Well it is that time of year again, a time when I begin to burn out from the work going into summer and need a few weeks to recharge the old batteries to get back into the swing. With that in mind I am doing something this year I have never done, I am going to kick out for two full weeks.
Oh the radio show will still play this week and next and then be off the week of the 15th but for the blog I am going to take off this week and next. I am not however going to leave you all hanging, I thought I would let you know some of what we have coming up.
We have on the plate a review of the OCZ Agility 2 SSD, Antec’s Black Fleet case, Intels 875K processor as well as Gigabytes H55M-USB3 motherboard. We will also have an interview with EVGA, a look at the nVidia GTX 460 and the ATI 5830 video cards. This is what is waiting on deck and who knows what else we will have in the coming weeks.
So my advice is go enjoy some of the summer. Send a nice evening on the deck with a friend and enjoy a cigar with a glass of cognac, play with the kids in the pool or even enjoy a good old fashioned BBQ.
See you all here in two weeks.
When ATI approached me with the refresh of the 5550 series graphics card I said okay to looking at it but must admit that in my heart I was saying so what. I mean standard wisdom is that the $70 graphics card is basically just an upgrade over onboard, but only just.
When I reviewed the 5550 originally I was left with the impression that while it was a solid card that might give some boost for a media center PC, it was lacking the raw general horse power to make it a creditable card to look at for any other purpose.
Well fast forward and ATI telling me that they are getting a whole new line of the 5550 and 5570 cards out that will move from GDDR2 and GDDR3 to GDDR5. The idea is to refresh the line and make it more competitive with similarly priced cards.
Well luck was with me because the day this card showed up, so did an old 5550 GDDR2 model, also from HIS. This gave me an excellent opportunity to test what the new memory would bring to the table.
I tested the cards on an Athlon II X4 processor. The idea was to get a feel of what would be closer to the real world usage. I hear all the time of people talking about testing video cards on high end over clocked systems to “get the CPU out of the mix”. This is a pile of horse crap. The CPU is always in the mix and the reason why is a computer cannot function without a CPU. For my testing I am trying to look at the way this card would impact a system that would likely see the card.
In normal usage the the GDDR2 and GDDR5 models performed identically. Both did an excellent job of delivering HD playback and both handled anything Windows and normal usage could throw at them without a stutter.
Next up we threw some games at these cards, one of the only real reasons to not just use onboard. This is where the difference came to light and not just in benchmarks.
Again taking into account the people that would use this card I tested the gaming with three MMOs; EVE, Star Trek Online and Dungeon and Dragons Online. I also tested with Dragon Age, Mass Effect and the Witcher. You might ask why I stuck to these games, the answer is in the target audience. You see someone that is going to do more serious level gaming would not even look at this card. However the MMO market and even the RPG market is made up of a broader gaming level of player and this is reflected in my experience with the base PCs they have.
You see I can walk into a typical home and find a Dell or HP computer and if they are gaming I will find around 80% of the time an MMO or RPG being the primary game if not even lighter casual gaming. These are people that are trying to get the most out of the least up front cost.
The GDDR2 model with 1 Gig performed fair with these kinds of games. It would run decent at 1280×1024 and 1280×720, even as high as 1440×900 is was playable but at a huge price. To get these levels the detail in the game was at the bottom and even then the frame rates where barely hitting a playable range.
The GDDR5 model I got from ATI was only 512 meg but at these resolutions that is NOT an issue, this was more than enough memory to do the job. Boy did it do the job. These same games where running at solid mid levels of detail at 1280×720 and could even in some cases throw in so AA. At 1440×900 the games where playable at the same mid ranges of detail but just reaching the range.
Now to quantify this difference I ran frame rates of the games I listed using in game tools on both cards. Overall the GDDR5 model was showing an average of a 30% performance boost over all the games. ATI may be calling this a refresh, I call this a wake up. With the GDDR2 memory the chip works but it is like it is sleep walking. Bump up the memory to the GDDR5 and the chip comes alive and delivers solid performance.
While for me personally I would still not classify this as a “gaming” card, it is hard to ignore it’s potential if you can get the computing community to take of their elitist bigotry for a second. There is a LARGE market out there of people that are buying $500 computers and then wanting to try some gaming. A good 80% of them are getting into gaming because a buddy is doing it and they want to play with their buddy, hence the MMO. This game style is a JUGGERNAUT that the elitist bigotry is ignoring at it’s own peril.
