Using external drives: ext3

Sunday, 5 August 2007

It is quite often that people who use GNU/Linux together with Windows are confronted with the problem of cross platform file system portability.

Traditionally, many experienced GNU/Linux users have encouraged others facing this problem to dedicate a FAT32 partition to moving files from Windows to Linux, and vice versa. That’s because files stored in FAT32 can be read from and written to by Linux and Windows alike.

While this may be an adequate solution for small drives, it has been increasingly the case in the last few years, that the sizes of files typically used have grown beyond the effectiveness of a FAT32 solution.

This may be attributed to several factors: faster computers, larger data storage devices and faster internet connections. For example, many people download or rip DVD movies, games and music, which even with compression techniques still make rather large files. And video-capture and editing may also easily create file sizes in excess of 4GiB. Whatever the reason, storing and manipulating large files has become very commonplace.

But therein lies the problem: FAT32 is ill equipped for efficiently handling a great multitude of files, or extremely large files for that matter. Particularly when performing a lot of file deletions and writing. It greatly fragments the drive and furthermore it has a 4GiB file size limit, so it would be better to have an alternative.

And that is why I recommend using ext3 instead. It offers full journaling capabilities when working in GNU/Linux, and any system capable of reading and writing ext2 will also be able to have full read/write access as well, although journaling will not be available when the drive is accessed in this manner. Nevertheless, it’s main attraction is that you never need to resort to defragmenting the drive, and it supports file sizes up to 2TiB.

For Windows, there is the excellent ext2 IFS for Windows project. This is what I am using right now, and it works just fine. There are some minor problems (e.g. I’ve had to change the partition type of my USB drive, see also the release notes), but on the whole I’d say it performs quite satisfactory.

And for the Mac, there’s the Mac OS X Ext2 Filesystem project, but to tell the truth I don’t know how well it works, as I do not own a Mac to try it with.

MPlayer: the best lightweight mediaplayer for Windows!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

I’ve recently been able to upgrade the RAM on my laptop to an amazing 256MB, which is the absolute maximum it can take. Yes, this is an old laptop. So, first thing I did after that was install Windows 2000, to see if that would actually run fast enough, and I must say the speed surprised me. As a matter of fact, it almost feels fast enough for everyday use. And bearing in mind that this is only a 400Mhz Pentium II laptop, that’s saying something.

But one thing I’ve never been able to do very well with this laptop, is play movies. Even the lightweight VLC player, which was my first choice, delivered choppy playback during scenes with a lot of action. Then I downloaded MPlayer, which is pretty much the most efficient mediaplayer on earth. Still no good. Not even after tweaking the playback options a bit, such as increasing cache to 8192 kilobytes. Of course, I could install Arch Linux again, which is optimised for i686 CPU’s, such as this pentium II specimen I’m using. But really, it all seems a lot of work just to play a movie.

Thus began my quest in search of the most lightweight mediaplayer I could find for Windows. I ditched MPlayer and openend up the Gooooogle page in my browser. And after much searching and gnashing of teeth, I simply ended up installing MPlayer again. That’s because some individual who calls himself “MuldeR” has been kind enough to put together an optimised version of MPlayer, and create an installer for it as well. It’s aptly called MPlayer for Windows, and all I can say is that it’s absolutely brilliant! After installing this player using the “full package” version, which includes the binary codecs, I opened up a movie and it played back perfectly.

In other words: “MPlayer for Windows” is faster than the ‘official’ MPlayer (which doesn’t even include an installer). So if you’re on a slow system that’s running Windows, and you enjoy watching movies, then I highly recommend trying MPlayer for Windows.