Only showing posts in the "Hardware" category

The state of affairs

Finally, this semester is over. Its been a long, long, semester and I'm glad that its finally finished, exams and all. As usual, I'll write up a review of the semester, but this isn't the blog for it.

Now that I've had my two 24" screens for a couple of weeks, I can formulate a proper opinion on them. Were they worth the two grand I spent on them? Absolutely. There is nothing quite like being able to work on code on one massive screen, only to have the multitude of supporting windows that I also use on the other massive screen. Highly recommended for those that can stomach the price.

It was requested of me by a peer that I illustrate the supreme coding environment that two 24" screens provides. Here is a picture showing Visual Studio (with two panels of code), MSDN and a uni project requirements PDF all open simultaneously. Don't mind all the mess on my desk (that was good watermelon and ginger beer).

The screens are so bright that they literally light up my room. I almost don't need any other lights on in the room. That said, they can be a little glaring if you don't have some other supplemental light on.

The first thing that annoyed me was the lack of a taskbar on the second screen. I wanted all the windows on the second screen to be on their own taskbar rather than junking up the single one on the main screen. A quick search later and Ultramon solved my problems. Highly recommended for those with two screens.

However, not is all sweet smelling roses in the 24" garden. One of the screens seems to have a bit of light leakage on the right edge. My last screen had tonnes of light leakage and as such it wasn't really an issue. This screen, however, has no light leakage except for this tiny bit which makes it all the more obvious and annoying. It doesn't affect standard work but during movies with dark scenes it is particularly obvious. It only affects one screen out of my two.

So, I submitted a warranty claim with Dell to try and get it replaced, fully expecting to be rebuffed. To my extreme pleasure, I was called within a day of the report and told they will send me a replacement and I can send my existing screen back with the courier that brings the replacement. Hats off to Dell. Exemplary performance. I will recommend Dell to anyone who asks me now.

But enough raving about the screens. Now that exams are over, I am planning to put a lot of time into my web development business. We are currently developing a CMS for use in a few clients' websites. Its written in PHP 5 in a fully object-oriented manner and is turning out nicely.

Aurora (the CMS) will power the next version of The next version? Yes, this design, although nice, is getting a bit tired and as such I've developed a new design from the ground up that, when the correct components from Aurora are done, I will replace this current website with. Expect a much more robust blogging system with comments when that's released. Closer to the time, I may release some screenshots.

People may say that Microsoft has grown stagnant, and certainly some sectors haven't been doing as well as was expected (Vista for example). But, as I've always said, if there's one thing that Microsoft can do right, its development tools.
They've gone and released a new web platform called Silverlight. At first glance, it seems to be a Flash-y sort of thing, but when you look closer it seems (to me at least) to be more of a platform than a media presentation format.

However, its got one main failing point at this time. It doesn't work in Opera. Works in Firefox and IE, but not Opera. Sorry guys, but until its pervasive, its not going to take off. And they realise that. Their current plan seems to be to release an Opera version "soon" (I'm hoping with the final version of Silverlight 1.1 which is in Alpha currently). At least they are bothering, which is new for Microsoft and Opera (*cough* fix all the Windows Live services while you're at it *cough*).

Silverlight seems to be a good place that Microsoft can finally use XAML. I always thought that XAML didn't seem to be particularly useful in the Visual Studio - C# world (I haven't actually used it though, so I very well might be wrong, so take that with a handful of salt). But for a web application, XAML seems to be perfect. Check out the short tutorials on the Silverlight website to see what I mean.

Another indication that Microsoft have still got the smarts, so to speak, is the new Popfly mashup creator/website creator/community that they've created, built on Silverlight. I was raving for hours after I saw this. The coolest thing about Popfly is its mashup creator. You literally drag "blocks" onto a drawing surface and join them with lines to join together services like Virtual Earth and Flickr. Its insane.

For example, (as shown on the Popfly website), you can create a Virtual Earth map that shows the location of the people who made the latest posts on Twitter. You basically drag a Twitter block (a literal cube object) onto the design surface, drag on a Virtual Earth block and join them together with a line. However, you find that Twitter provides the user's location as a name (eg Melbourne, Australia) and Virtual Earth requires latitude and longitude. So you drag on a block that converts from location name to latitude and longitude (called GeoNames). You join Twitter to GeoNames and then GeoNames to Virtual Earth with lines, tell Virtual Earth to get its coordinates from GeoNames and bam, you've got a VE map with Twitter users on it. Popfly handles all the AJAX, Javascript, Silverlight etc for you.

