Thursday, March 28, 2013

Are you upgrading to Haswell? Improved iGPU will be the killer feature.

Would you upgrade especially if you are already running a 2nd generation or 3rd generation Core i-series CPU? The leaked benchmark scores aren't that great. They maybe for early engineering samples but I don't think the final chip will be much faster than the chips used in the leaked results. Intel won't be making big last minute changes.

I'm running a 2nd generation Core i7 2600K CPU and it's overclocked to 4.5GHz. We don't know how high Haswell CPUs will clock. You would expect an increase in overclock potential because of process shrink but IvyBridge didn't work that way. So you won't know until the full reviews are out. But if these CPUs can hit 5GHz easily, the increase on IPC will carry the performance delta past 30% mark. That's a healthy increase in performance these days.

(Image courtesy of Anandtech) 
One more issue I have with the leaked specs is that the TDP has increased from IvyBridge (84W vs. 77W) contrary to the popular belief. Haswell was supposed to bring significant power savings to the table. Why has the TDP gone up by 7W? I wonder if most of that power is resident in the iGPU. The biggest performance improvements in Haswell will come from the iGPU which doesn't mean much to most enthusiasts. The only thing you might want to do with the iGPU is video transcoding using Intel's QuickSync technology. Even then, the options are pretty limited. The application support for QuickSync sucks at best.

BUT...but...it looks like the drought is going away. You know what Handbrake is, right? Anandtech just reported that Handbrake is about to get QuickSync support. That would be awesome!!! That would be the reason to upgrade to Haswell, especially I'm only using a 2nd generation Core i-series CPU.

(Image courtesy of  wccftech.com)

Samsung 840 series 250GB SSD–after couple of months

So I’ve been happily using my new SSD without any hiccups….wait! There was one hiccup where the Windows Experience Index score dropped from 8.1 to 7.9. That sucked, because that was what I was getting with my old Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD too. I was expecting this SSD to perform faster throughout the entire lifespan. Dropping to the same grounds obviously made me feel very sad.

But luckily, I was able to get back the lost performance by running the Performance Optimization function of Samsung Magician software. I don’t know exactly what it does, but it should not be something extensive because whatever it did finished within few seconds.

According to the health monitor, I have written 0.8TB of data to this drive. That’s a little of 11GB per day. That’s a lot, right? Maybe I should stop using the fast start functionality of Windows 8 which saves the kernel to the hiberfile.sys when you turn the PC off. That means, you don’t have to reload everything from the scratch. That would save like 1-2 seconds of Windows boot time – no big deal – the SSD is more important, right?

Drive health status in Samsung Magician software

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Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. So, 11GB per day means, it takes about 14 days to completely fill the “remaining” cells (the actual capacity of 256GB – 100GB used = 156GB remaining / 11GB per day). Two weeks. TLC flash on this drive can be rewritten up to 3000 times. At the current state, the drive should be able to live for 3000 of two weeks, meaning more than 100 years!!!

OK, I’m gonna keep Fast Start enabled because time matters…even those couple of seconds which you won’t even notice because the PC would be already booted up by the time you come back to the PC.

S.M.A.R.T information

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I have no idea how to read these values, but since everything is OK, I’d not worry about it any further.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Carbonite backup status as at 2013-03-26

I am using Carbonite as my off-site backup solution. I subscribed to Carbonite Home Backup in December last year and now I’ve backed up my data for almost 3 months. (I was in Sri Lanka for 3 weeks, so the PC wasn’t backing up during that period.)

I updated where I stood a month ago. The amount of data uploaded by 26th of February 2013 was 113GB. After a whole month, Carbonite has managed to increase the size of my backup to 206GB. That’s a 93GB increase in a month. 3GB/day on average. Not bad right?

2013-03-27_00-32-15But now I have gone beyond 200GB, I think the speed will throttle back significantly. Let’s hope it doesn’t penalize too much. I will update in a month.

