What's the first I did upon hearing the numbers for ATI's new HD Radeon 5870 graphics card? I scrambled for benchmarks, because that's the one thing an announcement and subsequent review of a smokin' new piece of hardware can do for a rabid enthusiast: inspire.
It's been a while since I've actually sat down and crunched the numbers for my killer custom PC (that's killer as in legendary, not NICs). I'm not lazy. Rather, I don't have access to the expensive system benchmarks that magazines and Web sites typically use to analyze the all the new hardware that comes out. I don't have all-in-one benchmarks like PCMark Vantage, GPU-punishing titles like Crysis, and--worst of all--preconfigured demo runs for any number of titles that would help ensure the validity and repeatability of the delivered scores.
In short, I have nothing. You might not have nothing, but odds are good that you are similarly ill-equipped to benchmark your graphics card (and any tweaks or modifications you make) in the style of a professional review. Nothing... until now.
This week's freeware roundup will show you five different games that you can use to punish your poor graphics card into frames-per-second submission. They might cost a grand total of zero dollars, but these tests are repeatable and easy to use--the perfect combination of characteristics for aspiring benchmarkers who might not want to get their hands dirty, but still want some kind of way to determine exactly how powerful their graphics card really is.
When can a file encapsulate more than one type of data? When it’s a metafile, wrapper, or container file. You might think of a container file as a package or envelope in which other files are housed. Zip files, which can contain documents, photos, videos, software programs, and many other types of files, are one type of container that you encounter frequently.
We’ll limit our discussion here to media container formats. A pure container file specifies how the data is stored, but it doesn’t necessarily know how it was compressed or encoded or even what is required to play back those files. This can lead to confusion when dealing with container files wrapped around media because there’s a chance that the media player you’re using is capable of opening the container but not equipped with the algorithm required to decode the files inside. Although a container can theoretically hold any type of data, most are optimized during development to wrap around particular data groups, e.g., digital audio for music; static images for digital photographs; or digital video interleaved with digital audio, plus subtitles, closed-caption information, and chapter data for movies. Container formats that support video also include the information required to synchronize the various data streams in the file during playback.
AMD’s graphics division, the former ATI Technologies, loves a good surprise. The company has been a perennial also-ran in the graphics performance arena, but every now and then, it one-ups the competition in a big way. That happened back in 2002, with the launch of the original Radeon 9700, which stole the performance lead from archrival Nvidia. It happened again last year, with the Radeon HD 4800 series. The 4850, 4870, and 4890 weren’t always faster than the competition, but they were small, efficient chips that forced Nvidia into a price war that was good for users but bad for Nvidia’s bottom line.
Now AMD’s doing it again, putting some serious hurt on the competition with the first GPU to support Microsoft’s upcoming DirectX 11 API. AMD’s also been paying close attention to the emerging market for non-gaming apps accelerated by GPUs, such as video transcoding and digital photography, fully supporting DirectCompute 11 and OpenCL standards for general purpose computing on graphics cards.
This new chip is no shrinking violet in the numbers department. Every number associated with the new Radeon 5800 series is staggering: 2.15 billion transistors, 2.7 trillion floating-point operations a second, more than 20 gigapixels per second throughput, 1,600 shader units. Other numbers impress because of their smallness. One example: The idle power is a scant 27W— lower than many entry level GPUs.
Given the sheer scale and ambition of this GPU, does it deliver in the performance realm? And will it deliver at a price normal humans can afford? Let’s find out.
Techies are too often tempted by the lure of new technology, leaving perfectly good hardware drifting in the wake of compulsive upgrading. And while we love getting new gadgets as much as the next geek, we also like how a new purchase gives us the opportunity to take apart and tinker with our older gear in the Lab. Whether it’s by soldering circuit boards or loading open-source firmware, we pride ourselves on being able to stretch the lifespan of older electronics by performing undocumented (and sometimes warranty-breaking) hardware hacks.
The projects we’ve included here range from relatively safe software tweaks to more challenging technical exercises. You’ll learn how to bend USB connections to your will and imbue home routers and digital cameras with robust new features. We’ve also taken some inspiration from projects we’ve seen online, including building a blue laser gun and making a digital picture frame you can mount on the wall of your office. These hacks will help you showcase your craftiness and give you a better understanding of how your electronics work. And the best part is that your old hardware will be faster, cooler, and more awesome afterward.
Do you hate Adobe AIR? I sometimes do. While the applications based on Adobe's framework can be pretty neat to use, there's something about their similar look and shared frameworks, not to mention features, that just can just drive me up the wall. Plus, every new Adobe AIR-based application has to be installed and run through Adobe AIR itself. While it's a handy way to make sure that you're running the most up-to-date version of the application, the Adobe AIR platform isn't very conducive to portable use. Actually, you can't stick AIR-based applications on a USB key and run them at all--the host computer would still need Adobe AIR for these apps to function.
That's but one minor complaint about the AIR platform. There are more, but this week's freeware roundup isn't intended to be a slam on these Adobe apps. Rather, I'll be taking a look at some of Adobe AIR's more popular applications and offering up unique freeware alternatives that don't require use of the AIR platform to work. Not all of the listed applications will support portable use out-of-the-box, but you can use the popular Mojopac Free program to store and access all of these apps on any USB device of your choosing.
