Only showing posts tagged with "Unboxing"

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.

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