Today AMD is announcing the officially launch of the Fusion processor line. At this time we have on our bench a system using an MSI A75MA-G55 and AMD A8-3850 APU. We have built up a system that represents the target of platform and will be giving you a full review on Sundays show. Until then enjoy the benchmarks across the web and Sunday be sure to tune in and hear how this new platform measures up in real world usage.
As I mentioned a little over a week ago I am on vacation. I do not have good or regular internet access on my cruiser through the coast of Alaska but was able to make this quick entry.
The vacation goes well and we have all sorts of new items in for reviews when we begin doing shows again on the 3rd of July.
See you all then…
I deal with a lot of home users everyday, during these phone calls or even face to face discussions we often talk about how they make use of their PC. Without fail one of the first things out of their mouth is, “But I am not a gamer.” The tone used is similar to what you would expect to someone denying they had AIDs, I am not exaggerating. I can work on a PC and have met people proud of their adult material collection or the number of pirate movies or music they have but the term gamer sends them into fits of throwing out crosses and chanting prayers to ward off satan.
You really have to wonder why this stigma when it comes to being gamer. Some people look at me like I am a nut when I talk about gaming and make a point of stressing my age. News flash folks gamers come in all shapes, sizes and ages. In fact in a recant study by the Entertainment Software Associations, they have found that the average age of a video gamer is around 37 years of age. When you limit the games to just PC based that number jumps to 41. Does not sound like gaming is just for kids does it. In fact the same study found that 29% of Americans over the age of 50 regularly plays video games.
If age and being mature is not the issue, how about being a waste of time? There is a story I have told many times. I was back from the Navy and working part time for a pen and paper game company doing demos and playing testing games, I was also doing some beta testing for a number of video games. My mother was talking to me one day and spent about an hour lecturing me on how all my time spent involved with games was a waste and I needed to do something useful with my life. Those games BTW led to contacts within the computer world as well as drove my interest in making the hardware do more for less cost. The result off those games is a business I own that has been successful as well as a radio show that is growing every year not just locally but world wide. (Thank you to all of you out there that listen online BTW) About a year and a half ago I ask my mother if she remembered that conversation and still thought I was wasting my time?
Now do not get me wrong I am not saying all gamers are heading for a successful life because of gaming but it is hardly the waste people think and less of a waste than other people do every day and society does not look down on them. How useful is the person sitting in a bar 3 nights a week? What about the person that spends all their time looking for new sex partners? How about the person that even just has a weekly dining group that tries a new restaurant each week? Or the people that sit glued to their TV at least once a week for sporting events? Tell someone you do ANY of these activities and they would not look at you like the village idiot.
The most likely cause of this sigma was the behavior of the early geeks, particularly those that attended Star Trek or Star Wars conventions. You know the people I mean, the ones that would attend in full costume and actually act the role they had dressed for. However is that fair either? I mean I have seen people at sporting events dress and act in a manner that makes you wonder if they have a single functional brain cell or if the beer has floated them all away. Yet no one considers all sports fans losers? I have watched people get so drunk in bars that they have come out of the bathroom naked with TP trailing behind them on fire while they danced to Walk Like and Egyptian, and yet no one thinks all people in bars are morons? (BTW that is a true story)
Besides, what most of these people do not know is they likely are gamers at some level. Play solitaire often enough to keep saved game codes? How about Angry Birds? Video games are a part of the American and world culture whether we like it or not. Gaming is not small potatoes when it comes to economics either. Estimates place video gaming as an industry that generates $25 BILLION plus last year. Literally hundreds of thousands of jobs world wide exist in this industry.
While computer gaming is not something that will appeal to everyone, just as many of us do not like beer, there are some real reasons outside the fun of gaming to play. As a parent gaming can be a great teaching tool. Lisa and I have used an MMO to help our 7 year old learn to read better. He has to read what the game says if he wants to succeed and he really hates losing so his reading has improved. Some games like Civilization can even take a bit of educational material,. like history and sneak it in during play. Of course many games are great tools to teach critical thinking, make up for some of the lack of it in public schools today. Parents gaming with the kids can be a great way to develop a relationship with the kids, find a real common interest and share it.
Gaming for adults has benefits as well. Studies have shown that if the mind is kept active and engaged that Alzheimer risks are drastically reduced. Computer gaming can be a great way to relieve stress, create family time and socialize. Not to mention that as far as entertainment goes gaming can actually be a great low cost alternative to other options. Getting a free to play game like Champions, Tank World or even LOTRO can provide more entertainment than a ton of movie rentals and not cost a dime other than the cost of the Internet and PC which you have anyway.
Is there a downside to gaming, well of course there is. Like anything else it can be abused. I have seen people use video games as their way to tear up marriages and even lose jobs. To be honest thought I know of more marriages and jobs lost from booze, yet we accept that.