You can create your own blocks as well. There is a Visual Studio plugin you can download that helps you with this. You can then share these blocks on the little community thing that Popfly's got. Don't like what someone's shared? You can easily copy it, edit it and reshare the updated version!

If you need to dig a bit deeper into the code, say in the web site developer tool, or in the mashup creator, you can. And its even got Intellisense code prompting. In a web browser. Insane.

Popfly's only in Alpha so its still a little rough around the edges. But its remarkably stable. I haven't fiddled with it all yet, but what I have used has been remarkably smooth and polished. The alpha is still only in invitation only mode, but I was lucky enough to get an invite. If you hurry up, you might get one too. To see the really awesome presentation of Popfly check out their page here (you need Silverlight installed to view the movie).

Just to put a downer on all this new-found excitement, Apple released a PC version of their Mac Safari browser. Why do I hate this? Because its another damn browser I've got to now test for, me being a web developer. I've already got enough to tear my hair out with, what with Opera, Firefox and IE 6 and 7, since bloody people seem to not want to update to version IE7 (go find some statistics and see). The Inquirer has a nice article that explains why Apple dumped this pile on us and its not because they love us.

What probably makes my hackles stand on end the worst, is the fact that they tout it as the fastest browser. In fact, in typical Apple fashion, its not, but they insist on preaching to their zealot ("my life for Apple!") masses that it is. "Huh?" you say, "I've seen benchmarks that prove that it is the fastest!". Those benchmarks are probably wrong. Turns out that Safari's Javascript onload event fires before all the loading is done (unlike all other browsers who only fire onload when everything is loaded). Therefore, all the Javascript benchmarks record Safari as finishing loading before it actually does. Of course, Apple doesn't tell you that, do they? Here's the hard evidence from the guy that did the original browser benchmark.

Hell, now that I've got all annoyed with Apple, I might as well focus some rage on their zealot fanboys. A perfectly innocent ZDNet blogger wrote that the new MacOS X that is coming soon isn't too different from Vista. Although I don't agree with everything that she said (especially the part about Coverflow looking like a rip off of Flip3D), she made a lot of good points. However, she was literally threatened and abused into backing down by angry Apple zealots. She was literally told that she should "find a new career", that she "should be running a car wash in Frezno", and one of the zealots was going to complain to her manager to get her fired.

This sort of thing, people, is completely unacceptable. The Internet is not a place where you can threaten and abuse people. Its a place where you can present your viewpoint. Its okay that someone else has a different opinion to you. Its not okay to insult and threaten those other people. These people are one of the reasons why I dislike Apple. I don't want to be painted with the same brush as these spineless cowards who didn't even leave their real email address when they posted their insults so that Mary Jo (the blogger) could respond to them rationally. Here's a good rule of thumb for the zealots: if you want people to join up with Apple, try to act in a mature manner. If you need to hide your real name and email address, what you are saying is not appropriate.

Cooling down now, I am aware however, that this vocal minority of users is just that: a minority. There are plenty of rational people with Macs. My favourite lecturer has a Mac, one of my best friends has a Mac and some of my uni mates have Macs. I still am interested in Apple's progress and activities. Hell, maybe one day I'll get a Mac. But that day is not now nor in the foreseeable future at this point.

Getting back from another Apple rant (sorry, its a habit I've got to get over), let me bring this massive blog to a close on a positive note. At the end of my presentation that I gave on Monday (which went brilliantly), the marker told me about a Google presentation video that talks about tagging as a concept and kindly sent me the link in an email. It sounds boring, but in fact it was an entertaining and facinating video to watch. I highly recommend it. Here's the link. Its long (about an hour) but well worth the watch.

Especially on a 24 inch screen.

Do you know what's awesome?

Do you know what's awesome?

Eclipse mints boxes

Yeah, that's pretty awesome. Especially the cinnamon flavoured ones.

But I bet it's not as awesome as this. Yeah. I'll let you go change your pants now.

As you can see, I got myself two 24" monitors for my 19th birthday (my parents chipped in a bit as well). They are very nice; when I sit in front of them they basically fill my entire view. They are so bright I don't even need my desk lamp on to see my keyboard.

I've only had them installed for a few hours, so I'll have to write again about how they perform in movies and games etc. The only quibble I've had with them so far, is that the colour on one screen is slightly different from the colour on the other. I've fiddled with the colour settings to minimise this, so it's okay now.

