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Technofile: The benefits of Win95B

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


The benefits of Win95B
 

Technofile for July 6, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Last week I explained how use a Windows 95B CD-ROM to upgrade your older Windows 95 operating system to the newest version of Windows. (You can read that article at http://www.dreamscape.com/afasoldt/texts/tec062997.html.) Although Microsoft says Win95B can't be used as an upgrade to the earlier version, I pointed out that the upgrade goes very smoothly.

Win95B, also called OSR2, does not look and feel different from the older version of Windows 95, but beneath the surface are three big improvements and a lot of small enhancements.

The biggest change is the optional disk-organization system called FAT-32. In most cases Windows 95B installs itself with FAT-32 turned off, so you will want to go to the trouble of turning it on.

Why? There are two reasons:

  • FAT-32 saves a huge amount of disk space if you have a hard drive that's 1 gigabyte or larger. On a typical 1.6-gigabyte drive, switching to FAT-32 is likely to reclaim 100 to 200 megabytes of storage space. More savings are possible, depending on how many files you have and what size they are. (Small files waste the most space, so a drive with tens of thousands of small files could gain 300 megabytes of space.)
  • FAT-32 allows the use of much larger single partitions (single drive units represented by letters) than the older disk-organization system, called FAT-16. The older Windows 95's FAT-16 system cannot handle partitions larger than 2.1 gigabytes or less (depending on how sizes are figured), but Win95B's FAT-32 can handle single partitions of up to 8 gigabytes. (The theoretical limit is vastly higher, but a technical limitation in the way current drives send information to the operating system keeps the real limit to 8 gigabytes at this time.)

Read the next sentence carefully. You can install the Win95B upgrade without worrying about FAT-32, then change to FAT-32 after the upgrade is finished _ without losing any of your files. Ignore what anyone else says about the need to reformat your hard drive to switch to FAT-32. You don't have to do that. I explain how easy it is in a companion article, http://www.dreamscape.com/afasoldt/texts/fat32upgrade.html.

The next big change is support for DMA bus mastering. DMA (direct memory access) bus mastering is a way for a modern hard drive to operate in most ways without taking up the time and attention of the computer's main processor or CPU. This gives a big boost to smoother multitasking. Your computer has to be able to handle DMA bus mastering for Win95B to support it.

After you install Win95B, you can find out if you can turn DMA bus mastering on by right clicking the My Computer icon, choosing Properties, then Device Manager, then Disk Drives, then your specific hard drive. (Windows may list it as "generic IDE.'') Double click, then choose Settings. Look for a DMA checkbox. If you see one, click it to turn DMA on. If you don't see one, your computer will not support DMA bus mastering.

The third important change is a built-in ability to change both resolution and color depth on the fly, without restarting Windows. Older video cards may not be able to handle this, but most modern cards should do fine. Resolution is expressed in numbers such as "640 by 480'' or "800 by 600,'' and color depth is usually given as 256 colors, high color and true color. (These are also called 8-bit, 16-bit and 24-bit color.)

Users who play a lot of games should find this improvement very helpful. Many games work best only on a 640 by 480 (old-style VGA) desktop, using only 256 colors. If you normally set your desktop to a higher resolution using high-color or true-color modes, you'll be able to click an icon in the System Tray on the Taskbar to switch instantly to the older mode.

(Microsoft's programmers give away a free utility program that tries to do the same thing, but it is limited by lack of full support for this on-the-fly display switching in the older version of Windows 95. It never worked properly on my own system, but the one built into Win95B works flawlessly. The utility is part of the Power Toys. You can find a link to the Power Toys from my Web site.)


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