Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Amazing Case&PSU Combo

It's been a while since I've posted any recommendations for budget gaming PC hardware, and there's a reason for that. Video card prices are terrible right now, and RAM isn't much better. The production of AMD's HD4XXX series has dropped in favor of the new but understocked HD5xxx generation. In addition, AMD won't have any real competition from Nvidia for a few more months. Don't expect GPU prices to drop significantly until the summer season, after the price of Nvidia's yet unreleased hardware starts to settle.

As far as RAM goes, it looks like DDR2's reign is ending in favor of DDR3, so a lower supply has brought the prices up to DDR3 levels. By the time video card prices significantly drop, we might also see DDR3 go down a bit more.

Regardless, I did happen to notice a totally awesome deal that I wanted to make people aware of. AZZA, a company that doesn't seem to get much attention, has a great rebate/combo/sale/promo offer at Newegg for a PC case and power supply. Here it is:

Case: AZZA Solano 1000 Black Steel/Metal mesh ATX Full Tower - $65 (after $45 rebate and $10 promo code)
Power Supply: AZZA Dynamo 850W ATX Power Supply - $60 (after $40 rebate)
Discount: $20 (Case/PSU combo deal)
Shipping: $10
Total: $115

The shipping on the case is free, which is awesome because cases usually have the highest shipping costs. The same $20 combo deal also applies to three different power supplies. Here are the other two:

AZZA Dynamo 650W ATX Power Supply - $40 (after $30 rebate)
AZZA Dynamo 500W ATX Power Supply - $20 (after $20 rebate)

The 850W PSU has 2 6-Pin and 2 6+2-Pin PCI-Express connectors for lots of GPU power, as well as 4 12V rails.
The 650W PSU has 1 6-Pin and 1 6+2-Pin PCI-Express connectors and 2 12V rails.
The 500W PSU has 1 6-Pin PCI-Express connector for a modest single-GPU setup and 2 12V rails as well.

Therefore, if your power needs are similar to those of my current gaming machine, you can get away with spending a total of $74 (after rebates) for an awesome case with a nice 500W PSU.

Things to note:

- The rebates for the power supplies end on Dec 31st, the promo code for the case ends Jan 1st, and the rebate for the case ends Jan 5th.
- The case seems to have gotten great reviews on several review sites, as well as 5/5 eggs at Newegg.
- The Power Supplies seem to have decent reviews with 4/5 eggs, although the 500W only has 3/5 eggs. I generally don't suggest getting anything with less than 4/5 eggs and a healthy number of reviews, but I think it's safe to assume that the smaller PSU shares the same build quality as its bigger brothers. It wouldn't hurt to do a little more research, but at this price you're really not risking a whole lot. Remember, Newegg's customer service is second to none.

I know this deal is very rebate heavy, but I've always been comfortable with taking advantage of the rebate system. This bargain is so good that even if you're not planning on building a PC for a few months, you might want to grab these items anyway and use the rebate money to build the rest of your system later. Sure, other deals will be available in the future, but I haven't seen anything this good for a long time. Just be sure you are able test them right away to verify that they're working properly.

In other news...
I got a Microsoft SideWinder X6 keyboard for Christmas and am loving it. It was on my list because I wanted something with backlighting and a detachable numpad. The healthy list other features is nice, but I haven't had time to play with them much yet.

One thing to note is that it's a little weird getting used to the new key positioning. The macro keys on the left throw me off when I want to hit Tab or Shift, and removing the numpad also messes me up on the right side. I was expecting this and I'm sure it will pass with time. I want to try keeping the numpad on the left for a more ideal gaming position, so we'll see how that works out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Truth is Absolutely Unrelated to Consensus

In light of the recent issue of "Climategate" I hope people are understanding how other areas of science may be impacted by similar problems.  If you think this problem is isolated to a few rogue scientists, you simply have not been paying attention to academia in our country and in the world.  The fields of environmental science, historical science, and medical science are all damaged by corruption, greed, and deception.  Even my own area of expertise, computer science, is not immune to these vices.

Facts are not factual just because people believe them to be true.  Consensus is completely independent of truth. In addition, credentials have nothing to do with trustworthiness.

C. S. Lewis lamented the fact that the proper use of logic is no longer taught to our children.  I lament with him, but I will not allow my own children to suffer the same harm.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

HTPC Hardware

Another friend recently asked me about home theater PCs (HTPC).  This is a topic I've been wanting to post about for a while, but I've avoided it because it's a lot more complicated than gaming PCs.

Therefore, I've decided to keep it simple for now.  I'm not going to talk about TV tuners, remote controls, optical disk drives, cases, or even software.  I'm just going to start with what I know best: the core hardware.

Here are some important things to know when deciding what hardware to get for your media PC:

1) Many media processes are multithreaded, CPUs with multiple cores are more valuable.
2) Video card performance doesn't affect media as much as the processor does.
3) Silent components are very important.
4) You probably want to avoid components with bright lights.
5) HTPC cases usually lie flat and look similar to DVD players.  These look less out-of-place in your home theater setup.

As you can see, the requirements for a media PC are quite different from those of gaming computers.  That's not to say you can't have both in one machine, so I will attempt to put together both a media only PC and a combination media/gaming PC.

The media only rig is designed for a small case while the media/gaming PC is designed for a large case.  For both, I will be excluding optical drives and cases.  Your case is going to be a very personal choice based on your setup at home, and the optical drive will vary based on the type of case you get and whether you want to have a Blu-Ray player or not.  An interesting point to note is that optical drives can come in both normal and slim sizes, so consider this when selecting your case.

Anyway, on to the hardware:

Media Only PC - Small Size:

Processor: AMD Athlon II X4 620 2.6GHz - $99
Motherboard: ASRock M3A785GMH/128M AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX Motherboard - $80
RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 RAM - $94
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Green WD5000AADS 500GB 32MB - $55
Power Supply: Diablotek PHD Series PHD380M 380W MicroATX Power Supply - $30

Discount: $15 (CPU/RAM combo deal)
Shipping: $6
Total: $349

This particular machine features the most inexpensive quad-core processor available - the Athlon II 620.  This CPU regularly outperforms more expensive processors in multithreaded applications, so it's an awesome deal for HTPCs.

The motherboard supports HDMI.  In addition, the on-board video uses 128 MB of SidePort memory so you don't have to rely on your RAM.  This is a great feature for anyone who wants to utilize on-board graphics processors.  The motherboard's GPU should be able to easily handle the flashy desktop effects modern operating systems provide, and even play some 3D games at modest settings.

The RAM has a low cas latency, so it should be quite responsive.

