Saturday, November 20, 2010

November Hardware

Computer hardware prices have been in a free fall lately, especially where video cards and RAM are concerned.  Now that the GTX 460 has been out for a few months, and AMD has provided some competition in the form of the HD 6850, prices on the 460 have fallen dramatically.  You can usually find a 768MB version for under $150, and the 1GB version for around $175.  The 6850 is still hovering around $200 because it's so new.  In a month or two we will see better stock and more sales/rebates, which should bring it closer to the GTX 460.

Right now, there is little reason for a budget-minded gamer to purchase anything beyond a GTX 460 1GB.  However, this will probably change with the introduction of AMD's HD 6950 next month.  Below, I've constructed two basic gaming machines using  They might be inexpensive, but they are both quite powerful and extremely overclockable.

Bargain Gaming Rig

AMD Phenom II X3 715 Black Edition Triple-Core Processor - $80
XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 120mm Rifle CPU Cooler - $25 (after $10 rebate)
GIGABYTE GA-880GM-UD2H AM3 AMD 880G Micro ATX Motherboard - $80
PNY XLR8 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM 1600 - $50 (after $30 rebate)
EVGA 768-P3-1360-TR GeForce GTX 460 768MB GDDR5 Video Card - $140 (after $30 rebate)
W.D. Caviar Black WD6402AAEX 640GB 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s H.D. - $70
Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Case - $60
APEVIA ATX-JV650W 650W ATX12V Power Supply - $30 (after $25 rebate)
Sony Optiarc Black 24X 2MB Cache SATA CD/DVD Burner - $20

Discount: $25 ($25 Case/MB Combo)
Shipping: $5
Total: $535

This machine has tremendous potential.  At stock, it will play all the latest games smoothly and at high detail.  You may be able to unlock the fourth CPU core using the motherboard's ACC feature.  Add a modest overclock to the CPU and a more significant overclock to the GPU, which it is easily capable of, and you'll be set for a long time.  Note that the motherboard supports firewire.

Budget Gaming Rig

Intel Core i5-760 Lynnfield 2.8GHz 8MB L3 Cache LGA 1156 95W Quad-Core Processor - $209
XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 120mm Rifle CPU Cooler - $25 (after $10 rebate)
MSI P55-GD65 USB3 LGA 1156 Intel P55 USB 3.0 ATX Motherboard - $140 (after $40 rebate)
PNY XLR8 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM 1600 - $50 (after $30 rebate)
Palit NE5X460SF1102 GeForce GTX 460 Sonic 1GB Video Card - $165 (after $35 rebate)
Seagate Barracuda ST31000528AS 1TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s H.D. - $70
Antec Three Hundred Illusion Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Case - $70
APEVIA ATX-AQ700W-BK 700W ATX12V Power Supply - $40 (after $25 rebate)
Sony Optiarc Black 24X 2MB Cache SATA CD/DVD Burner - $20

Discount: $75 ($65 CPU/MB Combo, $10 Case/HD Combo)
Shipping: $2
Total: $716

The most significant improvement here is the better processor.  On top of that, we have a slightly better video card, power supply, and case.  The motherboard supports both USB 3.0 and firewire.

Please note: If you're not seeing the prices listed here, make sure you've properly applied the combos, downloaded your rebate forms, and entered the promotion codes (if any).  I plan on making a separate post that discusses these three forms of saving more money from Newegg's already low prices.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

September Update

There are similar deals for inexpensive yet powerful gaming rigs this month.  Below is an example using the new September deals.

Bargain Gaming Rig

CPU: AMD Phenom II X2 550 - $86
Motherboard: BIOSTAR A770E3 AM3 AMD 770 ATX - $55
RAM: OCZ Special Ops 4GB DDR3 1600 - $75 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: SAPPHIRE Vapor-X Radeon HD 5770 - $145 (after $15 rebate)
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 500GB - $70
Power Supply: OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W - $40 (after $20 rebate)
DVD Burner: SAMSUNG 24X DVD Burner - $18
Case: Rosewill CHALLENGER Black Gaming ATX - $45

Discount: $60 ($25 HD/Case, $20 RAM/PSU, and $15 CPU/GPU Combos)
Shipping: $9
Total: $483

This case looks like an amazing deal.  It has great reviews, and the specs are impressive for the price.  Also, the motherboard supports ACC, so you may be able to unlock one or two of the disabled cores on this processor.  Note that if you need Windows, there's a combo deal with the motherboard for $10 off Windows 7 Home Premium, which would bring the total to $573.