BTW, Carbonite recommended me to upgrade to Home Premium because my backup size was large. Downloading everything in case something happens is not feasible. Home Premium supports Courier Recovery, which means that they will send me a hard drive with the data for faster recovery. But I have to pay an extra $90 annually. Well, that’s not a LOT, considering how valuable your data is. But I already have a local backup, so I would stick to Home for the time being.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Windows 8 Ultra Fast Boot on ASRock Z68 Extreme4

Remember few days ago I posted about ASRock releasing a beta UEFI for my aging Z68 Extreme4 motherboard that allowed me to enable Ultra Fast Boot? When I enabled that option in UEFI, the first problem I had was with my graphics card. I got an error saying that the Graphics Card's firmware didn't support GOP (). I asked for a supported firmware from Palit, the manufacturer of my Jetstream GTX670. They were very supportive and provided me with the necessary firmware. The firmware flashing went without any odd event, and that error message about the graphics card not supporting Ultra Fast Boot did not appear. Instead, every time it would go straight into UEFI when I enabled Ultra Fast Boot. UEFI would automatically change that option from Ultra Fast Boot to Fast Boot.

After a little bit of browsing the Internet, I managed to find out that for this Ultra Fast Boot to work, I needed to have Windows 8 installed in UEFI. I had no idea what that meant then, but one thing was certain. The boot drive had to be formatted in GPT. The old way is formatting the drive as MBR. When you format your drive as GPT, you have to have UEFI supported motherboard if you want to boot from that drive. Sure, my ASRock Z68 Extreme4 is UEFI supported. So I won't have a problem.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Crysis 3 multiplayer server browser is broken!

When I started playing Crysis 3, there weren't any Japanese servers around because the game had not been released in Japan yet. The game was supposed to be released in Japan on 7th of March and I was hoping to find Japanese servers after that because it would give me good pings. If I connect to servers outside Japan, the lowest pings that I'm getting is about 170ms. When I was playing Crysis 2 on Japanese servers, I was getting absolutely marvelous ping times. There were servers that even gave me ping times below 10ms. Sure, that gave us an advantage I suppose. But it's not out fault.
 
Unfortunately, the server browser is so effed up. I cannot see any Japanese servers. When I filter by geography (Asia, in my case) sometimes not a single server show up. That's kind of hard to believe. We are talking about a whole continent here. Not a single server in Asia? Bah!
 
Then there was a problem at the beginning. All the servers were showing ping times of 2xxxx ms. Very easy to choose a server. I had to stick with servers that gave away the location of them in the server name.
 
 

Got the inner case for my DELL Latitude 10 Essentials tablet

One of the reasons why I chose the DELL Latitude 10 Essentials as my tablet was because I was getting a protective case for the tablet for free thanks to a promotion offered through kakaku.com. The protective case was worth about JPY3,000 so that was a nice bit of savings. The tablet did not ship with the case in the same package. It was delivered as a separate order. Unfortunately, it got delayed about a week. I finally received it last Friday.

One of the cool things about this case is that you can place the tablet in a standing orientation as a typical computer monitor. The Microsoft Surface has its own “kick stand” and it’s a nice design. None of the other tablets come with its own kick stand. This is how the DELL Latitude 10 gets its kick stand. The amount of tilt is not fixed as is the case with Surface. You can place it at any angle.

It looks like well made too. Feels very sturdy. And the material feels rich. It does come with a stylus mount as well, even though the Latitude 10 Essentials model does not support Wacom stylus. That’s a bit of bloat. But it is not intrusive because it is on the back of the tablet.

But there is one problem. The tablet weighs 650g. That’s getting into the uneasy region already. With the protective case, it weighs even more. It’s kinda too heavy to keep holding the tablet in your hand with the protective case attached.

I do not use the tablet with the protective case attached. I would only use it when/if I need to take the tablet out of the house, which hasn’t happened so far.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

[Article] Is 80 plus rating of a power supply worth it?