Guilty Confessions

I know, I haven’t blogged much lately, and I’m sorry. Ironically, I have less time to blog in the holidays than during the semester. “What?!” you say. In the holidays I am doing things that I like, for example writing my Command Console C++ program, and thus I am less likely to spend time on things I like less than coding eg blogging. But during the semester, procrastinating from working means that I “make” time to blog (so that I don’t work).

Anyway, the last blog I wrote (Smackdown for Conroe) you can pretty much forget, since apparently, reverse hyperthreading is not real. So the Conroes are kicking the crap out of the AMD AM2 CPUs. Ah well, such is life in IT. You buy some tech and it gets outdated straight away.

I also have another guilty confession. I have started to use Windows Live Messenger (WLM). I normally use Skype, but unfortunately I need WLM to talk to people at university, so I’ve had to install it.

It really is an inferior piece of software compared to Skype. The instant messaging experience is crap. For example, Skype manages somehow to remember when a conversation gets broken across a 6 hour gap and brings up the previous messages sent, so I can remember what we were talking about. WLM just erases it and starts afresh.

Skype also doesn’t have advertising crap shoved in your face, like WLM does. However, I have ripped that crap out of the software with a patch called A-Patch. It also lets you remove other annoying things like “Buy a Webcam” links and other useless teeny-bopper buttons and rubbish.

Skype also, in instant messaging, shows the difference between who’s message is who’s by putting a colour background behind the “Daniel says:” part and different colour background behind the “Daniel’s friend says:” part. In comparison, WLM relies on you to change your text colour. Too bad if yours is the same as someone else’s.

However, I will give some kudos to the WLM development team. It has come a long way since I used to use it years ago. The fact that voice chat works now, the shared folders feature, etc are all good new things that WLM has.

Smackdown for Conroe

I always feared the upcoming Conroe cored Core 2 Duo CPU from Intel because it was promised to kick the crap out of AMD's Socket AM2 processors, one of which I currently own. The reason I didn't wait to get a Conroe rather than the Socket AM2 CPU I now have was because I didn't want to wait until August to get one. August is too late because I wanted my new computer for my University holidays (July).

I figured that the long lifespan of the AM2 socket would allow me to easily upgrade the CPU if it got too weak in the future. Also, the Conroe only really kicked the crap out of the Socket AM2 where games became CPU dependant (eg at a massive framerate). And in that circumstance I thought that it didn't matter whether my new computer got 170 frames per second rather than 200.

However, according to The Inquirer, AMD has had a wildcard in their sleeve just waiting for Intel. Socket AM2 CPUs have the capability to do "Reverse Hyperthreading". For those who don't know, Hyperthreading (or HT) is a process that Intel pioneered that allowed two threads to run consecutively on a single CPU core. I had this technology in my last Pentium 4 computer and I can vouch for its usefulness: multitasking was improved. However, with the advent of dual core processors, HT was no longer necessary so Intel stopped using it.

Reverse HT, as the name states, is a process that AMD is pioneering that allows a single thread to run across multiple cores. This technology has the potential to solve all the problems with dual core technology.

The problem with dual core technology, as I see it, can be summed up with this saying: "you can't make a baby in one month with nine wives". Basically, before Reverse HT you couldn't run a single thread across more than one core. Most applications are single threaded and a lot of them cannot be ported to be multithreaded programs (not to mention multithreaded programming is reportedly a pain in the proverbial). Therefore, most applications run slower on dual core CPUs because each core on the CPU is actually slower than a core on a normal single core CPU. Therefore, dual core CPUs aren't actually faster than single core ones for single threaded applications.

Reverse HT can turn all this around. With the ability to run a single thread across two cores, the speed bonus that multithreaded applications have enjoyed from dual core CPUs can now be realised with single threaded applications.

According to the INQ article, Reverse HT on Socket AM2 CPUs has the potential to kick the crap out of the Intel Conroe CPUs, or at the very least, bring them back in the running, out of Conroe's dust. And the best part: this technology is already on current Socket AM2 CPUs eg mine! This means shortly my new computer will kick more arse than it currently does (which will be a lot of arse! :D ).

This is just perfect timing for AMD, hiding away the news of Reverse HT, letting Intel get everyone hyped about Conroe and how good it is, then at the last moment before Conroe is to be released, after Intel can do anything about it, smacking down Conroe with Reverse HT Socket AM2s.

Score 2-1 for AMD and therefore myself.

