Would you pay 57% more to get 21% extra?

** I wanted to post in the PC forum but that option was not available **

This is a strange blog really, and I don’t want it start any flame wars, I would really like it to turn into a healthy debate, I want to start with some scene setting though and then I want to move on to ask a question, please try and stay with me if you’re interested in where this might go.

The Scene:

You are in a supermarket buying a loaf of bread and you see they have introduced a new size loaf that offers you extra bread, your normal loaf costs 1.00 (pick your currency) the new bigger loaf will cost you 1.57. Essentially you are facing a 21% increase in volume for a 57% increase in price. If both the smaller and larger loaf of bread were exactly the same brand then I think most people would not be tempted by such a proposition. If the bigger loaf was a better premium brand against the standard loaf then I think some people might be tempted while others would consider the bread to be less important than the quality of filling they use to make their sandwiches. Personally I’m a fillings person, premium bread with a plain filling is ok, but plain bread with a premium filling is better.

That’s it, that’s my case, so what am I talking about? I used bread as I have yet to come across a bread based flame war and more or less everyone I know, knows what it is.

A friend, someone who’s opinion I hold in high regard for most PC related matters said I should change my AMD CPU for an Intel CPU, but I see the benefits in the same light as I see the argument for paying 57% more money to get a 21% bigger loaf. Yes, I agree that the Intel is the Premium brand, and this is confirmed by CPU World who conducted 35 bench tests in which the i7 came out on top in every single one. The results were shown as the winning score being rated at 100% and then the next score shown as a percentage of the winning score. Of course 35 scores of 100 when expressed as an average is not surprisingly still 100% so I will look at the average score of the AMD which topped out at 98.9% and achieved a minimum score of 48%, the average over the 35 tests was 78.6% meaning on average the i7 outperformed the Phenom by 21.4%.

The i7 2600k retails in the UK for £236.60 and the 1100T retails for £149.94 which is a difference of £86.61, that difference expressed as a percentage increase over the AMD price is 57.8%, now my friend’s argument is that this is not important, the price to performance difference is not as important as the performance difference and that is the reason he would choose the i7 over an AMD. My reason for picking an AMD is that if I am going to spend an extra 57% I want at least an extra 57% percent return in performance gain; instead I only get 21%.

Now I don’t want to get into a debate over which is really better AMD or Intel, ATi or nVidia, because to tell the truth I don’t care about that, I think they are all good and I buy the parts that I think will make me happy, after all it is me that I am buying it for. If can get 80fps in a game an increase to 96fps won’t make a big difference to me, just so long as I am getting a decent frame rate with high settings at the highest resolution my screen can handle, then I have a system that makes the games I want to play perfectly playable.

What do you guys think? Do you say best performance at any cost? Or are you more for balancing costs with performance?

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What is a digital lifestyle?

I was talking to a friend and was really surprised to learn that my friend, usually someone I see as a tech guru, didn’t know that he could use his PS3 as a media streaming device and it occurred to me that he might not be alone with this. This blog might help to explain this technology to others and possibly even give people a new way to enjoy their digital content.

For many of us the technology we have around us tends to be used for very specific reasons, games consoles for playing games, TVs, PDAs, laptops and PCs all have their own uses too. I won’t go in to too much detail (I don’t want this blog to be too long) but I’m sure you are all familiar with items I have just mentioned. Some of you might also have digital cameras, digital video cameras, MP3 players, iPod Touch, iPad, Android tablets and even network attached storage (NAS) devices. This blog is about how all of those devices can be made to work with the other devices to make it easier for you to enjoy your content from anywhere in your home and with some content anywhere with an internet connection. This concept is often described as living a digital lifestyle, I hope this will show those of you who don't know what that is, how you can get this for yourselves.

