems, the benefits of a bigger cache could justify it for high-end applications.

The other side of the equation, which IBM is throttling with the PPC 970, is moving beyond today's "pedestrian" 133-266 MHz busses to something very, very fast where the penalty of a cache hit will be significantly minimized.

Things were so much less complex when computers didn't need wait states, CPUs didn't need caches, and the whole machine had less memory than today's level 3 caches. On the other hand, who really wants to go back to the days of 8 MHz CPUs and 1-bit video?

Haxies and CPU Load

Last Monday, Ken Arroyo warned me against using Unsanity "haxies" on my computer. In response to my questions, he explains:

Sorry for being non specific, I've had no trouble with Silk whatsoever with Silk or WindowShade, but specially if you have an older Mac, Cee Pee You, Xounds, and Labels really slow down your computer. I guess its the fact that they run monitors all the time to do their work but I have seen them with top using 30-40% of my processor (800 MHz PowerBook).

Thanks for the clarification. I'm currently running Memory Usage Getter on my 400 MHz TiBook and displaying processes by CPU load. The frustrating thing is that Cee Pee You doesn't show up as an active process, yet it's displaying the CPU load. That's gotta use some cycles!

Speaking of Labels, I wish Apple had left them in OS X. I've been using them to label site content - one color for 1997 articles, another for 1998, and so on. I'll have to give this one a try to restore Yet Another Lost Classic Mac OS Feature.

As for Xounds, I never did understand the point of adding sound to a graphical user interface.

VisualPage

Symantec used to make a great simple program called "Visual Page" that they abandoned the Mac version of after the 1.1.1 version. However a fully functional trial version can still be downloaded from Tucows:

<http://providenet.mac.tucows.com/preview/206162.html>

I tried Home Page, Page Mill, and Visual Page and decided I liked it best. I believe it behaves a bit better than Home Page as far as the code it generates. I don't know if it will work under Classic or even OS 9 for that matter but it works great under OS 8.6. I don't know if you can even buy retail copy any longer, but I imagine if you like it you could find a copy on eBay. If not the trial version, continues working past the 30 day time period.

I'll give it a look.

Avoid MyRealBox

Charles W. Moore recommended MyRealBox as one of several free email service providers worth investigating in Free and Cheap .mac Alternatives. E McCan sends these words of warning:

Don't have C. Moore's info, and I think he's the one that did the article....

In any case, in one of the previous free POP mail articles, he mentioned MyRealBox (http://www.myrealbox.com). I've used it for a while, and I've got to say - avoid it.

  1. It's a test site. Okay, I could deal with that for a while. But uptime's lousy, as are some other things that have been happening.
  2. They are lousy at communicating . . . well, anything. They recently started blocking Yahoo! groups, saying they're "a source of spam." (Having been on them for quite some time, running 6 of them and being a member of 27 others, that's false.) They didn't send email to anyone mentioning this, though . . . yes, it's in their FAQ, but I thought it was a problem with Yahoo because of the bouncing messages. Nope. Started 10 Feb. Tried all Yahoo's troubleshooting (not that they're all that great on helping) but no go. Just happened to check the FAQ, since they're updating their virus software on MyRealBox, and I thought that might be the problem. Thanks for the notice.
  3. Odd behavior with email clients - Eudora doesn't like them unless you manually add their certificate (again . . . buried in their site). And it tends to hang on receiving (buried in their site again - change a network setting.) None of which is easy to find right away, or intuitive to figure out.

MyRealBox might be free, but it's just not worth it. Scratch it from the list.

There's an email link to Moore at the top of each and every article he writes, and it looks like you corresponded with him in the past explaining how to get MyRealBox to work with Yahoo groups.

But, like they say, things are worth what you pay for them - and only rarely more than that. Moore mentions that it is a demonstration site in his article, as well as occasional downtime. I'd hesitate to use a service with enough downtime that someone needs to mention it....

And at least MyRealBox is putting information on their site about what they're blocking, how to make Eudora work, etc. A lot of email providers, free and otherwise, don't provide any indication what may be blocked as spam or how to configure your email client properly.

Not bad for free, but I'd prefer a service that's a bit more up front about changes. (I wish Apple had been the least bit up front when they decided to block our mailing lists as probable spam on .mac. That's a service I pay to use....)

Try Freeway Express

Tony Crooks recommends looking into Freeway Express as an alternative to Claris Home Page:

What about SoftPress's Freeway Express. In the UK it costs £49, so about $75-80. Not quite a full version of Freeway 3.5.5 but not far short either. And if you know how to use DTP then Freeway is an easy option. As far as I know its only true weakness is that because it generates the HTML after you have done the site design, it isn't too good at importing web pages. But that isn't too much of a problem for most people. Visit www.softpress.com/express for details.

Based on a lot of positive feedback, I did try Freeway a few years ago. As someone with thousands of pages on his website, it's simply impossible to use a design program that can't import my existing pages.

More on Switching from Macs to Windows

Responding to my reply to his letter on Switching from Mac to Windows, Peter Breis comments:

Sounds like our thoughts are not that far apart s:-)

I have my W2k Pro workstation, and as impressed as I am by its speed and general usability, I am still most of the time back here on my G4 with OS X 10.2.4.

