February 28, 2007
Now that Windows Vista has been available for almost a month, the comparative performance benchmarks are in.
It's about what I expected; rough parity with the performance of Windows XP. Vista's a bit slower in some areas, and a bit faster in others. But shouldn't new operating systems perform better than old ones? There are plenty of low-level improvements under the hood. Why does Vista only break even in performance?
To be fair, Vista does a lot more than XP. I don't want to get into the whole XP vs. Vista argument here, but suffice it to say that the list of new features in Vista is quite extensive-- although perhaps not as extensive as some would like. Vista's integrated search alone is enough for me to banish XP from my life forever.
Microsoft has gotten a giant security shiner from Windows XP over the last five years. That's why Windows Vista goes out of its way to radically improve security, with new features like User Account Control (UAC) and Windows Defender. The existing security features in XP, such as Windows Firewall and System Protection (aka restore points) were significantly overhauled and improved for Vista, too. Enhanced security is a good thing, but it's never free. In fact, Vista's new security features will slow your PC down more than almost any other kind of software you can install.
For best performance, the first thing I do on any new Vista install is this:
- Turn off Windows Defender
- Turn off Windows Firewall
- Disable System Protection
- Disable UAC
I've had friends remark how "slow" Vista feels compared to XP, but when I ask them whether they've disabled Defender or UAC, the answer is typically no. Of course your system is going to be slower with all these added security checks. Security is expensive, and there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
You might argue that three out of these four security features wouldn't even be necessary in the first place if Windows had originally followed the well-worn UNIX convention of separating standard users from privileged administrators. I won't disagree with you. But Windows' long historical precedent of setting user accounts up by default as privileged adminstrators is Microsoft's cross to bear. I can't rewrite history, and neither can Microsoft. That's why they came up with these painful, performance-sapping workarounds.
But this doesn't mean you have to give up on security entirely in the name of performance. If you're really serious about security, then create a new user account with non-Administrator privileges, and log in as that user. This isn't the default behavior in Vista, sadly. Post install, you get an Administrator-But-Not-Really-Just-Kidding account which triggers UAC on any action that requires administrator privileges. I'm sure this torturous hack was conceived in the name of backwards compatibility, but that doesn't mean we need to perpetuate it. The good news is that Vista is probably the first Microsoft operating system ever where you can actually work effectively as a standard, non-privileged user. As a standard user, you get all the benefits of UAC, Defender, and System Protection.. without all the performance drain.
Let me be clear here. I'm not against security. I'm against retrograde, band-aid, destroy all my computer's performance security.
Speaking of retrograde, band-aid, destroy all my computer's performance security, the one security feature Vista doesn't bundle is anti-virus software. And nothing cripples your PC's performance quite like anti-virus software. This isn't terribly surprising if you consider what anti-virus software has to do: examine every single byte of data that passes through your computer for evidence of malicious activity. But who needs theory when we have Oli at The PC Spy. Oli conducted a remarkably thorough investigation of the real world performance impact of security software on the PC. The results are truly eye-opening:
|Norton Internet Security 2006
|McAfee VirusScan Enterprise 8
|Norton Internet Security 2007
|Trend Micro PC-cillin AV 2006
|Norton Antivirus 2002
|Windows Live OneCare
|Webroot Spy Sweeper
|avast! 4.7 Home
|Panda Antivirus 2007
|AVG 7.1 Free
The worst offenders are the anti-virus suites with real-time protection. According to these results, the latest Norton Internet Security degrades boot time by nearly 50 percent. And no, that isn't a typo in the disk column. It also makes all disk access sixteen times slower! Even the better performers in this table would have a profoundly negative impact on your PC's performance. Windows Defender, for example, "only" makes hard drive access 54 percent slower.
And yet, despite the crushing performance penalty, anti-virus software is de rigeur in the PC world. Most PC vendors would no sooner ship a PC without preinstalled anti-virus software than they would ship a PC without an operating system (yeah, you wish). The very thought of running a PC naked, vulnerable, unprotected from viruses sends system administrators screaming from the room in a panic. When you tell a sysadmin you dislike running anti-virus software, they'll look at you mouth agape, as if you've just told them that you hate puppies and flowers.