I love low power computing. One of the things you can do to lower the power consumption of your PC is to buy a power supply that operates at a high efficiency. The power supply manufacturers can get a certification called “80Plus” to prove that their efficiency claims are, in fact, correct. 80Plus means that the efficiency of the PSU is 80% or more. That means, for 100W of input from the mains to the PSU, the DC output of the PSU is anywhere between 80W and 100W. But the caveat to that is, how would you differentiate between a PSU that can operate at an efficiency of 80% and a PSU that can operate at an efficiency of 90%. Obviously, the latter has good quality components and design, thus wastes less power, hence saves money from your electricity bill in the long run. If both were the same price, you should definitely go with the 2nd option.

But how does the user know which 80Plus certified PSU is actually more efficient? There are 4 more sub-ranks on top of 80Plus certification, namely, 80Plus Bronze, 80Plus Silver, 80Plus Gold, 80Plus Platinum and 80Plus Titanium. Check this Wikipedia article to know which requirements need to be satisfied to obtain each rating.

80plusbsg

Is it worth it?

But there is the one problem that comes up when you are paying more up front to save money in the long run. Do you actually save more money by buying a 80Plus Gold rated PSU over a 80Plus Bronze rated PSU? What do you think? Of course, if the prices are similar, then there is no doubt that you would save some money in the long run. Not to mention, the higher quality components inside the more efficient PSU will give your PSU (and perhaps the components running on top of it) a long lifespan.

Let's take one simple calculation and see.

I'm in Japan. The average unit price is around JPY25. Why I call it “average” is because the price of unit differs from level to level. I guess it is same in other countries as well. The more units you use, the average cost of unit goes up. Just for this calculation, let's say the unit price is JPY25.

Assumptions (case 1 or “extreme”)

Let's assume the following because your PC wouldn't running at full load all the time.

  • Your PC is ON for 24/7 (i.e. the PC is ON all the time, even when you are sleeping)
  • Power consumption
    • At idle your PC draws 100W.
    • At normal load it draws 200W.
    • At full load (for example, when gaming) it draws 400W
      Note: These are DC output power of the PSU. We’ll be looking at the real power consumption at the end.
  • Operating times
    • Your PC is idle for 12hrs
    • Your PC is running with a normal load for 6hrs
    • You're gaming for 6hrs

 

Calculation

For this particular PC, every day, it is consuming 4.8kWh.

If you have no clue how I calculated the value, this is how.

(100x12 + 200x6 + 400x6) / 1000

That means, for every month (assuming 30 days), your PC is using up 144 units (or 144 kWh).

But this is the DC output of the PSU. What would be the input from the mains?

  • 82% efficient (~80Plus Bronze): 175.6KWh (175.6 units)
  • 87% efficient (~80Plus Gold): 165.5KWh (165.5 units)

The difference is 10.1KWh per month or 10.1 units. Now if we look at it in monetary terms, you’ll be spending JPY252 more if you had a 80Plus Bronze PSU instead of a 80Plus Gold PSU. For a whole year, you would be saving JPY3,030.

So what's the price difference between a 80Plus Bronze rate PSU and a 80Plus Gold rated PSU?

Let's look at a popular brand: Corsair. These are the lowest prices of 650W Corsair PSU from HX (80Plus Gold model; there was a 80Plus Silver model before) series and TX series (80Plus Bronze) as of today.

  • Corsair TX650 (80Plus Bronze): JPY 9,000
  • Corsair HX650 (80Plus Gold): JPY 12,700

The price difference is just JPY3,700, which is actually not as bad as I thought. The difference gets bigger when you go for larger PSUs though. For example, a 1000W 80Plus Gold rated PSU would be much expensive than a 1000W 80Plus Bronze rated PSU – at least in Japan.

So, you save JPY252 per month. You have spent JPY3700 more by going with the Gold rated PSU. That means, you would be able to recover the extra price you pay for the 80Plus Gold rated PSU in just 15 months. Considering the fact that you won't replace the PSU that often (usually before 3 to 5 years), you are definitely better off going with the 80Plus Gold rated PSU in this “extreme” case.

