The Pandora - Very Cool

Open Pandora is taking pre-orders (limited to 3000 for disro this year) for its game console/ultra-lite Linux NetBook at $330/ea.  Pretty decent deal considering it has:

  • 802.11b/g
  • Bluetooth
  • 800x480 4.3" Touch-Screen (!)
  • Dual SDHC slots
  • 43 button QWERTY keyboard
  • Dual Analog + Digital Gamepads
  • ARM 600Mhz+ CPU
  • OpenGL 2.0 3D video hardware
  • Linux OS

If it can easily pair with a phone and use it as an Internet gateway then I am sold!  :o)




Lest we Forget...


Back to Firefox

After trying out Chrome for a about a week, the ads and lack of plug-ins became too much and I abandoned it.

I was using Opera for a while as it has several nice features (and it seems to run fairly fast) but page incompatibilities (try to login to stickam.com), lack of features/plug-ins and the inability to block the web page ads had soured the deal...

Last night I stumbled upon Foxmarks Beta for Firefox- which returns some of the functionality lost when the Google Browser Sync project was abandoned for the Firefox 3.0 platform (probably as Google was working on Chrome at the time).

Foxmarks beta allows password sync with encryption and you can even specify your own server if you are wary of publishing all of your passwords on someone else's sever.  They do not offer tab sync at this time- but that may be another plug-in from another vendor that I need to find.

Another new feature is a Foxmarks bookmark sync for Internet Explorer- so I could have consistent bookmarks across both browser platforms!


Castle Crashers for xBox 360

Paul at my local GameStop recommended a game from xBox Arcade called Castle Crashers; it goes for 1200 xBox points (translate: about 15 USD) -and so far seems to be very worth it...


Simple but cool hand-drawn graphics, addictive game play and overall pretty fun. 

Reminds me a bit of the old Golden Axe arcade game, but with a lot more variety (like jumping on alligator head to fight the 'cat fish' in a rapids).


Video Card Upgrade

A few months ago I decided to upgrade my single 8800GT system with a 2nd 8800GT card to enable SLI and improve my video performance in games.  The two cards accomplished this task, but with some unwanted side effects:

  • The two cards generate quite a bit of heat- even when idle.
  • The increased heat in my case causes the thermal situation in my Antec P180 to go up several degrees- in turn causing the CPU/Chipset/GPU fans to speed up and create quite a bit of noise in my bedroom
  • Vista does not support dual monitors while the video cards are in SLI (but XP does?)

The above caused me to separate my 'work' PC form my 'gaming' PC- which seemed to work for a few weeks; then the inconvenience of having to fire up another PC and the lack-luster performance of the Phenom 9500 (at least compared to an Intel E8400) made me re-think my plan...

I finally ended up replacing the two 8800GTs with a GTX260- but this was no easy task...

First off, the GTX260 is a big card:

nVidia GPUs

Size comparison between the GTX260 (top), an 8800GT (middle) and a 9500GT (bottom) video card.

The card will not physically fit in an Antec P150 case (without doing some metal cutting on the internal drive bays)- and it barely fits into an Antec P180 case (I had to remove the top-most 3.5" removable drive tray)- so what I thought would be an easy upgrade turned into an complete system case swap.

The next issue I ran into was power; my case uses an Antec NeoPower 500W power supply and it has the two 6 pin SLI cables required to power the GT260- but the card would not 'spin up' when I powered up the system.  The motherboard would boot and give some strange POST beeps (that most likely to indicate 'no video') but the monitor was blank and the cooling fan on the GTX260 were not moving.

The minimum requirements on the BFG web site indicated a 525W power supply; I also have 5 hard drives, 8GB of RAM, a DVD-RW and a USB PCI card added into the mix (an the 780i chipset seems to be pretty power-hungry in itself), so I contacted BFG support.  They said it was doubtful that it was a power supply issue and offered to generate an RMA for the GTX260.  I ignored their advice and purchased a ThermalTake Toughpower 650W power supply from Fry's- and it worked!

So now I have an Intel E8400 + EVGA 780i motherboard and all is running silent (save for the northbridge fan!).  For fun, I decided to try out a single 8800GT, 8800GT SLI and the GTX260 video cards in turn to see the performance of each. 

For testing I have the following specs:

1 x 8800GT
2 x 8800GT SLI
1 x GT260

As the above results show, two 8800GTs are a bit faster than one GTX260 (about 7.8% faster), but a single GTX260 is a good deal faster than a single 8800GT (about 51% faster). 

The trade-offs are I have much less noise and I can use two monitors in Vista!

