I’ve made an interesting discovery the other day about one of my render nodes: with identical GPUs, one appears to render faster than the other. I didn’t get it at first. But with a possible explanation in my head, I got the thinking and applied the same principle to my other node, and was able to increase its render speed by 24%!
How exciting is that?
It’s all about retro hardware, and how to make the most out of what you already have. Let me tell you what I discovered, and how I made use of an old AMD/ATI GPU in my setup that I never thought would work.
This morning I got a notification from Amazon that Jerry’s new book had been released. I had pre-ordered it a few weeks ago and was eager to start reading it. Having a long journey across town from Miami Beach to Sunset ahead of me, Jerry’s Book of Sin would be a great accompaniment.
My trusty old Kindle Keyboard 3G was all charged up, I was ready to leave, but the book had not been downloaded. “Hm”, I thought, “this should have happened automatically”. Was I signed into the correct account?
Yes I was, and to my surprise, the book was showing up correctly under Archived Items. But when I tried to download it manually, all I got was an error message stating that “The download was unsuccessful. Please try again later”.
When I owned a DS console many years ago, I remember playing a game called Hotel Dusk: Room 215. It was more like an interactive book than a classic adventure game. At times a little tedious, it had a super gripping storyline and I couldn’t forget.
In the story, protagonist Kyle Hyde, former NYPD detective, has left the force and is now a door-to-door salesman. He’s still trying to find out what happened to his former partner. When his employer sends him to Hotel Dusk in LA, he finds a host of characters that all tie together into a larger plot, which appears to be connected to the disappearance of Kyle’s former partner.
When I discovered the DesMuME emulator for the DS recently, I thought I’d try running the game on my Surface Pro – and it’s almost exactly like having a super sized DS, complete with stylus.
Since the game has it’s tricky moments, I’ve made list of questions I had while re-playing the mysteries of Hotel Dusk: Room 2015.
I’ve bought another classic retro title from GOG.com the other day: Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb (from 2003 I believe). I greatly enjoyed this game on the original Xbox and I had no idea that it had even been released for other platforms.
Turns out the game does support a (more or less) mappable Gamepad profile, but it was written many years before the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows was even invented, and as such not all buttons can be mapped.
Which means the gaming experience sucks – especially for a game with so many commands.
Luckily I found a very helpful forum post discussing these very issues, and of course someone cleverer than you and me has figured our how to get the Xbox controller to (mostly) work in this game. I did have some success following that post, but to make this thing work 100%, there are a couple of things we need to do.
I’ve recently discovered GOG.com, the service that provides “good old games” from yesteryear to retro connoisseurs like myself. Games that used to run well on DOS and other long forgotten platforms are getting a new lease on life by being packaged up to run on today’s technology.
Many games run on Windows, Mac and even Linux – but some are only available for single platforms, mostly Windows. The Might and Magic 6-pack is such an example, available for only $9.99 (a total bargain, considering it’s 7 games).
I remember getting “Isles of Terra” free with a computer magazine in the nineties. I’m not usually into role playing games, but having enjoyed Bard’s Tale III on my C64 many years before, I gave this one a shot and loved it – just like its sequels (Clouds of Xeen and Darkside of Xeen, together making up a whole new game called World of Xeen).
I wanted to find out if I’d still enjoyed this game today, so I tried installing it on my Mac using a Windows 7 VM with Parallels Desktop. However, it didn’t run well and the mouse is interpreted rather weirdly. That’s no surprise really, because it means I’m running an emulator inside another emulator. Of course things will go wrong!
Might and Magic is installed using the DOSbox emulator under Windows, and as soon as you click the launch icon, DOSbox is launched, and within it the actual game. Thing is, DOSbox is also available for Mac, several Linux flavours and some other exotic platforms – so I was wondering if I could somehow just run DOSbox on my Mac and launch the original files from within it.
I have several Amazon accounts: one in the US, one in the UK, and one ein Germany. Every now and again I de-register one of my Kindles from one account and register it with another one. Depends on what content I’d like to read and on which account it’s available.
The other day I switched my Kindle Fire from my German Amazon account back to my US account, my main account, containing all my my english content. To my surprise, the device registered fine, identified itself as “Jay’s Kindle”, but none of my content was showing up. Likewise, the device was not showing as registered on my web interface.
What was going on? Where was all my content? This had worked not too long ago!
I tried installing the Kindle iOS app on my iPhone and registered it too – only to find it behaved exactly the same way: no content, and the device was not showing itself on my Amazon account.
I was playing XIII again the other day. The US GameCube version this time. I remember enjoying XIII on the original Xbox back in the day, as well as on PC.
Even today, there’s nothing quite like playing these old style shooters with blurry textures and blocky unsmoothed 3D objects.
That aside, I had a tough time making the Grappling Hook work, mainly because the controls on the GameCube version must be the most terrible in the history of console gaming. Sadly my copy did not come with an instruction booklet, but at $4.99 with free shipping I’m not complaining. I found no instructions on the internet either, I’m probably a lost cause and too late for the XIII party anyway.
