Asus 6870 DirectCU

This is my new graphics card. An AMD Radeon HD 6870 based Asus with custom heat-pipe air cooling. More info: http://www.asus.com/Graphics_Cards/AMD_Series/EAH6870_DC2DI2S1GD5/.

Before buying it I read tons of reviews on the AMD 6000 series and compared it to Nvidia GTX 460 and 550 Ti cards in the same price range… but first let’s start with the motivation why I upgraded: When I put together the configuration of my AMD Phenom II machine I had to be careful with costs. I even considered using the on-board HD 3300 graphics unit of the 790GX chip set motherboard (an Asrock AOD790GX/128M) but in the end went for an low-end 4800 series card, the ATI 4830. The performance of it is somewhere in the range of a Nvidia 8800 GTX. Basically sufficient for the majority of games that are currently on the market. Not sure if you noticed but games these days rarely go over the hardware limits of a Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Crysis 2 is a good example of that. Game developers develop cross platform so you don’t need a high end graphics card in your PC as the GPUs of the Xbox and PS3 are a bit outdated by now.

Moreover cloud gaming is upcoming! With OnLive your games will run on remote servers and also remote graphics cards. More Info: http://www.onlive.com/#1 Another argument for not spending much on a graphics card.

So why the new graphics card?

  1. There are actually some game titles on the PC that go beyond console limitations and one of them even came included with the 6870: Shogun 2 Total War! A game that would make an Xbox CPU + GPU smoke. A console simply could’t handle it.
  2. DirectX 11games are picking up. More and more titles make use of it and there are even value games like Stalker Call of Pripyat or Metro 2033 for 10 Euro that have DirectX 11 support. Of course the DirectX 11 launch-title Dirt 2 looks even better on it.
  3. OnLive is not available in Europe yet and the quality of the streaming video isn’t that good.
  4. I consider getting a 24″monitor for stereoscopic 3D and the 6870 supports AMD HD3D. Moreover you need 1GB video memory to run games with full HD resolution.
Why the Asus?
  1. The Asus has a kick-ass heat-pipe based air cooling system that allows to overclock it to 1 GHz.
  2. It’s relatively silent for such a powerful card.
  3. It came with a Shogun 2 Total War Steam key voucher.
Why not Nvidia?
  1. I don’t like these guys. Nvidia pays game developers ridiculous amounts of money to get exclusive support of their physics acceleration standard PhysX. AMD cards can do physics acceleration as well.
  2. Nvidia has some weird deal with Microsoft making these guys look even more bad.
  3. In the same price range (160 Euro) Nvidia cards suck performance-wise at the moment.
  4. Nvidia 3D Vision stereoscopic glasses cost about 130 Euro. Shutter glasses for AMD HD3D come included with Viewsonic 120 Hz monitors for example.
  5. The future belongs to AMD and to Fusion… the melting of CPU and GPU. This is why Nvidia is so pissed about Intel integrating this in their new Sandy Bridge chips. They didn’t complain about AMD because they probably would look just foolish 😉

Complete review @Legit I recommend to read if you consider getting the Asus 6870 DirctCU: http://www.legitreviews.com/article/1605/

My WeTab

WeTab

This is my WeTab 3G 32GB, a Linux powered tablet computer designed in Germany. I have it now since about two weeks and I’m absolutely happy with it. The device is extremely versatile. It brings many features like Adobe Flash support or an integrated Webcam that have been announced or experts suspect for the second generation tablets like the Apple iPad 2 or the Motorola Xoom. The user interface of the WeTab OS (that is based on MeeGo Linux) is clearly structured and very user friendly in my opinion. The device has two USB ports, a mini HDMI port and a SD card reader. Currently no other tablet computer can provide such great connectivity options and they have actually been the reason why I bought the WeTab although the device had many negative reviews in the press and by users on Amazon. Most of the reviews refered to version 1.x of WeTab OS and are simply outdated by now. The OS is at 2.1 and updates with improvements keep coming. Reviews of the WeTab with OS 2.x often didn’t acknowledge that the device is truly open or even consider it. You don’t have to jailbreak it in order to install an alternative OS like Windows 7 or Ubuntu (just put in a slightly modified bootable USB stick into the port and there you go). On WeTab OS you can run many great open source apps known from Linux like OpenOffice, Gimp or XBMC media center and of course use free apps like Skype or Firefox (including all Add-Ons). The device installs all Adobe Air programs as apps and since one of the latest release it supports Java as well. The CPU is pretty powerful for a tablet computer. It’s a 1,66 GHz Intel® Atom™ N450 processor supported by a Crystal HD chip for hardware accelerated video decoding. In short: this is the right tablet computer for me. It’s not limited like the Apple iPad not not as expensive as a Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s has a larger screen, it’s cheaper and much more flexible. It’s not perfect but the more time you spend with it the more you enjoy using a WeTab.

