PC Hardware

A Tale of Two Vidies (yes, groan)

So my girlfriend bought a new video card to replace her failing 9800pro (which wasn’t actually failing, still has problems, don’t even ask). She got an Asus 6600LE which, to some extent, puts my Sapphire Atlantis 9800pro to shame. Being of the male persuasion this predicament came as swift kick to my 64-bit gonads so I shortly thereafter ordered myself an Asus 6600GT.

I was hoping for a slightly better card but my options were limited. I’ve got a Socket 754 motherboard which not only means I’m stuck with AGP for now, but if I want to upgrade to the new stuff I’ll have to buy a Socket 939 motherboard with PCI-Express, a 939 pin Athlon 64, plus a new video card all in one go. That’s a hefty investment, especially since I’m drooling over the uber sexy 7900GTX, so I thought I’d get a little something to tide me over. I was hoping to nab a 6800GT but those are out of print for AGP, as is most everything. I read about the 7800GS for AGP which is a hefty $330 CAD, but I was advised against it by my favourite local computer store, PC Village Canada, who warned that it was a pretty good card but didn’t give bang for the buck. I had my sights set on the BFG brand 6600GT since theirs are overclocked and have a lifetime warranty, but despite the fact that the store advertised a $50 mail-in rebate for the card, it too has apparently been discontinued all of a sudden. So the Asus 6600GT it was. It ran me $207 with tax.

I like the look of the card, as it’s a one-slot profile which is a lovely change from my previous card’s 2-slot profile which was, ‘ow you say, coocoo for ze cocoapuffs. The low profile alone will undoubtedly allow for nicer airflow in my already crowded case. The card has only 128MB of DDR3 which I wasn’t crazy about, but I figure it’ll last me at least another year or so or until I can afford a proper upgrade. The package came with a bunch of CDs, none of which I cared about, though it came with Joint Operations (which Otto might say is “flagrant false advertising”), a DVI to VGA coupler, a short SVHS to RCA video out, and a poster (!?!?) with quick install instructions.

I benchmarked my old 9800pro with 3DMark 2006 which scored 256 on the first 2 tests and gave me a lovely slide show.

I uninstalled all ATI drivers and software and booted into safe mode. I ran Driver Cleaner Pro to gut out any ATI remnants and I shut ‘er down. I opened up my old girl, ripped out the 9800, plugged in the 6600 with ease and after one false start (turned the on PC, beep, no video. Turned off and on again, eureka.) my monitor was singing the CMOS calypso.

I booted into Windows… well, almost. I got stopped just before the desktop, prompted with a lovely message serenading me to the tune of “Your hardware has changed significantly since you activated Windows. I suspect you of the heinous crime of trying to fool Microsoft so you have 3 days to verify your honesty by reactivating, you (probable) scumbag!”

I selected the option to activate over the internet, but it prompted me with a web proxy config screen. Pretty roundabout way to say it couldn’t connect to the internet. I hit cancel and clicked the activation bubble in the icon tray after my desktop displayed. Sure enough, my firewall prompted me to allow access to the app. I accepted and the bits and bytes went on a wild and wacky ride to Washington.

“This CD key has been installed on too many computers. Please enter another CD key or call this number toll free to be grilled under a 1000 watt spotlight.” This is a damned legal copy of XP by the way. Microsoft Genuine Advantage indeed.

So I called the number and was greeted with a chipper voice recognition fembot. With her feminine wiles she coaxed from me the 48-digit verification key displayed in my activation window. I had to speak slowly and in monotone and it took a good 3 minutes to relay the whole thing. I swear she got more and more hot for me with each relayed sextet.

And my reward for entertaining this cybernetic chatty Cathy? “The key you have provided is invalid. Now connecting you to an agent.”

So I’m connected to an Indian woman on quaaludes who asks me to repeat the first 6 numbers of the huge code. She asks whether I’ve installed Windows on more than one PC (I figure she probably knows the answer better than I do) and I say I might have put it on a laptop but I can’t remember. She dreamily and throatily dictated a new 48-digit verification code which I inputted, I clicked Finish, and voila!

I installed the drivers and rebooted and everything was hunky dory! Well, mostly.

First order of business was to benchmark this baby! So I loaded up 3DMark and was happy to see that all the greyed-out tests had now been enabled. I flagged the first 2 to make for an even test and put ‘er in gear. The first few seconds looked very promising, but when all was said and done the new card scored a paltry 250 – a full 6 points LOWER than my old card!! Yikes!!!

But benchmarks aren’t everything so I booted up some games to get the real scoop.

