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Testing your memory, the Open Source way

Author: JT Smith

By Russell C. Pavlicek

You are probably used to seeing the memory test that occurs when you boot
most PCs. This proves that your machine has good memory, right? Well,
not exactly.

The memory test a PC performs is quite basic: it will turn up
gross failures in memory. Unfortunately, it does not do much to reveal subtle problems. To do that, the PC would need to do an extensive
memory evaluation. Your machine won’t do it, but Memtest86 will.

Memtest86 is a
stand-alone program that allows you to thoroughly exercise the memory
on your machine. It requires no operating system or human intervention and can boot from a floppy or hard drive partition.
And, if that’s not enough to interest you, it is distributed under the GNU General Public License.

Why bother?

We tend to think that if our machine runs, the memory must be
good. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. A flawed section of memory
that does not normally load kernel-level code can be a time bomb, causing intermittent failures of any application which
happens to load in that section of memory. And, on today’s memory-rich
machines, a bad section of memory might only be accessed once in a great

We often expend considerable effort to make certain our machines are
not vulnerable to hacking or (in the case of Windows PCs particularly)
viruses. It is only reasonable that we take a few minutes now and again
to insure our PC’s memory is sound. Any
system that appears to be less stable than it once was should be tested
with Memtest86.


Installation is simple, even when using the source kit on a machine with the gcc compiler installed. Download the
tarball, extract it, change directory to the source location, and type
“make.” That’s all.

Even on an old machine, the build process is very fast. The entire kit
takes up less than a megabyte of space unpacked. A modern PC will build
the program in a few seconds. Even most slow machines can build the
software in less than the time it takes to get a fresh cup of coffee.

To load Memtest86 on a floppy, just pop a formatted disk into the drive
and use the “dd” command to copy the memtest.bin file onto the floppy.
That’s it. You’re ready to go. No configuration necessary.


Running the program is even easier. Simply insert the floppy disk into the
machine you want to test. If the machine in question does not normally
try to boot from the floppy, you will need to enter the CMOS setup and
make the floppy a boot device.

Boot the machine. Memtest86 will load itself from the floppy and begin
execution automatically. Yes, you can pick and choose what memory tests
to run by entering the configuration menu (by pressing the “c” key), but
the default suite does a good job of exercising the machine.

Note that even using the default suite of tests, each pass can take some
time. On my Thinkpad 755CX (75 MHz Pentium with 40 MB of memory), for
example, each pass through the default memory tests takes about 23
minutes. On my 1 GHz Athlon with 128 MB, each pass takes about half that

time. But the tests run fine without intervention, so you can attend
to other matters for a while and come back later to see how things are

It should be noted that the program just runs and runs. Don’t wait for it
to finish, because it won’t. It will show progress as it is running, so
simply decide how many passes you want to endure and then press the escape
key when you are satisfied with the results. On most machines, the escape
key will cause the system to reboot. On my Thinkpad, it caused the
program to halt, but I had to use the halt button to power down the
machine and then manually reboot.

I noted one other small glitch while running the program on my Athlon box.
Entering the configuration menu and instructing Memtest86 to restart the
tests caused the program to hang. A simple reboot both cleared the
problem and had the originally desired effect.

The software comes with an in-depth README file. Look at this file to
decode the errors that may occur. The README also provides technical
details regarding the various tests that are employed, as well as tips for
troubleshooting memory problems. If problems occur during testing, you
will definitely want to consult the README to determine your best course
of action.


Memtest86 is both useful and simple to use. It can run from any x86 PC
that can boot from a floppy. And, by testing memory thoroughly, the
program can save you untold agony down the road by identifying subtle
memory errors before they have a chance to corrupt your data. It is well
worth the time to install and run.

Curious employees are biggest security risk

Author: JT Smith

Register: “Forget about Internet crackers, employees are the biggest security problem for most businesses. That’s the main conclusion of a survey of UK IT managers which suggests that most firms are prepared for the threats posed by viruses and hackers, but are still struggling to secure data on their own networks.”


