Xbox 360 S Hardware Dissection

PC Perspective has a nice, well photographed, dissection of the new Xbox 360 hardware for those who like those kind of things.  Turns out that the change in architecture is more significant then I thought particularly since the CPU and GPU are located beneath the same hood.  The relevant information is on page 3 of the article and it some fascinating stuff that hardware geeks will dig.  PC Perspective sums it up nicely:

Either way, the change from a technological perspective is important and noteworthy as it is the first instance of a “high performance” graphics core being paired with a “high performance” CPU core in a product that will see millions of sales.  Yes we have the Intel Core i5 processors but I wouldn’t put the Intel HD Graphics core on par with the Xenos-based design here.  And while AMD’s Fusion parts will fall into this same realm we are still months from seeing production parts.

I don’t know if this means anything to average console gamer or not but for those of us still somewhat entrenched in the PC Gaming side of things it is a fairly significant achievement.  If I’m reading this right and AMD’s Fusion does manage to take off it is entirely possible that gaming on an integrated graphic processor might actually be feasible.  Of course the upgrade path for such a system is still problematic (i.e. the same problem that consoles have) but still a fascinating development if applied to the HTPC market.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory: A Fallout 3 Post

Warning! Vaguely rambling nerd rant ahead!

Anyone visiting here knows I love Fallout 3.  In 2008/2009  THE most enjoyable gaming experience I had.  Indeed, it soaked up almost as much of my time as this year’s Dragon Age, perhaps more since I paid for more of the DLC for Fallout 3 then I have for Dragon Age.  This year, after an Easter visit to the Washington D.C. area the desire to play the game stuck me once again.  After arriving home I eventually dug out my DVD and reinstalled on my PC running Windows 7 (having ditched the clunky Vista this year).  Things went smoothly, I took a deep breath and reinstalled the Games For Windows Live client, and even purchased Point Lookout and Mothership Zeta since I had yet to play either of those DLC packs.  Once everything was installed and patched I loaded up the game and, on arriving at the main menu, clicked New Game.  Despite having played the opening section of Fallout 3 a number of times I couldn’t quite shake the tingle of anticipation and the wash of nostalgia as I remembered that first step from Vault to Wasteland.  The loading screen popped and then blackness.

I stared blinking at the nothingness on my screen and waited…and waited.  I’m sure it was bare minutes but it felt longer when, with a sigh, I mashed CTRL-ALT-DEL (as an experienced PC Gamer an act that is near reflex, can be done in the dark, and requires only one hand) and popped open the task manager.  The “Not Responding” sitting next to Fallout 3 seemed to mock me.  I ended the task.  I tried again.  Same results.  With trepidation I opened up Firefox and began to delve into the muck and mire of the gaming forums.  Turns out Fallout 3 does not support Windows 7 at all. Indeed Bethesda doesn’t seem inclined, or are at least silent, on whether it ever fill.  As game at least a year old the development process is over and patching the game can’t be a priority.  The first sentence means that whatever problems I have I won’t get any help from Bethesda.  Digging deeper into forums I find a host of other problems, not all related to Windows 7 (if that is even the root of my problem), crashes and other bugs mostly on variety of systems powerful, moderate, and mediocre.  I manage to track down a couple a threads about the Fallout 3 Black Screen of Death and perform those arcane incantations and ritual sacrifices (disabling an odd video codec, updating GFWL, reinstalling, uninstalling over video codecs, etc., etc., etc.) that requires.  Nothing works.  I haven’t quite given up, a copy of gparted, a Vista install disc, and a cavernous second hard drive stare at me even now…though I hope those will only be a last ditch effort.

