Top of the crop...

As a casual gamer I've been looking at both software and hardware part of market for the last 2 months awaiting for the situation to clear a bit so we could see who is the on the top of this truly crazy holiday season.

First a bit of introduction.

For the last 2-3 years, most of the gamers will agree, there had been a silence on the market. Sure, there were games coming out, but since we had Far Cry/Doom 3/Half Life2 all in a short period of time, there had been almost no new high profiled games on the market.

But recently they all started to come, one by one. First we had a bit of a warm-up with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R and now we had literally 20 top games going out in last few months. Not just shooters (though they tend to collect all the attention most of the time) but quite a few of top strategy games just as well.

On the other hand we had pretty much the same thing going on in hardware department. Since the arrival of nVidia 8xxx series ATi had been mostly silent and/or unsuccessful  so we had one and the same architecture leading the market for a full year - not something we were used to.

But things have changed...

At the same time that we had new games coming, we've also had new DX architecture going mainstream (both in games and in hardware) and new hardware following it. I'll completely neglect 8600 cards and even worse ATi answer, those couldn't be accounted as "mainstream DX10" cos they couldn't handle even the DX9 titles in their full glory.

And today I think that we're quite close to the answers about the kings and queens of this 3-year hardware/software development.

Let's start with games.

I think it's mostly safe to say that Crysis is pretty much marked for the top spot in the software department. Ok, I can't say it's the best game ever (because I haven't played beyond demo yet), but technically it's pretty safe bet to say it's most advanced and it will probably be an example for the rest of the games coming out in next 2 years, mostly the same way that happened to Far Cry. It's also a good benchmark for the hardware, and I'd be dumba** not to say this as well - it is currently only game that can't be played with just any hardware that you pick. Did you get that? Maybe you're plugging your ears, but it's truth. Ok, some gamers will want 60-100 fps while playing, and that's fine with me if they want to brag with it. But any game around that will play without dropping minimum frames to tens all the time should be just fine with 30-40 fps range. Believe me, most of my gaming I've done on <30 fps and truth to be told - I've rarely had regrets about it. Now read the above once more, as here is the truth coming to stab you right in the eyes - any game around right now will play at or over 30 fps at your desired resolution with the hardware you have (or can afford/plan to buy). I've put in this part "desired resolution" intentionally. Why? Cos' if you've got 24" LCD you had to be dumb not to spend extra 100$ on a bit higher grade graphics!

And now let's move to the hardware!

So what I say right here and right now is - if you have 19" LCD (mostly at 1280x1024 or 1440x900 which is more or less same number of pixels) you'll be fine with new ATi 3850 cards or nVidia's new 8800 GT 256MB card. That's fair, right, pairing 170-200$ screen with 180-200$ card, especially since other components in this computer are most likely to be coined around E4xxx series CPU and P35 motherboard with 2GB of RAM. So if you've got this hardware, you can play any game out right now at high visuals and that's it, 'cos this hardware can follow just fine at 1280x1024 resolution.

If you've got yourself 24" screen (let's face it - it's either 19-20" or 24", there is little ppl going to the middle) you're up to 400-500$ price range for the screen itself. Now, above configuration CPU+MBO+GPU+RAM is almost at the same 500$ range, just to point out that you're not likely to have above hardware with 24" screen. Nope, if you've got money to spend on 24" display you've got some extra money to spend on better graphics and CPU. It's not much, it look like 8800 GTS 512MB will be just 100$ more than above mentioned mainstream, and here you get high-end part, I'd even say it's top-card as not one sane person will give 2x the money for 8800 Ultra for 2% speed-up when you can get 2x GTS and let's say 70% extra speed. So we have 24" screen, new 8800 GTS "v2", and one of the E6xxx CPU's from Intel together with a perhaps bit more expensive or OC friendly P35 board once again. You have 4GB of RAM as well, and probably Vista (in dual boot with good-old XP I'd say -just in case :D ). With these parts you are again sure to be playing just about any game out there at 30+ fps at 1920x1200 with everything at highest levels, AA, AF, HDR and all other mumbo-jumbo... So we're settled?

Finally - the conclusion should be here... right?

