Building expensive, over-the-top machines is easy. It’s when you dip below the $1,000 mark that it gets difficult. This month, I undertook the challenge of building the best all-around PC I could for less than $850. To me, that meant a machine good at multithreaded tasks as well as gaming. We’ve said it before, and we’ll stick to our guns: Intel’s Core i5-2500K is the sweet spot for price/performance. Unfortunately, that price is too high for this configuration. That left me pondering whether to do yet another Core i3 box or another AMD box.
Readers have been ragging on us about what fantastic deals Phenom II procs currently are. I looked high and low and, surprisingly, I did find some e-tailers selling Phenom IIs way below the list price. For just $139, you can net a 3.5GHz Phenom II X4 970. That gives you four cores, a much larger cache, and a fully unlocked part for not much more than the Athlon II X4 has been going for. The Phenom II X4 isn’t always a clear-cut winner against its Intel counterpart, the 3.3GHz Core i3-2120, but it does hold its own in multithreading tasks and game-related chores, which are all about the GPU.
There are several practices that distinguish true power users from common folk.System building is one. Component benchmarking certainly applies. As does religious parts swapping. And then, of course, there’s hardware hacking. Hacking, more than anything else, exemplifies our ongoing quest for more—more performance, more functionality, more power—because we’re wringing this extra goodness from gear we already own, using crafty methods and occasionally pushing the bounds of practicality in the process; sometimes just for the heck (or should we say hack?) of it.
We know that GPUs and CPUs often have features disabled or dialed back in order to fit a price point. We’ll show you some nifty ways to access their hidden capabilities, as well as some fixes for inherent flaws. We also know that our gear can be made to do more than it was intended to with the help of third-party software, as you’ll discover in our webcam and Roku projects. And if you want to make your smartphone smarter, increase your Wi-Fi router’s range, or RAID your SSDs, we’ll turn you on to those tricks, too.
You've probably read the soundbites: critics say that the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act working their way through Congress will stifle technological innovation, trample free speech and unravel the Web as we know it. Thousands of websites have “gone dark” and shut down for at least a portion of the day just to protest the depths of the bills’ combined sucktitude. But do you really know why SOPA sucks? (Hint: The answer’s different now than it was a few weeks ago.) Do you know which websites joined the blackout? Do you know what YOU can do to help? No? You will after reading this.
My favorite games of the year were Bastion, Skyrim, and the Witcher 2. Wow, that was easy. And hey, I already wrote extensively about allofthem. Convenient! So instead, I'm gonna discuss some of 2011's lesser-known greats. Previously, I turned into a quivering pile of mush on BioShock 2: Minerva's Den and The Binding of Isaac. And now, a game that may very well top both of them: masterful indie heart-breaker To The Moon.
To The Moon made me cry. Like, eight times. And I don't mean in the “single dramatic tear meandering down my cheek” sense. I'm talking about gushing waterfalls of salty face liquid. You'd have thought everyone I'd ever known and loved acted like they never knew or loved me and then promptly died. Of a disease whose main side effect is tragic irony.
And that's weird, because I figured myself one who'd be impervious to the game's barrage of gut-wrenching sadness bullets. I mean, its two controllable (notice I didn't say “main”) characters often turn humor into a weapon of mass face-palm-worthy irritation, and – aside from largely unneeded end-of-area puzzles – there's hardly even any interactivity to speak of. You walk around and click on predetermined objects. That's it. I'm a gamer. Why should I care about any of that?
However, if nothing else, let To The Moon serve as a lesson on why reductionist thinking is Bad and Wrong. Because if I'd given the game the cold shoulder over those concerns – or even just written it off as another tear-jerking, smile-seeking indie missile – I'd have missed out on one of the most genuinely heartfelt stories I've ever experienced. Videogame or not.
My favorite games of the year were Bastion, Skyrim, and the Witcher 2. Wow, that was easy. And hey, I already wrote extensively about allofthem. Convenient! So, for the next few days, I'm gonna discuss some of 2011's lesser-known greats. Last week, I turned into a quivering pile of mush on BioShock 2: Minerva's Den, and today, I'm taking a crack at Team Meat teammate Edmund McMillen's blood-soaked solo smash, The Binding of Isaac.
