Monday, December 30, 2013

[Rant] I had some Yodobashi points that I didn't know about

Couple of days ago I got a postcard from Yodobashi telling me that I had some point in my Yodobashi  points card and that they will be expired in February. Funny thing was, I thought I had used up all my points. It wasn't even a couple of hundred points. It was 4020 points. That was totally unexpected. Now I can buy something using those points. The Plantronics Backbeat Go 2 Bluetooth wireless headset perhaps?

But there was one problem. I had lost my points card. Well, I guess I knew it back then that I had lost my points card but because I thought that I had used up all my points, I didn't care about the getting it reissued. Luckily for me, the postcard included instructions on how to get it reissued.

Today we decided to go to Costco. On the way there, we decided to pay a visit to the Yodobashi Camera and get the points card fixed. But my wife didn't feel well, so I decided to go alone. Yay! It gave me the chance to check out the DSLRs as well. First, I went to the information counter and got my card reissued. They didn't even charge me anything for it. Then I asked them if they could attach the point card with my online account as well. They said they could give me an access code for my points card and that I had to use it on the website to share the points between the actual physical card and the online account. There was a valid period for the access key and I had to do it within a couple of weeks. No big deal, right?

So I did some looking around and found the Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 wireless headset. Actually they are a pair of ear buds. To my dismay, the in-store price of those amounted to JPY7,980. But when I checked their website, they were listed for JPY7,280. Both were with 10% points. This wasn't a mistake though. These things are not uncommon in Japan. You get special deals something when you go shopping at the shop and at other times you get better deals online at the same shop.

Anyways, I didn't want to pay JPY700 more for those so I wanted to buy them online. Since I didn't have the points in my online account yet, I decided to use the access key. I entered the card ID and the access key but I couldn't get them to work. I got an error saying that the access key couldn't be used. I tried a couple of times. But it didn't work. So I decided to give them a call.

The girl on the other side checked my details and came to the conclusion that my name written on the card and the name registered on the website were not matching. One had first name first and the surname second and the other one in the reverse order. Additionally I had not put the apartment number when I registered my address on the website. The girl on the other side fixed these problems and told me to try again. And it worked.

2013-12-30_19-26-46

So now I could order through the website using my points and everything is good. First of all I have to put in my Credit Card details in there.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

[Rant] Is the Canon 70D too heavy and is it worth $400 more than the 700D?

Ok it is that time of the year where I want to reconsider getting a DLSR to replace my point and shoot camera.

The last time this idea crawled into my mind, my choice was to get a Nikon D7000 with a 18-200mm lens – purely looking at the specs and the price. But when I held the Nikon D7100 and the D5300 (as the D7000 is not available at Yodobashi or Biccamera, I didn't like the feel. Plus, I hear that the 18-200 lens isn't that great of a lens. Anyways, the one with the 18-200mm lens is out of stock. I can only find one with 18-105 lens or 18-300 lens.

When I held the new Canon 70D though, I really fell in love with it. But the darn thing costs $1260 with the 18-135mm IS STM lens as of today. But the D7000 costs the same, while being quite old. 70D is new and feature rich. Even though the 70D is a better camera than the D7000, with this year’s sucky bonus, I feel that spending over $1000 on the camera is a bit of a stretch. I want to buy a lot of stuff averagely priced stuff than buy high-end stuff for the same total amount of money. For example, if I can buy a $800 camera and a $400 video card instead of a $1200 camera, I would go with the former.

Anyways, the D7000 is out. It is just old and I don’t like Nikon although the image is sharper with Nikon. The reason for that is mostly due to the anti-aliasing filter in the Canon DSLRs.

In fact, there is the 700D which is also new, but not so powerful as the 70D. With the same 18-135mm IS STM lens, it costs $830 – which actually fits my model. I can get the 700D and a video card instead of the 70D.

Canon-EOS-70D

My issue is, I don't know if I really need the 70D or if the 700D would be enough. The 70D has a better auto focus system, the camera is faster, more focus points, feels sturdier and well built, faster maximum shutter speed, better quality at high ISO and built in Wi-Fi. I don’t expect to buy a new camera for a long time, but if I bought a 700D, I don’t know if I might have to upgrade in a couple of years. 70D would stay with me a long time. Remember, getting the camera with the lens is cheaper than getting them separately. So, if I just upgrade the body while keeping the same 18-135mm lens, it might not be worth it. Buying the 70D now and maybe upgrading it in 5 years or so would be the best option. But then again, I’m a novice. I might not use more than 20% of the features in the 70D.

[Rant] Finally cleaned the G15 keyboard

Putting my vacation into good use, today I cleaned my keyboard. There were a lot of dirt trapped between the keys. This is the first time I have cleaned it since buying it second hand from my friend, Saman.

I followed this guide to disassemble the keyboard. First of all, I took photos of the layout of the keyboard. Even though the guy says he used a brush the clean the dirt, I had to use soap and wash it. There was too much dirt and most of it was stuck in there. They wouldn’t come off, even with a tooth brush. After washing the keyboard, I used a cloth to wipe off the moisture and then used the hairdryer to dry it.

Dirty G15 (1)

[Podcast] Comoputer Hardware and Gaming - Episode 9

Finally managed to find time to do the first episode of out podcast for this month. This is the episode 9 of Computer Hardware and Gaming.
 
One big difference is that the airing time has been brought forward by an hour because it is too late for me otherwise. The new airing time is 2pm GMT. (7:30pm LK time). We'll continue from this new time from this episode onwards.
 
One more thing. We are planning to do it every week now. We used to do it every other week, but if we missed one show, we would miss two weeks. When we do it every week, even if we miss one week, we will not lose out on too many podcasts. Hence, the next show will be on 4th of January.
 
In this episode, we talked about the following topics.
  • Issues of R9 290/290x graphics cards including performance thottling, US price hike, upcoming custom cards and the local prices.
  • Intel Atom Baytrail CPUs for tablets and desktops
  • The upcoming USB 3.1 specification
  • The usefulness of the Intel Smart Response Technology
  • Causes of Display Driver Stopped Working issue
  • And other chitchat
If you missed the live broadcast on Google Hangouts, you can watch it below via YouTube.
 