Let’s recap the Pros and list some Cons:

Pros

– USB, HDMI, SD card ports

– Adobe Flash, Air & Java support

– Full HD 1080p hardware video decoding via Crystal HD

– 1,3 Megapixel front facing Webcam

– Built in GPS and 3G with mobile ISP presets

– Large and bright 11,6“ screen

– Weight of 1020g not really a problem

– Battery time of about 5 hours is sufficient

– Customizable & easy WeTab OS pin-wall user interface

– Tons of free Linux software from various sources like portablelinuxapps.org

– Extremely engaged and vivid used community on wetabcommunity.com

– Price of the WeTab 3G 32GB is lower than the cheapest 16GB Apple iPad with 460€

Cons:

– Screen gets dark when changing the view angle too much  (meanwhile I got used to it but sometimes I wish it had a better screen)

– Active CPU fan can get loud (1.6 GHz need some cooling – in my opinion it’s an acceptable noise level though)

– Speakers are weak (I guess that’s the case for all tablet computers)

– OS hangs sometimes (I hope they fix this in one of the next software updates or at least implement some visual indication that the OS is busy)

– Integrated browser has difficulties with complex Ajax driven sites (the good thing about the integrated browser is that it’s fast and very well optimized for touch)

– Linux software not optimized for touch is difficult to use (I think about getting a wireless Speedlink FUTURA  keyboard that has a small trackpad)

– The market (kind of App Store) doesn’t have many apps currently (it will be opened for 3rd party developers soon and gain some apps I hope)

– Not available or known outside of Germany

The WeTab – the broken bicycle of Tablet computers?

A few weeks ago I posted very positively about the WeTab, an Apple iPad competitor that runs on Linux. I called it the Mercedes of Tablet computers. Since then I talked about it with colleagues, read tons of reviews and even posted questions in the WeTab Community Forum. Most people & reviews dislike the WeTab. Should I call it now the the bicycle of Tablet computers? For sure NOT!

One thing I can tell: Most negative reviews and opinions are simply outdated. I don’t have the WeTab yet but went to my local MediaMarkt electronics store to check if the allegations are true. Most of the allegations are wrong. Ok, there are  a few things that still need to be improved  but the company that designed the WeTab (meanwhile called WeTab GmbH) is still working on it and I’m sure they will do EVEYTHING they can to get things right in the long term!

The thing that I’m most worried about is the Android emulation. It’s at a very early stage right now:

Do I still want to get it? Heck, yes. Why? Because per specs the WeTab is the BEST tablet computer right now and the software will for sure improve with time. The people who designed the WeTab live the idea of open-source! For the most part of the software that comes with the WeTab I would need to pay 10$ each at the Apple App Store!

The video below shows the history of the PR-disaster around the WeTab (WePad how it was first called – video in German BTW)

Here a recent review of the WeTab at Computer Bild (in German) – they still don’t recommend it but I think they just don’t understand the idea of the WeTab: http://www.bild.de/BILD/digital/computer/2010/12/27/wetab-neue-version/tablet-pc-ipad-touchscreen-apps.html

The WeTab – the Mercedes of Tablet computers

Nope, it’s not the Volkswagen of Tablet computers. For sure not! Just read the specs but later more about that… The Apple G4 Titatnium PowerBook that we are using at home broke recently (my wife spilled water over the keyboard) and I started looking for a device that would replaced it. My first thought: the Apple iPad as it’s a great “Couch Internet Surfing Device” (it should get the acronym CISD 😀 = Tablets + Netbooks)… then I talked to my wife and she said she wants to keep watching DVDs on it (with earphones when our daughter sleeps for example). Basically that’s something you can’t do with the iPad without jail-breaking it.

After some research I found the WeTab, a tablet computer that has been in the German IT press  because of the CEO of the company who rated it positively on Amazon.de. That’s more or less illegal. Nothing uncommon in the business IMHO but he has been caught doing it. I have seen the WeTab recently in the print advertising of some large discounters too. Even MediaMarkt, the largest German electronics store chain started selling it.

