As we look forward to the beginning of the new yea I thought a look back would only be in order. After all every other commentator on the planet does a year in review so why not, especially since I figure mine will be different than most. So without further ado lets begin taking a look at things I have noticed over this last year.
A look back at Computer Gaming: This last year has seen some very small changes in gaming but to me ones that will have a big impact in the future. MMOs have begun to realize the same old model will no longer work. WoW might have stirred the interest but the model of the game has become stale and companies are beginning to try new things. CCP made a major announcement that it would be the first MMO to cross games and platforms with it’s Dust 514. As it has always done in the past CCP is going where other fear to tread. If this is successful you can expect to see a slew of companies jump on this bandwagon as this opens a whole new market to MMOs.
Other MMO companies stepped up however in other ways. Turbine took the dying game Dungeon and Dragons Online and moved it to a free to play micro transaction model. This move along with EA doing the same with Battleforge market the first time companies took titles that where consider major and put them out for free. The success of these titles moving to a free base has not gone unnoticed with Mythic offering the first 10 levels of play in it’s Warhammer Online game for free as well.
While MMOs begin to seek out new territory, solo computer gaming has made a return to it’s roots. Games like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dragon Age: Origin have gone back to being about great story telling in game. Now this may not seem like that big of deal but it is huge because the industry is also acknowledging it.
You have to understand that for way to long the computer industry has forgotten that in the end it is not about how something is done but rather that it is done. The focus has been on technology and fluff rather than substance and style. Batman and Dragon Age have shown that substance is not dead in PC gaming.
Exciting Companies: Over this year two companies in my opinion stood out because they bucked the trend the did something different that will have a real and lasting impact on computing consumers in a good way.
Lets begin with nVidia, however before we talk about why I wanted nVidia on this list I want to do a bit of history so you can fully understand my reasoning.
Back in the early days of the PC we did not have 3D. Oh a few faked it but the truth was we did everything in various forms of 2D. One day a small upstart company name 3dfx said 2D was not enough and showed the world what 3D could do for computer gaming. No matter how you slice it or spin it the father of modern computer gaming was 3dfx. Now over the years they where bought out by nVidia and their contributions have dimmed but you have to realize that without their contributions we would not be close to where we are today with 3D gaming.
Now flash forward to 2009. Again we have a video card industry focused on it’s specific direction, putting video on the screen. However nVidia has decided that this is not enough. 2009 will be in history the year that Cuda came into it’s own and nVidia redefined what a GPU can do. PhysX has changed the way we look at how graphics move on the screen with Batman really showing some of the potential and 3D Vision has moved the action off the monitor a bit.
Now ATI has not been resting on their backside and they have made some interesting products but none of them have truly broken the GPU mold in the way nVidia has. The importance of what nVidia has done can be seen not so much in what has been brought to market this year but rather in how others have reacted. ATI has come out swinging at Cuda and PhysX in an attempt to create a more open standard for these types of GPU applications. 3D has been accepted as a standard by the Blue Ray Commission and we will see 3D consumer TVs by the end of the next year in the market.
nVidia has truly led the way this year as the real innovator when it comes to GPU usage. I feel we have this year seen the birth of a new form of GPU and the father is nVidia.
Next up we have AMD, while nVidia has done much to change the way we look at the GPU, AMD has done much to change who is looking at the GPU. Actually beginning last year AMD began a move to change the way GPUs and CPUs where marketed. To this effect they strove to shift the focus from the actual hardware to the computing experience. A mantra I have been preach for years before these companies considered it.
AMD brought it’s new product lines to bear with even their top tier being priced in a more main stream zone. While they did not hold performance crowns in the CPU world, or the GPU world until recently, they did deliver an amazing computing experience at a lower price than other companies. They have even sunk their marketing budget into a plan to try to show people that what they do with their PC is more important that the hardware they do it with.
This move in truly revolutionary in an industry where the top tier was always considered the only place to be. This move is working as well. The average consumer is beginning to slowly get the message and even some enthusiast websites have begun to see the value of this concept. AMD should be applauded this year for being the first company to truly attempt to bring a higher end computing experience to lower end computing prices.
SSD’s Leave Their Mark: While still priced a bit outside the mainstream SSDs have begun to make serious inroads this year. Of all the hardware I tested this year no single piece of hardware made as much impact on the overall computing experience as adding an SSD drive. As prices continue to fall and capacity rises the SSD will become more mainstream but for now we have to settle for this just being the beginning. However with Intel showing a pretty large price drop in their newer models the odds are we might see $200 high speed models sporting 128 gig or more of capacity by the end of 2010. By the way if you think the impact it makes on the computing experience for a desktop PC is huge, wait until you put one in a laptop, the transformation is nothing short of amazing.
