Sunday, December 21, 2008

The wife never even noticed it....



OK, another new toy.

I have spent many months looking for a reason to buy the Asus EeeBox as it fits my key green criteria - low power consumption. However, the problem has always been justifying the purchase in my mind.

"I need a box to download" - "Damn, that Linkstation does it all"

"NZB, Bittorrent?" - Yup, Linkstation

"I need a box as a central server" - "Yes, Linkstation again"

"I need something that can serve a PS3 or 360" - "yawn, Linkstation"

"I need a web server" - "... need you ask?"

"I need to emulate an Amiga so that I can host my old BBS via telnet" - "aha, that'll do. I need an EeeBox".

So I bought an EeeBox. Plus a 500gb notebook drive a few days later. I was impressed with the EeeBox when it arrived. The packaging is very efficient, like Apple, in not wasting space. It comes with a mouse (small notebook style and not even unpacked as it is too small for my big hands!) and a keyboard (nice Alu keyboard, looks great but has a laptop Function key and the layout doesn't suit me so packed away). The EeeBox is very small and using laptop components and the more efficient 945GSE chipset rather than the power hungry 945GC that the Atom desktop boards use it consumes 20W in total with hard disk. I replaced the hard disk with a bigger 500gb drive and installed XP Pro, using nLite to strip the bloat away and a custom unattended install disk to pre-configure the box the way I want it.

I have installed SABnzbd (usenet downloader, not as efficient as NZBget on Linkstation but still great), uTorrent (for Bittorrent downloads), Twonky media server (same as on Linkstation) and Apache (for web server and some reverse proxy usage) so far. WinUAE to come shortly plus a pile of UAE configuration for the BBS.

It works, it's quiet (it's silent!!), it's efficient (17W) and as it is on 24/7 if I need a PC for browsing or quick usage it's actually easier to use this than to boot my normal desktops which sound so noisy in comparison. And that is a strange feeling as my uber-nerd friend who pops over often comments how quiet my machines are.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mac Mini or Hackintosh?

or


Rumours abound on the net about a possible update to the Mac Mini. The suggestions include using the same chipset as used in the updated Mac Book, the 9400M from Nvidia. This is by far the best integrated VGA on a motherboard so is worth getting excited about. It would be probably the final push towards me buying a Mac Mini.

But an alternative is out there lurking away, in the form of Hackintosh. A few mobos have been released using the desktop version of the same chipset (and they are faster) - example the Gigabyte GA-E7AUM-DS2H.

If this can be hacked for OSX then we could pop a quad core CPU in as well. Integrated VGA could always be updated later to something even faster if needed.

I'm torn in two. Three if you count the desire to get one of the new aluminium Mac Books. Apple are making such good looking hardware that I can see how they sell it at the premium they do.

Monday, November 10, 2008

An Apple a day....



Having tinkered with Ubuntu and triple booting on the MSI Wind (Advent 4211) I came to the conclusion that it was easier just having one OS on the hard disk of the Wind (my main one) and others on USB sticks. I managed to install OSX onto an 8Gb USB2 stick I have. Write speeds are slower on USB sticks so it took over an hour to install. I booted it up successfully but it took about 3m 40s compared to 1m 30s odd for the hard disk. Not sure if that is anything to do with setting the Owners on the stick but it was enough to kill the idea for me. However, Ubuntu supports USB booting and I only want to use Ubuntu to try Aircrack-ng so I will try Ubuntu on USB later.

Anyway, when in OSX mood I decided to update my OSX install to 10.5.5. I got some advice from a friendly user on MSIWind.net's forums. The procedure is basically

Download the 10.5.5 update from Apple website (or use the Update facility in the OS - I prefer to download as I may do it on other machines
Download the Wind drivers
Download Kext Helper
Download the GMA950 Kexts (revised ones)
Apply update
Apply drivers
Apply GMA950 kext
Fix permissions

I had a problem with my keyboard being killed by the update. This was "fixed" by plugging in a USB Wireless keyboard I had (luckily) and then when the drivers had been applied the keyboard returned. A normal USB keyboard would have done just as well. I also experienced the weird 800x600 screen bug but after about 3 reboots that disappeared.

