Monday, November 28, 2011

Ultimamega PC

A little while ago, ok years ago, one of the things I'd do to amuse myself was to see what the other extreme would be to the PCs I could build at the time.

It's only fairly recently that I'd had the spending power to build the PCs I wanted, instead of having to settle for quite rigidly budgeted cost/performance rigs. It actually works out cheaper in the long run, my early PC builds only lasted maybe 3 years before I was forced to upgrade them. This time around, it's been 5.5 years since Godzilla (and its later Shade incarnation) was built and the trigger for the upgrade has been software, not hardware.

That's right, if you have a 2006 era PC with the capability of a 2GHz dual core processor and a graphics card like an ATI 4850 then there's no reason to upgrade. It'll handle World of Warcraft at decent frame rates (admittedly with the graphics options turned down a bit). The only reason to upgrade is Microsoft's decision to force people to change (I refuse to call them an upgrade) to Vista or Windows 7 due to needing newer Directx versions.

Doh - I'm getting sidetracked again. I used to do budget builds for my custom build PCs but possibly as a bit of rebellion, I'd see how expensive I could make a PC. Just one rule, it had to be gaming capable and Not Silly. So triple display water cooled machines would be fine, needing a second case to put a RAID array in would count as Silly.

So what's the build ? Here goes :

Case first. I'd like to say Thermaltake here as, despite me thinking the manual was written by illiterate blind moronic monkeys, the case I have is top quality within its limits. £33 for a top quality case is really good but it loses out on not having multiple 2.5" drive bays (SSDs) or a removable motherboard tray. The expensive Thermaltake cases look a bit nasty though in an Anti-Bling kind of way.
Let's go for an Antec 1200 V3 for £153 (+£120 on what I paid)

Every case needs a PSU, to keep to the "what did I buy?" theme let's look at Corsair. To fit the rest, it's going to need to be big ... A 1200W PSU would cost you £239 (+£185).

Next comes the motherboard and a cpu to put into it. Make it an Asrock Extreme 7 Z68 board for £233 (+£113) and an Intel i7-2700K for £252 (+£84). There's really no point in going beyond the 2700K because you don't really gain anything. Unless there's dual cpu monster boards out there ... There's no real point actually in going beyond the i5 2500K.

Memory, we'll go for the maximum for the board (32GB). Looks like G.Skills, the people who supplied my memory, only go up to 4GB modules so we have to go for Corsair Vengeance memory. That's £465 for 4x 8GB modules, compared to the £45 I paid for my 2x 4GB modules. The difference is the top speed they will go up to, mine are rated for 1600MHz while the Corsair modules are rated for 1866MHz. Both are more than is needed and won't be put under any strain in a system that isn't overclocked.

Cooling is key to any system. Good cooling means great stability (especially in the summer) but you need to be careful to make sure you don't end up with the equivalent of vacuum cleaner noise. Mine's not too bad there with the Zalman cooler. I'm aware of the fan when in the room but not when in bed, which is upstairs a floor. Staying Zalman again, they have an air cooler for £69 (I paid £43). It's worth putting a few extra £ in here but I wouldn't go above what I paid. Watercooling is an option too, although it's harder these days to find the bits as mainstream suppliers like Novatech don't stock them.

Graphics. This is the fun part. I went for price/performance here by buying a single GeForce 560Ti for £185. That's not good enough for the Ultimamega PC, it needs not one but two GeForce 590s for £770 each.

Yes. This is a Silly PC.

Drives make a machine go. I've really appreciated having Pumpkin's Windows on a Solid State Device drive and have made me appreciate that more with this review of the upsized version. Mine's a 64GB version, SillyPC needs 2x 256GB SSDs plus 2 of the biggest conventional drives on the market. The 2 conventional drives get paired up in RAID to keep the data safe. The bill ? 2x £305 for the SSD plus 2x £280 for 2 3TB Hitachi drives. I paid £84 for a 64GB SSD from Crucial and £73 for a 1.5TB drive from Western Digital

Oh - also noticing that SCSI drives (old tech) cost about £1 per GB still. Not putting them in this PC because I really don't see the point of getting an old tech drive that's far inferior to SSD for almost the same price/capacity as an SSD.