I don't see why they're so shocked. anti-virus software itself, while not self-propagating like a virus, certainly fits the definition of a Trojan Horse. Once installed on your system, it has a hidden, unadvertised payload: it decimates your computer's performance and your productivity. In my opinion, what we really need is Anti-Anti-Virus software to keep us safe from the ongoing Anti-Virus software pandemic.
I've never run any anti-virus software. And Mac or Linux (aka UNIX) users almost never run anti-virus software, either. Am I irresponsible to run all my computers without anti-virus software? Are Mac and Linux users irresponsible for not participating in the culture of fear that Windows anti-virus software vendors propagate? I think it's braver and more responsible to recognize that anti-virus software vendors are not only telling us to be afraid, they are selling us fear. The entire anti-virus software industry is predicated on a bad architectural decision made by Microsoft fifteen years ago. And why, exactly, would any of these vendors want to solve the virus problem and put themselves out of business?
I'll certainly agree that you can't stop users from clicking on dancing bunnies if they have their mind set on it. You should have a few different security layers in any modern operating system. But we should also be treating the disease first -- too many damn users running as administrators-- instead of the symptoms.
As for remediation strategies, I'm a fan of the virtual machine future. We should treat our operating system like a roll of paper towels. If you get something on it you don't like, you ball it up and throw it away, and rip off a new, fresh one. But if that's too radical for you, I think Jan Goyvaerts is on to something with good old plain common sense backups:
In fact, with a proper backup system in place, you don't have to be afraid of messing up your system. I don't use any anti-virus or anti-spyware software. If my system starts acting up, I'll restore the backup, and have a guaranteed clean system. No spyware remover can beat that. If I want to play with beta software, I don't have to inconvenience myself by running it in a virtual machine. I do use VMware for testing my applications on clean installs of Windows. But when beta testing new versions of tools I use for development, I want to test them in my actual development environment rather. When the beta expires, I wipe it off by restoring the OS backup.
It's not terribly different from my virtual machine solution. Either way, you go back to a known good checkpoint. And I'll take a backup strategy over a computer with hobbled performance any day.
This also begs the question of what safety really means. No matter how much security software you install, nagging users with dozens of security dialogs clearly doesn't make users any safer. We should give users a basic level of protection as standard non-adminstrator users. But beyond that, let users make mistakes, and provide automatic, unlimited undo. That's the ultimate safety blanket.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Good Lord! You're worrying about performance from AV and security software and you're installing Vista? Really I feel that you might be looking in the wrong place for software that kills your computers potential performance...
Obviously you havent tested it, or you are using a P100 with 128M ram.
Great, great great. Now, will SOMEONE tell us how to copy user profiles from admin accounts to standard user accounts? Easily? Aaaaagh! Must I really reconfigure everything in a new standard account manually? Why isn't this info easy to find? Gracias, gracias.
Re: AV. I've used F-Prot AV since before Windows, and have only had one infection in that time. It is reasonably quick to scan, doesn't seem to slow down the machines much, and has a light install footprint (~8.65MB). But I never see it listed in comparisons such as this. Why? We are forced to use McAfee v8.5i or higher at work.
Re: Anti-Spyware. Anyone using CounterSpy Enterprise? I'm evaluating it at work as I have several users that can't seem to help from getting infected on a semi-frequent basis. Personally, I had a bad experience with SpySweeper, though my boss (and his boss) swear by it. I've been using the free version of Ad-Aware (I know, I know) which seems pretty capable, though it's a hassle that it can't run automatically.
Re: Vista. We have one Vista machine in our office, and I've been asked to "upgrade" two more machines, although I'm dreading it. From a sysadmin POV, Vista, IMHO, SUCKS. And I don't even have to use it every day. Can someone please explain why the default network view shows only the machine itself and not the network? And to get the full network view, I have to filter "workgroup" for the names of my domain?
so I am really confused - hate my Mcafee that came with Vista computer - I have a lynksys router - do I not need a firewall software - and am I to assume that by creating a non admin account as my user that I am safe?
It is worth taking note, these test results can be slightly misleading, it is not comparing like with like, Norton Internet Security is a whole suit of protection including antivirus, firewall anti spam etc, so it is bound to slow your computer down a lot more than a stand alone firewall like zone alarm or a stand alone antivirus like trend.