Now, finally, a 10.5.5 OSX. The current WindOSx86 disk install method is due to be replaced by a method that involves using a proper retail (untouched, unhacked) OSX install DVD and a custom CD. This method is based on the Boot-132 process detailed on InsanelyMac.com and should result in a clean install that will take updates without breaking and needing many re-patches.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I've gone all Twonky!



I have a small problem. Every time I want to find an excuse to buy some new kit I am thwarted. This time I had decided I could find a case for a new low power PC, the Asus Eee Box. I've been playing with streaming video to my Wii and Xbox 360 as I need a media player downstairs to be able to watch my Xvids. I suppose (I realise as I type this) I could persevere with using my slim PS2 but it was too flakey and difficult to set up. Anyway, I discovered a great program called TVersity which works with just about anything. But for the Wii it needs to transcode the Xvid into an FLV (Flash Video) file before streaming that as the Wii cannot play Xvid. This needs a PC. I experimented with this by installing TVersity on my MSI Wind clone (Atom 1.6ghz same as the Eee Box) and it just (and I mean just) coped with transcoding. I tried with my Xbox 360 and that doesn't need transcoding.

And that's when it hit me. If the 360 didn't need transcoding then maybe I didn't need a PC. It was then that I came across MediaTomb and the solution I plumped for, Twonky. Twonky isn't free but the demo lasts 30 days before you need to buy. Mediatomb is free. So I'll make a proper decision in 30 days.

But Twonky will run on my Linkstation - and use 13W in total. Oh bloody hell, yet again the Linkstation stops me buying some nice new kit. Again it saves me money. Damn that little box of tricks. It does everything!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008



I was playing with some systems I am selling and tried to install OSX on them. One system was my old Amithlon box which also happened to be suitable for OSX. This one took a ton of playing with settings and distros. Installing OSX is much harder on AMD based machines. There are different kernels to be used and there are drivers (known as kexts or "kernel extentions") to be installed for many parts of the system.

Anyway, just for anyone googling away here goes

Asus A8N-SLI SE motherboard with Athlon 3500+ and NVidia 7600GT graphics - I had to use Kalyway 10.5.2, with the 9.2 ToH kernel, Nvidia Titan kext, Nvidia SATA and Forcedeth (LAN) kexts, 1052 Kext Test 1. Everything works fine including sound, lan and graphics.

I also installed my Shuttle K45 KPC, again Kalyway 10.5.2 worked best, with default options pretty much (from memory). I tried iAtkos 4i but I think it wasn't so smooth. I got everything again 100% working.

My MSI Wind (Advent 4211) works fine with MSIwindOSx86 distro - I think I have detailed that before. Recently I upgraded the Ram and the WiFi card to a Dell 1490 as that is fully OSX compatible.

Next is to try my main machines (Intel P35 based mobos) - they should be a doddle compared to the other machines. I may try a new procedure based on Boot-132 which boots a retail Apple Leopard install DVD.

Here's THE site for all this sort of thing - OSx86 Project

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bittorrent Power




More Linkstation hacking. Buffalo have released a new Linkstation Live With Bittorrent and Bittorrent (henceforth known as BT) is the one thing I cannot get reliably running on my Linkstation. Many users have reported it working on fully hacked firmwares but others with stock firmware like mine (or open stock versions) have recurring "segmentation" faults and BT barfing like mad.

Anyway, a bit of hacking with the firmware from the new Linkstation means that you can extract the Bittorrent binaries and web interface from the new Linkstation and put it on the older models.

I can report it is totally stable, reliable and fast (as well as a pretty web interface). The only thing I could add to the mix - well maybe MLDonkey which does BT, HTTP, FTP and ED2K downloads all in one package. Might try that soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back to Linkstations



I've played for some time with various machines such as the Zonbu (the low cost Linux box), Linkstation (a Linux NAS), Shuttle KPC (a full PC) and with a HTPC (homebuilt based on AMD's 780G chipset). All the while I have been looking for a low cost, low running cost machine to act as a download box and a central server. The Linkstation came close but not quite the whole way there.

