Installing Steam games on a second hard drive

Steam logo

About a month ago I took delivery of a new, much faster PC from PC Specialist. Now I’m getting around to reinstalling games, and I’ve just discovered a neat trick to install Steam-powered games on a second hard drive.

My last PC had served me well for about six years but it was creaking a little around the seams and was being pushed very hard particularly when gaming. It was time to upgrade.

And after upgrades comes the often arduous task of reinstalling applications.

dual-boot or not dual-boot?

On my last two PCs I’ve always set up a dual-boot environment. One partition (C:) was for day-to-day applications (email, web browsing, web development, image editing, etc.), the next (D:) was for games. My reasoning was:

  1. Clean installation of Windows with minimal, and only essential, drivers.
  2. Less distracting. If I wanted to play games then I would need to reboot the PC into the games partition.

However, in practice what it meant was:

  1. Twice as much work, keeping two versions of Windows up-to-date, with both Windows updates and driver upgrades.
  2. It was such a hassle to shut down everything and reboot that I rarely ever played any games. The only people to play were Reuben and Joshua when they played the LEGO Star Wars games.

So I decided on this PC to single-boot (Windows 8 Pro, 64-bit) and install everything side-by-side across two hard drives: my main applications are on C: (120 GB SSD); most of my data plus games are on D: (1 TB Western Digital SATA drive).

So far, so good. I’ve played games more in the last couple of weeks than in the last couple of years, but contrary to my fears it’s not distracted me from my main work on my PC.

However, this evening I realised after installing the Steam client for the first time that it was about to install all 7.8 GB of Call of Duty: Black Ops onto C.

No, no, no, no, no!

Moving Steam to a second hard drive

It turned out to be a pretty easy task to move Steam from C to D. I found the instructions on the Steam support website.

By default Steam installs to C:\Program Files\Steam (or C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam on 64-bit editions of Windows) and the games install to C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps.

“During the installation of Steam, you have the option to install Steam to a location other than the default. Since Steam relies on the game files residing in the SteamApps folder, your game files will go to whatever folder you have Steam installed in. The game files must be in the SteamApps folder in order to function.”

So, here’s what to do, assuming that you’ve already installed Steam to C:.

  1. Log out and exit Steam.
  2. Navigate to the folder where Steam is installed (by default: C:\Program Files\Steam\; or C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\ on 64-bit).
  3. Delete all of the files and folders except the SteamApps folder and Steam.exe.
  4. Cut and paste your Steam folder to the new location, for example: D:\Program Files\Steam\.
  5. Launch Steam.
  6. Steam will briefly update and then you will be ready to play.

Conclusion

I’ve just done this and it worked.

VLC media player on Windows 8

VLC media player

VLC media player

When I upgraded to Windows 8 Pro I wanted to make sure that I could still play DVDs. Now that I have upgraded I’ve moved from using Windows Media Player to VLC media player. Here’s why.

Having read up a little about Windows 8′s support of various media I was fairly confident that if I installed the Windows Media Center then I would be able to continue to play DVDs in Windows Media Player, as I did in Windows 7. I was wrong.

Having bought the upgrade early (back in October 2012) I was offered a free upgrade to Windows Media Centre — woop! — which saved me a whole £6.99. However, as I discovered, it only enables DVD playback in Windows Media Centre, not Windows Media Player.

On my old Windows XP machine I used Cyberlink PowerDVD, which costs between £30-£70 depending; I got it free, bundled with my graphics card, if I remember correctly. It was fairly easy to use, and the controls were pretty intuitive. When I moved to Windows 7 I discovered that this version of the software wasn’t compatible with that version of Windows and I was reluctant to pay for an upgrade and so I started to use Windows Media Player, which had a really terrible, confusing interface but was free.

And so once again another Windows upgrade requires me to find another application that will enable me to watch DVDs on my PC. A quick Google search suggested that I try VLC media player.

VLC media player ticked both boxes: it’s free and it’s really easy to use. The interface is incredibly clear, much simpler than Windows Media Player 10 and 11, and it’s incredibly fast.

I also really like that the software is created by the VideoLAN organisation, “a project and a non-profit organization, composed of volunteers, developing and promoting free, open-source multimedia solutions.”

I definitely recommend VLC media player, if you are looking for a free, user-friendly replacement for Windows Media Player on Windows 8 (or, indeed, any version of Windows from XP SP2 onwards).

