Dan's Data letters #100Publication date: 21 April 2004.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
The Register posted a review of the new Nvidia GeForce 6800 yesterday. And the frame-per-second scores are just sick (to use the latest terminology).
When you review video cards, you always say that a normal user just doesn't need that much power, and that you can get away with using a cheaper (read wimpier) card to do most everything.
In 2003, I built my Debian box with an Epox 8RDA+ with an Athlon XP 2000+ and 512Mb of RAM. And I've got an ATI Radeon 9600 Pro video card that they (and you know how "they" are) told me would be sufficient for the next couple of years.
Now, they tell me my computer will be brought to its knees by the newest games (that should be read Half-Life 2 and Doom 3, if they ever actually release those two pieces of vaporware which I'll buy on the spot 'cuz I'm a sheep) if I don't have the latest and greatest video card.
Why is there so much running at the mouth about the latest video cards? And how does one cut through the babble to the truth of the matter?
Truly, the NV40 doth kick the llama's ass.
(As, most likely, will the next-gen ATI parts to be released Real Soon Now.
But at least part of the problem with high-end cards is that everybody doesn't upgrade to them the second they become available. For that reason, game companies do not make games that truly sing on whatever the cutting edge hardware is when the game's released, because if they did then they'd have to do more work to make the game playable on the hardware that most of their market will be running.
Also, game engine development usually starts at least a year before the game's release; these days, more like two or three years (or, in Duke Nukem Forever's case, 1043 years). It's basically impossible for an engine someone starts working on today to be optimised for 2007's hardware.
Your current computer probably will be beaten mercilessly to the ground by HL2 and Doom 3, if you turn on all the pretty-stuff, including FSAA.
If you don't, though, then it won't be.
A Radeon 9600 ain't a slow card. It's not like you're using an 8Mb TNT2 Vanta or something.
Dan's Timeless Wisdom On This Subject:
Buy the game of your choice. Games are cheaper than video cards.
Play the game.
See if your gaming experience, at whatever the maximum resolution and pretty-setting combination is that still gives you a decent frame rate, is satisfying.
If it is, rejoice. Play.
If it ain't, then let the moths out of your wallet and buy a GeForce 6 or Radeon 10000 or whatever the heck, and feel all studly for a month or two.
Do not buy the new card before you buy the game, or you'll feel like a bit of a goose when your screaming card doesn't actually give you anything much that your old one didn't. Especially if that's because the damn game isn't out yet - hell-ooo, all you HL2 coupon holders.
Or, alternatively, simply cultivate an affection for RTCW: Enemy Territory (which is free) or Tribes 2 (which soon will be). They're slammin' games, it's easy to find a server, and they'll run like greased weasel urine on a graphics card at least three generations behind the cutting edge.
I have a Uniden cordless phone in my apartment, which I would like to use without the interminable static that goes along with it. When I make or receive a call, there is an unacceptable amount of static depending on where I stand in my apartment. I have tried unplugging and switching various lights and appliances on and off, changing the inbuilt channels in the phone, varying the angle of the aerial on the base, all to no avail. There are bad and worse spots to stand for reception, the best of which are never comfortable. I live on the top floor, so I suspect that wiring in the roof may be the culprit for all the interference.
Is there a device or procedure that I can use to shield or cancel this static so I can use my phone without resorting to assuming the Ayurvedic Kundalini Tantra Turk's Head Yoga Position? Or should I just buy a corded phone?
I don't know of any static-reduction methods beyond what you've tried already. Yes, it's quite possible that something outside your apartment (maybe building wiring, maybe nearby broadcast antennas, maybe something else) is the culprit.
Newer fancy cordless phones deal well with regular nerd-house RFI levels, and dodgy reception caused by walls full of metal studs and such. Old ones don't. I don't know what vintage yours is, but if it's an old low frequency unit then you might get relief by upgrading. If you know someone with a newer phone then get 'em to bring it around and see if it's better.