Phoenix Reborn

Since my last computer (Phoenix-II) sizzled and burned, I have bought an entirely new rig. This time I was not stupid and I did not buy parts at the end of their lifetime; I got Socket AM2 parts which are all new and AMD has promised to continue using the socket for at least two years. I ordered the parts and within 3 days Scorptec had got them all, which was amazingly fast. I can highly recommend Scorptec to anyone wanting computer parts. They don't have the best prices but their service is very good and their warrantees are long. The parts I got were:

  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ (Socket AM2) CPU
  • ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard
  • 2 x Corsair 1GB PC-6400 DDR2 RAM, 4-4-4-12 timings, with EPP
  • XFX 256MB Geforce 7900GT "Overclocked"
  • Silverstone ST60F 600W PSU
  • 3 x Seagate 250GB 7200rpm SATAII 16MB Cache with NCQ HDDs to be RAID5ed
  • Lian-Li PC-V1000B Plus case
  • Creative Audigy4 sound card

Here's a picture of them all still in their boxes. Lovely.

First things first, I had a nice look inside the case. It turned out the power supply was too big for the case in its current format. This meant I had to remove the second hard drive enclosure to make space for it.

So I then started installing parts into the box. As you can see the whole operation made a big mess of my room. First up, the hard drives and optical drives. Then I installed the motherboard, but when I got to the CPU I hit my first bump.

The instructions for installing the heatsink on the CPU were to first hook one side of the heatsink clip and then the other side of the clip onto the retention bracket then turn the securing handle which pushes the heatsink firmly down onto the CPU to ensure a good thermal contact and to make sure it is secure.

So I clipped on the heatsink but it needed a fairly large amount of pushing to make it go on. Then, when I tried to turn the securing handle, it refused to move. Obviously, the clip had gone on wrong or something. Unfortunately, now the heatsink was on tight and wouldn't come off. So I had to unscrew and remove the entire retention bracket to remove the heatsink. Once off I could dismantle it and then clip it back on properly. This time the securing handle turned fine. So I screwed the retention clip back onto the motherboard and this time the heatsink secured fine. Phew.

Next up, the memory and graphics card and then the rest of the components. In this picture you can see the back side of the case where I routed some of the wires. And in this picture you can see everything inside the computer. You can see the funnel that directs air from the back 120mm directly over the CPU and the specialised extraction fan that juts out over the graphics card to blow its heat out the back of the case.

Overall I was a little dissatisfied with the Lian-Li case. Lian-Li is supposed to be a very high quality case manufacturer, but I was underwhelmed by their offering. The case was not entirely toolless which is what I would have expected. I had to use a screwdriver numerous times, especially since the 5.25 inch drive bays needed screws to hold the drives in. This is normal for most cases, but the last case I worked on (the Cooler Master Ammo) cost a third of the price and was completely toolless. Also, getting the back side door off requires nothing less than a pair of scissors for a lever since it is so stiff; fingers are simply too weak (and painful). A bit of WD40 might fix it up, but I'm sorry, Lian-Li is supposed to be engineered to perfection (especially considering the price). Also, this case does not have a removable motherboard tray, a feature, I am told, is extremely useful and was included in Lian-Li's last case design (the PC-60). Although all the internal case edges are supposed to be rounded, I can say by experience that there are still enough edges to cut yourself on. I had my fair share by the end of the build.

That said, the Lian-Li is very effective at cooling the computer. As you can see in that last picture, the redesigned interior, the 120mm fans and the GPU heat extraction fan are very good at removing heat. The fact that the case is also full of holes also contributes to greater airflow. The Lian-Li is very quiet which is beautiful after my last PC (a scorchingly hot Pentium 4 because of Intel's terrible NetBurst architecture) which was irritatingly loud.
Overall, I'd probably give the Lian-Li a 8/10.

The next bump on the road was trying to install Windows. I had downloaded a free, but legit, copy of Windows XP thanks to my university, to save me the trouble of ringing Microsoft and trying to get them to reactivate my old XP copy on my new machine. It turned out I needed to supply the XP install with supplementary drivers for the RAID array. But the XP install just crashed whenever it tried to read them from the floppy disk. So I was forced to create a custom XP install disc that had the drivers already included. nLite is a beautiful program that allows you to do that as well as slipstream in SP2 and hotfixes.

I've since installed all my games and programs and I am happy to say that Phoenix-III is a roaring success. Here are the benchmark score it has earned:

  • 3DMark03 (Default Settings): 18031
  • 3DMark05 (Default Settings): 8813

The Digital Book

I was chatting to my uncle and we were discussing the idea of a digital book. We are both avid readers and with bookshelves overflowing and a growing tendency to read books on the computer screen we were fantasizing about the idea of a digital book that would allow us to store all our books in a digital format and read them on a screen that is completely portable.