This test was done by PC Spy Sept 2006 It would be interesting to see a repeat test with the latest versions of those anti malware programs with the inclusion of, AVG Pro, Kaspersky, Esafe, and the new Vista Firewall.
I did not use AV or anti-spyware programs for a long time (XP pro), then my wife's computer became infected with a hijacker and two different viruses .... I cleaned them out and a month later it happened again (same malware). At that time I loaded up the Internet Security and Webroot Spy Sweeper and put them on auto pilot. It took a couple of months for her to stop complaining about how slow her computer was but I have not had to wotk on it since then.
The internet security and the spy sweeper certainly affect performance of the computer but they also have kept it virus and hijacker free.
The use of VMWare virtual machines can provide a secure system if the virtual disc does not access discs on the system where it resides and if the virtual disc where the operating system resides is non-persistent. You can be completely trashed with viruses on a non-persistent disc and once you reboot the virtual system disc is back like new with no changes made. Additionally, updates can be applied to the virtual disc by changing the disc to persistent, install updates, shutdown, change disc to non-persistent, and reboot. A secure solution with no need for virus scanning running is to run your OS behind a fire-walled router and use a backup scheme as stated by the author. I believe that evert major website does uses this solution and can totally recover from attacks quite rapidly.
Why not start making some killer appliations that will not run under administration privs?
Lets make the users beg for less priv accounts. ;)
Yes, I like the article. I like virtualization as well so I can simply use all the programs I use without rebooting. When running a virtual Windows I agree with no AV, since I just create a clean version when needed (which is never).
Ok, I'm not an expert but, I'm not against AV Spyware tools.
On windows machines I use Avast without a schedule. I'll just let it scan my complete system once in a while when my computer is idle. I use Ad-aware once every month. Sygate personal Firewall which does a very nice job by blocking everything except the once I allow. And I use Cache Cleaner once in a month to get rid of all the crap which was filling my registries. Those 4 programs aren't really demanding at all.
I have 4 PCs and I have not reinstalled 2 of them in 3 years. The other ones are a bit newer which I use for gaming and I really don't have any problems with the boot time / slow performance.
I agree that Norton is a nono, but Avast you hardly notice.
IMO it's just a matter of the right tools to get the job done. So (imaginairy) safety and clean computers and backups of your files and images of your OSs.
With my new laptop (in a few weeks) I'm planning on setting it up like this.
Dual Boot: a. for work and study + b. for gaming
a. Ubuntu 7.10 (64 bit) - Virtual Box - WinXP (32 bit)
b. Vista (64 bit)
I don't think I need any AV, but I still like to check once in a while if I can't harm other networks with my computer. So I'll still be searching for some compatible free (not much performance demanding) virus, spyware, cache removal tools for social reasons.
Just a matter of taste I guess, like always ;-)
Many of your comments are true and justified, personally i prefer and would recommend Trend Micro antivirus products, although there "home" version PC-Cillin is a bit like a Norton Anti-crap that does do everything (f/w, email, phishing file AV etc) but it is a good compromise if you want an "internet security suite".
If you have trend officescan at the office (corporate version) install this, has almost all the same features without the glitter.
But where i disagree is that with vista AV is a must, if you look at the list at the top of the page Windows defender takes up basically no resources (this is a least the case on my system), is free and no doubt stable as it is built into the operating system (touch wood).
Yes...this is not AV and is not that good at picking up anything really, but if you change the setting to join Microsoft Spynet with an "advanced membership" it will basically notify you of any changes to your system, also providing feedback from the millions of other users who are feeding the info on there selections back to Microsoft.
Although the feedback you get on if you should allow or disallow a change to take place so far in my experience it is fairly obvious if you are installing adobe reader and Windows Defender asks you to approve for example a startup entry for Adobe and you want the is feature it is safe.
The key point, i have been using vista for years with NO AV, just Defender with advanced spynet membership. IT notifies me when changes are been made to my system before they are allowed (note this does not encompass all changes, but the vast majority of changes likely to be malicious, i.e. start-up entries) and have not had ZERO virus.
I occasionally go to www.trendmicro.com and run house call (free online scan) and have not yet had a single virus detected using vista and the above configuration.
Obviously part of maintaining security is keeping windows itself secure, this involves updating windows (which i think is pretty easy and well known), having Windows Firewall enabled and setup appropriately. But also disabling and or uninstalling software and services that are not required. This last step might be a little tricky for the average user, but there is always Google.
