Saturday, February 28, 2009

Killzone 2 (PS3)

I just finished the first level on the default difficulty setting.

- Aiming feels sluggish to me. Something is off. Maybe I just need to fiddle with the sensitivity settings but the acceleration or the auto aim or the combination of both just makes everything feel sluggish and imprecise. Basically just the opposite of COD4 where everything felt fast, snappy, fluid, and precise.
- The little hitches when loading the next area are a bit annoying but not that big of a deal.
- Save points seem pretty frequent so far.
- Graphics are very nice but didn't make my heart stop or anything. Framerate seems solid.
- Why does it take what seems like 30 seconds of animation to toss a grenade????
- You're pretty tough. A rocket in your face from about 4 ft doesn't kill I guess it does cut down on frustration.
- Can't hit crap without zooming in. I mean it's pretty ridiculous. I would expect a bit better accuracy if you are crouched and sitting still. The crosshairs expand very rapidly.
- Cover system works pretty well I guess but I still think r6 did it better.
- It seems the game can't decide if it wants to be a twitch shooter or a slower more methodical one.
- What is up with having only ONE main weapon at a time. That's kind of annoying.
- I found controlling the tank awkward.
- I get the midget thing now. Even the tables come up to your armpits while you are standing. It is rather distracting.

Man I think I bought into the hype a bit too much so I was bound to be a bit disappointed. Still, I'm enjoying it for the most part though it's definitely no system seller. I'll post more as I get further into the game.

UPDATE: 3/2/09
I've put in a few more hours into the single player.

You know there is different and then there is just bad. I think the controls for the most part are just bad. Having finished resistance and uncharted I had none of the control issues I'm feeling with KZ2.

Take the following scenario: You are hiding behind a corner healing up. Some dude comes running around the corner. He is too close for the scope view so you leave it on the expanding crosshair view. You swivel to line up your target but since the acceleration is all screwed up (takes too long to get going, maybe too big of a dead zone, and then once it does get going it accelerates way too fast, maybe some auto aim assist that impacts acceleration when the crosshairs are near a target would help like in halo) so you over shoot and swing back the other way and over compensate. Combine that with the wacky accuracy model/bullet spread when not scoped just compounds the issue. I don't call this different. I call it sucky and frustrating. I think I've actually resorted more to melee in these situations because of the controls.

And for the argument that they feel more weighty and meaty well that would be fine except a small light SMG feels almost the same as the big heavy machine gun.

I'll still finish the game. I think the game gets better after the first level with more intense set piece battles and defend bits which I quite enjoyed.

UPDATE: 3/24/09
- Finished the single player. No real desire to try multiplayer though I hear it's pretty good. The controls were still frustrating throughout which gives me even less desire to try the multiplayer.

- Not much plot, didn't really ever care much about the characters.
- The battles do get better and more epic in the last third of the game which was really exciting.
- Final boss is a bit cheap but not too bad once you learn the pattern.

Overall, a beautiful if a bit derivative looking, mostly solid shooter with some pretty flawed controls. Only recommended for the die hard shooter fan though it is still one of the better ones on the PS3.

Friday, February 13, 2009

OCZ Rally 2 8GB USB Flash Drive

- Picked one up from newegg for only $14 shipped after $10 MIR.
- Yeah sure USB flash drives are getting bigger, cheaper, and more of a commodity every day. In my case I was looking for only one very specific feature: performance. I wanted something that was fast at read (which most are) and write so I could run portable firefox better with cache turned on. U3 was a good idea but apps just aren't updated frequently enough so I'm back to running apps from portableapps which are updated frequently. I've gone as far as uninstalling U3 from my sandisk (it actually removes the fake cd-rom partition too). Size was secondary since apps don't take up that much space. I installed almost every portableapp I thought I might ever want to use and only used up a little over 1GB of space. That still leaves me 7GB to transfer files between the office and home.
- There are some very fast usb flash drives out there but many are discontinued and hard to find with pretty high ebay prices. Others like the ocz rally 2 turbo are incredibly fast but also extremely expensive. I felt the rally 2 was a nice compromise and seemed like a relatively good value.
- I hate the cap. I really prefer a retractable connector like on the Sandisk cruzer micro. There isn't even any way to attach the cap to the rest of the flash drive.
- It has a nice aluminum body that feels very durable.
- I used ATTO Disk Benchmark since it's free and does write tests too. I'll compare it to the sandisk cruzer since that is what I'll be replacing.

