This week I thought I would take a different direction for the blog post. Over the decade or so we have seen the political process in this country expand to the point that it seems to never stop. We have candidates promising us the moon and then election day hits and we realize it is the same old thing again. We then set in to endure another long process of the same thing all over again. Well it seems over the years that tech and gaming companies have decided this was a great way to sell stuff, after all these people get elected.
Looking back at a lot of releases of both hardware and software over the last few years we have seen companies built hype over long and longer periods of time. The company will announce a new product is on the way and give us vague release times. Then over the next few months if not years the company will release will tidbits, teasing us at how great the product will be, claiming it will change everything. We will get emails weekly telling us about the latest video that has been put out and people will gobble up the material like it is candy. The company will leak information and do exclusive interviews building the hype machine up to a frenzy and then…. Well you know what happens next.
Over the last year or so we have had some real hype up and let down moments. One of the biggest was AMD and the all mighty FX chip. We were told this was the chip that would put AMD on top. We were promised an 8 core beast that would change the way we all used a CPU. What we got instead after all the secrecy, hype and waiting was a chip that was actually slower in everyday use than their previous model and was priced higher.
Bioware and EA did it to us with Star Wars: The Old Republic. A Bioware rep actually said something to the effect that other MMOs were broken and Bioware was about to show the world was what an MMO should be. They claimed we would see a game system unlike any ever created before and state of the arts graphics. We were promised that the full voice over system would not slow down the release of new content despite the pundits claiming it would. What we got was an MMO just like every other MMO except it had voice overs. We also have Bioware and EA now telling people to be patient because new content takes longer due to the full voice over. We endured tons of little videos and an amazing amount of hype to deliver just another MMO with a Star Wars skin.
Intel to a lesser extent got hit by the hype slap with the release of their Ivybridge processors. At CES we had displays everywhere telling us how get the onbaord graphics were and how we could get a great gaming experience using Ivybridge. We also hear how great the Ivybridge upgrade would be since it was using a smaller die we would see this great improvement over the Sandybridge chips. Go read the reviews, Ivybridge does okay but performance improvements and power improvements are marginal and the graphics is till the weak link in the Intel setup.
The reason for this article is because of the recent hype methods used by Bethesda, the maker of Skyrim. In March the team from Bethesda let some info trickle out that gave the impression the wait for the Skyrim DLC could soon be over. This trickle lead to an announcement that in April there would be a big surprise for Skyrim gamers. Well April is nearing a close and the only big news out of Bethesda is their new game and that Kinect users will get voice activation for Skyrim. The first has nothing to do with Skyrim and the second only effects a small percentage of the players and even then is not that big of deal since a mod that offers this same support is already out for the PC. Now with April about to end and Bethesda being silent the leak is that we “might” get word next week. This is classic hype building, I mean seriously an announcement of maybe an announcement?
Now in fairness to the above companies they are not the only ones to do this, a lot of companies in hardware and software are guilty of this hype campaign. The saddest part however is not that these companies keep doing this, but rather that we as consumers not only accept it but encourage it. We go to the rumor sites, we download the latest videos, knowing full well they are not going be representative of the game we look forward to. We listen to the BS the companies throw us through so called sneak previews that are closer to paid advertisements and eat it up like candy. Then when the final product hits the shelves and we see that they hype was just that we actually get mad at the companies.
So to us, the consumer I say it is time for us to wake up. Game trailers are NOT 90% of the time what you will see in game. They are specially prepared and scripted events to get you excited, not about the product itself but the dream of that product. When a hardware company spends time telling you that their next product will change the industry, smile at them and go on with your gaming, or work. If it changes things for real we will know it on release and if it is just another small step forward then at least you can feel like you did not waste your time in anticipation
To the companies I am begin you to please for the love of god lay off the hype. If you have an announcement to make then make it. We do not need forewarning it is coming just tell us what you have to say. Game companies, take the money and time spent in making the various trailers and put it into developing the game. You can make a trailer easy enough with Fraps and some real game play. It will mean more to us because we get the see the real game and will cost you the company less resources and time. I mean come on we can do it, why can’t you?
