Posts tagged with pc - page 2

Apple’s Boot Camp and my new MacBook Pro

Apple announced their Boot Camp technology – basically a set of drivers for Windows XP, a wizard to help resize your existing disk partition and the necessary magic to load XP from the EFI BIOS.

I can imagine the Windows on Mac Intel project that raised $12,000 USD are wondering why they bothered…

Anyway, it’s good news for me as this means my Dell 8100 and TiBook G4 1GHz are now replaced with a single machine I can use at home for media goodness and at work for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 etc. Clarissa gets my Dell upgrade and I guess the TiBook will find a place on eBay.

Hardware

The hardware looks quite different from the TiBook – the keyboard is the same grey as the rest of the machine as opposed to the slightly translucent charcoal of the TiBook. I’d have gone with the TiBook’s look in this department until the MacBook Pro’s light sensor powers up the keyboard back light and the keys glow through….

On the other hardware fronts the machine’s finish feels less polished than the TiBook – Aluminum isn’t as cool as Titanium either… The ports on the side takes a bit of getting used to but I’m finding it less likely to snag the dongles and keyboards when they’re visible there…

The built-in 802.11G (as opposed to the B), web cam (tiny, great picture quality and lots of fun with Photo Booth) and built-in Bluetooth are all very welcome additions. The way the headphone and microphone jacks have fibre-optic inside the jack itself is pretty sweet engineering too.

Sounds is greatly improved and for a laptop sounds pretty damn good although still not up to external speakers obviously. The screen has very slightly less pixels but is substantially brighter.

One bad thing is the machine heats up pretty damn hot even with the latest firmware update. If there is a fan it’s either off or damn quiet… I’d prefer a bit of fan noise over cooler legs. Don’t even think of using it while wearing shorts.

I spent a few minutes trying to find the fabled Front Row app but couldn’t see it anywhere. I installed the dev tools and X11 from the optional stuff on the DVD but still no sign. In desperation I picked up the included infra-red remote and nearly fell off my chair as the screen shrunk and rotated while transparent icons flew over the top. :o I guess the X1600 Mobility can shift some serious polygons.

Boot Camp

First off I had to upgrade the MacBook Pro’s firmware and restart then into the Boot Camp Assistant which burnt me a CD-R full of Windows drivers before letting me re-partition my disk and asking for the XP SP2 CD. A quick reboot later and the familiar Windows XP installer became my home for the next hour.

Windows behaved exactly as expected and Apple have included a couple of minor tools such as monitor brightness and a driver to map the eject key. Graphics were taken care of by the ATI driver and sound by drivers from Sigmatel. The Bluetooth stuff works fine and is identified as Apple…

There are still a few devices unknown in Device Manager at the moment but I’m sure Apple will address those as they can. If they can’t I’m sure third parties will fill the void. One notable absence at the moment is the keyboard back-lighting doesn’t work under Windows.

Migration

My iPod 60GB has been a savior here allowing me to transfer important folders from my old mac such as Music, Movies, Delicious Library, Address Book, Mail and Documents.

I’m sure using the transfer option would have been easier but I didn’t want my crusty 3 year old profile full of god only knows what hitting this machine.

Compatibility

It’s run my usual apps fine so far although I’ve gone and re-downloaded all my favorite apps to make sure I get the Intel/Universal binaries where possible.

The only exception so far seem to be the Flip4Mac drivers to enable WMV/WMA support inside QuickTime which specifically told me they wouldn’t install on Intel and that I should check back soon…

[)amien

A German Christmas

This year I broke with my life-long tradition and spent Christmas not at my parents house with my family but with my girlfriend and her family in Germany.

The flight there was uneventful but dull thanks to Aurigny’s one-flight-per-day to Stansted at mid-day. This means 5 hours + of milling around. Thankfully Stansted isn’t quite as bad as I recalled and there are a few book and game shops to browse around in and I managed to keep my shopping down to a mere 3 books… Shame I already had 3 in my backpack.

After the introductions and a good nights sleep I put on my best “oh please” face and Clarissa drove us to Media Markt to see if they had Xbox 360’s in. Unsurprisingly they didn’t so we headed into Nuremberg to check out the shops and experience the Christmas market.

Having spent hours exploring the streets and stores of Nuremberg on a previous trip I stopped by EB Games in the mall and quickly acquired one of the two 360 core’s they had in stock as well as a wireless controller, Project Gotham 3 and Need for Speed Most Wanted. The box weighed the same as a small child but alas was not equipped with legs and so we dropped it back off at the car before my knuckles reached the floor.