If anyone wants a comprehensive list on what to disable and or enable for Vista services email me at email@example.com and i will send you through some info.
Good god... I'm studying abroad in China, and the virus I just got here was pretty bad. I use a print station in my program's office, bringing my USB disk on over, plug, print, and walk out. There was a virus waiting for me last time that jumped onto my USB in a hidden file (stupid me, I forgot the office probably doesn't have the 'see hidden files' option enabled) and then put itself onto my computer as soon as I plugged it in. Symantec caught two Trojans in a scan, then rolled over and died as something in a virus it didn't detect made it impossible to run. What's worse, whenever I tried downloading new antivirus software, more than half the time it redirected me to a download from a different site (probably a good ol' batch of viruses).
The only thing that worked? A backup of my system. Virus software did nothing. I totally agree with the guy who said Anti-Virus software isn't worth it. Virus makers will always be a step ahead of the Virus protectors, so no matter how good it is, you can always get infected. Not worth it to get slowed down so much. Now I keep 2-3 backups, one made every week. And after reading all this, I don't do things as an admin anymore :P.
While true for computer users in the know which are about 1% of people out there with a PC the rest of the users will need AV and security because they are "dumb" enough to click or something and not patch their system every day.
Vista is the way forward unfortunatly (or unix)....
10 000 or so strong botnets currently FORCED M$ to go the Vista way.
I go for the anti-virus free + backup solution myself.
Previously I got infected even when I was running antivirus, so for me it is just not worth the performance hit.
One reason that I'm not so worried on my Linux machine is that all of the pieces of software are separate, small pieces, and they all get updated regularly. It's the regular updates that keep me safe, so I don't ever worry about virus scanners. I would only rarely have to reboot, if I was of a mind to keep my computer running all the time.
On top of that, pretty much nobody runs as root in the Linux world.
The only real danger is that somebody might brute-force your root password via SSH, and then rootkit your machine. I handle that by turning off access to SSH at the router level, but leaving open the remote admin interface of my router so that I can turn it back on again when I need it.
I'm late to this one, but how on earth does UAC slow down system performance? You can say you don't like it all you like, but you've included it in a list of things that improve performance when it makes no difference, unless you consider "the time it takes me to click the occasional message box" a performance factor.
Those who know what they're doing don't run AV (or if they lurk around dodgy areas of the net they use the lightweight ones like NOD32 or Kaspersky), those who don't know what they're doing usually have a friend who sets them up with a lightweight one for their own benefit.
Best recent giggle was when a Sky technician came around and didn't notice the NOD32 installation I put on a friends' XP Home PC (anything naughty is just silently dealt with, why bother them with scary red-bordered dialog boxes?), assumed there was no anti-virus at all and tried to get them to go for Norton Anti-Performance. Fortunately they said they'd get back to him...
Your "Percent Slower" chart does not list the number of threats protected against. I would like to know if the slower packages are protecting users against a larger set of threats. Then, I could decide if the performance decrease is worth the potential benefit.
If no antivirus solution will cover all virus, malware, and fraudware, then why bother installing any of them? I am surely not going to install all of them.
I will take my chances without rather than suffer through endless boot up times, shutdown times, and system freezes and crashes. I haven't run antivirus for six years now, and haven't had a single infection (win xp, firewall on) on my systems.
The reason I feel this way about it is I have recently repaired a friends virus infected computer that was running up to date Norton AV 2007. The antivirus did not "see" the virus "smitfraud" and what a complete annoyance that was. So not only did my friend have to suffer through slow boot times, "capp" errors, and the like, NAV didn't stop the virus from infecting her computer!
After reading all this info, I decided to run my PC w/o admin privileges and removed Norton A/V 2008. I couldn't tolerate the slow booting times and all the impact on my system performance even thought I do have a Quad CPU w/ 240 MHZ each and 2 G of Ram. I have made a backup of all my important files and documents and will take the risk.
I truly thank all of you for exposing your very valuable arguments here. It definitely helped me with my current situation.