Windows XP Pro 32bit:

SandiskOCZ Rally 2

As you can see read speeds on the OCZ was pretty impressive at ove 28 MB/s read on larger transfers. It was a bit disappointing in write speeds. I guess the dual channel architecture does help a bit.

Vista 32bit:

SandiskOCZ Rally 2

Yeah something is messed up. I even tried a usb external hard drive and read speeds never went above 17MB/s. Either Vista is messed up and basically giving me only half of the expected usb 2.0 speeds or ATTO doesn't like vista. I'm leaning toward this being one of the stupid sucky aspects of Vista.

Recommended especially if you are going to primarily use it in a windows xp environment. I can really feel the difference in portable firefox. Things do feel snappier. If you are running vista then I would recommend you run some usb benchmarks to see if you are capped somehow like I am.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Sample video recorded with a hauppauge pvr-250 in mpeg2 format transcoded on the fly and streamed in real time to an iPhone using OrbLive. Quality setting is set to maximum over wifi:

Sample video recorded with a hauppauge pvr-250 in mpeg2 format transcoded on the fly and streamed in real time to an iPhone using OrbLive. Quality setting is set to medium over 3G:

- I picked up OrbLive for $10.
- there is a free lite version available but it only lets you try 3 random pieces of media from each folder.
- I've been testing it quite a bit for the last couple of days. I installed orb about a year and a half ago and tried it with my wife's att 8525 which worked ok. Since then I've built a new quad core server so I decided to reinstall it and give the dedicated iphone app orblive a try. It's like simplify media but on steroids because it streams video (with transcoding if needed), livetv (with compatible tuner), photos, live camera, and other Internet content too. You can stream all of it over 3G too.

Orb service revisited
- First, not a whole lot seems to have changed on the pc side of things in the past year and a half. For streaming to consoles or other PC's orb is still pretty bad with pretty awful video quality with interlace artifacts. It's fine for music I guess. I still find the web portal pretty unwieldy and slow.
- The orb service that is installed can still eat up quite a bit of resources especially if you add a lot of media folders with thousands of files. HDD activity is pretty brutal not in just generating the database file but also the logs it keeps which can grow quite large. On my q6600 oc to 2.9ghz cpu would spike sometimes to 25% during initial transcoding/buffering. Memory usage is around 70 MB for me though this can grow much larger if you have a lot of files.
- Don't rapidly add/remove media directories or you can end up corrupting your orbmedia.db file. I did this and ended up uninstalling, running orbcleanuptool, and reinstalling. Then I added one media folder at a time and let it database it all before adding another one. I'd watch the orbmedia.db file until it stopped growing. It seems to be working much better now. You can check by looking in C:\ProgramData\OrbNetworks\OrbMediaV2\OrbMedia.db (at least in vista). When the file stops grown and no more OrbMedia.db-journal are created, it should be done updating the database.
- Once all your media is properly databased, stop the orb service, and backup the database file. The media database file can easily get corrupted and this will save you the trouble of having to completely uninstall orb and reinstall it. You should do this anytime a significant amount of media has changed.
- If you've added network paths MAKE SURE you stop orb before you shut down or reboot any of those remote machines. If the network path just disappears while the orb service is still running you will very likely corrupt your orb media database. If that does happen then just stop orb, delete the database file, and copy over your last back so at least you don't have to start from scratch, and restart the orb service. Orb service will update the media database on its own during pc inactivity.
- It says it will support any formats that you have codecs installed that will allow it to play in windows media player. I didn't find this entirely true since I can play MKV's just fine in wmp yet they don't show up in orb. UPDATE: looks like you can add additional file extensions that it scans for.