All of you companies out there pay a lot of money for marketing reps to help you build these strategies however they have taken you all for a ride. I will give you the following marketing advice for free.
1) Be honest with us, the consumers. We do not need hype and slight of hand to like a product, show us who and what you are openly and honestly, we will react better than you can imagine.
2) If you have an announcement then make it, nothing kills the impact of an announcement as much as making use wait and wait. We lose interest and move on and the impact of your announcement is lost. Surprise us with the announcement, show us something at the time that is real and the impact will be a hundred fold better.
3) Tell us about your new product when you are nearing release, not 6 months or more out. In 6 months your product might be meaningless to me and the hype train makes us all lose interest anyway. If you have a game announce it when you are in the last stages of a close beta so the launch is getting close. If it is hardware then practice the same idea. Announce in advance enough to let review sites and testers have played with it but we the consumers do not need road maps and wink and smile promises of performance.
4) Finally take all the money that you would put into your hype campaign and use it for putting finishing touches on your product. We would love games that do not need day one patches or hardware that needs a new driver release within days of launch. Put that money to use in a way that BENEFITS the consumer.
Listen we are geeks, we get excited about new hardware, software or games just because it comes out. We do not need you to stoke us up, we are stoked to begin with. Maybe if you spent less time stoking us up we would not be so let down and the negative forum posts would decline. Cut the hype, just give us the products.
We have looked over a lot of SSDs over the last year or so and we continue to be impressed more every time we see one. SSD’s are one of the most transformative upgrades you can do to your PC. When in place an SSD changes every aspect of your computing experience by putting a snap into the system. Files open much faster and this translates into the whole computer just feeling faster.
When Monster Digital decided to get into the SSD market they had a problem, everyone was in the SSD market. So when you have a hot rod that is blazing fast with a smoking motor but the rest of the cards have similar motors how do you make yourself stand out? That was the issue they faced and Le Man’s is their answer.
The Le Man’s line of SSD makes use of the Sandforce 2281 controller, however by waiting until the controller had been out for a while Monster was able to get the most stable firmware right on release. To give themselves even more of an edge Monster cherry picked Toshiba toggle 2 NAND Flash chips to ensure only the best memory chips were used for the drives, achieving the highest possible performance and reliability. The wait was well worth it as the Le Man’s delivered the fasted benchmarks numbers of and SSD we have had in house topped our former champion by about 2% on average.
Not a bad start for a first SSD lineup but Monster released that even with these speed they needed a touch more so they pushed things over the top by adding accessories. Now to go back to our car analogy Monster did not just give us a fast sports car. This beats is equipped with Whale scrotum leather seats, mother of pearl shift handle and satellite radio with internet access.
To be specific they made the drive look a little different by forgoing a lot of colors and decals and instead did a simple silver finish. It might hold finger prints but it looks very sophisticated. It also comes with a matching SATA to USB adapter. This is not an enclosure but and small adopter piece that will fit on SSD’s, laptop drives or spindle drives.
Once you get past the packing foam you will find a bootable disk using Kamino Clone to make it easy for you to copy your existing HD to the SSD and then just swap to drives to enjoy SSD goodness. You will also find a small screw driver with interchangeable tips, a 2.5” to 3.5” bracket, mounting screws and the USB cable for the adapter. All of this is put into a nice heavy cardboard box that uses a flap design to open. The box is very high quality and has two magnets in the flap and two more in the side panel. All of this comes with a 5 year warranty, definitely a cut above the norm in the SSD world.
The drive we were sent is 240 gig and will carry a premium price, this will not be the cheapest date at the dance. However the feature rich package and out standing performance places this drive a cut above.