Google have improved Google Hangouts and now we can join the viewers to post comments. Even though we didn't do it this time, we are planning to ask others to join and ask their questions. I mean, we are hoping to do a quick Q/A session of about 15 minutes. Of course we won't be able to answer all the questions then and there, so for those hard questions, we will hopefully provide a satisfactory anwer by the next show. Still not confirmed if we can get it working by the next show that is on 4th of January though.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

[Guide] Remove unwanted localization files in Crysis 3 to free up disk space

Even though the prices of SSDs are coming down, they are still an order of magnitude more expensive than regular mechanical hard drives. Hence you don’t want to put unnecessary data on your SSD. You would want to maximize the utility of the storage space. Even if you only have a regular HDD, why would you want to keep unnecessary files on it? You could store something more important in that space.

Today when I checked what was using up the space in my SSD, I found out that there were some huge files in the Crysis 3 install directory. They were related to localization, which means those files contained the different language inside the game. Now, I only use English, so I don’t want Chinese or Friend or Spanish language files. I will never be using them.

Localization_2013-12-28_20-13-11

If you look at the Properties pane on the right hand side of the above Window, you will see that the files other than the English language files are using up 3.55GB space. That a huge lot of space.

At first I wanted to just delete them, thinking that they won’t be required by the game. But just to play it safe, I moved those files to somewhere else and loaded up the game. It worked fine. I wasn’t still sure how it would work out, so I played a couple of games. Everything worked perfectly. So I deleted them.

I couldn’t find a place to change the localization inside the game. After browsing the web, I found out that you had to change it in the system.cfg file inside the game’s directory.

; crysis3
sys_game_folder=c3
sys_user_folder=Crysis3
sys_languages=english,french,spanish,german,turkish,italian,czech,chineset
g_language=english
g_SkipIntro = 1

I changed the sys_languages property to “english”, deleting rest of the languages. It wasn’t necessary, but I felt that it was the way to do it.

; crysis3
sys_game_folder=c3
sys_user_folder=Crysis3
sys_languages=english
g_language=english
g_SkipIntro = 1

Friday, December 27, 2013

[Rant] Vacation time until 6th January, 2014

After today, I'm going to work again on the 6th of January. 9 days of freedom! Oh yeah. We always get this vacation at the end of the year.

But the week starting from 6th of January is going to be very critical. We have a release coming up on Friday and there is so much work still to be done before that. Anyway, I'm going to forget all about it now and start enjoying the vacation - live the moment.

I need to do something useful in the next week. Like playing games, for example. Ha ha! No, seriously, my wife would kick me out of the apartment if I played games throughout the week. I guess I will have to go out with my wife. But it's so cold out here that I doubt even my wife would want to go out.

I would usually visit Sri Lanka during this time because it is so cold out here,  but this time we are staying. Hey, now we have to pay for two air tickets and that's a big sum of money. So we had to limit going to Sri Lanka to once every two years. Sadness, but that’s the way it is.

Well, at least I can keep spending time evaluating whether I need to buy a DSLR or not. Still not sure if I can manage with my S95 or if not, which DSLR to get. I had been eyeing the Canon Kiss X7i (or 700D) with 18-135mm STM lens. It will cost about JPY83.000 though.

  • Then I will be getting a new internet connection, but will have to wait till the end of the vacation. Need to do some research on what to get. There are 1Gbps connections too, but I’m fine with this 200Mbps connection as well.  I will go for the ISP that gives the biggest money back discount.
  • Then I will look forward to the new graphics cards. The custom cooled R9 290's and the upcoming Maxwell GPUs. But Maxwell is a bit far away and will be out the reach of my pocket for a few months. On the other hand,
  • I can get a new pair of earphones for my phone as the Apple EarPods never fit in my ears. Was looking at the  Plantronics BackBeat GO 2 but I’m skeptical that it will work well for me. That’s another gadget that I need to charge every day. And I’m not sure if the prices will drop further. It’s been stable at JPY6,300. Maybe I will get it for my birthday. That’s a month away! w00t.
  • On top of all that, I have about JPY6,500 worth points at Sofmap.

Wait. I just remembered something that I can do without spending any money. I need to arrange the cable clutter behind the desk. After I got the new monitor, I couldn't properly do the wiring like the way it was before. In fact, I'm hoping to do a better job this time around.

One more thing. The keys on my Logitech G15 keyboard have gotten so hard to press. They need a lot of force. It makes my fingers hurt when I type and play games for a while. A lot of food and dust particles must be stuck in between the keys. I haven't done a proper cleanup job since I got the keyboard about 4 years ago. No idea how to take out the keys though. I found this article and it seems that I will have to take the keyboard apart to get to the keys. That’s going to take a few hours!

Looks like there are few exciting things for me to do during the week. I hope my wife will find them amusing too. Open-mouthed smile

[Rant] Figured out buying a 3rd Lightning cable was the wise thing to do

Remember a while back I bought a lightning cable for my iPhone 5S to keep it at work? I figured, why not buy another for home use. That way, I can keep the original cable in the box unharmed.

When I sold my iPhone 4S, Dospara deducted JPY2,000 from the maximum amount of money receivable because its USB charging cable was damaged. This happened with my old iPhone 3GS as well. It seems I’m not alone. A lot of people seem to get it damaged near the end that plugs into the phone. I don’t know how easily the lightning cable gets damaged. I didn’t want to test. So I paid the JPY200 and bought a second cable. It works just fine as the other one. Charges the phone and sync with iPhone.

I’d rather pay JPY200 than reduce the worthiness of the phone by JPY2,000.

iphone4scable

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

[Rant] Change of plans. I need a bigger video card than what’savailable.

I like upgrading my PC very much. I guess, a lot of people do. Money is a problem. At least I can afford them for now. But it disappoints me when I don’t get enough in return for the money I spend. The Haswell upgrade one such case.