I picked up a set of that Special Ops RAM last month, and it's been working just fine.  It brought some stability to Starcraft 2, which seems to be a big memory hog.  Speaking of SC2, here's my profile for anyone that's interested:

If you're playing too, send me an invite!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Powerful and Affordable

It's that time again. Competition is once again working in our favor, and prices for gaming PCs are very attractive right now. Here is an example of a powerful machine for less than $500:

Bargain Gaming Rig

CPU: AMD Phenom II 550 - $88
Motherboard: ECS IC780M-A2 AM3 - $60
RAM: OCZ Special Ops Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 1600 - $65 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: SAPPHIRE 100283-3L Radeon HD 5770 1GB - $135 (after $15 rebate)
Hard Drive: WD Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB/32MB - $55 (after $20 promo - ends 8/9)
Power Supply: OCZ ModXStream Pro OCZ600MXSP 600W - $50 (after $20 rebate)
DVD Burner: LG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $18
Case: Antec Nine Hundred - $65 (after $20 rebate, $15 promo - ends 8/6)

Discount: $60 ($40 MB/PSU Combo, $20 RAM/GPU Combo)
Shipping: $9
Total: $485

Frankenstein Rig

If that's still too much for you, I have an even better deal for you. Right now, I have some used hardware I'd like to sell due to upgrading. I've never had any problems with it (otherwise I wouldn't risk selling it) and it's all performed very well. Here they are:

Video Card: ASUS EN8800GT/G/HTDP/512M GeForce 8800 GT 512MB - $60

You can see some of my testing with it in my last blog post. It runs very cool and very quiet.

RAM: OCZ Platinum Revision 2 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR2 800 - $20

Pretty straightforward. It's good memory and it's cheap.

Power Supply: KINGWIN ABT-450MM 450W - $20 (used by me)

The PSU also runs very quiet. It has PCI-e connectors for video cards, and SATA connectors for SATA hard drives, meaning you won't need adapters.

All three of these components have been used for about two years without incident. If you buy all three, I'll knock off $10 for a total of $90. If you want to build a new computer out of them, I'd suggest the following:

CPU: AMD Athlon II X2 245 Regor - $59
Motherboard: BIOSTAR A770E - $70

Discount: $25 CPU/MB Combo
Shipping: Free
Total with used parts: $194

This assumes that you'll reuse an old case, hard drive, and CD/DVD drive. The motherboard has an IDE slot, and IDE ribbons can support two devices. (I also have a PCI IDE card if you need it.) If you don't have the components to reuse, perhaps grab something from the bargain rig above.

Yes, but can it play... Starcraft 2?

If you're wondering how all the hardware above will run Starcraft, see the following:

CPU Benchmarks
High-End GPU Benchmarks
More GPU Benchmarks

Some relevant points to take away:

1) The HD 5770 Will run it VERY smoothly, even at the highest resolutions.
2) The 9800 GTX+ also runs it smoothly at high resolutions. My 8800 GT should deliver about 80% of the performance of a 9800 GTX+.
3) The amount of video memory really doesn't matter, even on Ultra High Details.
4) The Athlon II 245 should deliver above 70% of the performance of a Core i5-750, which is basically the best gaming processor available. That's with a high end video card running at a low resolution, forcing the processors to bottleneck. Therefore, real world results will be much closer.
5) The Phenom II X2 550 really won't be much faster than the Athlon II, and that's under the same bottleneck conditions. Pick whatever Athlon/Phenom flavor floats your boat.

Also, if you don't have an operating system to reuse, I hear that Starcraft 2 runs well in Linux using Wine. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bonus Upgrade!

Left: ASUS 8800 GT, Right: EVGA GTX 460 SC

It's time for an upgrade!  In anticipation of Starcraft 2, and realizing that I don't exactly have much cash to blow on gaming right now, I decided to enter a few hardware giveaways online.  One of them was run by Puget Systems, a business that specializes in custom PCs.  All I had to do was use their website to design a custom gaming PC (gee, never tried that before) and advertise it on Facebook.  They gave away two GeForce GTX 460 768MB video cards, and I was lucky enough to be randomly selected for the second one.  (By the way, Puget Systems just introduced a new line of products that use an aquarium to cool a PC.  I will say this: the presentation looks amazing.)

Up until now, I have been using an ASUS GeForce 8800 GT, which I bought for $130 from Newegg in June 2008.  The new GTX 460 is of the EVGA Superclocked variety, which is currently going for $210 on Newegg.  NVIDIA released the 8800 GT in October 2007, and the GTX 460 in July 2010.  Both were very similar in that, upon release, they provided a uniquely low price/performance ratio as far as NVIDIA cards go.  Both are also quite efficient in the realms of power, heat, and noise.  The GTX 460 is a true successor to the 8800 GT.

I decided this would be a good time to do some benchmarking for fun.  I basically want to see if I can put some measurements on just how much of an upgrade this is.  How will it enhance the games that I currently play?  Is there enough extra oomph for a larger monitor in the future?  Is my computer going to turn into a space heater?

Testing Details

I don't have a whole lot of free time right now, with two small children and another baby due any day.  Therefore, I decided to keep things simple.  I didn't spend time making sure all the drivers were consistent, though I did record the driver numbers for all tests.  I didn't spend much time researching the different types of antialiasing, though I think it was consistent across the board.  I only used games with automated benchmarks.  If I was actually doing a serious hardware comparison, I would have paid more attention to these details.

