We Need a Mythbusters For Computers

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Computers and Technology - Thursday, September 27th, 2007

The Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters” show is great, and very popular with geeks and all, but we could use one for computing. The show deals mainly with physics and nature myths, especially when they give Jamie and Adam an opportunity to blow stuff up. We’ll never forget that cement truck.

So we could use some computer Mythbusters. Because over the years of working and playing with computers, I have accumulated a stack of things I know… or think I know… or don’t know whether I know. There’s debate all over the place about these issues, but nobody ever rolls a camera, rounds up some test machines, and sets out to either prove it as fact or bust it once and for all.

I’m going to fess up to these here, just so you know that ever a high and mighty geek blogger has stuff he doesn’t know either. If anybody has a definite test that proves results one way or the other, feel free to link me to my education for the day.

Is it better to turn the computer off or leave it on? – When I turn it off, I’m saving energy. When I leave it on, I’m saving the delicate circuitry inside the motherboard from being jolted with the sudden current when I turn it on. So which is better?

Are screensavers still necessary? – You can see an excellent example of “raster-burn” mostly on old arcade machines. Ever seen a Pac-Man machine with the maze burned into the tube even when it’s turned off? But I keep hearing how monitors have come a long way. What about LCD screens on laptops?

Do I really have to wear wrist-guards and take precautions against static when handling components? – You know, don’t touch the motherboard without touching the case first to discharge static, handle RAM chips only by their edges, static mats, wrist bands with the clip connecting to the chassis, yadda yadda. I went for a decade handling computer guts as if they were Faberge eggs, and then one day I was at a computer store and the clerk took a card out of the bag and had his fingers all over it. I asked “What about static?” and he shook his head and said, “Myth!” I took the card home and it worked. Even since then, I handle components like anything else, and have had no problem.

Are there really no viruses for Linux? – Yes, I know all about those proof-of-concept experiments done at places like Kaspersky labs. I’m not talking about in a theoretical way in some mad scientist lab, but in the wild. And don’t give me that conventional wisdom that there aren’t enough Linux boxes to exploit, because there are places where Linux has enough market share (such as the server room) to make it possible. For that matter, Linux powers some of the biggest sites on the web, which is where the money is anyway. I know programming. I know enough to know that there is no such thing as a hermetically perfectly secure system. So, where’s the viruses?

Do you really need to burn CDs slow? – Every time I go to burn a CD, I pick 4x as the burn speed because I heard that burning faster can corrupt the data on it and I’ll end up with a frisbee. But my read/write CD drive and software says it can go many factors faster. Burning at 4x takes about a minute or two anyway. So why bother making it faster if it’s going to mess something up?

Did the old ‘turbo’ button on old computers ever do anything? – Every time I’ve seen one on an old box, I’ve pushed it and tested and pushed it again. I never noticed any difference in speed at all, for anything. I never got around to dismantling the case to find out if it’s actually just not connected to anything. I could see it if it’s there to give you something to do when you call tech support.

Heck, I could come up with more all day, but I’ll turn the mike over to the comment crowd.

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10 Responses to “We Need a Mythbusters For Computers”

  1. Rob O. Says:

    Back in the day (boy, does that make ya feel old to say) I actually did have a Turbo XT PC. And sure enough, the turbo button did boost or reduce the processor speed. Some older apps & games didn’t work well at the faster speeds, so you had to back ol’ lightning down…

  2. DosFreak Says:

    “Is it better to turn the computer off or leave it on?”

    Well I would hope that your using suspend/sleep or hibernation instead of just a full power off. With suspend/sleep the computer is still on, it’s just that parts of the computer are powered down. With hibernation the computer is turned off but the contents of memory are saved to a file on the HD for a quick boot when you power back up.

    Computers have come a long way since the old days. There really is no problem with powering on/off equipment. Laptops get powered on/off all the time and I still have tons of old Compaq P3 laptops from 1999/2000 that still work. The ones that don’t never failed because they were powered on/off too many times.

    “Are screensavers necessary”?

    Nope. heh. In fact there was something about this a couple of weeks ago on slashdot where someone ran a statistic that most people uses google as a homepage but the white screen of google supposedly used up more energy and if the page was black it wouldn’t use up so much….which is a load of BS. It’s amazing the amount of crap people make up.

    “Do I really have to wear wrist-guards and take precautions against static when handling components?”

    Well you don’t HAVE to do anything. Most environments you don’t build up enough static electricty in your body to affect electronic components but in some environments you do. A powerful enough charge is all it takes to fry a component. The precautions are there to protect against gradual ESD damage as well. You fix a computer today without taking precautions and perhaps cause a slight bit of damage….you work on the computer a few weeks later without taking precautions and BAM the hardware doesn’t work no more….

