Stefan Holmes


I don't usually whinge about Microsoft as a company or Windows as an operating system, but I've recently been caught out by something they have screwed up. You may even have the same problem I do. At the time of writing, a fairly large update is available for Windows. It's one that came after the Anniversary update and it's been given the unprepossessing title of KB3194496.

Unfortunately, this update is one that needs a restart of your PC in order to install. A notification pops up telling me that Windows has sceduled a restart outside of my Active Hours. How kind.

In reality, what happens is that when I'm done for the night and I shut my PC down, it starts the update process only to conclude its business when I next boot up. Except it's broken. The process almost gets to 100% complete before it decides there's a problem and undoes all its hard work. Except this then requires 2 restarts before I can get to my desktop. Exhausting.

It's now done this 7 times and it's prompting me for another attempt tonight.

This goes beyond being an irritation. It could be a security risk. Microsoft have decided that at least some of their updates will actually be a big collection of lots of smaller updates all packed into one. Of course, if the big update fails, it means none of the individual updates survive either. Until Microsoft fix this problem, I could be missing out on several vital security fixes

Microsoft have gone to great pains to ensure I, as a user of Windows, cannot stop updates being installed. The intention they had with that decision was to ensure all users were receiving vital security updates in order to stop the spread of (sometimes extremely harmful) malware that if nothing else was tarnishing their brand.

This problem of failing upates is therefore a monumental cock-up by Microsoft. They took on complete responsibility for the update process, taking it out of the hands of their users. They've failed to handle that responsibilty. Let's hope they learn from this, because if I can't trust them with my PC, I'm at a point where I could live with Mac OS and Linux instead.

So, the iPhone 7

I grew up with the hacker mentality. Not the "let's break into things and make trouble" style of hacker popularised in modern culture, rather the "let's figure out how things work by taking them apart and then sharing that knowledge with people" type of hacker from where the term actually originated. For that reason, I like Android devices. They are the closest thing to a full-on Linux device (i.e. open and free to use how you want) that you can easily obtain. There are actual Linux portable devices out there, but they are fringe things where you spend more time futzing about with the device than using it for actual... stuff.

Converseley, Apple iOS devices are tightly controlled by Apple. One example: They do not want you to be able to emulate another device using an app on your iPhone, so you don't see any Super Nintendo emulators in the App Store. They have reasons for this, but they don't have to explain them to you. They actually won't, if you ask them. Oh, they may tell you "because security and quality", but if you try to construct real meaning from that, you're essentially trying to work out who's on first base, just like Dustin's character in Rain Man. Might as well try to knit fog, for all the good it would do.

I used to care about brand, but I now mostly care about device capability, build quality and customer service. Not necessarily in that order. I want my device to be 'good', but I also want to be looked after if the device has a problem. With a failure rate under 5% being considered acceptable by the mobile phone industry, that customer service really needs to be there. OnePlus may slowly be learning this lesson. Apple still haven't.

Woah... but Apple have Geniuses and Apple Care and they just swap your phone out for a new one if you have a problem... don't they? Not exactly. Apple devices, including their entire laptop range, have had issues. Manufacturing and design defects. This means lots of 'extended warranty' policies in place where hapless Apple users can get a fix or replacement for free even after their standard warranty expires. I could list all the currently or previously affected devices, but you'd get bored and probably not believe me. Google is your friend. If you have a problem device and it is covered under extended warranty, Apple have been known to deny your claim because of a tiny scratch on the corner of the case. Never mind that it has nothing to do with the manufacturing defect, it's just one way they wriggle out of their responsibilities.

Why do I even mention any of this? Mostly because the iPhone 7+ is the first iPhone that could tempt me into buying it. The display and the camera alone are worthy of my interest. I'm hugely into good display technology and this whole 'wide colour gamut' thing they have going on is unparalleled in the Android world. It's probably the first time Apple have included a feature in their iPhone that hasn't already been a feature for at least 18 months in Android devices. Snarky of me, but let's not forget the "now you can send picture messages!" marketing, which kicked off this whole "all other phones have been doing it for years, but here's Apple 'Inventing' it" meme.

The customer service aspect worries me for a device that costs nearly £1,000 (yes, I'd want the 256GB Jet Black version). If it has a fault and Apple screw over people because of a tiny scratch on the case, I will feel sick to my stomach. I'm not married to the Apple ecosystem, so not only would I be losing that money, I'd turn into the most annoying anti-Apple evangelist you could imagine. Nobody wants that.

Maybe I'll just stick with my stalwart Nexus 6P a while longer.

RAM speed

I've been building PC's and following hardware technology developments avidly for many (20+) years. It's been nice to witness the rapid improvements and breakthroughs over such a relatively short space of time. However, whilst RAM manufacturers are certainly doing their part, the marketing teams some of their resellers employ could do with a forced, unpaid holiday to the arse end of nowhere.

Listen up, because I'm going to save you some money on your next custom PC build.

Firstly, there are two main numbers when you're shopping for RAM. Size and speed. I'll assume you've already decided on if you need DDR3 or DDR4 and how much you want (probably 16GB, but that's a discussion for another time). That's the really easy part. Where it's easy to get caught out and royally fleeced of your hard-earned cash is choosing RAM using the 'faster is better' scheme. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I'm going to be very clear about this: Faster RAM will not make your computer faster.

I'm not nuts. I'm not dumb. I know how PC's work down to a fairly low level. It's a personal theory I had based on my understanding of hardware and it's one that's been proven by many a professional hardware benchmark reviewer. Faster RAM is certainly that, but just like installing 32GB of RAM versus 16GB isn't going to make Minecraft any smoother, neither is bumping up from 2400MHz DDR4 to 3200MHz DDR4.

OK, there are synthetic benchmarks that will show improvements, but your web browsing, game playing and content creation workflows are absolutely not going to benefit.

"Yes, but... why though?". Simple, the CPU has to wait the same amount of time for a request to be fulfilled, no matter how highly clocked the RAM is. Dig deeper into those adverts on any online retailer and you'll notice a confusing string of numbers referred to as 'latency'. Those figures are quoted as 'cycles' and are a literal count of the number of CPU clock ticks that occur before a DIMM will fully service a request from the CPU. Inevitably, that's a slightly simplified description, but it boils down to the fact that a 4200MHz DDR4 module will take the same amount of time as a 2133MHz module to start delivering data back to the CPU

So, how does this knowledge save you money? Easy, buy slow RAM for your PC and you'll spend less for the same overall, real-world performance. Either that, or you can leverage the savings into a faster GPU, a larger SSD or a better monitor. All far more tangible and useful than 'RAM that helps you overclock' (n.b. it doesn't help you overclock, that's what Intel K-series CPU's and appropriate motherboard chipsets are for).