Latest purchase is a 2nd Linkstation. I'm going to store Music, Documents and Pictures on a 250gb Linkstation and Video and Download role to be homed on the 1tb Linkstation I already have. The total consumption of two Linkstations being on 24/7 is 26W, still well below almost all PCs (even those new Atom systems) and with two 3.5" SATA hard disks.

Now here are the clever bits.

When "She Who Must Be Obeyed" is using a PC and working on editting photos as she does, she has almost exclusive use of that LS. The other LS might be downloading away and even unarchiving but that won't slow her down. Good thing too!

Overnight, the two Linkstations talk to each other and backup the key files. All the Music, Docs and Pics are echoed to the 1tb LS and the important files (not the huge chunk of video) are backed up in the other direction. So I have data security too. That is something that doesn't need to involve the PCs I normally use for the job and will be all automatic.

One final green twist? I needed a new Gigabit switch as I hadn't enough ports on the router. I bought a DLink one (same dimension as my router which is also DLink) but this one is the new "green" one that powers down the bits not being used. I can leave my two Linkstations plugged into the router (as they will be on and active all the time) and my less active devices can be on the switch which will save a few microwatts of power as they are not on 24/7.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hackintosh



My Wind dual boots now into Mac OSX and into Windows XP.

The easy way to do this is to download from your friendly Torrent site a file called WindOSX86.iso and burn it to a DVD. My experience of this wasn't very smooth - I burned the disk 3 times, first at 16x, then 4x and finally to a re-writable disk at 1x (so if it barfed I hadn't wasted another disk). Boot the Wind from an external USB DVD drive and install. The only thing to note was the need to uncheck "Kernel" from one of the install options but otherwise all very easy. Wireless doesn't work as the card that the Wind has as standard isn't compatible but a cheap Dell 1490 card can be bought from eBay and installed at the same time as upgrading the memory. I have the memory sitting waiting for my wireless card now.

Given the difficulty in getting a reliable burn on the install DVD I found a procedure whereby you can transfer your install DVD to a USB stick so since I had a spare 8gb stick I now have my installer on that, plus images of additional Mac software I can install. I have my hard disk split into 15gb for Windows, 15gb for OSX and 45gb for shared data, accessible by both operating systems.

My recommended Mac software for starters

MS Office 2008 (or Open Office which is free!)
Paragon NTFS (which enables read and write to NTFS drives like Windows uses - OSX only reads but won't write without this extra software)
XSlimmer (this removes all non-Intel code from Mac installs - OSX runs on both PPC and Intel processors and there is no point in storing PPC code that will never be run)
Firefox (I love Firefox because it is so configurable - AdBlock, FlashBlock and Foxmarks - via Addons)

If you have a Wind then why not try a bit of hacking yourself. The forums at MSIWind.net are a good source of info, not just about this hack but all sorts of interesting info

http://forums.msiwind.net/mac/

Friday, September 12, 2008

I've got Wind!

No, not more farting problems!



My eldest sprog just produced some superb GCSE results (10 grade A* and 2 grade A) and my parents rewarded her (like her cousin) with a laptop. I knew what she wanted to use it for (MSN, Facebook, some basic internet browsing and typing documents) and where (school or home) so I suggested to her a netbook would be ideal as it was portable unlike most laptops and not a device that gives away its presence by the carrying of a large laptop bag or a hunched shoulder.

She was having none of it having seen my older Eee and deciding it was too small. She wanted a 15" Dell. I kept silent. Anyway, I took her to see some laptops in the shops and it soon became apparent I was right. Comments like "feel the weight of that" and "isn't it thick" were mentioned regularly! When I showed her the 10" netbook I had in mind she was sold. So we got one on behalf of grandparents.

Apart from a mysterious fault that seemed to indicate a cracked screen (cause unknown) she's been very happy, so much that she hasn't managed to abide by the rules over usage or abusage!! I had to return the faulty one and when getting the replacement my beloved offered me one as an early Xmas present, so I got one too. The make/model is the Advent 4211 (a re-badged version of MSI's Wind netbook). The keyboard and screen sizes are ideal. Small but usable. Only criticism is the persistence with a 3 cell battery which means 2 hours of use when a 6 cell would give a more useful 4 hours. Still, it can be changed later if needed.

