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Archive for the ‘hardware’ Category

Untapping Wii’s hidden potential (video)

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Erik posted this on his NATW (News around the web) post yesterday, but in case you missed it, this is too cool to bypass just like that – see the video after my comments below…

In case you haven’t noticed, every week day we have in our frontpage the “News around the web” coverage with 4-5 hand picked items of interest that sometimes deviate from our usual news but are well worth a read. The post also features a “Five years ago in TechSpot” story from our archives, just to give you some perspective of the technology today. Then it’s all rounded up with reviews and articles from fellow websites.

Major thumbs up to Johnny Chung Lee for his creativity using Wii’s hardware. I wonder where did the millions spent in the PS3 and Xbox 360 go? Especially when the later is essentially a rebadged PC.

Written by Julio Franco

January 29th, 2008 at 3:17 pm

3dmarks per $

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The guys at Futuremark (developers of the popular 3dmark benchmark) emailed me late last week letting me know of the launch of a new service available through their YouGamers portal that gathers submitted benchmark results, system specs, and ultimately pricing information to build a table of the best values in videocard and processors.

There are obvious shortcomings inherent to the way data is being gathered (all user-submitted, 3dmark tested only, features are not considered), but from a quick glance I took to the stats, it’s at the very least an interesting thing to watch.

An obvious miss I thought was the “Best Bang for the Buck” graphics card where the GeForce 8600 GT is sitting on top, and we know this has never been a product of our particular choice, even when considering the price. But yet, the thing costs less than a hundred dollars nowadays, so perhaps we should revisit those budget choices. The quad-core CPU best value went to the Core 2 Quad Q6600, no surprises there, although it appears to be AMD Phenoms are not even getting listed yet.

You will be surprised when you see the Athlon 64 X2 3600+ getting the most CPU Marks per $, in fact all Athlon X2s were on top of Intel Core 2 Duos, which are generally better choices for gaming but perhaps this is not reflected as dramatically in 3dmark.

While there, I recommend you also check out statistics gathered for the most popular hardware used by 3dmark users in the past 12 months. Nvidia GeForce cards dominate 9 of the top 10 positions (#1 GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB/640MB), while the Core 2 Duo is also comfortably on top of the CPU chart.

Written by Julio Franco

January 28th, 2008 at 12:13 am

Motivations for an upgrade & Far Cry 2 eye candy video

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While I barely touched on the subject of high system requirements yesterday on my post about Vista and gaming, it got me thinking about my plans of upgrading my desktop system, where gaming Crysis is basically my only justification for upgrading an otherwise very responsive system. And I know what you are thinking, as TechSpot’s Executive Editor I must be running on the latest hardware out there but that is hardly the case, after all we are better off keeping all test hardware under the same roof (in this case, Steve’s roof!) so whenever we need to crunch some numbers and deliver the goods to you, it’s all handled as quickly as possible…

So, my last batch of major upgrades was over a year ago, when the Athlon X2 was still hip and so I’m running a 4400+ CPU with 2GB of memory on a speedy, but unfortunately very noisy 150GB Raptor HDD. Also just recently got to switch from an oldie GeForce 7800gt to a Radeon HD 3850, in fact I got two cards, but my SLI motherboard won’t let me run them in Crossfire. So, what’s the next step? Intel’s Core 2 Quad is my favorite route at the moment but I haven’t quite yet decided that, after all if my only motivation is gaming then a videocard upgrade should take precedence, but as you know both ATI and Nvidia will be playing the Multi-GPU card early this year which is not necessarily the GeForce 8800 Ultra we all wanted.

In the meantime I’m letting my plan unfold where I play Crysis as little and as slow as possible so when my upgrade finally comes, I still get to play it a bit with some more eye candy turned on :). Not to despair though, Far Cry 2 is up and coming, not to mention the wide number of good PC game releases we got last year, oh, and did you know Crysis is set to be a trilogy? Hopefully the sales will justify it.

Finally, here’s some Far Cry 2 video that recently hit the web:

Written by Julio Franco

January 25th, 2008 at 4:04 am

Vista and gaming, a bad combination?