That's actually most of the machine now, it's just sundry items to go :
Windows 7 - Home Premium is £80, Ultimate is £155
Bluray drive - I bought a Samsung for £46 (Cyberlink's software bundle is repulsively bloated these days), SillyPC wants a blu-ray rewriter for £70.
Monitors - that's right - plural ! Actually, in the widescreen era having multiple monitors fails the Silly test. 3d monitors are ok though. £530 for a 27" 3d monitor from Acer.

How much is the whole thing ? I'll exclude the monitor as I don't have a good comparison :
My PC - roughly £930 plus or minus a bit
Ultimamega PC (but not really Silly) - £4346 + £530 for 1 of those 3d monitors. And you'd also want a Silly keyboard, mouse, headset and sound system to go with it.

Ouchies. But not as Ouchies as the SillyPCs I was having fun pricing up 10 years or so ago. Those had more stuff in too like DAT tape backup. Does anyone still use those ?

Is it worth paying Silly Money ? No. Definitely not. The only change I'd make from the My PC if money was completely No Object would be to replace the single 560Ti with a pair of 570's and even there, I think I'd just go for a pair of 560Ti's. A lot of the extra cash in the Silly PC is going on stuff that adds no real value past shininess and boast potential. Unless you're going for recording photorealistic 3d rendering in real time that is ... Example - my PC during the SWTOR beta test was using 4.7GB of its 8GB and could run it as maximum detail with no frame drops. Same for WoW, max detail at 1080p with minimal frame drops, including while raiding. Anything beyond 8GB is overkill.

But I have fun indulging myself pricing it all up anyway :-)

PS Just under £1000 is still hefty. But it should last me another 5 years, hopefully more. Which makes it more cost effective than doing what I used to do, which was to spend about £700 on a machine that wouldn't last more than 3.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A long time ago ...

In a galaxy far, far away ...

Classic lines - everyone must know where they come from !

Been beta testing today. That's when you use a bit of software that's just about complete but the developer's not quite ready to unleash it on the world. Started at about 4.30, logged off at 9.30. Didn't even feel hungry, just knew I had to get some munchies inside me sooner or later. Good games can get you like that, they don't take it out of you physically so you just keep on going.

What's the game ? Star Wars The Old Republic.

In a moment of madness, inspired by one Totalbiscuit and a steady diet of Star Wars movies, books and games, I pre-ordered this one. It's expected around Xmas time and I'm now seriously considering extending my leave period to get some more gaming in :-) I won't. I'm not quite that bad plus however good the game is, it's not worth sacrificing being around some of the people at work.

Plus the canteen do great sandwiches. (Yes I have eaten, that's not the pangs talking!)

How's the game ? It's pretty awesome so far. Well, awesome wrapped up in the limitations of beta software and a look and feel that's immediately familiar to any player of WoW. It's heavily story based, far more story based than WoW.

WoW - quests are a way of tying together moving around where the mobs live. Apart from maybe the Cataclysm zones, which had a little more story involved. The story stuff felt very loose and fluffy.
SWTOR - you're playing through a story, the mobs just happen to be in the way.

I played through about 7 levels of Jedi Consular earlier, I'll try out one of the other classes later.

But for now, will head back in game soon and hope to extract myself before the sun comes up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bubble N Hearth

One for the paladins ... We can do it too !

This being from the days when Horde didn't have paladins ...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Something for the weekend

We headed up to Lincolnshire again this weekend - twas Birthday weekend. The "we" is me and my sister, although "we" doesn't really apply because we come from separate directions.

Good weekend too :-) Here's a few of the highlights :

I got to drive a manual gearbox car again for the first time since I changed to my Lexus. Quite pleased that I managed to switch straight back into a smooth driving style with clutch & stick, although I could have done without massive quivers in my left leg ... I blame the cold and caffeine.

Sister's just changed car too, her old MR2 was getting a bit long in the tooth with some big repair bills looming around the corner. She's traded to a Saab 9-3 turbo diesel convertible which definitely ticks all the boxes. She needed something with back seats and something with better mpg for work trips. It passes those tests quite well, we managed to get me & my mom in the back seats. It feels like a normal car with the roof up too. Performance is good, with a high boost turbo that caught me out when the turbo made the wheels spin up when it passed its lag phase.

