Monday, December 31, 2012

ASPHALT 7 - finally getting into some serious gaming on the iPhone

I have a pretty good gaming rig at home so I never really bothered gaming on the iPhone (that's the only console like device I have still I get a tablet next year). Besides, why play games on a 3.5" screen when I have a 27" screen with million times the horse-power to run AAA grade games with full blown graphics? Not to mention - keyboard and mouse FTW!

Few days ago, I managed to get ASPHALT 7 for free when there was a holiday deal. That's great and all, but I never played the game much back then. I played like one race to see how it felt. It felt bad! Controlling the car using the motion sensors was hard work.

But as life goes on, unexpected things happen. Now I am back in Sri Lanka at my parents' place and I don't have my PC with me. We don't have WIFI either, so I have to use the old desktop PC at home. Even Connectify doesn't work properly; PC freezes after a while.

So I gave another shot at ASPHALT 7. After a few last place finishes, I began to get hold of controlling. But I was still frequently hitting the wall and incoming traffic. There is a race mode called "paint job" where you have to finish the race within a given time but if you scratch the body, you get a penalty. That's the hardest game mode. The motion controls aren't very responsive. However,  once I got used to drifting - hit the brake and turn - handling became much easier. Still, paint job mode is pretty hard.

I drained the battery of the phone 3 or 4 times from 100% playing the game. The phone gets pretty hot when running it. There is some stuttering at times - maybe it needs the iPhone 5 for best experience.

Now I have finished 6 cups. The races are getting difficult with each new cup. I'm currently stuck at Cup 7.  But I skipped it and started playing Cup 8 so that I can find some cash to do some upgrades to the car. (By the time I post this, the results would have changed.)

Either way, most probably I will be able to complete the game before I head back to Japan. The only problem I have at the moment is the battery running out frequently.

Too bad I wish I could post some game-play videos like I do with PC gaming.

Edit:
Since this post, my flight back to Japan got delayed by a week and I managed to finish the game (single player championship) with all gold medals except one race which I could only manage a silver. 



Logitech Gaming Software version 8.40 - a unified experience

Finally Logitech has done something logical. I have the G15 Gaming Keyboard and the G500 Gaming Mouse which needed separate software for each - namely the Logitech Gaming Software and Logitech SetPoint. Finally, they have brought them together in the version 8.40 release of Logitech Gaming Software. Happiness! Why they took this long is the question. 

If you had taken a peek at Windows 8's Task Manager's Startup section, both Logitech Gaming Software and Logitech SetPoint were classified as startup apps that take too much time. I wonder if this is still the case with this new Driver/Software. I hope it is better now. 


















You can download the Logitech Gaming Software v8.40 from this link

Sunday, December 30, 2012

How to enable TRIM for SSDs in RAID-0 on Intel 6-series (P67, Z68) chipsets

Few months back Intel announced that they were finally bringing TRIM support for SSDs in RAID setups (specifically RAID-0). But that support came with one limitation. Only the 7-series boards were supported. That means Z77, H77 and so on. People with old P67, Z68 boards were left behind. 

Technically, there was no reason why 6-series boards could not support it, but they had the old RAID ROM (firmware) which were not supported. Of course the manufacturers could release BIOS (UEFI) updates with the new RAID ROM, but we all know that would never happen. They want to sell their new boards. Why support the last generation? 

Even though the RAID ROM is bundled with the BIOS (UEFI) files, it is a separate thing. You can hack the BIOS file and modify the RAID ROM potion of it with the new ROM.

Some guy at Overclock.net forums has posted such modified BIOS files for Gigabyte, ASRock, MSI and Asus boards (click on the link to access them).  If you are using SSDs in RAID-0, give it a shot. If your particular board is not listed, you can upload the BIOS file and ask him to modify it. 

Here's the link to the forum thread. LINK

You of course will have to install the correct Intel Rapid Storage Technology drivers to get it to work. Everything you need to know is posted in the first post of the above thread.

