Date: July 12th 2008

This update gives tips about several different subjects that may be of interest, namely:

1. Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3),

2. The importance of  high quality media for burning CDs and DVDs, 

3. Recommended printers,

4. Recommended hard drives, and

5. The usefulness of a program called RoboForm for remembering passords and login ids.

Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP)

Service Pack 3 (SP3)  for Windows XP was released by Microsoft in May of this year. It's been 5 years since XP SP2 was released, and SP3 will be  the last service pack for XP.

I'm writing about SP3 because
it will eventually arrive on your system as an automatic update. For the most part, SP3 is a roll-up of the almost 200 updates issued after the release of SP2, plus a few extra things. Therefore, since most of you  have had automatic updates enabled, you'll already have had most of these updates automatically installed, and SP3 shouldn't represent too much new. Furthermore, I've manually installed SP3 on almost all systems I've worked on since SP3 was released in May, so you lucky folks don't need to worry about this issue.

For the rest of you, I've had very few problems with these SP3 installations. However, I've been diligent in making sure that  all antispyware/adware, anti-virus, etc. programs were disabled or uninstalled prior to applying SP3. (I did have a potentially serious problem with SP3 when a program called Webroot Spysweeper was running. BTW, I do not recommend Webroot Spysweeper.)

I've also seen a serious, but repairable, glitch that occurs when SP3 is applied to virgin SP2 systems, something that won't generally be an issue for existing systems.

My research also shows a very serious problem with SP3 when applied to those HP (and maybe some ASUS) desktops  that use the AMD processor: SP3 completely crashes such systems. The AMD related problem isn't a problem with the AMD processor or even SP3, but is a bug in the XP image HP and some others have released for the AMD processor. (Essentially, these vendors incorrectly include Intel driver information for AMD processors, and these drivers get activated when SP3 is installed.)  There is also a
minor problem when SP3 is applied to Microsoft's XP Media Center Edition 2005.

At any rate, SP3 is a very big and comprehensive update to XP that updates hundreds of operating system files even if all previous updates have been applied, and you might want to have me apply this update for you manually in a controlled environment, rather than waiting for it to come in automatically, and perhaps start installing automatically in a possibly problematic environment.

High Quality CD and DVD Media

If you don't burn your own CDs or DVDs and don't ever plan to, then you'll probably want to skip this article, otherwise, read on.

Fundamentally, most blank CD/DVD media sold in the big box stores is junk, and often produces quite a few problems during the burning process, or degrades in quality and may play poorly or not at all after a few months.

Brand name doesn't help because most media is made by a few manufacturers in China or Taiwan and rebranded under familiar brand names. Many of the familiar (and store brands) sold in big box stores, on Ebay, and cheap Internet media outlets are rebranded products from the worst of the Asian producers, plus these brands frequently change their suppliers. As an example, Memorex is one of the worst of the recognizable brands, and it typically uses one of the worst Asian manufactures, CMC.

Basically, the very best media is made by a Japanese company called  Taiyo Yuden (TY), which is the company that originally invented the CD media. Unfortunately, some of what is sold as being TY is
actually counterfeit, so it's also important to buy from reputable suppliers. One of the very best suppliers (and the one I use exclusively for CD/DVD media and supplies) is I've provided links to them at:

Taiyo Yuden DVD Media at


Taiyo Yuden CD Media at

For more information about CD/DVD media quality look here.

For more information about the many different and confusing DVD formats look here. (The page this link points to also contains a wealth of valuable information under the "Related Articles" list.)

BTW, in researching DVD burners, I decided that, in general, Samsung burners are among the best. These can be purchased from at here and  here.

Printer Recommendations

I'm often asked to make printer recommendations. This is a somewhat difficult subject as peoples' printing needs are varied, and I can speak from experience based mainly on my own particular needs, which are to print high volumes of black and white pages, and to print low volumes of very high quality color art prints.

In general, I'm not a fan of ink jet printers, since the cartridges are extraordinarily expensive and the print heads tend to clog when the printers are unused for extended periods, often permanently destroying the printer. However,  for really high quality color printing, ink jets are the only game in town, and I use Epson's Stylus Photo series printers with the UltraChrome inks, which are pigment-based inks that have good longevity and light-fastness. However, these printers are expensive and are overkill for daily color printing needs.