The specs of the WeTab STRUCK me! Everything I waited for! USB that can connect external DVD and HD drives for watching movies and storing large photo archives. It runs Adobe Flash… very important for us as our daughter is watching free cartoons at http://www.bajkionline.com and they run only with Flash. It has a Webcam for Skype video calling with my uncle in Poland and even HDMI for connecting it to a TV! WOW! If the iPad is the Ford of tablet computers then this is truly the Mercedes. Quality made (better: designed) in Germany! …and the price?… it’s really competitive: 450€ for the basic 16GB model and 570€ for the 3G model with 32GB + GPS. Impressive! Moreover it runs the open-source MeeGo Linux that emulates Android so apps won’t be any problem in future. Productivity apps like the complete OpenOffice suite come with the WeTab too (for free – at Apple you would pay 10$ for each).

Today the Mac repair service guy called (http://www.mac-profis.de/ from Munich BTW – a great 3rd party Apple repair service) and told me the G4 is fixed (they had to replace the keyboard) but I will still get the WeTab FOR SURE! (probably around February when my company pays the bonus). The possibilities of the WeTab fully convinced me. Probably I will go for the 3G model so I can use it to surf the web while going to work with the bus.

More info: http://wetab.mobi/en

Community with Linux-fans running the WeTab with the rootshell (and without): http://wetab-community.de/index.php (German)



AMD’s HD3D


Since I read that the new AMD 6000 series supports stereoscopic 3D I’m obsessed with the idea of getting a 3D monitor + one of the new AMD 6850… the first monitor that will have HDMI 1.4a (needed for an AMD HD3D) is the Acer HS244HQ and I think I will get it. After reading many reviews I picked the XFX Radeon™ HD 6850 1024 MB dual fan Black Edition as my first choice.

More Infos:

http://3dvision-blog.com/acer-hs244hq-is-the-first-3d-monitor-with-hdmi-1-4a-stereo-3d-support/ &

http://xfxforce.com/en-us/products/graphiccards/HD%206000series/6850.aspx#3

DDD TruDef Ignition seems to be also the best 3D driver for games (although I’m a bit disappointed that I need to spend additional 50 bucks ): http://www.tridef.com/ignition/3d-games.html

There are voices about AMD HD3D that are skeptic but I think I will give it a try! (source: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-hd-6870-radeon-hd-6850-barts,2776-3.html)

This whole stereoscopic 3D idea is everything but not new. I think for me it’s now cheap and technically mature enough to go for it. About 10 years ago my neighbor bought the ELSA 3D Revelator 3D glasses together with a Nvidia Riva TNT2 board but we never made any game really work with it. The 3D effect has been very poor and barely visible.


More info: http://www.stereo3d.com/revelator.htm (BTW: ELSA went bankrupt and doesn’t exist anymore)

Even more funny is that Sega tried to introduce this technology with the Sega Master System around 20 years ago:

Of course a Blu-Ray player makes sense for 3D… why not even a writer? LG has a n1: LG BH10LS

AMD site: http://www.amd.com/us/products/technologies/amd-hd3d/Pages/hd3d.aspx

How AMD copes with Nvidia “standards”

AMD always had a a difficult time when it came to standards. Just recently they announced they are going to remove 3DNow! from future CPUs. AMD now recommends going for SSE (that Intel introduced BTW)… so here it seems they lost the standard-fight. For sure it’s not easy to establish standards against giants like Intel or Nvidia but AMD found a way to cope with this! … and a smart one too.

As I described in my last post Nvidia is trying to push PhysX & CUDA (their hardware acceleration standard for physics in games) with all their power they still have in the market. They team up with game software companies, support their game development and probably even pay them not to implement support for the technology of “the other guys” (that would be ATI – pardon AMD… now they are one company and are phasing out the ATI brand).

More or less the same happened with the 3D glasses technology… Nvidia pushed the market to support their standard with 3D Vision and some hardware manufacturers even followed them. It’s basically the only 3D shutter glasses set available right now… but here comes the trick: you can use it only with Nvidia graphics cards. Surprise 😉 Probably you could hack them to work with AMD but that’s a different story.

AMD could go ahead and invent their own standards and fight the standard-war trying to establish them… but you need a lot of money for such an approach and you probably are going to lose in the end (like with 3DNow!). AMD came up with a clever strategy here. They try to win with open standards against Nvidia and their proprietary technology. AMD supports OpenCL (physics engine acceleration), OpenGL ES (web browser acceleration) and just recently I learned about Open Stereo 3D (for 3D shutter glasses) . I just hope this works out for AMD!