So I had a think about how this could work. Firstly you'd need a screen that was only a bit larger the size of one paperback book page. I decided against two pages side-by-side since that would make the screen too wide. Keep in mind I am trying to design this thing to be operable in all conditions that a normal book is, eg in bed. A computer currently doesn't have the luxury of a bendable screen (yes I know they have make LCD paper style stuff but its too expensive for this project) and two pages would make it too wide to be practical while lying on your side in bed.

This screen would have to be of reasonable resolution because there is nothing worse than trying to read small text on a screen whose resolution sucks more than a vacuum cleaner on steroids. People normally hate reading off a screen so it needs to feel natural or people won't use it. The backlight needs to be decent and its brightness adjustable, so in the dark the screen won't become too glarey.

On either side of the screen, just about where the average thumbs would rest if the "digital book" was held from the bottom corners would sit, there would be back and forward buttons. Obviously, these would be used to turn the pages. You get back and forward buttons on both sides of the device to take into account which hand the person is holding the book with (so you end up with four buttons).

"Books" would be saved on a small flash memory stick like a Sony MemoryStick or an SD Card or CompactFlash or some such. That way its easy to buy books: you jump online, go to a book selling website (eg Amazon) buy the book and download it onto your flash card. Smack the flash card into your digital book and, bang, there are all your books. Perhaps real physical book stores would have terminals you could take and plug your flash card into and buy books which are transferred onto your flash card after payment.

Powering the Digital Book can be a piss weak CPU. Obviously a big beefy CPU is not needed to simply display text and perhaps a few JPGs, and the slower the CPU the better. A slower CPU would use less power and in this case battery life is paramount.

The Digital Book needs awesome battery life. I think that a Digital Book needs at least 8 hours of battery life. At LEAST. Why? Because the longest time you are ever going be reading away from an emergency power point is either on a car trip to somewhere distant like Melbourne -> Sydney or a plane flight. And those activities often take around 8 hours. Perhaps longer, but I doubt people read the whole flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles (its 15 hours off the top of my head).

On to the Digital Book's software. Ahh, my personal speciality, software. The Digital Book will need to be able to display its books in an easy to read way on the screen. Text size should be adjustable, so for me I'd have it as small as possible and for the more ocularly challenged the text could be bigger. This means that, unlike PDFs, the amount of text displayed on each page needs to be able to change. I'm not talking zooming. I'm talking about a book being 400 pages with small text, and 600 pages with larger text. The text is not saved on a particular page number but it instead flows. Pages are dynamic.

Well that throws PDFs out for the file format of choice. That sucks since you can already buy books online in eBook format. So a new format is needed for this Digital Book. I think an XML format would be easiest. A schema something along the lines of this could be used:

<book name="Souls in a Great Machine">
    <chapter number="1" title="Champions">
        <paragraph>The girl moved with the calm confidence ...</paragraph>
        <paragraph>The lunar surface was the familiar...</paragraph>

That way, the displaying of the text is completely separated from the way the text is saved, unlike PDFs where text is on a specific page and cannot move. The Digital Book would display the text the way it needed to. In that manner, different types and sizes of Digital Books could be made, each displaying the text in a way that best suits it.

You would need to be able to save bookmarks. Perhaps the bookmark would even be saved in the XML book file itself although I think a separate file would make processing easier and smaller in amount (remember the less the CPU is used the longer the battery life). A bookmark cannot be saved as a specific page, since pages are dynamic. Paragraph number seems to be the best bet here. I haven't experimented with XML enough to know whether the schema above would work with that, so the end schema might have to be different.

The Digital Book would also be able to show the list of books stored on the flash card. The user would need be able to open the book of his/her choice and resume a bookmark. A touch screen seems to be the best method of implementing user input here, but I am not sure of the power requirements of such screens and whether they would damage the battery too much.

Fonts are an interesting problem. Different people seem to find reading different fonts easier. So a dynamic font system seems important. Perhaps the flash card could also hold TrueType fonts which the user can select from through the touch screen. Again, the dynamic page layout helps implement this since no font is the same.

Here is a really crappy picture that I made to kind of show what it might look like. Obviously someone who knows art and design would make it look nice, and someone who does usability and ergonomics would place buttons in the right place, but you can get the idea.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

You may think, from the title of this blog, that this would have something to do with Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Well, you'd be wrong. In fact, the cliché title only refers to the fact that this blog is going to cover lots of different topics because I am too lazy to do lots of little blogs. So I will now unload the demented, crazy thoughts that are generated in my brain daily, to procrastinate from studying for Introduction to Business Information Systems.

