Monday, December 25, 2006

Gun (XBOX 360)

- $20 at Best Buy while supplies last.
- finished in around 12-15hrs 100% complete including all side quests.
- A really fun approachable shooter/GTA in the west. The side quests are fun and actually improve your player stats making the story line missions easier. Tons (and I mean A LOT) of in mission checkpoints so you are NEVER frustrated or required to replay much of the game.
- Bullet time abilities makes combat a lot easier.
- Controls actually work better with a game pad. The PC version suffers floaty mouse controls which feels like a console game ported to the PC with no tweaking to the controls. It's like your mouse emulates an analog stick which isn't exactly like native mouse control. The 360 version is the best version to get.
- Graphics are adequate but pretty much just look like and up rez'd xbox game. It really didn't detract much from the game.
- Last boss was kind of tough and took some figuring out.
- I enjoyed the story. Lots of entertaining in engine cut scenes.
- Voices are too quiet and are a bit uneven in volume.
- I'm 50% done with Resistance, and yet I chose to start and then complete Gun first. That's gotta tell you something.

Highly recommended especially for $20.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My XBOX 360 died but the world did not end

- I've been getting a lot of freezes for about the past month and it's been getting worse. It started with saints row. Post patch I must have locked up ten times. No red lights or anything. The console just freezes with all lights still green. Then later on it happened once in gears, once in pocket bike racers, and about 5 times in rainbow six Vegas (single player)
- I had a near launch console (mfg date 11/25/05) so my warranty was automatically extended for a year. I had purchased the two year extended warranty from Microsoft earlier for $50 for 2 years.
- I decided it was time to call support (Sunday). My first call went to India and I explained the issue above and also that it happened in live multi player but mostly in single player. She insisted I get transfered over to the xbox live support because for some reason she thought it was a networking issue.
- So I get transfered. Then, I explain the whole story to the live support person, and she's says this is obviously a hardware issue and not a live issue so she transfers me back to hardware support.
- I get an American! He was really nice and helpful and obviously was a gamer. I explained my issue a third time and he immediately authorized a repair. They even shipped me a prepaid shipping box (coffin) so I can ship the broken xbox 360 back to them. I think if you have the extended warranty they will pay shipping both ways but if you are just under regular manufacturer's warranty then you have to pay shipping to Microsoft.
- The coffin arrived on Wed. I ship it out thurs. It arrives on Fri. They turn it around in 24hrs. I receive my replacement (refurbished - mfg date: 6/13/2006) console on Tues. Also, it has a Samsung drive (much quieter) vs my old Hitachi one. Overall not bad. It took 9 days total from my first call. I was without a console for only 5 days (including a weekend). I was actually pretty impressed.
- I played some saints row and a few hours of gears and so far so good (knock on wood)
- Basically if you have a console built before 2006, I highly recommend you buy an extended warranty before your mfg warranty runs out. After that you can't buy the extended warranty anymore.
- My original x360 was pretty flawless until around the fall update. I'm not positive that's what started causing the issues but the timing is just about right. Coincidence?

UPDATE: 4/5/07
- So far so good. The replacement 360 is still working fine.
- Some notes on what happens to your live purchases after a machine swap:

When you purchase something over live two things happen.
1) it is tied to your gamertag. That way you can bring your profile to a friends house and download an already purchased piece of content and play it there. On any other profile it becomes trial.
2) it is tied to the serial number of the box. This is so other profiles on your specific 360 can also play that paid for content. This happens at the time of purchase, NOT at the time of download.

If you have a different 360 after the repair process(as in my case) then it behaves like you signing in with your profile on a friends machine. This is true even if you kept your original hard drive with all the content still on there since as stated in #2 the console serial # no longer matches. At this point you are basically hosed if you don’t log in with the same exact profile that said content was purchased under.

Solution: Call support (at least 5 times) and eventually they will give you codes to give you the equivalent points needed to repurchase all the content (which will then associate that purchased content with your new serial #).

For me since I only have one profile in the household that really uses the 360 I haven’t had the incentive to go through the hassle of support to go get those points back (about $70 worth for me). I’m almost always signed into live so it doesn’t affect me much.

Oh and you if you do go the support call route you might want to wait a month to make sure your refurb 360 lasts. Otherwise you get to do it all over again.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Guild Wars Nightfall (PC)

$25 for nightfall
For in store I think you have to bring in the ad. I'm not sure if a print out will work.

also available online:

ok I've played quite a few hours with my paragon.
- I'm only level 7 now. You level MUCH MUCH slower than factions. It's not bad.
- You pick your secondary at level 5. I decided to go paragon/warrior
- I have two heroes now. First one is a warrior. Second one is a monk. Heroes don't have secondaries.
- It really helps to have a lot of skills unlocked because you can equip your heroes with any unlocked skills. Example I was able to give my heroes end game elites like hundred blades and word of healing even though they are pretty low level. So given that the person who brings the class of hero we want in the party should have a lot of skill unlocks for that class. Example, I should probably bring a monk hero.
- I bought some weapons for my heroes but I guess you don't customize them.
- You have 3 states you can assign each hero (attack, guard, avoid combat)
- You can set waypoints and heroes and henchmen will go there. So it's easy to keep them back if you want.
- There is a bit of a grind right around when you get to level six. Instead of earning faction you have to earn sunspear promotion points. You usually get 10pts for each quest you finish. You also get points by getting a blessing by talking to a sunspear scout (which lasts for 30min) and then going out and killing the specified creatures. You can stack these too. I'm at a point where the primary quest requires you to obtain a certain sunspear title. I've done most of the obvious quests. I guess I can go see if I can find some more.
- the story really hasn't even started yet. I think I've only had one co-op mission.
- I'm enjoying paragon more than I expected. Already I can tell I like these two new classes more than the faction ones.
- Got my pc gamer grey giant mini pet

- I've been playing slowly (about 2-3 times a week in 1.5hr sessions) since I originally wrote the above. My paragon is level 20 now and made sunspear general. It's a good game but I've just haven't had the time to focus on it much lately with all the new consoles. I'll try and write more about it in the coming weeks maybe months.

UPDATE: 2/12/07

Well after 3 months and 53hrs (on my paragon) we finally finished Nightfall.

The greens that you get as a reward at the end especially some of the staffs are quite nice.
The crafter items aren't that great.

There's still an elite mission to do now or we might take another character through. My elem is about half way through but I'm thinking about bringing my monk over for some of those nice elites.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Playstation 3

how to swap the hard drive:

double your space to 120gb for around $100:

The actual manual shows you how to remove the hard drive and the controller battery:

- A reason NOT to get the 20gb is no wifi and there is currently NO upgrade path. The wifi is REQUIRED for psp <-> ps3 interop since it does a direct wifi ad hoc like connection.