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Last week we posted a new poll on the main site asking readers if they thought Vista is hurting PC gaming, and while I don’t necessarily agree that the question is a completely fair and valid one to ask just like that, looking at the partial results I have to say my experiment has gone just as I expected.

Despite of a mixed initial response from consumers and a growing acceptance for the OS today – after multiple patch releases and more mature drivers getting out of the door – Vista is still getting a lot of bad publicity in Internet circles, especially the blogosphere. It’s not surprising then that over 50% have responded “Yes” to the poll (that Vista is indeed hurting PC gaming). The rest of responses so far are divided between “No” and some maybes, from which the most voted is that high requirements hurts PC gaming more than Vista does or ever could.

And so, what is TechSpot’s official take on the matter?
I wouldn’t dare to say there’s one single answer that satisfies all the staff preferences – especially when we have Per refusing for so many years to upgrade to XP, for god’s sake! :). Personally, Vista has never been a problem for me bar the occasional disk thrashing nuisance, as long a I ran it on a moderately fast system, preferably dual-core setup with 2GB of memory.

Today, the OS is noticeably more polished and things can only get better with SP1, nevertheless the hardware rule still applies if you want no slowdowns and you are used to be a full throttle multi-tasker in XP. Gaming is a completely different world just because driver implementations can make it or break it, but if our recent tests are enough to make a case, (if you have a fast system) and can live with a marginal drop in fps, then you are ready for it, forget about dual booting and learn to live with the better OS.

Written by Julio Franco

January 24th, 2008 at 1:30 am

Gizmodo’s CES prank gets them banned for life?

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If there was something that caught my attention during last year’s CES was the massive amount of flat panel TVs being used all around the floor. As you can imagine this year was even more packed in that sense, and it was only a matter of time until someone did not resist and did something naughty (and we must confess, very fun) about it. Gadget blog Gizmodo used a device called TV-B Gone to shut off dozens of flat screens scattered around the floor, at times entire walls and some others during presentations. They got it on tape, too (wait, is that the correct term anymore?) which adds to the fun of the prank since the YouTube video has already been watched over 40,000 times.

But then again, if you are the CEA (CES event organizers) or one of the expositors who have spent countless human hours organizing for a flawless showing, then you have to be pissed off… This added to the fact that CES is not open to the general public, but you must attend with an accredited badge can put the blog in a bad spot for immatureness or plain childish unprofessional play. If anything, Gizmodo has celebrated more the prank than apologized for it. CES organizers in the other hand have not taken it so lightly.

Whichever side you stand on, the fact is this has happened already and Gizmodo may not be able to get access to future CES expos. You can bet TV’s infrared receptors will be shut off from now on in this kind of events…

Written by Julio Franco

January 13th, 2008 at 1:58 am

Posted in hardware,humor,video

Drivers and Windows Vista

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Mostly when people post something about Vista it’s either bashing it or praising it, however those two camps generally agree on one thing; that drivers have matured quite well since its release.

I’m gonna create a third group now; they are both wrong!

UAC, admin accounts, memory requirements and all other stuff aside, I’ve concluded one thing: unless you have a very very top of the line computer you have no business running Vista. And this has actually nothing to do with Vista itself at all, quite the shame because that leaves me out on an otherwise easy punch in the stomach :D

You might have seen my post about performance in Crysis with the 7900GT. I just ran some tests with a 8800GTS 512MB now. What I can conclude from this is that XP will give you 63% better performance in Crysis compared to Vista if you have a 7900GT, and only 16% better if you have a 8800GTS 512MB.

In other words, it’s not just Creative that releases miserable drivers, Nvidia is quite high on the list too (though they still have a long way to catch up with Creative, IMO :D)

Written by Per Hansson

January 3rd, 2008 at 4:18 pm

New MacBook Pro owner, joining the dark side?