Here are my system specs:

Operating System: Windows XP Pro SP3, 32-bit / Linux Mint 9, 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 (OC: 3.6 GHz, 1600 FSB)
Motherboard: Foxconn X38A (PCI-E 2.0 x16)
Memory: OCZ Platinum DDR2-800 2x1GB (5-5-5-15)
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 250GB/16MB
Video Cards: ASUS 8800 GT 512MB / EVGA GTX 460 768MB SC
Power Supply: Apevia 650W
Case: NZXT Tempest

I know; I could use a RAM upgrade.  Thankfully, my motherboard also supports DDR3.  And yes, I have entered a few giveaways just for this purpose!  I also have a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium sitting on my shelf.  I'll install the 64-bit flavor some day - maybe after the first service pack or a RAM upgrade.

Drivers used:

8800 GT Windows: 254.08
8800 GT Linux: 195.36.15
GTX 460 Windows: 258.96
GTX 460 Linux: 256.44

All tests ran at 1600x1200 (I'm still using a CRT), 16x Quality AA, with all in-game details set as high as possible.  Vsync and triple buffering were disabled.  For Company of Heroes, AA was enabled via the game menu.  For Doom 3 and Nexuiz, AA was forced via the NVIDIA control panel.  I used such high levels of AA in order to keep the framerates down to reasonable numbers at this resolution.

Company of Heroes was run in Windows, Nexuiz in Linux, and Doom 3 in both.  Wine was not used in Linux, though I could probably get CoH to run with it if I had the time.  If Wine can run my heavily-modded version of Oblivion (which it does), CoH should be no problem.  I may try it in the future.  Nexuiz was run via the Phoronix Test Suite, an automated benchmarking tool that I had never used before.  I hear it runs in Windows too, so I may visit that in the future as well.  I am likely to re-run some tests when I upgrade to Windows 7.

Core/Memory clocks:

ASUS 8800 GT Stock: 600/900
ASUS 8800 GT Overclocked: 650/1000
Ref. GTX 460 Stock: 675/900 (not tested)
EVGA GTX 460 Superclocked: 763/950
EVGA GTX 460 Overclocked: 825/1000
EVGA GTX 460 Overvolted: 900/1050

The GTX 460 used a voltage of 0.975 by default, and I set it to 1.025 when overvolted.  I didn't try to push the cards in order to get the maximum overclock possible.  I just used what I figured would be safe based on my own research.  I could have probably gotten more out of the new card if I really cared to do so and had the time for testing.  I was unable to overclock the GTX 460 in Linux because the driver didn't seem to recognize the Coolbits option.  It worked fine for my 8800 GT; perhaps the 460 is still too new.  Fortunately, this is a factory "superclocked" edition, I still have speeds in Linux that are higher than reference.


The Company of Heroes results are fairly straightforward, and impressive.  Obviously, I have more frames than I know what to do with.  All indicators suggest Starcraft 2 will be silky smooth as well.

Something must be abnormal with my Windows Doom 3 setup.  Yes, framerates increased, but not nearly as much as Linux; the Linux number is closer to what we should expect.  The Windows performance is inconsistent with the other benchmarks too.  I didn't notice any differences in detail between Windows and Linux, though fine details can be hard to see at these settings.  I know that AA was definitely working in Linux.  I'll probably revisit this in Windows 7, but for right now I am assuming that it's a fluke.  If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears.

Nexuiz is an open source FPS built on a heavily modified Quake 3 engine.  It uses several advanced graphical effects, such as HDR, so it's a favorite for Linux benchmarks.  The results here are nothing special, but it is interesting to note that the difference is not as large as the other two games.  This was a great opportunity to try out the Phoronix Test Suite ( for the first time.

This chart is quite impressive.  Even with a hefty overclock, it's still cooler than my old card at stock.  It should be noted that this card actually clocks itself way down (core, memory, and voltage) when idle, which explains the chilly idle temps.  Also, it was interesting to note that overclocking and overvolting only affects the speeds and voltage under load.  When idle, all the numbers are the same across the board.

(It should also be noted that there was a bit of dust on my 8800 GT when I finally uninstalled it.  It wasn't too bad because I clean regularly, but it was enough to possibly make a small difference.)

I really like the physical cooling system on the new hardware as well.  Rather than use a fan in the front that pushes air across the heatsink and out a rear exhaust, it simply blows air directly onto the top of the heatsink.  The ASUS 8800 GT has a similar system.  This has one disadvantage - the hot air is not all vented out the back of the case.  However, it has advantages that I consider to be more important:

1) The GPU itself runs cooler.  If the GPU is the hottest component in my system, I want it to have the best cooling.  In addition, my NXZT Tempest has amazing ventilation, so the hot air gets sucked right out anyway.
2) The fan runs quieter.  It spins consistently around 40%, and I can't hear it over the other components.  That's saying something, because my entire PC is pretty quiet.
3) It's easier to clean.  In this department, though, the ASUS 8800 GT is even better because it doesn't have a big plastic shield over the top.  The plastic shield is probably the only negative thing I can find with the GTX 460.  It looks cool, but I don't buy win internal components for looks.  Some manufacturers, such as MSI, have removed them.


My machine will certainly be able to handle more advanced games with ease, and at higher resolutions.  In fact, with results like this, why would I want a GTX 480?  It's not like I'd get higher detail, but I would get more noise, heat, and power consumption.  This card is a perfect fit for my goals.  I think I'll keep it set to 825/1000 with no overvolting, as the card can handle this without breaking a sweat.