Very early impressions. LOTS more to come.
- bought two 60gb ps3's NO BUNDLE at best buy (I got one and the wife got one).
- Picked up Resistance fall of man, Ridge Racer 7, and an extra controller
- The thing is big and heavy (10 lbs).
- Picks up finger prints like mad.
- I like the slot loading blu ray drive
- The power and eject buttons are on a completely smooth surface and take a very light touch (no pressure really needed). Kind of a neat design aesthetic.
- I like the standard hdmi port on the back so you can pick up a cheap regular hdmi cable like from and use it.
- The 4 usb ports on the front are kind of hard to see and get to.
- 1 year manufacturer warranty (double that if you purchase with master card). vs the skimpy 90 days on the X360).

- I hooked it up to the TV using HDMI and optical for the sound. HDMI worked right out of the box. It detected my TV's max resolution of 720p and set it accordingly. There was no need to use composite cables first to enable hdmi or any silliness like that.
- I did have to enable DD5.1 and DTS5.1 for the optical in the settings menu before sound would work.
- Network setup was easy over wired (haven't tried wireless yet) using DHCP automatically.
- Came with firmware 1.1. I had to update to 1.11 before I could get online. It took a pretty long time (much longer than say an x360 dashboard update).
- XMB (cross media bar) interface is pretty much just like the PSP. I'm not a huge fan of XMB since I think it wastes a lot of space.
- Creating your Playstation@network account takes quite a few steps. Definitely grab a usb keyboard b/c the data entry is HORRIBLE. It's exactly the same as the psp which is basically a cell phone like text entry. OK, I understand why you do that with the psp because of the smaller screen but COME ON SONY GET A CLUE and give us a full virtual keyboard on the ps3 since it is hooked up to a big fancy HDTV with all that screen real estate. There's no excuse for this poor design decision.
- You get one mini usb cable in the box but you don't get another cable when you buy a second controller. Luckily I have a few spare mini usb cables.
- Charging the controllers only works when the PS3 is fully powered up. NOTHING gets charged when the ps3 is in stand by. STUPID!
- The manual does show you how to remove the proprietary lithium ion battery (takes a few screws). The manual also shows you how to swap out the hard drive.
- The system is very quite, much more quite than the x360. I stuck my hand in the back of the ps3 and it does get pretty warm.
- Web browsing is pretty darn slow. The control pad works well enough: left stick to move pointer, right stick to scroll the page. Text is very legible.
- Briefly tried the sony store. I bought blast factor (geometry wars like game) for $8 plus tax. I like how it in good old dollars and not a point system. I also downloaded motorstorm demo (about .5gb). There is NO batch or background downloading.
- The controller is light, and I really do miss the rumble feature. I really like the feedback it gave in fps when shooting a gun or collisions/going off track in racing games. The controller just feels dead and lifeless in your hands. I can see my hands getting tired holding down the trigger buttons. They don't seem to be designed very well. They are convex instead of concave(like a gun trigger). Hands down I like the x360 controller more.

- I also took the SD card from my canon sd700 camera and stuck it into the ps3. It would not play the movies (motion jpeg). On the other hand, the Wii played the movies just fine. Basically the ps3 only supports the same codecs as psp which means only mpeg4 for video. The photos played fine with the usual slideshow stuff. They had one interesting photo album mode where this parchment scrolled across as date/time data would appear and your photos looked like actual prints that floated down. Film negative strips would appear too, and you can zoom in and move around with the analog sticks. The negatives look like your actual pictures. All this is in 3D. It's an interesting tech demo but not that useful for actually viewing photos.
- I popped in Talladega Nights blu ray movie. It looked good but not any better than HD-DVD. Picture quality was pretty much the same for me. The player is pretty basic and doesn't even resume between power cycles. The xbox hd-dvd does resume.
- Doesn't seem like there is a way to stream media from a pc over the network.

- I played resistance fall of man for maybe 30min. It looks very nice with some good detailed models, hires textures, and nice lighting and particle effects. It does play like a more standard shooter similar to call of duty 2 or perfect dark zero than current more innovative shooters like gears of war or rainbow six las vegas. It's good but feels a bit old school at least in the first 30 min. I like it so far and I hear it gets better later in the game. Weapons are probably the highlight. Framerate was wicked fast at around 60fps. I've gotten use to the x360 impressive graphics but sluggish 30 ish fps in recent shooters like gears and vegas so resistance feels ultra smooth. I like! Graphically I think gears looks better than resistance though I do think the PS3 has a lot of untapped potential.
- I played one race of Ridge Racer 7. Looks nice, sharp, and smooth. same ridge racer game play so I was power sliding easily on my first turn. Felt/looked a lot like the x360 version.
- Blast Factor: Geometry wars like but not as good. Arenas felt small. Tilt function is kind of neat. Pacing is different though. It's not as crazy and hectic, and you don't get that zen feeling when you are in the zone and get out of a tough spot.
- Motorstorm demo: Nice graphics. I like how your truck gets dirty over time. Crazy bouncy moon buggy like physics. I like big air and all but this is a bit much. Kind of hard to steer when your tires don't touch the ground half the time. Over the top bullet time camera panning explosions. Nice damage modeling.

Overall it's a pretty powerful piece of hardware that has some rough edges (but nothing that can't be fixed through software/firmware updates). Right now I think the x360 games look as good if not better than ps3, xbox live is a much better integrated online service and IMO well worth the $50/year, and lets face it the games are just better on x360 this Christmas season. Throw in all the x360 promotions like $100 rebate at microcenter it's not hard to see which is the better value. Having said all that I'm sure the PS3 will shape up to be a nice system in the near future.

I think this year's ps3 launch has been a bit tougher especially for those of us that already have an x360. There are so many multi platform titles out that play and look almost identical on ps3 and x360 except x360 has better online and achievements (which I have to admit are quite addicting). So basically unless the game looks or plays much better on ps3, I just end up buying the x360 version (like I already have for NFS Carbon and Call of Duty 3). That doesn't leave many titles I want on the ps3 (for now).

UPDATE: 12/2/06
Did some more testing tonight.
- MP3 support kind of sucks. I plugged in my archos mp3 player which has around 50gb of data. It took maybe 10-15min before you could start browsing the music. This happens every time you power cycle the ps3 or unplug/plug back in the mass storage device. In contrast the x360 lets you start browsing in seconds. So basically the ps3 is currently useless for LARGE music collections. The visualizations are nice.
- NTFS is NOT supported
- DVD Video on DVD+R worked fine.
- video files MUST reside in a \VIDEO directory off of the root of the storage device (UPDATE: I've read that you can hit Triangle and display all to navigate all the directories so \VIDEO is not a hard requirement). I tested some MP4 files I had for my psp and they worked fine. Standard definition mpeg2 files recorded with a Hauppauge PVR 250 worked fine. HD mpeg2 recorded with fusion 5 gold did NOT work. The TS version of the file isn't even recognized as a supported format. There is NO resume between power cycle.
- Backwards compatibility seems ok. I tried the original Ridge Racer (psone) and boy did it look ugly. I then tried Ridge Racer 5 (ps2 cd-rom) and Devil May Cry (ps2 dvd-rom). They all worked fine. For storage you create virtual psone or ps2 memory card images that are stored on the hard drive. To import ps1/2 saves you must buy a $15 ps2 memory card reader which you then copy the save file to your virtual memory card on the hard drive. You have to press the PS button every time you go in and out of ps1/2 mode. Also, the PS button menu lets you toggle digital/analog mode of the controller. I'm guessing you are hosed for DDR and Guitar Hero since there is no way to plug in the controller.
- No IR receiver so forget about using universal remotes like the Logitech Harmony.
- Most of the heat seems to vent out of the right side.
- I tested the wifi. It worked fine.
- Resistance is FUN! I played about another hour.