The Binding of Isaac is the game that finally pulled me away from Skyrim.
Like any gamer in the target demographic of Bethesda's behemoth (read: “a human capable of drawing breath”), I pretty much sacrificed my every waking hour on Skyrim's altar. Sometimes, it was 30 minutes here or there. Other times, it was 30 minutes here, there, and everywhere until a family of mice had taken up residence in my flowing gray beard. Point is, that game consumed my life.
That is, of course, until I bought Binding of Isaac and learned a very valuable lesson: Most modern big-budget games? Yeah, they're kinda crappy.
If we built a time machine, we wouldn't have to travel back a great distance to find a far different tech world than the one we live in today. Why would we even want to? To retire richer than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined, of course! Think about it. If you could go back to 2010, imagine the money you could make by placing seemingly absurd bets on the near future. There's not a single person in 2010 who thinks Duke Nukem Forever will ever see the light of day, let alone actually ship in 2011. And who in 2010 would believe Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest PC maker, would seriously consider severing its PC arm, own the best selling tablet (for a period of time) and open source webOS barely more than a year after acquiring Palm for $1.2 billion? That's a parlay even a priest would take.
Alas, our get rich quick scheme is wishful thinking, because plutonium is both expensive and hard to come by. And even if we did get our hands on some, we'd still need a DeLorean. Bummer. The bigger point here is that 2011 has been a crazy year with plenty of wild headlines and plot twists (or par for course, as it were). As we all get ready to kick off a new year, we've gone and assembled a gallery of the top 50 news stories of 2011. Flip through them and be sure to let us know in the comments section which tech events stand out to you the most, including ones we might have missed.
When you work on a major project for an extended amount of time – be it an awesome new piece of software or some sort of newfangled gadget – you can’t help but become emotionally attached to it. Some even go so far as to call their projects their babies. Well, let’s be blunt: there are some ugly babies out there. And while you might not tell a proud new mother her newborn’s a hideous freak, we’re going to call out some of the worst tech “babies” of all time, be they simple disastrous flops or actual tech-related disasters. Somewhere, coders are covering their faces in shame.
And hey, we’re not just poking fun at these failures; we’re also remembering them, lest they be forgotten and repeated. Because who wants a Virtual Boy 4S?
After watching Captain Picard solving all those Victorian murder mysteries on the Enterprise’s holodeck, we have to say that staring at a basic, flat-panel monitor is sooooo 20th century. Wasn’t the future of television watching supposed to be way cooler than this by now? Yeah, it was, but don’t worry; those spiffy high-tech displays have only been delayed, not scrapped entirely. A veritable army of hard-working engineers have been laboring day and night to bring flexible phones, holograms you can feel, physical 3D interfaces, and touchscreen, well, everything to your living room, car and workplace sometime soon. And hey, we’ve got actual pictures to prove it!
Once you’ve conquered your fear of static electricity and successfully built a kick ass custom PC from the ground up, making the jump to custom electronics isn’t all that intimidating. The open-source Arduino microcontroller breaks down the entry barrier even further. Flexible, powerful, easy-to-use and licensed-to-alter (under Creative Commons Share-Alike), the Arduino is the linchpin behind scads and scads of nifty DIY electronics projects. And hey! It just so happens that we’ve gathered 25 of the coolest, craziest, and most useful Arduino-powered projects in this gallery for your viewing – and building – pleasure. Mind-controlled Nerf guns, anybody? No, it’s not black magic. It’s the magic of Arduino!
“Do a barrel roll!” a virtual dogfighting rabbit screamed into a virtual dogfighting fox’s ear in Starfox 64 and BAM! 14 years later, a Google Easter egg was born. Dorky? Sure. Awesome? Yep. And that’s not even getting into the ironic fact that Peppy Hare – an old male rabbit with a grown daughter – has somehow changed genders and is now laying Easter eggs of his own. Peppy may be surprised from the sudden turn of events, but we’re not: Google has a long, storied history of dropping arcane, geektastic tidbits in the dark corners of its products. And we’re here to show them to you!