I am fully understanding of the complexities of PC Gaming.  OS, processor, motherboard, graphics card, and sound card are, absent RAM and hard drive, the 5 main components of a computer.  Just those five components creates a staggering number of possible hardware configurations.  No studio can plan for every possible permutation of PC thus no PC Game is perfect.  The possibilities are just too great.  But developers typically try to roll out the broadest, and most stable game they can (at least in an ideal world).   Amidst the cacophony of praise heaped upon Fallout 3 I see little mention of it’s monumental failure at stability.  The game is just about 18 months old now so it isn’t exactly fresh in peoples’ minds, but the marketing machine trundles forward thanks to continuing development of Fallout: New Vegas over at ObsidianFallout: New Vegas will be using the same game engine as Fallout 3 New Vegas is being developed by a developer whose catalog of games, while certainly entertaining, are among some of the less stable in recent memory; Neverwinter Nights 2 in particular was not the most polished of creations.  So to say I’m worried, as a PC Gamer, as to exactly how stable Fallout: New Vegas will be is probably something of an understatement.

None of that is really helps with the $100 worth of software (game plus dlc) that is sitting more-or-less useless on my hard drive.   To make my issue more bizarre are the other forum-goers claiming that Fallout 3 is working just fine on Windows 7 for them.  Now I know that Windows 7 is relatively new but according to the most recent Steam Hardware Survey (an unknown sample size, unfortunately) 24% of participants are running Windows 7 64-bit, combined with 32-bit Windows 7 brings the total to 35%; just 3% behind Windows XP and 12% more then Windows Vista.  Furthermore, according to netmarketshare Windows 7 has climbed just past the 10% in overall OS market share, trailing the older Vista by only about 5.75% (again, XP still dominates amongst windows users).  I know that most games don’t get patches 18 months (Diablo II being the most notable exception) out but that doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow.

I still hold out a barely glimmering hope that I will get Fallout 3 working again but this has so far been a painful embittering experience and the only thing that keeps me tied to the PC is my burning hatred for console controls.

Crouching in the Shadow of E3

If I weren’t such a huge frickin’ nerd I might have missed that across the pond in Taipai, Taiwan Computex 2009 is well underway as E3 closes its doors. Computex is a IT and hardware based trade show that most uber-nerds and PC junkies should love. As of right now Techgage has some sweet coverage and if you’re at all interested in hardware developments on the PC front you should head on over and check it out.

I must admit that I have a bit of thing for enormous PC chasis; in that they bring a child-like grin to my face. So needless I was extraordinarily pleased to see Corsair’s entry into the field.  Anyway there is tons of other cool and interesting news coming from that direction so do yourself a favor and check it out.

Razer, gaming hardware to watch!

Back in August I attended a panel on PC hardware.  One of the panelists, Razer’s Robert Krakoff, had some absolutely fascinating things to say about PC hardware especially as it pertains to HIDs.  He was an absolutely fascinating speaker to listen to and, where many current peripheral developers remains ensconsed behind corporate structures, Razer’s public face and customer laison is the company’s co-founder.  They are a interesting company and while I’ve yet to own a Razer product they more I hear from Krakoff the more I think that my next mouse/keyboard might not becoming from Logitech.

The reason I bring this up is a great interview with Krakoff is up over at DriverHeaven.  Krakoff has a mad scientists like vision for the company that I hope one day (maybe one day far in the future, but one day none-the-less) comes to pass because the benefits for gamers would likely be huge.  Anyway, when asked about the future of gaming peripherals Krakoff responded thusly:

Science has already made a rudimentary game that can read minds (or more accurately, measure concentration), through an implant that gives basic functionality of operating a computer to a quadriplegic, and another “implant” that helps a paraplegic to walk.

Were mapping the entire brain out, right down to the individual neurons, in an attempt to emulate intelligence from its source. This will be an important step forward in learning how the brain functions. Once we can harness the full power of reading minds then we will be able to tap into the brain directly, and create a two-way stream.

Suppose that I can scan your brain and nervous system with an advanced scanning technology at very high resolution, high band-width magnetic resonance imaging and ascertain all of the salient information processes and then download that information to a suitably advanced neural computer.

If my personal computer is a neural net of simulated neurons made of electronic stuff rather than human stuff, the version of you in my computer will run about a million times faster. Can you begin to see the possibilities of the future of game development and gaming?

I highly recommend you check out the rest of the interview. Keep your eye on Razer they have some great products coming up that diversify their product-line quite a bit. The interview is here.

