Category: "Technology"

Gaming on a Macintosh, like the PC only worse, much worse*

*Assuming you can find games that even work on a Mac.

The Macintosh gaming scene received a boost earlier this year when Valve announced they were bringing Steam, along with their Source games like Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal over to Mac OS X.

I was expecting to see Adam (the only person I know with a Macintosh) on Steam a lot more, and maybe even playing games with me. Before he'd have to boot into Windows and so it was quite rare we'd ever have a game together. I was thinking great, now I'll see Adam on all the time and we can play some TF2. I was wrong however, I haven't seen him logged in on Steam once. Maybe he just doesn't feel like playing games he played on the PC 5 or 6 years ago.

Or maybe there's another reason. Anandtech recently did some benchmarks. Let's just say, the results aren't good for the Macintosh.

On a 2010 MacBook Pro, Half-Life Episode 2 runs 54% faster under Windows than on OS X. Now that's a fairly low-end system. Let's be honest, it's a laptop. Laptop = weak graphics.

How about on a high-end system? Something like a computer with 2 x 2.93Ghz Quad-Core (eight cores in total) Nehalem Xeon processors, 6GB of RAM and a GeForce GTX 285.

Windows destroys Mac OS X in benchmarks

Windows gets, quite literally over twice the framerate at some resolutions. Ouch. Maybe this explains why I've not seen Adam joining the Gamercast weekly TF2 matches, maybe it just runs too slow.

That's not all that's bad with the Mac OS X versions. The graphics are foggy and have quite obvious texture banding in some locations. So not only is it drastically slower, but it also looks worse.

If you wanna play games don't get a Macintosh.

Distortion and fuzzy noise problems with Audigy 2 ZS on Windows 7

In my on going struggle with Creative and their Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS I've now come across a new problem that manifested a couple of weeks ago. I'm not entirely sure why it started happening then, maybe it was the heat? Maybe after 7 or 8 years the card is finally starting to die.

Now sometimes after resuming from sleep, any sound has distortion and noise in it. So far I'm restarting the Windows Audio service to get things back to normal.

There's a couple of ways to restart services in Windows Vista or Windows 7. The quickest way is to open an elevated command prompt by pressing Start, typing cmd right-clicking on the cmd program when it shows up, right-click and select 'Run as administrator'. Alternatively to right-clicking and selecting the option you can also hold CTRL+Shift and click instead, both should elevate.

Once its open, type the following, giving a short pause to allow the system to stop the service:

net stop audiosrv
net start audiosrv

The sound should now be back to normal.

You can also restart the service, by typing services.msc into the Start Menu (you won't need to elevate this), alternatively it can be opened via the Services tab in the Task Manager. Then find the Windows Audio services, right-click and select restart.

Windows Live Messenger Wave 4 beta thoughts

I've been using the new beta version of Windows Live Messenger since its release last week. I was originally going to quickly blast out my opinions of it. But I'm glad I've waited the extra few days.

My first issue which didn't manifest itself fully until the weekend is adverts. Now I understand that Messenger requires a fairly substantial server backend to operate. But isn't this going a little over the top?

Conversation window in Windows Live Messenger (Wave 4)

Yes upon opening a Messenger chat window you get a banner add in the actual conversation. Note I did remove it for the purpose of this screenshot. You can close the advert, which I'm sure will generate more accidental clicks on the ad than leaving it open. To answer my question yes this is totally over the top.

The ad in the Messenger contact list view is unchanged from the last version, and with the new expanded social feature you get a bigger ad instead. I actually like the social view and think it'll be one of Messenger's most liked features (when Twitter support is enabled).

I'm also liking that it works properly with the Windows 7 taskbar now, previously WLM would spawn a weird icon in the taskbar with a non-existent window preview. Then if you had the contact list open it would show up as a second preview. Weird. The rest of the program seems nice and fast, ignoring the ads it also looks a bit cleaner. Tabbed conversations is also a nice improvement. I also like being able to have group conversations with up to 40 people now, up from 20 in the last version. Although you can't actually expand groups to see who's a member anymore. I suppose mainly for privacy reasons.

I'm still undecided on the new emoticons. So I'll give them some time.

I am concerned about the fact ink support has been erased, whenever I was on my tablet most of the time I would ink directly into Messenger. This feature being lost is in my opinion a substantial set back. I'd often draw things to get my point across.

All in all its a decent upgrade and I would recommend people check out the beta. It's pretty solid and doesn't seem to have broken anything else. From now until the final version I'd like to see the Messenger team think again about the advertising, how about removing all adverts for Xbox Live Gold subscribers eh? That'll provide some nice value-ad for those Gold subscribers who don't really need it, like myself. Oh and get ink support back please.

You can download it from the beta website and learn more about it from the Wave 4 preview website.