The next time you meet a gamer, do not roll your eyes at them. Instead talk with them, see what they have to say. Listen to what they like about the games they play and approach it with an open mind. You might find a whole new world to explore and a new way to have some fun.
With vacation starting next week I have kind of put a lot of projects on hold. You know how it is, you get started and find out it is not going to work the way you think and then you have to change plans mid stream to make things work. This always means it takes longer than you planned. So the stuff I have recently gotten in the look at and the various articles I had planned to write are kind of on the back burner until I return.
However over the last few weeks I have had a chance to get m,y hands on a few items that where not on the shows radar. In each case I actually purchased these items myself from stores so these are not typical review fare.
We will begin with the Coolermaster Hyper N620, a value priced CPU cooler. I had a build I was doing for a friend and he needed a little nicer cooler as he planned to overclock. The chip we used was a Phenom II 970 and the system was built in an Antec Three Hundred case with both of the front fans installed.
Priced at $23 this cooler looks like a steal, using a large heatpipe system with dual fans in an offset push/pull configuration. The fans have a nice blue lighting and the top of the heatsink has a sharp looking plate on it giving this heatsink a bit of bling. All this plus the Coolermaster name and reputation when it comes to coolers meant this was an easy purchase decision.
Opening the box I was impressed with the size of this heatsink. Usually at the $20 price point you get these small units that are usually nothing more than a glorified stock cooler. Reading the installation directions I was however a bit surprised at the mounting system. Now a back plate system for mounting is not all that new but at this price point is is not the norm. The real surprise though was the system is a bottom mount style, meaning the work of mounting is done under the motherboard.
When you are dealing with this price point the cases are only now beginning to get the cutouts that are needed for using these big third party heatsinks easily. The Antec Three Hundred has such a cutout but the AMD board is layout so that the top two mount points are still not open. This means you need to install the heatsink before going into the case. Not really that big of a deal but the bottom mount system like this is not one I think works easily.
Using Artic Silver compound we fired the brute up and began installing the OS. The fans where very quiet and this made it a perfect match for the near silent performance of the Three Hundred. The blue glow was softly visible in the room when dark through the top and side vents on the case and just barely through the front fans, the effect was very subtle and nice.
Once the OS was installed we fired up AMD Overdrive to run some stability testing and see how the temps where going to work out. I have to say the temps we got surprised me. In fact they did not much that we actually swapped out for a stock cooler to see if the numbers we where getting where real.
At idle the stock cooler was running at 34C when the system was idle. The computer was configured for Cool-n-Quiet operation so we left it idle for about 10 minutes to make sure we where getting true idle temps. The N620 was running at 31C when idle, a drop of three degrees. While this is about right for the price point I must say seeing a cooler with 6 heat pipes and dual fans I expected more.
Next we fired up the stability test to see what the CPU would get under load. We ran the test for 1 hour before we recorded any temps. The stock cooler was at 52C, warmer than I would like but stable. The N620 was at 49C, again cooler than the stock but still a lot warmer than I would have thought based on the design.
While the cost is reasonable the performance about where you would expect for the price point I must say I was disappointed. I thought we where getting this great value and the truth is we got a heat sink with just mediocre performance. Since there was a plan to overclock this chip we decided after this testing to go a different direction. Luckily we found the Corsair H50 on sale for $40 and snagged one. The difference was well worth the cost with the idle temp dumping to 24C (ambient room temp) and under load never breaking 40C.
Now don’t get me wrong there are some solid heatsinks you can buy for around $20 that get the job done and the Hyper N620 does get the job done. But for the massive size and pain in the butt installation I did not feel that the N620 was the steal I first thought it was.
Next up I found the other day that Staples now carries in store the Antec Bias Lighting Kit. The idea behind this kit is that when you use your monitor in a dark room it can cause eye strain, by simply adding a bit of white ambient light in the form of a soft glow behind the monitor you can not only reduce eye strain but actually improve the way your display looks.
The kit is very simple with 6 LEDs run long a strip of tape to hold them to the back of your monitor. At the end of the strip is a USB connection to give the lights power. The kit is rated for monitors 24” or less in size.
Now for this to be effective you need to be using your computer in a dark environment, we tried this in a well lit room and darker room and only in the darker room could you really tell any difference.
The lights did their job as advertised, giving my monitor a soft white halo around it. The effect was very pleasing but I will need more time to see if it actually reduces eye strain. There was however something I did not like, the lack of a power control.
A lot of the modern motherboards are starting to sue the recharge style features in the USB ports first introduced by Gigabyte. This means that in sleep mode or even powered off the lighting stayed on. The glow is soft enough that it is not really a big deal but for some people it could be an issue.
