Sunday, 6 May 2012

Real choices, for once.

March has come and gone and it left behind a slew of new technological gadgets that make the mouth water;

The new Ivy Bridge CPUs;

Although IB isn't extensively better than Sandy Bridge, it's an improvement.
SB CPUs have proven to be the best CPUs ever released by Intel, with the 2500k (originally clocked at 3.3Ghz) being capable of running at 5Ghz (or slightly less, depending on the silicone lottery) with relatively mid-range air cooling, making this chip stand truly head and shoulders above anything that AMD could ever release.
IB, on the other hand, has some slight heat problems, hitting the "heat wall" around 4.5~4.6Ghz.
Mind you, a 4.5Ghz IB chip performs equally to a 4.8Ghz SB, so you don't really lose out on power if you go with IB instead of SB.
Also, the series-4000 IGP is actually a capable (yes, i *am* surprised) graphics processor, making a build with no graphics card a real possibility. And to top it all off, IB chips cost the same as SB.

Now, some people have actually argued that IB is bad because Intel didn't manage to put out yet another ultra-mega super upgrade, but i see it differently, and here is why:

First of all, the heat problem is related to the new 22nm fabrication process AND the use of trigates; you might say "who cares", but eventually CPUs would have had to be made this small, and the trigate is as well a technology which will pay in the future. Considering that IB includes two new techs in one bundle, i'd say it's not doing so bad.

Second, the consistency with which IB chips hit 4.5Ghz on air and using almost stock voltage. Not all SB chips overclocked so far, some went 4.4, 4.5, and IB performs better than those - and we have yet to see the new steppings.

Third - they are cheap. You get a HT enabled CPU with 4.5Ghz of new-architecture computing power for .. $320. Expensive? I don't think so. The non-HT 3570k even costs $220, and is even more gamer-friendly.

And foruth and last .. well, this is subjective, but hey, have you not considered that at least IB doesn't make your 2500k look like a piece of shit?? Think resale value and all of that.

Two new GPU series, AMD's 7 series and NVidia's 6 series.

First off, the better GPUs, the NV GTX680.
Expensive, true. At $500 a pop (or more), and with only 2Gb of VRAM, they do in fact look like these were meant to be the Ti (midrange) cards, but got rebranded because NVidia found out they had a better product than AMD and had no reason to push out "the beast".
But looking at this card with a little more attention, one sees that it's not just got much more potential (with three times the CUDA cores of a 580) to tackle games for a long time, but it's also quieter (it's really quiet), uses a ridiculously small amount of power (think of those poor people that four years ago bought 1200W PSUs at $400), delightfully over-engineered, has great drivers from day one, gets better FPS than anything that AMD has, and well, it's just plain awesome.

On the other hand, AMD has the 7-series, which uses more power, tried to make things quieter but they came out nowhere near as quiet as the 680, and is generally a brute compared to the opposition - works bad in some games, stutters, poor drivers, etc ..
They also are guilty of commercial fraudolence, as people have found out, since lower-end cards have been made to run a lot slower than they actually can. Ofc AMD doesn't want to compete with itself.

But that's not entirely bad, as the cheaper 7850 can be made to run at its proper voltage / speed and it turns out it's quite an overclocking beast, allowing the cost-concious gamer to get a great (if somewhat loud and power-hungry) GPU for a decent amount of moneys.

SSDs for the masses.

Forget the OCZ Vertex 4, what i'm looking at is the astounding Mushkin Enhance Chronos, a 240Gb SSD for two hundred dollars; Why, just last time i looked at SSDs they were dodgy, incredibly expensive and most came in at around 60Gb;
This baby pulls 550Mb/s in read and writes, 90k iop/s, and it's big enough to function as your only HD; unless of course you are the sort of person who stores every episode of every show ever watched, but for your average gamer guy, it's plenty of space to keep some films, some music, the OS, and whatever else you need pretty much every day on your PC.

Incredible RAM.

Now i said before about "getting excited about RAM", and by golly this new stuff that came out is amazing;
Not only W7 responds well to large amounts of RAM (up to 16Gb, actually, with the performance going down after that), and the fact that you can actually run a RamDisk with that kind of stuff, but IB chips respond great (compared to the earlier i7 Gulftown chips) to higher frequencies and especially to a T1 command rate.
And the kicker is: it's dirt cheap.
One stick of 4Gb,  DDR3 1333mhz RAM will set you back a whopping $17. Seventeen dollars.
A high-end 4x4Ghz, 2166Mhz kit with LED lights on it will set you back a hundred bucks or just slightly more. Seriously, who doesn't want high-end RAM that lights up and flashes messages on their PC?

The H100 and the EVO.