Guild Wars undoubtedly ran faster. I went into a heavily populated town with a big smokey bonfire in the middle and enjoyed about double the frame rate I used to. I whipped the view around and was confident I was getting some good GPU results.

Half Life 2 was surprisingly choppy, but I wasn’t too concerned since that game is optimized for ATI. I tried the free tech demo The Lost Coast which makes heavy use of pixel shader model 3.0 and that ran brilliantly! HDR (High Dynamic Range – simulates pupil dilation reaction to light changes) is really something else, and the way Valve accentuated it with bloom for overbright colours is really striking! Strangely, when I looked right down at the ground the framerate plummeted – like less than 1 frame per second – but when I looked forward and saw that same ground texture tiled 300 times it ran smooth as silk (at 1024×768). Very odd.

Call of Duty 2 was a bit disappointing, but the game is in fact a notorious PC gobbler so I wasn’t terribly dismayed. Having recently finished the game in DX7 mode (which looks like a beautiful CoD expansion pack and runs solid at 60 frames) I wasn’t terribly inclined to give it another go.

I then decided to go for the gusto and installed F.E.A.R., a certified GPU slayer which ran like ass crack on my 9800. I was VERY impressed at the improvement on my 6600. The game has a very handy benchmarking utility which reports the high, low, and average framerates and what percentage the scene was rendered at certain framerates. I found a very happy medium of great graphic quality above 25 frames and recently finished the game. When it’s at a playable frame rate this game is quite awesome. Not as good has Half Life 2 (or 1 for that matter) but a great game with awesome AI and the best bullet time since Max Payne.

Finally, I picked up Elder Scrolls: Oblivion which ain’t running too bad. We tried the game at my girlfriend’s place and found that it looked fantastic at nearly full quality at 800×600 with 2xAA. I gave this setting a try at home and was very impressed and surprised at the image quality, smooth frame rate, and clarity of textures and fonts at this low resolution, so it’s a keeper.

So after a few code blue coronaries I can safely say that my new video card eats my old one for breakfast with Canadian bacon. I am also proud to declare that my additional $70 bought me about 3 frames per second more than my girlfriend’s 6600LE which of course is mandatory for me marbles.

And I’m happy to declare that, since construction on her floor has concluded, my girlfriend’s PC hasn’t crashed once. I suspect the power tools and open hanging wires made her power fluctuate below normal levels. A weekend of Oblivion was certainly a fair test since she was stable all weekend (and so was her computer).

So buy a video card! It’ll make you happy! Wee!!

Now back to my Kahjiit archer agent and his feisty feline exploits!

PC Apps

We are Not Aµsed

There are a lot of excellent Bittorrent clients to use, and choosing the right one can be a perplexing task. Unfortunately, my decision just got a little easier.

My torrent client of choice until today, µTorrent, (not “youTorrent”, but “myooTorrent”) is admittedly an absolutely brilliant bit of programming. The tiny client (about 300kB) doesn’t require installation, uses only about 6MB of RAM (vs. up to 150MB by competitor Azureus, and is totally packed with features. It would pretty much be the torrent client of my dreams if only it were open source.

And therein lies the uncertainty.

A story on Slyck reports that the sole programmer of µTorrent, Ludvig Strigeus, has recently been employed by PeerFactor, a company hired by such organization as the RIAA to pollute P2P networks with fake and damaging files, and which also rewarded residential volunteers with cash for turning in their neighbours. The PeerFactor website confirms this in some dialect of English I am unfamiliar with.

PeerFactor is reportedly not the unscrupulous company it used to be, but an offshoot formed by former employees of the old company, now RetSpan, who disagreed with the predecessor’s anti-P2P agenda. (what better way to distance yourself than to keep the infamous name?)Retspan went on to mount a huge attack on Suprnova, once the star atop the P2P xmas tree.

PeerFactor seems to deny their past, however:

““We do not distribute any fake file over P2P, but only useful content,” Frenchman Richard Rodrigues, head of PeerFactor told Slyck. “We have never distributed fakes file (unreadable) because no user would [Â…] want to distribute [them].”

Ludwig shakily pleads ignorance over the identity of the company he has agreed to assist for 6 months:

These seem to be (legally) two totally independent entities. I have a contract with the second, while the first one is clearly Anti-P2P.

The same people (at least one person) are behind both of them. They are probably confused mortals that realized that Anti-P2P isn’t the right way to go, so they made another company related to the positive effects of P2P.

When challenged on the correlation between his popular Bittorrent client and anti-P2P agencies, Ludwig spoke up, as he rarely does, on the Slyck forums:

It’s not like this will affect µTorrent. We did not sign a deal about µTorrent, we signed a deal that I will provide them with code that implements the Bittorrent protocol. This code will be used in an ad supported file distribution system webmasters can use to publish big content.