Avoiding a dedicated graphics card is a great way to reduce size, heat, noise, and cost, so that's what we're doing here.  If you're not worried about playing the latest 3D games at high settings on your HTPC, a dedicated card won't provide much benefit.

The Caviar Green hard drive is known for running very cool and quiet.  The only thing more perfect for a media PC would be a solid state disk.

The power supply is small, and the reviewers also remarked about its silence.  (Always do a search in the NewEgg comments for words like "loud," "noise," "quiet," and "silent" when looking for parts that might be noisy.)  It still has enough oomph to easily handle some extra devices if you wish to add any.

Media and Gaming PC - Large Size:

Processor: Intel Core i5-750 Lynnfield 2.66GHz LGA 1156 Quad-Core Processor - $200
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus 120mm CPU Cooler - $30
Motherboard: ASRock P55M Pro LGA 1156 Micro ATX Motherboard - $100
RAM: Patriot Viper II Sector 5 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM - $79 (after $15 rebate)
Video Card: HIS H487FM1GH Radeon HD 4870 1GB - $150
VGA Cooler: Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 Rev. 2 - $27
Thermal Compound: Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound 3.5G - $7
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Green WD5000AADS 500GB 32MB - $55
Power Supply: OCZ ModXStream Pro OCZ500MXSP 500W ATX12V V2.2 - $40 (after $25 rebate)

Discount: $14 (CPU/MB and Heatsink/Paste combo deals)
Shipping: $14
Total: $688

This machine utilizes what is just about the best gaming processor available - the Core i5-750.  Coincidentally, it's also awesome for multithreaded applications.  Since I'm expecting a larger case, I've added an affordable, efficient, and quiet heat-pipe-direct-touch heatsink.  As an experiment, you might want to try detaching the fan from the heatsink and instead using it to ventilate your case.  As long as there's enough cool air in your case, the passive cooling will probably be just fine on the processor.  If you keep the connector plugged into the CPU fan spot, it should also regulate speed as a normal CPU fan would.

There's nothing too special to say about the motherboard other than the fact that it's small and supports firewire.  This RAM also has low timings for good speed.  Again, we have the Caviar Green for a hard drive.

The video card should be able to play all the latest games at great settings.  It also has a HDMI port, which is a must for a good HTPC.  Use the GPU heatsink on this card to keep things cool and quiet.  If your case has good ventilation, you might be fine with passive cooling here too.  You also get a nice combo with some Arctic Silver 5, which you can use on both the CPU and GPU.

Regarding cooling and thermal paste, I found a totally amazing article that covers the subject in crazy depth.  You can find it here:

This power supply also has great reviews regarding its silence, and it has the power and connectors to handle the hefty video card plus more.  There are alternatives with LED lights, but you probably want to avoid too many LEDs on media PCs.

That's it!  I actually did the research for these parts last week so some of the deals may have changed.  Regardless, it gives you an idea of what to look for.  I'm still learning more and more about HTPCs, so if you have any comments or suggestions please provide them.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Budget Gaming Rigs for a Modern OS

Yesterday, a friend asked:

"Hey Jeremy, think you could build a moderately priced ($600-$700) computer that will actually play things in 64bit? I got Windows 7 and want to actually run the thing along with some other new games..."

This is a great question, and probably one that many people are asking right now.  It's very convenient to upgrade your hardware when you reformat to a new operating system.  In my personal opinion, you really have just two gaming options near this price point.  You can either go for an Intel-based system for a little more than $700, or you can go for an AMD-based system for a little under $600.  Both are very solid and will get you almost the same gaming performance for now, but the Intel solution will be more future-proof.  I'll list the builds first and then expand on the details.

$725 Intel Gaming System

Processor: Intel Core i5-750 Lynnfield 2.66GHz LGA 1156 Quad-Core Processor - $200
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus 120mm CPU Cooler - $30
Motherboard: MSI P55M-GD45 LGA 1156 Intel P55 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard - $120
RAM: OCZ Obsidian 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 1600 RAM - $79
Video Card: Powercolor AX4870 1GBD5 Radeon HD 4870 1GB - $150
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Green WD5000AADS 500GB 32MB - $55
Case: Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - $52
Power Supply: Kingwin ABT-610MM 610W ATX 12V Power Supply - $30
Optical Drive: Lite-On Black 24X SATA CD/DVD Burner - $26

Discount: $42 (CPU/MB and VC/RAM combo deals)
Shipping: $25
Total: $725

$571 AMD Gaming System

Processor: AMD Phenom II X3 710 2.6GHz - $100
CPU Cooler: Xigmatek HDT-S1283 120mm Rifle CPU Cooler - $27 (after $10 rebate)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX Motherboard - $80
RAM: Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 RAM - $62 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: Asus EAH4870 DK/HTDI/1GD5 Radeon HD 4870 Dark Knight 1GB - $140 (after $20 rebate)
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Green WD5000AADS 500GB 32MB - $55
Case: Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - $52
Power Supply: Kingwin ABT-610MM 610W ATX 12V Power Supply - $30
Optical Drive: Lite-On Black 24X SATA CD/DVD Burner - $26

Discount: $23 (CPU/MB combo deal)
Shipping: $22
Total: $571

For the Intel machine, I selected the i5-750 because it's basically the best gaming processor you can get right now.  Take a look:  In order to get any more performance, you need to spend at least $350 MORE, and the difference is nothing you will ever notice.  By the way, if you ever read CPU benchmark articles, make sure their testing methods use Windows 7 and not Vista.  For some incredibly stupid reason, Tom's Hardware and AnandTech keep testing with Vista.  Windows 7 has had significant changes to the way it handles multithreading, and it shows.  Multi-core processors are now very relevant in the gaming world as the Tech Report article shows.

The one issue with using this type of processor is that none of its motherboards support multi-GPU solutions at x16 mode.  You can only get PCI-Express x16 with one GPU.  That's perfectly okay with me, though, because it rarely ever makes sense to use two video cards from a price/performance perspective.  This MSI motherboard supports firewire and gigabit ethernet, and it should have everything else you could want.

It's generally a good idea to get an aftermarket CPU cooler even if you don't want to overclock.  For overclockers, it's almost a necessity.  I heard good things about the Cooler Master Hyper 212+, and a recent benchmark ( shows that it does very well in the price/performance/noise department.

The OCZ Obsidian RAM is a great value, but the CAS latency of 9 is a bit high.  This won't make a noticeable difference, but you might want to see if you can clock it down to 8 without much trouble.