CTs handle better than Puma's and definitely better than the Focus. There's a roundabout where if I'm lucky, I can test the handling characteristics out. The Puma could hit 60mph over the bump by carrying speed through the roundabout. The Focus never gave enough confidence to carry speed through there and didn't have the engine flexibility to get the acceleration. How did the CT do ? The chassis handled acceleration through the cornering, which is better than what I remember from the Puma.

There we have it - heavy medium 5 door hybrid beats small 3 door sports coupe on performance and handling and utterly thrashes the Focus ST. It got to 60 on that bump without the front wheels lifting up too. When you switch to Sport mode, it keeps its composure incredibly well when being asked to make sudden changes in direction, the Focus would just lean over and say "do I have to ?"

Old programs - there's a company out there called VMWare who make a fantastic bit of software. What it does is make a computer within a computer. Why is that useful ? Because you can run programs on it that won't run on newer machines. Just fire up the virtual machine, throw it some software and you're away. My new desktop and my dad's laptop have copies of it now running Windows XP meaning my dad can run his bridge games again. Those bridge games refused to work on our Windows 7 64bit machines.

VMWave make a freeware app called VMPlayer which really does the business. I really can't recommend it enough. I have to admit I gave up on getting Windows 98 to play on it but it gave a hassle free virtual installation of Windows XP on both machines. It's good to see companies offering trial versions of their software that aren't crippled in critical ways. If you're needing to do Virtualisation in a hefty way (it's handy for separating tasks out), VMWare's VMWorkstation will be the way to go.

(I have no contact with VMWare outside of being really pleased with their software)

From good to bad - Apple software quality has nosedived ...

Yes, I can now plug my iPod into my car and get the music playing on it. No, it isn't at all reliable. I had to resort back to using cd's earlier because the iPod refused to play anything after a leg stretch stop. This isn't an isolated incident either, the iPod forgets what it's been playing and in one instance, it even claimed to have no songs on it despite being connected to its host laptop not too long before. I may resort to an old solution, plugging the thing in with an analogue lead instead of USB.

I refuse to allow iTunes to update itself now because the last 3 times it did, it broke its link to the LittleWhiteBox Airport Express. Would I waste money on an iPhone ? Hell no. Would I buy a Mac ? I'd rather trust Windows.

Erm - was I ranting ? Lol

Mpg - I trust the figures more now :-) As it shows in the Fuelly badge on my sidebar, I've been getting just under 50mpg from my Lexus. That's a bit below the claimed 69mpg figure ... I'm a bit more confident now though, I filled up just outside Newark tonight and until I reached the 70mph parts, I was getting 70-72mpg. That's fairly incredible for a petrol car, although it was mostly in 40mph speed limit areas where the car can occasionally glide along on the battery power only.

Back to work tomorrow. I may actually break a habit and go to bed before midnight cos I am actually feeling quite tired.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Ever feel like you're on the threshold of something about to happen ?

I kinda feel like that at the moment.

Can't really explain it though. I know there's a few changes that are definitely going to happen at work sooner or later, although part of that is inevitable because no project lasts forever. One change has already happened with the car (novelty hasn't worn off yet). That's not it though. I have a feeling this incoming change will be far more wonderful than just mundane things.

I don't tend to deal well with change though. My mind likes a certain amount of stability which extends even as far as preferring other people to be happy instead of me. Even where there's some people I really fancy, if I know they're happy with their partner that adds another little rock for that stability. In a way, I value their happiness over mine. It contributes to an "all is well in the world" feeling.

Tis a little lonely though.

Maybe I've been thinking about relationships (and lack of) a fair bit lately. Maybe I've met my dream girl already but didn't actually realise it. Or I mentally locked out the possibility.

Who knows what the future will hold, what I do know is that there's a certain someone out there who dominates my thoughts to the point where there's barely any room for anything else. And as far as change goes, I have my granite like inertia but as soon as I commit to a change, I commit whole heartedly.