And lastly we come too…..
In the end however one item to me is the one that has been the biggest impact of this year. In my opinion the AMD Athlon II line is the real item that has been the show stealer of 2009. The Athlon II line is not the fastest nor does it use truly revolutionary technology, however what it does do is bring true multicore processor power to the masses. The Athlon II X3 and X4 processors give the DIYer a chance to put a great processor in his system for under $100 for the CPU. As more software has made the move from dual core to higher core count optimizations this importance is growing. You also have to take into account that the home PC has changed a lot over the last few years. No longer do we need the fastest chips to get the great home computing experience however mutlicores shine as we do more multitasking. The Athlon II line delivers the processor that the family PC needs and does it with a family friendly price.
Computer Ed’s Technology of the Year
AMD Athlon II X3 and X4 Processor Line
This last decade has been exciting to say the least but what we have coming up is even more so. Hang on for the ride folks we have a new year and new decade of technology coming up…
With 5 days left until Christmas the shopping season settles down into a pretty routine pattern of rush and find cheap. People are now in panic mode with the last minutes of the shopping season ticking away. I have been deluged by people with emails and calls asking about last minute shopping ideas for the geek in their lives.
While my show and this blog is supposed to be about technology, I want to take a moment and step away from the tech and the commercials. It is easy to get lost our our society about the things we have in our lives and forget about just our lives. I see the same in the computer world every day. People get so wrapped up in the hardware that they forget about what they are doing with their PC. People get so wrapped up in work and possessions they forget about actually living their lives.
So this week instead of a bunch of tech tips, let me give you, one geek to another, a life tip I have learned over 32 years of computing. Sometimes you have to turn off. Turn off the PC and the TV and just live. Forget the digital media and maybe grab a good book. Or better spend an evening walking with a loved one under the stars watching your breath in the cold air.
Seriously folks internet relations are neat but can we get real a minute. They are 0s and 1s being transmitted over a wire. They do not have blood or a heart. The person on the other end may not be anything like what they have led you to believe, man not even be a person. The internet cannot substitute for the real relationship of sitting down to dinner with a friend. Or sitting in the drive way with your best bud and enjoying a glass of whiskey and a cigar.
We have become a digital society and while that brings some great stuff with it, I often wonder if the bad does not out weigh the good.
So this Christmas the best present you can give to yourself and your family is to turn off the PC and the TV, grab a board game and be with them. Forget about making sure your efriends know you are there and the Raids can wait in WoW. Do not worry if your twitter or face book is up to date, worry instead if your loved ones, sitting next to you know your thoughts.
The best present you can give someone this year is not the latest in high technology but rather a lack of technology for a short time.
To all of you that come to this blog each week and listen to the show I wish you a most Merry Christmas.
Sometimes buying for your favorite geek is not about buying computer parts or video games, sometimes it is about the stuff around them. Some of the items I have listed below can range in price from as little at $20 to as much as $200.
While a few geeks out there still swear by the track ball, the majority of us use the mouse. The mouse is a wonderful instrument that makes it easy to make selections on your screen and this has been made even better with the coming of the optical mouse. Gone are the days of a dirty mouse ball and those think foam pads. One of the big advantages of the optical mouse is the fact it does not need a pad to work in most cases. However I fully suggest getting a mouse pad, now known as a mousing surface. Not sure you need one, take a look at that beautiful wood wood desk and right where the mouse is most often used. As little as 6 months use will easily have begun to wear through the finish. Try using an optical mouse on a glass top and see the fun.
The good news is optical mice work with some really easy to maintain mouse pads. No longer will you need to buy a new pad every six months, the new designs can last years. What you are looking for is a thin pad, these are about as think as a piece of paper but typically made of a PVC or similar material. They feel hard to the touch but that is okay, a hard surface is easier for the mouse to move on.
The hard mousing surface has so many advantages; easy to clean, level surface, more accurate mouse movement and the list can go on. You can find a number of different brands that have these pads but the one I prefer is the WOW!Pad. This pad has a very thin hard design, comes in a variety of patterns, shapes and sizes. It also has an added benefit. The WOW!Pad line has a treated PVC material that makes it resistant to holding bacteria or viral infections. This means you have one less place for the family to be able to pass along the flu.