In general, I'm also not a fan of HP consumer ink jet printers (particularly all-in-ones) as they tend to install a massive amount of completely unnecessary, and often unstable, software, plus they tend to  break down relatively quickly, and of course are essentially unrepairable and must be thrown away, and thus are environmentally unfriendly. Also, as these printers break down, people go buy another, newer model, and install another giant, different batch of unnecessary and  unstable HP software without uninstalling the first batch of HP software. If you do this enough times, eventually your computer won't run at all. That being said, many people have decent experiences with HP printers. Also, Lexmark ink jet printers, including the Dell ink jet printers which are rebranded Lexmark ink jet printers, are even worse from both a hardware and software perspective.

For B & W printing, I've used the Lexmark E238 laser printer, which is no longer available. The 
successor models (which I haven't personally used) appear to be the Lexmark E250d and Lexmark E250dn, with the latter model being a networked printer. Networked printers plug right into your network and are directly available to all of your networked computers, though it can be tricky to install the software.

I also use the Brother MFC series all-in-one B & W laser printers, which are laser printers that print, copy, scan, and fax. I use the MFC-7820N, which is a networked model. I really like the Brother MFC all-in-one series as the amount of software that is installed is minimal, and all installed background programs are non-essential and can be disabled. The MFC series is also nice in that it is a family of printers that have the same features and use the same software, but spans a gamut of duty-cycles needs, meaning that you can pay more money to get faster and heavier-duty printers, but they operate the same as their less expensive cousins.

For high-volume color printing, the Brother
HL-4040CN color laser printer gets good reviews on, though I have no personal experience with this printer. Also, this printer is probably not suitable for photographic-quality printing.

It's doubtful that many of these printers are available in retail big box stores, and therefore must be purchased from reputable online stores such as and

Hard Drive Recommendations

I recommend Hitachi hard drives for laptops (2.5" drives)  and 
Seagate hard drives for desktops (3.5" drives).

Regarding external USB backup hard drives, it's easy enough to run down to a big box store and buy a pre-assembled Passport-like external USB drive. However, these devices use Western Digital and even lower-quality drives, and I've seen these devices fail, which  sort of  negates the whole point of a backup device.

You can roll your own high-quality backup device with either a 2.5" Hitachi drive or a 3.5" Seagate drive and the appropriate Vantec external enclosure (2.5" Vantec enclosure or 3.5" Vantec enclosure). The main drawback with building your own is that once assembled (which is easy enough to do), the disk must be initialized and then formatted. Initializing is easy as the operating system will prompt you to do this when you first plug your device into your computer, but it is less obvious how to format the device.

Whether you buy or build your external backup device, none of these devices are really appropriate to leave plugged into your computer permanently, as disk drives generate a lot of heat, and these enclosures can not sufficiently dissipate this heat, and therefore, these devices should be attached to the computer only while backing-up, restoring, and 
transferring data.


Using RoboForm to Remember Loginids and Passwords

If you have to keep track of numerous login ids and passwords for numerous Internet sites that you buy things from, or otherwise have to login to, then read on about a nice piece of software that keeps track of all of this for you. If keeping track of this kind of information isn't a problem for you, then you'll probably want to skip this article.

I almost never recommend a paid software product because there is so much  free quality software available. But there isn't a good piece of free software that does what a program called RoboForm does, namely remembers your login ids and passwords for each web site you visit, and then lets you fill these in with the click of a button. Furthermore, RoboForm can be configured  with all the information needed for filling in the billing and address information fields when you buy something from an Internet store, greatly speeding the process and eliminating the chance of  error. RoboForm also uses the same database for Internet Explorer and Firefox, maintaining consistency of information regardless of which browser is being used.

RoboForm can be downloaded, installed, and used for free as long as you need to utilize loginids/passwords for no more than 10 web sites. If you need more than 10, you can fully activate the product for $29.95.

Basil Irwin


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