I just want to upgrade one thing in my PC right now. The graphics card. I want a GTX 780 with the price tag of a R9 290. In fact, yesterday the lowest price of the R9 290 dropped to JPY39,999. (Even though the card is out of stock already) With the JPY being heavily depreciated (now goes for like JPY105/1US$) and the inherent 5% tax, that means the original price was something like $360. You won't be able to get a R9 290 for cheaper than that for a while. In the mean time, the cheapest price of the GTX 780 also dropped to ¥49,980 for a couple of days, but went out of stock.

But I don't want the R9 290 with a reference cooler nor any GTX780 at the current price. R9 290 with custom coolers will be very expensive when they come out. I doubt I'll be able to grab one for less than ¥50,000 until 3 months have passed. That's a huge amount of money considering the fact that you are getting only about 40% more performance compared to the GTX 670. Similarly, the current cheapest GTX780 also costs over ¥50,000. That and the fact that my card's current resale value in Japan being less than ¥20,000, make a graphics card upgrade not very appealing.

So after a lot of thought, I've decided that a current generation high end card like the R9 290 or GTX 780 is not going to work for me. I'm going to wait for Maxwell. That should give me at least a two fold increase in performance hopefully. The GTX 780 Ti when overclocked to 1.1GHz on the core gives a two folder increase in performance already. So it is safe to assume that Maxwell will deliver better. It seems they are coming out in February. Just rumors though.

NVDA_Maxwell_Roadmap

Now, inevitably the prices will be very high at launch. That's the way these shops roll. Scumbags! Cannot help.

However, I won't be making any promises. If I find a deal that I cannot say no to, I might jump on it. But I will at least wait for AMD's Mantle to flex its muscle. The last thing I want is to get an NVidia card and then find out that Mantle works amazingly well.
I know it's all sad news for me, but that doesn't means it's the end of the gadgets for me for this year. There is a week to go. Even though our year end bonus is hopeless this time around, that DSLR idea just got a big boost.

Friday, December 20, 2013

[Rant] My iPhone 5S did something fishy last night while I was asleep

 
iphone-5-battery-drain-problem
 
When I went to bed, I checked the remaining battery level in the phone. It was a 85%. I thought that was good enough for tomorrow and I went to bed. I didn't expect to see even a 5% drop of battery level the next day I woke up.

Anyways, I didn't check the battery levels when I woke up.

I was listening to a Podcast while I was getting ready to go to work and it suddenly stopped playing back. Why did that happen? The 20% low battery warning message had popped up. Until you press the OK button, it doesn't go away and the audio doesn't resume.

[Rant] Live streaming to Twitch

Now that NVidia has released a version of GeForce Experience that allows us to stream gameplay videos straight to Twitch, I had been playing around with it.

Click here to visit my Twitch channel. I hope you'd subscribe. ^^
 
The day before yesterday I live streamed NFS Rivals, which I deleted because it was a crappy gameplay videos. Last night I recorded Crysis 3 which turned out to be quite nice. I still don't record the audio from the mic.
 
I am still experimenting because this is completely a new thing to me. It seems that you can upload the gameplay videos to YouTube fraught from Twitch but I still don't know how to. I have connected with YouTube from Twitch settings but I think I need to explicitly tell it to upload the videos to YouTube.
 
One more thing. GeForce Experience doesn't seem to save the Twitch account credentials. I have to enter them every time I reboot. Every time I try to do a live stream, I get a crossed indicator that shows as if it is not working. When I checked the ShadowPlay settings, it was not logged into my Twitch account.
 
# Fount it. You will receive an email when you can save the Twitch broadcasts.  From there, you have to first save the video in Twitch and then explicitly ask it to upload to YouTube.
 
image

Here’s one of the videos that I uploaded through Twitch to YouTube. (Hey, while at it, why don’t you subscribe to my YouTube channel as well?)

Crysis 3 MP TDM on Williamsburg
 
What about the performance? There is definitely a lag between the upstream and the downstream. If you checked out the archived videos you’ll see me turning to the left of me. That is to check if the stream is working on my laptop. It was a bit laggy on the MacBook Air, so I lowered the quality to “low” setting in GeForce Experience. Hey, a lot of Sri Lankans cannot watch the videos because of the darn caps imposed by SLT. What a retarded ISP!!!
 
Anyways, I will continue to live stream videos to Twitch, and later archive them to YouTube. It seems easier than saving, editing and manually uploading to YouTube.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

[Guide] Building a high-end mini-ITX gaming rig

I wish I went for a mini-ITX rig when I built my PC. When I came to japan, there weren't good mini-ITX cases or motherboards available. But now there are.

I have a recommendation. Would you like to see?

Prodigy

 

Main system:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7 4770k “Haswell”
  • Motherboard: Asus Maximus VI Impact
    • The only mini-ITX that I can recommend. Comes with an amazing audio solution. You need one, because you cannot install a sound card in a mini-ITX motherboard as there is only one PCI-E slot in there and we need that for the video card.
  • RAM: Corsair Vengeance Pro 2400MHz CL11 8GB x2 kit
    • Nothing special. Just fast RAM.
  • Video card: NVidia GeForce GTX780 Ti reference
    • Went with the reference card because it would put the hot air out of the case. The case isn’t large enough to house a GPU that puts hot air into the case. And no, AMD cards put out too much heat for this little baby.
  • SSD: 500GB Samsung 840 EVO x2
    • Can go for the 1TB drive, but we’ll RAID-0 couple of them just for bragging rights.
  • HDD: None.
    • Use a NAS to store data
  • PSU: Corsair HX650 Gold
    • Nothing special. Just a quality PSU that is enough to power the CPU and GPU when both are well overclocked. Could have gone with a small PSU, but a larger PSU would run quieter and put out less heat. But get a PSU with modular cables for the love of god!
  • CPU cooler: Corsair H100i
    • I wish we could install a 280mm rad in there, but you cannot. So we’ll stick to the H100i.
  • Case fans: Corsair SP120 series fans
    • We need fans with high static pressure because the stuff inside would be tight and there would be more restrictions that a spacious case.