Speaking of mice and for that matter keyboards, do not forget the wireless geek in the family. Wireless input allows for freedom in desk setup and no wires to hide. However wireless setups have one major down side, when you need them most your batteries will die. With this in mind every geek using wireless input needs a battery charger with a fresh set of rechargeable ready to go setting at the desk. If they have not yet done so this is a super gift that they will praise you for when they first hit the dreaded dead battery moment. Make sure you buy one that support but AA and AAA batteries as some devices use different sizes.
Your online gaming geek is probably like the rest of us and is up in the evening playing his games with his own line friends. Those speakers that give him such great sound also can be the reason for many fights or even lack of sleep. Why not give a gift that will give to you as much as the geek, a good set of headphones? The headset mic is now standard fair for online gamers and the odds are your geek has a set but so many times a geek will just buy what is cheap and local. Also every geek can always use a spare set for when his current ones break.
There are a lot of good headsets out there but for me the best is Plantronics. This brand has been around a long time doing this specific job, making headsets. The Apollo moon missions used Plantronic headsets. They offer good sound, comfortable fit and an excellent mic for voice communications. Available in both a USB and standard model as well as various designs you have a large selection to choose from.
USB models offer the advantage of not needing the onboard sound card but tend to cost more. The standard headset works by using the existing sound. If you geek as spent a lot on money on a nice speaker setup and a new sound card the standard set makes the most sense. If in doubt though the USB make a great backup set.
Speaking of USB, I seriously doubt the inventors of this interface had in mind some of the devices we have seen in the past few years. For the geek you can find such thinks as a USB desk fan, coffee warmer, space heater, lava lamp,missile launcher, boxer, light saber, skull and even a USB frig that will hold one can of beverage. These items range in price from as little at $10 to as much as $50. You will have to search for them but trust me they are out there.
You could of course go the more mundane route with USB. No one can have enough flash drives. These little devices make it easy to move data between machines and are super for a quick backup. With prices now down 8 gig models can be found for under $30 and 16 gig for around $50. My personal favorite for these drives has not changed, I like the Corsair Voyager. The rubber design makes these extremely durable and with a 10 year warranty you know they built it to last.
If your geek needs a bit more space why not look at an external hard drive. The Seagate FreeAgent Go and Western Digital Passport both offer 250 gig models for under $100. This is a great present for anyone, the geek that needs to move a lot of files or just mom and dad that have not backed up in over 2 years and could lose the entire family album. The small size make them easy to store and super mobile. The single USB connection design make them easy to hook up and disconnect for backups.
We have spent a lot of time talking about the geek in your family but lets face it today the geek is not the only one using the computer. How about a great gift for mom and dad or grandpa and grandma? With families spread out it can be hard to stay in touch. Facebook and email help with this some but sometimes you want more than a still picture, typed text or a disembodied voice over a phone. Enter the NetCam.
Netcams allow for a real time video phone call and they have become relatively inexpensive. However this is so the family can stay in touch so do not skimp here. While you can get Netcams around $20 if you look I suggest spending a bit more to get the best quality you can. My personal Netcam is the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000. Now this is not an in expensive camera, coming in at near $100. However it has some of the best optics used in this type of device, produces a clear picture, offers ton of neat features and has a built in mic. Now for a family that is still new to using these kinds of devices the less expensive models will work fine but if you want the best for talking to your family this is my choice.
Next week we will be having our last broadcast of the Hi Tech Legion / Computer Ed Give Away so make sure that you get to the Hi Tech Legion and sign up so you can participate this week and next, we have some great prizes.
As we mentioned last week MP3 players are still a hot item for Christmas giving but that does not mean digital cameras have slowed down in popularity. Digital photography has brought instant photo access to the masses. Without the need for films and development time digital cameras are a perfect gift for families. However walk into a store to buy one and you are deluged with choices. The good news is buying a digital camera today is super easy.
The first thing we must do, as with buying a computer, is identify the uses we will have for the camera, more accurately the uses for the pictures. Will we be printing a lot of 8x10s? Will the camera be for a youngster to use for social networking? Is this for a digital family album?
The first thing people tend to look at are the Megapixels of the camera. A simple explanation is the more more megapixel the camera has the more accurate the picture. This explanation sounds straight forward and simple enough but it effects more than just the picture quality, it effects how it shows and prints. You see you can down size a photo, make it smaller and lose very little image quality, the picture will tend to look just as sharp as the original. However the reverse is not true. Enlarging the picture, for the home user, will result in a blurring of the photo and a serious reduction in image quality.