With a price of around $13 at local Staples this is a very in-expensive product so cost is not a big deal. As for how useful this is, that will be up to the individual. For me I like my computer gaming in a darker environment, hence I use lit keyboards and enjoy some nice case lighting. The ambient lighting this creates was to me a very welcome addition to my desk area. For someone in a well lit area this would not be useful in my opinion, the lights are just to dim for a well lit room to allow them to have effect.
With a low cost and subtle effect this is a pure personal choice type item, my personal choice however is that if you use your computer in a dark work area then this is a great deal.
Now for the next two week I will be on vacation and so the blog might go silent as well as the show. Do not worry we will back full tilt on June 3rd. I will try to get some blog entries done over the next two weeks but I will be sans-computer during this time and so can make no promises. In the mean time go out and enjoy the nice weather, I will be.
I do not recall ever seeing such super hero hype in media as we are seeing this summer. Thor has released, X-Men First Class has just come out and Green Lantern is on the way in a couple of weeks and next month we have Captain America. To add to the hype Marvel has made sure their movies have included teasers to the Avengers next summer along with Ironman 3. This is truly the summer of heroes.
In the computer gaming world super hero games have traditionally not done well in fact they have been kind of jinxed. Most of the early games let you play a known hero and while they where decent enough games they failed to capture any kind of heroic feel to the game play. The jinx was finally broke with the game Freedom Force, which let you make your own hero. While this was a great game and the sequel was solid as well, it was not long before we hit a draught once again. Then Cryptic Studios smashed the jinx into the ground like the Hulk smashing a villain with City of Heroes. After a while however Cryptic moved on but they did not forget their first great love and so was born Champions Online.
Champions Online is based on the award winning Pen and Paper RPG, Champions. The Champions game system is set in it’s own gaming world, forgoing the idea of letting you recreate heroes from Marvel or DC. This world has a rich and deep history developed over the years of pen and paper play. The developers at Cryptic where obviously fans of the RPG, so much so that Cryptic actually bought the IP for it.
Now while Champions Online is a different product it is impossible to separate it from City of Heroes since Cryptic made both games. It is something Cryptic has had to accept, not only because these are the only two Super Hero MMOs out, but also the fact that they are both Cryptic’s creations. With that in mind I will warn you that you will see a lot of references for comparison between these two games.
The premise of the MMO is classic comic book. The world is in trouble, in this case an alien invasion is taking place and Millennium City, used to be Detroit, needs heroes to save the day. As the logo states the game is a Free to Play MMO. This means the basic game is free and that you can make micro-transactions to add features to the game you would like, more on this later. When you first start the game you are treated to a login screen that asks you how you want the control system configured. You can use the default Champions system, a system based on the way most fantasy MMO’s work or a system based on the way CoH works. This is actually a really nice feature right out the gate allowing you to make the game feel and control in a manner you are confortable with.
When you first sign up for the game using the F2P model you are given a choice of 8 archetypes. These archetypes are basically easy to use power sets based on the traditional hero styles. They allow the use of weapons from guns to swords, ice powers, raw strength, fire, a bow, metal powers and mystical. These basic types allow for people that want to play type of hero without having to get too caught up in the game mechanics of the powers. As your character levels the basic power choices are made for you with you having the ability to modify the way the powers work and how your character uses characteristics to create the hero you wanted. Each archetype does have two levels where you have to choose between two different powers and you get the choose the travel powers of your character. This means you decide if your hero flies, teleports, tunnels or runs really fast.
Now as we stated earlier this game is free to play, what that means is the games basics are free and that through small purchases, using Cryptic points you may buy additional game features. For the free players, they are called Silver in the game, you may purchase additional archetypes. Right now there are six additional archetypes you can buy, adding such hero types as the gadgeteer, electrical, darkness, the beastly hero, the super spy and the mighty weapon wielder, think Thor. Each of these additional archetypes cost about $12 a piece. While this might seem steep when taken into account that you just buy the hero type you want and can ignore the rest without a recurring fee and it does not seem so bad.
Once you have selected your hero type it is time to make your hero. The editor is very powerful and allows you to create any look you can practically imagine. You start from a basic template but as you can see there are a lot of options, in fact so many that I could not listed them all in this blog without spending the day at it. The character creator breaks the hero down into head, torso/arms, hands, legs/feet and then adds extra areas to each of these. You can independently color each part using a four color chose for each part from a very large color pallet. If all this seems overwhelming, fear not as the random button will allow you to let the system randomly create a look for you. The look on the left is what I got the first time I hit random. Now as with the archetypes there are additional items that can be bought to give you even more costume options. New costume options range from formal wear to Luchador, Ninja Warriors, Cyberpunk Cyborgs and much more.