First off, remove the PC World "Tech Guys" partition for backup uses and remove their Windows XP Home edition. Replace with a customised nLited (that means no bloaty Windows here) XP SP3 installation. Runs much smoother now. As I built an unattended install DVD I could come back to complete, customised, fully installed machines with Firefox and all my favourite applications pre-installed.

Next is trying Mac OSX. The netbook is ideal for this but I need two small upgrades first - more memory and a new wireless card. More on that later!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another Boytoy



I've bought a new low power PC. This one is the el cheapo Shuttle, the KPC K45 where KPC stands for Korporate PC. What a crapola name. Hopefully when I assemble it all it won't be as bad as the name. I should be chucking some spare kit and some bits from other systems into this to make it a "low power" PC for basic server duties. Spec should be Pentium Dual Core E2180 (2ghz but hopefully either BSEL-modded or overclocked to 2.66ghz since it runs at 3ghz at default volts), 2Gb Ram, 2 Samsung terabyte SATA drives and a dual DVB-T Freeview tuner. If it runs quietly and without consuming too much power I will pension off my Linkstation and use this as my web server, download box, PVR, Rom-box and heaviest use PC whilst my more powerful other PCs can be used for games and internet use but not running 24/7. I've considered an Atom based machine but they are rather slow and if unarchiving an 8gb download may take quite a while and slow down for other uses. At least the E2180 is a Core2Duo in disguise and will easily cope with all the tasks. One other thing - this box is ideal as an OSX Hackintosh so I may try dual booting XP and OSX.

I also got myself an Xbox 360 a week or two ago, selling the PS3 I had. Why you ask? Well there are more games for the 360, its cheaper too and I don't need Bluray on my 720P HDTV yet. Maybe the next TV I buy will be 1080P and by that time I'll have need for decent HD sources but not yet. Anyway, the HDMI port I have will do fine for the Xbox Elite which has an HDMI connection too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

iPhone3G - what a fiasco!



I finally got interested in Apple's iPhone when a work colleague showed me his and let me have a 60 second play on it before it went safely back in its "sock". I was impressed with the ease of use and slick interface as well as the size, weight and the internet integration. I was convinced enought to buy one when I saw the price drop and heard how you didn't actually need that O2 contract as you could buy it, take home and "jailbreak" it away from O2. Unfortunately it was about 2 days after the UK sold out of the original iPhone so I was forced to wait for the new 3G model.

Come 11th July I was ready. I normally get to work early so was due to wander past St James Park branch of Carphonewarehouse at 7:15 when they were opening at 8:02. When I arrived a single nerd (sorry, "creative-type-person") was there already. After pleasantries were exchanged ("This the iPhone queue?" "Yeah" "OK I'm #'2 then") we stood and waited. At 7:30 a CPW staffer arrived, opened the store to let herself in and gave us a scrap of paper with a number on it (highly secure). She also let slip that the stock was 5 iPhones, all 8gb models. I'd read on the CPW website that the sale should take around 20 minutes inc credit checks etc. However, after all systems crashed, and #1 was ordering a 16gb model (and I was unsure which)... at 10:40 I left with the first iPhone 3G sold at that store. What a mess. Of course this is what Apple wanted. No end of free publicity - like Nintendo with the world Wii shortage on launch. There were some fun moments while waiting, such as when I spotted on The Inquirer website that the 3G iPhone had already been jailbroken!!

Anyway, after arriving late for my first meeting of the day in my new job (impressive eh?) I didn't get a chance to unbox until I got home. At home I found no manual (talk about Apple arrogance - we don't need one) so had to find it on Apple web site. The manual says "remove the SIM cover using the special tool we provide".. nope, not in my box. No charger, no screen protector, no dock. Talk about cheapskate Apple for a premium phone. Got the SIM installed eventually and then had to deal with iTunes Store being down - so no registration and no use of iPhone until about 2 hours later.

Now, the sales experience and registration was a shambles. Quite frankly shameful.