Creative X-Fi Platinum soundcard on Windows 8 – a workaround

Creative X-Fi Platinum soundcard, breakout box and remote control

Creative X-Fi Platinum soundcard, breakout box and remote control

Having run the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on my laptop for about six months I was certain that when the final version was released I would definitely upgrade my desktop PC to Windows 8 Pro. And given that there is no good time to upgrade I did it at the latter end of last week, mainly to take my mind off the unpleasantness of recovering from the ‘flu.

I chose to do a ‘clean’ installation, reformatting partition C: in the process of the install, which worked nicely even with my upgrade DVD. At no point did I need to prove to Windows that I did indeed have a legitimate version of Windows 7 that I was upgrading from. (I do, by the way.)

No sound

It all appeared to be going swimmingly well until I suddenly realised that I had no sound. Which was strange as the Windows Vista soundcard drivers installed without fuss and… well, I say that there was a strange few minutes after I’d installed them and rebooted whereby the speakers were continually hissing.

Poking around in the Control Panel Sound applet I discovered that the “Recording” tab had Line-In 2/Mic 2 activated, which appeared to be the source of the hiss.

Reboot.

No hiss. In fact, no sound at all. This time on the “Playback” tab SPDIF Out had been selected rather than speakers.

I discovered that I could coax the sound back if I fired up the Creative Audio Control Panel application and manually change the playback mode. After each reboot the soundcard was ‘forgetting’ the settings and returning to game mode and 2.1 speakers, rather than entertainment mode and 5.1 speakers.

I uninstalled the drivers again, and this time discovered on the Creative website a Windows 7 and Windows 8 driver availability chart. There is currently no final Windows 8 driver for this soundcard, but they have a beta driver…

Uninstall, re-install. Same problem: a forgetful soundcard.

Workaround

It turns out I’m not alone in discovering this. A few forums have pages of discussion about the problem using Creative X-Fi soundcards under Windows 8. This thread was particularly helpful: Windows 8 Pro x64 Retail No Sound after Restart Creative X-Fi Titanium HD Driver.

The workaround I’m currently using is to use a free, third-party application called X-Fi Mode Changer from Spectra9 to automatically set the playback mode each time Windows reboots.

So far, for me, this has worked without fail. I do hope, though, that Creative are able to address these issues with the final driver for Windows, which their website says should be available in late-December 2012. I’m not holding my breathe for it, but I am thankful for this workaround.

The stupid EU cookie law

In May 2011 a new law came into effect across the European Union that affects probably around 90% of all websites. The UK government has given UK website owners a year (so, until May 2012) to get up to speed with the legislation and do something about it. The law is to do with how cookies are used.

What is a cookie?

In Web-speak, a cookie is a simple text file that stores information about websites you’ve visited. They can be used for lots of thing, such as for the browser to remember that you are already logged into that website, to store items in a shopping cart on a commerce website, or user preferences on another site.

My main browser (Google Chrome) reports that it has stored 3722 cookies from 1374 web domains.

A cookie for a particular site can only be written to and read by that website. So, Facebook cannot read cookies created by Google websites, and Google websites cannot read cookies created by Facebook.

The worry is, however, that spyware software could potentially access these cookies—they are simple, easily read text files after all—and gain all sorts of information about you, such as browsing habits, personal details, etc. And it seems to be this that the legislation is aiming to address.

The issue

Over the next few months I’m going to have to get my head around this legislation, both for my own websites and for the University of St Andrews website. There has been some interesting and useful discussions about it on various JISC-run inter-university email discussion groups.

My main concern is that this doesn’t ruin the user experience. It’s going to be very, very annoying if you require to give consent to every single website before you can meaningfully use it. My fear is that it’s going to become the Web equivalent of the User Account Control (UAC) nightmare that Windows Vista introduced.

Update

Thursday 5 January

Last night’s post was a bit rushed. I didn’t expand it quite as much as I’d have liked but I was tired and I just wanted to get to bed!

Ironically, I kept waking up during the night thinking about it. At one point Jane was awake so I talked it through with her. She has to put up with that kind of thing from me all the time, poor girl!

Anyway, this morning I got three replies on Twitter:

  1. Surely new cookie guidelines are sensible? Happy to chat about this.
  2. The sad fact is, it puts EU based sites/companies at a disadvantage vs those in the rest of the world.
  3. In intent, sensible. In execution, I’m with @garethjms – stupid. Can only see negatives for UX.

And a couple of comments below (which I’ve only just approved). A nice balance of for and against. I look forward to getting my head around this and posting more about it, here and on my professional blogs.