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Depending for how long you’ve been reading TechSpot you may have read a variety of comments about Apple products, from hate to well, less hate :). No, but seriously, despite of being mainly a Windows site we have tried to remain balanced and objective when time has come to report on any product, no matter if it came from Nvidia or ATI… Intel or AMD, Microsoft or Apple. We have said it like it is, and backed it up as needed and as possible. It’s what we owe to our readers.

Part of this objectivity comes from recognizing when a company is doing things wrong, and applaud their efforts when they make a brilliant comeback. For example there was no room left for fanaticism when Intel kept pushing the horrible Pentium 4, while AMD had to offer a better product in the Athlon. Likewise, how not to love the speedy and efficient Core 2 Duos nowadays.

But the discussion of the better operating system makes for a much stronger and subjective case, not to mention it’s been around almost as long as the Personal Computer itself. I can remember how Apple still had some loyal following during some of its darkest days in the mid 90s, and around the time TechSpot opened its doors in 1998, I could not help but hate the brand for its delusional claims that did nothing but mislead the end consumer.

In our eyes, Apple had no game in the computer world until the first consumer version of OS X was released in 2001. And even then it was severely lacking in the hardware department until they finally ate their own words to partner with Intel in recent years.

Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Leopard

Which takes us to the present day, a revived Apple that is looking healthier than ever thanks to the iPod revolution along with some good long-term decision making on its computer division. The reaction from hardcore Apple fans is evident today throughout the web and even more so in the blogosphere. But like many PC users have begun to notice the fanaticism sometimes goes too far, and what you get as a result is a lot of subjective noise all-around that is certainly not helped by Apple’s own commercials.

But going back to the original purpose of this post, after a failed experiment using a Mac two years ago (Mac Mini G4 running Tiger, I couldn’t stand the slow hardware), I have decided to invest once again in Apple hardware, namely a MacBook Pro running a cool Core 2 Duo processor and OS X Leopard.

The thinking behind my decision was varied, for starters my old trusted ThinkPad T42 was needing a rest and another Vaio TX laptop I own, while very portable at 11″, is sometimes too small to get work done comfortably. Making a long story short, the MacBook Pro offered hardware that was on par with other major manufacturers ‘performance’ models, industrial design that is on par with Lenovo’s and Sony’s top models, and finally I got the choice of ditching OS X for Windows Vista or even XP, if I never found my way around it or needed to use Windows-only software. Of course, if I was going to believe all those Mac lovers out there, that could never happen.

I should add that it was also easier to swallow the $2000 spent on this laptop considering that as TechSpot’s Executive Editor, it comes handy when I can make a knowledgeable and up to date opinion on where OS X stands today against Vista or any other current Operating System, let’s face it it’s an ever recurrent topic.

I have been using the MacBook Pro for about a month now, and my experience has been mixed. The hardware is indeed beautiful and while I was expecting more from the LED lit screen, it’s still very very acceptable. There are small details that add to the overall experience like the backlit keyboard, the magnetic power connector and double finger scrolling, all in one portable package that is also the closest I have ever got to the performance of my custom-built desktop PC.

There are a few drawbacks that for the most part are inherent to every laptop that offers this kind of performance, so I won’t bother mentioning those. In the software side, I came across more than one surprise though.

Whatever you have heard about OS X Leopard’s ability to put Windows Vista to shame is probably not true… at least not from my perspective. In the first 24 hours I experienced two hard crashes, and in the first week I came across a reportedly software bug that locked my keyboard from functioning after waking up from sleep (it forces you to restart). So perhaps Tiger was more polished than Leopard is, and those early reviews that told you otherwise are pure bull.

Not to put the latest incarnation of OS X down, there are a number of things that work much better in the Mac than in Windows, like Spotlight – now that is powerful search that works – but I’m afraid it’s still an above-average consumer platform with flaws here and there, and a far cry from an Apple’s fanboy dream claims.
But my evaluation of the MacBook Pro’s hardware and software is far from over, this is an experiment I may actually be able to pull off (forgive my Windows roots), and hopefully it will also open the door for further Mac-related coverage and perspective at TechSpot for a very valid and growing consumer base.