I don't really have a reason to update to the new RAID ROM because I have given up on RAID-0. But I would just update it for the hell of it - when I get back home. That's me. ;)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Which SSD to get? The SSD dilemma continues (part2)

If you didn't see the part one of this, read about it over here

I had almost made up my mind to buy the Samsung 840 250GB SSD, when a new offer came up on Sofmap.com. They are selling the 500GB model fora "mere" JPY27,800. Sure, it is a little bit more expensive that two 250GB drives, especially when the 250GB drive comes with 2% points.

But now I am in dilemma. Should I get the 500GB model now? Or should I get the 250GB model now and upgrade to the 500GB model when the prices half - hopefully in a year. Let's look at the pros and cons of each buy. 

Pros of getting the 500GB model

  1. The raw drive would be a tad faster than the 250GB model when it comes to writes. Read speeds seem to be same. 
  2. The drive would retain the original performance almost the entire period of usage because more the empty space available in the drive, lesser the chances of finding an untrimmed cell area for future writes.
  3. It lasts longer than the 250GB model, but I doubt I would use it for more than 3 years, so it is not exactly a pro. (at 10GB writes per day, 250GB should last about 7 years. 500GB should last about 14 years.)
  4. Obviously, I can install more stuff on it. I can even run virtual machines off the SSD. I can keep the hiberfile.sys so that I can use Fast Start in Windows 8. I don't have to worry about moving stuff here and there to free up space


Cons of getting the 500GB model
  1. Price. Even though it is the cheapest drive around, it is a big investment.
  2. I would not be able to ditch that drive in a year or so when faster drives come around. What if 500GB drives that are faster than this drive and also cheaper (or even same price as the aggregate of 250GB now and 500GB then) drives come around? I would not be able to upgrade because I have invested a lot of money into this drive. Sure, I can keep both drives. 
Obviously, the # of pros out-number the # of cons, but do they out-weight the cons? Right now, it seems I'm sitting on the fence. Maybe I should flip-a-coin and see.

P.S. 
There is another reason why I probably should buy the 500GB drive right now. The pricing seems to be based on the old exchange rate which was favorable for JPY. The new Japanese government is trying to drop the value of JPY so that they can increase their export volume. So the next batch of drives would be expensive. Also this is the holiday season. Next month, the prices would be higher once more. So maybe I should use these good times to get the 500GB drive. But you know how my luck goes. The prices would drop as soon as I buy either.

P.P.S

Guess what just happened? I tossed the coin and it said that I should go for the 500GB model.


But, I bought the 250GB model. I just couldn't make up my mind to spend that much money on a drive. I would not be utilising all that space - not for another year at least - so spending money on something that I would not use is wasting money.

Anyways, the drive has been shipped, but since I am not at home they must have left a delivery notice at home. I am going to ask them to redeliver it on Monday at around 4PM - that's my ETA at apartment. Hehe

Thursday, December 27, 2012

SLTNet ADSL speeds have improved: Dec 2012 Experience

So, I am back in SL. I do miss a lot of things in Japan. My PC, for example, is irreplaceable. So is the internet connection. At home (SL), we have a 512k unlimited package. Browsing on it is dirt slow, but it felt better than the last time. But still, 512k is 512k.

Right now I am writing this from my wife's place and they have the 8M 25GB connection known as the "SLT Web Family". It's pretty sweet for browsing. It would be million times (exaggerated of course) slower than the one I have back in Japan when it comes to downloading stuff, but for a cheap Rs.1490 price, it is sweet. I don't have any problem browsing the internet with it. Pages load -amazingly- very fast. YouTube doesn't run into buffering even at 720p and sometimes even at 1080p. That's crazy. 

Finally, there is some hope. I don't have to worry about the internet when I come back to SL.