Nope, we're up to the starters again once more. Why? Ok, so you can't miss - you get just about any card that came out in November/December if you've got 19" screen (8800GT/GTS 256/512MB or 3850/3870 again 256 or 512MB shouldn't matter) and new "tomorrow to be launched" 8800 GTS 512MB for everything else. What's the problem?!

But here we come back to the Crysis from the start of this post. Unless you've got no limits on your platinum cards, and can afford triple-SLI or quad-Crossfire and quad CPU's with high-speed DDR3 you're about to find out that this is only game that isn't playing at desired minimum framerates with your hardware. This is why I've picked it among those 20 games in the first place.

So what are we waiting for? Basically - a lot. We have nVidia and ATi struggling to push new Crysis drivers out ASAP (nVidia seems to be a bit ahead at the moment), Crysis team is just about to release new patch that should polish the performance a bit, and even Microsoft is helping with Vista hotfixes and patches (not to mention SP1 due out to leak in mostly finalized RC1 in this month or close by). A LOT of teams around the same problem right? So probably it will be fixed right? At least to the point that you can play High details+AA/AF on DX9? Sure. No problem. Than just let people with extra budget buy a bit better or OCed card to have the same in DX10 and that's it. But I've got even better suggestion. With Crysis actually being rushed-out in the very end (according to some sources) I think we'll even have this very game playing just fine on the hardware I've mentioned above, and that's in DX10. Hey, if every team gets 5-10% speedup, I think it's possible ;) And with early-rushed-game code it's achievable, same with new graphics chips that haven't had drivers polished for them yet, and Vista is hopefully around to be a bit better when SP1 finally hits the shelves.

If this happens we can say it's done deal right this moment, meaning that even if you're not rich brat (with platinum card and 4x 30" screens on triple-8800-Ultra rig with 8GB DDR3 and 5GHz quad CPU or something sci-fi like that (for the rest of us)) - you are settled:
mainstream -> E4xxx CPU+any 88xx/37xx card+P35 MBO+2GB DDR2+19" screen = any game running great
high-mainstream/high-end -> E6xx CPU+8800 GTS 512+high-end P35 MBO+4GB DDR2+24" screen = any game running great
And of course, this will negate a bit that Crysis is on-top but they can always brag that everyone jumped in to get them going smoothly ;)

If this doesn't happen, than you're mostly down to same, with 2 exceptions. You'll probably be stuck with the same hardware, but you'll have to admit that there is one game that you won't see with just EVERY option on high, and second one is that Crysis will have their place as being that very game, that only above mentioned Richie Rich can play at full details (though probably only on one of it's four 30" screens :D )

So we're waiting...

For Crytek to publish patch
For nVidia/ATi(AMD) to publish drivers
For Microsoft to publish Vista SP1 (or better yet - DX10 for XP :P )

But don't wait for that to start gaming! That's not the point! It's just the opposite - get your rig going and play the other 19 titles in the meantime! And have a merry-gaming-Xmas :D


Kill the DRM...

I'll just copy paste a real good comment from a certain Oliver Jones posted as an answer to this article - http://www.theinquirer.net/gb/inquirer/news/2007/11/22/kill-drm

The pirated product is actually better, these days...
Whether it is software, DVDs or CDs, the pirates have actually managed to make the user experience suprerior to that of the original product.
I'm sick of having to watch a two-minute clip of how PIRACY IS A CRIME, every time I put a DVD in my player - or worse, adverts (and sometimes not being able to skip them!) It's why I invested in AnyDVD - best software I ever bought. Some DVDs don't even play on my DVD player (the Back to the Future trilogy that I bought, for example). My DVD player wasn't cheap, either - but I have been forced to rip the so-called copy-protected DVDs, so I could burn them and watch them as intended.
This tragically illustrates the irony here: They've made a product that only pirates can use! The copy protection clearly doesn't work (otherwise I wouldn't have been able to copy the discs, would I?) - yet the protection stymies the punter who knows nothing about ripping DVDs, decrypting and re-burning them (which, by the way, would be most people who buy DVDs). Big question time: What's the point?
As for my music collection, I actually don't want to have to lug CDs around whenever I want to access my tunes, so ripping them is the obvious solution. No major label has yet twigged on to the fact that I'd fall for FLAC music tracks like a squirrel would fall on the last nut on Earth. Instead, they are experts at marketing music I would personally *NEVER* buy. And guess what? I haven't bought any of this over-compressed, locked-down MP3/AAC crap. At the same time, now that they've wrecked CDs with their "protection" (and occasional rootkit), I've stopped buying them too - they're too much of a security risk.
What about software? As an owner of genuine Microsoft and Adobe software, I've had to put up with extremely irritating "activation" - whereas I'm fully aware that the pirates have been laughing at me for being so foolish. Well, next time I might actually go for the superior usability of pirated software - and not buy the original. Hell, even a pirated version of the original software I *already* own licences for is something I'd class as an upgrade...
This has all been blindingly obvious for many, many years. What next? They discover the Earth really was round, after all?