Megapixels do not just refer to quality but also the size of the picture. With this in mind there is a simple rule of thumb, if you plan to print 8x10s from the photos you take then you need to get a camera with at least 8 Megapixels. This will ensure good sharp 8×10 output and you can size down as needed. Larger prints will need higher quality.
Next we come to zoom. Everyone likes to have the ability to zoom their camera shot and digital cameras all come with some level. What you need to understand is that there are two levels in digital cameras. The first and most important is optical zoom. This is a real zoom done with the lenses of the camera. The image quality does not suffer and you get your best results.
The second is digital zoom. This is where a small computing inside the camera basically fakes a zoom based on mathematical formulas. The result is almost always a blurred image when compared to a normal shot, the quality goes down a bit. Most cameras list just the full zoom potential and so you need to look to be sure how much optical zoom a camera has. For example a Nikon CoolPix 10 lists a 60X total zoom. That is reached with a 15x optical and an additional 4x digital. The rule here for me has been over the years to ignore the digital zoom and treat the optical as all the zoom the camera has.
Now with these two points you would think buying a digital camera was a no brainer. Buy as much optical zoom as you can get and as high a megapixel as possible. However price comes into play quickly. The reason I mention knowing your output needs is that you can find good buys on 8 megapixel or even 6 megapixel cameras right now. These might not be great for 8×10 outputs but can do a wonderful job for digital picture frames, shots for web sites and even smaller prints line 4×6.
Human tendency is to try and buy the least expensive, this time of year especially. That means we need a clear picture however, pardon the pun, of our needs so we get the best value. The same goes with zoom. Many times cheap cameras will list a large zoom value and not say that only a small part of that is a true optical zoom. For best image quality ignore the digital zoom value and find one with the zoom you need in the optical method.
There are other considerations such as memory in the camera however the good news is it is cheap and plentiful. Digital cameras use a variety of memory sticks but all of them are low in price and even a 1 gig will hold more pictures than most people can take in a single session.
Form factor is another consideration. I am an old school photographer, learning on some really nice cameras in my youth. The less expensive cameras today feel small in my hands and so I tend to go for bigger physical designs. However some people like the ultra portability of slim line designs. Find a camera you feel comfortable holding.
The view finder on a camera can also be a big deal. Again I am old school and I tend to not like cameras that use only digital screens for lining up the shot however these are the most common methods. Be sure the camera you select has a bright digital screen for outdoor shots. If the camera has both a digital screen and a view finder then I advise turning off the screen when shooting pictures. The digital screen shortens the battery life of the camera. No matter which method you use always have spare batteries on hand.
You will notice I have not mentioned the SLR cameras, the reason is that people willing to spend on an SLR tend to be very serious about their pictures. You see a good digital camera for the average family can be had for less than $200. In fact I would say that for a family I would not spend more than $200 unless there is a photography buff in the house. SLR cameras begin at about $500 for good sales and go up. However if you are a photography buff that wants the very best nothing beats the quality of an high end digital SLR.
Now if you where reading this article hoping I would mention specific brands and models you might be disappointed. There are a number of great buys out there in digital cameras. Brand such as Canon, Nikon and Polaroid are well known and do deliver good products however HP, Sony, Samsung and others deliver solid cameras as well. Look more for the features you want than the brand.
However do not despair yet because there is a single camera model and brand I want to mention. If you are buying a cameras for a youngster, ages from about 8 to 16 that wants to post pictures on their social website and share with friends, I have the camera for you.
The Argus Bean is a great camera that I had a chance to review a couple of years ago. The camera is available in two models, 5 and 3 megapixels. These cameras are ultra light weight and made super sturdy in design. In my testing I have dropped, kicked and even thrown this camera and it still works. The loop on the camera opens so it can be attached to a belt loop or purse strap.
This camera works great for kids do to the durability, however the camera was not just designed for kids. The rugged design makes it perfect for a scout camping or hiking trip. The clip makes it easy to carry and the rugged design means it will survive the trip.
I used this camera in my testing and found it great for posting to blog entries or social sites, would also work well for digital frames, however even the 5 megapixel model was just not up to 8×10 prints.
I also has a teenage boy and his girl friend take a stab at it. They both loved the look and feel of the camera as well as it’s ease of use. They made use of it for social networking and found it to be a great camera.
Sadly the Bean is a bit harder to find this year. I have posted a link below to the Walmart Online site where I found it on sale. I am posting the 5 megapixel model as the smaller camera only saves a couple of bucks making the 5 MP a much better buy.
No matter what kind of digital camera you buy in the end it is not about the camera but about the pictures and the memories they have saved. Go out, make some memories and take some pictures.