What do you think of the new @TweetDeck? My initial impressions…

tweetdeck-new

A couple of days I excitedly downloaded and installed the latest version of TweetDeck, the social networking application that is now being developed by Twitter themselves.

What a disappointment! What have they done to it?!

Can’t distinguish columns

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always had some fairly major niggles with TweetDeck’s usability, particularly if you’re using it to manage multiple accounts. There is no easy, quick, don’t-make-me-think way to distinguish which column is associated with which account.

The addition of a tabs option, or colour-coding columns would go a long way to making the system easier to use. In my humble opinion.

Customisable notifications

But what TweetDeck did excel at, that the likes of Sobees and MetroTwit didn’t was its handling of multiple accounts, and the flexibility in terms of column placement, notifications customisation (what shows, when and where).

That flexibility, particularly in the area of notifications, has now gone in the new instance of TweetDeck. I’m sorry to see it go—it was very useful.

Posting an update

The new TweetDeck also seems to assume that you’ll always be using it in a full-screen (maximized) view. Old TweetDeck worked well in maximized view too, but at least you could still post an update when viewing only one column.

In the old TweetDeck the post-an-update window sits at the top of the column. In the new TweetDeck, however, the post an update window disappears off the edge of the viewport:

tweetdeck-old-postupdatetweetdeck-new-postupdate

The send update keyboard shortcut has also changed, from Enter to Ctrl+Enter (on Windows), which takes a bit getting used to.

Social network(s)

When it launched TweetDeck supported only Twitter, but it soon added Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Google Buzz and Foursquare. I used to use just Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn within TweetDeck.

When I logged into the new TweetDeck I saw only Twitter and Facebook. That said, within the options I can’t actually see how you would add a Facebook account—but maybe it only allows one, which kind of makes sense, and so these settings have been hidden.

I can understand why Twitter might want to limit the number of rival networks it allows you to access using their application. But similarly, I do wonder if this will drive users away to find other clients that do support the wider range of services that they use.

Private messages

One really neat feature that I loved, and didn’t really think about until it was taken away, about the direct (private) messages (DM) column in old TweetDeck was that you could also see the DMs that you sent other people.

Conclusion

In conclusion I have to say that I’m really disappointed with the new TweetDeck. In many ways it has become less useable and less useful. I suspect that over the next few weeks I’ll evaluate the other social media clients and move to one of those.

In the meantime I still have TweetDeck 0.38.2 installed, so I’ll continue to use it.

  • Old TweetDeck — 7/10
  • New TweetDeck — 3/10

Update

There’s an interesting review by David Bayon on the PC Pro blogs entitled New TweetDeck: more mainstream, less flexible which has one paragraph of the positives of the new version and nine paragraphs of the negatives.

His conclusion:

…for me the new client takes away much of what made TweetDeck so useful – namely the flexibility and control – and replaces it with much of what makes the Twitter web client so annoying. I don’t like the Twitter web interface, that’s why I use TweetDeck. Or at least it was until now. The former buying the latter means that distinction is only going to get narrower from here on in.

My top free Windows 7 add-ons

These are my current top free Windows 7 add-ons (they will all work with Windows XP and Windows Vista too).

allSnap

http://ivanheckman.com/allsnap/

allsnap

allSnap is a small system tray app that makes all top level windows automatically align like they do in programs such as Winamp or Photoshop. Makes your windows feel slightly magnetic.

On 64-bit applications you have to run both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions but you can hide them from displaying in the notification area/system tray; apparently they are working on a version that will work with both 32- and 64-bit PCs.

There is no installer, just drag a shortcut to your Start > Programs > Startup folder.


Classic Shell

http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/

classicshell

Add the “Up” button back on Windows 7 Explorer. They’re bringing it back to Windows 8, I believe. Classic Shell has other features, but I just use the Up button, mostly.

Update: It’s worth pointing out that Classic Shell is dependent on Internet Explorer. I did a reset of IE9 and disabled all the add-ons and extensions, which resulted in the Up button disappearing from Windows Explorer. Thankfully there is documentation on the Classic Shell website to address this.


Dexpot

http://www.dexpot.de/

dexpot

Advertised as “the tool Windows lacks”, Dexpot is a virtual desktop application enabling you to create up to 20 virtual desktops: one desktop might be for email, another for editing graphics, another for writing, etc.