We did find a few things of note during our testing, bit none of it was with the drive performance. The screws that came with the kit are all torq screws, like that used in the Mac. Now personally I wish all PCs would move to these types of screws, they are much easier to work with and much harder to damage. However the simple truth is that the PC is built around the phillips head system and while this is a better solution it will cause an issue somewhere in the future.
The SATA to USB adapter is designed for USB3 and that is awesome, if you are already in windows. When using the kit for your upgrade this can cause some frustration. The adapted needs to be plugged into a USB 2.0 slot for the system transfer as the USB 3 ports will not have drivers loaded and the software cannot see the drive.
Speaking of the USB adapter, it has a place to attach an external power source. While the USB connection will provide enough power for an SSD and many laptop drives, it will not give the needed juice for a 3.5” spindle drive. We noticed that the power adapter was not included with the kit, nor was any way to order one or the information to pick up a generic adapter if you chose to do so.
We had a chance to talk with the people at Monster about these findings and they were very receptive. Based on our feedback I can tell you that the screws will be changed over to phillips, the quick setup sheet will include a notice about using the USB adapter in a USB 2.0 port for the data transfer and a section will be added with information to make it easy for you to get a power adapter to make the USB adapter even more versatile.
Now I have to admit I was already impressed with the Le Mans drive but talking to the company moved it up a notch. These people genuinely seem to care about making the user experience the best they possible can. During our discussion about the material mentioned above they took the time to explain the reasoning for each decision and then listened to our feedback with a very open mind. This attitude is something not seen often in this industry anymore and was a really welcome change of pace.
The Le Mans series comes in 80, 120, 240 and 400 gig sizes. All of the drives have the same bundle and will be premium priced for their size.
You know for a lot of people an SSD is an SSD. The truth is even the slower drives make a huge difference over a spindle drive. However when you are building that system for yourself sometimes you do not want good enough, sometimes you want something more, something a step above.With performance measuring the fastest we have seen to date, a 5 year warranty, a solid accessory package and a flashy finish the Le Mans is definitely a step above.
Sure the Mustang can give you a great sports card but sometimes you want more and go for the Porsche. The Le Man’s is aptly named, great speed and a lot of style.
Review of the Le Mans 240 Gig SSD as aired live 21 April 2012
We have recently been looking at quite a few headsets for gamers and as you know headsets hold a special place in the hearts of myself and Doug. When we started the review we saw some analog and some USB sets but since none of them were really the same headset a proper comparison was just not fair. However I REAALY wanted to do a comparison and talked to a few companies about this. Our friends at Steelseries though this was a good idea and sent me their Diablo III headsets which are very close in design to their Siberia v2 headsets we already had.
So with these two headsets in our hot greedy little hands it was time to let the testing begin. For the purpose of our test we used my main gaming rig and put in a Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Champion Series card with the front I/O Port. Four our USB hookup we used the front USB ports on our Thermaltake Level 10 GT case. I considered using the rear hookups because they would have less cabling in them and could give a cleaner signal but I wanted a realistic setup and the front connections were more likely.
As we do with all our headset testing we ran sound comparisons using music, movies, games and a microphone comparison done by recording me speaking. The testing was done in two rounds, the first with the sound set at default, stock settings and the second with the sound tweaked using the control software for both methods.
At the stock settings the X-Fi and Analog headset were clear winners with the sound having a much richer tone to it. Bass in my musical choices was clear and thumped nicely, the movie playback had clear sound with explosions and special effects having good rich tones and the game playback was really nice to listen to. The USB headset was not awful, I have heard much worse over the years but it was not close to the sound delivered by the X-Fi. The bass was lacking and this resulted in everything having a sound that was just not pleasing, the depth of sound did not seem to be there.
Opening the controls for the USB headset I found that Steelseries has some very basic software with a nice feature. You are not seeing wrong, that is a simple 5 band EQ. Now the sound guy in me cringed when I looked at this, a 5 band EQ is not going to give me a lot of control but I was pleasantly surprised at much effect it did have. With just a few minutes of tweaking I was able to pull in a sound that I really enjoyed, equaling if not being a little better than the X-Fi at stock.