More realistic figures (case 2)

But the use-case that I have given in case 1 is pretty synthetic, or hardcore, or “extreme”. Most people won't be using their PCs for that long. Most people don't run their PCs 24/7. Even if they did, they won't be able to get 6 hours of gaming time every day. Maybe 1-2hrs average per day is more realistic. People have to work for a living, right? And then sleep and do other stuff as well…

On top of that, very few PCs would be using 400W when gaming either. If you take a rig with a 3770K overclocked to 4.5GHz and a HD7970 or GTX680, you would use about 300W in total. Taking all that into account, an average user would hardly use more than 1KWh (1 unit) per day.

This means, now the advantage is about 1/5 of the original savings in monetary terms (previously 4.8KWh, now  about 1KWh). That means, you need 7.5 years (1.5 x 5 = 7.5) to recover the extra price your pay for the HX650 80Plus Gold rated PSU over TX650 80Plus Bronze rated PSU.

Huh! How about that? I doubt you would use your PSU for that long, especially on a gaming rig. Even the warranty on these enthusiast class PSUs run for “only“ 5 years. So basically you won’t be able to recover that money.

Note: And we didn’t take inflation into account. The money you spend today is more valuable that the money you spend in 5 years.

Conclusion

Do you calculation and estimate how much time your would be using your PC. But I’ll give some examples where paying more to get a more efficient PSU would make sense.

  • If your PC houses multiple graphics cards, that means the power consumption when gaming would be well above 500W-600W, then go with the 80Plus Gold or even Platinum rated PSU. Even if you play games sparingly, the power consumption would be high enough to justify going with the more efficient PSU.
  • If you are a casual gamer, but have a very high-end PC, then stick to 80Plus Bronze. You won't be able to recover the extra price you pay for a higher rated PSU, because you don’t use the PC that much.
  • If you don't have a very high-end PC, then stick to 80Plus Bronze. You won't be able to recover the extra price you pay for a higher rated PSU, even if you play games all the time.
  • If you are running your PC for 24/7 and the power consumption is high (i.e. you are Folding), then go with a 80Plus Gold PSU.
  • If you are running your PC for 24/7 but the power consumption is low (as in a file server), then 80Plus Bronze is all you need.

Also take a look at this post on TechPowerUp forums.

Now, when I say don't fall for the 80Plus rating, I don't mean you should cheap out on a PSU. For example, the TX650 PSU I used in the earlier comparison is pretty high quality. It is still an enthusiast grade PSU. Well, perhaps you can cheap out a little, but for the sake of the components in your PC, don’t cheap out on the PSU too much because you can either spend too much money on a PSU, or you can spend too less and lose all your hardware. Which option would you choose? First option is better and would let you sleep well at night.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

[Unboxing] DELL Latitude 10 Essentials 64GB Unboxing

Few days ago I received my brand new DELL Latitude 10 Essentials tablet running Windows 8 32bit. DELL Japan took a long time to ship it, just because I asked for the English OS to be installed on it. But thanks to @DellCares twitter account, I managed to pull the ETA forward by a few days. Original ETA was 10th of March, then it shifted to 12th of March, but in the end it arrived on the 8th. (Although I had to attend a party after work, and I didn't get to play with it much on the 8th.)

I'm still getting accustomed to using a Windows 8 tablet, so the review shall wait another few days. It's not that I don't know how to use Windows, but I have to mostly use Metro apps on the tablet thanks to the touch unfriendly desktop environment. I don’t use Metro apps on the desktop at all. Also, things that I expected to work without much hassle, turned out to be problematic. For example, I was hoping to use Google Chrome (Metro) as the main web browser but the interface is very slow on Clovertrail and not that touch friendly compared to IE.

Ok, back to main topic.

This is what it all came in.

image

The box itself is not aesthetically pleasing like the iPad's or the Surface's packaging, but who cares, right? This is a cheap tablet, so they had to cut costs from every single area they could.

So what was in the box? Not much.

