Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

2014 was the year I gave up on my Xbox 360. I’ve enjoyed owning it, and it’s given me some great memories, but over the last 12 months or so I’ve been throwing myself more and more into PC Gaming. My favourite genre has its home here, there’s been a lot more genuinely innovative games here thanks to the rise of self-publishing, and with the announcement of the Steam Machine late last year… I was ready to give up on the home consoles for good.

I didn’t mean to completely go cold turkey, mind. My pile of shame is shameful indeed, and half of the reason me and the missus bought a 50″ TV was so that we could get a visual treat whilst playing on our consoles. For some reason though, I haven’t touched my 360 for gaming purposes since I moved here last December. Haven’t touched my PS3 either but then the PS3 is something I’ve always almost regretted buying, mainly because I never use it much. The 360 was my favourite console of the last generation, but now that the ‘New’ generation is here, as a 360 owner I don’t feel satisfied anymore. All of the ‘cool’ projects are going to be new-gen from now on. At the very least they will be cross-generational, but I firmly believe buying a cross-gen game for the weaker generation is even more pointless than upgrading to the new generation (it’s looking like things will get better, judging by this year’s E3, but I’ll talk about that in another post).

That only really leaves the odd smattering of games that are still being targeted for the last generation, mainly because the install-base is there and proven, while the new generation don’t quite have the numbers yet to keep everyone happy. You’ve got Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel I guess, but I’ve got Borderlands 2 if I really want my fix for that. GTA V is something I’d rather buy on the PC (now that I know it’s coming), same with AC4, which is a cross-gen title anyway. All in all, I’m left with my existing library but I never really feel inclined to dip into it, so I don’t. Everything I *really* want, I own, and I can’t bring myself to spend the money on speculative purchases anymore when I have so many games already.

In February, I received an email from Xbox Support telling me my card details were incorrect, and that my automatic Xbox Live Subscription Renewal might fail. I didn’t feel inclined to rectify the issue, and I resigned myself to losing the only thing I really enjoy doing on my Xbox towards the end, which is playing multiplayer with my friends. Mainly Battlefield 3. That was four months ago, and all I’ve really done is play on my PC and twiddle my thumbs waiting for more Steam Machine news. Looks like I’ll have to wait until next year now, which is annoying, but what can you do.

Then I lost my Xbox 360 headset.

Well, firstly my best friend said he wanted to start playing Battlefield 3 again, then I realised I’d lost my headset when I went looking for it. Another friend of mine just got a 360 again (long story), so we’re going to surgically insert a copy of Battlefield 3 into his machine. To top it off, looking through my bank statements (for a different reason), I suddenly realised that my renewal payment HAD worked. My annoyance at losing out on 3 month’s worth of Xbox Live time, and free games, was quickly replaced by weird sense of joy and nostalgia as I realised maybe it was time to dust the ol’ gal off and take her for a spin once more.

Of course, I still had no headset, so I made what I suspect will be my last investment in my Xbox 360, and bought a new one.

Actually, I bought a ‘GioTeck Elite Essentials Kit’ for the Xbox 360 from Tesco. It came with a new headset, a HDMI cable AND a rechargeable Battery pack with charger cable. My last Charger cable broke years ago, so this was appreciated – all for £15! In contrast, headsets alone for the Xbox One were retailing for £50 – 80, depending on what type you got. Another reason I’m not adopting new-gen now (if ever) – the pricing of everything.

So, for now, my 360 has been given a breath of fresh air. Will be on Battlefield 3 tonight, and who knows? Might even start looking at some of the other games I’ve got lying around as well. I spend too much time on my PC as it is, so perhaps doing something different for a bit will be healthy. But if I still need my XBL Subscription come February next year, I’ll be surprised. Eventually, it’ll have to go in its box for the last time. What I’ll do with it, I don’t know… I still have my GameCube and my N64 in our loft, but then again I might just trade it in. My missus has a 360 as well, so we don’t really need to keep both, at the end of the day.

Hello, old friend. It’s been a long time.

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I was extremely excited when Valve teased their plans for the future. A controller that could prove a credible alternative to a Keyboard+Mouse set-up, a Linux based OS based around their Big Picture Mode and Steam itself, and the news that they’d be working with hardware manufacturers to create ‘Steam Machines’ – essentially small form-factor PC’s that would run SteamOS and ship with a controller. Why was I excited?

Ok, it wasn’t so much about the SteamOS. I’m not a ‘hardcore’ PC guru by any means, and I probably wouldn’t touch Linux with a barge-pole for fear of breaking the world, or something, but I’ve been enjoying the slow emergence of ‘couch gaming’ on my PC. The Steam Controller could open up more options to more genres of games. Obviously, there are some games that you just NEED a keyboard and mouse for, especially playing competitively online. That’s fine, that was always going to happen, but I still think once people get used to it the Steam Controller will still be a useful and widely-used device. If gamers can get used to motion control, they can get used to this.