Peripherals:

  • Display: Qnix QX2710 27" 1440p PLS display
    • Best display you can get for the money I guess.
  • Keyboard: Logitech G710+ mechanical gaming keyboard
  • Mouse: Logitech G602 wireless gaming mouse
  • Speakers: Logitech Z623 2.1 speakers
    • I have this and I like it
  • Headset: Audiotechnica ATH-AD500X audiophile headphones
    • I have this and I like it
  • Webcam: Logitech C920
 
 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

[Rant] The R9 290 prices are still dropping in Japan

Looks like Japanese people don’t really care about BitCoin mining. The demand for AMD graphics cards isn’t big in Japan. Thus the prices are dropping everyday.

Capture

As of today, the cheapest R9 290 card is priced at JPY44,980 or $450. Yes, this is still more expensive that the original MSRP of the card when it was launched in the US. Hey, everything doesn’t always work out the way you like. I should be happy that the price has dropped by $50 in a week. Not to mention, the prices in the US has skyrocketed in the last week or so. Now the R9 290 is priced at $500, if you can find any.

[Rant] How to upgrade my hard drive setup?

I've never liked having a lot of hard drives in my PC. I don't like partitioning either. In my PC, I currently have three drives. One of them is a 250GB SSD. The other two drives are hard drives, 3TB a piece. And each of them has only one partition.

image

I only use one of the 3TB drives because the other one is used solely for backup. I never touch it. The backup happens automatically using Microsoft Sync Toy. I could have setup the drives as RAID-1 but I didn't want to go into the complexities of RAID. I am fine with manual backing up. Well, it is actual automatic - just not real-time. (I do use real-time online backup using Carbonite but I’m thinking about dropping it because it is too slow and you can never upload 3TB data within 20 years.)

The backup drive is a 5400RPM Western Digital Caviar Green drive. The other one is a speedy 7200RPM drive made by Toshiba. But in reality, you cannot tell which is faster and which is slower. The WDC Green drive is pretty fast. The main reason for that is both drives have the same platter density - 1GB per platter.

Before upgrading to these drives a year ago, I had two Samsung F3 1TB drives in RAID-0 and a 2TB Samsung F4 Eco drive for backup. That setup was pretty fast, but I was running out of space. I didn't know what to do. I already had 3 drives. I would always want the backup drive to be as large as the data drive. So 2TB in a RAID-0 volume and 2TB in a single drive satisfied that condition just fine. But where to go from there? I didn't like to see dozen drive letters in Windows Explorer. I wanted to keep it simple and partition logically, using folders. That not only makes things easier, but also allow me to fully utilize the free space. It is also easier to organize data as well. Ideally, I should have bought 2TB x 2 drives for data (setup in RAID-0) and a 4TB drive for backup. The 2TB drives are fine, but a 4TB drive would have cost an unjustifiable amount of money. Besides, I felt that I didn't really want RAID-0 for data. I don't access the data all the time. I wanted a hassle free storage solution.

[Rant] Twitch streaming finally comes to Geforce Experience

Guess what popped up when I turned on the PC. New update for NVidia GeForce Experience application. What was the update about? Twitch streaming. Now you can directly stream videos to Twitch - free of charge and free of performance penalty - if you have a qualified NVidia graphics card. 

2013-12-18_06-39-55

This is where you enable Twitch streaming. The default shortcut keys to activate streaming is ALT + F8.

Untitled

I had a Twitch account which had never been used before and I logged into it. 

Untitled1

You can record audio from mic and show yourself from the webcam overlay. But for now, I disabled both. 

Then I launched NFS Rivals and tried to stream a gameplay video. It seemed to have worked, but I didn't check it while I was streaming. I had not enabled the option where you can save your recordings for a while, so that video wasn't saved.

So I don't know if it really worked. All I did was press ALT + F8 while playing the game and an indicator showed up in the usually place. That's all I know. 
Will try back when I get back home from work and report back. Hold on tight!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

[Gadget] Qnix QX2710 Evolution II display (Part3-Brightness,overclocking and performance)

I’m splitting this article into three parts because it is going to be a long article. This is the part 3.

 

Brightness

There are only simple brightness controls on the display. You cannot choose a predefined brightness setting as with other displays. In fact, there is no On-Screen Display or Menu where you can change a million different settings. You have to do all of that through the graphics card’s control panel, which isn't a big deal because all the current gen graphics cards support it. I hope it does not impact the performance of the graphics card though.

With a new display, you are always going to get different colors and brightness value compared to the old one out of the box. It takes a bit of effort to set them up to look identical. I haven't managed to do that yet. But I think the settings that I have set for this new display works well. Besides, in a few days I will get used to the new settings and things would become much easier. Anyways, when it comes to brightness and colors, I’m using a custom ICC profile made by someone at OCN forums. Applying the ICC profile is a bit of a pain in Windows but I managed to apply it just fine. (check out a guide here)

colorprofile

[Gadget] Qnix QX2710 Evolution II display (Part2- Dead pixels and backlight bleeding)

I’m splitting this article into three parts because it is going to be a long article. This is the part 2.

Now that I have plugged in the display to the power source and the PC, it was time to for me to test for quality issues. Remember, this display is not made by a reputed company even though the panel is actually same as the ones used in Apple Cinema Displays. But the quality control shouldn’t be anywhere close to that of the big name companies. It could be that these cheap panels they are using on these displays are rejected due to being below the quality standards. However, that is not to say that these always will be inferior to the displays from reputed brands. Sometimes these offer less backlight bleeding than the monitors from reputed companies. And most of the times you won't get any dead pixels.

If you want to get a higher quality display, you can pay a little bit more and get something that comes with "Pixel Perfect" guarantee. This means that the amount of dead pixels present can be up to 1 dark pixel and no bright pixels. You won't probably notice a dark dead pixel at this resolution.

But this guarantee doesn't cover backlight bleeding. The seller said that they do check the display for defects before shipping it and that they would not ship a display with excessive backlight bleeding. Well, I guess you have to take their word for it.

Still, I asked the seller to thoroughly check the display for defects before shipping it. He told me that there weren’t any dead pixels but there could be some backlight bleeding. I wasn’t sure why he said that “there could be” backlight bleeding, because there is either backlight bleeding or not. Anyways, I was hoping that I won’t run into any issues.