・The tablet itself, covered in a clothe like cover
・The power brick. That's one ugly power brick if you ask me! It doesn't attach magnetically. You have to plug it into the dock connector in the bottom of the tablet.
・A software CD. How the heck am I supposed to install it? Am I supposed to download an external CD/DVD drive now? They should have bundled them in a small flash drive. Flash drives are dirt cheap these days anyways. Or, not provide a CD at all!
・User manual

IMG_4702

IMG_4704

IMG_4705

IMG_4701

IMG_4694

IMG_4696

IMG_4699

That's all. It's minimalistic, but not as luxurious looking as an iPad's or Surface's package.

Wait! I know what you are thinking. Where's the inner case that I was supposed to get free of charge? It's arriving separately, and it's taking another few days. I guess they are making one just for me!!! Funny.

Edit: The Dell Latitude 10 Essentials review is out. Check it out here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My DELL Latitude 10 Essentials is here!!!

Few days ago I pulled the trigger on my first tablet purchase. Even though the default tablet of choice is the iPad, I had a few requirements which the iPad (specifically the iOS) was incapable of. One of the the ability to access any file on the main PC without needing a man in the middle - in the case of the iPad, the man in the middle is iTunes which, we all know, is a horrible app on the Windows platform. Android cannot do it either. The obvious choice was a Windows 8 tablet. WinRT? No thanks. I didn't want to be bogged down by lack of metro apps. So Windows 8 it was.

There weren't many options available. I had to choose one from the grand list of 3. The Asus Vivo Tab Smart, the DELL Latitude Essentials and the Acer Iconia W510. After referring many material on the Internet, I decided to go with the DELL Latitude 10 Essentials. I had the option to choose English language version of the OS, so I went with it. But I had no idea that this simple change would add an extra week or so to the ETA. I ordered the tablet on the 27th of February but the ETA was 10th of March.

Luckily I had @DellCares as a twitter contact and I was able to pull the date of delivery a bit earlier than originally predicted. They were very helpful and regularly communicated with me over twitter. So I received the tablet on 8th of March - that was yesterday. I was at work so my wife had received the delivery. And then there was a meeting and a get together at work and I didn't have my time to play with the tablet yesterday. I played with it a little - not long enough to be comfortable using the tablet. Not to mention I had an exam in the next morning on one of free online courses that I am following on Coursera. I didn't have to do it today, but I just wanted it finished ASAP.

After using the tablet for a little while, I must say that, using Windows 8 on a tablet is not very easy – at least the non-touch friendly UI. There is a lot to learn as well even though using Windows on the desktop is a walk in the park. The biggest problem I'm having is that I'm so used to the keyboard shortcuts on my desktop and sometimes I cannot remember how to do things the old fashioned way. There is no Windows key that you can use in conjunction with other keys to do certain tasks. Getting the tablet ready the way I want is a much difficult task than I originally expected.

IMG_1423

Friday, March 8, 2013

Trying out a new browser on my iPhone - Mercury Browser

Safari is a great mobile browser. I didn't want to give anything else a shot because I was in the opinion that they were all crap. That opinion became more assuring when Google released Chrome for the iOS. Chrome is my only choice on the PC, but I hate it on my iPhone. It is slow, the UI isn't that easy to use, it's slow, and did I mention that it's slow? It's definitely slow. Completely the opposite of its desktop counterpart. (Btw, I hate Safari on the desktop.)

But Safari isn't perfect on mobile either. In fact, it has two major problems and one of them is driving me insane.

One is the lack of bookmark sync options. I use Chrome on the desktop and I want to sync the bookmarks between the Safari on iPhone and Chrome on Desktop. No, you cannot do that. At least, there is not straightforward way.

The other issue is much worse. The web pages refresh when you move back to a tab from somewhere else (another tab of another app). It doesn't happen all the time but it happens too often. Either there is a timeout or Safari is clearing out the memory used by a tab that's not in focus when there isn't enough RAM. If latter is the reason, iPhone 5 should exhibit this phenomena less often. I don't know if that is the case because I don't have an iPhone 5.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The VBIOS of your discrete VGA card does not support UEFI GOP…

The VBIOS of your discrete VGA card does not support UEFI GOP, so it can not support “Ultra Fast Boot” and “CSM Disable”.