The product is great, the web experience etc is really usable, friendly and easy to work out. The battery life somewhat disappointing - I think I need to work out how to tweak the options to maximise it. The worst thing? My MP3 collection is 13gb... the iPhone 8gb model only has 7gb or a little more but not 8gb free. I may be forced to get a 16gb model but none in stock. How can I exchange it when there are none to exchange it with? Might just have to live with it. Still, there are worse things.

I have to wonder though, have I sold my soul to the Apple Devil? Probably.. Do I care? Unlikely!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Atomic Musings



Intel's Atom processor is currently the talk of the IT world but let's be honest here, it is not god's gift to the CPU world. It's low power but in many ways. Low power usage (great) but also low power in processing power terms (not so great). However, it's good for PCs that are designed for browsing the net and word processing type tasks, just don't expect to encode HD video on it!

Anyway, my interest is in low power consumption - for downloading and for browsing - for a PC to sit next to the lounge TV.

There are many Atom configurations being offered and they differ a lot in their "green credentials"

230 and 945GC/ICH7 $29+$20 (4W+25W) $49 29W TDP

N270 and 945GSE/ICH7-M $44+$36 (2.5W+5.5W) $80 8W TDP

Pity we don't have Poulbo (designation, US15W, a more efficient single chip "chipset" that includes HD decoding) in desktop form as it is very low power. There is also a planned dual core Atom (code 330 perhaps) due later this year. In the real world, Intel's mini-ITX motherboard, D945GCLF draws 24W-27W using an efficient DC-DC power supply, 1gb Ram and 2.5" HD, compared to Apple's Mac Mini (20W-54W) with a much more powerful 2.0ghz Core2Duo processor. For a green PC you'd have to be looking at the 945GSE/ICH7-M and N270 combo.

This happens to be the chipset Asus have in the Eee Box (the many times renamed Ebox) which is due in UK in July.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Moving to the Dark Side?



I keep getting tempted by people in my office who are clearly Mac fanboys. I'm not tempted by them as people (oh no, I don't swing that way) but I am tempted by the Apple kit they keep harping on about.

iPhone 3G - I am sold on this and have registered for it on CPW and O2 websites for the July release. It looks to be my ideal handheld device.

Phone - I don't like to carry a phone (some of us don't wanna be in 24/7 contact with the world) but my significant other likes me to be in contact so I need a phone like most people.
Internet - I'm an internet junkie - there, I admit it. The iPhone's Safari mobile browser is the best I have seen. Watch anyone doing the pinch and release resizing a web page and you'll see how easy it is to use. With 3G on the new model the internet is there for you all day and night, even on the train!
Games - not perfect as a mobile gaming device but it has some games and there is a joypad hack being worked on by GBAx.com
Music - it's a iPod Touch for crying out loud. It plays music, well!
...and much more

iMac - well this is for another post... I need to work on the significant other to allow me to get one of these.

Mac Mini - HTPC in waiting. Some months away for me I think.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Media PC here we come



Finally took the plunge and bought the kit to build a Home Theater PC, Media Center PC or whatever you want to call it. In my case, the prime mover was building a low power consumption PC that I could leave on 24/7 and not feel guilty about my CO2 production. I've bought different components to my earlier proposed machine, these with a view to keeping it green and quiet.

So, that's an AMD 780G chipset motherboard, AMD X2 4450e CPU and some Samsung 1Tb drives.

The 780G is a great chipset with the best integrated graphics you can currently get (by some margin). It's equivalent to a Radeon HD3450 onboard and will play games at 1024*768 (hopefully 1366*768 too since that's the resolution of my HDTV). The Gigabyte board is probably the best out there - it's the most feature filled and also overclocks both CPU and graphics if you want (I will want!).

The AMD X4 4450e is a low power usage processor - with a ceiling of 45W which is quite a bit lower than Intel's Core2Duo (65W) and Quad (95W). It also uses Cool n Quiet to downclock when not being used. The combination of chipset and processor is sufficient to play Blu-ray and HD-DVD (if I fit an optical drive!).

Samsung 1Tb drives are amongst the lowest power consumption drives as well as quick and quiet. Two terabytes should be plenty for now and with a gigabit ethernet connection to my other machines it should act as a decent server too.