Now with your character created and his or her look complete you name your character and set forth to rid the world of evil. Before you name your character you should know that the main superhero names, the ones that have a copyright on them, have been blocked out. So if you thought you where going to play Batman or Superman well you are out of luck. This does not of course stop the various play on words in an effort to create the name anyway.
The tutorial that follows character creation leads you through a series of basic missions to stop the alien invasion that has hit Millennium City. The cities super group, the Champions, have been neutralized and it is up to you and the other heroes that have assembled to stop this invasion and free the Champions. Once you have finished the tutorial you are put into the game proper with early offers allow you to begin your heroic career in Millennium City or in the white north of Canada.
The actually game system is easy to learn and the combat is fast paced. The combat system is based on having a power that builds your energy and then other powers that allow you to charge them up for maximum effect. They default control system uses the number keys for your primary powers and the alt plus number for your secondary powers. The travel system lets you use your faster travel powers for not just movement around the game but in combat as well. In addition some parts of the environment come into play, there is something cool about picking up a bus and throwing it at the bad guy.
The missions have some decent storylines and each area has multiple story arcs. Overall I really like the way the missions are laid out. The basic content is free for everyone to play and three mission packs are available for purchase if you want more content. There are three of these adventure packs all they seem to have around 4 hours plus of game play in each. The adventure packs and most of the missions can easily scale between running them solo or in groups, this is a great feature since sometimes you just do not want to play alone and other times you do. A recent addition is the comic series, a group of new missions released each week that are all tied into a single overall storyline. These have replaced the Adventure packs and unlike the older system these are 100% free for all players.
For people that want to play with their friends but cannot get as much play time there is the sidekick system. This allows players of different levels to play together at the same level. The system works pretty well though it does have the issue that you have to stay close to keep it going. Also the sidekick system does not just work by bringing a beginning character up, it allows higher level characters to play down at the level of their friends.
As I stated earlier I wanted to take a look at the idea of the free to play system. The concept is actually pretty cool for consumers. Essentially the basic game is free, no money needed to enjoy it. However there are extras you can get if you desire them, allowing you to spend what you want to create the game the way you want it. Some people do not like this system but I think it is great. For example if all I wanted to play is an Ice Powered hero and do not want to mess with the big adventure packs, I can play 100% for free with no added cost. If I desire down the road to play a gadgeteer then I would have to buy the archetype but I do not have to pay for everything including the stuff I do not want.
Now the other side of the hybrid F2P model that Champions Online uses is that you can pay a subscription fee. This fee gets you a bunch of the extra stuff including costumes and adventure packs as well as access to the free form character creation. Freeform means you are not limited to a set power arc and can mix and match all the available powers as you choose. This level of game play is for the more hard core player but the cool thing is you can start with F2P, see if you like the game and then upgrade later on to the full gold membership.
As I said at the start looking at Champions Online almost requires comparisons to City of Heroes. The first big difference is the subscription model with CoH being a full paid subscription system offering a light trial period but not the open ended free game play of Champions. The game system in Champions wins hands down for me from an easier to work with character creation system to a faster more action oriented combat system. While the graphics in Champions may not be considered state of the art they look better than CoH in my opinion and they do a good job of created the comic book look and feel. Finally the storylines in the Champions just work better with on many occasions my actually feeling like my character was a super hero, something I never really felt in CoH.
Now with this game approaching 2 years since release some people have asked why I am reviewing it now. You have to understand that I am an old school Champions pen and paper player dating back to 1981 and it’s first release. When I heard that Champions was being brought to an MMO I was to be honest skeptical of how the game would be. The transition from pen and paper to computer game has not always been a good one, historically it is usually a disaster. So with this in mind I was kind of scared to look at Champions on release.
However there is something cool about MMOs, the games that release are seldom the same a year later, as the game grows and expands. With that in mind when it was announced that Champions Online was going Free I decided it was time to dive in and this review is that time spent exploring.
I could give you a lot of different reasons why I like or dislike this game but I think there is an easier way to sum up my opinion. Right now my daughter and wife both are playing with me as well as Doug and his son. We are not just playing but spending money to get more access in the game was we explore it and everyone is having a blast. In fact Champions Online has stolen away almost all my Star Trek Online play time.
With all of the super hero movies out this summer it is easy for a gamer to get inspired. To envision create your won super hero, fighting against evil and saving the world. That can come in the form of a suit of super technology, a large hammer, the strength of a hundred man or many other possibilities. With a chance to enjoy this kind of game play for free there is no reason not to give Champions a try, and I think once you do you will want to stay.
I am now off, there is a situation in the deserts of the southwest where a huge monster named Grond is terrorizing everyone. So the Blue Knight will answer the call along with his companions of the super group, the Round Table. We could use all the heroes we can get, Grond is a big one.
Have you been heroic today?
Review and Interview Segments as aired live 5 June 2011