  • Security

AbiWord: Open Source’s answer to Microsoft Word

Author: JT Smith

O’Reilly: “Tired of putting up with Microsoft Word’s bloated file size and price, but still need to deal with documents in Word format? Then you
should take a serious look at AbiWord. This open source word processor is able to read and write most documents in Word’s *.doc
file format. (AbiWord does this by incorporating the wv library into its code.)”


  • Open Source

OS X and Me, perfect together

Author: JT Smith

Anonymous Reader writes: “I have to admit that I haven’t been the most ideal Mac user out there in fact I totally left the Mac party all together in 1998, not for enemy (Windows) but for Linux.
For the last few years I’ve used nothing but Linux, (even started a Linux website, ReactiveLinux.com). It wasn’t until OSX Public Beta came out that I thought “hey, I gotta check this out” after all it is BSD isn’t it? plus the UI looked “oh so sweet”! Read More

License fees for SuSE Linux?

Author: JT Smith

PDAJames writes “SuSE says it will have Linux ported to Hammer by November. This interview says that they also might be converting the entire German parliament over to Linux, and that they’re going to start charging ‘license fees’ for SuSE Linux.”


  • Linux

Linux advisory watch – March 15th 2002

Author: JT Smith

From LinuxSecurity.com: “This week, advisories were released for zlib, mod_ssl, xtel, pam_pgsql, cyrus-sasl, netscape, mod_frontpage, openssh, rsync, gzip, NetBSD kernel, php,
fileutils, and cvs. The vendors include Conectiva, Debian, EnGarde, FreeBSD, Immunix, Mandrake, NetBSD, Red Hat, Slackware, SuSE, Trustix, and Yellow
Dog Linux. Many serious advisories affecting nearly all Linux vendors were released this week, it is advisable that you patch your systems


  • Security

Check Point, SSH release VPN wares for handhelds, branch offices

Author: JT Smith

From Network World Fusion: “VPN vendors Check Point and SSH this week announced software and hardware for securing network connections from remote users with PDAs to enterprise branch offices.”


  • Security

Review: Belkin Regulator Pro 1400VA NetUPS power supply

Author: JT Smith

By Jeff Field

If you are like me, you have a lot of equipment that needs power, and you need that equipment for work. My power here goes out more often than I’d like, and until now, not even my laptop on a battery with a wireless network was immune to these outages because the access point required power. After the last outage, I decided it was time to solve this problem.

I decided to get a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for my equipment — something I had meant to do for a while. You don’t think about it until your power goes out, and then you aren’t in much of a position to order something at that point.

More power
I went looking for a UPS with several features. I had a power strip with an RJ11 (phone) pass-through designed to prevent phone surges, but I did not have one for my network cable. So when I was looking to buy a UPS unit, one nice feature, though not crucial, would be an RJ45 pass-through for voltage protection on my incoming network. More importantly, I wanted a power supply that could run enough of my equipment for a sufficient amount of time. This included my desktop PC, wireless access point, network hub, phone, LCD monitor, VCR and TiVo, and I wanted them all to run for 30 minutes. Also, not paying an arm and a leg would be nice.

I figured out I would need about 600 watts for all my devices, so I had to look for a UPS where 600 watts was roughly a bit more than the half-load in order to get the time I wanted. This put me in the 900-watt range, which translates into power supplies in the 1400VA range. “VA,” or voltamps, is the “potential” or “available” power. Roughly 65% of this is the real amount of power, in watts, that the unit can handle at full load. When power is consumed, there is a certain amount of energy wasted. Enough with the physics lesson.

Finally, my decision came down to two potential units: an APC SmartUPS 1400, and a Belkin Regulator Pro 1400VA. Each unit had a lot going for it. Both had six battery-powered outlets, network surge protection, a 1400VA rating, and equivalent equipment warranties (up to $100,000) for damaged caused by a surge, and I have had good experiences with products from both companies. My decision came down to the price — you can find the Belkin for $500 on Pricewatch — plus the reputation of the retailers.