    “Are there really no viruses for Linux?”

    Define viruses. Most of the problems today with security are keyloggers/rootkits/spyware/malware. Not viruses. Linux isn’t really a target but it’s not an “enemy” or there’s no money in compromising it. In Windows there is.

    “Do you really need to burn CDs slow?”
    Depends on the media/cd burner. In the early days of CDRS there were ALOT of bad brands of CDS and CD burners. Nowadays it doesn’t really matter that much.

    “Did the old ‘turbo’ button on old computers ever do anything?”

    Well the turbo button on my Packard Bell 286 @8mhz was boosted up to 12mhz with the turbo button. I don’t remember seeing any difference though. I guess if you run some synthetic benchmarks you may see a difference or run some compression tests.

  3. Rea Maor Says:

    Wow ❗ thank you for taking the time to write it all, thats pretty much amazing 🙂

  4. alan the great Says:

    I think that Mythbusters should do a show about blowing up computers. Or at least melting them. Thermite, anyone?

  5. Rea Maor Says:

    Great idea 🙂

  6. MrMud Says:

    “Did the old ‘turbo’ button on old computers ever do anything?”

    Yes. Some programs used the CPU clockspeed for their speed settings. A good example is the original wing commander. Back then, the 33Mhrz computer dominated and was the only available CPU speed (it was an i386, ring a bell?). Well, because it was the only PC CPU, the developers of WC used that clock speed. If you then, down the road, upgraded your CPU beyond 33Mhrz, say to 66Mhrz, the whole game played at /twice/ the speed. The turbo button didn’t speed things up — it allowed you to slow your computer down by turning the clock speed back.

  7. Ratfink Says:

    1. It’s a trade off, power usage vs thermal shock on the components. With power management technology and the cheap price of technology it’s really not a big trade off. You are talking about the difference between 9 years of life vs 10.

    Thermal shock has become a worse problem due to high operating temperature of equipments. Typically what happens is the temperature changes cause stress on the bondwires that connect the die to the packaging and can crack and form a weak or open circuit. It does happen but it’s not a big deal.

    2. Screen savers are a throwback to the 80s, they have developed additives to the phosphors that largely have eliminated burn in. And of course LCDs never had this problem. This one isn’t really ‘BS’ since there was a time when monitors and televisions would burn it. It’s just not the case anymore

    3. Electro-static discharge (ESD) is one of those things that can sneak up on you when you least expect it. Yes ESD is relatively rare. Yes static discharge will destroy all but a very few components specially designed to handle it (there is only so much you can do to protect upwards of 6000 volts). It’s one of those ‘why risk it?’ things. A $10 wrist strap and common sense is far cheaper then even the cheapest internal component.

    4. Yes there is at least one Linux virus: Linux.RST.B.

    5. Unless you are using very cheap media I see no reason to drop the speed. Anecdotal evidence I know but I have burnt upwards of 8000 CDs at full speed on a 24x CDR and in that time had probably 30 defective disks. If your burner is spitting out a lot of coasters then certainly drop down the speed, but if it isn’t why change something that works?

    6. It reduced the clock multiplier and sometimes disabled the CPU cache.

  8. Jack Says:

    LCD monitors can get screen burn-in. I know because I’m looking at a 17″ Dell that has a good burn-in of SETI@Home on it.

    As for components getting shocked with a sudden jolt of current when you turn on the machine, you shouldn’t worry too much about that. If the machine you are using was not cheaply made then all of the electrical components on the board should be rated at twice their normal working voltage. Besides when you watch power-up cycles on most machines there is very little overshoot in the voltage ramps.

    You should always practice safe grounding habits to eliminate ESD discharge. You can potentially send 10kV of ESD into any component you are handling; this is much more likely to happen in more arid climates.

    Turbo button, what the other guys said about slowing down and speeding up the CPU clock.

    CD burn speed…you may see some corruption if you are using cheap CDs and or cheap burner.

  9. libu Says:

    LCD TV’s also get burn in, I forgot to turn mine off one weekend when I went away, left it on the blue “no signal” screen. Now any time the screen is mostly white i can very faintly see the no signal message.

  10. Tokit Says:

    ““Are screensavers necessary”?

    Nope. heh. In fact there was something about this a couple of weeks ago on slashdot where someone ran a statistic that most people uses google as a homepage but the white screen of google supposedly used up more energy and if the page was black it wouldn’t use up so much….which is a load of BS. It’s amazing the amount of crap people make up.”

    This isn’t BS, in most cases it still takes more power to light up the monitor white than it does black, depends on the monitor size too. It doesn’t take THAT much power but it still takes a tiny bit more. Then again the switch from a CRT to a LCD is saving enough power anyhow.

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