The only issue I have is the 25GB download limit. There are ones with higher limitation points, but they are pretty expensive. 25GB one is pretty much the best bang for the buck package. Just imagine downloading games with the size of 10GB or more with a 25GB limit? Yikes! 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

New entertainment system of Sri Lankan airlines

Yesterday we flew back to Sri Lanka by a Sri Lankan Airlines flight and I was pleasantly surprised by the entertainment system when I got to my seat. I really hated the old entertainment system. I always carried the movies, music and podcasts on the iPhone. But the last time I tried using the phone, I was asked not to - even in Airplane mode. Now they announce it before taking off. (anyways I took few movies on the laptop.)

First, the interface is completely new and looks modern. The old one looked as if it was developed in early 1990's.


User guide










Saturday, December 22, 2012

Samsung Spinpoint F3 7200RPM HD103SJ 1TB drives in RAID-0 Benchmarks

Recently I purchased a Toshiba DT01ACA300 3TB drive to replace my old RAID-0 volume. Yes, you read it right. I replaced a high performance storage solution with a single drive solution. I did it for couple of things.

1. More capacity. I had 2TB, now I have 3TB.

2. Safety of data. Two drives in RAID-0 doubles the chances of something going wrong. Well, that’s if you look purely at the hardware faults. You can even corrupt the RAID volume.

3. Less power consumption. Single drive is better than two drives.

Anyways, the old drives were top of the line couple of years ago and two of them RAID-0 still can do a wonderful job. Here’s some benchmarks of the empty RAID-0 volume.

CrystalDiskMark

2012-12-13_07-44-05

HD Tune Pro 5

2012-12-13_07-33-59

Compared to the Toshiba’s scores, these were scoring substantially higher. But weirdly, I am not really noticing the difference in performance.

BTW, if interested, here’s the single drive performance.

CrystalDiskMark

2012-12-13_19-07-25

HD Tune Pro 5

2012-12-13_19-11-32

Friday, December 21, 2012

The revamped data backup plan – with Carbonite

With the recent upgrades to the storage setup (here and here), I have started considering backing up my important data (heck, they are all “important”) very seriously. I cannot afford to lose my photos and documents. I even am paranoid about the photos that I made several SkyDrive accounts to upload the photos takes on trips in Japan. Besides, the doom’s day is just around the corner. LOL
 
Anyways…
 
There is a commonly accepted rule when it comes to backing up your important files. It’s called the 3-2-1 rule.
 

The 3-2-1 rule

This is what the rule suggests.

  • You should keep 3 copies of any important file (a primary and two backups)
  • You should have the files on 2 different media types (such as hard drive and optical media), to protect against different types of hazards.
  • 1 copy should be stored offsite (or at least offline.)

 

Is it feasible?

Currently, my backup plan is not ideal. It’s just built on convenience, rather than the safety of the data.

I don’t like optical media. It would need more than 250 DVDs to backup my entire hard drive (just the data that’s available now). It’s just not practical – not even close. Only solution is to use hard drives. So, I have a 2nd hard drive just for backing up the data on the main data drive, which is pretty much in sleep to reduce wear and tear (and power consumption, but that talk is for this topic).
 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Backing up data using Microsoft SyncToy

When I upgraded my hard drive setup recently, I promised myself that I would start doing proper backing up of my data. Backing up is not new to me, but it wasn’t automatic. I had to do it manually. There were times when I went on for months without backing up the data. But this time it is going to be different.

Basically, there are only 4 folders I have to backup. Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos. Everything is inside of those folders. I had been using Microsoft SyncToy for backups, and I’m going to continue using it. It is simple and lightweight.

This is the first of the two part guide of backing up with SyncToy. We will only be looking at how to backup using SyncToy “manually”. In the 2nd article, we will talk about how to automate it so that you can simply “set it and forget it”.

This is the main window of SyncToy application. Looks neat and simple right?

image

How you backup using SyncToy is easy. You bundle the source folder and destination folder into a folder pair, and you specify how they should sync between each other, and that’s it. After that, you click on the folder pair (you have to name each folder pair btw) and click run. It will first check for changes and then will sync the two folders in that pair.

Deleting files in C:\Program Files\NVIDIA Corporation\Installer2

I just don’t understand these installers. They are such space eaters. One of those is nVidia graphics driver.