This is made possible with a concept developed by DLNA who are the Digital Living Network Alliance, “a global collaboration of 245 of your most trusted brands, all working together to help you create the home entertainment environment you’ve always imagined.” They created a set of Interoperability Guidelines that first appeared in June 2004 and then updated this to version 1.5 in October 2006 at which time they also defined a DLNA certification program that ensured all manufacturers complied before being awarded DLNA recognition.

Rather than explain DLNA I will embed some videos so I can talk about other features instead.

  

  

  

  

There are a number of devices that can make use of the DLNA, most relevant to the GiantBomb community are the gaming devices. The PS3 supports all of the DLNA features while the Xbox 360 supports Microsoft’s Windows Media PC standards making it possible for Xbox 360 owners to enjoy many of the features.

What I really like about DLNA is that increasingly more and more devices are being brought into the market with DLNA built in, many new TVs have a network connection on the back such as Samsung, LG and Panasonic.

This is great as we now have a means to access our content that could be stored on the hard drive inside our laptop or gaming PC, however this does mean that we need the laptop or PC on which the content is stored to be switched on at the time so it’s not as convenient as it could be. So there are also devices that make it easy to store the content and access it without having to get up to start the laptop or PC up. Here’s 3 starting with the WD My Book World drives , Seagate Freeagent GoFlex Home  and the NETGEAR Stora (Home Media Network Storage drive, this is the drive I use).

Excellent, a step forward, but we still need to connect our media playing device to the network, while wireless connections are ok for most things trying to get a continuous HD or Blu-Ray media stream over a wireless connection will result in a lot of buffering, not really ideal when you just want to sit back and enjoy that holiday video you have stored on your network drive. I use PowerLine products to overcome this issue, it is just like using a normal network cable only it doesn’t require network cables to be installed at great expense. Instead PowerLine converts your network output into an encrypted RF feed that is carried in the electrical cables running through your home. Here are 3 examples Devolo , NETGEAR ( ) and Western Digital .

So now you can have your content stored, streamed to a device that’s connected to a TV or a few devices connected to a few TVs around your home you can say that you are living in a truly digital home. There is more though as there are devices that can combine the function of a network hard drive with the media player to give you something like this Western Digital media hub which not only gives you full access to all of your stored content, a hard drive to store the content itself but also gives you access to live services such as YouTube, Pandora, Facebook, Netflix and Blockbuster on demand.

If you have read all this and enjoyed or learnt something please share what you think, as I said at the start the purpose of the blog was just to highlight some ways in which we could enjoy a more digital lifestyle and these are some things that I have found quite a few people didn’t know about so I wanted to share it with you all.

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My PC Build

Does anyone remember Trigger from Only Fools and Horses?

I was thinking about that scene where Trigger talks about his broom, the one where he says he has had the same broom  for a real long time but he has had to change the head and handle many times, but still uses the original screw!

That’s how it is for my PC, this case(ATX clone based on an Antec design) has been home to at least 4 motherboards ranging from  Abit, Asus, Gigabyte and MSI models. I’ve had Athlon XP processors including Palomino cores, Thorton and my last 32 bit CPU was the XP3200+ Barton cores. This alone makes me sound like 1 of those AMD fanboys, only I’m not, well not really. I started off with an AMD system, it was cheaper to build this way at the time, it wasn’t long before I wanted to upgrade the PC, so I got a bigger processor as this helped overcome a bottleneck, creating another bottleneck in the process. After a few motherboard, CPU and GPU changes I ended up with the XP3200+, running a BFG GeForce 6600GT(OC) with 128mb (I still remember when that was a lot of dedicated graphics memory!).

My first 64 bit PC was a ready built computer, an HP Media Centre m7775 (Core 2 Duo E6600 - 2.4 GHz, 2GB DDR2, Radeon X1650 SE, 320GB Internal HDD 1 + 320GB Personal Media Drive) which came with a warranty that I ended up invalidating when I decided that the graphics card was just too weedy for my games, and I ended up replacing this with an nVidia BFG 8800GT (overclocked to 675mhz).