There's really not much you can do to improve an old phone's interference rejection. An after-market, higher gain antenna for the base station (and for the handset, if you don't mind traipsing around with a darn great whip antenna pointing up out of your head) will help if it's got signal strength problems, but will only make things worse if the problem is noise drowning out the signal.
How far should my unshielded home stereo speakers be from my external FireWire hard drives, as well as my computer proper?
One of them is now only six inches away. I've found only two references to actual distance - one said at least six feet, the other three to six inches. I'm confused, and it seems important, so any information about this would be greatly appreciated.
It's impossible for your speakers to damage data, no matter how close you put them to the computer and its external drives.
If the speaker drivers have the usual ferrite magnets, then even sticking the drive on the back of a driver inside the speaker cabinet wouldn't hurt any data. You can certainly screw up the image on a CRT with unshielded speakers, but hard drives are immune.
I've talked about this before, here.
Let's call the whole thing off
I was struck that you are diligently doing metric/imperial units in your review of the external HDD enclosures, and I thought I might suggest that you just do the same with capacity measurements. Instead of inserting your paragraph-long rant about 1*10^9 vs 1*2^30, just phrase it something like: "250GB (232 GiB)", maybe with the "GiB" linked to a page that defines it, such as this one, then just carry on.
I could do as you say, but the fact remains that even seriously nerdy people seldom actually talk about "gibibytes". It'd be great if we could wave a wand and remove all the confusion between powers-of-ten and powers-of-two storage measurements, but in the world as it stands "kilo" and "mega" and "giga" have to do double duty for both scales. People keep getting confused by this issue, so I think it's better to at least briefly explain the situation every time.
I've talked about this before here, for instance.
(See also my first "Let's call the whole thing off" letter, in my first letters column.)
Is this a legitimate concern? The explanation makes sense if heatpipes require gravity to carry the cooled liquid back to the hot area after the phase change.
Heat pipes indeed don't work upside down, but only if they're the primitive kind that lack a wick to draw liquid refrigerant back to the hot end, when it's upside down. Most heat pipes have such a wick (made from metal mesh).
This is irrelevant in the situation you mention; a cooler that'll work in any tower case should work in all of them, even if they use the novel reversed PC-V layout, because in both situations the cooler's just sticking out sideways from a vertical motherboard. Not all motherboards have the CPU socket aligned the same way, after all; if the Lian Li arrangement produced problems, so would a rotated CPU socket.
The only situation where a wickless heat pipe really sucks is when it's pointing downwards, as it would be if you installed it in a desktop case and then turned the case upside down, so the CPU cooler pointed towards the floor. Wicked heat pipes probably won't work quite as well then either, but they're perfectly happy pointing sideways.
Red cars are, though
Was your article ages ago about black computers being faster serious? Someone has just posted a link to it on a bulletin board and I'm curious (and ignorant).
No, it's not serious. I wrote it as an April Fools article for a magazine, years ago.
Every now and then someone takes this page seriously, too, and usually then upbraids me for my grave disservice to Christianity.
Patrick: Glide Driver Hunter
Even with the latest drivers, I can't play Turok I with my Asus AGP-V3800M TNT2 M64. I get an error message - "Unable to open graphics driver...". It says there's a problem with Glide drivers for my video card. What do I need to do?
I don't think that game ever had a proper Direct3D patch, only some half-assed thing for Permedia cards.
Not very surprising, considering its 1997 vintage, but if it doesn't talk proper Direct3D or OpenGL, you're boned. I don't think there's any decent something-else-to-Glide wrapper you can use to run the game.
You could always get an old N64 and play it on that!
Pay more, get less
I work at a video store, and I've noticed something a bit odd about some of our complaints. Sometimes a certain DVD title just won't play on a customer's machine, no matter how many replacements are given, and it always seems to be spiffy expensive brand players that do it while yum cha Taiwanese players have only had one complaint of this type (to me, anyway). Can you can shed some light on this, as it happens all the time and I'd really like an answer for these customers that have paid out big for a Kenwood or Pioneer player and can't watch the discs we rent them.