Windows Vista. There was a time, only a few months back, I would slobber at the very thought of it. This creation of excess spittle has ceased of late.

I was chatting with some of my lecturers, and one of them was telling me about his experience with Vista Beta 2 (which, by the way, you can get legally free from here). What he had to say was disheartening and he wasn't talking about the release date. Apparently, Vista is a resource hog. To a massive extent. Now, I expected that, what with their SuperCache feature that pre-caches stuff so that things will run faster. Naturally, the more stuff cached, the bigger the memory footprint.

However, it isn't just memory that Vista chews through. It is CPU as well. "CPU?" you ask. "What does it need CPU for?" A very good question, James. The flash "Aero" interface, that's what for. Apparently, ALT+TABBING can take up to 30% of your processor. Because the entire interface is a 3D thing, it eats resources like a mulcher eats a tree.

The hardware requirements for the Aero interface are also ridiculous. You need at least 128MB of graphics card RAM to use the fancy effects. "Say what??". That's right. 128 megabytes of graphics RAM. So that piece of crap 64MB Geforce 5200Go I have in my laptop can burn in hell, apparently.

I'm sorry, 128MB? I'm no staunch fan of Apple's OSX, but their OS has equivalent fancy interface effects and they don't need 128MB of graphics RAM.

A ridiculous fact I was told is that OSX is made by 60 developers, and Windows is made by thousands. Why in the devil's name is Vista so bad then? My lecturer said it was because their developers simply don't know how to write a good desktop graphics application. Although I find that a little hard to believe (its not like Microsoft is full of morons) however, the facts stand.

Another thing that continually sucks my mouth dry of spittle like a desert drinks water is Vista's ever retreating release date. In a recent Inquirer article it was said Vista was late because the management at Microsoft sucks. Now, I could have told them that. There is no other excuse for a bunch of very bright programmers to perform so badly. On a massive project like an Operating System I'd imagine that coordination and management would be paramount.

Another astounding fact that I got out of that Inquirer article is that the average Microsoft programmer writes 1000 lines of code a year. Is it just me or does that seem ridiculously low (no seriously, email me if you don't think so).

Another spittle drying fact of Vista is its new approach to security. The OS will prompt you for admin credentials for a lot of things; so many that people bitch about the inundation of dialogs. Now, I am a control freak so I probably wouldn't mind this as much as the average Joe, but apparently it is ridiculous. It also, thankfully, has improved in the transition between Beta 1 and Beta 2, although its still annoying.

So, I was doing some thinking (as I do), and came up with a shocking logical conclusion. If Vista uses 30% of the CPU to do things as simple as ALT+TAB then laptop batteries will smoke and burn in hell. No, seriously. In hell.

The reason batteries last as long as they do in laptops is because most of the time the computer does almost nothing. For example, I normally get around 3 hours out of my battery. However, you can blow this away to 40 minutes (or less) if you try and play games which are processor and GPU intensive. So with Vista continually using a large portion of your CPU to do mundane things, laptop batteries will be going flat as quickly as a tire punctured with a explosion from a block of C4 goes flat. And that's pretty fast. So this must be why Microsoft is pushing for all laptop hard drives to have a large cache of flash memory by mid-2007 (I can't find the Inquirer article that said that, otherwise I'd link it) to save battery life. Because Vista is going to drink it up.

Let's switch topics shall we? Ah, Origami UMPCs. I don't know whether you know about Microsoft's plan to have small computers that are bigger than a PDA but smaller than a laptop that have the functionality of a full laptop. Sounds good in theory, apparently it sucks in reality. Apparently, the problem with UMPCs is that they don't fit into any market area well enough. They are trying to create a new market, but their problems make them completely unattractive to punters.

The main problem with UMPCs is their crappy battery life. You get 2 hours. That's it. That's really useless for any real task that you would want to do on a real computer, since that's what UMPCs are supposed to be like. This is because of a few factors. Firstly, they can't be too heavy, so a small battery is needed to keep the weight down. Secondly, the first generation of UMPCs use power hungry screens that are not suited to power saving but are cheap to make. *Shhhhh* Yes, that's the sound of battery life getting flushed down the toilet.

The second problem is that they are apparently too heavy. Around 850g. The easiest way to use a UMPC is to hold it in one hand and use the touch screen with the other. Well, holding 800g in one hand for any length of time is too much. I was laughed at by my friends who reckon that 850g is not that much and I am a weakling. Yeah, OK, I'm not strong, but I don't think most people could continuously hold just under 1KG up for any long period of time. The solution? Smaller battery. But that would destroy battery life. See the problem?