When my nephew decided to build a new PC he had a motherboard (Asus M3N78 SE) left over, along with CPU, ram and GPU and looking at the specs of his motherboard in comparison to mine I could see it had more potential than mine, as I was already running the most power CPU the motherboard could handle. He let me have those components which went in to my old case (the Antec clone) along with my 8800GT, this AM2+ motherboard had a Dual Core Athlon XII running at 3.2 ghz and the motherboard had support for 4 and 6 core CPUs. This was running great until Need for Speed: World was released and I found that my computer was not powerful enough to run it.

I think what I should have done here is change my motherboard, instead I bought the most powerful CPU my motherboard can handle, an AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition, which was great until I fried my GPU. At the time I thought that this was because I now had hardware that could was pushing my GPU harder than it could handle, however   HitmanAgent47’s explanation makes a lot more sense, ie. it’s down to a design flaw that leads to overheating if the thermal paste is not renewed. This led me to buy a new GPU when I really wanted a new mobo, I got an Asus ATi Radeon 5770 CuCore for £91 when the best price even on eBay was about £150ish. This was good, but now my 800mhz FSB was getting to be a pain so I bought a new motherboard, Asus (again... w00t) M4A89GTD Pro for £109 on eBay (I sold 12 Wii games to raise the money) and put this together adding a new Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev 2 HSF to replace the stock heatsink.
 
As I don't really have any decent benchmarking software, here are some stats to show what I was getting before with the M3N78 SE, then with M4A89GTD Pro using the 4290 OBG and finally the N4A89GTD Pro with the 5770 (all FPS ratings were with default quality settings running at 1920x1080 on a 23" monitor). This build also has 4gb DDR3 running at 1333 and two Seagate 1tb drives running as a striped array. 



After installing Windows 7 (64 bit) and a handful of games I went and found some of my older software including GTA IV which was quite hopeless on my HP and I never brother trying it on the AM2+ setup, but I now get between 45 and 55fps on the new build, I now get about 55 to 60fps on Alien Vs Predator on the new PC when I used to  get about 35 to 40fps on the AM2+ so some good results, I think.
 
Lessons I learnt, firstly I picked my motherboard because I thought that the on-board graphics (OBG) working in Hybrid Crossfire would give me a graphical performance boost, only I didn't understand how this works quite properly, it was only after I put the PC together that I found out that the OBG needs be equal to or greater than the discrete card that's used, otherwise it won't work. Plus the HDDs I used are older Sata 3gbs drives, to see the best benefit from raid I should have bought new ones rather than strip my NAS unit of its drives to put in my PC, but finance was tight and I still have another 1tb NAS drive, with a further 500gb NAS storage on standby that's ready to connect to my router as and when I want/need it.
 
Possible future plans include adding: 
  • 4 x 500gb WD Black or Blue edition drives(64mb cache)
  • A second 5770 to use in a crossfire
  • A new ATX Case (I like the Cooler Master HAF 912 for the excellent cable management or 1  with a clear side, black interior and good cable management so I can stick some cathodes inside it)
  • A 5.25 panel on the front with temp monitors, card readers and USB ports
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Two tier internet service.

I’d heard a few people talk about this issue, which is that in the UK Ed Vaizey the Communication Minister has stated that he belives most popular sites, which use the most bandwith and attract the most hits, should be charged more by internet service providers. Those that refuse to pay could end up having ports throttled while that ones that do will end up having to pass costs on the internet.

Clearly this would affect sites such as YouTube and the BBC iPlayer service, in the speech he gave at a telecoms conference in London, stating that ISPs like BT, O2, Talk Talk and Virgin Media should be able to end ‘net-neutrality’ agreements meaning they are no longer bound to treat all data traffic equally.

During the speech he said:

A lightly regulated internet is good for business, good for the economy and good for people,’ and ‘Creating the content and networks of the future requires investment. This means ISPs should be allowed to manage their networks to ensure a good customer service.’