So, rather than switching between multiple applications, just switch to the appropriate desktop. It supports Windows Gadgets and in multiple-monitor setups you can choose to create virtual desktops on any of your monitors (e.g. only switch monitor 1).

The effects (found under Plugins and Extras) are attractive offering sliding desktops or cube-like effects.


Dropbox

http://www.dropbox.com/

dropbox

It would have been remiss of me to not include Dropbox. 2GB of free space, drop your files into a directory and they are accessible everywhere: on your laptop, on your mobile phone, via a Web browser. You can also share folders with other users or with the public.

And if you start inviting others to use it, Dropbox will give you 250MB more space for each new user who joins (up to a certain limit).


Fences

http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/

fences

Organise your desktop icons into groups that you can label.


Microsoft Security Essentials

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials

microsoftsecurityessentials

The anti-annoying, anti-expensive, anti-virus application. I now use it on my desktop and both laptops, replacing AVG Free and Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2011.


Mouse without borders

Microsoft Garage

mousewithoutborders

Move your mouse between computers attached to your network (e.g. desktop and laptop), drag-and-drop files from one PC to the next, copy and paste between machines, and share the keyboard too.


PrintFolder

http://no-nonsense-software.com/freeware/

printfolder

A really handy utility to print or save a list of files located in any folder. Right-click any folder in Windows Explorer and select “PrintFolder” in the popup menu.


PureText

http://www.stevemiller.net/puretext/

puretext

Windows + V will paste your clipboard text as plain text — great for pasting from Word or webpages and stripping out formatting.


RocketDock

http://rocketdock.com/

RocketDock

A customizable, hide-able application launcher. I have it hidden beneath my main toolbar and it contains my most-used application shortcuts — those that are not pinned to my main Windows 7 toolbar.


Switcher

http://insentient.net/

switcher

Like the Mac exposé feature, but on Windows. Shows you all the currently open windows.


TreeSize Free

http://www.jam-software.com/treesize_free/

treesize

Right-click a folder, select TreeSize and it will tell you how big that folder and all its sub-folders are. Great for checking to see if stuff will fit onto CD-R or USB drives.


Winsplit Revolution

http://winsplit-revolution.com/

winsplit-revolution

Does magic with windows: reorganise windows to 33%, 50% or 66% (or define your own) with keyboard shortcuts. Windows 7 comes with the ability to quickly show two windows side-by-side, well this does it too and a whole lot more.

I’ve mapped my keyboard number pad to the monitor so that I can easily resize windows with just a few key presses.


What are your favourites?

What are your favourite, free Windows applications let me know in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll post my favourites on this blog too.

Restoring the Up button in Windows 7

explorer-upbutton

One of the things that puzzled me about Windows Vista and Windows 7 is why Microsoft removed the ‘up’ arrow icon in Windows Explorer. I’m now delighted to be able to restore it using Classic Shell by Ivo Beltchev.

Now, I do appreciate that Vista introduced the breadcrumbs in the address bar which allows you to move quickly between directories, and there is a keyboard shortcut (Alt+Up arrow) to move back up the tree. But sometimes it’s just quicker to use a button, rather than moving back and forth between the mouse/trackpad and keyboard.

Mavis Up Button

I have tried Mavis Up Button in the past. While it’s not free, its cost of US $4.95 (approx. GBP £3.10) isn’t exactly prohibitive. But it does have a few shortcomings.

The first is one of user-experience. While it looks beautiful (a shiny green colour) it doesn’t disable when you reach the top of the path tree, which makes things a little disorienting (“can I go up any further or not?!”).

The second relates to reinstalling Windows. Because the registration requires you to match a software-generated hardware ID, username and registration key, if you’ve made any significant changes to your computer these will not match and you’ll either need to ask Mavis technical support to generate another registration key or you’ll need to purchase the application again.

Which brings me to the Mavis technical and customer support, which in my experience is dreadful. I waited over a month for a reply to an email and am still waiting. And the last time I tried to purchase the button I was sent an email of the HTML of their Error 404 Page Not Found page when they were meant to send me the registration code!

Classic Shell

Classic Shell is free, hosted at SourceForge and doesn’t require any registration key to make it work. I now have it installed on my laptop.

As the name might suggest, it does more than add an Up button within Windows Explorer, but the options are nicely organised (with two views: basic and advanced) and you are not forced to use the features that you don’t want to use.

See the features page to find out what else it offers.

classic-shell

So far I’ve been impressed with Classic Shell, even though all I want is the Up button in Explorer, and it works on both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.