Now the cool feature I mention is under the properties tab. There I can select an EXE and have the sound dynamic I created with the EQ change automatically for the program I am using. Now in fairness I am personally not likely to use this. I like to get my sound tuned in the way I like it and find that it works well for me in anything I am listening to, but I do know a lot of people that like to tweak sound for specific uses and this would be very handy.
Opening the software for the sound card gives a much richer set of tools to adjust the sound. We double the EQ controls to 10 channel as well as have controls to add other effects. Playing with the settings I was able to take the sound to an even higher quality level again passing the USB solution but not by much. While I was able to achieve some more bass and a bit more sound depth the difference was not enough to really effect my listening pleasure.
After we got the listening testing done it was time to turn to the recording, using the microphone. Again I tested at basic settings and then tweaked the settings. The USB solution had no real tweaks to the microphone other than adjust the levels. The X-Fi however has a very rich sound recording package that essentially gives you a small mixing board for your PC. However even with these extra tools the recorded audio quality was nearly identical.
Now looking at this setup I can imagine some of you are wondering why I would compare a good quality sound card to a USB solution. Why not instead compare to the onboard sound that can be found on most motherboards? Well I did actually start there and what I found was that the USB solution was better at stock than the sound on 3 different motherboards, all using Realtek solutions. I realized I needed to up the level of this testing a bit. Further looking at the USB headsets I have looked at, they are all running around $80 or better, this means to get a meaningful headset comparisons you need a similar quality analog set, something someone that is just using onboard sound is likely to pay.
So lets begin putting our conclusions together by first looking at cost. A good sound card is around $100 and the card I chose to use is closer to $150. The basic Siberia v2 headset is around $80 and the USB solution of the Diablo III set is around $110 on Amazon. If you are spending this much on a headset then the odds are you are going to tweak it to get the sound you truly want so the base settings while an interesting exercise can be thrown out for the final conclusion.
From a pure sound quality point of view the analog set with a good sound card wins, however the margin of victory is not all that large and when you realize that 200% or better cost of that solution it is definitely not a value. While the sound card approach in this case offered some nice features for recording, the simple truth is most people do not need those features and again for the cost difference did not really matter.
Now you can see were I am heading I am sure, the USB is the better solution from a cost to performance perspective in the case I mentioned. However take that conclusion with a grain of salt. What I mean is that not all USB headsets are created equal and so this might not always play out this way. In the review I have done here I am comparing two headsets that are VERY close to identical hardware with the exception of the USB connection. This means we are actually testing the headsets less than the USB sound solution they are using.
This at the end of the day is the real test we are seeing here, can a USB solution keep up with a good analog solution and the answer is yes. The USB solution from Steelseries beat out onboard sound on a few different boards and after tweaking gave an X-Fi a run for it’s money. I have recently look at another solution that produce sound close to the X-Fi as well. The key is to make sure you get a good USB sound solution.
What this means for gamers is you can have the high end headset and great sound without the added cost of the sound card. The onboard sound is usually enough for everyday use but when it comes time to delve a dungeon in Skyrim and you want the immersion of a headset then these work great and with a little less cost than getting the same quality headset with a good soundcard to make it worth the headsets cost.
USB sound has come a long way and for a gaming headset it seems a solid way to go.
Show Segment as aired 14 April 2012
Let me take the time to say thank you to Steelseries for giving us the headsets used in this comparison as well as to Kingston for providing the RAM and SSDs used in our test systems and Thermaltake for the PSUs and Cases used for our test builds.
Internet privacy is something Doug and I spend a great deal of time on during the show and is actually a topic a lot of you, our listeners say they want to hear more about. It was not all that long ago that Doug and I asked everyone to take part in Operation Smoke Screen. The idea was we would flood search data collectors with crap and make some of the marketing data they collected useless. However, while this might sound like fun and could be effective if enough people took part, it was not going to stop the marketing people from spying on your web browsing activity.