Perhaps a more demanding game and a 1920*something monitor will present more of a challenge, but I wouldn't count on it.  It will be interesting to see if Windows 7, and maybe 4GB of DDR3, will provide any measurable differences.  I'd like to see if I can find a simple way to benchmark The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Empire: Total War, as both are more demanding than the games above.  Oblivion needs no introduction, and I use a lot of mods that make it more of a resource hog.  Empire isn't nearly as popular, but it does some crazy things with memory, drawing massive armies across battlefields.  I'd like to see it in more benchmarks because it's rather unique in this regard.  As always, I'm open to suggestions.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a happy camper.  Thanks, Puget Systems!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fermis and Ghosts

Back in December, I said, "Don't expect GPU prices to drop significantly until the summer season."  The reasons for this were that we still had a while to wait for NVIDIA's GTX 4XX series, and it would take a while for them to ramp up production, produce midrange cards, and offer competitive prices against AMD.

Well, not only did NVIDIA drag their feet with Fermi, but it was also quite unimpressive when launched.  The GTX 480 and 470 were expensive and inefficient, so AMD had no reason to lower their prices.  However, NVIDIA has finally come out with something worth considering: the GeForce GTX 460.

The GTX 460 comes in two flavors - a 768 MB and a 1GB version.  The 768 is going for $200, and the 1GB is around $230.  The 1GB model also has a few other hardware tweaks that give it an average 10% better performance over the 768 model.  Due to a significant redesign, both models consume much less power and generate much less heat than the bigger GTX parts.

The 460 cards are already forcing AMD's prices down, especially the 5830 and 5850.  If you wait until next month, you'll probably see prices across the board hit very tempting ranges.  Of course, the GTX 460 is already quite tempting as it is.

In other news, I just purchased a GIGABYTE GM-M8000 from Newegg.  They had it on sale for $25 (after $20 rebate) with free shipping.  It feels great so far, but I have yet to use it for any extended game time.  This thing is loaded with features that normally cost at least $60.  They've discontinued this model in favor of the GM-M8000X which costs exactly that, but the feature set is almost exactly the same.

This beautiful piece of hardware is a great complement to my Microsoft Sidewinder X6 that I am absolutely loving.  Now, if I can just get ahold of a Belkin n52te SpeedPad, my dream peripheral collection will be complete!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Little Ones and Lobotomy

The Incident

Two weeks ago, our two-year-old daughter ran into a table and smacked her head.  She hit it pretty hard, and this resulted in a painful headache.  We decided a medical professional should look at the injury to make sure it was properly cared for, so we took the girls and drove to a medical clinic.  (If you haven't heard about this yet and are starting to freak out, don't.  Everything is just fine; but please keep reading.)

Before going any further, I should explain that I have a pretty radical philosophy when it comes to medical treatments.  I believe the following:

1) A medical treatment must not be performed unless it provides a benefit.
2) If a medical treatment has risks associated with it, it must not be performed unless the benefits are greater than the risks.

These are very simple and reasonable standards, but I have found that many parents as well as many medical professionals do not follow them.  As my daughter's father, I believe it is my duty to ensure, to the best of my ability, that any medical treatment performed on her meets these criteria.  That belief was put to the test during this incident.

On the way to the clinic, I knew we were going to be facing a difficult decision.  You see, in cases such as this, it is a standard medical procedure to perform a lobotomy on the part of the brain that is causing the pain.  This is done to prevent the pain from causing larger problems later on.  In fact, most children of this age have already had that part of the brain severed as a precaution.  Knowing that this is a controversial issue (many medical professionals are against this practice), my wife and I had previously done some independent research on the risks and benefits of this particular procedure.  The results of our research led us to refuse the procedure for our children up until this point.

We got to the clinic, checked in with a nurse, and waited for a doctor to show up.  While we were waiting, I decided to call our daughters' pediatrician.  I am not a medical professional, and I had come to trust his expert medical opinion.  Even though I had done my own research, I wanted to confirm with him that a lobotomy was not necessary in this particular case.  Indeed, he told me that as our daughter's pediatrician, and with the information I gave him, he did not see a need for the lobotomy.  He also confirmed that it is a standard procedure in cases such as this, and that I was correct to assume that the doctors at this clinic would recommend the procedure.  He did not actually make a recommendation, but told us that it was perfectly fine for us to decide which course of action to take.

A doctor came and looked at our daughter.  As I expected, she asked us why we had not allowed her to have a lobotomy until now.  I answered simply and clearly, "Statistical analysis."  Looking slightly surprised, she went on to explain that she would recommend we have the lobotomy done.

I should add that, during my research, I discovered that these procedures usually include severing multiple parts of the brain at once, in order to kill many birds with one stone.  Therefore, I asked the doctor, "Will you only operate on the portion directly related to this injury?"  She clearly answered in the affirmative, which surprised me a little.  I told her that we would have to discuss it.  We had time to think about it because our daughter's wound needed some cleaning and an X-ray to ensure no bone was damaged, which they were going to do soon.