UPDATE: 12/3/06
- Bluetooth maybe not the best tech for game controllers? In resistance about once every hour your controller loses connection for a split second which usually results your last movement to keep registering (so you keep moving in a direction or spinning around when the sticks are returned to the neutral position). It's a little distracting but not too terrible. This kind of behavior has NEVER happened in the past year with the x360.
- ps2 eyetoy seems to work fine. There is a little test you can run in the settings on the XMB.
- I paired up my cell phone bluetooth headset (motorola HS850) without issue. It seems to work at least in the settings where you adjust mic levels.
- Tried some multiplayer online briefly. Resistance 40 player deathmatch was VERY smooth and very quick and easy to join a game. Voice chat requires pressing L3. Yeah basically nobody uses it. Ridge Racer 7 was also very smooth and easy to get into a race. There is NO voice chat, only predefined text phrases in the lobby.
This really does point out the BIG gap between Live and ps3 online.
- Logitech MX 610 laser wireless mouse works fine in the web browser along with my cheap no name usb keyboard. They do NOT work in resistance.
- Youtube seems to work fine in the ps3 browser. Opening multiple windows is a nice touch.
- It seems like you can copy ps3 save games and downloaded media like trailers and videos to an external memory device. You cannot copy ps1/2 virtual save cards, game demos, or downloaded games.
- Tried another one of their "arcade" titles Cash Guns Chaos DLX which plays a lot like smash TV. I'll pass.
- Formula One Championship demo was kind of boring.
- Tried playing Motor Storm with the motion sensing steering. Yeah I went back to the analog pad. Try the on the hood view. It's a whole new experience. I think I'll be buying this game when it finally comes out.
- Other demos available are NBA 07 and Resistance
- Bought a few blu-ray movies: Black Hawk Down, Terminator 2, and X-Men: The Last Stand. They were all mpeg2 except for x-men which was AVC (25gb). You can see quite a bit of film grain but I think that's more due to the source and not the transfer.
Here's a nice blu-ray/hd-dvd review site:
Don't forget the included blu-ray rebate booklet which gives you $10 back on any of these movies:
- K0NY made a nice video demonstrating the ps3/psp remote play functionality.

UPDATE: 12/05/06
Hmmm seems like ps1 games for psp are now available:

Crash Bandicoot 496MB
Cool boarders is 283MB
Hot Shots is 157MB
Syphon Filter is 385MB
Tekken 2 is 535MB

$5.99 each.

Another nice video made by K0NY.

UPDATE: 12/07/06
Ok so I did the 1.3 firmware update (gosh it takes forever).

My TV is 720p native.

Before 1.3 (1.11) everything was perfect
- set to hdmi 720p in display settings
- 720p games (resistance plays in 720p)
- 1080p games (rr7) plays in 720p
- blu-ray movies play in 1080i

After 1.3
- set to hdmi with 480p,720p,1080i checked
- 720p games (resistance plays in 720p)
- 1080p games (rr7) plays in 1080i (bad! unnecessary image processing/conversion )
- blu-ray movies play in 1080i

After 1.3
- set to hdmi with 480p,720p checked (1080i NOT checked)
- 720p games (resistance plays in 720p)
- 1080p games (rr7) plays in 720p (yeah!)
- blu-ray movies play in 480p (really bad!)

So basically the work around is to check 1080i when watching blu-ray and uncheck it when playing games. Kind of a pain but at least it works. They just need separate settings for movies and games. I had to upgrade otherwise you are shut out from anything online and even the store.

IR remote control support for blu-ray playback (sort of):

Thanks to Darknight at avsforum for this tip and more info here.

required hardware:
- usb to ps2 controller port usually bought to allow you to use your ps2 gamepad in windows on a pc. I picked up mine I think at lik-sang (rip) but I also remember seeing these devices at fry's a while back. I'm not sure if they still carry them.
- ps2 dvd remote + IR dongle that fits into the controller port.

Basically plug the IR dongle into the ps2 port <-> usb converter. It actually WORKS sort of. Basically any function on the remote that mimics a control pad function will work. This includes ALL the buttons and the digital pad. Any of the dedicated dvd buttons on the remote do NOT work. So basically with this ugly dongle setup you get IR functionality equivalent to using the six axis controller. It's a start. It's better than nothing if you are desperate for IR remote control support.

- Next I decided to try guitar hero. No go since the usb adapter only mimics standard gamepad functionality which the guitar is NOT.
- I'm guessing DDR dance pads might work since they mimic a standard ps2 controller pretty closely. I haven't tried that yet.

UPDATE: 12/12/06
- I picked up a ps1/ps2 memory card adapter yesterday ($15).
- It's just a small square box with mini usb on one side and a memory card slot on the other.
- Again NO usb cable included. You just have to keep using the one you got with the ps3 system.
- It works fine. You stick in the memory card and it lets you dump the entire card to a new virtual card on the hard drive. There are no options to browse or copy individual saves. You have to dump the entire card. This goes for ps1 memory cards too.

UPDATE: 12/29/06
FINISHED resistance on normal.
- 30 levels with each taking around 30min to complete (that is if you don't die much) so I would say at least 15hrs.
- Ending was ok. It's not Halo 2/rainbow six vegas horrible but still not too bad. Wait until after the credits for the final cinematic.
- There seems to be a bonus cinematic that is in the options menu (last one) that I don't remember seeing in the campaign.
- New weapons are unlocked for your next play through but that's not enough incentive for me to play it again.
- Pacing overall was pretty good with non-stop action and little repetition.
- Checkpoint placement was fine for the most part. Nothing too frustrating.
- Keep your controller batteries near full or the crappy blue tooth issues get worse and worse. After using the controller for a couple of weeks without recharging the controller disconnects/ghost weapon change/stuck in weapon change mode got quite unbearable. On a full charge the issues are just annoying because they still happen just not as often. They NEED to get this fixed somehow hopefully with a firmware update.

Is it a system seller? No probably not. Is it worth owning? Definitely for the shooter fan.