The Christmas market was very atmospheric and the white lights the Germans favor over the English disco-fever multi-colour bonanza felt less tacky and helped keep the descending chill of sunset at bay for a few minutes longer. We ate hot waffles and caramelized nuts whilst wandering around the multitude of stands before my feet eventually protested to further activities and we headed wearily back to the car.

Back at home we played a bit of 360 (I’ll post more on this in a future post) where I found that while the console and PGR3 will auto-switch to the language my NFS Most Wanted was decidedly German only and Clarissa had to help me every stretch as my German currently consists of telling people my stomach is empty or that I have hiccups.

We met the morning with tragic news… Clarissa’s parents had set-up the Christmas tree in the lounge where the only TV in the house and my 360 were. This meant after weeks of waiting to get one I would now have to wait 2 days before I could get back into the lounge to play it!

We had Christmas shopping to do and some friends to visit and between those two events I sunk into The Time Traveller’s Wife (a very good read so far and a similar core to something I had in mind a while back). Clarissa’s father had taken the plunge and installed a WiFi ADSL connection so I kept up with emails and repeatedly checked for my assignment score.

On the 23rd we had a mini-grill/fondue night with friends where we ate lots and played some games. Unfortunately my German is still minimal despite evening lessons and Clarissa’s help and her friends were only occasionally speaking English so the night went by with a rather detached feeling.

The 24th here in the UK is Christmas Eve, generally people rush around getting the final gifts they need for people before retiring for a few drinks with friends or family before a big meal and gift exchange on the 25th. In Germany the gifts and big meal happen on the 24th.

Clarissa’s parents cooked a fabulous dinner which we ate with her sister and brother-in-law and we all exchanged gifts. We even got her brother-in-law and father to have a quick go on PGR and NFS respectively with… well, mixed results.

Boxing day was a quiet affair but we took in some snow and a meal at a Chinese restaurant before packing as much as we could into our suitcases, grabbing 3 hours sleep and setting off at 4am for our flight back which involved an even longer sit at Stansted, falling asleep in departures, a nice sandwich at Pret and some woman throwing her coffee over my 360’s box.

Sony fans.

[)amien

Upgrade kafuffles with Special Delivery

Upgrade kafuffle

I recently splashed out on a Dell 24″ 2405FPW wide-screen display. With the 20% discount offer (Small Business site only!?), living in VAT-free Guernsey and shipping being a very reasonable £5 the whole thing came to a sound £588.

As I already own an LCD, the capable Iiyama 20″ E511, and my current Radeon 9800 Pro is equipped with just one DVI connector I was going to need a new AGP graphics card equipped with two or suffer blurry images.

Nvidia have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that their latest 7800 chipset won’t be doing AGP while the clueless at ATI are certain AGP cards should only come with one DVI and one VGA despite the triviality of DVI to VGA conversion and the impossibility of converting it back.

I briefly toyed with replacing my motherboard so I could get my hands on a good graphics card but found that only one manufacturer is producing a PCI Express motherboard that would take my 3.2GHz Pentium 4 because Intel changed the socket. That motherboard would require throwing away half my RAM, any other board would require I throw away my processor. I am quite happy with both…

Left with little choice I went for an older Nvidia 6800GT card, thankfully Overclockers have a good price.

Special Delivery

Ordering something is never as simple as it should be and while OCUK got my graphics card out of the door in record time it wasn’t here the following day despite Royal Mail’s “Guaranteed Delivery”.

I typed in the number to their tracking and receive “Your item is progressing through our network”. I call them and once through the menu system am electronically told the exact same sentence. Only when a human operator comes on the line can I be told immediately “It’s delayed” although they can’t explain why…

I am reminded I am now eligible for a refund on shipping, which of course is the final joke of the process. Royal Mail know full well that Customer B, inconvenience by their failure, is not actually entitled to a refund. That goes to Customer A, the person who paid for shipping who is normally a big company and simply can’t be bothered reclaiming a few quid. It’s one step better than the money-back guarantee gimmick.

I can’t help but feel that having typed in my number to the web site, a message indicating that the item had been picked up at XX:XX and alas, had been delayed because of Y wouldn’t have been as annoying.

Chalk up another case where a company should try using it’s own services to see where it needs fixing…

[)amien

Hardware upgrades, part 2

Okay, so the memory was sorted which left me with two things I wanted doing. The parts this time were from UK supplier Overclock, not to be confused with Overclockers from the previous posting. Both suppliers delivered very quickly and automatically took off the VAT for me, one of the perks of living in Guernsey but one that is all to often eroded by inflated shipping costs, neither of which these two suppliers can be accused of :)

Front ports & card reader

A quick scan through the few options available led me to the AeroCool CoolPanel. It features an 8-in-1 card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, an IEEE-1394 (FireWire) port, two Serial ATA (SATA) ports, composite video out, audio line in/headphones/mic sockets, two fan speed controllers and a blue LCD display showing two temperatures via it’s thermal diode cables and the fan rotations of the two fans it is controlling.