I’m as excited as a kid in a candy store – because last Monday my new (old) HP Z600 Workstation has arrived! Built and sold to the government in the summer of 2009 for roughly $5000 (give or take a grand), it came to me via an eBay auction for $171 plus postage some seven years later.
Equipped with two Intel Xeon 5560 processors, no hard drive, 4GB of RAM and only a COA sticker for Windows Vista, I had a little bit of work to do to get it all going:
get a USB keyboard
get a power cord
get a graphics card
perhaps grab some more RAM
find a network cable
download a copy of Windows Vista (not easy to find in 2016)
I wanted to use this machine for 3D rendering in both Carrara and DAZ Studio, so for the latter I decided to buy an NVIDIA GTX 970 graphics card. I had to do a few internal modifications to the machine to make it work – but work it does, and it was a lot of fun to get this rig going.
The other day I was looking at Samsung Chromebook laptops. It’s the latest fad in giving laptops something to do in the post-PC era. They’ve largely replaced netbooks for “surfing with something that’s not a tablet”.
I’m a fan of open source operating systems, and Parallels Desktop offers to install Chrome OS as VM too. Never having experienced what these puppies could do, I gave it a quick whirl. Here’s what it looks like:
There’s really nothing to do here, except for launch the web browser – which is precisely what a Chromebook is supposed to do: you don’t install anything, you don’t maintain anything. You can just about edit some super basic settings, such as the background picture and which Gmail account you’re using for all this, and even those settings are presented in a web browser.
It’s Chrome if you hadn’t guessed:
What’s interesting about these types of devices is the price point: at anywhere between $200 and $300, the entire Chromebook costs as much as an Intel i5 CPU, without a keyboard, screen, battery or anything else.
The device has very limited storage: nothing like your 500GB hard disk. Instead it has 16GB of internal storage, sometimes a little more – much like an SD card. The RAM isn’t anything exciting either: while Windows and Mac really need 4GB minimum just to check your email, a Chromebook only has 2GB tops, sometimes even less.
I know this sounds ridiculous because we’re so used to large hard disks, huge amounts of memory and beefy graphics cards. But it’s the operating system that asks for those things in quantity – it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. We’ve been conned into thinking that such powerful hardware is necessary to accomplish basic day-to-day tasks.
The new era of laptopping
What Samsung have done here is very interesting, and it appears to be an emerging trend in the gadget industry: they’ve taken their own Exynos chip and attached some different peripherals. The Exynos is an ARM based system on a chip, commonly found in Samsung’s mobile devices such as the Galaxy phones and tables.
The Exynos is the equivalent of Apple’s A-series of chips found in iPhones and iPads: it provides not only the CPU, but also graphics and network capabilities, all with a very small footprint. Using this approach for laptops rather than small mobile gadgets is something we haven’t seen before. Up to now, everything in a laptop was Intel or AMD based to be anywhere near useful.
All these ARM based systems are less power hungry too, much cheaper to produce, and up to now less beefy in regards to performance. The Raspberry Pi uses one for example, as does the iPhone (that A-series is indeed based on an ARM chip too).
Over the last few years, two interesting things have been happening to the way we humans to stuff on the web, which makes Chromebooks and this philosophy such an interesting choice:
we do more powerful things “in the cloud” rather than locally
and we use more web interfaces to access such services
At the same time, these cheap ARM devices seem to be getting faster and faster and will very soon be an alternative for running more power hungry desktop applications. I hear for example that the Apple A8x chip in the iPad Air 2 is now as fast as the Intel i5 chip found in a 2013 MacBook Air.
So the question is: does the average user NEED a super fast device just to access email and web applications?
What’s next, Desktop?
It’s all up to the operating system to make use of these chips – and of course Windows and Mac OS X won’t be able to run on those devices at the moment. But Linux – that’s a different story.
There are distributions like Fedora and Ubuntu which are just as happy running on an x86_64 system as they are running on an ARMv7 and above. It’s a frightening thought, but I’m currently running Fedora 21 on my Nook Tablet from 3 years ago! Sure it’s super slow, but I can speak to it just as if it was a powerful server in a data centre.
What Samsung call Exynos, and what Apple call the Ax series, Intel call the Atom series. It’s the same idea, providing a system on a chip based on an Intel CPU. These first debuted in Netbooks in 2009 and have since been used in some Android phones too. Will these low-cost chips change the world? Will they soon overtake the power of the Xeons?
Will we one day go back in computing power and instead be happy with something slower than what we had before? Is that why the 2014 Mac Mini is already slower than its predecessor? Will we soon see a MacBook Air powered by an A9 chip? Or instead tablet devices that are faster than our desktops and laptops?
Who can tell. It’ll be exciting to watch what happens next. At least one of the big companies is preparing such an eventuality: Windows 10 will be available for ARMv7 processors.