Orb on the iPhone
- Quality is highly dependent on your isp upstream bandwidth. I only get around 500kbps up on my dsl. If you are using that upstream bandwidth for other applications, you better hope you have a good QoS router like dd-wrt.
- Streaming audio works quite well. It's nice having your entire music library available. Sound quality isn't bad. Buffering happens at a minimum. There are short pauses (say < style="font-weight: bold;">Satellite Radio and Orb
- There are add ons to stream xm or sirius:
- I more or less followed these instructions.
- A few tips: make sure you click the delete cache button after you first install. Also, I highly recommend you reboot the pc after install.
- Make sure you pick the high bandwidth url (64kbps) vs the low (32kbps).

Recommended. Having the massive amounts of media off your home pc hard drives available on your iPhone almost anywhere is all kinds of awesome. Just make sure you have a pretty beefy machine that you don't mind leaving on all the time. Overall it does quite a lot for $10 and you can get quite a bit of functionality for free with just installing orb on your pc and using the safari browser on the iphone (or really any mobile phone browser). For me the $10 was worth the added convenience and video transcoding abilities. If they just polish it up a bit, add the ability to sort songs in track order, and resume, then they would truly have an iPhone killer app on their hands.

UPDATE: 5/5/09
- If all you want to do is stream your music collection I highly recommend you also check out Simplify.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Thermaltake BlacX HDD Docking Station (ST0005U)

- Picked one up from newegg for $30 after $10 MIR.
- Sure it basically duplicates the functionality of a sata to usb cable but puts it into a very convenient package. You hook this up to your pc either via USB or eSata. Then, you can quickly and easily swap any SATA hard drive (2.5" or 3.5").
- I like how there are two sets of flaps to keep the dust out. The smaller cut out is for 2.5" laptop hard drives.
- The only sata hard drive I had sitting around to use for testing at the time was a 320gb 5400 rpm 2.5" laptop hard drive.
- first I tried it over usb. Hooking it up vista 32bit installed the usual drivers which are already built into the OS pretty much like any sata to usb cable or external enclosure. Next, I dropped the hard drive in much like inserting an Atari 2600 cartridge (am I dating myself?). Then, reach around back and turn on the power. After a few seconds for the drive to power and spin up it shows up just fine with a drive letter. HD tach shows around 15.4 MB/s which is about right for usb 2.0.
- To remove the drive first make sure you go to your tray and safely remove the drive. I highly recommend USB Safely Remove which adds a wealth of features like making sure a device always gets the same drive letter, adding hot keys for quickly removing a device, and showing what is preventing you from removing a device and releasing those locks. It's well worth the $14. Next, power off the dock, wait a few seconds to let the hdd spin down, and then press the handy eject button that pops the drive out.
- Next I wanted to test eSATA except all 8 of my sata ports were being used (5 hard drives, 2 dvd burners, 1 blu-ray/hd-dvd reader/dvd burner). I picked up one of these a while back for $15 from newegg when it was on sale, and now I finally found a reason to install it (and I finally got to use one of those tiny 1X pcie slots):
Rosewill RC-216 PCI Express eSATA II x 2