The government, due to public pressure has actually been looking at ways to give us back some privacy and the industry came up with a method called, Do Not Track, this is similar to the Do Not Call system we have on phones. The idea is you can enable a setting in your browser that would tell a website to NOT use your browsing data while there in an effort to track your movement or create marketing data. Just like Do Not Call this sounds like a good ide and just like Do Not Call it is less than effective.
The reason it is not effective is that first the person has to opt out. This means by default you give the companies permission to track you just because you exist, thus you arte being tracked automatically. To Opt Out you need to be aware of your options and then find the settings needed and make sure they are switched on. However while that ends what you need to do there is another part to this that you have no control over, and that is if the web site you are going to will bother to pay attention to your choice. That’s right you can say no all you like but they can choose to ignore you, track you without you knowing it and there is repercussions.
Well a little company in Boston decided this was not good enough. Abine is dedicated to helping users to enjoy a better level of online privacy than we have now. To introduce themselves to the world they have a free program called Do Not Track Plus. This program goes a step beyond the passive opt out system that is built into some browsers such as Internet Explorer 9. Rather than taking a passive approach this program is very active, it works to stop more than 600 different tracking technologies actively. By actively blocking the technology the choice to be tracked using these technologies is now 100% in the users hands and the companies will only be able to by pass this by using new technologies. Never fear however the folks at Abine are watching for this and will update, much as anti-virus companies do to keep your data private.
For the last few weeks I have taken Do Not Track Plus for a test spin on my Internet Explorer and Chrome browsers. The picture on the left was taken using my IE9 browser and visiting MSNBC. The screen shot is showing the program after I requested to see what it had found. Now I expanded this fully so you can see what the program is doing.
When it is not expended the program is nothing but a small circle sitting on the browser toolbar. I have run a few browser benchmarks with the DNTP program active and with it uninstalled and there was no performance hit from using the program. In page open speeds there might be a slight slow down but nothing we could notice with anything short of a program measuring it specifically, in real life the performance is the same.
When a page loads the program is watching for various tracking technologies and then blocks them when they try to open. As you can see the program is looking for three specific areas of tracking; Social Networking, Ad Networks and various misc. companies.
When you are at a webpage the program will show you how many total tracking it has stopped on that page and by clicking the button you can see the specifics in each area. I can tell you now I was really surprised at how much tracking some sites have while others have none.
Now in some cases you might actually want some of these trackers to work, I do not know why but you might. If this is the case you can go into the settings and pick the specific trackers you do not want blocked. The default is to block everything and I can tell you I have had no glitches on any website when doing this.
After all my testing I noticed that a number of ads I used to see before are no longer showing up. Turning off the program allowed the ads to appear again. The end result has been that my browsing experience has not really changed but I am now more securing in knowing that companies that had thought they could track me without my permission are now no longer gaining data from me.
Now I am not going to tell you that this program will give you complete privacy, it cannot. The reason is that you have to do some of the work to, lets face it there is no program that can stop us from posting to the internet if we want to. However this simple, little, free program does give you a level of privacy that is not usually there. It is super easy to use, just install it and that is it, you are protected. This makes it a great add-on for anyone, novice or geek.
Operation Smokescreen was our effort to help you befuddle the people tracking us on the internet, with Do Not Track Plus we go from befuddling with a smoke screen to vanishing from their tracking with a Cloaking Device. Do Not Track Plus is running now on my system and will continue to do so, I like knowing that people cannot spy on me and make money from my browsing. Considering the price this one is a no brainer and should be on everyone system.
Abine Interview and Review Segment as Aired 7 April 2012
By Doug “The Hat” Berner
In the last several months the tech world has seen the introduction of not one but two belt buckles. Both of these buckles were worthy of mention and yet got little press. The first because it accompanied the launch of an entirely new breed of CPU from AMD and the second because it accompanied the rebirth of a legend, namely the king himself Duke Nukem.