This card will plug into an inexpensive machine and give these new gaming a world changing perspective on the way a game looks and feels. While for only about more money these consumers could jump into the 5670 and get a bit more detail level in their play there is a truth about the consumer public this industry ignores. All to often bottom dollar is the most important purchasing decision. I personal think this is not a good idea but it IS reality!
The this in mind the 5500 series move into GDDR5 is actually a great thing to see. These entry level gamers now have a low cost option that can deliver a fair gaming experience at a reasonable price. The games they are likely to play will benefit and be enjoyable without them spending $25 or more of what they spent on their entire PC.
This is a great gaming introductory card and a very worthwhile purchase.
To say our interview with Daniel Stahl was well received is an understatement. I have been hammered with email about the interview and your comments are all welcome. However there has been one sticking point from the interview that has been mentioned a lot.
When I questioned Daniel about the move of exclusive bonus items to the C-Store so quickly I was left feeling that Daniel had not directly answered the question. Well it seems a lot of you felt the same way. So I took it upon myself to get a clarification for us all. I got a hold of Derick Thomas and had him bring this to Daniels attention. I presented the following question via email for Daniel.
Can we get a follow up via email? Basically I think what people are wanting to know is will future promotional items be left promotional exclusives for a longer period, say 6 months, before becoming C-Store purchases?
Derick emailed me back back the reply from Daniel and I got confirmation before posting it here…
Also, I got Dan to answer that question about C-store and exclusives for you:
We don’t intend to do more exclusives, but we can’t always control how our partners (retailers and such, will brand something). There is no time-stamp on when a promotional item will go to the c-store, nor do we intend to create one. Really, it depends on the partner, the promotion, the value, the community, etc.
In other words, it’s case-by-case, but we have learned from our previous mistakes and will be more mindful of what we publish, when, and how (to the best of our ability).
While many people might not like this answer I believe it is a fair and honest one. It is hard for a game maker to create promises about specifics in games because the demands of the audience and publisher will many times come into conflict. However I do feel comfortable with the knowing that Cryptic is aware that the community was not thrilled by the way this has been handled in the past and is working to try and make sure the same mistakes are not made.
Thanks to Derick and Daniel for their responsiveness on this.
About a month after the release of Star Trek Online I did a review on this blog as well as an interview with Craig Zinkievich, the lead for STO during launch. Well today we approach the 6 month anniversary of Star trek Online and we also have a new “Captain” at the helm, Daniel Stahl.
When I last review this game I gave it a C+ in my scoring, a Good Game but not a Great Game. However the nature of MMOs are that they evolve over time, they grow and become something else as the game expands. With this in mind I thought it would be nice to take a look at STO today and see what had changed over the intervening 6 months.
The general look of the game has not changed all that drastically from launch with the exception of some new ships, uniform options and races. Basically these are all skins for the existing models but they do offer a change in the way the game feels and some other advantages.
When I first looked at the game I was playing a Science Officer that was a human. Right now my play time is dedicated to my new Caitian Tactical Officer. Yes he is a humanoid shaped cat and yes he has a tail. No he does not use the litter box nor is my ship named Catnip.
Graphics is one area that STO has excelled in with great looking space combat and not bad ground combat. Speaking of ground combat that was one of the short comings in the original release and while it has seen some attention it has not gotten the level it deserves. I know a lot of people do not like it but personally I feel it is a nice change of pace from only having either space or ground as a combat option.
In the original release there was a lot of talk about there being no death penalty. Basically your character would just respawn and there was no lose. Cryptic heard the cry for a tough game and delivered with the game now supporting three levels of play.
- Normal is what the game shipped with, no death penalty and the default difficulty level.
- Advanced is the next level up and introduces a death penalty. If you are defeated you risk a chance for suffering an injury which can reduce your effectiveness until it is corrected. This level also ups the difficulty of the missions.
- Elite is the highest level and increases the chances of the death penalty applying.