You might have heard about AMD's new DirectX 11 video cards.  Well, the only one that makes sense from a price/performance perspective right now is the HD 5850 ($260), and it's out of stock in many places.  Honestly, hold off on these until they have some competition from Nvidia.  Supply shortages and lack of competition are keeping the prices a bit inflated right now.  DirectX 11 won't be relevant for a while yet anyway.  For now, the HD 4870 1GB will get you awesome performance and it won't break your wallet.

The Caviar Green is quiet and affordable.  It does not have the same write performance as a Caviar Black, but the read speeds should be roughly the same and the Black costs $15 more.  Reading is much more important than writing for gaming purposes.

The Antec 300 case should serve you very well.  It doesn't come with a power supply, but it has much better cooling than the Rosewill cases I recommend for cheaper PCs.  Larger fans move more air and are also quieter.

The Kingwin power supply is an awesome value!  It has two 6-pin connectors for video cards, and the biggest video cards will require both.  I have a similar Kingwin power supply, and it has served me reliably and quietly for over a year.

There's not much to say about the DVD burner.  It has SATA connectors, which is something to watch for.  You don't want to accidentally end up with bulky IDE cables in your new system!

For the AMD build, I picked the Phenom II X3 710 because it really seems to be the sweet spot for gaming processors.  It has the large cache of the Phenom IIs, the gaming-optimal three cores, an architecture that will allow for some nice overclocking, and a price that puts Intel to shame.  Sure, it can't compete with the i5-750, but it's not supposed to.  If you want to save $150, this is the processor to grab.

The Gigabyte motherboard also supports firewire, gigabit ethernet, and PCI-Express 2.0, so you're basically getting the same stuff for much less.

The Xigmatek cooler is the same one that I have in my own machine.  It rocks, hands down.  For detailed results on what it did for me, take a look at the tail end of my first post no this blog.

The Patriot Viper DDR2 RAM is a great value and also has a very low CAS latency.  It will perform quite well at stock settings.

I selected different 4870s for each build because of the combo deals.  Reviews for either look great.  Everything else in these machines is the same.

Really, the only serious difference between these two systems is the processor.  If you'd rather save your money for a future video card upgrade or maybe even a soon-to-arrive 40GB X25-M G2 SSD for $85, you'll probably get more bang for your buck.  Even so, the gaming potential of the i5 is hard to deny.

I wish I could tell you that there was another way to trim a few bucks off the Intel build, but the only thing that you can sacrifice without much pain is the processor (and, therefore, the motherboard).  If you spend much less on the case, PSU, hard drive, RAM, or GPU, you're definitely going to feel the pain.  All of those parts are totally worth every penny.

By the way, you might notice that the Intel build doesn't have any rebates to worry about.  It's not a big deal, but some people seem to be afraid of rebates.  If you get this particular AMD build, make sure to do it before the end of the month.  If you don't, you'll have to re-analyze your options because there will be different rebates and sales.  (Might get better deals though.  Who knows?  It's like timing the stock market.)

Note: You can get the Radeon HD 5850 from some place other than Newegg for $260 and free shipping.  If you get the AMD build minus the HD 4870, that's $431.  Add the 5850 for a total of $691.  That'll give you a rig within the bounds of the budget in question, and a gaming experience far superior to the other two builds listed above.  Oh, and you'll be all set for DirectX 11.  Tempting, isn't it?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gaming Hardware Happenings

If you're considering the purchase of a gaming PC any time in the near future, you'll want to be aware of several important pieces of information. The hardware market is going to see some very interesting changes soon, and it will probably be to your benefit to wait just a little while longer until the waters settle.

Radeon HD 5800 Series

First of all, AMD just started releasing their HD 5800 video cards. These are the first DirectX 11 GPUs to hit the market, and their performance is significantly greater than anything else out there. The first card released this week is the 5870. We'll be seeing its little brother, the 5850, in a few days. Next month, we should have the 5870 X2 and the month after that we should see what might be the 5830. The 5850 is going to be the card that really shakes things up with its price/performance ratio. Therefore, now is probably not the best time to be purchasing video cards.

Nvidia should also be coming out with the GTX 300 series in a few months. These will be in direct competition with the HD 5800 cards, affecting prices even more. My advice: if you plan on spending more than $150 on a video card soon, don't. Wait until early 2010 for big GPU purchases.

Lucid Hyrda 200

Speaking of graphics cards, this nifty piece of technology should make GPU upgrades much more pleasant. Basically, this is a chip that can be included on motherboards that will allow you to use two very different video cards at the same time while benefitting from the performance of both. For example, you could theoretically have a Nvidia 8800 GT working in tandem with a new AMD HD 5850, getting a performance benefit otherwise not possible with either card. Due to the limitations of SLI and Crossfire, something like this is currently impossible.

Motherboards with this chip will be a bit more expensive than normal, but we'll see how the market reacts. Benchmarks should be available closer to the release in a month.


Intel's new dual-core processors are codenamed Clarkdale, and they are manufactured with the 32nm process. They'll be available before the end of the year. There are also six-core versions in the works, but no quads any time soon. Expect these processors to be great overclockers with awesome gaming potential. The desktop versions will use the LGA-1156 socket, which is the same as the new Lynnfield processors.

I can see these processors being even more important for the mobile community than the gaming community. With a low-power 32nm process and only two cores, the performance/battery power ratio should be amazing.

Windows 7 and Multithreading

Most benchmarking sites use Vista x64 right now, but I stumbled upon this Tech Report review that switched over to Windows 7. They seem to have discovered something that could be quite significant for gamers. It appears that modern games in Windows 7 make better use of multi-core processors than in Vista or XP. According to the authos, Scott Wasson:

"Another trend of note is the relatively poor showing of the high-frequency dual-core processors we've included the group, the Core 2 Duo E8600 and the Phenom II X2 550. This isn't a trend we've come to expect, the higher clocked dual-cores falling behind even the slower quad cores like the Core 2 Quad Q9550. We are using newer versions of both of these games, which could have better threading optimizations. I kind of doubt that's it, though. My stronger suspicions involve Windows 7 and the switch to Nvidia GPUs and graphics drivers. Somewhere along the line, something has changed that's tipped the balance in the favor of higher core counts."

I think he may be on to something here. I've read about how Windows 7 had some significant adjustments to the way it assigns threads to cores, so I'm inclined to assume Windows 7 is the culprit here. When more Windows 7 CPU benchmarks arrive, we'll know for sure.

Keep in mind that these benchmarks were run at very low resolutions with very low graphical settings. This is done in order to turn the CPU into the bottleneck. In the real world, your GPU will almost always be your bottleneck when gaming, so this will only be a serious concern when your computer gets very old. Even so, I think the find is quite interesting.

