Computers Archive

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Excel 2010 - Fixing a Slow Solver, XP 64

Excel & Windows XP 64I use Excel a lot at work, and I use Solver pretty extensively for some calculations that almost have to be solved iteratively. One of those spreadsheets has grown pretty big, to the point where in Excel 2002 (Excel XP), it was taking around 35 seconds to solve a particular scenario.

When Excel 2007 came out, I thought I'd give it a try, but solver took forever to run. So, I decided to hold off on upgrading.

When Excel 2010 came out, I downloaded the beta version of it to give it a try. Again, solver took forever. The scenario that took 35 seconds to run in 2002 took 8 minutes and 7 seconds to run in 2010 - 13.9 times longer.

Well, this time I did a little more digging, and saw an option that I suspected might be giving it a problem. Under Options -> Advanced -> Formulas -> Enable multi-threaded calculation, I unchecked that checkbox. I ran solver again. Lo and behold it was down to 46 seconds - still slower than in 2002, but at least now it was something I could live with.

I went back and checked on a colleague's computer with Excel 2007, and even though I didn't time it this time around, disabling the multi-threaded calculation made a huge difference.

So, to anyone who's having a problem with Solver being mind numbingly slow, this may help you out.

As another side note for Office 2010, Microsoft apparently decided that they didn't want to support it for XP 64. For the beta version, at least, this isn't a problem. Just run the compatibility wizard (Start -> Run -> hcp://system/compatctr/compatmode.htm), and set the installation program to run under 'Microsoft Windows XP'.

Added 2010-10-01 Well, I've been using the officially released version of Excel 2010, and Solver has been working okay. One more thing to add - after you disable multi-threading in the options, exit out of Excel and start it back up again for the option change to take effect.

Added 2010-10-26 I've been working on a project where I've been having to use Solver quite a bit, and it's more buggy than I originally thought. First of all, there's a second option that needs to be disabled. In Options, under the Advanced tab, in the General category, look for 'Enable multi-threaded processing' (right below the 'Web Options...' button). Uncheck that option.

With those two options unchecked, Excel will run fine for a while. However, it periodically re-enables the 'Enable multi-threaded processing' (not calculating) on its own. Worse, it sometimes seems to re-enable it without showing the check box as checked. So, whenever you're getting ready to start a project for the day, go back and double check that 'Enable multi-threaded processing' is disabled. If it shows to be disabled but Excel still seems to be running slow, enable it, OK out of the options, then go back in and disable it. This is a pain, and very irritating that the program messes with options that I've already set, but at least it's been working for me for the past few weeks.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Explanation of Image File Types

I often get asked about image file types – mostly which formats are best for which applications. So, I figured I’d type up something to give a quick explanation of how graphics are handled on computers, and how the different file types actually store their information. I've saved the whole thing as a pdf, for anyone who's interested. I know you could find more detailed explanations other places, but I think this is a good, short summary.

Explanation of Image File Types.pdf

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Frustrated with the iPhone

No AppleArgh. I'm frustrated. My boss just got an iPhone. Since I'm the resident tech geek, he gave it to me to figure out how to do a few things with it. And guess what. I can't even transfer files to it from my computer. Apple doesn't support XP Pro 64. What the hell? I realize that Microsoft has pretty much abandoned the OS in favor of Vista and Windows 7, but it still has a pretty substantial user base. In fact, the companies that make the CAD and FEA software that we use actually recommend it, so we just bought 4 brand new workstations with XP Pro 64. The OS is going to be in use for a few more years, at least.

I've managed to at least get iTunes 8 to run on my 64 bit machine (which took too much work to begin with), but since I never had to hook up an iPhone before this, I didn't bother making sure those drivers got installed. Now, with iTunes 9, it looks like nobody's been able to get it to work on XP Pro 64. I could probably spend some time and figure out how to get iTunes 8 to work with the iPhone, but why didn't Apple just provide a decent distributable to begin with? (And why do you even have to go through iTunes to add files to an iPhone? My old Tilt does just fine acting like any other drive on the computer.)

I had been considering the iPhone before (my current contract's up in a couple months), but going through so much effort just to hook it up at the office, with an outdated version of iTunes, is a major drawback. And now that I've found out you can't do PowerPoint on it, either, and learned of a few other limitations, I'm even more hesitant (though the web browser may be enough to make up for it all).

I know Mac fanboys always talks about how great Apple's supposed to be, and how crappy Micro$oft is supposed to be, but this is simply terrible customer service on Apple's part. It's just so damned frustrating.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good Bye BitDefender, Hello Again Norton

No BitDefenderA couple years ago, I'd gotten fed up with Norton antivirus products. They were a serious drain on system resources, and very obtrusive. I did a bit of research, and found that BitDefender looked like a good choice. I downloaded the trial version, and I liked it quite a bit - small, fast, unobtrusive, easily disabled when you wanted to install new programs - all the things Norton wasn't. Then BitDefender 2009 came out, and a lot of those advantages went out the window. I continued using it, because it was already on my system and I didn't feel like spending the time to change, but I wasn't exactly ecstatic about it, anymore. Then came the kicker. My subscription just expired. Now, I know I'm not the most organized person in the world, and I know I shouldn't let my antivirus subscription expire, but it happens to me almost every year on at least one of the computers I manage. It's never been a huge deal - the antivirus software continues to work; I'm just a day or two behind in getting the most up to date virus definitions by the time I renew the subscription. Not so with BitDefender 2009. When the subscription ran out, BitDefender went completely inactive. All that remained running was a little icon in the system tray to renew the software. Can you imagine that? An antivirus program that quits running entirely because you were late in renewing your subscription? Well BitDefender, you've lost my business and that of the company where I do all of the IT.