That doctor left.  A few minutes later, another doctor came in and introduced herself as the supervisory doctor of the clinic.  She told us a little more about the lobotomy.  She also added that many of "those studies" about medical procedures are flawed because they do not take into account collective immunity.  For example, polio (which she mentioned specifically) does not spread much anymore because much of the population has been immunized against it.  This makes the virus seem less dangerous than it would be if the immunization had never been created.

If you're asking yourself what the spread of viruses has to do with a non-contagious headache resulting from an injury, congratulations!  You are more intelligent than the supervisory doctor of a medical clinic.  I'm.  Not.  Kidding.

Anyway, I was not about to get into an argument with the very people that were trying to help our daughter who needed medical treatment.  Therefore, I simply told her that we wanted to wait until our visit to the pediatrician in a few days before making a decision about the lobotomy.  Our daughter was given a temporary treatment for the pain that would last until then, so an immediate decision was not necessary.  The doctor didn't seem satisfied, but she left anyway.

A while later, a nurse came in to clean the wound.  She asked my wife, "Is it okay with your religion if I use this cleaning solution on her?"  Not once did we make any reference to religions or belief systems, but by now the entirety of the clinic staff probably thought they had a bunch of extremist nut jobs on their hands.  As I said, I clearly cited statistical analysis as my justification for questioning the medical treatment.

Later on, one of the nurses told us that our pediatrician was on the phone.  Obviously, the supervisory genius of the facility couldn't accept the fact that any self-respecting doctor would allow some religious whackos to deny medical treatment for a child in favor of simply praying that God will magically heal the injury.  I'm assuming she tried to talk some sense into him and insisted that he convince us to get the lobotomy done.

When I picked up the phone, he repeated that we were free to make whatever decision we were comfortable with.  He also added this juicy tidbit: if the operation were performed at this clinic it would actually affect other parts of the brain, not just the one relating to the current injury.  Oh, really?  While this confirmed what I had learned in my own research, it was contradictory to what the first doctor told me when I asked her about it in no uncertain terms.

At this point, we just wanted to get out of the clinic.  The doctors were very reluctant to let us go without making a decision regarding the lobotomy.  (How is one to make an informed decision without time to gather information?)  I told them that I knew we were going against the standard procedure, but I insisted that we take it up with our pediatrician.

Eventually, they let us go.  Our one-year-old suffered little more than boredom.  Our injured two-year-old was a real trooper - the only time she got really frightened was during the X-ray, but it was quick and I was able to sort of hold her while wearing protection.  At my request, she said, "Thank you." to the clinic staff on the way out, which was really cute.  They gave her a toy to keep, too.

If you suspect that parts of this story are made up, you would be correct.  A similar event did occur, but I changed the injury and treatment in order to make a point.  The same logic still applies to the actual injury and the treatment that was actually offered.

The Soapbox

You may have wondered why anyone in their right mind would perform a lobotomy just to eliminate the silly prospect of serious complications resulting from headache pain.  The chances of such a thing happening must be almost non-existent!  And obviously, a lobotomy has serious risks associated with it.

If someone tried to tell you that most doctors agreed this standard procedure was actually beneficial, wouldn't you ask to see some statistical data to back up that claim?  If they told you that the procedure had been thoroughly tested, wouldn't you demand to see the evidence that the benefits outweigh the risks?  If this was really tested, the results should surely be available to the public, right?  Yet parents, medical "professionals," and others often fail to ask such simple questions.

In many cases, it is hard or impossible to find statistical justification for controversial medical practices.  You can read about how difficult it was for me to investigate this particular treatment here.  If the treatment is as good as many claim it is, why is it so difficult to gather this data?

Again, justification must meet these criteria:

1) A medical treatment must not be performed unless it provides a benefit.
2) If a medical treatment has risks associated with it, it must not be performed unless the benefits are greater than the risks.

There are no exceptions.

I don't care about looking up some hippie's website and finding that all vaccinations are evil because they give everybody autism.  The onus is not on me to prove that the treatment is too risky; it is on the medical community to prove that the treatment is justified.  If such justification cannot be produced, you can bet I'll exercise my right to refuse treatment for my children.

Just ask why.  Ask for justification.  It's not a complicated request.

If you don't, shame on you.  Especially if you are responsible for the medical care of another.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Gaming Rigs Reloaded

It's that time. I've been getting a lot of questions about hardware for gaming PCs, so this post is long overdue. Want to build a new PC? Read on:

Bargain Gaming Rig

AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition - $83
COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus - $30
OCZ AMD Black Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 - $95 (after $20 rebate)
SAPPHIRE 100245HDMI Radeon HD 4850 512MB - $90 (after $15 rebate)
ASRock M3A770DE AM3 - $60
Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX 1TB - $110
Antec Three Hundred Illusion - $60
OCZ ModXStream Pro OCZ600MXSP 600W - $55 (after $25 rebate)
Sony Optiarc Black 24X DVD+-RW - $20

Discount: $63 ($20 DVD/PSU Combo, $20 HD Promo, $15 Case Combo, $8 PSU Promo)
Shipping: $24
Total: $564

The first thing you should note is that the processor is dual-core, but motherboard has the ACC feature which may allow you to unlock one or two more cores.  This is not a guarantee, and success will depend on why the two extra cores were disabled in the first place.  You have no way of knowing if this will work until you actually try it, but people generally seem to have good results.  Regardless, modern games still show little benefit from using more than two cores when played with reasonable detail.  For a total of $143 for this motherboard and CPU, you really can't go wrong either way.  Note that the motherboard does not support firewire, so you'll have to pay a little more if you want it.