That’s the error message I got when I selected the “Ultra fast boot” option in the brand new beta UEFI of my ASRock Z68 Extreme4 (non-gen3) board. It’s admirable that ASRock is still pushing out firmware updates for this board which is almost 2 years old. They already have a newer revision of the board and a newer generation (7 series chipsets) of the board. Instead of adding these fancy features only to that newer generation, they have been adding them to the old models as well. Well, their priority is of course the newer generation of boards.

Today I accidentally discovered that there was a new beta BIOS (or UEFI) for this board – version 2.21 beta. It was released about a week ago – 25th of February. These are the release notes:

Windows 8 Ready.
Note: "Ultra Fast" is only supported by below conditions.
1. OS Windows 8 is installed on GPT format.
2. Graphics supports UEFI GOP.

Not much there, but the part that says “Ultra Fast” caught my eyes. They were developing a BIOS that allowed ultra fast boot up on Windows 8 for their motherboards based on Intel’s 7 series chipset, but I didn’t expect it to be released for the older motherboards. (In case you didn’t know, mine’s got an Intel 6 series chipset.) I downloaded it quickly and flashed without thinking twice. I took screenshots of my overclock settings and everything else because I would lose them once I updated BIOS.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Nvidia 314.14 beta drivers released just in time for Tomb Raider

The next iteration of Tomb Raider (the game, not the movie) and Sim City are coming out tomorrow (US) and just like always, NVidia has released a new video driver to give the best to their customers. They do come with some performance improvements for older games as well. Unfortunately, there is no mention of anything for Crysis 3. Shame. I thought Crysis 3 was THE top of their priority list. Who the heck cares for Tomb Raider or Sim City or other games that are coming out this month? We all only care about Crysis 3.

Anyways, if you happen to be playing games that show some improvement, go ahead and check them out.

You can download the drivers and check out which games got a performance boost from Geforce.com.

Or you can simply use NVidia GeForce Experience. Winking smile

2013-03-05_20-39-53

Note: I only install the driver and the PhysX software. If you too don’t wanna install all the other stuff, use Custom Installation when it prompts.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Crysis 3 multiplayer game play update 13/03/02

It's been more than a week since I've started playing Crysis 3 and I am already so mad that the game hasn't been launched for Japan. There aren't any Japanese servers that I can connect to. Every server that I see are located in a different continent. Consequently the ping times are well above 200ms. The kill replay makes me sad. The opponent had seen me well before I had. Going head to head is almost impossible unless the opponent is having an even worse ping time than I am. :(

There are few Indian servers I see on the server browser screen, but they are not online all the time. Either the server is not online, or the players aren't connected to it. I managed to get around 170ms when they were working and the improvement in lag was pretty noticeable. But some time later I got close to 300ms ping. :/

There is a funny thing with the server browser screen as well. It shows weird ping times. At the beginning, every server was having a 20000ms+ ping time. But when I checked the ping time from within a game, I was showing a the correct values. After the 1.1 update, now it's showing some sane values like 110ms, 190ms, 290ms etc on the server browser screen. 110ms should be fine, right? Well, it's not really 110ms. When I check it from within a game, it's pretty longer than that. I can sometimes feel much longer delays on those servers than the ones I thought was giving around 200ms. Australian servers are giving about 200ms. Those players are monsters and I don't wanna touch those servers unless I'm playing with them rather than against them.

I cannot remember if it was like the same back when Crysis 2 came out. But back then, my priority was to play the single player campaign mode, not the multiplayer mode. I haven't played more than 15 minutes of the single player campaign this time. Perhaps I should change my priorities. I should play the single player now, and resume the multiplayer mode once proper servers appear.

So as of right now, I'm barely keeping a 1.5 K/D ratio in multiplayer mode. (You can check up how I'm doing by clicking the Crysis 3 image on top right hand corner of this blog.) I hope it (K/D) will improve when I play on Japanese servers starting from this month. However, with all the online courses that I have taken up, there isn't enough time to play games. Though, they are almost near conclusion.
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