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 PC Time Synchronisation Services 
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Post PC Time Synchronisation Services
PC Time Synchronisation Services
by: David Evans



Computers maintain time and date information using internal real-time clock chips. These chips are battery-backed and maintain time even when the power to the computer is switched off. However, the components utilised are relatively low-cost devices and have a tendency to drift by relatively large amounts. This article describes various ways of keeping the time on your computer accurate. It also shows how to synchronise a computers system clock with a highly accurate reference clock.

Computer systems time can drift anything from a few seconds a day to a few minutes each day. When processing transactions or performing time critical tasks across a number of computers, incorrect time can be a real headache.

The Internet found and solved this problem a number of years ago by developing the Network Time Protocol. NTP can be used to distribute accurate time from a highly precise time server to network time clients. Most modern operating systems have the ability to synchronise time with a NTP server. Generally, all that is required is the IP address or domain name of Stratum 1 or Stratum 2 NTP servers.

LINUX and UNIX operating systems can download the full NTP implementation from the NTP web site 'ntp.org'. NTP is freely available open source software available under the GNU public licence.

Microsoft Windows XP/2000/2003 and Vista operating systems have an integrated SNTP client. SNTP stands for Simple Network Time Protocol. Simple Network Time Protocol provides a sub-set of the Network Time Protocols algorithms. SNTP provides a simplified NTP algorithm with many of the complex routines to acheive high precision removed. Windows operating systems allow an IP address or domain name of a Internet or Intranet NTP server to be entered in the time properties tab. The SNTP client will then periodically contact the NTP server in order to update and synchronise system time.

A problem arises, however, if the computer does not have access to the Internet or is not networked. What is required is local access to an accurate time reference. However, there are many freely available time and frequency resources that can be utilsied.

A number of national time and frequency radio broadcasts are available. These radio broadcasts are generally referred to by their 'call sign'. WWVB is the North-American time and frequency radio transmission, broadcast for Colorado in the States. DCF is the call-sign of the German radio time transmission, which is broadcast from Meinflingen near Frankfurt. The UK time transmitter is located at Anthorn, Cumbria, it's call sign is MSF. A number of other broadcasts are available in France, Canada, Switzerland and Japan. USB and serial radio receivers are available that can receive radio time broadcasts and provide computers with accurate timing information. The PC system time can then be synchronised to the received time and frequency radio source.

The problem with national radio time broadcasts is that they inherantly have a finite transmission range. Their transmissions are generally regional and limited to national boundaries. The Global Positioning System (GPS) provides a solution to this. The GPS system operates from a number of orbiting satellites. Each satellite has an on-board highly accurate synchronised atomic clock. GPS can provide highly precise timing information anywhere on the face of the planet. All that is required to receive the GPS transmissions is a low-cost GPS receiver and antenna. The GPS antenna needs to be shown a good clear view of the sky for correct operation. By connecting a PC to a serial or USB GPS receiver, accurate timing information is continuously available.

To summarise, a wide range of highly accurate computer timing references are freely available. Utilising the Internet, National time and frequency radio transmissions or the GPS system can ensure that a computers time remains locked to a precise time reference.


About The Author

David Evans provides technical authoring services to the computer time synchronisation industry. For detailed information on Windows 2000/2003 Radio and GPS time server systems, please visit: http://www.timetools.co.uk


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This article was posted by permission.


Wed Aug 01, 2007 9:11 pm
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