Now that the display was powered up and all, it was time for me to check if I got a great display or a subpar display.

IMG_5651

[Gadget] Qnix QX2710 Evolution II display (Part1- Setting up and powering up)

I’ll be splitting this article into three because it is going to be a long article.

Last Friday I got my new monitor – the Qnix QX2710 Evolution II. 2560x1440 pixels of glory, imported from South Korea, purchased through eBay.

QX2710_Package

It was shipped quite quickly. I ordered it on 30th of November and got it on 6th of December. A week. And they were not operating in the weekend, so it actually took only 5 days. It was delivered through DHL. The delivery within the country was handled by Sagawa.

Since I wasn’t sure if they would tax me for the display, I told the seller to devaluate it. AFAIK, you only get taxed if the value of the item was over JPY16,666. Of course there are some exceptions. Anyway, I didn’t have to pay duty for the display. So basically, it cost me $319 in total. Steep, but for a 1440p IPS (actually PLS) display that can be overclocked to around 100Hz refresh rate, that is well worth it. The only issue would be RMAing because I have to send it back to Korea – which costs shipping.

Monday, December 16, 2013

[Rant] Oh noes...coin miners are going to ruin R9 290 purchase

Today when I woke up in the morning, I recieved this alarming message. The prices of AMD R9 graphics cards have gone up by $100. Even the R9 280x is now $399. The R9 290 is $499. I have no idea what the new price of the R9 290x is though, and I don't care even if it is $1000 because I'm not interested in it.

The reason for this price hike is the high demand and low supply Not from gamers though. From coin miners. BitCoin and LiteCoin are the most popular virtual currencies at the moment. The value of these viirtual currencies have gone up massively in the last year or so, hence  the interest towards them have multiplied. If you use the GPU instead of the CPU, you could process more work and increase the chances of finding these coins in an order of maginitude. But you would only see a benefit - or a tangible benefit - if you use an AMD graphics card because their general compute power is lightyears ahead of the current gen NVidia graphics cards. With the current Kepler architecture, NVidia crippled the compute capabilities of the consumer graphics cards and are now basically only good for gaming. Even the old Fermi cards are better than Kepler in compute.

This has caused a huge demand for AMD cards. Most of the buyers give a rat's ass about gaming. They want these cards just for mining. They can even have more than 4 graphics cards in a rig to do their mining work. You don't have to combine them as in a Crossfire configuration to make full use of them. So if you see a photo of rig with more than 4 AMD graphics cards, you don't necessarily have to think that it is photoshopped.

I, on the other hand give a rat's ass about coin mining. I want a graphics card for gaming. If you read my previous post, you would know that the only card I thought was good enough to replace my current NVidia GTX 670 was the AMD R9 290. At the time I was writing that post (i.e. yesterday), the card was $399 in the US and $470 in Japan. But now the card is $499 is the US, but it is still at $470 in Japan. There is no doubt that the prices in Japan would go up as well, but when? Should I panic and buy a reference card now? Or should I wait for the dust to settle down (i.e. for AMD to ramp up the production and bring down the price to the original MSRP)? I still don't want to get a reference card because of that piece of crap cooler on them.

What do you guys think I should do? Play the waiting game and get what really wante or grab non-ideal while I can get it for "cheap"?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

[Rant] Is upgrading from the GTX670 really worth it? (for 1440p)

I’ve been thinking of upgrading my Palit Jetstream GTX 670 since I bought a new 1440p display. There are three cards that I had been looking at. The AMD Radeon R9 290, NVidia GTX 780 and NVidia GTX780 Ti. Even though I don’t want to buy, I had been keeping a close eye on the prices of GTX 770 and R9 280x.

R9_2xxvs_GTX7xx

Photo courtesy of The Tech Report

Last night I had some free time and I checked the reviews to see where each card stood again each other at 2560x1600 (which is close to 2560x1440 on my display).

graph

※This is for my current card.
 
The rating at stock clocks were taken from the GTX 780Ti review posted at TechPowerUp. The overclock results were also taken from individual reviews for different cards posted on the same site. Of course the final overclock results can be different from card to card, so this is just a rough estimation. But it is good enough approximation.
 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

[Rant] Loading Overclocking Profiles from USB drive on Asus Maximus VI Hero board after updating bios? Hopeless!

When you update the firmware on the Maximus VI Hero board, your overclocking profiles will be erased. There is a feature where you can save your overclocking profiles in a USB flash drive and load them up from it. I wasn’t sure if it would work if I updated the firmware because there would be some version mismatching. But this feature is useless to me, if it cannot work that way.

So today, I wanted to test whether it could still load the profile from the USB flash drive.

  • Old firmware version: 1002
  • New firmware version: 1102

Before I flashed the firmware, I saved it to my USB flash drive from this page.

save_and_load1save_and_load2

Then I flashed the firmware. After everything was done, I went into the bios and tried to load the overclocking profile that was saved on the USB flash drive. And I was presented with an infuriating message.

“Failed to load the BIOS settings. Load only the profile with the same BIOS version as the current one”

Agh!!!! Hopeless.

Now I have to manually set all the settings by referring to the photos I took from the phone. That is such a pain. There are a million settings I have to set in this board.

[Rant] Another bios update for the Asus Maximum VI Hero

No more than an hour ago I posted that I updated my motherboard’s bios to version 1002. And now, there is another updated bios available – version 1102. Without hesitation, I updated the board’s bios to version 1102.

I don’t know why nobody posts a detailed change log with these BIOS updates anymore. All they say is “improve system stability” or something as such. At least tell us how it would improve system stability. Dumb! Why is Asus acting like a tier 3 motherboard maker? And this is Asus’s top of the line motherboard series - the Maximus VI!!!

2013-12-14_12-50-21

This time though, it didn’t need to update the iROG thingy. After flashing the bios, it had to go through 5 rounds of power up and power down cycles before it came back to life. Nothing has changed from the last time. I wonder why this is happening. Is it by design? Or is there something wrong with this particular board? I hope it is the former. I hate RMAing. I hate to see a dying motherboard, although the chances are that I would get a board with the newer revision – where they fixed the USB 3.0 bug. This board has the issue although I haven’t come across it yet as I don’t use USB hard drives and I hardly use Sleep.