A Browser with Bling

I’m a huge Firefox fan.  Ever since adopting several years ago I’ve stood by the faithful fox through thick and then.  Lately though, things have changed.  I still enjoy Firefox, it is a fantastic product that is unbeatable in terms of customability and personalization.  However, I’ve begun to question its memory utilization.  I’m not a huge techie, I know just enough to break things, but I’ve found that my Firefox 3 can eat upwards of 600 mb of system resources.  I should preface this with by saying that this is on my PC at work which isn’t a spring chicken.  It’s a single core Pentium 4 just over 2 ghz, with a little of 1 GB of Ram, running Windows XP Professional which, while certainly not top of the line, is markedly more than enough to adequately run Firefox.  As if the large memory footprint weren’t enough there are occasions were something will slow up the browser’s operation causing delays when I type (anywhere from 2-5 seconds per key press) or when I try to switch tabs.  I have a multitude of extensions installed (Firebug, web developer, css viewer, tab scope, tiny menu, extended statusbar, to name a few) so for all I know it could be one of those causing the problem, but my recent performance woes did prompt me to give another browser a try.

Read on for my impressions of Google’s Chrome browser.

Continue reading “A Browser with Bling”

Classic gaming on Eee, Redux.

After Friday’s post I spent Sunday night trying to get Interstate ’76 to run on my Vista box which, as it turns out, is impossible. Enter my Eee PC! It lacks an optical drive but thanks to the power of MagicDisc I was able to take ripped image files from my discs and mount them on a virtual drive. There were a fewer other hiccups along the way but the I76 page over at ntcompatible was a major help and I finally got things up and running. I’ve only tested the game in “Super-Performance” mode (which looks like it just about halves the battery life to just over 3 hours) but it runs nice and smooth there. The keyboard is a bit cramped and I’ll be looking into other input options for it in the future, but I’m excited to play around with the game.

Curious to see how other games performed I dug out my old Baldur’s Gate 2 discs and ripped images of those as well. Once I transferred that over to the netbook things installed with no hiccups and were up and running no problem. The game looks, sounds, and runs great! I can’t enable the 3d acceleration (integrated graphics, yay!) but I haven’t patched the game yet (or installed the Throne of Bhaal expansion) so that might change.

I’ll continue experimenting with older games on my Eee PC.  My next test will be to see how games mounted on a virtual drive install/run from a USB thumb drive (the Eee PC has 3 USB 2.0 connectors).

Eee PC: Classic gaming platform

Now that I’m the owner of a shiny new Eee 1000H I did what any new laptop owner should do…clutter my hard drive with tons of distracting materials.  Last week really spurred things into overdrive with the release of the original X-Com: UFO Defense on Valve’s Steam service.  Once Steam was installed and X-Com purchased I ended up spending a solid portion of the weekend playing the game while making almost no kind of actual progress.  I had almost forgotten how painfully difficult the game could be, particularly when taking on the game’s Terror Sites (when aliens attack a populated area).  I’m only on my second terror site and, thankfully, have yet to come across any Chrysallids (they attack civilians and turn them into zombies which after a certain amount of time, or when they are killed, turn into Chrysallids themselves).  Regardless, the current level is bitch with my squad of mostly rookies struggling to hit the broad sides of barns.

The whole rookie thing would be less of a problem if my casualty rate weren’t somewhere well above 50%.  Maybe I should be playing on easy.  X-Com’s gameplay has held up surprisingly well over the years with game play as excrutiatingly tense as it ever was.  Given how hard this game is I’d almost be afraid to see what current AI would do to my poor squad.  It’s a shame that the sequels never quite lived up to the original (Terror from the Deep was pretty cool, but it was downhill after that) and I blame that lackluster sequels (and mediocre clones in more recent years) for the reasoning behind X-Com’s lack of a modern successor.  I hope that the Steam version sells well enough that current license holders 2k Games (if the Steam “My Games” page is to be believed) take notice.  Rumors abound that something was/is/has been in the works but there has never been anything concrete announced.