I spend A LOT of time on my PC. I work here, I play many games here now (especially strategy games), I write my novel here… When I leave my computer, it’s usually to go eat, to go to sleep, to go out, or to spend time with my girlfriend. None of these things involve me hooking up my 360 or my PS3 (sometimes we game together, but not often). As the years have passed since I first acquired my 360 and PS3 (I think 2008/9 and then 2010, respectively), I’ve been using them less and less. And now the ‘next’ generation is here and I can’t get excited about it. I like console gaming, I have a bit of console gaming in me from my Nintendo days, but more and more I’ve become entrenched in PC Gaming. But I don’t like that I spend so much time in my office.

Imagine then a device that lets me take my Steam Library to my couch, instantly accessible, and thanks to the Steam Controller and SteamOS, almost as user-friendly as the current home console. I know, I know – you can do that already. Many dedicated PC Gamers do but I don’t think I’d be able to build my own machine for cheaper than a home console and the size of a home console, which is the point here. Plus, I’m not hooking up my current PC downstairs because my office is my office, and my living room is my living room. The Steam Machines, as I envisioned them, represented an affordable small-form factor PC which could play most, if not all of my games, and would complement my gaming habits and allow me game on the couch once more. Steam gets so many games you’d never see on a home-console, and even the ones you do are generally cheaper (especially compared to current XB1 and PS4 games). Plus there’s the steam sales, so long term you can buy and acquire more games for your money. Before Valve started making noises, I was actually considering buying a PlayStation 4. If I could spend £500 on that, I could spend £500 on a Steam Machine instead.

Perhaps I was expecting too much.

At CES this year, thirteen Steam Machines were announced and given details. Out of those 13, only four were competitively priced against the home consoles, and the specs vary (although thankfully the cheaper machines still seem competitive). IBuyPower’s (which was actually talked about in December 2013) seems similar, if not a tad better, as does CyberPower’s. Valve have also come out and stated that AlienWare’s offering, which hasn’t been giving any official details or prices yet, is supposed to be ’embodiment’ of what a Steam Machine is, so unless I’m utterly wrong about what Valve were expecting, then that’ll be similar to iBuy and Cyber’s machines, I imagine.

Apart from three that are still ‘Price TBD’, the rest were all over $1000, including one ridiculous behemoth from Falcon Northwest that could cost up to $6000.

This is not helpful.

It’s now that I say “You’re doing it wrong”. I know this is just one guy’s opinion, on his own blog no less, but there’s been a lot of confusion and scepticism coming from different markets over the Steam Machines. Hardcore PC guys don’t see the point in a separate machine, as they all already have decent rigs that they’ll be happy with. Maybe they’ll try out the OS and the controller separately, but they probably won’t buy a new machine until upgrade time, and even THEN, there are already plenty of decent, respectable high-end pre-built PC’s on the market. A lot from the same manufacturers who’ve offered up some Steam Machines as well. They seem to be marketing these things as just another bespoke high-end PC, which is not really helpful to anyone. It’s nice, but not what we need. I can’t remember who it was, but one of the companies making the pricier machines, when asked about their high pricing, replied “We’re not trying to compete with console pricing”.

To you sir I say, “Then what’s the point in you?”

You see, I have a suspicion that I might be the perfect target market for this product. I’m a PC Gamer at heart, but I have a healthy respect for the console gaming experience. I just lack the dedication, funds and know-how to go down the DIY route. Given my job and the current economic climate, money is the most important factor for me. I don’t have a problem with the next-gen consoles per say, but given some of the measures they’ve taken and the cost of games, the Steam Machine could become a credible alternative to the console experience – the fourth console. But that means next-gen prices and specs. Zotac’s offering, which I included in the ‘good’ list, is actually $599, but I’d happily pay a bit extra against the fact that I wouldn’t have to buy any games with it straight away, and even if did, they would be way cheaper. I also think that curious or dissatisfied console gamers would also be a perfect market to target, for many of the same reasons although again, it’d require a competitive price-point.

It doesn’t help that Valve are being incredibly passive about all this. They’ve not put out any direct messaging about who they really want to target with these machines. They’re trying to open and flexible and “hey man, chillax”, and that’s fine, but its lead to what we’ve got now. Considering Gabe Newell himself made a quip about Valve’s 65 million accounts versus Xbox One’s 3 million sold units, they could go a little further to position these machines as console alternatives. I don’t mind the existence of the high-end specs; I just would prefer they’re not the majority, as I worry how that will affect the future of this idea.