Anyways, just like the previous 1002 bios, if I enabled EPU power saving, it would fix the CPU Vcore at 1V and I would get a BSOD. Either they broke it with this firmware, or maybe they want us to disable it so that the PC becomes more stable when overclocked. I had to disable it just like with the 1002.

And one more thing. I tried if these newer firmware would help me overclock the CPU more. No, the board has hardly anything to do with overclocking Haswell CPUs. It’s all about the CPU. If the CPU can go much higher, even an entry level motherboard would be able to get it there. The board has very little to do with overclocking Haswell CPUs. SADNESS!

Friday, December 13, 2013

[Rant] Got a BSOD in months!!!

A few months back, BSODs were a normal thing with my new rig. That was because I was trying to overclock my Haswell Core i7 4770K CPU. I spent a whole month trying to get it to 4.4GHz and finally I gave up and moved on. Now I'm a happily sailing away with a Clock speed of 4.3GHz.

A few days ago I noticed that there was a new BIOS (1002) for the motherboard (Asus Maximus VI Hero) and last night I wanted to try it out. Actually, I skipped the previous one as well. I wasn't going to see if it would overclock better than it used to. I just wanted to update for the sake of updating it.

First of all, I took screenshots of all the BIOS pages because updating would erase all of that. That's a dumb move on Asus's end, right? You can save it to a USB drive as a profile but sometimes when they version the BIOS up, the profiles won't be recognized anymore. Again, quite a dumb thing.

Anyways, just to be safe, I took photos of the bios pages. I could have saved them on to USB drive as screenshots using the shortcut key but that would mean I would have to use the tablet to view all those images. I didn't feel like using the tablet at that time so I just took photos from the phone.

Then it was the time to update the bios. I copied the bios file to the USB flash drive and went into the BIOS. I used the EZ Flash utility inside the BIOS to open the bios file and it took over the rest of it.

Asus Easy Flash 2 Utility

After flashing the new bios, it rebooted the PC. Before successfully rebooting, it had to go through 5 POSTs. The PC powers up, the after a couple do seconds it powers down - and this went on for 5 cycles. Man, I hate when that happens. You don't know if something went wrong or not. Anyways, it finally managed to POST and then another screen showed up saying that it is updating iROG... whatever nonsense that means. It took about a minute to complete.

After that it rebooted automatically and I went into the bios straight away and changed the settings back to where they were before. Everything seemed fine so I rebooted to Windows. Except, it didn't work as I expected. It gave me a BSOD just before trying to log into the desktop. Weird, I thought.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

[Rant] It may be sunny, but it is darn cold

What do you feel when you look out the window and see the following scene?


It seems sunny and you feel like going out to enjoy the sun, isn't it so?

But don't be mistaken. You really don't want to go out. It is very cold outside. 


This is not that cold. But in a month or so, that 9℃ will be 0. Still, on a sunny day, if you look out the window, you will feel that it looks like the summer.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

[Rant] Samsung 840 usage after almost a year

It's been almost a year since I've bought the Samsung 840 series SSD for my rig. Since this has TLC flash, it should deteriorate quickly. So I have been keeping a close eye on the amount of data written to the drive.

3.96GB after about 330 days. That’s 12GB/day. Quite a lot more than I expected, to be honest.

Samsung_Magician_2013-12-11_07-10-06

According to this article at Anandtech, it seems at 10GB data written per day, a 256GB drive should last for 70 years! So maybe mine will last for 58 years. No big deal. I will be dead by then.

Need to load it up more.

[Rant] Samsung 840 Pro finally supports Rapid Mode but no love for 840 non-pro

When Samsung released the 840 EVO, it introduced this new feature called Rapid mode where the SSD could use a portion of RAM as a super fast cache for the SSD to speed up reads and writes. At that time, only the 840 EVO family of SSDs supported this feature. There were rumors that this feature would eventually come to the other two models of the 840 family, the 840 Pro and the 840 non-Pro.

Yesterday Samsung updated their Samsung Magician software to bring Rapid mode to the 840 Pro family of SSDs. All you have to do is install Samsung Magician version 4.3. If you already have an older version installed, you will be prompted to update when you launch it.

It is nice that Rapid Mode doesn’t need a firmware update.

Samsung_Magician_4.3

But that makes me wonder, why isn’t the 840 non-pro supported? If it can be done by just updating their Magician software, they could bring this feature to the 840 non-pro models without any problems, right? Does that mean these drives are never going to get the Rapid Mode? That would really suck!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

[Rant] How cheap would the G602 get?

Remember a while back I was considering getting a Logitech G602 wireless gaming mouse? I didn't want to get it back then because the prices were a bit too steep. I wanted to play the waiting game. Back then, the price of it was hovering around ¥8,000. I've kept a constant look out for price drops ever since and it is getting cheaper by the day - albeit few ¥ here and there.

Now the price of it is around ¥6,700 (as of 2013-12-06). That's a quite a nice price drop, right? I can get it now or wait for the prices to drop even further. It is just like buying stock. You never know when the prices will go up again. So you will have to make a decision at some point whether to risk waiting further or be happy with the current price and never look back afterwards.

You can take a look at how the prices have changed in the last 3 months by clicking this link.

Hmm.....

Since this is not a much needed upgrade, I've decided to wait. As I'm upgrading the display to a 1440p display (which has already arrived and am playing with it right now), there are more pressing matters like getting a faster graphics card because the GTX670 doesn't quite pull the pixels at the rate that I'm comfortable at. But that upgrade is also put on hold until manufacturers come out with non-reference designs for the R9 290 graphics card and also Mantle performance figures. I might still go with NVidia, but I want more options.

What so you guys think? Will it get cheaper? Or should I get it now?

Friday, December 6, 2013

[Rant] 3DMark on the iPhone 5S

A couple of days ago I get to knew that they have released a version of 3DMark – the popular 3D gaming benchmark on the PC – for iOS.

photo 1

There are three tests that you can run.