Software? Based on XP with Service Pack 3, SABnzbd & Azureus (as uTorrent web interface didn’t work for me) for remote web-controllable downloads,and Media Portal for recording and playback (it's better than MS's MediaCenter and more expandable). I've got some TV capture cards sorted too so this will be a Freeview and Freesat PVR as well. Yummy!

I bought an Antec NSK1300 case but the PSU was faulty and in any case I found it too cramped with the hard disk fouling on the TV card. So, case is not yet sorted.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Graphics Cards



It's easy to spend £200 on a graphics card for a PC these days but I would suggest it isn't smart or clever (especially if you are married!!). But what does the money get you? Well, you can play the latest games at the highest resolutions and have bragging rights over your mates but that's about it. How many of us have the large monitors that need the highest resolutions?

I'm keen to reduce my carbon footprint (or as some would say, keen to save money and reduce my electricity bill). What most people are not aware of is that there are large variations in power consumption amongst graphics cards (as well as microprocessors and amongst the consoles - I seem to recall mentioning the Wii's power consumption being about 1/8 or so of the Xbox360 and PS3).

Here is some irony. There are two players in the PC graphics market (the others are insignificant)) - Nvidia and ATI (now owned by AMD). Nvidia are known as the Green camp as their logos etc are all green and ATI as the Red camp (same reasoning). The irony? Well, ATI's cards use a lot less power when idle and when loaded than the Nvidia equivalents. ATI invested in some clever technologies - they call it PowerPlay - where the graphics card is effectively "underclocked" (the graphics processor runs a lot slower when it isn't needed to work hard) when you are browsing the net and only uses full power when you want to run the most demanding 2D or 3D games.

The benefits of a lower power consumption graphics card are clear - lower power bills and less heat (meaning less vigorous cooling fans and therefore less noise).

In two months time (or so) AMD/ATI are due to launch their next generation of graphics cards. They are more powerful but again lower power usage. I would have waited for these but there are some great deals to be had on the current cards now. I have now ordered two Radeon HD3850 cards (for both home PCs) for £69 each. This will triple the frame rates on games for us but not the noise levels. Win - win as they say!

Monday, April 14, 2008

PSP vs DS Lite



I used to own a PSP (and to be honest am considering getting a PSP Slim and Lite - what a crap name!!) and my son owns a DS Lite. There is no doubt the DS outsells the PSP and I bet that surprised Sony. It surprised me at the initial launch as the PSP is a much more powerful handheld than the DS by a huge factor. PSP has better graphics, faster processor, more memory, TV output (with the Slim) and plays video and music. Surely it should have whupped the DS by now?

What does the DS have that made it win? In my opinion 3 things and it's not having two screens or being touch screen!!

Battery Life

PSP lasts about 3 hours but a DS lasts 50% longer. Although PSP is supposed to last 3 hours my experience was that it struggled to make that. Also the PSP battery loses charge all the time - come back to a PSP after 3 days and it is often flat. The DS is always there with charge. This helps make a convenient pick up and play device.

Portability

The DS is smaller and lighter. It's pick up and go and stuff into a pocket. You need generous pockets to stuff a PSP into!

Games

PSP games are PS2 titles (or comparable). They are great but they are not really the thing for a 5 minute game. DS games are all about fun and very innovative. Have a look at Trauma Center or Nintendogs or Brain Training. Sure, the PSP has some great games and even has Grand Theft Auto but the DS has the fun factor.

So, there you have it.. why I think the DS has won the handheld war (for this generation). It's a similar story to the Wii - PS3 - 360 battle.

Having said all that, yes, we have a Wii and a DS, we also have a PS3 now. If only Sony allowed or hackers provided homebrew on the PS3.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Home Theatre



I've decided that my lounge may well be served by a Home Theatre PC. Having given the matter some thought I have also arranged it so that I can buy the initial parts, build the system and then add other features as parts and funds allow.

Initially I need a case, motherboard with most devices built in (saves cost), CPU and memory. Hard disk and DVD can be "recycled" from elsewhere and I also have a dual tuner DVB-T PCI card doing nothing. My choices come under a £200 budget (£186):

Antec NSK1300 - £56 - this is a small case but also a quiet one with plastic and metal sandwiching providing sound deadening plus a single 120mm fan exhausting all hot air (not just from the PSU). Reviewed here

Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H - £46 - this is based on Nvidia's Nforce 630i chipset and the ideal board because it has all the bits I need - HDMI connector for HDTV, gigabit LAN, built in graphics that can cope (just) with HDTV resolutions, HD capable audio.