Also interesting to note is how well the $200 Core i5-750 performs in the gaming benchmarks. This little sucker combined with a HD 5850 should be a sweet spot for budget gaming performance.

Bargain Gaming Rig

Finally, what would a computer gaming hardware update be without a new Bargain Gaming Rig? I know it's the end of the month, but if you're in the market some of these deals are just too good to pass up!

This is a significant upgrade from my previous bargain gaming rig. Instead of an Athlon II we have a Phenom II, and it's an unlocked Black Edition too! On top of that, the HD 4870 will deliver a significant performance boost over the 4850, and can handle higher resolutions with ease due to the 1GB of GDDR5 RAM. The hard drive also doubled in size. For an increase of only $75 from the last build, it's a great way to go.

Processor: AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition - $102
Motherboard: ECS BLACK SERIES GF8200A AMD ATX - $50 (after $20 rebate)
RAM: OCZ Platinum 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 1066 - $52 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: XFX HD-487A-ZWFC Radeon HD 4870 1GB - $125 (after $20 rebate)
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Blue WD5000AAKS 500GB - $57
Case: Rosewill TU-155 Black Steel ATX 400W - $70
Optical Drive: HP Black 24X SATA DVD Burner - $30

Discount: $36 (CPU/RAM and MB/HD combo deals)
Shipping: $0!
Total: $450

Add Windows 7 Home Premium for $100.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This Week in History

On September 7th, 12 years ago, video game history was made.

Okay, so I know that's probably one of the nerdiest statements you'll ever read, but I had to say it. On Friday, something caused me to reflect on what is probably my favorite video game of all time. I actually thought to myself, "Some time, I should blog a small tribute to Final Fantasy VII. Maybe on the anniversary of its North American release." So I looked it up and discovered the anniversary was in three days. Unreal.

Anyway, when I look back across my years of enjoying various video games, two very different games stand out from the rest for very different reasons: Doom and Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII was groundbreaking for a number of reasons. Primarily, this video game delivered an immersive cinematic experience like no other before it. When playing, it was as if you were sucked out of your chair and placed into your favorite adventure movie series. However, the word "adventure" doesn't do it justice. "Epic Tale" is more fitting. This special achievement is not something that was easily repeated. I've played several other role-playing video games over the years, including later Final Fantasy titles, and have yet to find a comparable experience.

In January 2005, it was selected by Electronic Gaming Monthly as sixth on their list of "the 10 most important games … that helped redefine the industry since … 1989". Citing its "beautiful cut-scenes and a deep, introspective narrative", they claimed that "Square’s game was … the first RPG to surpass, instead of copy, movie-like storytelling."

Other than that, Final Fantasy VII seems to have found itself a permanent place in video game history for two very clear reasons which I will discuss below. I'll try not to spoil too much just in case there's someone out there who may be convinced to experience this for himself.

The Best (Worst?) Villain in Video Game History

Who are some of the most memorable, fictional villains you can think of? Hannibal Lecter, Gollum, and the Joker all come to my mind. But for me, this list is incomplete without Sephiroth.

The hero of Final Fantasy VII is Cloud Strife. The game does a fantastic job of placing you in Cloud's shoes instead of just showing you how cool he is. Cloud's nemesis is Sephiroth. As the story unfolds, there is a point at which Cloud asks Sephiroth, "What about my pain?" When I first played the game, it was at this point that I had to put down the game controller, get up, and remind myself that I was only watching a story. On very rare occasions, a good book will give me a similar feeling. No movies so far.

The feeling is hard to describe, but this game made me want to actually hate a person that doesn't even exist. Maybe that's impossible, but Final Fantasy VII pushes many limits. ( a "this is amazingly unique" way, not a "Grand Theft Auto" way.)

The Most Memorable Moment in Video Game History

Final Fantasy VII did something that is basically unheard-of in video games, even today. I'll let others do the explaining:

[Something Happens] in a scene referred to as "the most shocking moment in video games".

Director and scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase concludes: "... It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. ... you feel this big empty space and think, 'If I had known this was coming I would have done things differently.' ... Feelings of reality and not Hollywood."

While reflecting on the game, Tetsuya Nomura [said] "... When I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended ... probably means that we were successful ... The world was expecting us to [undo this event], as this is the classic convention." A lengthy petition asking for [undoing] by Japanese players was sent to scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase. However, Kitase states that "there are many meanings in [this event] and that could never happen".

[The event] in Final Fantasy VII has received a great deal of attention. Players commented on message boards and blogs about the emotional impact the scene held. Fans submitted a petition to Yoshinori Kitase requesting [its undoing]. GameSpy numbers [the event] as the 10th greatest cinematic moment in video game history. Its readers voted it the second most cinematic moment in video games. GamePro considers [the event] sequence to be the greatest of all gaming moments. Tom's Games called the scene "one of the most powerful and memorable scenes of the Final Fantasy series - or any other game, for that matter." Edge called [the event] the "dramatic highpoint" of Final Fantasy VII... . In 2005, Electronic Gaming Monthly listed Final Fantasy VII number six in their list of "10 Most Important Games", stating without it, "[The event wouldn't have happened], and gamers wouldn’t have learned how to cry." GamesTM commented [the event] helped establish the popularity of Final Fantasy VII. ScrewAttack has added [the event] in their "Top 10 OMGWTF Moments" referring to it as one of the "touchiest moments in video game history."

There's not much I can add except this: if you only ever play one video game in your entire life, it should be Final Fantasy VII.

Note for this post: Words in italics or the image captions are not my own, but probably found on Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Operating Systems - The Best of the Best

If you weren't aware, Windows 7 Home Premium and Professional upgrades were available a few weeks ago for a significant preorder discount. At $50 for the Home Premium upgrade, they got me to bite. I'm currently running XP Professional 32-bit, so this will be an upgrade for me in several ways.

First of all, I plan on running the 64-bit version. Second, I'll jump from DirectX 9 to 11. Well, my video card currently only supports 10, but games won't really take advantage of 11 for a while anyway. Third, I'll finally be using the new Windows interface. It's a little frustrating trying to help other people that use Vista while I stumble around on their machine trying to figure out where all the administrative stuff got moved to. As someone who takes pride in being the best at troubleshooting PC problems, it's also embarrassing.

When I reformat for the new Windows install, I also plan on installing the latest version of Linux Mint. I'm currently running Ubuntu 8.10 x64, and I really haven't been using it much lately. I'd like to get to the point where I'm habitually using Linux for everything except Windows-only games. I think Linux Mint will help make that happen because I have been happily using Mint 6 on a laptop.