Both new, the H100 is the first ready-made, liquid-based (WaterCooling) CPU fan all-in-one solution, and it's a steal at $110, with twice the joy as the earlier H50, H60 and H70 models were a wild disappointment. If you need to keep your CPU cool .. drastically, this will do it for you.
But even better is the CoolerMaster Hyper 212EVO, a slight change from the $20 212+, with better heatpipes and a nicer base, and for $30, it will work - for all practical purposes - just as well as Corsair's more expensive solution, given that IB talkes a lot less voltage to get near that "heat wall".
Ofc if you plan on smashing, that heat wall, then you might want to look might hard at the H100; but for the money, the EVO is unbeatable - no reason to buy anything else, really.

So, all in all i'm quite happy, and looking foward to my next system build.

Where i am not happy, is with PC cases - they still make them too ugly, too full of plastic, flimsy, and badly thought out (or just too big). I guess i will have to take in serious consideration building my own.

Scribbling from Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Skyrim's final review

So, it's a good game.

From my point of view Oblivion was better - i'm an old school gamer and don't mind tons of stats (i actually feel that streamlining is harmful .. after all it's the stats that make the difference between a RPG and a action game), and there were more variables that would affect the outcome of each decision made by the player. The speech wheel, character stats, acrobatics, open lock spells, spell customisation, and many more. Too many more - there is too much stuff that got taken out and although Skyrim is stupendously playable and bug-free (well, a game of this kind will always have a few bugs but .. it's no Clear Sky), the stuff that was taken out pretty much balances out the good stuff in.

And of course, the whole "3d immersion engine" thingie is getting old - Oblivion, and Morrowind before it, was revolutionary. Ofc Morrowind look old today, but on the other hand Oblivion looks just as good as Skyrim does, so no points here.

"A Good Story is what always gets me"

Yes, and i got to say Skyrim's story is way less immature than what you'd expect from a "hollywood" production, but the devil is in the details .. i'm going to have to be a bit specific here, or this won't  make sense.
In a grim fantasy world such as TES, there is too much high fantasy - too many beautiful females, too many clean temples, too many neverending dungeons, too many spell, and in general too much safe play from the designers making Skyrim look like a different kind of commercial ad, but one nonetheless.

I guess i could say that if you took all the complaints from the Skyrim boards and put them together, you'd have a picture of the problem BUT THEN I GOT AN ARROW IN THE KNEE and that's .. it's not grim, it's not fantasy, it's just Bethesda. Same problem as with Fallout, it's childish. The Jarl might have a complicated political situation on his hands - but then he just blurts it out to you who just stumbled into town - making this "we're really doing some serious writing here" thing look a bit silly.

If the Jarl is facing a though situation, why the hell isn't anyone else in town sent - alone - to solve it?

Some things in the gameplay are a bit horrid, for instance, when talking to an NPC for a quest some random passerby will stop and blurt out some random audio while the other guy is talking, some of the most popular being "..i took an arrow to the knee", and of course the immortal "you know what's wrong with Skyrim?".
But Skyrim it's a great game. So let's say screw the gameplay bugs - it's awesome. but ...

"You Know What's Wrong With Skyrim?"

Yes, my friend. Yes, i do.

The problem is that Bethesda, as a whole, wrote a game that they just couldn't deliver; you'v got this immense script (6k pages??), greatly complex situation, so many variables, and they just couldn't code it in.

1) The script is silly.
sure the story is nice, but the script itself is silly. i like the whole "barely escapes thanks to a dragon attack", but if you are going to write such quest lines as "humble beginner becomes Archmage of Winterhold", then you'd better be prepared to code in the changes to the script that this requires.

as Archmage of Winterhold, Thane of (every city in Skyrim), head of the Thieve's Guild, Listener of the Dark Brotherhood, and of course legendary Dragonborn, defeater of Anduin and saviour of Skyrim, i get the same shtick as average joe in the street. And - if you are listening, Beth - this doesn't mean that i want to hear every NPC saying "i heard you defeated that dragon" every minute of gametime, but it means that you actually need to have a timeline moving forward to make me feel as if anything has changed at all - which brings me to point

2)the game scripting is childish
nothing ever happens...
thief runs amok in the market, people rush out and kill him - you can simply ignore that; it's just a visual trick, and it means absolutely nothing in the story. Nothing really happens in the story. Some guy asks you to deliver food to High Hrotgard, you take the food.. then forget about it for a few months. the guy doesn't care. His sense of time is "takes quest - completes quest". This is made worse by the ingame waiting, sleep modes, quicktravel, and just plain bad time management - sure these are lovely features, if they were implemented nicely.
Like the thief trick, too many things in the game look the part but are just a cloud of smoke; walk past a cave, get attacked by bandits. Walk in said cave, there's a bunch of quest NPCs there. "Why the hell are you guys holed up here with a bunch of mobs??" but no answer there, other than "meh, we're just unkillable npcs".