UPDATE: 2/6/07
- Flashed PS3 to 1.51
- Finally tried out Remote Play. The way it works is you have to setup your ps3 almost like a router first in the network/remote play settings. You give your ps3 a SSID, wpa key, etc. Once that is all setup you go over to the regular network section and start up the remote play "server" on your ps3.
- Next fire up your psp and browse to remote play, create a new connection, it should scan and find your ps3 ssid, pick wpa aes, and enter the same password you just entered on your ps3.
- It's basically like remote desktop between your psp and ps3. You can tell the XMB is compressed quite a bit to fit on the psp and there are some artifacts.
- Video is the same way. It does a pretty good job of crunching down the video to fit on the psp in real time. The quality is pretty good just not great. It plays smooth with very little stutter (just an occasional pause here or there). The navigation controls are pretty laggy and a default response setting of 4. You can up this at the cost of video quality.
- I found a pretty interesting use for this. I watch a few video podcasts that are the usual mp4 file format ready to be used on a video ipod. These files won't play on the psp without a transcode first for some reason. Well, they play fine on the ps3 and stream nicely to the psp over remote play.
- Blu-Ray Disc Movies will NOT play over remote play. WHY WHY WHY!!!!! The blu-ray icon doesn't even show up in the XMB during remote play.

Interesting tech but probably only mildly useful in specific circumstances.

UPDATE: 2/25/07
I just upgraded my hard drive to 160gb and installed Yellow Dog Linux. You can read all about it here.

UPDATE: 1/4/07
Just got another ps3 (40gb). You can read about it here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Redoctane Guitar Hero Wireless Controller (PS2)

$60 with a free Dual Gig Bag
- These are the official ones made by the guitar hero developers
- Uses 3XAAA batteries. NiMH work fine.
- No lag, plays and feels almost identical to the wired version. Very responsive. About the same weight.
- the dongle that hooks up to the ps2 is pretty small.
- You can use two at the same time according to the manual.
- You know it's compatible because these aren't some cheap 3rd party knock off. Guitar Hero II works great with it!

Highly recommended if you just can't wait for the X360 version (which still isn't confirmed if it will be wireless).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (PC)

- I'm in the middle of chapter 5 (about half way through the game)
- When you install the game, it installs a non steam version of the single player game. Multiplayer is steam only.
- Entering your key into steam gives you access to both singe and multiplayer. If you let it d/l everything you basically will have two copies of the single player game on your hard drive. I'm playing the steam version so I don't have to worry about patches and updates. It seems to be working fine for me.
- Great use of source engine. The graphics are great with some nice use of HDR. Nice character models. Voice acting isn't too bad. Campy script but I like it.
- Nice big bosses
- This is an action game first, rpg second (and a light one at that). The combat is really fun in this game with a ton of environment and physics based interaction. Melee and ranged combat is done pretty darn well. I haven't messed with magic much. You gain skill points at set points in the game which you can spend on abilities in different aspects of combat or magic. It's simple but it works pretty well.
- Lots of secret areas to find with some nice rewards and magical weapons.
- Think Diablo the FPS. Plays like an fps but with swords, bows, and magic.
- There are some limited stealth elements/sneaking if you wish to play that way.
- I haven't tried multiplayer yet.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Microsoft XBOX 360 Wireless Racing Wheel

- $150 at best buy
- Getting the thing out of the box was like a puzzle (getting it back in was even harder).
- Wireless to the console. Still requires power from an outlet for force feedback. You can still use it with only rumble support on the 2XAA batteries (standard xbox 360 controller battery pack).
- Should work with the PC once the wireless PC adapter comes out.
- The pedals are well thought out including a place for your heel to keep it in place.
- Pedals are connected to the wheel with a single cable that looks like a standard phone cable (RJ11)
- Comes with the full version of Project Gotham Racing 3 which also contains the drivers. It reads your existing profile/save game if you already have the original PGR 3.
- Wheel is a bit light. Also the curved lap mount doesn't extend far enough. Mad catz had a last gen wheel (no force feedback) that had retractable wings that extended for a very solid lap mount. You can push your legs outward with a slight bit of pressure to keep the wheel steady in your lap. It was a pretty good design. In contrast the MS wheel just kind of sits on your lap and doesn't wrap around your legs far enough.
- I didn't bother trying the table mount. It only has a single bolt in the center. Compare this to the Logitech MOMO Racing wheel for the pc which uses two bolts.
- Force feedback effects felt pretty good in PGR 3 if a bit subtle for my tastes. I've already played this game to death so I didn't mess with it much.
- I've just started playing NFS Carbon which is fully supported by the wheel. The force effects are even more subtle here. The rumble effects are very pronounced (read exaggerated). The steering sensitivity seems way too high and the dead zone a bit too small. Too bad there is NO way to adjust any of this. I tried to get use to the wheel for several races but finally gave up. I went back to the game pad and did MUCH better. I played NFS most wanted on the PC with the MOMO and it was a MUCH better experience with the MOMO with much better force effects.
- Bottom line is I can't recommend this wheel at this time. At a $150 it's too expensive. It's too light, and the wings are too short for laptop use. The force effects are too subtle. NFS Carbon support is pretty poor. PGR 3 was more impressive IF you are still playing that game. I get better force effects and customization with the MOMO on the pc for as low as $50 when on sale. Overall, I think Logitech just makes better wheels. I'll probably wait until July when Logitech releases their wheel for the x360 (Logitech DriveFX) (UPDATE: seems the drivefx is released and after closer inspection it only has rumble feature (no real force feedback). That's an instant deal killer and definitely not worth $100)

Back to the store it goes.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pelican The Cooler (X360)

- $20 at gamestop
- slight redesign of the fan stand. I like this one better since it doesn't have the useless "wings" for storing stuff taking up space.
- draws power from USB so no chance of burning out your power plug like some reports I read about the Nyko Intercooler.
- It's much quieter than the Nyko but tests show it cools a bit less.
- It has a usb pass through so you don't lose the usb plug on the back. I have the hd-dvd drive piggy backed on the cooler plug, and it works just fine.
- There is a blue led power on/off button on the front. You have to manually turn it on/off since the usb ports are powered (used for charging controllers) even when the x360 is off. That is the only draw back I see so far.

Highly recommended and safer than the Nyko Intercooler if a bit inconvenient.

nice review of both coolers:

UPDATE: 12/6/06
I took my pelican cooler one step further. I added a separate powered usb hub to power the pelican fan so it's no longer even connected to my x360. On top of that I added an X10 appliance module in front of the AC adapter for the usb hub. Then I have an IR -> X10 command module. Then, I programmed this all into my "play x360" activity on my harmony remote. Now when I hit that activity it turns on everything including the pelican fan (and also off when I shut everything off). Yes, I'm THAT lazy!