Oh, maybe my brain isn't completely mushed - other stuff going on lately includes :

Birthdays ! Cheers to Bionicdwarf, Craziequeen and Aginoth for much appreciated birthday stuff.
Cakes ! Birthday tradition at work. And with us merging with another team, lots of new people not believing me when I let slip my true age :
Age - people still think I'm at least 5 years younger than I am. They want to know my secret ...
Pooter - it's working well, handling a 10 man Warcraft raid without dropping many frames at maximum detail. Outside of power blips and bad software it has shown Total stability.
Leg - is improving to the point where The Boss looked at it yesterday without her running away screaming (I had lots of fun there with Vampire Eyes after my nose got fixed)
Dvd stuff - I know where the problem is for definite now with those silent audio blips - it's the amp. Meh.
Dvd stuff - Meh turns to more use for Xbox as dvd player :-)
Old games - I have these working again with a solution that I might put on my techie blog at some point.
Health - leg has improved but I've been feeling like I've been hit by a truck. My muscles are also rebelling. Need to figure out what I'm needing to eat to counteract that, it's usually a sure sign I'm missing something critical.

Right - time to hit the shower before a bit of gaming and music before sleep. And despite the theme of the first half of this post, that ain't gonna be a cold shower. My back would never forgive me !

Monday, November 07, 2011

Small, small world

Not many people won't have heard about the big crash on the motorway near where I live. What reminded me that this is a much smaller world these days was the sad news that a friend of a friend lost his life in the incident.

I didn't know him personally but from the love that's been shown via Facebook, he is already being sorely missed.

I doubt we'll ever know the exact cause of the accident and it would be wrong to speculate without knowing facts, although people are blaming fireworks. Assigning blame would also be wrong here, although I believe accepting some collective responsibility is appropriate. Driving standards have collapsed lately (I know I road-rage more than is healthy) as people are getting a sense of invulnerability from modern cars that are built far tougher than when I learned to drive.

People have joked that the best safety device to go in a car would be a spike protruding from the steering wheel, I'd compare that to a Rover Metro loaner car I had. I drove that really slowly ... not because it couldn't muster much pace but because I knew from its swiss cheese construction that it would disintegrate if a juggernaut breathed on it.

What's really sad is that even with reminders of how dangerous the roads can be, people are still :
Driving way too fast,
Saying "70mph is too low a limit for motorways" (badly wrong)
Not driving with any consideration to people around them,
Driving without due care and attention (that goes for those who use mobiles in the car too)
And many more sins shared by drivers these days.

Another sign of this being a small world is that I drove down the bit of motorway where the accident happened just a fortnight before.

Other (happier!) stuff :

Pumpkin* finally has all the bits that will go into making it a fully equipped PC :-) It was missing a conventional hard disc due to the floods in Thailand making hard disc prices go through the roof. A 1TB drive was £45 before the floods, the same drive is now £110, with that going up £5 today. When ultra rapid inflation hits, it's always worth a little bit of shopping around to see if you can take advantage of retailers who aren't keeping up with changing prices.

*(yes - I called it Pumpkin. Seemed fitting for something born on Halloween)

Cue a trip to BestBuy who are sadly closing down in UK. It would have been good to see them stay in retail here to keep PCWorld & Currys honest. (No chance of that with Comet). Anyway, I picked up a 1.5TB drive there for £72 today. More than pre-flood prices and it's an older model but still fits the bill :

It will have plenty of space,
It's not as quick as a current model but still quicker than the 250GB in the machine at the moment.

I can also assign 500GB of it to a Linux drive for playing with later :-). It's been a while since I looked at Linux and I'm hoping it will allow me to run some old Windows games that refuse to work in Windows 7. I just need to have a look at installation options, plus I'll need to move some stuff from the old drive to the new one. But - it means I can do now some of the stuff I was holding off on, like getting cheapie Office programs on the desktop.

Oh - rockets are fun. We had a Crazie fireworks evening on Satuday, with BionicDwarf, Cyberkitten and I all with our Mad Scientists hats firmly stapled to our heads. We also had the Craziequeen in attendance who had locked away her Health & Safety hat for the evening too. (Could have been handy due to bits of firework raining down on us). We literally had a blast, although I suspect we shall be avoiding rockets in the future. Why ?

