Monday, December 31, 2007

The 7 Wonders of Wii Homebrew



Now that Wii homebrew is finally a possibility http://youtube.com/watch?v=H5YB1Mmx7E4
I’ve been wondering what would make the Seven Wonders of Wii Homebrew and here are my thoughts. Feel free to disagree!

1) Emulators
The Wii is basically a Gamecube on steroids. When you boot a Cube title the Wii downgrades itself to Gamecube specs but what possibilities would we have if we could access the full Wii mode for emulators. You could even play Cube titles in Wii mode, a sort of super Gamecube mode where the framerates could be faster perhaps? Now the extra power of the Wii over the Cube could allow you to emulate more powerful machines like the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, perhaps the Playstation (PSX).

It’s just a starting point. These wonders are building up.

2) Samba (SMB)

Samba is a network protocol. If the Wii could be Samba compatible one way or another then we could connect it to a PC or Mac network and read files from the network, store files on the network and so on. This is a key building block as the Wii has no hard disk so is limited to SD cards for storage. Add Samba and there is no limit.

3) Kai (link)

Kai enables machines of varying types to play network games. Not quite sure how this would or could work on Wii but it’s a useful bridge and could enable Wii online gaming when the Big N doesn’t take care of our needs.

4) ISO loader

Sometimes burning titles onto DVD is a pain in the butt. Loading ISO images would be handy and allow you to store titles elsewhere on networked storage or on a PC. It would be great to be able to load Gamecube and Wii titles remotely. Obviously only images of titles you actually own ;)

5) Keyboard Support

The Wii has USB already but using a USB keyboard would be a key building block. How else are you gonna do MSN style chats? Enter your Samba config by hand? Again, a key step towards a full homebrew Wii. Let’s have mouse support too!

6) Linux

I never used to be a huge Linux fan until I came across my Linkstation and the size of the Linux software base. And it is free! There is Gamecube Linux but Wii Linux (Wiinux, Wiix or whatever it gets called!) should turn the Wii into a full computer with it’s PowerPC processor. As long as we have Samba access to a remote hard disk then Wii Linux could boot from SD and store on a Samba share. With Linux installed the Wii could run Firefox and many other quality Linux apps.

7) Media Center

Have you seen how good XboxMediaCenter is? XBMC is, for me, the sole reason to own an original Xbox. If the Wii had homebrew like this (yes XBMC is free homebrew, not commercial software) then you could play on your TV all those Xvid TV shows you have downloaded, your MP3 collection and look at those family pics you store on your PC. Heaven.

So when will this get going? Soon I hope!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Xbox Bling



Well, yesterday was a fun trip shopping. I bought my Asus Eee for £199, having haggled at PC World where they put the price up overnight. It's very cute but more on that later. Another purchase was an Xbox. Having sold mine about 10 days ago for £100 (the package) I found via MoneySavingExpert.com that Game in the UK were selling off their "pre-owned" stock for £20 each (well £19.98 actually) so I bought one (well two actually, one for a work colleague) and have decided to soft-mod it (or maybe chip it) to allow XboxMediaCenter to be installed. XBMC is a superb media center app that plays every format you could want. At £20 for the Xbox you can't go wrong. But now I've seen some Xbox mods l am being tempted to build a blinged up Xbox like the one in the pic above (more info here http://forums.xbox-scene.com/index.php?showtopic=615937)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eee by Gumm



OK, well you'd probably have to have been on another planet to not have seen or heard of this year's "must have gadget" the Asus Eee PC.

Not heard of it? Well you have been in the wilds then! So what is it?

It's a laptop - "Big deal" you say. Seen them before.

It's small - "Yup, seen small laptops". There was the Toshiba Libretto (Google it if you haven't heard of that!)

It's light - "Yup, been there"

It's Linux - "errrm so what. You can put Linux on any PC" - yes, but this starts with a custom Linux built for it

It's Flash-based - "what's that then?" you say. It has no hard disk but a flash memory disk. That means no moving parts (no noise, no heat and no worry about it failing because of a small drop onto a surface) but also it uses less power and it loads much faster. Getting interested?

It's very small - it's the size of a hardback book but still has a proper keyboard and screen and an Intel CPU.

It can run Windows (if you want), it's hackable ("Oh yes it is!!"), it's wireless, it's cute.... and there is a growing community at www.eeeuser.com where you can find out the best ways to install Windows, run games that it wasn't really designed to do so, modify the internals to add extra storage and so on.

So, I'm decided now to get one. The problem now is availability. You can get white ones easily enough (well, sorta!) but the black ones are a little scarcer so I will have to wait. The plan is to get an 8gb SDHC card to expand the storage (as it includes a card reader) plus an 8gb USB pendrive to hold those Xvid, Mp3 and other media files. I will be building a customised XP install CD for it (to install a stripped nLite XP, with the frequently modified files stored on the SD card like My Docs, Temp files and the like) and using customised office applications like Thinstalled Office on a totally optimised "flash disk".