- First, configure the jumpers to determine which 2 out of the 4 ports you want active. I wanted the two external ones so that required moving all the jumpers. The manual included in the box was a bit confusing. Make sure you download the pdf manual from here which has photos that make it much clearer on how to set the jumpers.
- Here are few tips that I got from reading the newegg reviews. If the IC chip reads EN29LV040A (which mine did) then you need the updated firmware and flasher which is NOT on rosewill's support site. Newegg reviewer theholmboy was nice enough to post it here which will save you the trouble of emailing support for the files. So boot to pure dos, rename the bin file to something that conforms to 8.3 format (I just renamed it to up.bin) as the flasher doesn't support long file names. Then type jm36xupd.exe /w up.bin. It shows a menu with two items (1 - raid something, 2 - mass storage something). I just picked 1 and it flashed just fine in just a few seconds. After a reboot you should see the version number for the jmicron bios go up.
- After first boot vista automatically installed some ancient drivers. After another reboot I updated the drivers to
Just go to device manager find the controller, update driver, browse, and point to the floppy32 directory. After another reboot you are set.
- I did several tests with hot swapping the hdd without issue. Since you are bypassing the bridge chip entirely and going straight to sata transfer rates are the same as if you installed the drive internally. HD Tach reported 51.2 MB/s. I expect around 100 MB/s with a modern 7200 rpm desktop drive. My 1.5 TB seagates should be in tomorrow.
- UPDATE: got my 1.5 TB seagates in. They are all firmware CC1H which is the latest. hd tach reported 102.1 MB/s, 16ms.

Storage Costs
- So this is how I plan to use all of this. I'm planning to use hard drives for cheap, quick, and convenient long term archive storage. Lets first do some cost analysis.
Right now the cheapest archive storage are dvd+r 4.7gb blanks. They run for around $20-30 for a spindle of 100. I only use verbatim brand discs burned at 8X for maximum reliability. $30 is you every day price (sam's club). You also have to add the cost of storing the dvd's. I like to use large 300+ binders. A seagate 1.5 TB hdd is $130. Lets run the numbers:

dvd+r 4.7gb:
$.30 per disc
328 disc binder for $16 shipped
$.0488 per disc for storage
$.3488 total cost per disc
$.3488 / 4.7GB = $.0742 per GB

$130 / 1500GB = $.0867 per GB

Difference = $.0125 per GB

To put in other ways:
A single 1.5 TB HDD = about 320 DVD's
320 DVD's cost around $110 so you pay about $20 premium by going HDD for each 1.5TB of storage purchased.

To store 50GB (size of a dual layer blu-ray) cost $3.71 on HDD. Cheapest BD-R I've seen are at fry's:
5 pack BD-R DL $70 ($14 each)
5 pack BD-R $30 ($6 each or $12 for two discs to get to 50GB)
So it costs 3-4X more to store the same amount of data on BD-R vs HDD.

for kicks lets look at dvd+r DL (8.5GB)
Samsclub has a 50 spindle verbatim for $60
$1.20 per disc + $.0488 storage = $1.2488 total cost per disc
$1.2488 / 8.5GB = $.147 per GB!!

Note: all size calculations I used the published GB (not GiB). I also don't take into account differences in file system overhead like UDF or NTFS.

- Blank DVD media prices have been about constant for the last year. I see HDD $/GB to continue to drop as densities increase.
- You also save a lot of physical space since the dvd binders do take up a lot of shelf space.
- By not leaving the HDD plugged in all the time like in an external enclosure and instead putting it back in the anti static bag and shelving it, you reduce risks from power surges and such.
- The other issue with hard drives that are left on a shelf is magnetic decay and stiction. I have a friend how has worked in storage for many years. He asked the storage expert on their team about this. He said basically stiction is a non issue these days with fluid bearings. He also felt magnetic decay was mostly a non issue, and the data should be fine for at least 10-15 years even though hard drive manufacturers are weary to claim those numbers (probably due to liability exposure). I've also seen this linked from several places. Believe what you want but I'm going to trust my friend. Having said that I will still burn a copy of critical data like family photos on dvd's. Redundancy is still the best insurance policy. I'll let you know for sure in about 10-15 years.
- Another thing to consider is will SATA still be used in 10-15yrs? You will still need a way to read the data off the hard drives for the foreseeable future.
- You might not fill up an entire DVD so there could be some wasted space so you won't obtain 100% efficiency. That might impact the pricing numbers a bit.

Highly Recommended. BlacX makes HDD as an archive medium feasible, extremely fast (over esata), and convenient. It will only get more economical.

UPDATE: 2/6/09
- I'm having some odd issues so I've went back to the latest rosewill drivers v1.1. I'm still doing more testing but it works for the most part.