And I ran all of them to see what scores it gave me.

photo

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

[Fix] Visual Studio 2008 crashes every time I change the layout and exit

microsoftvisualstudio4

You must be wondering what I'm doing with Visual Studio 2008. Unfortunately, that's what we are using for developing the printer driver at work. Soon I think we will be upgrading it straight to version 2013 but I have no idea how soon that would be.

Anyways, I had been predominantly using Windows 8 on my work PC but it seemed to act a bit strangely in the last few days so I switched to Windows 7. For some reason, Visual Studio would crash if I changed the layout of the different panes and exit it. The layout that had been saved some time ago was not optimal, so I desperately needed to change the layout.

vstfsBuildBuild844-Microsoft-Visual-Studio-Administrator_2011-03-22_14-07-30

The first thing that I tried was to delete VS2008 folder in Documents folder. That folder seemed to contain the user specific. I didn’t check whether the issue persisted across other user accounts though. But deleting that folder didn't fix the problem.

The next solution was to reinstall VS2008. Since I had SP1 installed on top of it, I thought I wouldn't be able to use repair. With some hesitation, I launched the uninstaller from the control panel. Still it asked me whether I wanted to repair it. Even though common sense made me believe that it wouldn't work, I just gave it a shot. Miraculously, it went through just fine and finished successfully.

Before installing SP1, I tested if repairing made the problem go away. And it had!!! I was feeling relieved. Then I installed SP1 and set VS2008 to use WinSDK version 7.1 (instead of the inbuilt libraries) which had been installed a long time ago and was untouched.

It’s a shame that I don't really know what caused the crashes. But I’m glad that I could fix it without needing pull my hair out. I had other things to attend to while the PC was busy repairing VS and updating SP1, so I didn’t have to watch though the slow repairing and installation of SP1. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

[Rant] GeForce Experience version 1.8 comes out

And it gets rid of restrictions a lot of people had with ShadowPlay. You'll need a GeForce 600 series or newer graphics card to use the Shadow Play terminology.

You can download it from this link.

NVIDIA_GeForce_Experience_2013-12-03_22-37-14NVIDIA_GeForce_Experience_2013-12-03_22-37-27NVIDIA_GeForce_Experience_2013-12-03_22-41-152013-12-03_22-42-11

[Podcast] Computer Hardware & Gaming -- EP8

In this podcast, we talk about computer monitors and the new GTX 780 Ti graphics card.

Computer Hardware & Gaming -- EP8

[Rant] The ghosts in the machine

headhurts

Last Friday I had an appointment at 4:30pm and I had to leave work early. I was hoping to setup the PC to carry out a coverage test before I left the office. The test takes quite a long time as the data set is large, so it would be great if I could run it while I'm not seated in front of the PC. For the coverage test we were using BullsEye Code Coverage Analyzer. You have to build the source with the BullsEye Build enable in Visual Studio. It then creates a coverage file and when you run the application using the test data set, it will update the file with the coverage information. Then you can open the coverage file from the Coverage Browser to see which functions and conditions were hit and which were not hit.

We have to build two solutions. The first one went through fine. But the second one took a long time to finish. In fact, it took so long that I gave it up and left the office because it was getting too late. Such a thing would never happen if I was not in a hurry. Funny thing is that the PC took the joke so far that it didn’t finish building the solution even by the time I arrived at the office on Monday!!!

Why does these weird things always happen when you are in a hurry? WHY??

Sunday, December 1, 2013

[Rant] JLPT N2 was so hard!!!

Today I went for the JLPT N2 exam. The examination center was Keio University in Hiyoshi. That's a short distance from my work place. So it didn't take a long time for me to get there from home.

Entrance of the Keio University in Hiyoshi
Entrance of the Keio University in Hiyoshi. Nice autumn leaves.

The exam was much harder than I thought. Maybe I didn't put enough effort on to it. I'm sure I'm going to fail. I felt that the moment I tried the first 5 questions. The Kanji characters in the first 5 questions were ones I've never even seen before. In the end I didn't have time to answer the last two questions either. They are all MCQs but I didn't want to test the examiner by coloring them after we were asked to stop coloring. Unfortunately, she didn't announce that there was only so and so minutes remaining. I felt she stopped the test earlier than she should have. It read 14:28 on my watch even though the test should have gone till 14:30. Sucks! Otherwise I could have just arbitrarily colored two numbers. To be honest, that's what I did for most questions though.

[Rant] Saw a 4k display for the first time

A 4K TV, to be precise.

This happened a while back and I forgot to tell about it. We saw a 84inch 4K TV made by Toshiba at Costco the last time we went there. The image looked impeccable! That made me realize what the hype about 4K displays was.

Look at the price of this TV. JPY 1,680,000. Man, that’s a lot of bonuses!

Hopefully the prices will drop to affordable range in a 3-4 years. We’ll probably have all the horsepower to run such a display with a single graphics card comfortably. Hey, I am just switching to 1440p.

Regza 4K TV

[Rant] Finally it is time to move on. Bye bye 1080p. Hello 1440p.

QX2710-4

I had been thinking of upgrading my PC’s display for a long time. I had been using a 27” 1080p display made by Iiyama (a Japanese brand) for few years. It is a TN panel and the pixel clock can only be overclocked to 69Hz. They say it has super fast response time, but I don’t know for sure.

1080p is the norm today. While 1080p is very easy for most of the midrange graphics card, the next step isn’t. The next step is 1440p or 2560x1440. Of course there is another notch above that – 4K or 3840x2160. But that is out of reach for most people. In fact, there are only a couple of displays made for the PC that uses 4K resolution.

I have a GTX670 graphics card. It only has 2GB video RAM. While it hardly chokes with 1080p, 1440p isn’t that easy for it. But since I am planning to upgrade the graphics card soon (waiting for the price drops in the holiday season), I thought 1440p is viable option. I’m thinking of getting GTX 780 or a R9 290. On the AMD side, I’m waiting for the cards based on 3rd party coolers. On the NVidia side, I’m waiting for the price drops. I can get a second GTX 670, but the video RAM issue would still be a problem. Even though the card will have 4GB video RAM in total, there will only be 2GB effectively because pretty much the same data needs to be copied across both cards.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

[Rant] Buying PC parts in Japan


sofmap

If you are thinking of buying a PC in Japan, the first place that comes to your head is Akihabara. That's where I bought my first PC from. But that was a mistake. Why? Because you can buy one for much cheaper if you buy online.