Anyway, with the prospect of renewing my antivirus software, I did a little research, and it turns out that Symantec completely overhauled their products in 2009, and their antivirus software is now among the least obtrusive and most efficient on the market. So, I decided to go back to Norton. Hopefully it turns out to be as good as the reviews say.

Update 2009-08-25 Well crap. Apparently, Norton doesn't support XP 64. What the hell? How can a major software company not support XP 64 in a new release? Only Symantec's enterprise solutions support XP 64, and considering that we only have a handful of computers in the office, and they all already have antivirus software on them, I don't want to go through the hassle of installing the enterprise solution for one computer. After a little more looking, ZoneAlarm and McAfee don't support XP 64, either. So, I'm going with a product I've never used before and haven't heard much about - Avast. I hope this one works.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64

Windows XP 64 & AutoCAD R14If you're like me and the old AutoCAD R14 still does everything you need from a 2D drafting package, but you've upgraded your system to Windows XP Professional x64, you've probably found that when you try to install AutoCAD from the original installation disk, you get one of the following the error messages (depending on how you try to run the setup program):

The program or feature "\??\F:\SETUP.EXE" cannot start or run due to incompatibility with 64-bit versions of Windows. Please contact the software vendor to ask if a 64-bit Windows compatible version is available.


The image file F:\setup.exe is valid, but is for a machine type other than the current machine.

Have no fear. There's a very simple way to get AutoCAD R14 to run on your machine, so long as you have access to a 32 bit system somewhere. I found an Autodesk discussion forum on Running R14 on Vista. An entry by a guy going by
was very helpful, but has some information for Vista that isn't relevant to XP x64. Somebody going by wjohn posted information on how to get matchprop to work. Since you have to search a long thread to find that information, I decided to condense it down here into a simple blog entry.

First, here's a quick summary of the simple fix:

  1. Install AutoCAD R14 onto a 32 bit system.
  2. Copy 'Program Files\Mechanical' from 32 bit system into a new 'Program Files (x86)\Mechanical' on your 64 bit system.
  3. Copy any necessary files from 'Windows' of 32 bit system to 'Program Files (x86)\Mechanical' on 64 bit system (you'll know which files from the error messages you get when trying to run 'acad.exe').
  4. To get matchprop to work:
    1. Once AutoCAD's running, type the command 'appload'.
    2. Click on the 'File' button.
    3. Change the 'Files of type' dropdown menu to 'ARX (*.arx)'.
    4. Navigate to the directory that AutoCAD is installed in, and double click on 'match.arx'.
    5. Click on 'Load' in the 'Load AutoLISP, ADS, and ARX Files' dialog box.

Now, for those wanting more detail...

Jambuch discovered that the setup.exe file is 16 bit, so there's no way to run it on your 64 bit system. The solution is to simply install AutoCAD onto a 32 bit system, and then copy all the necessary files to the 64 bit system. If your 64 bit system is a new computer (which it probably is), you just copy the files from your old computer. If you don't have a 32 bit system, go find a friend who will let you use their computer. By default, AutoCAD gets installed into 'Program Files\Mechanical.' Copy the entire 'Mechanical' folder into a new 'Mechanical' folder in 'Program Files (x86)' on your 64 bit system.

When you try to run 'acad.exe,' you'll probably still get errors. This is because the AutoCAD setup program installs additional files into your 'Windows' directory, and adds the appropriate entries to the registry. You don't need to worry about editing the registry on your 64 bit system. Simply copy all the necessary files from the 'Windows' directory of the 32 bit system into the 'Program Files (x86)\Mechanical' directory of the 64 bit system. On my computer, the only two missing files were 'heidi3.dll' and 'gdifont3.hdi,' and they were both in the 'Windows\System 32' directory. I had already installed several programs by the time I got around to installing AutoCAD, including a 3D drafting program, so I'm not sure if there would be any other missing files on other systems, but the error messages you get when trying to run 'acad.exe' will let you know which specific files you need.

If you know what you're doing with the registry, you could copy those missing files into your 'Windows\System 32' directory and make the appropriate registry entries. That would be the proper way to do it, but it's not really necessary, and you risk making your computer unusable if you don't know what you're doing.

In that Autodesk forum I mentioned above, there was some discussion of replacing a file called 'SH31W32.dll' if you're trying to run AutoCAD R14 on Vista. I didn't have to do that for my XP Pro x64 installation.

Once I thought I had everything up and running, I tried using matchprop and got an error message that it was an unknown command. After reloading it following the directions I've outlined above, it worked just fine.

I haven't done much work on the new system, yet, but if I find anything else that needs to be done, I'll be sure to update this entry.

Updated 2009-09-10 to include information on matchprop. So far, other than that, I haven't had any problems.

Update 2012-01-25 - Well, there were a few more bugs than what I'd noticed originally, but commenters seem to have left some good solutions below. Additionally, as I pointed out in a comment below, work finally saw fit to buy me a copy of AutoCAD LT 2011, so I no longer have any real motivation to fix the bugs for AutoCAD R14. I'll leave any more solutions up to commenters.


Selling Out