There are lots of reasons why some DVDs don't work on some players; the DVD FAQ covers them very well.
Name brand players are likely to have more features and may offer better image quality than off-brand cheapies, but for compatibility it's hard to beat a yum cha multizone-from-the-factory DVD player.
This isn't to say that cheapie players don't have problems, but I think the fact that the off-brand makers are serving Asian markets full of pirates and Video CD enthusiasts means that broad compatibility is more important to them than it is to, say, Sony - whose consumer products are often no better than the far cheaper off-brand competition anyway, once you get past the nicer styling.
I have an Iraqi computer and I need to find out what kind of video card it has in it, so I can get drivers. But I am lost as heck trying to find this out.
A USMC Lance-Corporal Who Shall Remain Anonymous
Pull the card out and look at it. If there's no card to pull then you've got a motherboard-integrated video adapter; scour the motherboard for identifying marks and you shouldn't have too much trouble finding the adapter it uses.
Iraq does not have a native PC peripheral industry that I'm aware of, so either way, you'll probably find something recognisable to geeks in the Western world.
If the name of the video adapter is not clearly written on it, there'll probably be an ID number of some sort on the circuit board (and probably the manufacturer's name) that you can look up.
Note that current versions of Windows and Linux are likely to be able to figure out what the card is for themselves, and install at least a half-decent driver for it. If you can get hold of a Knoppix CD (free download from here, but not a small free download; if you've got no Internet bandwidth to speak of and/or no access to a CD writer, then I don't advise you to bother downloading the CD image) then you should be able to boot from that (assuming the computer has a CD-ROM drive) and get the card IDed.
But, as I said, there's a good chance you can figure it out just by looking at it and Googling whatever you find written on the thing.
Gasoline conversion inadvisable
My dad has an aging battery powered lawnmower, a Black and Decker M3300. It's powered by what is apparently a 12V sealed lead acid battery, and over the past year or so, the amount of charge we're getting from it has been decreasing a fair bit.
How difficult would it be to replace the battery with another lead acid battery? What sort of things would I have to watch out for, aside from internal resistance and total capacity?
Secondly, can I do anything to recondition the battery? Previously I was under the impression that the battery was NiCd, so we stored the mower in a discharged state. I take it that this wasn't healthy for the battery?
It shouldn't be terribly hard to find a replacement battery. As you say, you'd need to match the standard battery's specs at least moderately well, but unless the thing comes with a fast charger (which could damage and/or pop inferior batteries) then anything about the same size should work.
I've no idea how much power this mower draws, though; I could find no info about it on the Net (even after wrestling my way into this site, where Black and Decker say you can find parts for their products, and then enjoying the searcher's tasty mix of fiddliness and ponderousness...).
I presume the M3300 draws a lot less than a regular electric mower, though. Mains powered mowers normally draw several hundred watts, and commonly well over a thousand. An electric mower that's not expected to do anything a push mower can't, though, should be able to get away with a lot less power.
If you know the specs of the original battery, then just building something similar out of cheap 7Ah 12V SLA bricks will probably be OK. They're not current delivery kings, but a couple or three in parallel may well be adequate, assuming you can make them fit.
You might also like to look into motorcycle batteries. There are fully sealed bike batteries out there, as well as ones that look like mini car batteries, and one of those might suit you fine; just cart the old battery off to a bike electrical place and make a nuisance of yourself.
Until recently, I would have said the existing battery was a dead loss, since it's probably quite thoroughly sulfated - as you say, storing lead acid batteries flat is a bad idea. But I recently discovered that it is, in fact, possible to rescue at least some lead acid batteries from the grave, using a desulfator.
And yes, there are off-the-shelf desulfators, too.
They're cheap enough that buying one just to fix your mower battery, assuming it works, could be worth the price. Plus, you could use it on your car battery as well.
There's a great deal of pseudoscientific voodoo out there about batteries, but these things seem to be genuine.
But wait - there's more! Click here to go to page 2 of this letters column!