Why is it cheaper?

Two simple reasons.

Firstly, you can find the cheapest prices for the items that you want to buy via websites like Kakaku. One items could be cheaper at one shop but another item could more expensive at the same shop than another shop. You cannot go to every shop and not down all the prices. However, there are shops that are not registered in Kakaku.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

[Rant] How much data do you use on the phone?

When I upgraded to the iPhone 5S, I got LTE connectivity. Until then I had been using the iPhone 4S with unlimited 3G data. Even though it was unlimited, practically it I couldn't even use up 2GB per month. My average monthly usage was around 1.3GB. It was hard work. 3G speeds were so bad with SoftBank's congested 3G data network.

IMG_0304According to the in built monitoring, I have used 12GB in the last 2 months. The usage in the first few days was high, because I had 7.5GB to use for 2 weeks. The billing date is 10th of each month. I bought the phone on the 25th of September. They gave me the full 7.5GB allowance until the 10th.

While LTE on the iPhone 5S is amazing, SoftBank put some restrictions how much data you can download using LTE. There are two main restrictions.

  • You can only download 7.5GB (7GB without tethering) per month you hit the data caps
  • On three consecutive days, the total amount downloadable before you hit the data caps 

If you hit the data caps, it would be just as if you don’t have internet on the phone. You can upload stuff at full speed though. (YouTube Capture anyone?)

Sucks!

If there weren't such limitations, I could have easily used up more than 20GB per month. Right now, I don't use it for anything else other than YouTube and Browsing. I download apps and podcasts when I’m connected to Wi-Fi.

YouTube is the killer though. You cannot change the streaming quality in the YouTube app when I’m connected to a mobile data connection. Quite a dumb move Google! I mean, it is fine if that the app wants to automatically select the best quality according to the speed of the data connection. But what if you want to watch the videos at 360p all the time because you don’t have an unlimited data connection? Maybe I should download the YouTube videos and sync them to the phone. Still I have to use the dreaded iTunes. That’s the crappiest software to land the Windows application eco system. But still, I don’t want to go through the restricted speeds. So I would have to give in to iTunes.

[Rant] Really love the power of LTE on the iPhone 5S

Picture 1

Whoa, it's been two months since I've bought the iPhone 5S. Time flies, isn't it?

When the iPhone 5S arrived in Japan, I quickly dumped the iPhone 4S which I had been using for almost two years. I didn't even wait till its contract ended. The main reason for it was because I had had enough of the crappy 3G speeds that I got with the phone. The culprit is not the phone but Softbank's network.

When the iPhone 5 came out a year ago, SoftBank upgraded their network to support LTE. When I checked the performance of it at the SoftBank shop near work place, I got great speeds but it was not consistent. For some reason, every once in a while, the webpage load times got worse than what I got with the iPhone 4S. So I was skeptical at first. Would that be the case with the iPhone 5S.

Monday, November 25, 2013

[Rant] Finally managed to sell the Dell Latitude 10 Essentials tablet

Dell-Latitude-10-essentials-656x318

The story so far…

Part 1: Found out that recovery was broken after upgrading to Windows 8.1

Part 2: Reinstalling Windows

Part 3: Making a Recovery Partition (failed attempt)

Part 4: Making the Recovery Partition (Success!)

Last Saturday (16th of November) was a working day. But I took the day off. No, it wasn't so that I can go and sell the tablet. But because I couldn't do with just one day off per week.

However, I did go out to sell the tablet on that day. We went to Akihabara. This was my wife’s second visit and my 5th or 6th.

I figured that Dospara (ドスパラパーツ館) would give me the most return for the tablet. Sofmap only offered me ¥15,000 for it. Dospara had estimated ¥20,000 about 3 weeks ago when I asked them. Sure, they wouldn't abide by that after three weeks. They estimate it for 3 days. But I knew it wouldn't drop to the ¥15,00 mark. Plus, they were giving an additional 10% for tablets these days. So at best, I could get ¥22,000.

So I went to the place and wrote my name on the list and waited till they called me. It took about 15 minutes because the person before me had a whole PC brought for assessment. Of course they don't assess then and there, but they had to check all the components present in the PC and give the customer an estimate of what he would get at the best case. If there are any internal defects, damages to the exterior or missing original accessories, they would further reduce the money they would pay otherwise.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

[Rant] I've had enough with the Apple EarPods

Some time back, my Zagg Smart Buds broke. I didn't buy a new set of ear buds because I was going to get the iPhone 5S a couple of months after, and they should come with Apple's redesigned EarPods which were first announced with the iPhone 5. Until then, I used the old ear buds that came with my iPhone 4S.

When the iPhone 5S came out, I upgraded as early as possible. I've had the iPhone 5S for about 2 months now. That means, I've been using the Apple EarPods for about 2 months. And they suck!

There were two big issues with the old ear buds. They don't stay fit and the audio quality is bad.

The new ones are better in terms of the audio quality (but worse than a proper set of ear buds). However, although they are designed to fit in the ears better than the old one, for me, that hasn’t been the case. They fall so easily when I walk and ride the bike. I cannot turn the head without them coming off. Sucks!

Which means, I need a new set of ear buds!

There are two options for me.

One, get a new pair of Zagg Smart buds. I should wait for the Black Friday deals though. That’s only one more week to go, if I am not mistaken. Zagg is known to come up with nice Black Friday deals. The only issue is that I will still have to pay for shipping. And I would have a hard time claiming warranty in case they broke because I will have to send them back which costs money! Sadness. Too bad they don't sell Zagg products in Japan There was a Japanese store a while back, but not anymore. Amazon is selling a handful of products, but they don't have the SmartBuds.

Zagg Smart Buds

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