Windows 7 is scheduled for release on October 22nd. Coincidentally, Ubuntu 9.10 will be out around the same time, so Mint 8 x64 should be out shortly after that. However, I'm not sure I want to jump right into Windows 7 as soon as it hits the streets regardless of how well the beta has been running for everyone. Ubuntu 10.04 (April 2010) will be the Long Term Support version which has more of a focus on stability instead of new features. I think we can expect Mint 9 in early May. At that point, Windows 7 will have had half a year to work out any early issues, and so will driver developers.

Therefore, I'm not sure what course I want to take. Should I install Windows 7 with Mint 8 in November 2009, or should I wait for Mint 9 LTS in May 2010 and give Windows a chance to be "broken in?" Let me know what you think. Either way, the comparisons should be interesting.

I might even go nuts and throw in a hardware upgrade of some sort. Around April, if Newegg has a good combo for 4GB DDR3 and a DX11 video card, things could start to get crazy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bargains, Power, and Overkill

While the bargain gaming rigs sure are a great bang for the buck, I understand that you might be looking for something with a little more power. Today I'll show you three different gaming rigs at very different price ranges. Each of these will give you a practical idea of what you can actually expect to pay. Most tech websites do not do this because they ignore combo deals and sometimes even rebates. Yes, these deals change all the time, but when they do they are replaced by similar deals. If you're in the market for a new machine but these exact deals are no longer available, just drop me a line and I'll help you sift through the combos and rebates for the deals with your name on them.

Today we'll look at what I call the Bargain Gaming Rig, the Practical Power Rig, and the Overkill Rig. I know. I'm so creative. Let's start with the inexpensive one.

Bargain Gaming Rig:

Processor: Athlon II X2 245 - $68
Motherboard: ECS IC780M-A AMD 770 ATX - $50 (after $10 rebate)
RAM: Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 - $40 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: GIGABYTE GV-R485ZL-512H Radeon HD 4850 - $90 (after $20 rebate)
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3250310AS 250GB - $45
Case: Rosewill TU-155 Black Steel ATX - $50
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $17 (CPU/MB and Case/HD combo deals)
Shipping: $20
Total: $375

This machine will play all of the latest games. The most demanding of them, however, will need to have some of their settings set to medium levels. Later on you can upgrade this machine with any PCI-Express 2.0 card, so it's not like you'll have to replace this rig any time soon. If you're on a tight budget and don't care about running the most demanding games on the highest settings, this is the machine for you.

Practical Power Rig:

Processor: AMD Phenom II X3 720 BE - $119
CPU Cooler: XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 - $37
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA785GMT-UD2H AM3 AMD 785G Micro ATX - $90
RAM: G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1600 - $75
Video Card: HIS H487FN1GP Radeon HD 4870 1GB - $150
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB - $75
Case: Rosewill TU-155 II 500 Black cold rolled steel ATX - $80
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $40 (CPU/VC, MB/RAM, and HD/Case combo deals)
Shipping: $25
Total: $640

This machine is an upgrade from the bargain rig in every way, excepting the DVD drive. This processor is really the sweet spot of gaming processors. It overclocks better than any of the other Phenom II processors. Recent benchmarks have shown that a fourth core on the same architecture (regardless of CPU manufacturer) yields no benefit in gaming - as long as you're not running demanding tasks in the background. If you overclock this processor, you will not get any other overclocked Phenom II to outperform it.

The motherboard doesn't support SLI or Crossfire, but practical gamers will want to avoid using multiple GPUs anyway. The benefit is just not worth the cost. It does support DDR3 which, unlike multi-GPU solutions, is becoming more practical as time goes on. You might want to try overclocking the RAM to 8-8-8-24 timings; I'm sure you could get away with it. The video card will chew up almost anything you throw at it, as long as your monitor doesn't run at a crazily high resolution. You should be able to play the latest games for a few years on this.

As an added bonus, there are no rebates so you don't have to wait for your money to come back.

Overkill Rig:

Processor: Intel Core i7 920 - $280
CPU Cooler: XIGMATEK Dark Knight-S1283V - $45
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD3R Intel X58 ATX - $175 (after $15 rebate)
RAM: OCZ Gold 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3 1600 - $90 (after $10 rebate)
Video Card: MSI R4890-T2D1G OC Radeon HD 4890 1GB - $180 (after $20 rebate)
Video Card: HIS H489F1GP Radeon HD 4890 1GB - $190
Hard Drive: Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH080G1 80GB SSD - $230
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black WD5001AALS 500GB - $70
Case: NZXT TEMPEST Black Steel / Plastic ATX - $80 (after $20 rebate)
Power Supply: Rosewill Xtreme Series RX850-S-B 850W - $100
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $29

Discount: $45 (CPU/Fan, MB/RAM, and VC/PSU combo deals)
Shipping: $38
Total: $1,462

Happy birthday, Jeremy! (hint, hint)

While this machine looks absolutely crazy, I wouldn't exactly say that it's wasteful. It's very future-proof and you will notice the performance gains. If you wanted, you could remove one of the video cards and the SSD to bring the price close to $1k. The machine really won't lose any longevity if you do that.

The processor is basically the best you can get. At stock speeds, it outperforms anything but the other Core i7 CPUs. It overclocks better than any other processor on the market. We're also using two HD 4890s in Crossfire here. I think that all X58 motherboards have at least two PCI-Express 2.0 x16 lanes, and this one is no exception. This graphical power will allow you to play Crysis smoothly at 2560 x 1600 with the highest settings.

Yes, I listed two hard drives. Yes, one is a high-performance solid state disk. Use it to install Windows and your games with the longest load times. Potty breaks between levels will be a thing of the past! There's enough room, power, and cooling to keep all this hardware under control. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory.

Next time some website tells you that you need to spend over $2000 for the ultimate gaming experience, just laugh. This machine gives you all the performance you could want, and all without becoming a jet engine space heater. Think it's missing something? Leave a comment and let me know!

Recommended Related Reading:
New Gaming Rigs - Where to Start
Again with Feeling

Friday, July 31, 2009

Saving Money with Google Voice

[Update: If you make your outbound Gizmo5 calls from the Google Voice website, they are completely free even past the first 3 minutes. Gizmo seems to treat it as an incoming call because Google is technically calling Gizmo when you use that method. That means both the incoming and outgoing calls form your PC are completely free all the time. I'm not sure if this is intentional or if it will last, but that's the story for now.]

If you haven't heard about Google Voice yet, it's time you did. This new service not only provides you with amazing new options for managing your phone communications, but it also has the potential to save you a lot of money. In this blog post, I'm going to explain the basics of Google Voice and then give some examples of ways to improve the cost effectiveness of your phone plan.

