Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 132 / AUGUST 1991 / PAGE 119

PC-Kwik Power Pak. (utility program) (evaluation)
by David English

You've probably heard the saying You can never be too rich or too thin. For computer enthusiasts, we could identify with another saying: Your computer can never be too fast. With computers, speed is definitely the thing. Most of use would pay dearly for a program that could perk up our sluggish XT or push our speedy 486 even higher into the stratosphere. It may sound too good to be true, but PC-Kwik Power PAk 2.0 can do just that. And it does it with more intelligence than any other speed-up program.

Power Pak is really a group of five programs that uses your system's extra memory to accelerate your disk, keyboard, screen, and printer. What's unique about this group of utilities is that they all share the same RAM. The memory you set aside for the disk cache can be used by the screen accelerator, keyboard accelerator, printer spooler, and RAM disk. When these programs are through borrowing the memory, it automatically goes back to the disk-cache program. Even more amazing, this latest version of Power Pak can share its memory with other applications, including Windows 3.0--so your extra memory is used in the most efficient way.

The centerpiece of the five programs is the disk-cache program. It's virtually identical to Multisoft's stand-alone disk-cache program. Super PC-Kwick ($79.95), which speeds up hard and floppy disk drives by copying frequently used data to RAM. The program actually anticipates which data on the disk you're most likely to need next and moves those sectors into RAM.

Because RAM is considerably faster than any drive, disk-intensive programs run noticeably faster (Multi-soft claims two to six times faster). Programs that rarely access the disk will show less-dramatic results. (Windows programs already use a cache program, so don't expect a big change there.) The disk-cache program is also useful for laptop computer users who want to extend the life of their batteries (it takes much less electricity to read your computer's RAM than it takes to read your computer's floppy or hard drive).

To show you how many disk accesses you've saved, the disk-cache progam includes a handy/M parameter. It measures the actual number of disk transfers saved and the percentage of transfers saved. For a more dynamic indicator, you can use the /* parameter, which places an asterisk in the upper right corner of any text screen. It's called a cache hit indicator and flashes each time data comes from the cache buffer instead of the disk.

The four other Power Pak programs are just as useful. With the screen-accelerator program, you can increase the speed at which text scrolls across your screen by two to three times. The speed is fully adjustable--as is just about every other speed-up feature in Power Pak. The screen program also includes a handy Re View feature, which lets you scroll back through text data. As if that weren't enough, there's an optional screen blanker that works with all types of monitors (this features doesn't work in Windows).

With Power Pak's keyboard-accelerator program, you can increase DOS's default key-repeat rate of 9 characters per second (cps) to as much as 100 cps. You can also adjust the cursor speed with a hot key from within other applications. And when the ReDOS command line editor is turned on, you can easily call up a list of the DOS commands you've previously typed and quickly select or edit them.

The print-spooler program automatically compresses data sent to your printer and stores it in the cache memory. This frees up your computer and lets you get on with your other work while the print spooker manages the printing for you. A pop-up menu lets you monitor the ongoing print job from within other applications.

As I mentioned before, the four other programs borrow RAM as needed from the memory that you've set aside for the disk-cache program. The print-spooler program grabs memory when you're printing, but otherwise requires very little memory of its own. The RAM disk program is dynamic--it expands and contracts as you write files to the RAM disk.

Power Pak can use conventional, extended, or expanded memory--or any combination of the three. And if you have a 386SX, 386, or 486 computer and a memory manager such as QEMM or 386MAX (or a 286 computer with the NEAT chip set), you can load all five programs into upper memory blocks, causing Power Pak to take as little as OK of conventional memory.

As you can see, this is a powerful set of speed-up utilities, optimized to work together in the most effective way. But is this package right for you? If you have no extended or expanded memory, you may not be willing to give up the 30-60K of conventional memory that Power Pak needs for its programs. If you spend all your time in Windows, you're already using a disk-cache program (SMARTDRV.SYS) with all your programs. Because Windows takes over all keyboard and display functions, the screen and keyboard accelerators will have no effect on your Windows applications. And if you've running Windows in 386-enhanced mode, and you have only two megabytes of RAM, you may not have enought memory to run Power Pak and Windows at the same time--without having to slip back into standard mode.

On the other hand, if you have some extra memory, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more efficient way to use it. Like a major tuneup, Power Pak can transform your tired, old jalopy of a PC into a supercharged hot rod, revved up and ready to race.