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/3dnow-simd-extensions-phenom-sse,11128.html

http://www.electronista.com/articles/10/03/15/amd.announces.partners.on.open.stereo.3d.standard/

ATI 6000 Series

At work I have a 24″ screen and I consider getting one for home. Maybe a HannsG or Samsung. The problem: 1920×1080 is ~60% square pixels more than 1280×1024 (what I have now) and this higher resolution needs more VRAM. I have only 512MB and running that with my current graphics card would result in lower fps. So soon it will be time for a new graphics card for me (I have a XFX 4830 right now). What would fit my needs is either an overclocked 5770 like the PowerColor HD5770 PCS+ VORTEX or a standard 5850… but somehow I “smell” ATI releasing the 6000 series soon. The 4xx Nvidia series is cheaper and more powerful than comparable ATI cards so ATI/AMD has to come up with something new. There is some speculation going on at Tom’s Hardware:

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum/286111-15-6000-series

Let’s see how fast this is going to happen… and yea, with 1GB VRAM I will be able to play GTA IV finally with 100% quality 😉

EDIT (Oct 3rd 2010) : Now the AMD Radeon HD 6770 and 6750 Video Card Specs Leaked!

http://legitreviews.com/news/9088/

EDIT (Oct 22nd 2010): The new 6000 generation is finally out the door!

http://www.guru3d.com/news/radeon-hd-6850–6870-review/

this is how they look like (the picture on the top is a 5770 and no 6xxx BTW)


Make your XEOX gamepad Xbox 360 compatible

This is the controller I bought for GTA IV as the game supports only the Xbox 360 controller from Microsoft since one of the latest patches. Guess what… it just looks like a Xbox 360 gamepad but it’s not compatible with it. OK, it’s much cheaper (around 20€) and it has rubber panels that are really nice. Overall a decent gampad but not compatible with the original Xbox 360 controller.

First I started mapping keyboard keys to the gamepad with Xpadder (http://xpadder.com/) but then I found out that it’s pretty hard to drive like that as such an A-S-W-D control mapped to a gamepad stick it not very precise. Now I managed to emulate the Xbox 360 gamepad with the XBOX360 Controller Emulator by Racer_S. I had to fine tune the .ini file in order to make all the buttons work but it runs perfectly now.

So if you have the XEOX gamepad and want to turn it into a Xbox 360 gamepad then get the emulator and install my .ini file. It should work with every game that supports the Xbox 360 gamepad!

Instructions and D/L of the emulator: http://www.fragtheplanet.com/808/emulate-an-xbox-360-controller/

My custom .ini file for the XEOX: http://www.pazurmapping.com/misc/x360ceini_02.zip (replace the original file with this)

Mirror: http://cid-d3011d77266e15a4.office.live.com/self.aspx/xeoxini/x360ceini^_02.zip

Specs of the XEOX: http://speedlink.com/?p=2&cat=3132&pid=22714&paus=1 (in case you look for a good but not expensive gamepad)

UPDATE:

The latest version of the Emulator has a preset for this gamepad that also supports vibration! Download it at: http://code.google.com/p/x360ce/

Here is how to use it:1. Unpack the file you downloaded from http://code.google.com/p/x360c/ (download link is on the left hand side – current version is x360ce.App-2.0.2.158.zip)

2. Run the exe included in it
3. If the program asks for it allow it to create an .ini file
4. Select from the drop down on the bottom the preset for Speed Link XEOX USB Gamepad (SL-6555-SBK-A)
5. Save the preset
6. Now copy the content of the unpacked folder to the folder that hosts the .exe of your game (i.e. Batman Arkham City\Binaries\Win32\BatmanAC.exe)
7. When starting the game you should hear a soft “bing” when the game starts that indicates the controller is working

Please note that with the Xeox you can’t press the left and right trigger at the same time as shown in this video I recorded: http://www.screencast.com/users/ypiotr/folders/Jing/media/6af6e44d-031a-4c1c-bad2-d1059712293a . In GTA IV for example this means you can’t aim by pressing the left trigger and then shoot by pressing the right trigger. I’m using the gamepad for driving in GTA IV and the mouse when shooting so this works for me but there are games you might want to play with the controller only.

One of the readers of my blog commented below telling that the new product line of XEOX gamepads (6556-wired and 6566-wireless) has got an interface to switch between Xinput and Dinput (like the Logitech F series) so there is no more need to use an emulator. Only the 4446 model (for PC and PS3) still needs it.

Clone and be cloned


Usually it’s Apple products and inventions that get copied or if you want “stolen”. The list of examples is endless starting with Microsoft Windows that is an evident rip-off of Mac OS. The most recent example is Google Android that is a rip-off of the Apple iOS and HTC that just can’t stop borrowing ideas from the Apple iPhone.