I want to take my Steam Library/PC Gaming in general to my couch, and I should be able to do it for the same price as the console boys and girls (not counting game prices etc…) . Am I being unrealistic? Maybe, but a man can dream.

I’ve never been to a big LAN event before – the closet was when I was briefly part of my University’s gaming society, and we all brought our PC’s into uni this one time and just had a gaming session on Warcraft III or something.

It’s not that I was against them… before the meteoric rise of Broadband, I never had a decent gaming PC, and then when I did I generally just played MMO’s online… the whole LAN thing really skipped me by. PC gaming was a solitary hobby for me – not many of my friends were that much into it (Again, mainly owing to the lack of a decent rig), we mainly LAN’d with consoles, if at all.

Was an interesting experience then going to the Insomnia even in Telford (UK), which is basically a massive LAN event with competitions and some exhibitions. Insomnia is hardly GamesCom… there wasn’t that any people there and even the ones that were spent most of the time in the two gaming halls, which was a site to behold. Rows upon rows of computers, across two rather large halls… it certainly got a bit warm in there, I’ll tell you that. It was also amusing to watch the poor service staff wonder by every now and then with crates of food and beer.

Funny thing was, I wasn’t actually at Insomnia to participate in all the LANing, I was there to try my hand at being a PR. I say PR… I helped out on a booth the whole time and game demonstrations… not the proper PR that PR’s do. It was still an interesting experience… ever since I went Freelance all those months ago, I’ve been helping this guy out who’s created this nifty little gaming app. It’s called GamePlan, and it’s basically a platform for people to download game maps into, and then draw and edit on them to come up with tactics and strategies to help them when they play games online. I can give you the full demonstration if you want, or you could just go to the official website to check it out. There’s a free version and a premium version, and it’s really worth checking out if you have a group of people you play online games with, PC or Console.

Here are some snaps I took with my phone:

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Oh, I never told you guys how Cologne was, did I? It was fun.

Maybe I was just too lucky when I built my first rig, or maybe I was too arrogant when the final screw was put into place… maybe I messed up, maybe my house mate decided to play a prank on me by sabotaging something I’d spent a lot of money on… or maybe, shit just happens. Regardless, the worst case scenario seems to have happened. At time of writing, I’ve been unable to get my new build to work properly, and if I were a lesser man, I’d be devastated right now. Sniff.

Many of my friends and family already know what’s going on, as I’ve been spamming Twitter and Facebook with my woes for like two days now, but basically, the computer doesn’t boot up properly. Specifically, it won’t post to the BIOS screen, which is the motherboards own internal ‘software’ if you will that has a bunch of settings and instructions for how the computer handles things on the technical side. On a brand new build, with no OS installed, this is the only thing you can access. Even with an OS installed though, every time a computer boots up it’s supposed to ‘POST’ first, allowing you to access the BIOS if you wish, and then continue on and boot up anything that’s bootable (An OS, a disc, etc…).

My computer however doesn’t even POST – it just switches on, and that’s it. Vexing, but it does happen, and it can happen for a variety of reasons… typically, it seems that the reason applicable in my case is the most annoying – the motherboard itself is faulty. For the sake of my sanity, and for the record so that it makes what I’m going to do a lot easier, I’m just going to say it was dead on arrival, or DOA. That does happen – talk to any veteran rig-builder and they’ll tell you stories of parts that arrived faulty, even broken.  Having tried almost everything I and my peers and betters can think off, the only explanation left is that the ‘Mobo’ is faulty.

If it were the RAM, CPU or the Graphics Card, then either a warning LED light on the mobo would light up, the mobo itself would emit a series of beeps to let you know something wrong. My mobo remains silent. Also, for something like the gfx card, the computer would boot up normally when it was removed. Same if it was a power supply issue – removing some of the components would lessen the strain and allow it to boot up as normal – but everything seems to be getting power, fans are whirring, lights are coming on etc… that’s the problem though: once you eliminate all of the obvious and easiest to identify culprits, everything is kind of speculating based on the evidence.

There’s still a couple more things I can try – might borrow some parts from the old rig, just to test conclusively whether or no it’s a mobo issue or not, but assuming it is, the only thing left to do is to first contact ASUS, and then Dabs to get myself a  replacement, which I can’t do until Monday.