And the best thing of all? It's so small I might JUST get away with smuggling the device past "she who must be obeyed"!! :-)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Portable Applications



You know the problem, you have some useful application but you cannot run it at work or at college because the nasty system admininistrators have their systems locked down so tightly you cannot install any executable files (or maybe you don't want to as you don't want to leave traces behind). The solution? Portable apps! These will run from a USB pendrive or whatever portable device you have (Apple iPod anyone?). But not just serious applications, games can be portable too.

I've done some looking around and here are some of the handy things I have found:

Portable Firefox - handy if you cannot abide Internet Explorer, also handy as Firefox has extensions to add functionality like FTP, Torrents etc.

Portable Counterstrike - very handy for a quick blast. Haven't the nerve to try it at work though

Portable MS Office inc Frontpage - this was powered by Thinstall, a virtualisation program which effectively allows a PC within a PC to run and is a very powerful tool. I had a play with a friend's copy and we Thinstalled Frontpage but it's not an easy process or particular intuitive to do. The results are superb though. A search of Bittorrent sites can reveal Thinstalled Office suites for download of varying sizes. The downside to Thinstall is the astronomical price $4995 if I understand their pricing structure. Ouch.

MojoPac - this is another way to carry portable apps. Basically you install your PC on a removable storage device (USB pendrive, iPod etc) and when you plug it into another PC you can run all your apps from that device, any reading and writing being to that device and nothing whatsoever is changed on the host PC which just provides the hardware. A clever idea but no good for me as my workplace have USB devices very heavily restricted so we can only write to approved devices (which iPods are not!).

Anyone come across any other portable beauties? Let me know!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Core2Duo Goodness!



Just upgraded the #2 PC cheaply by flogging some other components I had spare. The new system is also a G33 based microATX motherboard (this time an Asus P5K-VM) with 2gb of PC6400 memory and a cheapie E2180 Core2Duo processor. Recently Hexus.net did a budget CPU article which confirmed what we all knew - this is a bargain chip. As standard its a 2ghz processor and even at that speed is pretty quick but it also is a good overclocker. All I had to do was raise the FSB up leaving all voltages at standard and it's now a 3ghz CPU. It's plenty quick enough for our needs so I cannot see the point of pushing to the absolute limit. It did boot at around 3.3ghz in a quick test but I think the memory was too pushed to cope. Either way, £50 for a super fast CPU has to be good and the motherboard will be good for the next bargain CPU coming from Intel, the 45nm E8400 which should also clock to 4ghz with ease. That''s next year realistically.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Next Gen - is it worth it?



We've got all the last generation of consoles - PS2, Xbox and Gamecube.

We've got the Wii from the current generation but listen to any "serious" gamer and they will tell you that the Wii isn't really "next gen" like the PS3 and some will even say the Xbox 360 isn't "next gen". There is a lot of bull floating around on this topic. There are no rules about what is and isn't "next gen", really there aren't. So PS3 and Xbox360 owners get a grip.

Personally only a few games on the 360 and PS3 have looked vaguely worth playing. Recently I have liked the look of Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect so using that excuse I let slip to the sprogs that I was considering a 360 as those games and perhaps Halo 3 had me tempted.

I conducted a little experiment, I borrowed a 360 from a friend and plugged it in and waited for the reaction. I also borrowed a pile of games with it.

Let the comments begin:

"Crikey, what's that noise." (360 switched on).

"Look at that brick" (360 power supply is a tad chunky)

"All consoles should have wireless controllers" (that was me!)

"Is this what next gen is about then, just some prettier graphics"

"The games are slightly sharper but the games are still much the same"

"Put another title on...... there's nothing I want to play, let's unplug it and plug the Wii back into the tv" (followed by Avatar the Burning Earth and an Eyetoy session on PS2)

So, the jury in our household is firmly against "next gen". I have an acceptable PC so I'm happy to play Gears of War or Lost Planet on that. Assassin's Creed is out on PC next year (it was delayed) and there is a strong rumour that Mass Effect will be on PC next year. Halo and Halo 2 made it to PC and even Microsoft's effort to force Halo 2 gamers to buy Vista (what a joke) was bypassed by hackers so Halo 2 plays on XP machines fine.

No point in Next Gen. Actually decided to sell the Xbox 1 as it's media playing duties have been distgributed elsewhere. The Cube is redundant as the Wiii plays Cube games.

We're quite happy with a Wii, a PS2 and a decent PC for gaming, thank you very much.