Read more in the Metro (Article by AIDAN RADNEDGE - 17/11/2010) 
 
What do you guys make of this? 

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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Will it be worth it, in the end?

On the 16 of this month (19 for those of us that live in UK/Europe) EA will release the game, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which is a game that I amongst many others, am very excited about. It has been developed by Criterion, who also produced another of my favourite games, Burnout: Paradise City. During the interim period I started playing Need for Speed: World, and have been enjoying this game a lot, but I’m beginning to have certain doubts as to whether or not I should keep or cancel my HP pre-order, based on some of my experiences with playing World.

Before I talk about my doubts, I thought it would be interesting to mention some of the highlights about the series, particularly as over 100 million copies of NFS have now been sold in one form or another. I won’t go through the history of the franchise, that’s available on Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Need_for_Speed) but I will talk about the titles I’ve owned or played.

 The first release in the franchise was, unsurprisingly, called Need for Speed, released for 3DO in 1994 with versions released for the PC (DOS) in 1995, followed by PlayStation and SEGA Saturn versions in 1996.  The key features in this game included the Police chases where players could either be pursued or play the pursuer. It had cars that the player could unlock after winning tournaments and also featured an annoying NPC that would taunt players for getting busted or losing races. It also tried to simulate the driving characteristics of real cars, I remember trying it both  at a friend’s house and as a demo, some details are a bit vague, but what I do remember is I didn’t really like it, I would have preferred a more arcade like game.

Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (Porsche 2000 in North America or Porsche in Germany) was another of the games that I didn’t end up buying myself. It was released in 2000, and there are no prizes for guessing that game featured cars made by Porsche, it was the game that featured the most realistic handling characteristics in the series and game had was filled with encyclopaedic information about the history of Porsche and its cars. The game allowed players to play an Evolution mode in which they could unlock and race the cars made from 1950 all the way up to 2000. The Factory driver mode let players take on the role of a test driver and try various tasks such as slaloms, speed races and deliveries, to advance their careers as they did so. I started playing this at my cousins house, and got to advance through a few cars, but found it lacked a certain quality that made me want to go back to it, I never really felt the need to get this for myself.

The next of the series to end up in my collection came after upgrading my PCs graphics card to one that supported the latest version of Direct X, I wanted a game that would let me enjoy the glory of Hardware Transform and Lighting and had read enough reviews to think that Need for Speed: Underground (2003) would be a great title to use for this. The mixture of arcade driving and street racing with new game modes including Drift, Sprint and Drag were really quite fresh for me, despite having been disappointed with the franchise twice before already I still went for it. The story mode with video cut scenes was compelling and it was the first game I ever played to completion, which I did twice to try it again with different cars. The game also featured more tuning options than had been previously available which added more depth, this was the main lure to make me return to the game and complete it again just to try the different cars and different tuning options.

Need for Speed title was Most Wanted (2005) was my first console version of the game, I got it on my PS2 again, the story mode had taken things to the next level by using live action video enhanced with CGI effects and within the story there was a Blacklist of drivers to beat, each of them giving up their cars when they were beaten. Players had to advance far enough into the game and upgraded their car to a suitable point before they were able to take on a Blacklist opponent, but tactical play meant that players would not have to buy many cars in game, they could win and then upgrade cars as they progressed through the game, though the upgrade options weren’t as good as they were in Underground and Underground 2. A Black Edition of the game was released which featured some additional cars including a BMW M3 GTR (E46) and a behind the scenes DVD.