The concept of this system is good but the implementation seems needs some work. As it stands right now there is not much of a bonus in the rewards from play at higher levels. This has been commented on by Cryptic and is being worked on. I have been playing my Caitian so far completely at the Advanced level and the difficulty of most missions has been noticeably advanced, there is definitely more challenge. This system works well however because it allows the more casual player to not be forced into a higher difficulty level.
Another new feature offered is a level balancing system that will allow lower level players to play with their higher level friends. As with the difficulty system this is still a work in progress but is a very good feature when it works. The issue is some missions and fleet actions do not seem to correctly read the level balancing system.
Coming up around the six month anniversary Cryptic is releasing the second major update for Star Trek Online, Season 2. There are a ton of features coming up this time but for me the exciting one is more places to go in my ship. I now has access to my Ready Room, Quarters, Engineering, Engineering Lab, Transporter Room, Medical Bay and even a Lounge (think 10 Forward).
The above pictures where all taken off the “Tribble” test server. The use of a fully functioning and open to the public test server is not new but Cryptic is making good use of it. Players come and try out new features and then report back and Cryptic is listening with many of the latest updates coming based purely on player feedback. Cryptic goes a step farther and even holds events with the developers on the server that allow a direct interaction between the players and the developers in game.
Now I can hear the question already as well as the complaint about the ability to walk more around the ship. The complaint will be that it lacks a lot of interaction options. However this is not as big a deal as it may sound. Think of this setup in the same way as Turbine did houses in LOTRO. Additionally the sixe of these areas will allow you to bring buddies into them and allow for role playing options.
I could of course do a much more detailed look at STO but I think you can get the idea that the game has evolved, but how much. If I where to review it today I would give STO a solid B score (85% for those that want numbers) While it has still not reach the status of being a great game it is a very good game which is a lot of fun and allows the Trekkie to experience some of the Star Trek universe. With the new updating adding more RP options, missions for Klingons and Federation, a change in the level cap, a weekly mission release plan, a diplomatic system and better exploration options the future for STO continues to look good.
I believe Star trek Online is a near perfect example that we need a new system for reviewing MMO games. These games live, breath and grow over time, something traditional gaming does not do. STO is a beautiful example of this as it started off a bit rocky and has grown into a solid game with a chance to still achieve greatness.
Like the last review I had an opportunity to speak with Cyrptic and specifically Daniel Stahl. Again this is a two part interview with the first part airing live on the show and the second part ONLY available over the internet.
The recording presented here are the sole property of the Computer Ed Show and WJPF. Please do not post these interviews on another site without written permission and links should be to this blog post, NOT the recording.
Daniel Stahl Interview Part 1
Daniel Stahl Interview Part 2
I invite you over to Hi Tech Legion to discuss this review and interview in the forums, the direct thread link is below.
Anyone that has known me for any length of time would tell you I am all about not using liquid cooling. I have never felt the cost, hassle and risk of building a liquid cooling system was worth the results. I would still be that way if it where not for self contained liquid cooling units.
CoolIt was kind enough to supply me with their ECO cooling system for review and I have spent the last few weeks putting it through it’s paces.
The ECO is a self contained liquid cooling system that puts the pump and CPU contact plate together in one small unit and then is attached to a radiator that is mounted with a 120mm fan to the back of the case. If this sounds familiar it should, we looked at a similar unit by Corsair, the H50 a few weeks ago.
CoolIt how is not a repackaging company for this product but actually is the company that designed and developed the design. In fact as a company they specialize in custom self contained liquid cooling solutions.
In all my various tests of the ECO I goofed and failed to get pictures of the actual unit so you will see stock photos, however what it looks like is not what is impressive, how it performs however is a different story.
While modern air based heatsinks can be found for less than the $60 the ECO sells for right now, they take up a massive amount of space in the computer. In fact many of them block RAM slots or even will not fit in some cases. The ECO is so small on the CPU that it blocks nothing. Using this system it is easy to get in and out of the system, with RAM slots wide open.
As you can see with this picture of the ECO in an A90 mid tower case, even with the extra fan on the radiator the case is wide open and easy to work in.
When it comes to cooling the CoolIt is a match for most top end air cooling units in it’s price range. Now while some might point out that it does not really pass those air units, they fail to mention that it matches the air coolers with at least one less fan.