You see, i'd rather have 5 NPCs in the whole game world, but that i can interact with in several ways, than a thousand that i can't interact with in any way but the one that was coded in. Have the Jarls (the lot of them) in the castle in Solitude after Ulfrik Stormcloak  takes the throne, some of whom are all pissy about me having [saved the world] [liberated skyrim][being the legendary dragonborn][being a general badass who can wipe out an entire city, solo] and some of them insult me - and now, if i try to kill one (or more), well, they are immortal.
Some would say, "where is the freedom", others (the coders) would reply "if we let you kill them, you can fuck up your game";
We'd reply then "let us fuck up our game, it's OUR game", but then justly or not, the coders would reply "but then you'd complain about us letting you fuck up your game by doing unsanctioned interactions with environment/items/NPCs".

To which the correct reply is "then code some more interaction responses". Which is something you obviously can't do with a game as expansive as Skyrim.

So in the end the problem is not that Skyrim is a bad game, it's just that the designers should have foreseen that such a game is beyond their means to deliver, and it certainly is. In Oblivion, having a high athletics meant you could get into places the coders never meant you to go, and it was fun - the speedrun for Morrowind is seven minutes without glitches, but there's a nice 16 min speedrun with full instructions here :
Morrowind is still the game that every TES fan cites as best of the series, and while i liked Oblivion very much (Morrowind is too old to me, and i agree, it had to be played when it came out, not now), Skyrim is too devoid of interaction with the  - stupidly large - content to make it a good recommendation.. the elements left out weigh particularly in favour of Oblivion vs Skyrim, now that every single character is a dual-wielding, dual-spell casting, daedra summoning, heavy armour wearing master thief archer Dragonborn alchemist enchanter smith, bringing me to the last point of my review

3) the milieu is ridiculous
great visual settings, great visual effects, but sadly, ridiculously mispalced content - not just the guards, jarls, emperors and random NPCs blurting out their life's secrets to everyone in the street, but the general sillyness of making the PC a divine, world-saving superbeing, overpowered form the word go.

RPGs are a matter of choice, and choice always involve losing some other aspect of the choice - if you chose tuna salad, you can't also have steak, pasta and chicken. Had they designed Skyrim to be - albeit the same size - smaller in scope, say, where the end quest is to become Jarl of Whiterun, removed fasttravel except for coaches(what's the point of a huge map, then?), lowered the amount of NPCs (or at least differentiated between main NPCs and minor), and stuck with the earlier "chock-full-o-choices" character build system, Skyrim would have been much, much better - but as you can easily see from the gamefaqs boards, everyone's got the same storyline, everyone's got the same build, same spells, same armour, etc.. the fabled variation (that Oblivion had lots of) is a myth and as such Skyrim is nothing but a complicated, sometimes buggy Action game where Smithing, Enchanting and occasionally Alchemy are overpowered, and even when not using these, it's just plain childishly easy, except on higher difficulties where it's still easy but for some totally unbalanced things which are stupidly hard.

And maybe they could have spent the time instead implementing cool stuff. Like time. Stuff happening. Flight. NPC interaction. Politics. Buildings. Mounts. A million other things.

I used to be a {insert comparison here} like you, but then i took an arrow to the knee.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Easy-Peasy review of Skyrim (he didn't like it)

well, after several hours and levels in, i can say that it's a great graphics adventure. but that's it.

i still love how you can finish the quests in so many different ways, yet, gameplay wise, it's really just not good enough.

1)too easy
- at level 5 i found a jacket that regens my magic 75% faster.
- the dual casting for free is overpowered
- the basic flamethrowing spell is op
- with horse + companion you do 3x damage
- fast travel is ridiculous
- sprint with 299 pounds on (399 with Deep Pockets)
- you can pay to level up (i just bought 2 levels and have money for 2 more)
- quicksave/load makes for some easy lockpicking/stealing/speechcraft/you name it
- using potions instantly makes for some easy fight, even with bigger mobs. sure not every fight, but since potions weight 0.5 (you can carry 600 if you wanna), some key fights can be easily won at earlier levels.
- shouts use no mana. Also, everyone can use magic. AND armor. so you can be a 25% magic resisting, 50% magic absorbing, dual spellcasting firethrower mage with plate armor, two handed sword and stack of potions who can stun enemies for free every 15 sec. AT LEVEL 1. ad it gets worse.
- and let's not forget the racial abilities (once per day. which translates to once per fight) and the blessings.

