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Techie Evolution...
Sound Blaster X-FI Impressions
It's Alive...
COMEX Day 2..
COMEX Walkabouts
Creative Launches New Soundcard and Media Players
Another new PC...

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 Thursday September 08, 2005

Techie Evolution...
14:31 PM - wymun
Wow...It's been so loooonnnnggggg since I've posted any rant on the frontpage, or review for that matter. But having been recently re-inspired by BK, will try my best to revive this segment...

Just as a rightful explanation to disgruntled readers, HW1 has moved from its PC origins into several other techie distractions So much so that many of us have shifted into the non-PC arena, but similarly, technical exploits. In fact, many of us have come a full-circle, with a returning vengence of upcoming HW blogs cum unabridged reviews:

From PC->Digital Cams->Hi-Fi->Home Theatre->Sports Cars->PC once more (albeit, with other associated techie rants).

So it's been a wild ride for us, though we've spent many years in PC denial and ostracism - call it HW1's mid-life crisis, if you may...

But that's history, and let's start afresh with some techie adventures and latest exploits forthcoming...

Let the Phoenix arise...

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 Tuesday September 06, 2005

Sound Blaster X-FI Impressions
09:51 AM - bktoh
I have been messing more and more with the X-FI.

When I played some MP3s initially, I honestly wasn't as impressed as when I was at COMEX. Enabling Crystalizer 24 bit and CMSS3D Headphone just didn't give as big an impact. And this was with a Seinheiser HD565 Ovation which is a higher end model. Don't get me wrong. The sound quality is really really good, better than my old Audigy, in fact. But it just lacked the punch and oomph of the demo.

Then I begun messing with some of the X-FI Settings applet. The X-FI DSP can be configured in one of 3 different modes: optimized for gaming, entertainment or music creation respectively. by default, I had selected Gaming mode since that was the main purpose of my new PC. But switching to Entertainment Mode.. WOW, the sound now exhibited the same kinds of punchiness that I experienced at COMEX.

In CMSS3D Headphone tests, the simulated multi channel surround was very very well done. But I can't seem to identify it as much for games. Guess nothing beats a good discrete multichannel surround sound system.

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 Sunday September 04, 2005

It's Alive...
04:09 AM - bktoh
It certainly has taken long enough, but I think my PC project is pretty much complete

Got the final pieces fitted in today.

Viewsonic VX924 ($688) from Comex is pretty gorgeous. Zero bad pixel policy, with 3ms response time. Contrast is a decent 550:1. All in all, looks a lot crisper than my old DMC 18" analog only TFT monitor, even when running in analog mode. Played Halo on it earlier and the difference is definitely appreciable.

Thought of getting a DVI KVM switch from ATEN but they are still damn pricey ($480 for a 4 port DVI/USB solution). Worse the DVI/USB KVM doesn't even support USB2.0! In this day and age, I can't understand why. Especially since their older KVM MasterView (DB15 VGA) that I am using actually supports USB2.0!

So in the meantime, my older PCs (even those with dual DVI outputs) are running in analog only, while my newest PC gets the DVI port.

I disabled the onboard audio and fitted in the X-FI Xtreme Music (entry level version). Instead of hooking up my 6.1 speaker system. I used my old Seinheiser HD565 Ovation headphones. Turning on the Crystalizer 24 bit processing does make the sound clearer, though I am sure my signal processing lecturer would probably disapprove.

I am still not entirely convinced of the benefits of the CMSS-3D Headphone processing. It increases the spatialization of sound, but it does make everything less crisp. For the moment, it is ON.

Packaging of the X-FI is a little disappointing. It gave me the impression it was a beta unit. The box was pretty empty, save for an install CD, a (oddly enough) AOL install CD, a quick quide manal and the card itself. Compared to the exhaustive guides that accompanied my old Audigy and SB Live cards, it seemed a bit of a disappointment.

When assembling my new PC, I really appreciated the simplicity of the HD Audio connector. It is basically ONE standardized connector found in new casings as well as motherboards that simplifies the hooking up of front audio ports (headphone/mic). In the past, this would have required fiddling with numerous jumper-type connectors for ground/positive etc.

I do wish Creative had chosen to include an HD Audio connector on the X-FI. This would have given us two benefits. Firstly, this provides simplicity during installation, leveraging an industry standard connector found in virtually all new PC casings. Secondly, it frees up the rear ports, so you can hook up a 7.1/6.1/5.1 speaker system at the rear and should you choose to, plug a headphone jack in the front. With my current setup, I'd have to struggle plugging and unplugging the cables to switch between my headphones or the front stereo analog connection.

But I guess they are trying to convince customers to get the internal X-FI I/O Drive or external X-FI I/O Console.

*sigh* wish I could just take a couple of weeks off and replay my old games and see them run in all their glory on my new rig, something I couldn't do on my old P4 2.0GHz with FX5900

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 Saturday September 03, 2005

COMEX Day 2..
00:20 AM - bktoh
Went to the show today and finally got to listen to the X-Fi demos.