When you run the driver installer, it would first ask a place to extract the files in the installer. Usually it is a folder inside C:\nVidia. After you install it, you can always delete that folder without any adverse effects. (Do that if you want to save some space. In fact, you can automate it using this trick.)

Now, there is another folder that doesn’t seem to do anything but hold some temporary files of previous installs.

C:\Program Files\NVIDIA Corporation\Installer2

Here’s the list of files/folder currently in that folder on my PC.

image

I checked that folder in my PC, and found it to be over 500MB in size. That’s a sizeable amount of space on a small SSD. I searched around, and it seems that it is OK to delete that folder.

image

Being adventurous when it comes to things like these, I deleted the contents in that folder. Time will tell if that is a bad thing. I will post back if something goes wrong because of it. If not, it means nothing mention-worthy happened, and it is pretty safe to delete that folder. =]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Which SSD to get? Samsung 840 Pro or OCZ Vector? Or something not thathighend?

Edit:
Since then I have bought the Samsung 840 Series 250GB SSD because it was the cheapest drive I could find and it indeed is fast enough for everything I want it for. Head HERE for some benchmarks folks.

To the original post then...

OK. Now that I have replaced the hard drives (link and link), it is the phase 2 of my plan. It's time to replace my Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD.
 
Why replace the current SSD?
 
1. Number one reason is that I have to give someone a cheap SSD and instead of buying a smaller (probably used) SSD, I can give mine away. For someone getting his first SSD, 120GB is a big deal. Besides, I have maintained this SSD very well. Since the resale value of a second hand SSD is pretty low, I'm taking this chance to refresh a new toy.
 
2. I will soon have JPY 10,000 worth points from sofmap.com by trading in my old HDDs , so I'd like to use them on a new toy. I don't have to use then right now though.
 
3. I have had instances where 120GB is just not enough. I've managed to avoid unpleasant scenarios but it won't hurt to have more space. The only problem I have is that there is a very good chance that the prices would come down in the next year. I might be able to buy 512GB for the same amount of money I spend today on a 256GB high-end SSD like the Samsung 840 Pro. That's a chance I have to take. Maybe this single point will hold me off from buying an SSD right now.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Changing Disk Controller mode from RAID to AHCI in Windows 8

Since I got rid of my RAID-0 setup, it was time to change the SATA controller from RAID to AHCI so that I do not see the darn RAID BIOS thingy every time I start the PC. Of course I didn’t want to reinstall Windows just for that. But you cannot simply change the SATA controller mode to AHCI from RAID. If you do so, Windows will not boot. But there is always a workaround.

Here are the steps.

Note: the steps are a bit different in Windows 7.

1. I already had Intel Rapid Storage Technology driver installed, so I uninstalled it from control panel and just rebooted back to Windows. (I didn’t touch the BIOS settings [yet.)

2. Then I went to Registry Editor (Run > regedit) and opened the following key.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\storahci\startoverride

3. On the right pane I doubled clicked on the “0” setting and changed the value to 0 from 3.

2012-12-14_18-57-59

4. Then I exited Registry Editor and rebooted and went straight into BIOS.

5. From BIOS, I changed the storage controller mode to AHCI and rebooted.

Voila! No more RAID BIOS screens. =]

The new Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB WD30EZRX-00DC0B0 1TB per Platter hard drive benchmarks

In the previous post, I posted some benchmark figures of the Toshiba DT01ACA300 drive which I purchased as the "everyday drive". It replaced my old RAID-0 setup, which was still faster at sequential reads but maybe not so fast for random reads and multiple queues.
 
Since I was replacing my 2TB RAID-0 array with a 3TB drive, I had to buy a 3TB drive for backup as well. Up until now, I was using the Samsung HD204UI Eco Green drive, which served me well. But like I said, it was just (really? just?) a 2TB drive and I had to buy a 3TB backup drive.
 