Intel "Pentium Dual Core" E2180 - £50 - this CPU is badged as a Pentium Dual Core but it's a Core2Duo with slightly less cache. I have one already and it overclocks easily from 2ghz to 3ghz at default voltage. The mobo above is also overclock friendly. I may also play with Speedstep and a few other power saving features.

Zalman CNPS7000 heatsink - £0 - I had this lying around for some while. It happens to be the best heatsink that also fits into the Antec case and also is nice and quiet.

Corsair PC6400 (2gb) - £33 - DDR2 memory. What else matters?

The extras that can be added later are:

AMD/ATI HD3450 VGA card - £27 - supports HDCP/HDTV and some low end gaming if I can be bothered

Pioneer BDC-202BK Blu-Ray Reader/DVD±DL Writer - £86 - Would allow Blu Ray playback.

500 GB WD5000AACS Caviar "Green" hard disk - £63 - claims to be lower power usage, therefore less heat produced.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Green Computing?




So many websites are going on and on about “Green Computing”. Only today I read an article about how to spec yourself a Green Computer (which I am going to call a GPC from now on to save typing).

Today’s article was about choosing more efficient power supplies, more modern and efficient CPUs and graphics cards. It kind of misses an important point that this only applies to buying totally new kit – it is generally uneconomic to replace your kit with new kit to make energy savings. Besides which you are doing nothing to aid the planet as you’ll be selling that inefficient kit to some other person who will use to create more CO2.

For real GPCs, the key elements to look at (in my opinion are)

PSU – always choose and 80+ rated (energy efficient) PSU but don’t over-spec. So many people buy 600W PSUs because they think they need them. Not many systems do. My two PCs are Core2Duo with two DVD drives, hard disk, graphics card (7600/7900) and 2gb memory and run on 460W and 400W PSUs and that is plenty.

Graphics – do you need a dedicated graphics card? What is the last game you played? I’m actually playing Half Life Source and Red Faction right now – the latter is fine on integrated graphics. Have a look at the power consumption of the graphics card you are considering? I really wish NVidia and AMD/ATI would consider making an energy efficient card (about the power level of a 7600GT which runs most games). Quite frankly I couldn’t give a toss about some SLI behemoth with a fan the size of coffee cup. I want to play normal games at normal resolutions in peace and quiet and without wasting electricity!

CPU – very little beats the Core2Duo for the balance between energy efficiency and power. Undervolting can also reduce power consumption (but my damn IP35 boards from Abit won’t allow it!) and ensuring that EIST and Speedstep (or equivalents) are switched on can help. VIA’s C7 CPUs are efficient but quite frankly slow as hell. If you must go low power then undervolt a C2D or try the Celeron in Intel’s D201GLY2 motherboard. Intel’s forthcoming Silverthorn CPU will be a boost in this area and the newest C2D CPUs (Wolfdale E8200-8400-8500) are much more efficient and lower power consumption than the older C2Ds.

My recommendations to look into (in roughly ascending processor power and power consumption)

Zonbu (as mentioned earlier in this blog)
Intel’s D201GLY2 motherboard in an ITX system
Shuttle’s forthcoming KPC
Any Wolfdale Core2Duo based system with 80+ PSU and integrated graphics.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gaming on the move... Eee Styleee



Well, yes, you CAN play games under Linux but let's face it.. 99% of the best games are Windows (or even DOS) games. So, to use your Eee for games you really should install Windows and it needs to be XP as XP has the driver support. So, off to Eeeuser.com's wiki here for a guide to how to install XP on an Eee. I also recommend a large fast SD card as the Eee's 4gb flash drive isn't really big enough for games and you don't want to wear it out as well.

There is a list of games that have been tested at eeeuser.com so I knew Call of Duty would work but my favourite game had not been tested and when it was tested, it was reported as not working due to DirectX errors. The game, Red Faction, is a favourite as it is set on Mars (an interest of mine) and has a good plotline and was a first game where you could affect the landscape around you. No route to where you want to go? Blast one with explosives. No games supported that sort of thing when Red Faction was launched.