There's not much to say about the RAM or heatsink.  Decent latency and plenty of cooling.  DDR2 prices are right up there with DDR3, so might as well stick with the newer stuff unless you find an unbeatable deal.

Video cards are still pretty expensive right now, but the Radeon HD 4850 seems to be one of the few exceptions.  There are still plenty of these cards to go around, so the price has remained stable.  It will run Starcraft II smoothly at great detail, so it's the ideal selection to hold you over until we see how the competition with newer cards plays out.

The hard drive has a nice $20 off promo code until 5/10, it has a 1TB of space, and it's a top performer among non-SSD drives.  You could save around $35 by going with something smaller and slower, but this great value makes it a tough decision.  Note that it supports SATA III even though the motherboard only supports SATA II.  However, I'm not sure you can notice the difference between the two unless you use a SSD.

The Antec 300 Illusion also has a $15 off promo until 5/10.  The case is nothing spectacular, but it is tried and true with excellent cooling.

The OCZ power supply is modular, meaning you can detach the cables you don't use.  It has an $8 off promo until 5/11 and a combo that basically gives you a free DVD burner.  If you desire, you can save an additional $9.50 by getting the 500W version, which should be plenty to power all the items listed here.

Practical Power Rig

AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition - $83
COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus - $30
OCZ AMD Black Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 - $95 (after $20 rebate)
ASUS EAH5850 DirectCU TOP/2DIS/1GD5 Radeon HD 5850 - $340
ASRock M3A770DE AM3 - $60
OCZ Vertex Series OCZSSD2-1VTX60G 2.5" 60GB - $139 (after $10 rebate)
Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARS 1TB - $80
NZXT Hades Crafted Series HADE-001BK - $60 (after $20 rebate)
OCZ ModXStream Pro OCZ600MXSP 600W - $55 (after $25 rebate)
Sony Optiarc Black 24X DVD+-RW - $20

Discount: $68 ($30 GPU/RAM Combo, $20 DVD/PSU Combo, $10 HD Promo, $8 PSU Promo)
Shipping: $14
Total: $908

Here we have the addition of a Radeon HD 5850, which will basically play any modern game smoothly at its highest settings.  This isn't the cheapest one you can find, but the $30 combo with the RAM makes it a reasonable deal.

You'll notice that this build uses a 60GB SSD.  The OCZ Vertex is a good performer with TRIM support (just make sure you're using the latest firmware) to prevent performance degredation.  If you use it to hold your operating system plus a handful of your most used games/applications, you will eliminate a lot of waiting from boot and loading times.  Store everything else on the Caviar Green, which is inexpensive, cool, quiet, and has plenty of space.  If you're interested, it utilizes the new large sector technology you may have heard about, but that'll make little difference when compared to the Vertex.  The Green also has a $10 off promo until 5/9.

I actually had the pleasure of recently building a machine with the NXZT Hades.  It has three temperature probes that display the results on the top of the front panel, and they're quite accurate.  There are two voltage knobs inside the front panel that allow you to regulate the speeds of all the fans if you connect them properly.  There are several other features I really like about this case, and it's amazing that the price is so low.

You might have some trouble with the large side fan getting in the way of your CPU cooler.  I used a Xigmatek S1283 without the fan attached, and there was only a little room to spare.  I moved the Xigmatek fan to the rear spot on the case and put the rear 120mm fan on the front top spot, which worked out very well.

This build is more expensive, but you will absolutely notice the performance difference.

Overkill Rig

Intel Core i5-750 Lynnfield 2.66GHz - $200
COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus - $30
OCZ AMD Black Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 - $95 (after $20 rebate)
Galaxy 70XKH3HS8GUX GeForce GTX 470 - $350
ASUS P7P55-M LGA 1156 Intel P55 - $108
OCZ Vertex Series OCZSSD2-1VTX60G 2.5" 60GB - $139 (after $10 rebate)
Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARS 1TB - $80
NZXT Hades Crafted Series HADE-001BK - $60 (after $20 rebate)
Thermaltake TR2 TRX-750M 750W - $75 (after $20 rebate)
Sony Optiarc Black 24X DVD+-RW - $20

Discount: $80 ($60 GPU/PSU Combo, $10 CPU/MB Combo, $10 HD Promo)
Shipping: $12
Total: $1,099

If you're not an AMD fan, feel free to give this machine a try.  The processor is one of the best gaming processors available today, and the motherboard supports firewire.  However, these advantages will cost you about $155, and you may not even notice the difference in performance for most games.

The video card/power supply combo of $60 off is an amazing deal.  There are actually several flavors of GTX 470 with the same price and combo, so feel free to take your pick.  The 470 will perform a little better than the 5850 in most games, but you'll want to consult benchmarks for the ones you play.