Next step is liquid cooling- if it is as efficient and quiet as I am hoping I may be able to back to the two 8800GTs.... :o)


The Ultimate Gaming Machine- from 1998...

PII 300Mhz with 128MB of RAM!!!



It has been a long time since I blogged, but I have found a few nice web sites and cool applications...

  • Somehow I had missed Chickipedia- an invaluable resource!
  • Want to learn more about the periodic table? Check out the Periodic Table of Videos
  • There is a great, free online money management program over at Mint.  It takes a little faith to enter your account logins and passwords but it gives as much info as Microsoft Money.
  • Xobni (inbox spelled backwards) is a free program for Outlook that indexes (FAST searches!)  and provides some interesting statistics...
  • Last but not least is Carbonite- a PC-to-offsite backup solution (via the web) that costs $50/year- for unlimited offsite storage! (so how much are your digital pictures worth?)

I may have mentioned before that I order a Popcorn Hour PH100- I have been planning to write a review, but I have been distracted by Spore and The Force Unleashed!

in addition I upgraded (?) my 8800GT SLI setup for a GTX260 card (and a new power supply); I will try to post info on the speed differences as well...


Browser Mash-Up

Google Chrome was released in beta and I have been using it for a week or so; it is very fast and pretty reliable but it doesn't (and provably will not) have an Ad Block- which by itself makes pages such as MySpace almost unusable. 

IE8 Beta2 is out and it seems pretty cool as well, but I cannot find a real need to use it over Firefox or Chrome. (It also sometimes has problems loading GMail up with native IE8 mode). 

Firefox 3 has been my browser of choice for quite some time (and Firefox 2 before that) but it takes so long just to load up the first page (even for my XP system on an E8400, 4GB RAM with 4x 10k Raptors in RAID0!)

Opera is also an option (Opera Mobile works great on my HTC Touch) but features has 'widgets' that are more like 'gimmicks'; no browser sync, no decent download tools- just weather, calendars, maps and a SimAquarium? It is an Ok browser with some good features (like the 'speed dial') but it looks like it was made in the late 90s.

The deal breaker for all of the browsers (at least in my opinion) is the plug-in support; small things such as PDF Download, Cooliris, IE Tab (for SharePoint/Active-X compatibility) and FoxMarks (and- of course- AdBlock Plus) make Firefox 100x better than every other browser.  (I also loved the Google Browser Sync plugin beyond measure, but it was dropped with Firefox 3 release -I assume as Google had other browser plans).

As it stands now I will be using Firefox until I can find a browser with the speed of Chrome, the compatibility of IE and the plug-in options of Firefox.  Anyone working on this at the moment?  :o)


Apple Jumps on the 'Crapware' Bandwagon

iTunes 8 came out a few days ago so I downloaded and installed on one of my XP PCs and on my MacMini.  All seems good on the MacMini but I am very unhappy with the deployment on my Windows system...

During install, I am allowed to select to install iTunes/QucikTime and/or Safari- which is problem #1; Safari is checked by default and the multitude of people (myself included) will not look and click install, thus adding yet another browser to Windows (IE, Firefox, Chrome- and now Safari).  This should be an 'opt-in' option, not an 'opt-out' choice...

Problem #2; it installs something for 'MobileME'; I am not sure what, but there is definitely a new icon in control panel dedicated to it.  If I am not mistaken, MobileME is the new '.mac' platform that is used for offline storage/web pages/photos and to synchronize iPhone data.  I do not have an iPhone and I definitely will not be sending Apple $99/year for something that I can get for free from another provider...

There are also reports of Vista BSODs due to additional driver updates; GEARAspiWDM.sys and an updated USB controller diver...

Apple- WTF are you doing?  Are you trying to get your crap added to a spyware/adware blacklist by backdoor installing stuff like this?  This is indicative of smaller, cheesy companies that need to make money by stating to their investors that their software is installed on XX millions of PCs; Is this really what you are trying to do?

I will probably never use Safari- I tried it on my Mac and found it to be mediocre (at best) and immediately downloaded Firefox.  I will defiantly never send you $99 for MobileME; the trial of .MAC was useless enough and I know that there are far superior services on the web- so please don't try force your Apple crapware on me...

Windows and Mac are very different hardware/software platforms- please don't try to force a unified software platform for both on your end users; it just will not work!

If Apple did beta testing on iTunes 8, it looks like they did a pretty crappy job of it- did they even bother testing on Vista?


More on Sprint's HTC Touch Pro

Engadget mobile has a mini-review with a photo gallery of the upcoming HTC Touch Pro from Sprint...