I'm going to call you out here. You attack Virus Scanners, saying they are bad because:
1. Takes longer to boot
2. Uses up lots of CPU
3. Slow down disk access
THen you claim that Virual Machines are the answer. Fuck! Virtual machines run like dogs and are much worse than virus scanners. You have to wait for 2 operating systems to boot. 100% increase in boot time at best? 2 operating systems in memory = twice the memory (unless we compress the inner one, in which case +1 for the CPU usage) and bad disk IO performance because the child OS thinks it has sole access to the disk when it doesn't.
Seriously dude is the situation so bad we need throw away virtual machines? Because we're on the brink of collapse if that's the case. Why the fuck are operating systems so delicate? Why can't we have some sort of transaction system update feature which includes a state backup to an 8GB USB keypen? After said update the OS software (on a separate disk from your documents) is mounted read-only until you update it again? You need version control for your documents and that is all things covered in my eyes. Why go to the extreme? Your recommended solution is complete overkill...wouldn't you agree?
Hi Dude thanks for sharing this great info....I appreciate your knowledge...
Couldn't agree more with this article. I've been anti-virus free now for many many years after battling with disk-thrashing, intensive security suites.
I asked myself the question one day; Why do I need this?. It always surprises me to see just how many people I would class as experts (programmers, sys-admins, etc) use anti-virus software. Surely there's a deep underlying problem if I, as a programmer, don't know that .exe attachments in random emails should never be opened.
I've never gotten a virus in years, thanks only to sensible usage. No need to sacrifice my RAID performance, so long as I'm not an idiot.
Choosing antivirus software is always difficult for those, who have a lot of their minds. For example, some programs are good in the proactive protection, others in the scanning process....and so on. But one thing is for sure, by getting it for free, you want get the benefits the company provides. But we are not talking here for the free 30 day trail, that some of them offer.
This is now my favorite blog post of all times!
Always hated anti virus software#12288;(for the same reasons)
1. Never seen it work properly or Never had any use for one
2. Always been afraid of saying it bluntly to a sysadmin
This post just makes me happy for so many reasons, but this one rocks:
what we really need is Anti-Anti-Virus software to keep us safe from the ongoing Anti-Virus software pandemic.
Have you ever tried Search-and-destroy Antispyware? If you answered no, then you should give it a try. Over the years I have used many different types of antispyware and this is one of the best that I have ever tried. I was surprised and delighted to find that I could purchase it for a lower price than I could buy Norton and other similar scans that produce the same results. That makes it even better. Antispyware solution from Search-and-destroy can find the same kinds of bugs as these more expensive programs and is easy to get. Just click here http://www.Search-and-destroy.com and you can see how well it really works for yourself.
I always assume that my Windows is infected/corrupted. I never visit my bank from Windows, I never enter any account numbers in Windows. If I want to visit my Bank or purchase something online I use a live boot CD of Ubuntu. It may be a bit slower but its guarenteed to not be infected and it usually doesn't take long to do my banking or to buy something.
Also when you want to buy something online just pickup a gift card from your bank. I get them for 2 bucks. Make your purchase and then use up the left over funds at the grocery store. If a hacker ever gets your number he gets nada.
With the advent of rootkits most of those malware scanners can't detect the malware anyway. The number one best way to avoid rootkits is to surf the Internet in a Limited account. If you are using Limewire or any other torrent program be sure and use a limited account. I have gotten a ton of infections when downloading from torrents.
"The day will come when someone produces the necessary analytics software for the masses. It will be Task Manager on steroids. It will be the sunlight we need.
It will tell you what activities -- services, apps, etc -- are consuming disk, CPU, bandwidth"
This has been around for Linux for a while. The default system monitor in gnome tells you where the executable is located on the hard drive. It doesn't tell you dependencies, but the package manager does...
There is a light weight program called conky that can tell you exactly what your computer is using. Things like disk read write speed, cpu temp, throttling, usage, highest memory usage, hughest cpu usage, process ID even the ports programs open up.
The only thing that sucks is you usually have to hand code it like an html page, but it is the best at what it does so far.
For you windows users, if you want to make sure that no one can spy on you, use a really tight firewall. This will stop a lot of spyware from getting out if you have a good firewall. But Windows comes with spyware out of the box. Windows by default has hidden services that allows whoever is watching (I don't know who, someone is) to spy on you. Its so bad in Vista MS isn't even hiding it anymore. MS has been doing sneaky stuff like this since late win95. The funny thing is they are not worried that it is a security risk, they are worried about people blocking it. This one fact keeps me away from windows unless I need it. When I'm done it gets turned off.