When you sign up for a Google Voice account you will choose a phone number. This number can be used as a middle man between all your phone numbers and the outside world. If someone calls your Google Voice number, GV will make a call to all the phones you've registered on the account. Whichever phone picks up first is the one that ends up taking the call. It's sort of like having all the land phones in your house ring when someone calls your land line. This is why people have called the GV number "one number to rule them all." Of course, you can make outgoing calls from your GV number using any of your phones. Text messaging is also fully supported.

If you use Google Voice for calls from anywhere within the mainland US to anywhere within the mainland US, everything is free. They charge small rates for international calls, but I'm not going to get into that here.

Now for the really cool part. There's this SIP service called Gizmo5. It is currently the only SIP service that Google Voice supports. What it basically allows you to do is make Google Voice calls with any internet-capable device. You will need to sign up for a Gizmo5 account and apply the proper configuration settings to both your Google Voice and Gizmo5 accounts. It's not too difficult.

Gizmo doesn't charge anything for incoming calls. However, they do limit your outgoing Google Voice calls to 3 minutes free. If you want the outgoing calls to last longer than 3 minutes, you can purchase additional minutes for what I believe is currently 2c/min. In order to set up Gizmo on your internet-capable device, you will need to install a SIP client. Gizmo has one that you can download from their site, and it works on Linux, Mac, and Windows. Gizmo uses open standards so you have the option of using other SIP clients to hook up to your Gizmo account.

Let's now consider a few options for saving money.

1) The Gazelle Intense Method (as Dave Ramsey would put it)

Forget paying for cell phones or land lines. Assuming you have a home internet connection, your computer can be your new home phone. Sign up for Google Voice and Gizmo5 and install a SIP client on your computer. With the client running as a background program, your computer will "ring" whenever someone calls your GV number. You can also use the SIP client to make outgoing calls. You'll even have unlimited text messaging. With a microphone or headset, you'll be good to go.

What you're paying for here is the regular fee for your home internet connection, the power to keep your computer running, and the occasional cost of outgoing calls that last longer than 3 minutes. You can avoid the latter by asking your friends to call you back. There's also the one-time cost of a headset or microphone if you don't have one already. This solution is obviously not the most convenient because your computers are your only phones, but it's practically free. If you're running on a tight budget and are willing to give up a little freedom in order to make ends meet, it's worth considering. The best part is that you can easily eat your beans 'n' rice when you don't have to hold a phone to your ear!

Detailed instructions can be found here.

2) The Voiceless Method

The "voiceless" method involves using only a data plan for your mobile device and not paying for a voice plan. Some plan providers do offer the option of getting a monthly data plan without a voice plan. U.S. Cellular, for example, offers a personal unlimited data plan for $30/month without a voice plan. All you need is a device capable of accessing the internet and running a SIP client. A basic Blackberry should do the trick.

This gives you the mobility of a cell phone with all the advantages that come with having an internet data plan. You can check your e-mail and surf the web from anywhere. You get free unlimited incoming calls, free unlimited text messaging, and free outgoing calls as long as they're under 3 minutes.

The cost to you is the price of the data plan and the cost of extra outgoing minutes. Again, you can avoid the latter if you don't mind asking others to call you back. You'll also have the one-time cost of purchasing an internet-capable mobile device if you don't have one already.

3) Unlimited Everything Everywhere

Consider, now, what Google Voice means for T-Mobile users with a myFaves plan. List your Google Voice number as one of your "faves" and you will have effectively gained unlimited anytime minutes. All you need is the cheapest plan you can find that allows you to select "faves." These plans seem to run at $40 for single users and $70 for family plans. Each phone on the plan can have five "faves" which are numbers that cann be called an unlimited number of times with no additional cost. Five is four too many. If you also purchase the data plan which seems to be $40 and have an internet-capable phone, you'll get unlimited texting and internet usage.

Basically, this means that $80/month will get a single user unlimited everything. Who needs anytime minutes or texting packages?

Finally, do I recommend dropping everything and switching to Google Voice for all your phone needs? Only if you're willing to deal with the risks. Consider that you'll be relying heavily on both Google and Gizmo. Both of their products are experiencing something very new right now, and big changes may or may not be headed their way. Cell plan providers are also very likely to make serious changes because of this. If your current provider has been reliable and affordable, you should think twice before burning your bridges. Start out by requesting a Google Voice invitation and play around with it in combination with your current plan. Get used to it and let it mature for a while. After Google Voice and Gizmo5 have proven track records for reliable service - and your current cell contract expires - the extreme measures mentioned above will be much less risky.

I should also add that I have only personally tested method #1. I'd have to change my cell plan in order to try the others, so you'll have to look elsewhere for confirmation that they definitely work. If you do have any other questions about Google Voice, however, let me know and I'll do my best to find an answer. I'm willing to experiment.

Google Voice is currently only available via invitation. To request an invite to Google Voice, follow the link at the top of this page. I got mine in about a week.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Athlon II - Bargain CPU

Newegg recently made something available that has caused me to reconsider the bargain gaming rig. I've been recommending the Phenom II X2 550 BE because of its incredible bang for the buck. However, it is still the most expensive component in the bargain gaming rig at $100. When it was released, AMD also gave us the Athlon II X2 250. This unique processor is also built using a 45nm process like the Phenom II line, and it works with the same motherboards because it uses the AM3 socket. It's not as fast as the Phenom II in games, but it's also $20 cheaper and has similar overclocking results. It's important to remember that this performance difference only matters in gaming when the CPU is your bottleneck. That won't happen for a few years. (You might also want to note that it significantly outperforms the $73 Pentium E5300 at stock speeds.)

Well, I've been recommending the Phenom II anyway because it is more future proof. The thing that caused me to reconsider this choice is the release of the Athlon II X2 245. It has all the same specs as the 250 except that it runs at 2.9 GHz instead of 3.0 GHz. If you think you'll ever notice the difference, I have a bridge to sell you. Now for the kicker: this CPU is only $65! That's 2/3 the cost of the Phenom II for a difference that you will not notice in your gaming experience. It also comes with a nice combo on a PCI-E 2.0 motherboard. I think the word, "bargain," fits this part like a glove. Let's put it in a full build:

Processor: Athlon II X2 245 - $65
Motherboard: BIOSTAR TA790GXB A2+ 790GX ATX - $80 (after $20 rebate)
RAM: Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 - $30 (after $25 rebate)
Video Card: HIS H485QT512P Radeon HD 4850 512MB - $80 (after $20 rebate)
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Green WD7500AADS 750GB - $60
Case: Rosewill TU-155 Black Steel ATX - $55
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $27

Discount: $25 (CPU/MB combo deal)
Shipping: $25
Total: $397

As with the other bargain rigs, mind the power supply if you want to add more devices. You might consider grabbing the RAIDMAX AURORA 2 RX-600F 600W PSU for $30 if you're not comfortable with the one that comes with the case. As always, if you want to play with overclocking, I suggest grabbing the XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 for $27.