Red Faction also launched on PS2 and on Mac and spawned a sequel which I think was dull and uninteresting - no plot and no innovations. Red Faction 2 is on PC, Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube.

Anyway, onto gaming on the Eee. Call of Duty installs fine but requires editting the config.cfg file to use a custom resolution (800*480). It works well but better if you turn down the lighting effects and clock the Eee at 900mhz using Eeectrl.
Red Faction installs fine but barfs at 640*480 resolution with DirectX errors. It runs at 800*600 but isn't very playable as the screen scrolls whenever you need to access the other part that the Eee cannot display. Not good. I had a quick trip to my favourite Red Faction site, Levels4You and, after searching, posted a request for help with custom resolutions. I was pointed to a Res Hack tool which allowed you to select 320*240 and some other exotic screen resolutions but not 800*480. But viewing the executable file in Notepad showed me that it changes the registry to effect these new resolutions so all that was needed was to enter the resolution I wanted.

Note: when using this hack you should launch the game from the Red Faction launcher, not from RF. exe and also do NOT change or select a different resolution. The screen resolution will be shown as blank but leave it alone. The game runs fine in 800*480 at 900mhz but I get occasional pauses when the action gets going. I suspect it is down to my SD card's speed but basically, playable Red Faction heaven. I'm happy, Red Faction with a MS wireless laptop mouse and Call of Duty too

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mods



Nope, not those has-beens from the Sixties but Mods for Games.

In recent years it has become all the rage for smart young things (any old Modders out there) to show how clever they are by designing new levels or new graphics for existing games. Some games have even supported this by including level design programs or level editors or by making tools available from official websites. Many games have such mods now.

What is the cool thing about these mods is that many are high quality and most importantly, FREE!

The game that probably most epitomises the mod is Counterstrike. This game sprung from the loins of Valve Software's Half Life and was a freely downloadable online-enabled multiplayer game that you needed the original Half Life to play. Later they even packaged Counterstrike as a separate game and sold it. Counterstrike is arguably the largest online game (because I refuse to acknowledge World of Warcraft as a game as it's pathetic, IMHO!). It's still great some years later and has been remade using Valve's HalfLife 2 engine as "Counterstrike Source".

A good starting place to look for mods for your old and completed game is Moddb.com. A few mods that I think are worth a look are listed below. Feel free to post details of your favourite mods.

Operation MarketGarden mod for Call of Duty
German Front Mod 2 mod for Call of Duty 2
Zombie Stress Mod (single player) for Half-Life 2
Zombie Panic Source mod (multi-player) for Half-Life 2

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Firefox



Sorry but when Googling Firefox images I spotted this one. It has many things that are dear to me such as cats, Firefox etc... ;-)

OK, Firefox.

I've mentioned this before but last day or two I have had more of a play with it. I was already familiar with AdBlock Plus (a great extension for blocking adverts and also blocking half naked "lady" pics from websites that I would otherwise be happy for my kids to use like Torrentspy.com) but I like Internet Explorer (or rather I am used to it).

Internet Explorer often copies other browsers better features like Tabs from Firefox and Opera and pop-up blockers. Well, recently with IE7 they copied the idea of extensions like AdBlock Plus. I tried the IE version but like most things associated with MS products, it isn't free and it isn't that great! So I came back again to try Firefox.

Here are the extensions I have been trying:

AdBlock Plus - speeds up loading web pages by not downloading all those crappy adverts as well as de-porns some.
Flashblock - blocks all Flash anims unless you click to allow them. Useful for blocking those Flash adverts that AdBlock misses.
PlainOldFavorites - use your old IE favorites as a menu item in Firefox. Useful if you store your Favorites centrally. Check out Foxmarks also.
MyFirefox - make Firefox look like IE7. Ease yourself into being a Firefox user.
Chatzilla - IRC client for Firefox. Online chat.
FireFTP - integrate a proper FTP client into Firefox.

There are many more. Let me know what you like about Firefox and which extensions you use or enjoy.