That's it.  Many of these parts can (and probably should) be mixed and matched to suit your price/performance needs.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or via e-mail.  Even though I haven't tested most of this hardware myself, I always choose parts that get at least 4/5 "eggs" on Newegg (unless there is a very good reason to pick something else), and I check the reviews for other information like component noise.  You can be relatively confident that these components will be quiet, efficient, and reliable.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Golden Bridge

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (Scipio, for short) is considered to be among the greatest generals in the history of the world. About 200 years before Christ, he ended the greatest threat to ever face the Roman Republic by defeating Hannibal of Carthage in Hannibal's own land without any military or financial aid from Rome.

Scipio is credited with being the first recorded man to promote the use of what is sometimes called the golden bridge. According to Vegetius:

"Most people ignorant of military matters believe the victory will be more complete if they surround the enemy in a confined place or with large numbers of soldiers, so that they can find no way of escape. But trapped men draw extra courage from desperation, and when there is no hope, fear takes up arms. Men who know without a doubt that they are going to die and will gladly die in good company.
For this reason, Scipio's axiom has won good praise, when he said that a way should be built for the enemy to flee by. For when an escape-route is revealed, the minds of all are united on turning their backs, and they are slaughtered unavenged, like cattle. Nor is there any danger for the pursuers once the defeated have turned round the arms with which they could have defended themselves. In this tactic, the greater the numbers, the more easily is a mass cut down. For there is no need of numbers in a case where the soldiers' minds, once terrified, wish to avoid not just the enemy's weapons but his face. Whereas trapped men, though few in number and weak in strength, for this very fact are a match for their enemies, because desperate men know they can have no other recourse. 'The only hope of safety for the defeated is to expect no safety.'
- Vegetius, Epitoma Rei Militaris III, xxi

The golden bridge is the perceived route of escape. It gives people a reason to stop fighting and try taking the easy way out. What they don't realize is that it's actually a trap that ensures their defeat more easily and soundly than fighting to the last man.

If you corner the bear, you get mauled. If you let it run, you get a free shot at its back.

Now, I'm going to throw a thought out there, and I'm sure it's not going to be very popular. Here goes:

In the United States of America, the vote is your golden bridge.

That's not to say that you shouldn't vote. Every American citizen ought to diligently consider exercising this freedom. The key is to not let it fool you into ignoring the deeds that can actually bring about change for the better. As to what those other deeds are, I'll leave that for you to dwell on.

We must not get caught up in the mindset that situations will improve if we just get enough of the right politicians in office. Ain't. Gonna. Happen. Digging up dirt on this politician or campaigning for that poitician are only ways of treating the symptoms of a system that is broken at its core, and those who are truly in control want you to believe that you're really making a difference if you just do these things. As you run across the golden bridge they have set up for you, your back is exposed and they don't have to worry about defending themselves.

Let's be honest. Your right to vote has driven you to complacency. You have used it as an excuse to throw up your hands and say, "I did my part."

If you're one of the sorry creatures that gets upset or depressed when an election doesn't go your way, if you place all your hopes for the future of this country on what the polls are telling you about the next election, you are the problem. Your favorite party isn't going to fix what is actually broken. It isn't driven by moral obligation or patriotic duty, and it's certainly not driven by you. The fact that you and the rest of this country don't recognize the golden bridge for what it is ensures the fate of this land just as the fleeing soldier ensures the victory of his attacker.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gmail is my E-mail

In the past few months, I have witnessed the rapid spread of a terrible disease.  This disease is not physically harmful, but, let me tell you, it aggravates the snot out of me.  It affects users of the internet, and here are the symptoms:

1) The victims are unhappy with their e-mail services and/or e-mail clients.
2) They are unwilling to fix the problem.

Now, there's a good chance you're rolling your eyes right now and thinking, "There he goes again.  He's writing this just for me because we've been over this a million times."  Well, you're wrong.  I am not writing this "just" for anybody.  I personally know a large number of people infected by this virus.  In recent months, the victim count has grown at a disturbing rate.  You are not alone.

So now you're probably thinking, "Yeah, yeah.  I know you're going to tell me to switch to Gmail again."  Not exactly.  You don't have to "switch" to anything.  More specifically, you can enjoy the benefits of a better e-mail solution while retaining your current e-mail addresses.  To find out how, read this quick tutorial:

Manage All Your Email Accounts with Gmail

As the link explains, you can use Gmail to manage all your e-mail addresses without your contacts ever knowing you are using Gmail!  You can even import all your old e-mail into Gmail.  It's super-duper easy; I promise.

Of course, you're probably thinking, "Okay, I understand the 'how,' but not the 'why.'"  Why would anybody want to use Gmail?

Reason #1: Gmail's web interface is the best e-mail client in existence.

Forget Mozilla Thunderbird, Microsoft Outlook, and Apple Mail.  The best software for managing your e-mail doesn't need to be installed on your computer.  All you need is a web browser!  Gmail's web interface has so many great features and options that I can hardly begin to describe them all.  (Of course, the default settings are great too, just in case you don't like to tinker.)

Gmail has an excellent labeling system that is a huge improvement over the typical "folder" systems other clients use.  It also has a robust filter system for automatically managing your e-mail as it arrives.  The search function is fast and effective; I never have trouble finding old messages.  You can also enable hotkeys if you're not a fan of clicking on everything.