The Caviar Green 750GB recently dropped in price so it's only $2 more than the 500GB version. Might as well go with that one. The video card says it's a special weekend deal, but that's what it said last week too. There's another available for the same price if this one goes up. You get a free Stormrise game too!

The end result is a gaming rig that is powerful enough to play all the latest games in stunning detail for less than $400! It's also quite upgradeable as it supports up to 16GB DDR2 RAM, Phenom II processors, and PCI-Express 2.0 video cards. As usual, the rebates expire at the end of the month. Don't fret if you miss out, though, because there will just be a new batch of deals in August.

Recommended Related Reading:
New Gaming Rigs - Where to Start
July Bargain Gaming Rig

Saturday, July 18, 2009

July Bargain Gaming Rig

If you're looking for an inexpensive yet powerful gaming rig this month, you won't be able to get a better deal than this machine. When compared to last month's setup, there aren't many significant differences. The price is only slightly higher at $430. Even though base prices have dropped, there really aren't many combo deals available right now. If Newegg starts throwing out combos again, we could easily get below $400. Anyway, here are the goods:

Processor: AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition - $100
Motherboard: Foxconn A7GM-S 2.0 Micro ATX - $70
RAM: Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 - $31 (after $25 rebate)
Video Card: MSI R4850-512M OC Radeon HD 4850 512MB - $83 (after $30 rebate)
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Green WD5000AADS 500GB - $58
Case: Rosewill TU-155 Black Steel ATX - $50
Optical Drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X SATA DVD Burner - $26

Discount: $10 (CPU/MB combo deal)
Shipping: $22
Total: $430

The RAM and video cards are different brands but essentially the same. The hard drive is a Caviar Green instead of a Black. This is because the Black costs $70 - a $12 difference. I honestly doubt you'll notice a different in performance due to the hard drive change because the Green is still no slouch. It still has 32MB cache, so we're really not sacrificing any significant specs.

I also changed the motherboard. This is mostly due to the fact that it has free shipping, making it slightly more affordable. It does have a few differences from last month's board, but I don't feel any of them are worth worrying about. One nice feature is that it has on-board video with HDMI. If your goal is to simply build a powerful machine but don't care about gaming, you can ignore the video card for a new total of $346. I'm also glad that we have another option than ASUS because I haven't been too thrilled with their service. I just don't feel right recommending their hardware anymore. On the other hand, I'm using a Foxconn board right now and couldn't be happier.

One thing to consider here is that there are a few combos for different cases. If you don't like the one I picked, keep this in mind. Also, if you need an operating system there are small combos with Windows. Next month should be interesting. With the right combos in the right places, we might end up with a perfect back-to-school machine for the student who likes to play hard after studying hard.

As always, I'm willing to work with you to customize your own machine. Let me know your thoughts!

Recommended Related Reading:
New Gaming Rigs - Where to Start
June Bragain Gaming Rig
What a Little More will Get You

Friday, June 19, 2009

Mimicking the Superior

Sallie over at WELSTech recommended Lifehacker's List of Essential Free Windows Downloads by Kevin Purdy. It's a very nice list of free software that will definitely enhance your computing experience. Every Windows user should check it out.

I have used many of the programs they recommend and I agree with many of their recommendations. They've also suggested some things I haven't tried yet but will soon. There are a small number of items on the list that I can't say I would recommend because I feel there are better alternatives.

I'd like to go over many of the items on this list with my own comments. I'll also be offering a slightly different perspective, being the Linux advocate that I am. You see, one of the best ways to get used to Linux is to use Linux-compatible software in Windows. That way it becomes easier to switch between the two operating systems.

I will also look at whether the software is open source, though this probably won't affect my own recommendations much. In addition, I will talk about other possible software needs they did not address.

Foxit Reader
Linux: Yes
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? Yes

Foxit Reader is absolutely wonderful and I completely agree with Lifehacker here. I switched to Foxit after Adobe Reader tried installing other junk on my computer in a rather sneaky manner. I've been using it for years, and so should you.

Most Linux distros come with their own built-in PDF readers that are also fast and friendly, so Foxit isn't really needed there.

Linux: N/A
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? Yes

Notepad++ is another sweet piece of productivity software. I'm a big fan of plain text because it's usually all I need to get the job done. The colors, tabs, and plugins great features.

While Notepad++ is open source, it does not work natively on Linux. However, this doesn't matter yet again. Linux distros often come with text editors that already include my favorite features in Notepad++.
Linux: Yes
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? Yes

Lifehacker didn't actually put OpenOffice on the list, but they did recommend it in their Notepad++ paragraph. I also recommend it. OpenOffice serves as a great replacement for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and others.

Yes, it will still allow you to read, create, and edit .doc, .xls, .ppt, and other file types used by MS Office. If you're daring enough, you can even adhere to the OpenDocument standard. OpenOffice is free and open source, and is often automatically bundled with Linux distros. There's a very good chance you have absolutely nothing to gain by using MS Office, which costs a lot of money. So don't!

Linux: No
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? No

It looks like Texter is Lifehacker's own design. I can see how it could definitely be useful for some people with specific needs, but I don't think I'd get much use out of it at home. I might try giving it a whirl at work because I can see the advantages for a software developer. For most people, it will probably become another ignored app running in the background.

Linux: Yes
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? Yes

The question of whether Firefox is the best browser available is not easy to answer, but you'll be hard pressed to come up with a good reason to use Internet Explorer instead. I've used Firefox for years. When I made the switch from Internet Explorer, my spyware detectors stopped finding crud on my system. I also super customizable, and Lifehacker has some awesome Firefox tips! I'll be trying many of them soon.

Again, Linux distros often come bundled with Firefox. The fact that it's open source is what really gives Firefox its strength. The community behind this product is massive.

Linux: Yes
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? Yes

I recently installed Pidgin and have been loving it. It works with my AIM account that is over fifteen years old, my Yahoo account that I created for communication with family, my Google account that I use more than the others, Xfire, Twitter, and many others that I don't use. I have all the mentioned chat accounts running at the same time using one simple, small program called Pidgin.