Burger King Games (X360/XBOX)

- $4 at each with a purchase of a value meal. I ended up spending $27 total on food and games.
- Combo DVD. They work like the OXM discs in that they play on X360 or XBOX.
- You get achievements (200pts each game) and live multiplayer support. Pocket Bike Racer is actually not too bad a game and runs pretty smooth with up to 8 players over live. Sneak King is truly disturbing and is worth checking out just for the quirkiness. Do a flourish level 3 (boy those gears of war active reload skills are coming in handy) and get ready to be deeply disturbed.
- Big Bumpin is the weakest of the three.
- More importantly I finally got to try chicken fries which I have been interested in ever since fight night round 3. They're not too bad but I expected them to be more crispy.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Nintendo Wii

- I picked up my Wii saturday at midnight with the following:
zelda (getting hard to find)
trauma center
red steel
second wiimote + nunchuk (getting very hard to find)
- The system is tiny...really tiny, smaller than most 5.25 enclosures, smaller than the xbox 360 hd-dvd drive.
- It only comes with composite cables NOT EVEN S-VIDEO! I've ordered the 1st party component cables but they haven't arrived yet.
- The sensor bar is pretty small and hard to notice. You have 3 ways to mount it: below the tv, above the tv, or on an included stand. It uses adhesive to stick to your tv. It was also slightly warped (bowed) so both ends wouldn't stick down. This happened to my friend's wii too so it's not just mine.
- Setup was pretty easy though there are a lot of parts. There are legacy gamecube ports for the gamepads and memory cards. Two usb ports are on the back. I stuck a 1GB sd card up front. The unit has about 256mb flash memory built in.
- All games seem to have to support 16:9.
- Wifi is built in but ethernet is not. Setting up the network connection was as easy as entering my wep key. Overall network responsiveness is a LOT slower and more sluggish than the x360. It had to go through two system updates each taking quite a bit of time.
- The main interface uses a grid of TV's metaphor. It's kind of cool in a matrix architect sort of way but I can see it getting a bit cluttered and unorganized pretty quickly since each virtual console game is represented by a different tv screen. Also, news and forecast channels aren't live yet.
- I haven't dug into the friends and messaging stuff much yet but it seems like you can link an online account an with your wii account. Also your wii is represented by a 16 digit code. Boy do I miss gamertags.
- Purchasing points (1 pt = 1 cent) was easy enough. I bought NES donkey kong for 500 points ($5 USD). Lets do a little comparison with xbox live arcade. For x360 retro aracde stuff for $5 you usually get the original game, enhanced graphics version, screen size customization including fixing the aspect ratio, leader boards, achievements, and usually live multiplayer where applicable. With the wii virtual arcade I get a perfectly emulated NES game and not much more. The screen is all stretched out to fill 16:9 with no options to adjust aspect ratio in the game. I guess I could change it at the console level but this sort of thing should be at the game level for retro titles. Overall it seems little to NO effort is made into these ports and yet they are still charging us the same $5. There's no comparison. The wii virtual console is a horrible value as of now (read RIP OFF). There are only a handful of games available right now. At least the wiimote worked pretty well with no lag at all. It felt very responsive if a bit uncomfortable to hold. Game Cube controller worked just fine in the virtual console (just make sure you plug it in before turning on the wii).
- Storage management is still done by the block units. You can easily copy between SD and internal memory but gamecube and wii storage are completely separate with no way to copy between them.
- Gamecube backwards compat seemed to work just fine when I tested Zelda wind waker and ocarina of time. There's pretty much almost no reason to leave your gamecube connected unless you have one of those gameboy advance player adapters (which I do).
- The wiimote takes two regular AA batteries (yes standard user replaceable batteries!). All the power comes from the wiimote so the nunchuck is usless by itself. The little speaker on it worked better than I thought and added a lot to the experience. The range, wide angle, and tracking was also better than expected.
- The slideshow channel works quite well. I popped in a 4gb fat 32 formatted SD card from my canon sd700 digital camera. It played back all the photos and movies (motion jpeg) in date order without issue. It has the same wipes/zoom effects in slide show mode that you would expect. It must do heavy cropping because all the movies and photos filled the entire 16:9 view. You can pick from a selection of background music or your own mp3. According to the manual the only file types supported are jpeg, motion jpeg for movies, and mp3. No network streaming support at all.
- Basically Wii's online support is composed of text messages, send pictures, and some retro arcade stuff. Basically about 10% of xbox live's functionality. At least it's free but I guess you get what you pay for.

- Ok enough about the system. On to the games. First up is wii sports. My wife and I played all the games for a bit and it was quite fun if simple and a tad shallow. Most of the games work quite well especially bowling. Even my 4yr old had no problems playing bowling. I think golf and boxing maybe had the most tracking issue (though mostly minor). Boxing is the only game that requires the nunchuk since the wiimote and the nunchuk represents each hand individually. If you hold both controllers close to your body you can bob, duck, and weave too. The range of moves you could do was pretty impressive if some what a tad disconnected to your movements sometimes. It was like tae bo the video game. I'm sure we looked totally ridiculous while playing it but had a lot of fun. Great choice as a pack in.
- Red Steel. Ok the reviews are bad but I didn't care since I like FPS and this was a wii exclusive. Ok believe the reviews on this one. The game was pretty ugly (think almost n64 era with a bit better framerate). Ok maybe my opinion on the graphics are slightly skewed because I'm coming from playing gears of war for 20hrs. The controls were pretty innovative with quite a bit of interaction (I haven't even got the sword yet). You can zoom in and out by pushing the wiimote closer to the screen or pulling it back. I think I need to lower the sensitivity because I had a hell of a time aiming. Also, you tend to spin and look around a lot making me motion sick. This game has a lot of interesting ideas that just wasn't executed very well. I'll have to adjust some settings and give it some more time.
- Trauma Center: Plays pretty close to the Nintendo DS version except I find maybe the wiimote a bit less precise to the stylus. I'll have to give it more time and see if I get use to it. I've only played the very first level.
- Zelda Twilight Princess: about 2.5 hrs into this game and it's VERY good. Good graphics for the wii. I really like the art direction compared to wind waker. It's hard not to notice the serious amount of jaggies (due to the low resolution) and the muddy low resolutions textures. Again, this is probably due to being spoiled by the x360. It's good enough for THIS system. This game actually works quite well on the wii in part because you don't really wave your arms around a lot (ok more like small wrist movements). The only time you do is for fishing, sword attacks, and manual sling shot aiming (haven't got the bow yet). You can play this game for hours without any arm fatigue. So those of you who were worried about zelda and the wii controls don't. It controls great. Lots of reading. Can't we get some voices? Same great zelda gameplay. This is the main reason to pick up the system. It won't disappoint (as long as your graphical expectations are in check).

No regrets getting the system. I was pretty impressed by the hardware and control system, and I expect the software to get even more impressive as time goes on much like the NDS. Lets hope they flesh out the online service and virtual console soon.

Highly recommended (especially for the Zelda fan).

UPDATE: 11/24/2006
I just felt the bottom of the Wii after it's been in standby for a while. It is uncomfortably hot. What you can do is in your settings turn wiiconnet24 during standby to OFF. Now when you switch the system off with the wiimote it turns red instead of yellow. I switched to a vertical orientation. Strange that the bottom gets hotter than the top.

For something what supposedly uses little electricity when in standby it sure generates a LOT of heat. I can live with doing manual updates.