Written by Julio Franco

December 14th, 2007 at 2:50 am

Unlike Creative’s SB X-Fi, the Auzentech X-Meridian works fine with 4gb+ RAM

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Just got me a new computer, went with 8GB RAM.
Felt sensible since it costs about as much as a day’s lunch. Put it in my Asus Maximus Formula, along with a Creative SB X-Fi ExtremeGamer.

Took the absolutely latest WinXP x64 drivers off Creative’s site, only over 1 year old.

Launched up Crysis and was greeted with most sounds missing and no 5.1 at all, some of the sounds from my front speakers were mirrored in the rear speakers though. Read up a bit on some forums, there I found the great info that Creative’s very fine drivers fail to work in 64-bit OS’es if you have 4GB RAM or more. It’s good to know Creative’s testing team has the right priorities. Making sure 4GB of RAM works in a OS that has as its main advantage access to more RAM should not be a priority. Oh, and it seems they have been feeling this way for over a year, because those threads were quite old… (I did pull out some RAM (2GB in total) and the sound in Crysis was then just as it should, perfect 5.1 positional).

But then I logged into Windows Update and found some drivers dated June 2007, so I installed those. Now I lost all 5.1 sound completely, even in Winamp I could only get Stereo, but at least they were WHQL certified, so I know the drivers must be well written and be of good coding practices up to Microsoft’s top notch standards.

Next I took out that very nice soundcard and put it someplace nice.

I then installed my X-Meridian, fired up Crysis with 6GB RAM installed (I haven’t gotten my mobo to POST with all 8GB, so that’s why). Wasn’t expecting much, but got perfect 5.1 positional sound. I don’t know if Crysis supports EAX or not, but it wasn’t something I noticed. I did notice the improved sound quality however.
But I did so more in Winamp, guess I had gotten used to the fine sound output by the Jamicon badcaps on the X-fi, oops, was that a typo? caps I meant…

Written by Per Hansson

December 7th, 2007 at 12:01 am

Posted in blog,gaming,hardware

GeForce 8800 GT deal…

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Update: There is a newer deal on 8800GT that I posted here.

Wait a second… getting the almighty 8800GT for the actual $250 MSRP? And from BestBuy? When a majority of desperate gamers are overpaying as much as $70 for getting one of these cards, this almost sounds too good to be true. But according to the BestBuy website you can get one (only ONE, no soup SLI for you!) for $249.99 after an instant $30 rebate, plus free shipping.

The site goes as far as saying the card can ship within a day. This is not one to pass by, better be quick if you don’t want to be left out. (Thanks Mirob in the forums for the note).

Written by Julio Franco

November 19th, 2007 at 12:18 pm

Posted in blog,deals,hardware

Crysis is AMAZING

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Every true PC gamer had this week marked on their calendars, Crysis the spiritual successor to Far Cry is out and I can tell you this is one game that will live up to the hype. By now you have probably read some of the reviews, even played the demo yourselves, and seen our videocard test where we show you a somewhat harsh reality that Crysis, being the most graphically advanced game out there, takes a toll on performance and you will need a very fast system to enjoy it to the max. Those with slower systems can still run it though as the engine scales relatively well.

But Crysis is no tech demo, the guys at Crytek have once again built a great enjoyable game upon a good engine and game software platform. I was very pissed off a few years ago when these guys did not get all the recognition they deserved for Far Cry (the original PC game) but it’s likely that won’t happen again.

I also wanted to mention that the full game happens to run a bit faster than the demo. I can’t quantify on the exact difference but from what I’ve seen on my own PC running the same first level, it seems overall smoother with a few things fixed here and there gameplay-wise, too. Looks like the developers were hard at work in the last few weeks between the demo and the full game release with last minute optimizations. On a GeForce 8800 GTS 320mb card I had to turn to some low quality settings to get really smooth gameplay on the demo, but on the full game I’m running comfortably with all at medium at 1680×1050, which is not too bad.

Finally, to get you on a positive Crysis mood here’s a YouTube video depicting some graphics capabilities using the Sandbox editor on DirectX9 with “very high” settings:

Written by Julio Franco

November 18th, 2007 at 3:02 am