This blog is very interested article.
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John Pirie said: "The day will come when someone produces the necessary analytics software for the masses. It will be Task Manager on steroids. It will be the sunlight we need... Maybe it's already written; if so I'd love to know about it."
What you want is Sysinternals' free utility, Process Explorer: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/ProcessesAndThreads/ProcessExplorer.mspx
It's not for completely non-technical users, but it definitely fits the description of "Task Manager on steroids"; you even get a one-click way to do web searches for process names so you can figure out what mysterious processes are doing. (Unfortunately, when Microsoft bought out Sysinternals they switched the search engine in Process Explorer to Live Search from Google. At least the tool is still free, though.)
And to Jeff's comment about "too many administrators": What I want is a user account _between_ administrator and standard. One that will let me install programs, but only into a location that's specific to me (say a "My Programs" alongside "My Documents"), and that'd be limited to programs that don't attempt to modify resources that are shared among all users. Windows' notion of a "standard" user is too limiting and its notion of an "admin" is too expansive, IMHO.
I agree with Jimbo, sometimes you have to protect your PC from your own family!
You put a wolf in bunny suit and everytime most users click on it until the word comes out that the bunny is bad.
How about real punishment for virus, malware, spyware creators? No viruses, no anti-virus programs needed.
Conspiracy Theory - 50% of Norton Anti-Virus Employees write Anti-Virus software. 50% of thier employees write viruses...
"I don't know how VMWare works, but, in my experience, Virtual PC 2007 from Microsoft is much slower than running on the real machine (even using the Core 2 Duo's virtualization capability)."
You should try Parallels on a Mac sometime. It's an eye opener. Parallels VMs running Windows XP on an iMac with 1GB RAM are sufficiently snappy to be indistinguishable from a native XP install -- at least for anything but games (Parallels doesn't do 3D yet).
For Mom and Dad, Parallels is plenty fast -- and if they bork something up, just blow up their VM, clone a clean one for them, and they're good to go again.
Jeff's right: this is the future.
I am running Vista Ultimate 64-bit and all I can say is that the virus programs I use to love just seem to have compatibility problems to some extent with Vista. Even though Vista is suposed to be more secure... who in their right mine would not want to run additional virus protection?
I have a site dealing with
FREE Computer Virus Help and Recovery - Virus Help Resource but I will be vamping up the windows vista 64-bit virus protection 10x fold.
1st. I did not see PCTools anti-virus listed in the listing of PC performance hits.
2nd. I noticed that you were using 2002 of Nortons, that is pretty old.
I use PCTools SpyWare Doctor with Norton's anti-virus 2005 for about 2 years, then tried BitDefender. Liked BitDefender EXCEPT for the part about BD FORCING HOURLY updates with no option to change the updates to a daily update... IF BD did offer daily updates as an option, then I would use BD, as it does a pretty good job.
I also have a copy of SpyBot Search and Destroy which compliments PCTools Spyware Doctor (once in a while it will detect something that SD does not!).
I REALLY wish there was a site on the net which analysed system performance AND reliability for spyware and virus software!
Ok, well.. You know, a limited account might be fine and all, but what about for people who constantly sit there and tweak? The true way to fix it is not to make a one-and-all fix, its to make it user configurable in a way that everyone can do it. Make it so there is no administrator privileges- make it so a limited-account can do anything with the entry of a password.
Oh... I forgot to mention, I run Kaspersky 6 (just the A/V) and Comodo firewall 24/7 (unless I'm playing games) and the only time my computer is unresponsive is when Kaspersky is doing a scan, which is only AFTER I got to bed... I run admin account, aswell, and I stand by it fully, because everything I do would require me to log off every 5 seconds. Uh-uh. Not happening.
Mind you my pc is decent enough to run Kaspersky, Firefox with about 10-30 tabs, Comodo, and uTorrent constantly.. With no drag in performance. Or else I just set my pc up properly?
And btw... All the anti-viruses you listed there might as well BE viruses, just because they miss so many. Nod-32 and Kaspersky are the only 2 decent ones out there; even nod is going downhill however. Kaspersky 7 is the best A/V out there right now, and I'm in the process of upgrading right now. :)
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