What's odd is the wii is cooler while playing than when in standby. My guess is the fans are running while on but turn off when in standby, yet standby generates more heat than they expected. After playing red steel for 40min, both sides of the Wii barely feel warm. Btw, turning sensitivity to low helped a lot and now the game is much more enjoyable (and less nauseating). Sword fighting is pretty fun too.

UPDATE: 12/7/06

Finally got my component cables last night and hooked them up and a quick change to 480p in the settings menu. Much better! Zelda definitely looks cleaner and less blurry.

UPDATE: 12/20/06
I tried the weather forecast channel last night. After a system update I also had to enable wiiconnect24 standby mode which is just stupid. You get the usual weather information up to a 5 day forecast, UV index, and a globe view so you can check out the weather anywhere in the world. Yeah, I probably won't be using it much but maybe they can incorporate this data into some games in the future.

UPDATE: 12/29/06
- My replacement straps came in today.
- Got the Wii Classic Controller and picked up Street Fighter II (SNES) and R-Type(TG16) VC games. The classic controller seems pretty average to me. It's too small. The analog sticks are too close together, so close that your thumbs can collide if you push right on the left stick and left on the right stick at the same time. The d-pad feels a bit mushy to me and doesn't spring back to center quick enough. This was very noticeable in SFII. R-Type seemed to run too fast for some reason (or am I imagining that).

UPDATE: 01/04/07
- I stuck a Kill-a-Watt onto the Wii to see how much power it uses:
standby: .18 amps, 13 w, 0.013 kw/h per hour (.2 cents per hour at 15 cents per kw/h so about a nickel a day to keep the wii in standby)
during zelda: .27 amps, 20 w

UPDATE: 1/30/07

I just picked up one of these Wii Lan adapters for $25:

- Really easy to setup. Just plug it into a free usb slot. Go to the internet settings, setup a new wired connection, done.
- Much faster (very noticeable) connection than wireless. I've never seen browsing, the store, weather, or news download data so quickly.
- I'd also feel safer having system updates come down a wired connection.
- Wii feels cooler in standby since I think it turns off the wifi radio since it's not being used.

Highly recommended if you have a network drop handy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

XBOX 360 HD-DVD Drive

- viewed on a Samsung 40" LCD at 720p over VGA.
- Setting it up was pretty easy. Pop in the install DVD, connect up the drive when asked to, and away you go. Didn't use the included remote since I already have the Logitech harmony xbox 360 remote.
- Interesting that under the System|memory blade the HD-DVD player is listed along with the hard drive and memory card. It seems the drive actually contains 192MB of flash memory that basically looks like another memory card to the x360. My guess it is used to hold hd-dvd user persisted data like bookmarks (hitting B creates one while watching a movie).
- Picture quality is pretty stunning. I've watched about 70% of King Kong and it really shows off HD-DVD. It was smart to pick a modern film that uses a lot of digital technology so stuff like film grain isn't an issue. Lets put it this way. The wife and I have seen this already (own the dvd too). I asked her to take a look for a few minutes. It's been about 2hrs and she's still watching it, and we rarely watch a movie twice.
- I've never seen blu ray or hd-dvd before. I have seen quite a lot of broadcast HD content. I have to say this is quite a step up. Even during the busiest scenes there are no artifacts at all. That high bit rate helps a lot.
- The player is pretty responsive for the most part. What's nice is you can access all the menus and features without ever leaving the playing video. Everything is done with overlayed UI elements. Browsing chapters showed a slight pause. There is a bigger pause if you want to go back to the title menu.
- Not a lot of extras. No commentaries. Extras are implemented by this thing called U-Control. Hit "A" to toggle it on or off. When on a little icon shows up in the bottom right corner. While playing the movie it sometimes lights up and says "gallery art" or "picture in picture." Hit the enter button during this time and a little PiP window pops open to display the extra material. It's a pretty cool feature but I kind of wish it also had the traditional dedicated dvd like extras. What if I don't want to watch contextual making of footage in a little window but want to see it full screen? Plus you have to watch the movie to find out when all these hot spots occur. Also, the sound mixing is poor during PiP. The pip stuff is way too quiet and the movie is still too loud. At least the player is all done in software so it should be easy for Microsoft to upgrade it in the future.
- The top of the x360 didn't feel any warmer than when playing a game. The hd-dvd drive itself didn't even feel warm.
- The drive powers on and off in sync with the X360.
- It's very quiet while playing a movie.
- I pulled out my King Kong DVD and watched a few scenes for comparison. I can definitely see the general lack of detail blurriness due to the lower resolution and scaling. Also, the colors don't pop like the hd-dvd version. The dvd navigation is quite a bit more responsive especially going up to 32x speed. UPDATE: regular dvd's work just fine in the hd-dvd drive. DVD+R work fine too.

- For even more kicks I hooked up the drive to my laptop. I hit the eject to power it on. It had issues installing drivers for the memory unit:

The drive itself installed just fine as a dvd-rom drive (no drivers needed):

The drive is represented by two drive letters (in this case D and E). When I stuck in my king kong dvd it showed up fine:

When I stuck in the hd-dvd king kong it wouldn't read:

Oh well it was worth a try. It would be smart of Microsoft if they wrote a windows based player and drivers for this device.

Check out these nice hd-dvd vs dvd shots that kalvinmaui took

Getting the drive to work on a PC:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gears of War (X360)

Collector's Edition

- There's already a patch that gets downloaded on first boot.
- About 3.5 hrs into the campaign on hardcore. I'm somewhere in the early part of Act 2 (out of 5 acts)
- Graphics are some of the best I've seen in any game to date.
- Framerate is pretty steady throughout the game
- All cut scenes are in engine and done really well. Voice acting and script aren't bad.
- The game play is a perfect blend of tactics and action. It's just one set piece battle after another. Pacing is brutally tense. I actually feel a bit exhausted after the play session.
- You get use to roadie run and cover system very quickly. The fire from cover, aimed fire, blind fire all work really well and you'll use them all many times based on the situation.
- The basic enemy takes a lot of rounds to take down (almost a full clip) so learning the active reload becomes quite important. After about an hour you really get into a rhythm. The quick reload makes quite a bit of difference when you are in a pitched battle.
- Health auto regenerates after a few seconds so there are no health packs.
- Ammo has been plentiful so far.
- After the first act you can start issuing basic attack/defend/regroup commands to your buddies. It works quite well when you have to storm a machine gun nest.
- If there is something interesting you should be looking at press "Y" flashes on the screen. It's a nice system that gets you to look at the cool stuff without taking control away from the player.
- checkpoint auto save system hasn't been too frustrating so far.
- hardcore is pretty difficult so far. There were quite a few battles I had to retry 4 or 5 times before I got through it. The level design, cover, and tactics required in some set piece battles almost gives it a puzzle feel. When you continue the campaign from the main menu it lets you change the difficulty so you aren't stuck at hardcore if you can't handle it.
- Very forgiving squad mate system. If they go down you can just go over and hit X to revive them. Even if you don't at set points in the game (after killing a certain wave of enemies or taking down a particularly tough one) all down squad mates will revive. Trust me this is a very good thing since you will need them.
- The AI has been pretty good so far for both enemy and friendlies. They do a pretty good job of taking cover, blind firing, and aim firing much like you do.
- Great sense of scale in the levels. There are great huge outdoor areas and tight CQB indoor areas. Levels are LONG with little to no load times. Load times are under 4 or 5 seconds when you die and restart from the last check point.
- You can carry two main weapons (which you can swap out), a pistol with a bit of zoom, and some grenades (4 max I think).
- melee works well and pretty intense since the enemy can basically also kill you in one hit when they are that close. Chainsaw is great but it splashes a LOT of blood on the screen making things a bit difficult to see. There also seems to be a bit of delay/recharge period before you can chainsaw your next victim. Don't expect to be able to chainsaw a ton of guys in a row like a Doom.
- weapons in general are very well done (some with an interesting twist) though I've only used about six so far.
- haven't tried multi player yet.
- This game is just so polished with so many innovative gameplay elements/tweaks and amazing graphics, it really does live up to the hype.