Gotta admit. I am pretty impressed with the headphone 3D effects. I am usually pretty sceptical about adding more signal processing which ends up coloring the original signal, but it does seem to enhance the gaming experience a lot in a few of the demos presented. Just hope the bundled software isn't the old bloatware of old.

It is a little ironic that the headphone demos were done with Seinheisers even when Creative was actively hawking their own headphone solutions just outside.

I did get a free set of earphones just for listening to the demo (seemed like there was one every 30 minutes)..

I got the cheapest X-FI card. Am gonna miss the simple one wire (optical) connectivity of the Dolby Digital Live real-time encoding of the HD Audio soundchip embedded onboard on the motherboard, but I think I am gonna stick with the headphones instead of the 6.1 solution. The X-FI comes with a free noise cancellation headphone (newer HN-700 which seems sturdier than my old HN-505)

Man, the Seinheisers HD280 used for the X-FI demos sounded really really good.. now where is my HD380
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 Thursday September 01, 2005

COMEX Walkabouts
16:38 PM - bktoh
Right now, my PC is almost complete, save for two components.

Firstly, I am still using an analogue input 18" unbranded LCD monitor that is showing signs of streaking (a symptom of slow response/refresh) when I play games on it. So a highly responsive 19" TFT screen with DVI input would be great.

So far, have seen demos of the Viewsonic 3ms one. Looks pretty decent and the price is generally pretty competitive.

The second one is a new soundcard, and I am content just to use the onboard HD Audio stuff for now since I had learnt earlier that Creative just launched a whole new generation of soundcards. Unlike the Audigy range, which was technically an upgraded Live processor, the new X-Fi represents the biggest change since the original Live arrived. Wanted to listen to a demo but the crowds beat me to it. *sigh*

I did see some pretty interesting stuff though.

Creative was selling a Dolby Digital/DTS decoder with headphone (wired) solution for about S$239. As a basis for comparison, a Sony or Pioneer wireless solution easily costs over S$1000, so this seems like a bargain. Admittedly, Sony and Pioneer do bundle a wireless headphone, but I am sure you can pick a wireless stereo headphone pretty cheaply, should you need one.

The bundled headphone is not permanently wired to the decoder. You can plug in any 2 sets of headphones of your choice.

Don't be fooled by the picture from the website though. It is a wired connection.

This should come in handy for late night gaming or movie watching. You get Dolby Headphone surround technology, and the rest of your family sleeps happy

Creative Launches New Soundcard and Media Players
11:34 AM - bktoh
OK, so the patched OSX on my new PC was a washout. Dunno why my "version" hung on boot up. Gotta give Apple credit though. Even their Black Screen of Death looks cool.

There is just something about the Apple look and feel, a certain je ne sais quoi, that just makes their advocates feel they are cooler somehow just by using an Apple product. For the life of me, I couldn't even set up WEP encryption on an iBook just cos the router was using key 2 for WEP, and the Airport Extreme software couldn't let me specify which key to use.

Which I guess is a relevant point when considering the launch of Creative's Media player.

Two were launched yesterday. The Muvo Vidx and Zen Vision, which now added video capabilities to traditionally music/audio only devices.

Zen Vision
First up, the Zen Vision. It is sorta like a successor to the original PMC that was launched with much fanfare in conjunction with Microsoft about a year back. Thing was, with the DRM and other copy protection mechanisms in place, and the fact that it could only be sync-ed with Windows Media Player, it really limited the potential of the PMC as a universal media player.

The Zen Vision takes a different route this time around, and Creative has wisely chosen to use their own OS and the unit is able to play just about any format you throw at it, including M-JPEG, MPEG, MPEG2, MPEG4, DIVX, XVID, aka the works.

The form factor is a lot sleeker this time around compared to the bulkier PMC and is available in pearl white or black finish. It still looks a bit squarish versus an ipod Photo, for instance, but I guess, being an engineer at heart, I'd take functionality over form any day.

But the first thing that will catch your attention has to be the screen. I thought my PSP screen was gorgeous until I saw this unit powering up. Every image looked incredibly detailed and sharp, far sharper than my PSP and the viewing angle looked better. Whenever I travelled, I always found it hard to view the PSP screen in day light. The Zen Vision seemed to be much better in this respect. It offers 262k colors with a 3.7" 640x480 transflective LCD screen. Gorgeous. I would have preferred a widescreen format, but I guess this would work fine as well.

Operating the menus was intuitive, and Creative has updated their Zen interface to cater for Video selection.

But like my original thoughts about comparing PCs with Apples, it lacked the "cool" factor. I love the way the backlight of the ipod screen gradually lights up or fades. Menu transitions are animated smoothly from one screen to another. It gives the whole process a more seamless, a very smooth and very slick feel. The Zen interface is just functional. But it more than gets things done.

If anything, I guess this is where Creative needs more work. More soul. More fun. Engineering a good product is the least of its issues.

As a bonus, the Zen Vision includes an alarm clock as well as a mini Organizer that will sync with your PC. I couldn't create any new entries in the Organizer so I guess you would need to use your PC to create and manage the contacts/calenders/etc. Palm and Microsoft need not be worried though. The Organizer is rudimentary, at best, and the navigation is far from being fully intuitive. For instance, when looking at the events of a particular day, I couldn't scroll to the previous or following day. The interface requires you to "exit" the day's event to the main calendar listing before you navigate to the another day etc.