The picture of the A90 shows a dual fan, push/pull configuration but the first picture shows the stock configuration, it in essence makes use of the existing exhaust fan in the case, thus using one less fan that a typical tower cooler.
To get the most out of the quiet operation that liquid cooling is known for the fan CoolIt provides is PWM controlled so the fans speed ramped up as CPU temps climb and drops as it cools. If you want the extra cooling power of the push pull design but do not want the noise then CoolIt does sell an extra fan with a special Y cable to allow both fans to work off the motherboard controller.
Used in it’s stock configuration the ECO had no trouble keeping a Phenom II 965 at 4.0 Ghz with temperatures never climbing above 50C despite efforts to heat up the ambient room temperature to heat up the system.
In it’s default configuration the exhaust fan is set to pull the case air through the radiator and out of the case. According to CoolIt this is meant to lower overall case temps by removing heat from the CPU completely from the case. In my testing using the CoolIt in stock configuration and comparing the inside case temp with use of a stock cooler resulted in a difference of almost 3C. This number will vary depending on the air flow of the case but it does work as CoolIt claims.
As I examined this setup however I wondered about pulling the air. Fans tend to move air better in a push configuration rather than a pull. Because of case build restrictions I had to build a mount from an old case fan to test this. What I did was cut the guts out of a dead 120mm fan and use the frame as a spacer for the radiator and moved the fan from it’s default position to a push position. My testing showed that the little move from a pull to a push configuration gave around a 4C drop in CPU temperatures under load. I asked CoolIt about this and they confirmed their testing showed the same as mine. When I asked why not make the configuration default to this setup they explained that there where case compatibility issues unless a spacer was used, as I found out, however CoolIt does offer a spacer on request to make the setup work in a pure push.
Moving to the push/pull configuration made the temperatures drop even more. Case temps dipped another 2C cooler over the stock setup and CPU temps dropped 6C over the stock setup.
Now as I said I recently looked at the Corsair H50 and so comparisons of the two units are inevitable. In all the testing the H50 and the ECO put up very similar cooling numbers. Considering how close the two designs are this was to be expected. The difference for me was the mounting system. The ECO makes use of the existing back plate on AMD systems and uses a custom backplate for Intel. While the Corsair was a two step process to install the ECO was much simpler with 4 thumb screws being all that is needed to mount the cooler.
After reviewing the ECO I told Lisa and Doug both that I was now converted. Easy installation, easier to work around the system with than tower air coolers, great cooling and quiet operation, I will not use anything except self contained liquid systems in my personal systems any more. From a DIYer perspective I must say I have to wonder why bother with air coolers any more. These coolers are easy to use, come warranted against leaks and are more flexible for working in the PC.
At the end of the day however this review is about the ECO, not self contained liquid cooling. The ECO in my opinion is the best choice right now for a self contained unit. The easier installation is a huge factor in my making that statement however that is not the sole reason. CoolIt as a company is a huge selling point. Offering extras to allow for various setup configurations and even offering this same cooler design in various sizes for other builds CoolIt has set themselves as the current leader for this category in the DIY market.
This is a great buy that any DIYer should seriously consider in his system build.
Review Aired 11 July 2010
Special Treat: Geoff Lyon Interview (CEO Coolit Systems)
With the 4th of July upon us and our celebration of freedom I thought we could celebrate some freedom on our PCs as well, such as freedom from expensive software.
In a study I am finishing up I have been looking at computer piracy and the attitudes surrounding it. When it comes to home users I hear two primary reasons for participating and one of those is cost.
Lets face it good software can be expensive. For example if you want a good Office Suite you will pay Microsoft about $150 for a home based edition. How about something to edit your photos, well for that we can pay around $100 for Photoshop Elements. Don’t forget good protection software, with something like Norton Internet security Suite in stores for around $70. What about turning those pictures we have into home movies, Premier Elements goes for around $100. Then we add in a good game or two with an MMO coming in at about $200 for the first year counting base cost and years worth of subscriptions. This means we can quickly see the cost of using our PC balloon to nearly $650 or more to get all the software we want to use.
When you take that cost and add it to even a good budget PC you can end up with double the cost you thought you where looking at for the basic home PC. The good news is that in most of these cases a home user does not need to spend any money and can still get the software he needs to enjoy using his computer.