2)it's buggy and/or stupid
- kill that giant at level 2 by getting him stuck in the game geometry
- kill that dragon, solo, at level 9 by hiding behind a rock where he can't hit you (but thinks he does) and fill him with iron arrows
- melee weapons, don't even think about it. touch the arrow keys and your stamina goes bye bye.
- press Alt to sneak, press Tab to access inventory. Alt+Tab?? who the **** thought of that one?

- press Tab to open inventory. use arrow keys to scroll to bow. click with mous on bow when highlited. press F. press Tab to close screen. press Q. use arrow keys to select bow. press 1. THAT IS HOW YOU SELECT YOUR WEAPONS ?!?!?!?

- why on earth you cant fast travel within city locations? it takes more time to go from the blacksmith to the alchemist than it does to go from Dragonsreach to Solitude.
- seriously? still using encounter scaling? what's the point of levels then?

thats about all i can think of now.

actually, it's about all. Skyrim doesn't have bugs in the classic sense of the word, it's just that the game mechanics are really weak. even QL/Q3 has physics light years ahead of Syrim. gameplay isn't too buggy, it's just poor. but if you played Oblivion you already know all of this.
Surely tho Syrim is not a proper RPG game.

(he didn't like it)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Waiting for Ivy Bridge

Waiting for Godot Ivy Bridge.

Technology has gotten so good that it's competing with itself;
The release date for Ivy Bridge CPUs nears, yet i still don't see any new features that lack from my C2D setup.
Of course, IB will have more power, lots more, and lower temperatures (so low in fact that many once-awesome aftermarket coolers are now totally redundant.. once you get your hands on a Coolermaster Hyper 212+, you are set for life), much better memory controllers (i'm actually hoping to see DDR4 with IB), more overcloclability... in fact, IB will be *exactly* like SB, but better in everything, if by little.

And of course the first thing that comes to mind is the Tic-Toc, where CPUs are designed in two steps, one of architectural change, and one of die shrink and refinement; knowing how things work, do you opt for the Tic, the new technology with new features, or do you wait for the Toc, which at the same price point delivers better performance and has less bugs'n kinks?

Now i would have gone Sandy bridge long ago were it not for that i was broke, and couldn't afford to even think about it - which leaves me to consider the Toc, as it's not a good idea to get one now since IB is "just around the corner" (IB has been "JATC" since jan, but whatever).. however here comes the big if:

Should i go Ivy bridge??

As people say on Hardforum, "i'm concerned that these chips will be made to not be any faster than Sandy Bridge" - of course, why whould Intel want to compete with itself, expecially now that AMD is nowhere to be seen and SB chips could be still sold successfully for another couple years.
Well, they won't be revolutionary, but they will certainly be better than SB. In fact you *will* get a lot more, mostly out of the new chipset; the problem here isn't whether Ivy Bridge will be lots better than Sandy Bridge - it will be at least a little better, and that's all that matters - but it's if Ivy Bridge will finally manage to make my C2D setup feel old. Will it?

You see, i'm working and gaming on a 5 year old machine, with a 280GTX bought on eBay for £50, and everything still works perfectly.

Many years ago,in the infancy of computers, things used to go horribly wrong - in fact, the was hardly ever a platform that didn't have several things going horribly wrong at once, and each technological step-up would fix only a few of these, often adding a couple more in for good measure..
But around the years of WinXP SP2, and the C2D, everything started to fall into place.. OSs were stable, hardware got its bugs sorted out, and essentially my machine can do everything that any modern one can.. in the same way. Maybe, just maybe, a very little slower but, hey, is that really worth two grand????

Here is an example (if i find it): FLASH/NAND based storage, or SSDs to us, hailed as revolutionary, "hard disk has always been a bottleneck", "you will be amazed at the speed" and all that shit.
Mind you, a decent SSD today is around £400.
Then, you get articles like this one Anandtech forums:
I got an SSD, why doesn't Windows boot much faster?
And Lol 'n behold, your £400 doesn't actually do anything that you can see.

Cue excruciating explanation of this new and amazing technology that offers very little real life improvement, unless you have ADD and really think its ok to spend £400 to wait two seconds instead of three to watch a film on your computer.

So, will Ivy Bridge truly outperform my Core2Duo ? 

Honestly, i don't know. I almost hope it does, because CPUs have become less and less of an interest for me since this build, as i hardly feel that i have a need for more computing power. Ask me, and i can easily tell you the Nvidia 560Ti is the best GPU on the market, and yet, why would i want to buy one?? I still play everything that comes out ..

And again.. i mostly just play QL ...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Today, helped someone across the globe get a PC built for the 12yo nephew; feels good to have done a good action. I wonder if now i can call myself "computer hardare guru".

next week work interview for a full-time audio technician job, i sure hope Karma Kat will smile upon me :)