Which is probably going to be harder than it sounds because the mobo came in a bundle… and so they;ll probably want the WHOLE bundle back… motherfu-

 

Oh, where did this random assortment of PC parts come from? I don’t remember them being there when I woke up…

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That’s right folks, it begins now. Well, not right now, I need to start backing up this computer, get my work space set up… maybe have some lunch and a cup of tea, but I intend to start building RIGGED 2.0 sometime today. I am very excited, and very nervous – excited because I’m one of those people who likes shiny new things, and because it’ll be good to flex my technical muscles once more. Nervous because if I get it wrong, that’s a fair bit of money that’s going to waste. The part of my mind that my mum gave me – the part that’s always concerned about money – is already balking a bit at the prospect of buying all this stuff that I don’t really need. As much as the justifications I’ve laid out in the past go some way to justify the expense, at the end of the day I do still have a working computer. Oh well, I just hope my fortune holds out and I keep earning my moneyz.

Just in case anyone is interested, I decided not to go with the SSD in the end. I beleive in the benefits everyone says come with the tech, but at the moment mechanical Hard Drives still serve me and everyone else well. The cost for the minimum sized SSD I’d need is just too much, and people tell me SSD’s do still have their own drawbacks anyway. I went for a 1TB HD that was about £30 cheaper, and like 880 GB more space. So yeah, go figure.

Anyway, quick update to let you know it’s all here. I’m thinking I might take pictures and document the process as I go, and then do I big update about it afterwards.

Friends, countrymen… anyone who knows more about computers than I do, lend me your ears!

So, with the Christmas season coming up, and with me having to face the harsh reality that my computer is now getting on a bit, it’s time for me to build a new PC. Phase One of this master plan is to actually pick out the parts for the new rig, which I have just spent most of the afternoon doing. Slow news day, what can you do. Now, what I want from you guys is some help on a couple of points:

* Whether the parts I have chosen can be found elsewhere for less money (from reputable places that you personally trust though).

* Whether parts I have chosen can be swapped out for better parts (and by better, I mean comparatively on a performance – cost ratio).

* Whether it all sounds like it would fit together, at a glance.

And on a general note, feel free to remind me of anything I should be aware off whilst constructing the rig, so feel free to share any tips and anecdotes you may have. So, without further ado, here’s the first draft of Joe’s Rig 2.0:

CPU – Intel Core i5-2500K 3.30GHz LGA1155 6MB – £169.99 from Dabs.com

Motherboard Asus P8P67 DELUXE REV 3.0 – £149.9 from Dabs.com

RAM – Patriot Memory 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 – £48.99 from Dabs.com

Note: The above three items can be bought as a bundle from Dabs for £339.99, which works out at £30 cheaper or something.

Graphics Card Asus GeForce GTX 560Ti 830MHz 1GB PCI-Express HDMI – £167.98 from Dabs.com

CPU Cooler Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2 – £14.98 from Dabs.com

Power Supply Unit – OCZ Technology ZS Series 650W 80+ Bronze Power Supply – £59.98 from Dabs.com

Optical Drive – Samsung 12x BD-ROM/DVDRW Lightscribe SATA – £43.99 from Dabs.com

Wireless CardEdimax 300Mbps Wireless 802.11b/g/n PCI Express Adapter – £16.36 from Dabs.com

Solid State Hard Drive Corsair Memory 120GB Force Series 3 SATA 6Gb/s 2.5″ Solid State Drive – £129.99 from Dabs.com

Note: I don’t really know much about the SSD’s, but it was highly recommended that I get one, so I’m getting a 120 GB one as my main hard drive. There is also this one as an alternative, it’s £30 cheaper but the same size, but as I said, I don’t know enough to know whether it’s worth investing more or not.

As an aside, I’m also keeping my 500Gb Mechanical drive from my old rig for games, etc…

Case Antec Six Hundred V2 Mid Tower Gaming Case — £64.99 from Dabs.com

Note: I always find cases the hardest bit, as I don’t really know what I should be looking for. So long as it’s an ATX form factor and has plenty of room for drives and expansion slots, then really you won’t know what it’s like until it’s physically in your hands. I tried to get one with built in fans, but to be honest this was a fairly arbitrary choice. I don’t want to spend much more than this though on a case, but if you have any recommendations that match the rest of the stuff, then by all means.

Grand Total: £838.26

So already this rig is costing a fair bit more than my last one, and I haven’t had to buy monitors or software this time. I’m probably going to have to buy Microsoft Office separately, because this current install was borrowed from someone who I’m no longer in contact with. But my last rig, even at the time, wasn’t bleeding edge tech. Getting a Core 2 Duo when the i-series had just come out, Geforce 9500 when Nvidia had already switched to their new numbering system… with any luck, this new rig will last me a long, long while though. Not sure when exactly it’s going to get built – was thinking of taking some time off next week or something, but I want it to be before the new year. Plus, it being Christmas time, I may be able to get help with some of the cost…