posted by : Oliver Jones, 22 November 2007

He had said it all, I've just accented interesting parts..


Windows Live (WL) pack - review

Ok, so it was worth it.

In WL pack you get new Windows Live Messenger 8.5 (not much difference), and three nice programs - WL Mail which is a nice substitution (and upgrade) over good old Outlook Express, MS blogging tool called WL Writer and first real good Microsoft's picture viewer/manager.

So let's start with least impressive part and some "flaming" ;)

WL Messenger (we all still call MSN) is same old dog with a new skin and a few tweaks. Personally, I haven't found anything new in it except the skin, but I guess there should be some improvements since the version jumped this much :D Probably "compatible with Vista" or some similar nonsense.

Second part is OE made for Vista - WL Mail.

It will greet you with a nice new look, though at Windows Live Mail - main screenfirst a bit confusing since you can't find the Options! options buttonNo fear, it's here, and it looks like this

So once our fears of "option-less" mailing program are gone, what we do find in options is almost a copy/paste from old OE. It's good since it's familiar, and it's bad since all those "|337" users will flame it all the way around. You don't get full featured Outlook, but you get what most ppl around will find more than enough.

What are it's main features, IMHO? Well, first one is that when you're setting up mail accounts it will recognize Hotmail/Gmail address and setup most of it itself (you do have to put in your name and password). And - it works. No options would even work here, if you're an average user. Just 3 things to write in wizard and you're off! But it has more there... First and most important, you can tweak the layout with reading pane positioning and all that (through the same "options" icon on top) which OE lacked a lot. Also, you get your accounts separated, and colored differently, which is nice - looks nice, is easy to understand an all... And finally, they haven't forgotten about news reader - truth to be told one of a few good reasons that we had to defend OE since other programs are either dedicated mail readers or news readers. WL Mail just like OE before it is - both on one package.

There is a good degree of integration with WL Messenger as well, since it provides one-click button to open it from WL Mail and you are just a double-click away from sending a message to someone if you have that contact open in WL Mail.

All in all, solid. I didn't even expect this "much". It's MS after all, they do evolution not revolution. Well, sometimes they do, and people mostly don't like it :D

Let's go in to - WL Writer

What's that? Nope, it's not a free Word or a Wordpad replacement. It's a bloggers dream - an offline tool to write and manage your blogs. I know, it's by no means first, and I am not one to say it's best (since it's first I've tried) - but it has it's advantages.

First of all, a surprise! It works with Blogger too ;) Sure enough, I'm writing this whole post in it! Here's a picture!image

You know how many buttons I had to press? alt+PrtScr followed by Ctrl+V. Yup, you get it. It made a thumbnail, linked to original, and once I'm done it should be on web without much hassle. I'll leave this picture as it is, but as you can see on the first one (WL Mail) it supports text wrapping, and you can link/unlink original (I've removed original in WL Mail so you can't see much of my details.. hopefully ;) ), resize both thumbnail and/or original, adjust margins, add and change borders, rotate, adjust contrast, ad watermarks of your choice and several standard effects like B&W, Sepia, Gaussian blur etc. Of course, you can attach and modify any image as you wish.