Samsung drives have served me well in the past - I have had 7 drives iirc (160GB, 250GB x 2, 500GB, 1TB x 3, 2TB) and only one of the 250GB drives still remain in the PC back at home. Everything else was sold when upgrading the drives. (I don't like cluttering.) But as of today, Samsung unfortunately does not exist in the hard drive market anymore. They sold their hard drive business to Seagate.
 
Currently the best drives for backup and low power applications is the Western Digital Green drive series. They come at 5400RPM rotational speed, and are quite slow compared to the 7200RPM drives...until they released the 1TB/platter drive few weeks ago. This was just great timing for me. I jumped up and grabbed one of those babies from Sofmap. I had a few points which I could use, so the total amount I had to pay for the drive was just JPY9,520. That's about $113. It's in fact cheaper than even in the USA. =]
 
Anyways, here are some benchmarks. Just for the sake of comparison, the benchmarks were done on an Intel SATA2 port of the Intel controller on my ASRock Z68 Extreme4 board. Tests were done on the empty drive in Windows 8 x64.
 
CrystalDiskMark 3.0.2 x64
 
2012-12-13_20-46-35
HD Tune Pro 5
 
2012-12-13_20-50-49
 
If you compare these figures with the ones I posted about the Toshiba drive, you'd see they are quite slow. But it doesn't matter. I value reliability, less potential wear and tear and low power consumption when it comes to a drive that would have the sole purpose of holding the backups. I would not use it for anything else.

OK, now that I have bought all the HDDs for my new HDD setup, I have to pray that they don't go kaput. That's the problem with the hard drives. They can die easily as a new born, but if they get passed that initial uncertain period, they will most probably work without any issues for a long time. In that sense, my Samsung drives were very reliable, because they had passed their uncertain period. These two drives just started their life. I will have to be watchful for the next few months. At least, now I don't have a RAID-0 array to worry about.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Toshiba DT01ACA300 3TB 7200RPM 1TB per platter drive benchmarks

I ordered the Toshiba DT01ACA300 3TB 1TB/platter drive from Dospara for JPY10,770 and I received it the next day as expected. Even though I was busy with helping out a friend with few things, I didn’t forget to run a couple of benchmarks on the drive before I went to bed. I also ordered the latest iteration of Western Digital Green drive as my backup drive from Sofmap, but as usual, they failed to deliver within the next day. I’ll have to benchmark it tonight.

I will post a comparison between all the 4 drives (5 setups including the RAID-0 setup) later. But for now, I will have to settle with just these.

BTW, just for the sake of comparison, the benchmarks were done on a SATA2 port of the Intel controller on my ASRock Z68 Extreme4 board. Eventually I will move it to a SATA3 port, but I doubt I will see a difference in performance. Tests were done on the empty drive in Windows 8 x64.

CrystalDiskMark 3.0.2 x64

2012-12-12_23-41-41

HD Tune Pro 5

2012-12-12_23-55-40

Forgot to mention one thing though. Even though this is a Toshiba drive, the OEM is Hitachi. The drive name shown in the HD Tune Pro screenshot is the OEM model number. There is one alarming thing about that model number. It ends with 640. That most likely means the platter density. Even though Toshiba says that the DT01ACAxxxx drives have a density of 1TB/platter, Hitachi doesn't make a 1TB/platter drive that is larger that 1TB. Weird stuff. Anyways, as per this article, the Toshiba is about 30MBps faster than a Hitachi.


Cheers

Monday, December 10, 2012

Need for Speed Most Wanted 2012 game play videos recorded using MSI AfterBurner

It was about time I played a new car racing game. I actually heartily followed only one such series – Need for Speed. Even though they lost their path midway, they have brought back the style of play we used to love. The Need for Speed Most Wanted was the best in the series and I really loved the couple of Underground games.