The Computer Ed labs has been tasked with the job of examining the two and determining which is superior in the world of “Man Buckles” For the purposes of this review a Man Buckle is defined as a belt buckle device which will not only dependably hold up a man’s pants by keeping his belt fastened securely but which makes a statement and could in a pinch be used as a defense device.
Upon first examination we find that both buckles are substantial, hefty in the hand and bold in design. The AMD buckle sports a wicked scorpion on a riveted metal plate motif, while the Duke Nukem buckle touts the nuke symbol that made him such an icon. So both pass the test of making a fashion statement, and the statement is “Here lies danger, proceed with caution”.
One primary focus for a Man Buckle is weight and size. Both matter, don’t fool yourself. The AMD buckle weighs in at an astounding 6 ounces and measures a full 5” X 3 ½”! This is a buckle you really have to hold in your hand to appreciate. By comparison the Nukem buckle, while impressive on its own falls short in this head to head comparison weighing in at just 3 7/8 ounces and measuring just 4” X 3 1/8”. Again while that is no small buckle, in this comparison it clearly finishes second.
Fit and finish are always important in a buckle after all you are wearing this kind of buckle so that people will take notice. Here we find that the AMD buckle step quickly ahead of the Duke Nukem buckle as it sports a polished and much more pleasing finish that the much rougher Nukem buckle. That’s not to say that the Nukem buckle does not reflect that the Duke is a tad rough around the edges but we in the lab all felt that the finish of the AMD buckle was defiantly more desirable.
Another all important component of any Manbuckle is the Chape. That is the wire bale device that the rear end of the belt fastens to. Here we find that the AMD and Nukem buckles, while different in construction and methodology, seem to be equal in size and effectiveness for all practical purposes. Our testing procedures did not allow for a point of failure test where we would normally attach both buckles to straps and apply weight until they failed, comparing the breaking stress each one could endure. However with the tests that we did conduct, we were able to determine that both would be adequate and probably equal in performance.
Moving on now to the prong. As the name might indicate this is the part of the buckle that penetrates the belt via a hole punched in the leather, or in the case of some belts, canvas or I don’t know some unidentified fiber material that is probably made up of chopped up things we have never heard of. Anyway when it comes to your prong, three things stand out most. Its length, its diameter and its shape. Ideally you want a prong with a respectable length, more than long enough to do the job without being so long that you poke yourself in the eye while using it. A heafy girth, thick enough to fill the average hole, without being so big that you have to rule out wearing some belts because their holes are not big enough. Though in fairness I have found that if you simple shove the prong in hard enough and wear it for a while the hole will tend to stretch to accommodate the girth of your prong. Also it is preferable that your prong have a slight curve to it as this helps insure that once fastened the belt is less likely to slip free of the prong.
In this comparison we found and you can clearly see from the photos that while both prongs would be adequate, the AMD takes a clear lead here. The reason is that the prong on the AMD buckle measures a whopping 3/8” while the Nukem buckle’s prong though long enough to get the job done is a full 30% shorter at ¼”. Now the Nukem buckle did have a bit more of a curve to it which as we said is desirable, but in the end it came up lacking in both length and girth. Additionally prong on the AMD buckle benefits from a prominent knob on the tip. This knob in addition to a slight curve seemed to work idealy to insure that once the prong had penetrated the hole in the leather belt we used for testing it did not come free until you applied at least one firm yank. So here the points again go to the AMD for having a clearly superior prong.
Our testing complete we tallied the score and unfortunate for the Duke it was not even close. In nearly every category we used for evaluation the AMD-FX Manbuckle with its highly polished, riveted finish and bad ass scorpion logo was the hand down winner. Sorry Duke, we still love and respect you but I suspect that on you days off you would be proud to sport this AMD buckle around the house.
AMD has defiantly set the bar high for the future of tech related Manbuckles and we here in the Computer Ed tech labs will be looking out for any worthy contenders that may come along but for now they rule the roost.
Be sure to check out our Facebook page for more photos from the Manbuckle Shootout.