Saturday, April 5, 2008

How good are Current Laptops Graphically?

One of my most interesting past times, is running bench marks on computers and seeing what they get to score. Over the years my favourite bench mark application has been 3 D Mark 2001 SE (Ok call me archaic). This bench mark is really mostly a measure of the graphical performance of the computer. Well you would probably think that I should have moved to a more current version of the software but the truth is that I have seen so many low rate performances on that benchmark even from systems that I expected so much from that it just feels like a waste of time going to a more complex or complicated benchmark when a lot of systems still fall short of this tests.
In fact the highest scores I have ever had on these tests was an AlienWare Laptop running Windows XP Service Pack 2 with Direct X 9C, 3.0 Ghz Pentium 4 Processor with hyper threading, 1 GB of RAM, 128 MB Nvidia Geforce FX 5600 graphics accelerator on a PCI Express interface. This scored 9547 on the default test with a resolution of 1024x768 at 32 bit color and 11088 on the 800x600 at 16 bit color .Most other computers fall to less than half of these scores.
Over the years I have found out that the strength of a good score on this test is a very good graphics card and off course support for all of the 17 tests incorporated in the software. Most graphics cards fall short especially when it comes to the environment bump mapping, Pixel shader and the advanced pixel shader tests. I have had guys argue with me that this test is not a true test of a computer’s performance. Maybe true but let’s face it the graphical needs of a computer are still the heaviest needs on the performance of the computer at any time, just ask any hard core gamer.
This weekend I decided to run my first 3 D Mark benchmark on a Vista Capable computer. My original fear was that Vista might not support the software but it did. Truth is the software is not updated for Direct X 10 but then let’s face it, how many softwares, applications or graphics cards out there already support Direct X 10?
The culprit for my test was a HP Pavilion dv6000 running on Windows Vista Home Premium, With Intel Centrino Duo at 2.0Ghz, Mobile Intel 945GM/GU on a PCI Express interface,224 MB graphics memory, Direct X 10 and 2 GB RAM. The good part of the test was this system had no problems performing all 17 tests including the pixel shader tests I mentioned earlier. But I was disappointed with the final score of 4571 for the default settings 0f 1024x768 at 32 bit color and 5319 for the 800x600 at 16 bit color settings! This score is in the same range with a Sony Vaio I tested almost 2 years ago that scored 4606 and 5427, and that Sony Vaio was a Celeron M running at 1.73Ghz, 512MB RAM, Windows XP service pack 2 with Direct X 9C. One fact though is both ran on Intel graphics accelerators, so I am not really surprised. I do wonder if Vista played any part in the performance of the HP laptop. But it is obvious all this new processor, memory, graphics interface technologies does not nullify the need for an Nvidia or ATI graphics card to get the best results graphically.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Screaming Video

Ok the truth is that I Couldn’t think of any other title for this entry other than “screaming video”. Now before you start to wonder what I’m talking about or if this is a typo I just might go ahead and explain myself.
The other day I setup a small home network between two computers to share resources, an internet connection and a printer. Someone then asked me if there was a way a video played on one of the computers could be watched on another and then I remembered Video Lan Chat or the VLC player ( So I decided to setup up video streaming on that network making use of VLC player. Well the truth is I have been using the VLC player for more than 3 years because it is really a silver bullet for video formats as it can play almost all kinds of video format straight out of the box. So if you do not want to install a codec pack and yet want to have access to different video formats, VLC was a very good key. Now when I think back I wonder why I had never tried the streaming video functions that come with it.
So I got online and checked out what people where doing with it and was so shocked. It was so simple to setup that it took less than 10 clicks on the System I used as the server and the system I sent the video to. And it supports almost all kinds of video formats, operating systems, and also is available on hand held devices! Let’s not forget its support for DVDs, TV tuner card, Satellite TV, digital TV and even video encoder cards. It even has a web interface which meant that I could control the server from virtually any computer on the network. I could create playlists remotely, control volume, make my video full screen or not, pause and so much more. The experience has been such a rewarding one that all I have been doing on that network has been streaming video.
VLC is so flexible that you could stream on a windows server and pick it up on a Mac or Linux client or in any other possible arrangements you could draw up from those options.
And not only can it be used on a LAN it can also be used on the internet. So really the possibilities are endless. And all this from a very light weight application that is really friendly to use and packed with more than enough codecs? I tell you streaming video the VLC way is such a very smart and cool way that it screams!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Media Player Heaven

Most Media players always offer something unique. I suppose the idea is to lure us to them and make us make them the media player of choice. The features they offer include support for different file formats, skins, visualizations, play lists, support for portable players, access to the Internet, media browsers, online stores and as much as Im sure i don't even know about.
For me, my media player of choice is really the Apple itunes, now this is a funny choice because it supports mp3, aac, m4a but refuses to support the wma format (Microsoft's propriety format) and must first convert wma to m4a before it can add it to its playlists. And can you blame Apple considering that the wma format was the creation of their "enemy" Microsoft who on its own took advantage of the fact that its own Media player came bundled with the Windows operating system and for years refused to support the encoding of mp3 files, a format the rest of the world was happy about, but only supported mp3 playback!
Since I own an ipod it also means that I actually need the itunes player because it is what I use to synchronise music and my play lists from itunes to my ipod.
The truth is though, sometimes it is the little attention to detail in the design of these softwares that keep us hooked. True the itunes has really cool visualizations, feels different from any other media player I know and is just "Apple cool". But can you imagine while playing with my play lists the other day I found out that settings like "repeat" and "play all" where play list specific. Thus if I set a play list to "repeat" after playing, the setting stayed with only that play list and I could set other play lists to play once for example or whatever preference I have for that play list. Imagine configuring my play lists to play exactly how I want it and the player stores those settings! Off course the next thing I did was start my Windows Media Player 11 and tried the same thing and off course Im sure you don't need a witch-doctor to know there was no such thing in WMPlayer. Not to take the spark out of Windows Media Player 11 nor to start a battle of comparisons. But for me this little attention to design detail is what makes me stick with a particular software regardless. Even if I have to use other players from time to time to play other kinds of files it might not support. True I may not always want to hear a play list the same way, but sometimes how I choose to hear the play list is an integral part of the play list too.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Safari Bombs

It all started some weeks ago. I sat in front of two laptops; an apple 17 inch G4 and a Dell which paled in comparison. I was using a wireless link and was online using the Safari Browser and Internet boring Explorer on the Dell. Being an ardent Apple fan who followed its innovations and business I felt on top of the world. The dell machine had virus issues I was sorting out. It wasn’t long before I noticed that there was a slight latency on the Safari that I did not notice on the Dell machine. Well I didn’t take that seriously since Apple claimed its Safari was the fastest browser.
Leaving that office for home I downloaded the Safari for windows and took it with me home with plans of installing it and using it at my office.
Being a web developer I am a fan of web browsers because I have to see how my work comes out in different browsers and on my windows machine at my office, where I have Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Opera Installed it wasn’t long before I noticed that the Safari was the slowest!
Even offline making use of my PHP, MYSQL and Apache setup to test my Joomla applications, not only was Safari the slowest but when I create hyperlinks in my content they don’t work after even in the other browsers! I was so un-impressed with Safari I had to cut short its “Safari” with an un-install.
Everybody claims that its product is the best but for real I expect nothing but the best from Apple not only in products even in the claims it makes! I hope that next time I install Safari I won’t have to uninstall it when I find out it is getting in the way of my productivity not aiding it.