Need for Speed Most Wanted (2012) is their latest title. They maybe going with the same name to show that they are back on track. Unlike the old times, I didn’t try to get hold of the game right on the first day and finish it off in one or two days. I’m old now, I take things slow. :P

But anyways, after playing for about a week, I managed to finish the single player mode. My driving skills are bad. I hit the posts and cars too often. There is something about handling the car though. Handling is still not as natural (or maybe it’s the other way) as the pre-Pro Street titles were. I guess that the physics engine underneath is still based on the one that came with Pro Street. It’s not that hard, but it is not that smooth either. (Arcade vs. Simulation? Is Most Wanted 2012 a simulation?)

One thing I should say is that this game needs pretty heft specs if you want to use the ultra settings. It actually utilizes both the CPU and the GPU resources as much as it can. If you have a deficiency in either end, you will notice it. I didn’t have much trouble with my PC though. ;)

Need for Speed: Most Wanted 2012 tested with 12 CPUs
Need for Speed: Most Wanted 2012 tested with 14 video cards

Here’s my 22 video YouTube playlist. =)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thinking of replacing the drive setup

I currently have the following drive setup in my PC.

  • OS/Application (including games):
    • Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD
  • Data/Work:
    • 2x Samsung HD103SJ 1TB 7200RPM drives in RAID-0
  • Backup:
    • Samsung HD204UI 2TB 5400RPM drive

I was thinking about replacing all of them with larger drives which might even give better performance (especially, random access performance). Not to mention, the RAID-0 setup is twice as probable to go kaput than a single drive setup.

I have the following drives in mind.

  • OS/Application (including games):
    • Samsung 830 series 256GB SSD
  • Data/Work:
    • Toshiba DT01ACA300 3TB 7200RPM 1TB/platter drive or
    • Seagate ST3000DM001 3TB 7200RPM 1TB/platter drive
  • Backup:
    • Western Digital Green WD30EZRX-1TBP 3TB 5400RPM 1TB/platter drive

Saturday, December 8, 2012

GeForce Experience to optimize graphics settings for your hardware

nVidia released a service called Geforce Experience which suggests the best graphics settings to use with each game according to the specs of your PC. It’s a cool service, because you don’t have to experiment with each individual setting to get that balance between performance and quality.

Some games have a million individual setting that you can tweak, and finding the right balance will be quite a tedious task. Most people will just play with the default settings, and this is far from optimal settings for his/her PC. If you are not using the optimal settings according to your hardware, you are wasting money. Think of a person having a GTX680 playing a game with just the medium settings when the game can be played smoothly at ultra settings.

There have been few games that set optimal settings on their own but it was not always optimal, in that they couldn’t know anything about the hardware that came out after the game was released. Sure, they can push out updates to that “engine” every once in a while, but why would they do something that wouldn’t give them anything in return, right?

Anyways, you can download the tool from here.

http://www.geforce.com/drivers/geforce-experience

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Prime95 with AVX support for Stress Testing your Sandybridge or IvyBridge CPU

I discovered this recently. I’ve been using Prime 95 without AVX support for all this time. Prime 95 with AVX support is the bomb. Just compare the temperature difference between the following screenshots.

Note: Small FFT stress test was run for 5 minutes.

Without AVX (v26.6)
2012-12-02_13-11-03

Should I just get the iPad Mini and put an end to this tablet misery?

Softbank Japan announced today that they were starting selling the iPad Mini and iPad Retina from 30th of November. Like usual, I paid them a visit. I had tried the iPad 3rd generation previously and felt it to be really heavy if you hold it for too long. Hence I wanted to see how the Mini felt in the hands. On paper, it doesn't even weigh half as much as the regular model, so the weight loss will be very much noticeable and welcome. (Note: The iPad Mini weighs less than even the Nexus 7)
 
And it is...very, very light indeed. I think this is the ideal size to a portable tablet. The small size comes with another advantage. You don't have to strain your fingers while reaching for the keys when typing. Still, it is not as easy as on a phone, but I guess it is because I'm not used to the form factor yet so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. However, you cannot hold it and type with just one hand. But that should be obvious. It is hard work even on a big screen (4.5-inch plus) Android phone, so it should be impossible on the iPad Mini with much larger screen.
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