Linux distros often come with Pidgin too. You may need to install plugins for various services like Xfire, Twitter, or Facebook, but the process is not difficult.

Linux: No
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? No

Lifehacker mentions several features Postbox has that Thunderbird doesn't, but the only one I think I'd use is tabbed e-mail views. I've never used Postbox, but I'm sure it's a good piece of software.

There are a few problems with Postbox, however. First, it's in beta. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it does mean that there is less support in the form of addons. It's not open source, so people are unable to change it to fit their own needs. (While it's not supported by default, people have developed addons and source changes that implement tabbed messaging in Thunderbird.) Thunderbird supports calendaring through the Lightning addon, but Postbox has no calendaring support yet. Also, the Postbox FAQ says that "pricing has not yet been announced." No thanks.

Thunderbird is installed by default on some Linux distros such as Linux Mint, which is my recommendation for Linux beginners. If your distro doesn't come with it built in, it's easy enough to install. Lifehacker says they have previously recommended Thunderbird. They should continue to do so.

Linux: N/A
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? Yes

There's not much to say here. It lets you open pretty much any kind of archive. Use it and love it.

Linux distros usually come with their own archivers that support .7z, .rar, .zip, and other archive formats. This 7-Zip falls under the same category as Foxit and Notepad++ in that you simply won't need it if you use Linux.

Linux: N/A
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? No

Maybe it's faster than the basic Windows search, but I don't use that often enough to care. I wouldn't bother with this.

Linux distros come with efficient search tools built in.

Linux: N/A
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? N/A

The only reason I'm reluctant to recommend µTorrent is because I don't like recommending things I have never used. I don't use BitTorrent, but if you do this sounds like a sweet piece of software. I see no problems with it.

Many Linux distros include their own Torrent clients.

I'm starting to see an interesting trend here. I'll elaborate later.

Revo Uninstaller
Linux: N/A
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? No

One word comes to mind: overkill. While I do recommend running RegCleaner every now and then, I don't see a need for this uninstaller. Most programs provide their own uninstallers, and you can just delete leftover folders manually if for some reason they don't go away. If, however, you want your hand held through the entire process I suppose this might give you some comfort.

Linux installation and uninstallation is vastly superior to Windows, so solutions like this are laughably unnecessary.

Linux: N/A
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? No

This is cool. However, like Texter and Everything, I don't see myself benefitting from it much at home. Back when I was doing tech support in college, I totally would have loved this. I just don't do much playing around with large files now. This probably fits in the same categories as Texter and Everything, where I can see how they could be useful in the right situation. However, they're just not awesome enough for me to bother with them.

I'm pretty sure Linux handles files a bit more efficiently and safer than Windows, but I'd have to do some reasearch before I could explain how.

Linux: Official Wine Support
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? N/A

This sounds great and I plan on giving it a try, but as of right now I haven't used it yet. The burning software that came with my DVD burner does everything I need it to. However, I'm tempted to uninstall it and try ImgBurn, and I may do just that if I ever have some time to kill. (Yeah, right!)

Linux distros often come with their own burning software, though I can't really elaborate on all their features. ImgBurn isn't natively supported in Linux. However, it is officially supported in Wine, which means that it "works perfectly" in Wine.

Linux: Yes
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? N/A

I don't really have much to say about Picasa because I have never tried it. It does work with Linux. I might suggest it to my wife, who manages our family pictures.

Linux: Yes
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? Yes

VLC is an absolute winner. I've used it for years and love it. It's open source and works with Linux.

Linux: No
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? No

I don't have an iPod or iPhone, so I don't use iTunes. If you do, I guess you don't have much of a choice. It doesn't work with Linux.

Linux: Yes
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? N/A

I think I will download Songbird soon. I've only used Windows Media Player and Amarok, but Songbird definitely sounds like a winner. I do like Amarok, so I'm curious to see how they compare. Amarok, however, doesn't really have native support for Windows.

Linux: Yes
Open Source: Partially
Do I recommend it? N/A

I can see how some people might like Dropbox's synchronization features, but I'd probably never use them. However, Dropbox does get points for its security measures and the fact that you can upload files through a web interface. I'm assuming this means you don't have to install software just to store files somewhere else. I'll probably try it out soon.

Linux: No
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? No

While Mozy has good security, it doesn't support Linux or allow for much free space. However, ADrive has 50GB free storage space and supports Linux. Adrive doesn't use too many security features in the free version, so you might want to keep your sensitive stuff on Dropbox. However, the massive space is great for large photo albums.

Linux: Yes
Open Source: Yes
Do I recommend it? Yes

Well, the cross platform version (Windows, Mac, and Linux) is actually KeePassX. Martin over at WELSTech recommended this a while ago, and I just started using it. It's a great concept! I recently had a hard time trying to remember all my chat logins when I set up Pidgin. KeePassX will prevent me from having similar problems in the future while keeping everything secure.

AVG Free
Linux: Yes (Hah!)
Open Source: No
Do I recommend it? No

AV-Comparatives, an independent antivirus tester, shows that AVG just isn't cutting it when compared against other antivirus software. Instead, AVIRA does a much better job, runs faster, and is also free. AVIRA's only problem (which AVG also shares) is the fact that is comes up with more false positives than the two best (non-free) scanners, Kaspersky and NOD32. All this means is that if AVIRA catches something, you'll want to make sure it actually is a virus before having it removed. Quarantines work well for this.

I used to use AVG and I love the fact that they provide a free scanner for personal use. However, AVIRA's product is simply superior.

If you need a virus scanner on Linux, you're probably doing something wrong.

Spybot Search & Destroy and Ad-Aware
Linux: N/A
Open Source: No
Do I recommend them? No

If you use Avira and Firefox, these two programs will get bored with nothing to do. Therefore, don't waste your time on them. If you're really paranoid, go ahead and use Ad-Aware. However, Spybot got old a long time ago and just isn't as effective as it used to be.

Spyware and Linux don't belong in the same sentence together. Oops.

So there you have it. I haven't read much on Lifehacker before, but I thought this article was pretty good. I do disagree on a few things, but I'm also looking at this from a different angle. I'll definitely be trying out some of their recommendations. Below is a summary of my thoughts.

Things I recommend:

Foxit Reader


Things I would like to try:


Things I do not recommend:

Revo Uninstaller
AVG Free
Spybot Search & Destroy

By the way, remember that trend I said I thought I saw? After scrolling through this list, I came to realize that most of the items (2/3 of them) are attempts to give Windows features that exist in Linux by default or fix problems that don't exist in Linux. So basically, if you want a superior computing experience out of the box you should seriously consider my ultimate recommendation: Linux Mint.