I was excited about the release of Need for Speed: Carbon (2006) as the recent run of games released prior to this had been so impressive, but it really didn’t float my boat when I tried the Xbox 360 demo. The crew feature allowed players to form a team of racers, the player could call on one of those to run as a ‘wingman’ and then activate a driving skill that could be used to block opponents from overtaking, find hidden shortcuts or reduce Police attention. These team members also had other skills that were useful to give the player help with their cars such as fixer, mechanic, and fabricator. The story mode remained and new customisation features allowed players to sculpt their body kits for their cars. I think this game could have been so much better, but just somehow wasn’t, and I think it was the crew part of the game that spoilt it for me. I might have been happier if I could have got a crew that followed me based on achievements in the game, but then not actually drive with me; instead they could have just given me the mechanical, fabricating and repairer skills to help with my cars.

By now I had a newish PC, it was my first ever PC that I bought off the shelf, quite literally! It was an ex-display HP model with Intel Dual Core E6600 CPU and a Radeon GPU (I can’t remember the model, but I think it was the lower end of mid range cards) that I upgraded to an nVidia 8800GT (factory overclocked to 675mhz with 512mb ram, twice the amount that I had put in the first PC I built 10 years earlier). The frame rates on Counter Strike nearly double on my 19” Illyama TFT when I added that card,  I needed a game that would let me enjoy my new hardware, Need for Speed: Underground was that game. The developers had looked back to the previously successful releases from the franchise, bringing back the free roam elements, the story mode, new highway battle modes, 12 new circuits, and sprint and checkpoint track configurations. I really liked this game, the reviewers didn’t share my enthusiasm, but that didn’t matter, I was having too much fun to pay any attention to them.

Not too long ago I found that there was a Free2Play version of Need for Speed, called World. A free version, sounded good, so I took a look and saw that there was indeed a version designed for online only play, well as luck would have it, I now had a good enough ADSL connection that would allow me to play online, so I thought I’d give it a try. There were options to go for a free version that was capped so players couldn’t progress beyond level 10 and had a smaller selection of cars to choose from or a paid version where for £14.99 or $20 in North America players could advance to level 50 and choose from 5 extra cars. The game had gone back to its illegal street racing, tuning and Police chase routes, though it’s not possible to play the role of Police in this version. It had maps that were built up from maps I had previously driven in, but not on my newly built AMD Phenom II X4 3.2ghz computer and 23” Samsung 1080P TV it looked better than I had ever seen it before, and to top it all instead of a single player story mode I could race against real opponents.

So what’s the problem, well there are a few, I paid the £14.99 as I thought that it would be nice to reward the developers for their hard work and in return get exclusive content that was only open to paying customers. Then EA decided to remove the caps and allowed all players to play beyond level 10; I still had the exclusive cars, except 4 of these were only available as rental cars meaning I had to use some of my Speed Boost that I got when I paid my £14.99 to use my exclusive cars, and now these same cars are available to everyone. I’m a reasonable guy, it is understandable that EA would have costs to cover, paying for servers and infrastructure etc... Only when playing the game, players in the free roaming world are openly exchanging information that tells them where they can go to download hacks that allow them to get free boost for renting cars, they have been using hacks that let them drive a 5 mile route in less than 20 seconds, though I think EA have stopped that now, and now a level 14 player can get a tier 3 car with speed boost even though you have to be level 40 to buy it normally. These are issues that frustrate me with the game, in most cases I have found strategies to limit some of these issues, such as playing on tier restricted races so that Pay2Win players and Speed Boost hackers can’t take advantage, I have also learnt to use the weapons to counter some of the ‘dirty’ tactics that some players use, but all the time I remind myself that it is a free game for most of the players I come up against.

I really want to get Hot Pursuit when it comes out, but these little niggles are just playing on my mind and I can't help thinking is this going to happen with this game? On the other hand, I have played Burnout: Paradise City, I love it, it’s one of my favourite games and it’s by Criterion. Criterion are the developers behind Hot Pursuit, and in the demo on the Xbox it plays a lot like Burnout, so I think it will be a lot better. What do you guys think? Will Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit be as good as I hope it will be? Or am I just letting my past joy with previous titles in the franchise get the better of me?

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