HTC Phones

imageI have had the HTC touch for a few months now and I love it; It does so much more than my iPhone did (most importantly, it does A2DP!).  I have been looking forward to the HTC Touch Pro being released for sprint in the near future and a current Sprint article now indicates that is due out on October 19th!  :o)

On the same day HTC announces a new 'Touch HD' with an incredible (3.2"?) 800x480 resolution (by comparison, the resolution of the iPhone or iPod Touch is 480x320)...

It will probably be another year before this device is state-side and starting to appear on the networks- so I don't think I will be passing up the Touch Pro in October.

Hopefully there will be a HTC Touch HD Pro that has a slide-out keyboard!  :o)



Media Rack Switch Upgrade

I was re-cabling my stereo rack and I came to the odd realization that I need a larger Ethernet switch for my media equipment; I have a 5 port D-Link GB switch and I currently have the following devices that need an Ethernet connection:

  1. Vista Media Center
  2. Popcorn Hour
  3. PS3
  4. xBox 360
  5. SlingBox
  6. HD DVD Player
  7. Uplink to main switch

It is just a strange feeling realizing that almost everything in my entertainment rack is Ethernet enabled.  I was also considering a different receiver before I settled on my Onkyo- one that also had an Ethernet port!

Now if everything had an HDMI port for video + audio my stereo rack would be a much more organized place! (Component cables suck- they are just too fraking bulky!)


Solar Power Calculator

RoofRay has a very cool solar power calculator that uses Google Maps to allow you to trace patterns for solar arrays and get an estimate on cost, output, savings and ROI.

First you enter your address and it pulls up a satellite view of your roof.  You add in regions and select the roof angle:


After a few more steps you get an estimate of your monthly bill and savings. I just picked an average of $300 for our monthly electric bill, but you can also input in the actual monthly charges or kWh used (it also knows the average kWh rate based on your zip code):


Finally you get an estimate of cost and years to break even:


It is obviously not an inexpensive venture and you must also take into account that there is a good bit of additional electrical hardware that must be installed in your house- DC/AC inverter, transfer hardware, etc.  However being solar efficient does immediately add to the equity in your house. 

If being less dependant on 'the man' or reducing your carbon footprint are important to you then this may be a good idea.  Personally I would wait another 3-5 years to see if the costs of solar panels start to drop due to increased demand and better technologies...


Google Chrome

Google has released their Chrome browser.  I installed it an it looks it has some of the good parts from Firefox with a much larger screen display (i.e. minimal toolbars from the start).  It allows import of Firefox bookmarks, history and cached password info as well...

Little tweaks- such as the item count on search- are a welcome addition.  The browser has Google Gears integration (for offline page viewing) but I haven't found any info on plugins/extensions yet...


Phenom 9500 Issues

I purchased an AMD Phenom X4 9500 several months ago as an 'upgrade' for an X2 5600 system; I later upgraded to an new motherboard and an Intel E8400 CPU.

During my vacation time I decided that my system is entirely too noisy- between the video card and the system fans it creates a lot of white noise that requires me to turn my media center PC up a bit louder.  To remedy this I decided it would be a good idea to split my gaming and my 'general use' (read as a NewsLeecher, web browsing and email) PC. 

My gaming PC is a now a very loud bastard; E8400 on an EVGA 780i motherboard, two 8800GTs in SLI and four WD Raptor 150GB drives in a RAID0 array.  My 'work' PC is almost silent (thanks in part the side panels of an Antec P150 Quite PC Case)- but slow as Hell.

My 'work' PC had an Asus M2N32-SLI deluxe motherboard with the latest (v2101) BIOS, 8GB of DDR2 and the above mentioned AMD Phenom X4 9500 CPU- running Vista Ultimate x64 (to enable me to access over 4GB of memory).   I read info on the web about issues with the TLB patch with early X4 CPUs- but I have been unable to disable this patch on Vista x64 SP1.

One suggestion was to do a performance check with WinRAR; if the results are under 1200 then I am probably running the TLB patch; I was getting a 248.  To compare, I ran a similar test on my gaming PC (E8400 system) and received a 1295.  For fun, I pulled the X2 5600 out or storage and swapped it with the Phenom X4 and my WinRAR performance test is now up to 925.

I understand that the X4 is running as a quad 2.2Ghz and the X2 is running a dual 2.8Ghz but a close to 4x difference is pretty amazing. 

Also odd is that the Asus board reported 7.5GB free (in BIOS) with the X4 CPU- and now it reports all 8GB are available with the X2 CPU; is this another 'limit' of Phenom X4 technology?