PC Hardware

I’m 500 billion keystrokes smarter

The very moment I got home from work a couple of Fridays ago (marking the beginning of my vacation, naturally) I barely nudged my mouse and was treated to a Blue Screen of Death. My oddly problematic WinXP install was on its last legs. After over an hour of troubleshooting including installing a second copy of XP on my other hard drive I was finally able to boot back into my first one. I refrained from rebooting until I returned from my vacation.

Rather than leaving this tenuous situation unchecked I decided to buy a new hard drive and start a fresh new install on that. I bought a 500GB 7200RPM Seagate SATA2 HDD with 16MB of cache. I installed it with no issues. It’s not blazingly fast so it took a couple of hours to shuffle my files around after installing the OS, but I’ve come up with a lovely organized partitioning scheme spanning both my physical drives. Coupled with my 300MB disk I’ve got 800MB of storage at my disposal now! Yay for overkill!!


I asked PC Village for advice and they said that Seagate and Western Digital had the best drives out there, but Seagate offered a 5-year warranty whereas WD only offered 3. 2 years of warranty was worth the additional $4. The drive was $119.99 before tax and they even threw in a SATA cable. Great store.

PC Hardware

Eight is enough

Over the past 8 years or so I’ve owned 3D accelerator video cards of varying performance, each supporting antialiasing but rarely capable of implementing it at an acceptable frame rate. Even my two recent powerhouse video cards, the Sapphire Atlantis 9800pro and the Asus GeForce 6600GT, were forced to sacrifice antialiasing in favour of 1280×1024 resolution for the new games of the time. This is no longer the case thanks to my uber-beefy BFG 7900GT – I play even the 0-day warez (not literally, of course) with antialiasing now.

Just how much has this silicon Jezebel spoiled me?

Isn’t it just fitting that I’m playing a game on Steam immediately following the recent break-in fiasco and subsequent denial thereof by Valve? Dreadful fear of my identity being pilfered aside, I’m having loads of fun playing Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines by the now defunct Troika Games. Now that I get the chance to replay after a few much needed patches it’s easier to see what a well-crafted and open-ended RPG it is. Despite it being the first licensed Source Engine game the eerily lifelike character design and motion-captured animations, plus the carefully crafted architecture combined with a sunglasses-at-night take on modern Los Angeles do a great job of obscuring the age of the framework.

It’s the game’s enormous yet sharp textures that left me wanting more. I was getting just about 60 frames solid at my monitor’s max resolution with the “setting cranked” (the only option in video preferences is a toggle for bump mapping) so before even watching the entire opening sequence I quit, forced 4x antialiasing at the driver level using the NVidia Control Panel, and started it back up. The result was quite pleasing.

And yet, it wasn’t good enough! Frame rates were still excellent at 4xAA so I decided to traverse the final frontier – 8xS antialiasing with 16x anisotropic filtering!! You’re positively melting as you read these words, I know.

Here’s an illustration of the difference between “vanilla” 4x antialiasing (left) and 8xS antialiasing with 16x anisotropic filtering (right). I recommend opening these screenshots in separate tabs or windows so that you can compare them fullscreen, switching from one to the other. The difference is quite dramatic:

vampire4xaanoaf-custom.png vampire8xaa16xaf-custom.png

It’s interesting to note that the screenshot at the left is a half-megabyte smaller than the one on the right, so one can imagine how much more work it must be to render in real time!

PC Hardware

Two heads are better than one!

It’s been 2 months since moving in with my ladyfriend and at long last I’ve hooked my stereo to my computer so that I can resume DJing. However, before I can begin I’ve got to allow Traktor DJ Studio 3 to analyze my MP3 collection.

Analysis isn’t entirely necessary before I can start mixing, but if I don’t do it in advance it will analyze on song load which puts more strain on the CPU (increasing the chance of skipping) and it progresses much more slowly since playing an MP3 is a surprisingly system-intensive function. Plus, it’s nice to have analyzed MP3s because this provides a peak graph (which visually shows the song waveform) and automagically detects the beats per minute (about 95% accuracy).

So I’ve instructed Traktor to run a batch analysis on my entire DJ collection, weighing in at a hefty 30-odd gigs. It might take all day.

Large batch multimedia processing is a job best performed by Intel processors, while AMD chips are usually the best for gaming. I do a lot more gaming than multimedia so I still stand by my choice to buy an Athlon 64 X2, but today I’ll pay the price while my system speed is degraded during this long processing job.

Or will it?

I admit I’ve seen little or no improvement in speed with my new CPU – most of the HUGE improvements I enjoy are thanks to my tear-jerkingly incredible 7900GT. Today, however, is a happy exception, as illustrated below:


As you can see in the upper two graphs, dual core has saved the day! My audio analysis job is isolated in the second core, maxed out at 100% load, while the first core stays cool as a cucumber. This means that I can enjoy nearly full speed computing while the second core is dedicated to the monumental task of processing 30 gigs of audio peaks. What a treat!

A recent ad for Dell or some other crappy manufacturer markets dual core CPUs as something that allows you to watch a movie, rip a CD, browse the web, and edit documents all at the same time (like a menstrual pad advert for nerds). This is true, I suppose, but don’t run out to buy a dual core CPU due to this hogwash. I am a power user through and through and today is the first time in about a month that I’ve really taken advantage of it. Dual core is probably a moderately future-proof technology – it will run games and apps pretty well for the next year or two – but if you’re looking to upgrade I think it would be wise to wait until later this year when quad cores come out. No doubt Dell will recommend being schizophrenic, double jointed, and ambidextrous in order to get the most out of one of those babies.
Can’t wait to start making loud banging noises once again! Let’s see what the neighbours think!

And if you’d like to enjoy some free origianl electronic music songs and mixes check out my web site and DJ blog.