Apparently Peerfactor considers advertisements to be “useful content”. Regardless, web advertising plus Bittorrent equals bad news. Bittorrent is a protocol designed to spread files between average internet users to offload server uploads. This likely means that Ludwig’s contribution to Peerfactor will assist in forcing the average user’s desktop computer to upload ads appearing on web sites to other users. In my experience, such programs do not ask you nicely whether you’d like to trade your bandwidth for pay in order to make money for advertisers. Summation: this is very bad for the internet.

–edit– Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted Ludwig’s words. He may also be talking about writing a Bittorrent client that displays ads. In this case, he is guilty of affixing adware to a public protocol where ad-free alternatives are available. –edit–

Conspiracy theorists are running wild on this series of events, as well they ought to since it’s tough to believe that Ludwig didn’t even google Peerfactor before agreeing to work for them. Such a claim is akin to accusing Bungie Studios, developers of Halo and Microsoft’s poster child, of working for Macintosh. (Eh? Marathon? What’s that?)

In the end, however, whether or not there is any nefarious plot afoot regarding µTorrent is irrelevant to me. The summation of the facts is just too disturbing for me to ignore. The sole progammer renown for his rare but glib replies to user queries, takes a job at a (former?) P2P antagonist, claims not to know that this company is in conflict with his freeware endeavours, gives a shady interview in which he denies little, becomes uncharacteristically vocal on his project’s home page (click “read more” beside “µTorrent is not associated with any anti-P2P organization”), finally admits to writing some form of adware that utilizes the Bittorrent protocol, and all the while refuses to open the source of his software. These facts compounded are too much to ignore.

I’ve no proof, in the end, that Ludwig is guilty of anything more than association. But that’s enough. I have deleted µTorrent and will never use it again. I’ve been banned from the µTorrent discussion forum for saying so which won’t instill much faith in anyone.

I’ve switched back to Azureus and am very pleased with my decision. µTorrent is undoubtedly a very advanced and effective Windows client, but Azureus is better. The distributed hash table yields on average 30000 times more distributed tracker peers (nearly 1 million vs about 300), the client supports plugins including Safepeer which automatically downloads lists of corporate investigative agencies and blocks their IPs, and the client is open source and thus has been scrutinized by dozens of programmers.

When it comes to free software, pledging allegiance means nothing. If a piece of software doesn’t suit your needs, get another freeware alternative. µTorrent serves my needs quite well, but the programmer is an untrustworthy fellow who I’d no sooner invite into my home than onto my hard drive.


We Love Hallucinating

I’m cracking up. I’ve had bouts with videogame dementia before but I’m approaching flat-out bonkers status at breakneck speed. My synergy of reality and We Love Katamari is nearly complete, leaving my battered brain with some ridiculous combine I like to call Katimality.


No location is safe. No challenge is too great. Everywhere I go I size things up like a boxer in a crowd. I categorize things by size, shape, weight, and prepare a mental list sorted by volume.

Pens, papers, cans, keyboards, parcels, monitors, chairs, cubicle partitions, desks, the snack machine, filing cabinets, the IS department personnel, the IS Blade server farm, that sporty Honda that parks overlapping the handicapped spot every morning…


It can all be rolled up! All of it! Everything!!

Wherever I am, work or play, whatever I see, big or small, it’s all fair game. I whip out my cranial katamari from my mind’s eye, hop behind it, and roll up everything I see.

  • Spilled salt on the table?
  • Someone cut me off on the highway?
  • Paperwork building up?
  • Playing a card game?
  • Busy parking lot?
  • Messy bedroom?
  • 15 hard disk partitions and virtual drives? (what a geek)
  • Fighting a charr army in Guild Wars?
  • Too many ads on a web page?

Every single one of these problems can be solved by rolling up the excess in a katamari! It’s the solution to peace, hunger, and global unity!

I know you love me
I wanna wad you up into my life
Let's roll up to be a single star in the sky

I hear you calling me
I wanna wad you up into my life
Let's lump up to make a single star in the sky
To you, to you

- Que Sera Sera, Katamari Damacy

(cue “da ba da ba” song)
My my, what a glorious day it is today!

A little chilly perhaps.
But a little chill invigorates Us.
Oh, it’s Brian!
Dressed in his work clothes.
Spiffy wiffy!
But what’s this?
You’re at work but you’re blogging?


Data in one ear, audio out the other?
You’ve got too much time on your hands?
That can be remedied.
Roll up all the clocks in your workplace.
You have 5 minutes.