Long Island example map
You can also insert tables, maps (through Microsoft's own Virtual Earth - no need to install anything; example of Long Island map right here), tags, video.. and I presume much more in the near future as there is an "Add Plug-in" link under all these options that leads to gallery.live.com where there are already some plug-ins like "Insert emoticons" or "Flicker4Writer" and many more.. Emoticons? Sure! smile_wink Though for now I didn't see option to add your own (would be perfect to use ones in my MSN..I mean WL Messenger "library" ;) ) so you're stuck with default WL Messenger emoticons like that stupid blacksheep .. like anyone uses that! :D Oh, and you can resize them as you can see ROTFL! :D

Ok, where was I? Well sure, options of all kinds.. they all exist, like font/paragraph management, saving drafts and all, but let's get back to setup and options for a moment. While it supports Blogger and dozen others as well, what I like the most is the level of integration. It can download template you're using so you can have an instant preview, you can change name of blog, edit already posted blogs etc. You can also edit text alone, edit inside downloaded template, or dig into HTML if you like to do so. Oh, and it includes spell-checking, which is nice for us that aren't native English speakers.

Well, enough of it, let's go to WL Photo Gallery finally.

It's been a pleasant surprise for me, I have to say that for once! Even more than this blogging tool of theirs :) Why so? Let's start with a bit of history of my own, some background. I've had a new digital camera for a few months now, and already a few gigs of pictures. I've used Picassa to organize them in a hurry, and once labeled I've assigned some keywords to those groups. They were IPTC which is one way of "tagging" pictures. I've tried converting those to XMP but didn't have much luck because of letter specifics of our language (with accents all over the place). So I gave up mostly, being satisfied that most of the newer programs can read both IPTC and XMP so any will do. What did Photo Gallery do at first, was a nice surprise. As soon as I've added pictures, it showed their tags! As soon as I've added ones with local letters I got disappointed.. for a moment. All I had to do is click on a tag and rename it to correct this. Now it shows them fine. Though what it did I'm not sure if I like, since now all of those pictures have keywords only in XMP and it erased IPTC tags :( Oh well, I guess since Vista can handle them I'll be fine in the future. But if I had to chose I'd pick IPTC since it's supported by a Windows Live Photo Gallerymass of older and elderly programs... Though any new ones, specially from the likes of Microsoft or Adobe, will work more than well with XMP. Oh, did I mention it was lightning fast compared to Picassa's own keyword editing?! Well IT IS!

Ok, on with the program. Mostly it has nice sorting features, since you can pick a tag, and than further group all the pictures by let's say date/time taken, and than scroll through quickly made "Table of contents" to just the bunch you're interested in. And let me tell you, it has quite a few grouping/filtering options. Just an example, but it shows the power. You can pick a tag "holidays" & "sunshine", group them by time taken and pick one from last summer, so let's say "13. August 2007", and than even further look through already filtered results by searching using search box on top. Of course, you can pick a folder as well, or all tags/all folders. You can add tags to the pictures you've filtered and/or selected. Or you can just start a simple slide show for the selection.. Or mail them. Or.. well you get it.

There is simple editor included for red-eye reduction, cropping, color adjustments and simple stuff like that. It's opened by "Fix" button. You can also easily print or publish it (to MS own Spaces or to Fickr), or burn to CD/DVD.

Well, that's it mostly. Now I'll post this thing to see if Writer works ;)

Why can't it be simple?!

here is another one, this time it's - software.

Oh, but not just software, we'll talk about unneccesary complications with instalation of software, even before it starts.

So here is our todays contender - new Microsoft Live package. Sure, sounds fine, mail, photos, messenger, lots of sharing of everything (photos, blogging etc)

But here is the catch.

First of - why do I always have to get local version of their software?! I hate it. I trully hate them for pushing it to me. Cos' I want my software in english, as I can't stand all those new inventions in local languages. Belive me, you don't want to see "wizzard" translated localy, and specialy you don't want to translate "paste" (sounds more like "stick-it" when translated to my local language).

So let's get back to pushing those unwandted versions. For God's sake, why can't they put an option to download version I like. Is it so hard to put in ONE SIMPLE DROPDOWN LIST with all the languages?! Maybe I have English Windows, while living in China, but want Italian messenger because of some weird reason. And dropdown list is real easy to do, don't you think?!

So, here, if someone wants english "Live package", instead a localized one I've found a link -
Though they have a same way of installing like Google does, you pick components while on web page, and there after you get a small installer tool which installs whatever you've picked. So I can't vouch that you'll get what you've asked for. But you can try starting download in your local language, but than click a link I've posted.. worked for me.