Here is a tip about purchasing online, and particularly from sites you find on Pricewatch. I do not specifically endorse one retailer or another unless I have a lot of experience with them (none of them have sponsorship deals, these are the places I really buy from, with my own money). If I repeatedly buy from a place with good results, like NewEgg.com, then I feel confident in sending you there. However, if I find a deal from a place I have little experience with, I tend to link just to Pricewatch and let you make your own decision. Part of your decision should be consulting the newly revamped ResellerRating.com, a free site dedicated to helping you find out if a retailer has a good reputation with customers.

As for the purchase of the UPS, aesthetics was also a small factor — that’s not always the best reasoning, but whatever unit I picked should be located in the same area of my office as my other equipment, and everything else is black, as is the Regulator Pro. That’s not a deciding factor, but a little bonus.

In the box
When I opened the relatively large box, I found several things of interest: an RS-232 serial cable, to allow communications between a PC and the UPS, a CD with Belkin’s Sentry software (which supports Linux), a power adapter, documentation, and the UPS itself. Documentation consisted of the warranty paper and a fold-out manual telling you what the various readouts on the UPS mean (load percentage, battery charge, under/over voltage, etc.) and how to set the unit up, although that is a simple task.

Setup and software
Setting up the unit was very easy. Like a cordless phone or any other device with a battery, you plug it in — overnight, if possible, to fully charge — and then you are good to go. While it was charging, I attached the serial cable to the PC to start the Belkin Sentry software, and after some haggling, it worked with my serial port. The Belkin Sentry software, while a closed-source product, is extremely full featured. It will notify someone if power goes out, and manage the shutdown of the system in the event of a power outage, as well as allow you to monitor the charge and load of the UPS.

Once the battery was fully charged, it was simply a matter of connecting equipment. The instructions for just about every UPS I have ever encountered tell you not to connect a power strip. This is not entirely accurate; what it should really say is “do not connect a power strip with enough items on it to overload the UPS.” In my case, I was well under the wattage limit, but the back of the Regulator Pro does not lend itself to plugging in block transformers, which only take up a few watts each but take up plenty of room. So I connected a generic power strip with a few transformers on it, plus the equipment mentioned above. Once I had everything on, I booted up, and decided it was time for the ultimate test.

The test
I reached around the back of the UPS and unplugged it from the wall outlet. It started yelling at me. I had disabled all methods of the UPS safely shutting own the PC, and started a stop watch to tell exactly how long it would take the UPS to run out of juice and fully fail (Note: This is not something you should normally do, because it can shorten the life of your battery, not to mention the hardware that gets cut off). After 20 minutes of running at approximately two-thirds load, the UPS shut down. Not half an hour, but impressive nonetheless; only one blackout in my recent memory lasted longer than a few minutes.

Other features
Other features fairly standard on UPSes today include AVR (automatic voltage regulation), which means the UPS monitors your power for spikes or sags and adjusts the voltage accordingly, as well as “pure sinewave output voltage,” which is to ensure that the power you are getting is also free of noise/interference. These features combined eliminate the problem of brownouts, where power is available, just not enough to reliably run equipment.

The Regulator Pro 1400VA (Model F6C100-4) from Belkin is an excellent UPS, well worth the price if your uptime and data integrity are critical for your work, or even if you just hate it when a power outage cuts off your game of Wolfenstein. There are, of course, less powerful models available, but for the serious power user, a unit in the 1400VA range is what I recommend. Consider that many people need not only their PC and monitor, but now need power for networking equipment as well. This unit could comfortably hold a few low-power computers and some network equipment on its own.

As for Linux support, Belkin seems to be at about the same point as other UPS manufacturers: It has closed-source software available to Linux users, but no official Open Source solution yet. The Belkin model is available on Pricewatch for around $500, and remember to check through ResellerRating.com.

Open Source household

Author: JT Smith

From O’Reilly: “Open source breeds computer literacy. Linux programming and administration, gaming and homework — kids can do this stuff, no sweat.”


  • Open Source

Sun should sue over dirty tricks, not innovation

Author: JT Smith

Craz(P)enguin writes “It seems that many in the tech world do not see the Sun lawsuit against Microsoft with a good eye. Analysts and journalists in the industry including people from Gartner Group, ZD News and this latest editorial at OSNews, claim that Sun aims unrealistically too high this time.”