But the alarm could come in handy for my business trips. Sure beats the crappy room wake up service I get in hotels or the bad buzzer/radio alarm.

I have been using my PSP as a media player for some of my long trips. I had envisioned using the 1GB MS Duo Pro originally as a storage for some movie clips, but 1GB was just not going to cut it, unless I enjoyed seeing blocky low bit rate encodings. So in the end, it just acts as a small subset of my MP3 collection for trips.

The better screen, the bigger storage space, and the compatibility with a larger variety of formats does make the Zen Vision a much better media companion in this regard.

And battery life is pretty respectable, rated at 14 hours for music and 4.5 hours for video. If you are going for a longer trip, you can always grab a bigger capacity battery, or a second slim one. TAKE NOTES, APPLE!!!

As a bonus to Singaporeans, we do get the Zen Vision ahead of the world. You can pick one up at COMEX this week at Suntec. S$799 for a 30GB (only) model.

Muvo Vidz
OK, this one I don't quite get. The Muvo Vidz, like other Muvos, are meant to be ultraportable players. It's a bit bigger than the ipod Shuffle, but you do get a color 1.8" OLED screen, and it plays MPEG4 video clips. A bundled utility helps convert your clips to the compatible format that is optimized for the Vidz.

In my opinion, this screen is a little too tiny for any real use, except maybe as some visualization display (parametric frequency spectrum analyzer or any of the psychedelic stuff you get with Windows Media Player). I guess there is a novelty value to this, but the 1GB model does cost about S$100 more than the equivalent ipod Shuffle. Perhaps if the premium were lower, there might be a bigger draw.

But Muvos have traditionally been targetted for the much younger market, and I don't claim to be an expert in their current trends and fads, so I may still be proven wrong

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 Saturday August 27, 2005

Another new PC...
17:53 PM - bktoh
Can't believe it's me updating again. Man, this place feels like a dead town

Just assembled a new P4 Extreme Edition with Hyper Threading based system.
  • 3.73GHz with 2MB L2 cache and 1066MHz FSB
  • CoolerMaster Hyper 6+ (updated version of the last heatsink I bought)

  • Crucial DDR2-667MHz ValueRAM (CAS5)
  • Asus P5WD2 Premium motherboard with Intel 955X chipset
  • Leadtek GeForce FX7800GTX

  • Seagate 250GB SATA 7200rpm HDD
  • LG DVD+/-R/RW/DL and RAM drive
  • LG 16x DVD-ROM
  • CoolerMaster Centurion 5 case (with see-through side-window)

  • Thermaltake 120mm and 80mm case fans

  • AcBel 550W tri-rail Intel ATX v2.0x compliant PSU

I guess I am growing kinda old. Last few PCs I did, I asked the guys at Fuwell to help me assemble them. And they did a great job too.

Not entirely sure what got into me, but I decided to go the old DIY route again on Monday night, just before my business trip to boot. Maybe it was just to prove that I still had it.

So I spent all of early Tuesday morning bent over the floor trying to fix my hot new spanking PC.

Boy! I was regretting it after 30 minutes! And I was STILL trying to assemble the Hyper6+ Heat Sink fan assembly! Good grief. It was bloody frustrating cos for a moment, I thought CoolerMaster had given me dud screws!!

Took me a while to realize that some of the screws needed to be tightened in a counter clockwise direction, which goes against all norms that I am familiar with. But it does make sense later when I had to bolt the whole assembly on the motherboard. Sufficeth to say, it always pays to READ THE F**KING MANUAL! 45 minutes down and only the heatsink was assembled. Boy! Was that pathetic.

Assembling the PC on the floor was also bad on my back. But even that was bearable once I saw the unit taking shape.

After hooking up the bare essentials, I hooked up power, and pressed the Power button.

Fans spun to life, LEDs lit up. But no POST. Aaarrgh!

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what was wrong. This was the first time I had ever tried assembling an LGA CPU/motherboard combination and I was worried I had screwed it up. But I was sure everything was notched and fit perfectly before I mounted the heatsink assembly. And I didn't cherish the idea of removing the whole heatsink to re-inspect my work.

Going online didn't help. The conventional wisdom suggested the motherboard could be faulty (based on the AMI BIOS standard beep error codes).

So it was with a heavy heart that I packed everything up to go off on my trip.

Whenever I could get the time during the trip, I'd check for online references to my motherboard or to others with the same problem. Not much luck though. But I did manage to download a soft copy of the motherboard manual and I went through it far more thoroughly this time. And understood the uses of all the various power inputs available on the motherboard.

So when I got back this afternoon, I quickly re-attached the 8 pin EATX power connector, the EZPlug (MOLEX) connector and reseated everything.

And I pressed the button again, and prayed.

YESSSSS!!! It finally posted. Maybe it is a Seventh Month thingy..

Right now, I have a spare 120GB SATA drive. Tempted to go install OSX that I have been reading about on it, if only just to try it out.

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