But once that's over and you want to start installing you'll probably get a notification that you need Windows Update Agent of a newer version. Don't worry, it's only if you don't use Microsoft and/or Windows update. I don't. So where do you get it?
Simple! You Google, than browse a bit, than get to a MS MSDN article, which says to download a CAB file, than get a tool to unpack it, than unpack it, you get an XML file, you open it (don't need a tool for that luckily, Notepad works fine), and in it you have a link, just pick one for your version. Simple isn't it? Like it wouldn't be easier to just pust this link in the article?!

Ofcourse, this is just for x86, but it's what most ppl need anyway. You can try doing it my way if you need it for another version :P :D

So once that's that, and if you got lucky for setup to install just (and all) of what you wanted to - you've got your software package.

Now, kill me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't it be easier just to have one page which says:
Live mail - 1MB - download
Live Messanger 10MB - downlaod
Windows Live Update Agent or whatever XP x86 - 5MB - download
Windows Live Update Agent or whatever XP x64 - 6MB - download

Well,t hat's it for todays rants. Actualy one more - even though it's out of beta, live.com still says BETA on front page :D

I'll probably comment on software once it gets installed and tried :P For now I just turned Live messenger 8.5 on, and it looks mostly the ame with only skin changed :D


Graphics cards names and models - ain't it a mess?!

Well, here is the "probably won't be read by many ppl" comment I've left on a site.

For the record, it was a comment on this article:

I've modified if a bit, but i'm sure original will be show on the above URL in a day or so..

So let's get to it. ATI iintroduced new numbering scheme. Nice, real nice. But what about others? And what about people that says things like:
" personally don't like it. I like to browse a website and rapidly see a big capital letter PRO, XT or XTX it would only be difficult to understand if you don't have too much common sense. I don't like numbers because I have now to look in between numbers instead of looking at fancy letters to the right of the whole thing. I think it may be more easy to understand what's the higher end product, but makes it a little bit difficult(slower) to read."

Well, here is what I think. First off, I think that above comment is by posted by "I know all, I'm the techie" kind of person. But not everyone is. And not everyone wants to be one.

For me? I'm all for it.. Let's change those stupid names/models once and for all.

Actualy, first off - I'm sick and tired of looking for info about 8600 GT just to see ones about 8600 GTS or 8800 GT poping up, or anything in between..

I'm all for simplicity. Hey, I'd even make it simpler, just name them 1001 for first generation lowest card, than 1002 for next etc.. and adding numbers as they bring out new faster parts. Than as completely new architecture goes out start with 2001.. That would make 2400 PRO a 2001, than XT 2002, than 2600 PRO 2003, XT 2004, 2005 for XT with GDDR4 (don't you hate those same-name-different-specs parts?!?) etc..

And in particular what I hate most are parts like 8800GTS and "new" 8800GTS. How the hell should a buyer know?! Will they write it on a box saying "This is not old slower-than-8800GT; this is new and improved faster-than-8800GT-GTS-model!!" Nope. Was same with x1650PRO if I remember correctly, and renaming new parts to old names and stuff like that.. Not to mention "new" was actualy slower than the old one.. something like this GT-GTS thingie we have with nVidias 8800 models at the moment.

So for manufacturers, and their marketing, maybe it's good.
For people that are all into it and have a choice to enter store, take an employee to take them to their warehouse to hand-pick the product, either by weekly production dates or something else, it doesn't matter much. But not everyone can do it. Hell, if you buy online noone can do it.
So for an average Joe it's a low-down tricks and nothing else. And a lot of headaches too :P

While at it, I'd forbid them to make those 8600 GT's with 1.2ns GDDR3, and 8600 GT with 1.4ns GDDR3 - while having a same name - just as well. Nvidia/ATI(AMD) makes specs. So make 10 models, give them 1005 for 8600 GT 1.4ns, 1006 for 1.3ns, 1007 for 1.2ns.. If you're unsure of the number of variants put 5 numbers space between. And make all other variants of as well. You're hardly going to have 999 variants inside same generation of chip architecture anyway...

Well, that's my 2 cents.

Now let's hear you ppl - what do you think? Let the flames begin ;) Maybe in a few years they'll listen to the majority :)

Getting started

Ok, just decided to open my blog. Why? Simply.. I wrote a comment on one site, but figured it will never be seen (probably). So I'm gonna try to do it - my way! ;)