I can't recommend this game enough.
It's the one x360 game you have to own.
This IS an X360 system seller!

UPDATE: 11/13/06
Finished on hardcore!
- Sometimes when you just want to run, if you brush up against an object or a wall it will kind of suck you into cover which is very annoying. This is especially apparent on the last boss.
- There seemed to be a big time and story gape between acts 4 and 5. It almost felt like something was cut maybe.
- The final boss was crazy tough. It also made you play the game a bit different that everything up to that point. I used a combination of torque bow and snipe rifle. I had to run back and forth at least twice and nailing something like 15-20 sniper head shots to finally bring him down. I must have played this last boss fight for a solid hour before beating it.
- Ok this game is NOT perfect. There are a few flaws but still a great game.

UPDATE: 11/16/06
about 3 hours of vs and 1 hour of co-op multiplayer
- Co-Op is amazing and I'm trying to finish insane with co-op. Even cliffyb said insane is basically designed for co-op. Having a second human makes insane a lot more enjoyable. I suggest anybody playing the campaign to give co-op a try especially if you are having a hard time. Just create a public one and usually somebody will join up in a few minutes. Better yet create a private one and invite ME and I'll be glad to help. It's so much fun I don't mind replaying levels at all. All the levels were really well designed with co-op in mind from the ground up. You still get all the achievements for completing the campaign in co-op mode vs single player.
- Versus is also amazing with a perfect blend between tactics and action. There's also quite a bit of skill involved and the usual level memorization of where all the good weapons are. Chainsaw and sticky grenade never gets old! The weapons and all the melee attacks are very well thought out and very balanced. There are trade offs for everything. Melee and ranged combat takes a different set of skills. After 3 hrs or so I'm finally starting to suck a lot less and learning the maps. There is a bit of a learning curve. Stick with at least 2 man teams and focus fire on single targets makes a big difference.

UPDATE: 11/23/2006
I finished watching the Bonus DVD
- standard video DVD (no pc extras), single layer
- all shot in 16:9
- destroyed beauty (art slideshow, e3 2006 mural)
- trailers (3)
- inside epic (holidaty 2005: kind of a cheesy company video with their kids, gears: a closer look (30min) - nice kind of making of)
- The race to e3 (20min same aired on mtv, mtv shorts: another nice 25min of making of type footage)

Overall a pretty good bonus dvd.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fear Extraction Point (PC)

- finished in probably around 5-6 hrs. I wish it were a bit longer but still not bad.
- 6 intervals. The last one isn't even really a full level.
- It has the same great combat and AI that the original had with a couple new weapons and enemies. The new ghosts are pretty hard to see except for the glowing red eyes. They move really fast so bullet time really helps when fighting them. They really put you on edge. I really like the new mini gun and the sticky auto turrets. There are some nice "defend your spot" type missions where you setup your defenses and fight off a few waves of enemies.
- What's missing is a story. I really enjoyed the story of the original fear. I think that's part of what made it so spooky because the story gave it some context. In this expansion they pretty much throw everything out that was established in the first game. It's like they hit the big reset button with NO explanation what so ever. This was the most disappointing aspect of the game.
- Fear had a great ending that felt a big budget action movie ending. This one not so much. It was pretty weak with no resolution or explanation of anything at all.
- First 4 intervals had some great combat and set piece battles. I didn't really find the spooky moments as well placed as the original fear. Also, they just didn't seem as spooky. Now starting with interval 5 thats when the game made me all jumpy.
- I watched all the way to the end of the credits (which are very long) and....nothing! No surprise ending.

I loved fear and this expansion was still very enjoyable. I just wish it didn't have such a disappointing story (or lack of).

Recommended for the fear fans.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Final Fantasy X - To Zanarkand (Piano Collections)

Yeah I make quite a few mistakes and it's no where near as good as some of the other ones posted but hey this is the first new song I've learned in 10 years. Hmmm the dynamics didn't quite come across in the recording. I butcher the hard run at the end. The upper register of the piano is pretty badly out of tune. Oh well, I know my limits.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rainbow Six Vegas (X360)

Just finished the demo on the Dec 2006 OXM disc
- graphics remind me a lot like GRAW. They're pretty good with a lot of nice lighting and smoke effects. I think they over do some of the motion blur effects.
- Frame rate is ok most of the time but it can get choppy when there is a lot of smoke, you have night vision on, and there are many tangos in the room.
- Controls are really well done. The cover system is excellent and more action oriented than graw. Aimed firing, blind firing, and grenade tosses from cover are all very well implemented. Giving team orders are really intuitive thanks to all the context sensitive actions. Just a great mix of action and tactics all tied together with a good control scheme.
- You only get part of one level in the demo and it's pretty darn long. There are checkpoints within the level which seem to be pretty well placed so far.
- I usually like to send my team members up front since you can heal them if they go down. If you go down well then it's back to the last check point.
- Team and enemy AI seem really good. They both make good use of cover and will even blind fire.

This seems like a really great game so far. The only thing that worries me a bit is the sometimes uneven frame rate.

UPDATE: 12/13/06
- framerate seemed fine in the final full version of the game
- FINISHED single player on normal. Just an amazing game. The difficulty ramps up quite a bit on the last level though. I few more check points would have been nice. Trying different tactics is critical to cracking a tough room. Some tips on some tough parts (potential minor spoilers):
- Nevada dam hack into the floodgate control computer:
I just rushed out on to the dam and to the little house and told my buddy to hack the computer as soon as possible. Then immediately I head back out side and move back the direction I just came from and took cover on the right side. My buddy took cover behind a crate on the left. I kept shooting and covering the direction where we came from and my buddy covered my back. I think I only once had to turn around and help him out. Switch to single fire (because there are a LOT of bad guys to shoot) and zoom in. Got past it on my second try. As soon as he finishes hacking you get another save point.
- I think I picked up a terrorist weapon (sig 552 or maybe a famas) by that time since on this level you will eventually run out of ammo.
- I bring up the map quite often to find out where all the baddies are. This is what tipped me off on my first attempt when I died that they appear behind you. I was like WTF where did they come from.
- Single fire does sound awesome and I do use it in select scenarios where you face overwhelming numbers at a good distance (like the above). You really can make a clip last a lot longer and take down guys on average in 2 shots. That reload time even on short bursts can really let the enemies close in.
- I had more difficulty where you storm a dark room full of crates and shelves that is two levels with two different entry ways. It felt like there were 20 guys in there all using incendiary grenades messing up your thermal goggles. I tried it LOTS of times. Eventually I stuck my buddies outside the far double doors but did NOT order them in or clear the room (instant death for them and no way to get to them). They were there just to cover my flank and draw a bit of fire. I then went to the other double doors and stood outside, peeking in and taking pot shots, and luring them out a few at a time until I finally thinned them down enough to let my buddies storm in and clean up. Now THAT was a tough room.