What arrived was not quite the quality I’d expected. The black plastic that forms the visible portion of the panel feels cheap and brittle. Not dwelling on that I quickly came across the second issue. The unit is dumb, little more than a collection of separate units, highlighted by the USB 2 ports and the media reader each requiring their own USB socket, so there goes 3 of your ports.

Most motherboards have a few “headers” on the board, little plugs to put in additional devices. Mine for example has a header for additional audio, an additional FireWire port and 4 additional USB ports. The cables provided with this unit will not work with these headers, instead need to travel out of the back of your PC (most likely facilitated by the permanent removal of an unused PCI blanking plate) and then plugged into the sockets on the back of your PC.

I’m not entirely sure what they hope to achieve providing such cables. The only two potential markets I see for this unit are small shops building PC’s and the people that build their own. Neither is going to be happy with a load of cables hanging out the back of his PC and then plugging into the sockets there. To make matters slightly worse the color coded audio cables seem to be incorrectly marked and I had to swap green and blue cables to get the headphone socket working. Score another stupidity point for the guys at AeroCool.

The temperature diodes work fine as do the fan controllers, but once again stupidity prevails with my fans hitting a rather high 2,000 RPM on the lowest fan setting. The video output is a bit of strange addition but as it is just a single phono socket with no circuitry you could use this as a coaxial S/PDIF output for digital audio instead.

The media reader was the only thing I was truly happy with. It installed into Windows flawlessly using generic XP drivers which meant no fiddling with out of date CD’s. Putting my 512MB SD card in it instantly opened the folder and I was pleasantly surprised by the transfer speed compared to my digital camera. It was around 4-5 times the speed although I’d obviously need to do proper tests to be sure.

Cool & quiet

The PC itself was getting mighty warm lately, perhaps partly because it lives in a desk cupboard, albeit with the door open when the PC is powered on. It’s also rather noisy despite my previous attempts to shut it up which included a rather smart black Lian Li PC61 aluminum case lined with acoustic dampening Akasa Paxmate. The power supply is a quiet Tagan 480W U01 PSU that although has temperature sensitive fans, it is reluctant to use them, instead preferring to get rather warm. While the power supply may be okay at that temperature the ATX layout means this heat becomes the problem of the nearby CPU which already has it’s own to get rid of. The system is also fitted with those rather smart rounded cables which should also help with airflow.

The CPU is outfitted with the quiet, impressive looking but unimaginatively named Zalman CNPS7000B-AlCu which I was quite happy with, so much so that I decided the loud and poor cooling fan on my Sapphire ATI Radeon 9800 Pro needed replacing with a very similar solution from Zalman, the VF700-AlCu. It fitted quickly and easily however the fan connector was not compatible with the one on the graphics board itself so it was wired up to the PSU by way of the supplied cable instead.

With the chipset already sporting an ASUS heat sink it was time to tackle the Lian Li supplied case fans, three of which were loud, of one which turned out to be dead. In true Murphy’s Law the dead fan had been the one that should have been shifting the hottest air from the CPU and PSU. I opted for the well-recommended if somewhat garish Thermaltake Smart Fan II for it’s low decibel level and built-in temperature sensing modes.

Now came the confusion of how to wire up four case fans, a CPU fan and a GPU fan to my system in as quiet a way as possible. I only had two manual fan controllers so I opted for the top case fan and one of the front two to be manually controlled, with the other front and the back case fans set to automatic temperature sensing mode. The graphics fan was hooked up in low-speed mode to the power supply utilizing it’s own cable and the CPU fan attached to the motherboard. Initially the motherboard fan was too loud but a quick trip into the BIOS enabled the ASUS Q-Fan mode which reduced it to more acceptable levels.

Next steps

In the short term I’ll probably source or butcher replacement cables for the AeroCool and get some resisters to get those fans down to reasonable speed. I may take out the Paxmate (if possible) to let the case conduct some of the heat out itself. I’m also considering whether to cut the metal away from the case where the two out fans are located. It’s easy to imagine the metal is preventing the air getting out efficiently and causing some of the noise from fans as the air pushes past. I’ll most likely cover them up with a small wire fan grill like this one.

Long term I’m already thinking about my next PC, probably some time next year. It will most likely be an Athlon 64 based system with DDR2 memory but I’ll really want to go with a case specially designed for cool and quiet operation, perhaps something similar to the Apple PowerMac G5 enclosure or maybe even see what Thermaltake, Zalman or Shuttle come up with.

[)amien