Most were fine. However :
1 rose very slowly in "Houston we have a problem" style, barely getting to the treeline before going bang. The tree was still smouldering an hour later.
Another had been sniffing the alkyhol. It went up 10 feet, decided it was afraid of heights and promptly exited stage left before exploding in someone's garden. Oops.

Right - time to continue the Mass Effect campaign I started last week :-) But :

Always remember the fallen. Their sacrifice means nothing if we do not learn from it. Drive slower, get there safe.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Nutter magnet

Had a Costa with a difference yesterday.

I'd come back from having a wander through the middle of Bristol and instead of pay more for my parking in the city centre, I went to the Costa near Tesco. All normal, nothing to report. Until the nutters come in ...

3 people to dominate 3 tables, unfortunately choosing the ones next to where I'd settled. (Lesson - it can be better to guarantee who you sit by instead of leaving it up to chance). The kind of people you really don't want sitting beside you. I can handle being included in a conversation by interesting people but people who have trouble stringing two coherent words together - please no. Especially when those people demand you join in with them. I'd have moved to a different table but I'm not quite that rude.

So that's the Costa nutters. I also seemed to be a magnet for the charity people around Bristol (must have been the poppy on display) and to finish that thread, Paintball Guy decides to try his luck at Tesco too. Can't be the appearance, I'm currently doing the impression of a derelict (not shaved for a while cos I'm on leave).

Oh well. People make life interesting but it's good to be able to choose your acquaintainces instead of having them thrust on you.

How's other stuff ?

The new PC build is working great, although the fan noise is currently a little intrusive. Also intrusive are the two blue lit fans inside the box. I get the feeling they'd provide a spooky backlight for horror films seeing as they're behind the sofa. Temperatures of the machine are just fine at 46 degrees C max for the processor and 60 degrees C max for the graphics card. That leaves loads of headroom for the summer.

Apart from the disaster which is Battlefield 3 (and a BOINC issue which I think was due to beta software), it's rock solid stable. It's currently idling away doing lots of distributed computing research under the BOINC umbrella that includes the SETI hunt for aliens, climate prediction and medical research. Doing distributed computing is a great way of seeing if a computer is stable when it's worked hard, as BOINC will make it give maximum potential over a prolonged period of time. It's tougher than game stuff.

Games are shiny. Well. For most of them, shiny = smoother as they can't really take advantage of the better hardware, the extra grunt just gives more frames per second (low numbers there make for jerkiness and bad playability). Warcraft looks about the same, apart from shadows and water. It looks more like a proper world is in there amidst the cartoony stuff. Water effects are incredible, instead of there being a white water wake behind a swimmer, it's proper ripples. Wonder what would happen if you dropped a Goblin Fishing Pole in the water. And they need to put that item back in the game where it belongs.

Not tried the newer Deus Ex yet, although I have downloaded it. I have a line on a potential fix for Battlefield 3 (wind down the wick on the graphics card a little) but haven't tried that yet. Maybe later.

For now, I've almost cleared the TV box of recorded stuff ahead of clearing it. It still has bugs with series linking which is why it needs a kick in the "back to factory settings" button.

Oh yeah - fireworks tomorrow. It's birthday season, so a few of us are meeting up to blow a lot of stuff up. Should be a blast :-)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Playtime = frustration

Battlefield 3 = Do Not Buy

Don't touch it with a bargepole. It's crash-to-desktop hell not just for me but for hundreds of other angry people logging into the BF3 forums. Not just nVidia people, it's all of them - AMD cpu's, Intel cpu's, AMD graphics or nVidia graphics, they're all having problems.

Tried a few things so far, none have worked. I think the machine is ok as it ran the 3dMark11 benchmarks successfully. I'm currently downloading League of Legends again (WoW comes later) to get some quality gameplay time in.

Another comment - the Z68 based motherboard I have is supposed to support SSD caching, where the fast disc speeds up the slow disc. I've not been able to enable that so far though, dunno why. I'll check again when I have a new hard disc to permanently keep in the system, the one that's in there now is split up over multiple partitions which could be what's blocking it.

Oh - annual leave day 2 and I'm back to wondering what they're up to in the office. I've already emerged more than I usually do ... Novatech and back yesterday. Not planning to go out much more although I believe supplies will be required soon. I'm almost on my last cookies.