- I played a round 2hrs of multiplayer last night. I started with team sharpshooter (infinite respawn team deathmatch) which is a good way to get the feel of things without a lot of waiting around. It was fun but a bit grenade heavy for my tastes. They seem a bit too powerful. I still love single fire mode on the UMP for medium to long distance targets.
- I takes a long time to "level" your character. I still haven't been promoted yet.
- My digital avatar looked better in game.
- Story mode co-op is fantastic (almost but not quite as good as gears co-op). You basically get to play through the single player campaign with up to 4 players minus some story elements. Good times...until my x360 locked up solid...and I was the host.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Gameboy Micro (20th Anniversary Edition)

- I've been wanting one of these just to complete my gameboy hardware collection.
- Price dropped to $70 at Circuit City
- comes with a pouch. No extra faceplates with this edition.
- screen is very bright and clear with multiple levels of brightness. I had no problems reading text in Phantasy Star.
- The cross pad is excellent, and I was able to pull off sf2 moves easily. The face buttons are fine but you have to hit the sholder buttons either in the center or the inner edge to get them to trigger. Pressing them on the outter edge doesn't register.
- Has it's own charger that isn't compatible with any other gameboy.
- Standard headphone jack.
- The single speaker isn't very loud and your right thumb usually blocks it a bit further muffling the sound.
- battery is user removable and is claimed to last 6 - 10 hrs.
- The size is almost the same as my cell phone. It would be great if they could build a GBA into a cell phone.

Ok for the price. It would be better at $50 though but they are getting hard to find. Good for collectors.

Small Form Factor (SFF) PC

I was starting to have a build up of left over parts that I wanted to put to use (mostly socket 939 era parts). Prices on venice core cpu's have really dropped lately so I took the plunge and built my first SFF PC on the cheap.

- Ultra Microfly Micro ATX Case $50 after $30 MIR (includes 400w PS)
- Foxconn 6150K8MA-8EKRS Socket 939 NVIDIA GeForce 6150 Micro ATX AMD Motherboard $62 after $10 MIR (Bios)
- AMD Athlon 64 3000+ Venice Retail $55
- Mitsumi Floppy + Card Reader $24
- ATI X800XL (already had)
- Corsair 2X512MB PC3200 (already had)
- WD 250GB PATA hard drive with SATA adapter (already had)
- floppy rounded cable, single ended rounded ide cable (already had)
- Benq DQ60 DVD Burner (already had)

I spent about $191 total for this venture.

- First thing I noticed was the case was bigger than I expected. It's quite a bit larger than your typical shuttle xpc. The advantage though is it uses standard parts for everything: mATX mb, standard atx power supply. Build quality of the case itself is just ok. I'm not sure I totally trust the plastic handle as a fully loaded case can get pretty heavy. Some pieces were a bit bent that I had to reshape a bit. It has quite a few sharp edges (cut myself three times!). Pretty solid but I would prefer it to be a little bit more sturdy. On the plus side it was pretty easy to work with and take apart. The slide out motherboard tray really helps. Things got a little cramped trying to hook up the floppy (I can't imagine working in an xpc), the back IO panel was a bitch to get on, but other than that assembly went pretty smooth.
- The Foxconn (never used them before) is a pretty nice board overall. The bios isn't bad but don't expect crazy oc'ing. It's very full featured with plenty of usb/1394 headers that let me enable all the front access ports and my card reader that is in the floppy drive, one 16X pcie, and 3 pci slots. It even has all the legacy ports like serial and parallel. I flashed from a jan 2005 to the latest june 2006 bios. The june 2006 bios seems to have a known bug where it won't power down properly. You can restart, it even seems to shutdown windows just fine (you see the keyboard lights flicker at the end like during a restart or when the pc is just about to turn off) except it just stays on. Holding the power button down for 5 seconds will turn it off. Read the comment by N/A. I think I'll just live with it for now and hope a new bios comes out. It uses Realtek sound. Grab the drivers from the foxconn site. It also has integrated video but I didn't test it. Installation, setup, stability are all great.
- Temps are good with idle around 34c cpu.
- Wow the retail cpu heatsink/fans have come a long way. They are super easy to install. You don't even need a flat headed screwdriver anymore!
- I loaded up counter strike source and guild wars. CS bench was over 100 fps @ 1280X1024 with everything maxed out. Running everything at stock.
- Noise levels are fine (case has one 80mm in the front and a 120mm in the back). It's no Sonata but it's quiet enough.

Overall I'm pretty happy with it. It should make a fine Lan Party machine. My laptop is getting pretty old for gaming and this was much cheaper than buying a new laptop and it's upgradeable.

UPDATE 10/24/06
ok so I couldn't help myself. I decided to try a bit of overclocking.

244mhz X 9: 2.2ghz (default is 200 X 9 = 1.8ghz)
default vcore: 1.40v
k8-NB: 4X (976 - keeping it under 1000 for the HT, default is 5X)
NB -> SB: 3X (default 4X, keep it under 800)
sB <- NB: 3X (default 4X)
memclock Index value: 166mhz = 6:5 (default: auto)

stock speeds:
3dmark01se: 18994
counter strike source @ 1280X1024: 115.55
(used 1280X1024 since that is the naitive rez of the 17" LCD I would bring to lan parties)

oc to 2.2ghz:
3dmark01se: 21413
counter strike source @ 1280X1024: 124.93

Seconds Temp1 Temp2 Temp3 HD0 Temp1 Core Vcore1 Vcore2 +3.3V +5V +12V
72448 32.0 34.0 37.0 38.0 34.0 38.0 1.39 1.22 3.36 5.0 11.97

under full occt load:
Seconds Temp1 Temp2 Temp3 HD0 Temp1 Core Vcore1 Vcore2 +3.3V +5V +12V
74091 41.0 34.0 22.0 37.0 34.0 45.0 1.39 1.22 3.36 5.0 11.9

Temps look fine with a max of 41c. Volts look good too. So far rock solid stable. I think I'll leave it like this. That's a very modest oc to amd 3400+ speeds. I'm pretty sure the cpu will go a lot farther (haven't tested) but I don't want to push it too much on a stock cooler in a SFF.