The technology needed to make UMPCs work simply doesn't exist yet. Once high-power, lightweight and cheap batteries are made then perhaps the UMPC idea would take off. I'd like one.

Another topic change and this time we can look at something slightly more funny: breaking Notepad! Notepad is possibly the simplest program in Windows and you can make it break by doing these things: first open a blank Notepad and type without the quotes "this app can break". Save the file as a text file somewhere. Then close Notepad and reopen the text file by double clicking on it in Explorer. Whoops! Its a bit broken! Apparently, some dodgy implementation of Unicode is to blame for this. Go check it out on the INQ.

Holy smoking computers, Batman!

Just to get you excited I'll hit you straight up with the exciting news: my computer started smoking!

Now I'm not going to do a George Lucas and not start at the beginning, so prepare to hear a saga of love, hate, sorrow, and passion. From the beginning.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away... uhh... back a couple of years ago, (2002/2003 I think) I went out and bought myself a brand spanking new computer that only had the top of the line components. The CPU was a 3.06GHz 533MHz FSB Pentium 4 and the motherboard a Gigabyte GA-8INXP which had got 9.5/10 reviews wherever it had been reviewed. It also brandished 1GB of DDR RAM using that newfangled (back then) dual stream tech. 120GB of brand spanking new SATA HDD. And EMCA (Even More Computer Acronyms)! :) It was state of the art, top of the line gear that kicked some major butt (especially over my previous P3 800MHz machine). I was happy.

The galaxy was in peace... uhhh... computer worked like a dream for just over a year. Then the Sith made their move. The motherboard died. The computer just refused to turn on. I would press the "ON" button and it would whir up... and do nothing. No POST. No screen output. Nothing.

So I rang Dodgy Brothers (aka Computer World) where I had bought my components and got kicked in the teeth. Apparently the board's warranty was only for one year. And one year had just past. "Damn, no warranty," I cursed. Of course, being the young inexperienced padawan that I was back then, I bought this sweet new tech just before it became redundant. P4 533MHz FSB was outdated to 800MHz FSB a few months after I bought the computer and the whole Socket 478 not long after that.

So getting a different motherboard was out of the question since mine was the best. So I said, "use the force Luke"... uhh... "I'll just get the same motherboard again; mine must have just been dodgy." 350 bucks later (because the initial price was so high ($450) Dodgy Brothers couldn't sell it any lower or they'd make a loss) I came happily home with a new motherboard.

Peace reigned in the Republic for just under a galactic year. The computer worked like a dream. Then the motherboard kicked the bucket again. Same problem. "Aha!", I thought, "Inside the warranty this time!". So I sent it in to Dodgy Brothers. They took it and around a month later (I almost died waiting. You just don't separate a Jedi from the Force. Its just not cool.) the replacement came in. I installed it and it worked no problems.

Then, not long after, around the middle to the end of 2005, my fellow Jedi (cousin) Patrick, who had bought the same components for his lightsaber... uhh... computer as I had, was caught in the gaze of a Sith Lord. His motherboard (the same as mine) died in the same way as mine. He sent his in for warranty, with Dodgy Brothers telling him that the warranty on our boards was three years (they told me one year). So I had bought that second board for nothing. Those damn Neimoidians at Computer World (Dodgy Brothers) had ripped me off!

But the war with darkness was not yet over. Six months passed and this time the Sith were better prepared with a counter-attack, and they had something new up their sleeve. In December 2005, my motherboard developed leaky capacitors (Image). For those who don't know, this is where the acid inside the capacitor leaks out. Not good. However, the board still worked. Mostly. Like Anakin, it was given to small tantrums where it was simply refuse to boot, beeping motherboard error codes that said whinged randomly about broken graphics cards and motherboard faults. However, a few simple restarts would get it going again.

But the dark side had infected it, and there was no going back. By the end of January 2006, it would only boot 10% of the time. So, just before I went away skiing in Canada on the exotic planet Earth which lies in the Outer Rim, I sent the motherboard back into Dodgy Brothers for warranty.

Buying a new model of motherboard at this point to avoid warranty and get a new model of motherboard was out of the question. Motherboards of the same socket (Socket 478), which became redundant soon after I bought it, weren't being sold, let alone made any more. So I was stuck with waiting for warranty.