Windows Live Essentials Wave 4 beta up

It's not yet appearing on all of Microsoft's websites yet, but here's the URL: http://explore.live.com/windows-live-essentials-beta.

Enjoy.

First impressions, setup is much better. Glad I don't have to see that woman grinning into her coffee anymore like with Wave 3!

Update: replaced direct download link with the official webpage.

Clearing up storage confusion with Live Mesh and Live Sync

Last week Microsoft formally announced Windows Live Sync, the new version of which is based on Live Mesh. Live Mesh gave users 5GB of cloud storage to which they could sync data to. As well as near-unlimited data transfer between PCs.

The new Windows Live Sync, based on Mesh continues to offer most of the functionality that Live Mesh provided, bar the Live Desktop which mimicked the PC desktop as a way to offer data currently stored in the cloud which was removed as well as a few other little things here and there.

Since Live Mesh was introduced back in 2008, it sat competing with the then primitive Live Sync which only offered PC to PC synchronisation. Live Mesh was no question the better of the two so it's no surprise it is being used as the basis for the next version of Live Sync. Through Windows Live, people get 25GB of cloud storage on SkyDrive. An obvious move going forward would be to unify the Mesh and SkyDrive storage. That's basically what they've done in this release.

But you can only store 2GB of synchronised data to SkyDrive. Why?

Microsoft cites cost. Everyone shouts bogus, saying they're giving people 25GB anyway. What people aren't getting is it's really hard to fill up 25GB of space when you upload through a website or through Office, with a maximum file size of 50MB. I keep a copy of my entire picture library up there and I'm only using 6GB of it and I'm probably the top 1% of SkyDrive users.

Yet if you had folders on your computer that are set to automatically synchronise in the background to SkyDrive, that 25GB would start filling up really fast. And that would be dramatically more expensive than the current state where I'd guess the average SkyDrive account has a few megabytes of storage being used.

Give it time and no doubt Microsoft will increase the amount of synchronised storage. Sure it's a bit of a bummer that Mesh users have to downgrade to 2GB. But this isn't some geeky toy like Live Mesh was. This is a consumer product that will be installed on hundreds of millions of machines. That equals a lot of hard drives in the cloud, and that isn't cheap.

iPhone 4 can't keep up, looks dated compared to WP7

So Apple announced the iPhone 4 earlier this week. Jobs proclaimed it was the biggest upgrade since the iPhone came out. To which the Apple fanboys cheered. Perhaps somewhat exposing how disappointed they had been by the iPhone 3G, which added 3G support bringing the iPhone up to the same level as smartphones that had been shipping for years prior. And showing how lacklustre the iPhone 3GS was which was the same thing, only a bit faster.

Essentially the form factor is the same. The huge ugly bezel is still present, and with the design of the sides being a bit more chunky it is only going to feel more like a brick. They've finally added a front facing camera - again a feature that shipped on original 3G phones back 5 or so years.

Most importantly they have increased the screen resolution. Anyone who had used any Windows Mobile phone back when the iPhone first came out saw instantly how low resolution the screen on the iPhone was. They've finally caught up with the old Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 in having a display over 300 DPI. So that at least puts them up with 2008-era screens.

However the screen is the same size, 3.5 inches is pretty average nowadays. Most high-end smartphones today offer larger screens without making the handset larger by having a smaller bezel and having more of the phone taken up with screen. Also disappointingly it is the same old 4:3 aspect ratio, when other smartphones have been shipping with widescreen displays for a couple of years now as the standard.

Here's the iPhone next to the HD2. The HD2's screen is almost an inch bigger, yet the device is only slightly larger. You can really see how much space is wasted on the iPhone. Look at all that black empty nothingness top and bottom of the screen.

iPhone vs HD2

The HD2, or the Nexus One or the Desire etc show how a smartphone should be done. The front surface of the phone should be as much screen as possible.

The other much touted new feature is video calling. Yes, apparently the old iPhone didn't support that along with dozens of other features that other phones support. Worse yet it only does video calling with other iPhone 4s and you need a Wi-Fi connection. Apple blame this on mobile providers. Despite the fact the first generation of 3G phones supported video calling. Apple of course in their attempt to get mindshare give this feature a hip name FaceTime. Amazing. Once again Apple are attempting to re-write history, and too many people are letting it pass.

More importantly as Microsoft showed some newer builds of Windows Phone 7 at TechEd this week and announced that some developers (on a case by case basis) would be getting their hands on Windows Phone 7 devices next month for free. It is becoming painfully obvious just how out of date the iPhone is looking compared with WP7.

Here's the AP application running on an iPhone, and underneath an AP application running on WP7.

AP Mobile on iPhone
AP Mobile on Windows Phone 7

The screens really don't do it justice so here's the video:

In my opinion the iPhone definitely looks dated in comparison. Steve Jobs' little features here and there aren't going to make up for it. iPhone applications just look stale.

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