Lets start with Office, we have over the years been told Microsoft Office is a needed piece of software, really? Over the last year in dealing with close to 200 basic home users I have found that 80% of them make use of office type software more often than once or twice a month and then 90% of the usage is with Word. When you realize how little people are using office software the question becomes why is anyone paying for it? The answer is simple, we have been conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs believe that if we do not have Microsoft Office we did not have the software we need. Well the good news is that a home user has options that will let him have the program he needs for the job he wants and not have to spend money doing it.
First up we have Open Office, this is a 100% free office suite that works with most versions of Microsoft office. The suite includes a program that functions just like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I have used the program and it is very stable and for a free program very feature rich. In fact it works so well that I have convinced a school to switch to it from Microsoft Office to reduce costs on the schools computer lab.
Of course if you would prefer to not have to install software on your PC you have another options, Google Docs. These programs are fully online and allow you to access documents from anywhere you have internet access. Like Open Office this offers a word processor, spread sheet and presentation program. I have made use of this including using the spreadsheet to keep role of my classes when I was teaching at John A. Logan.
For our office options we end where we begin sort of with Microsoft Office Web Apps. Like those offered by Google Docs and Open Office, you get a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program, in these cases the applications are toned down version of their full Office counterparts. You also gain access to the OneNote program. These apps are easy to work with and while missing many of the functions of the full applications I have yet to find them lacking in functionality. All you need is a Live Mail account and you have good office software at your finger tips.
A type of application that is likely more often used in the average home than the office suite is the photo editor. I mean digital photography has really taken off and almost everyone now has a digital camera. So why pay money to edit those photos when you can do it for free?
Microsoft in their Live Essentials kit has included Windows Live Photo Gallery. This program offers some great features to make it easier to organize your photos and has direct access to Live Spaces for you to post them online for others to see. Additionally it offers some great basic editing functions such as Red Eye Removal, Cropping, Straightening and various lighting adjustments.
If you need a little more power for your editing them Paint.NET is the way to go. This 100% free program is a full featured photo editor that rivals many commercial packages. You name it and you can do it in Paint.NET.
When it comes to security for your PC I have for years now been telling you that there is no reason for home users to pay for Anti-Virus software. What’s worse is many home users get suckered into commercial security suites that offer so called extras that do not make the PC more secure and usually give you crappy software that slows down your PC.
For free security software how about we start with the well known AVG. This was one of the first widely known free AV programs and is today still one of the most popular ones. It offers a fairly small footprint and does not hurt system speed much. It does not have the best scanner but used in conjunction with wise computing practices it is easily all the protect a PC would need.
Another long time, free AV program is Avast. While not as widely known as AVG it is a great program with a proven track record. While the Avast program is larger than AVG and might slow down the system a bit it has a much more powerful scanning system and offers great PC protection.
Finally we come to my personal favorite, Microsoft Security Essentials. A relative new kid on the block of free protection software, Microsoft learned some hard lessons from it’s attempts with OneCare and Security Essentials is the result. It is a low impact app that is almost invisible when it is running and is constantly coming in near the top of AV software testing.
Gaming is more than a kid’s activity. Computer gaming is a multi-billion dollar business and MMOs are leading the charge of the new generation of gaming. They have thrown off the shackles of old gaming biases and now appeal to all age groups and genders. However lets face it , it can get expensive paying a monthly subscription fee to be able to play your game. No worries, many games have jumped into the fray to counter this. While there are a number of free MMOs that have been around for a while there are also some great older titles moving this way.
Dungeons and Dragons Online is a major title that was developed by Turbine and introduced as a typical MMO. However the game did only fair and Turbine decided to experiment, they went to a free to play model where a lot of the game play could be done for no cost to the consumer and more advanced areas could be purchased at low prices as the consumer wanted to play them. The result has been a flood of players to this game. So great has the response been that Turbine is in the process of doing the same thing with their award winning MMO Lord of the Rings Online.
I could go on and list at least 15 different free games I have tried but I think we are starting to get the idea. There are a lot of options out there for the home user that range form security to productivity to even entertainment and it is all free! So this year we can celebrate not only our freedom as a nation but realize we are free for the hidden costs of computing. The home user has free, legal alternatives that provide a computing experience equal to that of expensive commercial packages in the various areas we might need.