Put your trigger-finger on the uninstaller button for Adobe AIR, then click the jump!
Even the Intel fanboys have to hand it to AMD once in a while. After Intel deftly dropped a Core i5 anvil on Phenom II’s head, AMD did a quick drop to floor and now fires back slo-mo style with its own chip: a $99 quad core.
Dubbed the Athlon II X4 620, this 2.6GHz quad core isn’t just leftover parts swept off the factory floor, either. The Athlon II X4 is based on the familiar K10 microarchitecture in the Phenom and Phenom II, but it’s actually a newer, smaller die. In fact, the new chip has less than half the transistors of a Phenom II X4 processor. Much of the shrinkage comes at the expense of cache. While the Phenom II packs 6MB of L3, the budget Athlon II X4 features none.
The TDP of the new Athlon II X4 chips (there are two, but only one is sub $100) is also considerably lower than the top-end Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition chip at 95 watts versus 140 watts. Other than the TDP and lack of L3 cache, the CPUs are essentially the same as their Phenom predecessors.
Read on for our full analysis, review, and benchmarks!
There’s no denying that netbooks possess many positive attributes, as evidenced by their meteoric rise in popularity. But all the attention garnered by their portability and low cost can’t mask the deep and troubling performance that netbooks suffer.
The fact is, there are undeniable trade-offs inherent to a sub-$400 computer. You’re just not going to get the same performance from a netbook as from something that costs three times as much. Slow single-core Atom processors; middling hard drives; pokey, undersized SSDs; and only 1GB of RAM rob the netbook of its potential.
But there is hope. Whether you have an old Eee PC with a 12GB SSD or a new netbook with an Atom N280 chip and a 160GB hard drive, you can make substantial improvements without forking over too much dough. We’ll show you first-hand how netbooks can overcome their humble beginnings. We’ll upgrade a typical older netbook—an Eee PC 901 with a 4GB SSD soldered on the mobo and an 8GB PCI-E SSD—as well as a brand-new Toshiba NB205, to show how every netbook, from bottom-of-the-barrel to top-of-the-line, can benefit from upgrades.
Begin your journey to netbook empowerment after the jump.
How jacked up is your keyboard? Do you have one of those super-fancy, 800+ button, LCD-screen, lit-up, wheeled contraptions that's less an input device, more a control panel at a nuclear power plant? If so, you're probably the kind of person who doesn't need the apps I'm about to list out in this week's freeware roundup. Unless, that is, you're also one of those people (including yours truly) who have a ton of buttons and options to play with, yet no resolve to actually go about mapping this to that.
And if you're just rocking a plain ol' keyboard, I hope you're sitting down because you're in for a world of difference. The applications I'm profiling today are all keyboard-focused, and they all seek to add some kind of additional, awesome functionality to (or based on) your default button layouts. Launch programs! Use your keyboard media buttons to control all of your media players! Look up every Adobe-related shortcut within the span of seconds!
Suffice it to say, I have the keyboard krazies today. Join me after the jump to get your hands on some of the cooler keyboard-related freeware and open-source apps on the Internet!
If you were born in the 70s or 80s, chances are good that a big part of your childhood was spent wasting quarters at the local arcade, or in front of the Pac-Man machine at your local pizza place. Sure, games have become a lot more complex since then, but the old titles had a lot of charm, and in some cases a level of skill and patience-rewarding challenge that hasn’t been matched since.
Sadly, the arcade is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Now that PCs and game consoles have become so powerful, the only way for arcades to compete has been to offer games with enormous, complicated controls, which end up costing a dollar or more per play. And besides, that’s only if you happen to live next to one of the very few remaining full-sized arcades. For most people, the closest thing they’ve got to an arcade is the worn-out Initial D machine at their local multiplex.
But you can bring the classic arcade experience back to life, in your own house. With a MAME arcade machine, you and your friends can play your favorite old games, on the authentic controls they were made for. In this article, we’re going to show you, step-by-step and with a lot of pictures, exactly how to build the custom arcade machine you’ve always dreamed about using old PC parts. We’re going to describe how we built our MAME cabinet, but we’re also going to describe all the choices we made along the way, including cabinet style, monitor and controls, so you can put together a machine that’s just right for you.
Eh. Technology upgrades. You don't need the latest graphic, motherboard, and CPU combinations to have a good time on your PC. Sure, having realistic raindrops fall across your warrior's face is a nice touch. And you can never go wrong with all those fun volumetric shadows and such--you know, the ones that cripple your poor videocard whenever you try and crank your display's resolution to the max.
A good game is all about the fun it brings to the table absent of technical wizardry or flashy effects. I like to call this the Nethack effect. For those recently born, Nethack is that old-school ASCII game that's still beloved by many even though its graphics could easily be replicated by a graphing calculator. The game doesn't need top-shelf scenery or character models to be awesome. It just is--by virtue of its immersion, frustrations, and countless ways to die.
As you might guess, This week's freeware roundup is another gaming-focused edition, but I'm covering a wide range of graphical treatments with the racing, hack-and-slash, and building-creation games I feature (amongst other categories). You'll see games that look pretty good given their open-source and freeware roots; You'll also see games that are a bit less, er, polished... but still worth your time for their creative features and fun action. You might even see a game that involves ponies.