Around one and a half months later I got another motherboard back. Same model, and according to Dodgy Brothers, apparently new. It worked when I installed it, but around a week later it started not booting, and I'd get weird graphical corruptions and freezes in Windows... sometimes. *Sarcasm* Sure its a new motherboard, Dodgy Brothers. I spent lots of time probing with the Force (aka my screwdriver), trying to find the problem.

Software, hardware, I tried it all. It seemed like both the graphics card and the motherboard were stuffed. Sometimes the motherboard sometimes decided not to boot. The graphics card randomly froze the computer with graphical errors (Image) and refused to reproduce the problem when put in someone else's computer. It often would work fine and I would get happy, stealing precious half-hours of Oblivion or Star Wars Empire At War. But always, it would eventually die.

So I turned to Jedi Knight Patrick. After his motherboard also died he ended up buying another model of Socket 478 motherboard. He was able to do this because he bought it far enough back in time there were still some on the shelves. He was forced to buy an entire new board because Dodgy Brothers has yet to (even to this date) send him a replacement board for the one in warranty. But again, the Sith were not far behind. His computer also just started stuffing up for no reason: BSODs in Windows, underperforming graphics to the point of unplayability. Eventually he was forced to destroy his dark-side turned Padawan... uhh... computer. Shutting away his grief at such potential in the Force lost, he bought a laptop.

So he lent me his graphics card (now a spare part) so I could play Oblivion. And it worked... until the Sith got wind of our plan. His graphics card started having corruptions, worse than my card (!), to the point that they were evident in the BIOS and on other people's computers when it was installed in theirs. We will never know the full extent of the Sith's involvement with that tragedy: whether my motherboard killed his card or it just died on its own.

So I installed my old GeForce 4 from WAAAY back so I could at least use the computer for storage. And everything was peaceful for a few weeks... then disaster struck.

This week, studying for my University exams, I set up my computers so that I had slides from lectures at the Jedi Academy... uhh... Swinburne on my laptop and was using my main computer to type notes. I dragged my sorry carcass through days of Introduction to Business Information Systems (IBIS: possibly the worst subject in existence) study and today I hit 9000 words and 33 pages of notes. All saved on my computer.

The Sith's plotting never ended, and I, relaxing, was taken off guard when my computer froze while I was typing notes. "OK", I thought, "I'll just restart." Nothing. No boot. Recognise the situation? I started disconnecting things, hoping that would fix the problem. Then I turned on my computer.

FIRE! Or perhaps just smoke. Whatever, the Sith struck their final blow to the Republic. My computer smoked and I screamed and turned off the power. The room was full of an acrid haze and I found that one of the power cables for the floppy disk drive had come out of its plug and shorted on the case, the wire going red hot and burning through the plastic covering it.

The computer still doesn't turn on. The shroud of the Dark Side has fallen and all has been lost. Well, I don't think the short damaged anything, but I can't tell because the computer didn't work anyway.

Here are some pictures of the destruction:

  • Image - You can see the wire loose from the floppy power connector where it ought to be.
  • Image - A nice overexposed photo of the burnt wire
  • Image - The plastic on the wire is completely deteriorated

So unlike in George Lucas's stories, this saga ends on an unhappy note. My computer doesn't want to boot, and my files are lost (the main thing that wasn't backed up was the 33 page 9000 word IBIS notes, and other stuff like all my Steam apps (CS:S, HL:2 etc)). My hard drives are SATA and in a striped RAID configuration so I can't just slap them in another machine to get the data back.

But its OK. I was never going to read those IBIS notes again, anyway. The learning was in actually typing them out. Even though I still don't know most of that stuff. All my other stuff is either backed up on my laptop, a copy available from Jedi Knight Patrick, or is less important things (still annoying, however) like save games and images of Office 2007 Beta that I can afford to lose.

"But George Lucas... uhh... DC," you ask, "How did the Sith manage to destroy each board you and Jedi Patrick ever got, even though some were new?" "A good question, my young Padawan," I reply. Since I can't find any reports on the Internet of anyone else having problems with my motherboard model, I think that Dodgy Brothers got a dodgy (geddit!?) batch of my motherboard, and so every single one they sold had the flaw that eventually killed it. The one that got repaired in warranty actually didn't die the same as all the others, and instead died of leaky capacitors, another stroke of the Sith (or bad luck).

But its all OK. Soon, in a few weeks, I'll get an entirely new lightsaber... uhh... computer. And then perhaps the Sith will leave me alone.

*Scene zooms out with a nasty Sith laugh echoing away into the background and then cuts to credits with a circular wipe and loud Star Wars music*