It always has been like this and probably it won’t change… but wait, hold on for a moment. Isn’t Steve Jobs the master-ripper, the king of the idea-thiefs who stole the UI for Mac OS from Xerox? There is no clear answer IMHO.

Xerox PARC has been a research facility that was intended to inspire people. Apple paid them in stocks and moreover hired some people from there and continued the development of the graphical user interface so it was not exactly stealing the idea (More about this epic “inspiration”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_graphical_user_interface & http://www.mackido.com/Interface/ui_history.html). Steve basically took a very promising concept, put some work in it and then brought it to the market. The iPad is the same FTW! It’s no Apple invention but they took this promising concept (everyone thought it’s dead BTW) improved it and brought this great product to the market.

Right now the other Steve over at Microsoft wonders what went wrong with the slate/tablet PC running XP, Vista or 7. Why is it not selling? (More: http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2010/07/ballmer-and-microsoft-still-doesnt-get-the-ipad.ars). He probably knows the answer!

Yes, it’s the developers and the software that makes the iPad unique. It’s the tons of great apps that run on iPhone and iPad. All designed to work with the touch technology. In the end the iPad is software just as the Mac is. Ever wondered why Apple is so determined on the Psystar Mac clones? It’s because they exactly know that it’s Mac OS X that makes a Mac. The box you run it on doesn’t really matter. The Amtek iTablet (http://www.engadget.com/2010/02/05/x2-brings-the-amtek-itablet-back-from-the-abyss-forgets-that-no/) on the image below will never be a true competitor for the Apple iPad because it doesn’t have this huge amount of mobile software that Apple has in the App-Store.

In my opinion the worst that could happen right now to Apple is that Google Android tablets kills the iPad. I start seeing them everywhere for less money than the iPad. A good example is the 1&1 Smart Pad in Germany (http://blog.1und1.de/2010/06/30/einfach-smart-das-11-smartpad/). So what was that about “don’t be evil” at Google? They are trying to “get their foot in the door” in many areas. So far they only really succeeded in search. I hope they stop messing around so much in areas where they don’t belong. It’s what Microsoft has been doing for many years and they didn’t become very popular with this approach.

BTW: Wozniak confirms the controversy between Apple and Google 😉 … and Schmidt can’t answer a simple question: “how the fuck is Google making money with Android”. Not sure but Google is in general such a mess that maybe someone forgot about that or Schmidt just doesn’t want to answer!

Image by Jesus Belzunce

What happened to RISC processors?

Yesterday I had a pretty nice conversation with a colleague at work about the NeXT computer and why it has been so revolutionary. Not many people know but HTML has been invented on such a NeXT workstation in the CERN research facility. It also has been the first web-server of the world wide web with a nice “don’t tun off” sticker that is common even today (at least in the company I work at there are some Mac Pro machines in the London office that are dedicated servers – of course we have server farms with tons of server-racks but, yea there are still the “don’t turn off” sticker servers around). So why has it been so far ahead of time? First there is the OS… a true multi-tasking OS with features like the dock (just recently copied by Microsoft in Windows 7 and an essential part of OS X). It was really impressive! Second is for sure the hardware that included a magneto-optical drive as a floppy disk replacement (similar to a portable hard-drive or CD-RW). At that time people had 5,25″ and 3,5″ drives that couldn’t compare to what the NeXT introduced.

Not sure why but I associate the NeXT with the time when RISC came up… although it never had a RISC processor (it ran on Motorola’s CISC 68030 and later the 68040 CPU) there have been plans to build a RISC based NeXT workstation: http://simson.net/ref/NeXT/nextworld/94.4/94.4.Apr.PA-RISC1.html Probably they would have released it at some point if Apple didn’t buy the them (Steve Jobs has been fired around 1984 from Apple and founded NeXT after that)

So what happened to the promising RISC technology? Well… it has been many years in Macs as the PowerPC G3, G4 and G5 processor. So Mac OS X (basically the successor of NeXTStep OS) ran on RISC for many years and is back now where it started, on a CISC processor but now built by Intel. Is the RISC-age really over now that PowerPC is history? The latest Mac OS X version doesn’t even work on PowerPC Macs. Not entirely sure if it’s over but devices like the Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming console run an IBM Xenon CPU or the recently released Apple iPad with the A4 ARM CPU are all RISC.

There are voices that say that after multi-core the next thing will be to focus on RISC (again) to gain speed without toasting the CPU with clock-ranges above 3-4 GHz: http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=663085&seqNum=3