Playing X-Com has also got me interested in more “classic” PC games for my Eee PC.  I tracked down a copy of System Shock 2, a game I have fond memories of playing but never completed.  I played through the training levels and it runs extremely good on the feisty little Eee but I was struck by the undeniable similarites to Ken Levine’s latest game Bioshock.  Everything from the Psi powers (plasmids) and hypos for healing (both psi points and health), to the audio recordings, to the hacking game, to the vending machine for ammo and items everything in System Shock 2 is a template for Bioshock.

To add fuel to my classic PC gaming fire I got my beta key for GOG.com (which looking today isn’t even necessary since it seems you can create an account w/o a beta key) regardless the guys at Good Old Games have a nice little service that offers old PC game for around $5 or $6 each.  You get to download the full game, DRM Free, plus frequent bonus materials as well.  The developers have gone out of their way to provide links to relevent mods for the games as well.  To clincher is that the games are vetted to run on various operating systems including Vista (the bane of old games!).  The Eee’s lack of an optical drive means that I may end up blowing some extra cash on games I already own (looking at you Fallout) but it’s a slick site that I certainly hope suceed.  My life will be complete if they end up adding Interstate ’76.  Between that and X-Com I might never have to play a new game again.

Ok that was hyperbole, but still.

Anyhoo, needless to say I am much pleased with Asus’ little netbook with its lengthy battery life and capable Atom processor and look forward to future classic gaming when the current industry inevitably fails to meet any of my expectation.

All I want to do is tantalise you

I think there is something wrong with me…since such a simple picture can get me excited:

I love that heat sink, looks effective but sexy with plenty of room for aftermarket cooling.  Unlike my ASUS board whose pounds of copper limits my aftermarket cooling options like nobody’s business.

Intel’s X58 boards feature a new socket to support their new “Bloomfield” processor which seems to be their new flagship “Extreme” processor. Rumor is that the top-level Bloomfield will cost $999, as opposed to the current top-level Extreme processor which costs well over the $1000 mark. I’m more excited about what that means for the pricing of the mid to low-end Bloomfields. Lower level chip, plus aftermarket cooling and some solid OC sounds good to me.

The new boards are DDR3 only, I’m still uncertain how great a performance gain the higher spec RAM yields but a quick glance at New Egg reveals some more reasonable prices than when I put together my rig.  Still nothing like the bargain basement price of DDR2 memory.  Plus it looks like we’ll be seeing both Crossfire and SLI support on these babies.  Suhweet!

No, I won’t be building a new computer this soon, but a man can dream.

A different singularity

Ferrante and I have a lot of shared interests.  Video games, music, music games, and scifi/fantasy to name a few.  But we’re individuals and of course we have our differences.  He’s got comics; I’ve got sports.  He sports a full beard, while my facial hair is more akin to that of a middle schooler.  And he’s got computers, while I’ve got science.  I’m not saying I’m not computer literate.  I am.  But I can’t (also won’t) make my own computer.  Full control over the GHZ or whatnot is outside the realm of things I need from the machine I’m currently typing on.  Hell, the Dell laptop I’m using has a broken graphics card fan that makes a high pitched whining noise sometimes.  Most computer nerds would probably have a seizure over that.  Anyway, I fill the void left by lack of computer skills with science.

Fortunately, science and computer technology are not too terribly far apart (hence the name computer science?).  And they’re getting closer all the time.  So sometimes we have a meshing of our individual fields, like when scientists start using bacteria for problem solving. The method is pretty cool.  They inserted a plasmid carrying mixed up pieces of an antibiotic resistance gene into E. Coli.  They then inserted a Salmonella enzyme to randomly flip genetic material, waited for a bit, and exposed the E. Coli to antibiotics.  Any bacteria that survived would have had to form the entire resistance gene, thus “solving” the problem.  I’d be interested to know where they go next with this kind of technology.  Clearly the DNA computing system they’ve created can solve certain problems much faster than a normal PC.  But the obvious problem is priming the system so that it actually solves the problem.  You have to put in the plasmid/enzyme/etc that’s akin to the code for a computer program.  The more complex problems you want to solve with bacteria the more “stuff” you have to prime the system with and, as every scientists knows, there are always consequences of putting foreign materials into living things.

On the other hand, I’m looking forward to a day when I try to calculate something in Excel and my computer transfects bacteria to do it.