Gmail Labs allows you to turn on extra features, including multiple inboxes, forgotten attachment detector, undo send option, and much more.  In addition, there are many browser extensions that you can use to change the way your web browser handles Gmail.

Most importantly, you can access the Gmail web interface wherever you go.  You don't need to install anything!  However, if you're still attached to your current e-mail client, Gmail's service still works fine with the aforementioned e-mail software as well as others.

Reason #2: Gmail (Google) accounts contain many other useful tools.

Your Google account will also come with an awesome calendar that supports all the main features people need in a calendaring system.  These include recurring appointments, meeting invitations that work even with people who don't use Gmail, task management, and more.  Easily access it all from your web browser.

Other features include Google Talk for chat (IM, voice, and video), Picasa Web Albums for photo management, Google Reader for managing RSS feeds and non-RSS web articles,  Google Docs for an online Office suite (yes, it supports common Microsoft Office formats), Blogger for... well... blogging, Google Voice, and much, much more.

Reason #3: There is no better junk filter.

The spam filter is regularly praised by IT experts as being the best of its kind.  I have been using Gmail since it was in its invite-only beta stage years ago, and I think I've only ever had two false positives and maybe five spam messages that didn't get automatically filtered.

Reason #4: Gmail is reliable.

I've never been unable to access my e-mail.  Ever.

If you are concerned about losing your mail, you can back it up automatically using an online service called Backupify.  You can also use it to back up accounts for Facebook, Twitter, and others.  Backupify accounts are available for free until February 15th, so don't wait!

Reason #5: Gmail has a bright future.

Gmail is under very active development; it is constantly being improved.  It integrates well with the latest technology - new browsers with massive plugin support, mobile devices, and various "Web 2.0" applications.  You can be confident that your Gmail account will keep up with whatever the IT industry dreams up next.

I could go on about why I use Gmail, but I'm sure you get the picture.  If you have any questions about Gmail, be sure to drop me a message or leave a comment.  If you already use Gmail, check out this recent article for some advice on getting the most out of your e-mail experience:

Become a Gmail Master Redux

Google also has a list of useful Gmail tips.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jesus Rifles

- Somewhere in Afghanistan -

"Akhmed!  I am mortally wounded!"

"D'oh!  What ever shall we do, Sarge?"

"Did you catch the serial number on that rifle?"

"ACOG4X32JN8:12, Sir."

"Ack!  That is obviously a reference to John 8:12.  Pull out your NIV and read it to me!"

"No need, Sir.  I can recite it from memory. 'When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.''"

"It is just as I feared!  I have been shot by a Jesus rifle.  Avenge me in the name of Allah!"

"But Sir, isn't Jesus one of Allah's great prophe-"


- Back to Reality -

I know, it's ridiculous, but according to ABC News, this is exactly what Michael Weinstein of the inappropriately named Military Religious Freedom Foundation claims is happening:

"It allows the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, al Qaeda and the insurrectionists and jihadists to claim they're being shot by Jesus rifles, ... We're emboldening an enemy."

Getting shot may or may not tick you off, but if it's a Jesus Rifle (TM) you're sure to be angry.  It's almost like they haven't already decided the States are "the great Satan."

Seriously, though, worshipers of religious censorship "freedom" are making two primary claims when discussing this story.

Claim #1: It violates the separation of church and state.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

A violation of the separation of church and state is not necessarily a violation of the U.S. constitution (or any national law, for that matter) because the words "church," "state," or "separation" do not exist in the "establishment" clause.  This issue has nothing to do with congressional laws, so it gets the Bill of Rights nod of approval.

Claim #2: It violates U.S. military rules by proselytizing to the people of foreign nations.

The funny thing about this claim, similar to the one above, is that the people crying about injustice won't actually quote the rules.  Here is what the Uniform Code of Military Justice says about proselytizing:

"Military officials must ensure that service members are neither punished for their beliefs nor subjected to unwanted proselytizing or evangelizing from military chaplains or senior officers and noncommissioned officers, even if the proselytizing or evangelizing is intended as a good-faith effort to salvage the spiritual health of the service members."

What does this regulation have to do with protecting foreigners from harmful messages of love and forgiveness?  Right.  Nothing.

[Edit: Actually, there's more.  For a discussion of General Order No. 1, see the comments below.]

In addition, if you wanted to make the claim that service members are being subjected to unwanted evangelizing from officers, go ask your local serviceman if he'd rather have the Bible-stamped scope from Trijicon or the basic hunting model from Wal-Mart.  (Go on.  It's okay.  They're actually nice once you get to know them.)  I guarantee he'll agree with the officers that signed the contracts for these excellent pieces of American technology.

A private company has every right to stamp references to Bible verses, quoted Bible passages, crosses, or whatever on its products.  And if that company's products are the most effective at saving American lives, the armed forces have every right to purchase them.  Isn't the rule of law wonderful?

Besides, I have it on good authority that Trijicon only hires the very best productivity engineers.  Trijicon is one of, what, two? businesses in Michigan that are successful right now.  Perhaps the media could benefit from the use of some scopes to zoom in on actual problems instead of shooting themselves in the feet.