Truth to tell, the W2k workstation was not that easy to set up, although I put that down to my lack of familiarity with the OS and the fact I have customised it extensively. I look forward to the end of the process where I just use it to get my work done.

Doesn't do Apple much good, though, because I can't see myself buying another Mac in a rush, especially now I have invested in the W2k machine.

Yes, I have been following the MacInTouch thread and find it interesting that there is little comment on what I find the major shortcomings of OS X.

You have said in the last couple of paragraphs eloquently what I have felt for years. Truly it took a lot for me to switch, and I did it with great sadness.

Time will tell. Now we'll see if Microsoft can drive you away....

Finding a CD-RW Driver

In response to Ib Roslund's quest for a driver for his CD burner, Eric Matthieu writes:

Another option for Ib Roslund's quest for a driver?

http://www.macdrivermuseum.com/disk.shtml

Ah, now there's a good suggestion. Not knowing what brand of drive we're dealing with, I have no idea if any of these will work.

Drive Setup to Clear a Drive

After reading Wiping a Hard Drive Completely, Scott Earleywine suggests:

Can't you use Drive Setup to 'write all zeros' and do a low level format to (somewhat) wipe a HDD?

Drive Setup comes with OS, so there wouldn't be a need to purchase Norton, right?

Sure, make me run down to the basement, find Mac running the classic Mac OS, and find out....

You're right. It's listed as an Initialization Option in one of the menus. Much cheaper than Norton. Thanks for the tip!

Another Way to Wipe a Drive

In response to the same article, Gyger writes:

I was reading the latest LEM Mailbag, and was interested in the section on completely clearing a hard drive. For what it's worth, there's also a freeware tool for this purpose for those who don't have Norton Utilities. Burn is available from most download sites (such as www.tucows.com) and can irretrievably delete both individual files, as well as zeroing out all the free space on a hard disk. Burn also comes with a variety of security options including multiple wiping passes, and the option to write random junk over the hard disk rather than just zeros or ones. All in all a pretty good tool.

I might point out that these such tools also exist for the PC and probably Linux as well. On my Windows 95 machine, I use Mutilate which is a shareware app.

I found Burn 2.5 thanks to a link on Tucows. The classic application requires System 7 or later, can overwrite a file numerous times, can wipe all free space on a drive, and is free.

Printing from an Older Mac

After reading Printing from an LC 475, Gerhard suggests:

My solutions/suggestions about printing with an old LC:

As you already were suggesting, I am using an 1998 Epson 740, which was originally purchased for a Bondi blue iMac (Rev. B). This device can simultaneously handle three connections: USB (my iBook is connected to it), PC-style parallel port (free), and Mac-style serial port, which is used by my LC 475.

You will need a serial printer driver. I used the one that came with the original installation CD. (The first time since 5 years this CD was useful, since it lacked the drivers for the USB port, which was the feature this printer was bought for.) If you are low on memory, you may want to disable background printing and/or color printing as well. Both functions are consuming many megabytes of memory.

If you pick a used Epson 740, be careful to find a good one. Since the printing heads are not exchanged when swapping the ink cartridge, it may become subject to wear and clogging. This is especially true if the printer was not used for a very long time or stored without an ink cartridge. If you find a good one, you will be rewarded with the lowest printing costs. Fully reliable third party ink cartridges are sold at prices as low as 25% of the original Epson ones, resulting in a printing price of 5 cents per page or lower!

You may want to check Epson's site for a Mac printing special. Once I even found a table there listing all Mac serial port equipped devices - very useful purchase help.

Other options:

Buy any Hewlett Packard DeskWriter. Since HP's DeskWriters are nearly indestructible, old ones will work like new. The only issue I ever heard of (and experienced myself) is that the paper rollers my start to slide over the paper. In most cases you just have to clean them with a piece of cloth (rough linen works best) wetted with water and very little of dish washing soap. There are a lot of help tips available on the net regarding this issue.

Buy an old LaserWriter. Especially on older/slower Macs it is a good idea to leave much of the computing work needed for printing to the printer. Postscript capable LaserWriters will take a lot of work load from the little computers and will produce nice, clean output.

Good luck!

Good advice, especially on the Epson with USB and Mac serial support. I don't know if anyone besides Epson ever did that.

I've had mixed results with HP. My first DeskJet, a 500, was a tank. I bought it in my DOS days, later used it with my Mac, later sent it to work with my wife, later gave it to my brother, who was still using it last I heard. My second HP was a Color DeskWriter. It lasted about 3 years. My third as an Apple StyleWriter 4500, which was a repackaged version of some DeskWriter model. Piece of crap. CompUSA had at it. It's gathering dust in my basement.

HP inkjet printer quality has fallen through the floor on low-cost printers. Avoid them at all costs. HP makes great laser printers (I have one), and their higher-cost DeskJets have a good reputation, but avoid any printer that costs less than 3-4x the cost of a set of ink cartridges.

An old LaserWriter is another good option, and some of them (I think the LW IIf and IIg, as well as almost all of the newer ones) include LocalTalk and ethernet support. They are mostly tanks that will last about forever, and a single toner cartridge can last an average user well over a year.

Well, that gets me up to Thursday in my quest to catch up on email. More on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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