Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sager Notebook & - Review

So I have been using nothing but Ubuntu Linux as my home operating system for almost a year now and one thing that always kind of irked me was having unused Window's licenses laying around that I was not using. I mean what is the point in not using Windows if Microsoft is still making money off of the product I purchased? When I purchased my netbook was I able to get one of the EEE PCs that shipped with a copy of Xandros on it (I know, still not open source but at least its Linux & was easy enough to over write with Ubuntu. Plus I got it on the cheap.). Now only one of my two computers I owned had a Windows license that was not is use. A few months back I had started searching around for a laptop upgrade (anyone who has owned a laptop knows they date quickly), I was looking for something decently specific in my laptop purchase along the lines of the following specs:

  1. Size - 15.4 inch or smaller. I really dislike 17+ inch laptops, they are massive to lug around. When your laptop weighs over ten pounds it might as well be a desktop if you ask me.
  2. Resolution - The laptop I had been using contained a high resolution screen (1680x1050) and I had grown acustomed to viewing things at such a resolution, I did not want to revert back to a lower end one (1440x900)
  3. Graphics Card - I wanted something powerful in the system. The laptop I was upgrading from had an nVidia 9500M GS in it. I wanted something at least 50% faster than this card.
  4. Operating System - I did not want a Windows sticker stuck to the bottom of my shiney new laptop. I wanted something that either A.) Came with Linux pre-installed or B.) Came with a blank hard drive
Enter - recommend by a fellow user on the LinuxQuestions message boards - they make custom high-end gaming laptops. Their prices are comparable with other places I had found around the internet, how ever they had one advantage others did not - they where the only one I found find that would ship me a custom laptop with a blank hard drive. Surprise, surprise being able to get the product with out Windows packaged with it allow me to cut around 100$ off of the price tag. In addition to this I was able to customize, hard drive, RAM, processor, graphics card, screen resolution, and accessories all to the exact specifications I wanted. In the end the laptop I ended up order sang to the tune of around 1,600$ with the following specifications (If you want a good laugh compare these specs VS price to the Macbooks I listed here):
  • Processor: Intel p9700 - 2.8ghz Dual Core
  • RAM: 4gigs of DDR3
  • Hard Drive: 320gig, 7200RPM
  • Graphics Card: nVidia 260m, 1gig DDR3 dedicated
  • Size: 15.4 inches and weighing in at just shy of 7 pounds
  • Screen Resolution: 1680x1050
Good laptops at a fair price how ever is not the only good thing about - their customer service is fantastic, easily one of the best companies I have ever had dealings with. I ordered my custom laptop on a weekday morning, not even two hours later I received a phone call from a real person calling to confirm my order before the credit-card I had entered on the web-page was charged. The associate I spoke to on the phone was both knowledgeable and helpful, he ran down a quick list of the parts I had ordered to be sure I did not want to make any last adjustments. From that point on I was kept up to date on the status of my laptop via email and around twenty days later I had received my new gaming rig in the mail.

The laptop as a unit performs wonderfully! It easily takes everything I can throw at it and then some. The only two down sides to it are the short battery life (around an hour and forty-five mins) but then what full size laptop (with a good graphics card) lasts much longer than that anywho? I have a netbook if I want extended battery life. The second (and this is rather irksome) is the fact that it lacks a boot menu key. Meaning if I want to boot from external media (such as USB drives) I have to go change a BIOS setting so it's priority is above that of the internal disk. This really isn't a big deal and it doesn't affect performance at all but it is bothersome none the less.

All in all I had a fantastic experience and will be putting all my future laptop orders through them. (Although I don't plan on upgrading again for another couple years hehehe). I would recommend them to any looking for a good place to buy a powerful notebook from - Linux or Windows.

~Jeff Hoogland

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Moblin Linux - Distro Review

Moblin Linux is a distribution of Linux targeted at netbook devices that utilize the Intel Atom processor. It is backed by both the Intel cooperation and the Linux Foundation. It is currently in it's finally beta release for version 2.0 - as such I gave it a download to test drive on my Asus EEE 900A.

Downloading and installing Moblin is relatively easy. Like many other netbook targeted distributions it is distributed as a .img file which is intended to be written to a 1gig flash drive using image writer. Personally I like installing from flash drives - its how I install Linux on all my computers, it saves a CD. I had the installer crash on me the first time I tried to install, not a big deal rebooted and it installed fine the second time around. Moblin also takes the Ubuntu approach and makes the root password the same as the default user's password. I know some people dislike this but personally I think it is a good idea, it makes Linux less confusing for new users.

Also worth noting here for others like myself who hop distros often/multi-boot - the Moblin auto-grub creator is more than a little bit stupid. I currently have my netbook multi-booted with Karmic, Moblin, and Jolicloud and Moblin's grub setup failed to detect and auto add both of these other operating systems.

Using the System:
The first thing you will notice about Moblin is that it is fast. Like smoking fast. The time span from when I select Moblin from my grub menu to when I have fully loaded desktop is just under 8 seconds. The user interface is also equally quick. Using a unique setup called "zones" Moblin does a good job of dividing the different parts of your system up neatly using a top panel that comes and goes when you mouse over it. There is just enough eye candy to keep a user happy but at the same time it is not enough to bog down the system. Each "zone" is a dynamically created workspace that comes and goes as needed. When you load up an application you are offered a choice to load it into a current existing "zone" or create a new one. It is a nice way to organize many open windows on your small netbook-sized screen.

Unfortunately there are still a few things that I dislike/need addressing in Moblin. The first and foremost is the giant lack of software. One of the things I always loved about Linux when first coming from Windows is the seemingly endless repositories of software to pick through and install/remove at my leisure, this is not present in the slightest in Moblin. Along side this lack of software is the fact that Moblin does not come pre-installed with office software, meaning in order to type properly formatted papers you will need to use Google Docs or boot into a different operating system. Something else I found odd is that several very standard Linux commands where not present such as nano, fdisk, and shutdown.

The only issue I had with the "zones" is the lack of maximize/minimize buttons on open windows, meaning if a program opens and it is not full screen (which happens) you have to drag the corner to manually make it fill the whole screen. Customization is also not present in the slightest. Beyond changing the back ground you cannot change the layout of the "zones" at all. To be honest all of the defaults are laid out nicely, but for instance I never use the calender feature on my netbook nor do I keep media files on it - so it would be nice if I could remove/hide those "zones" instead of having dead buttons/space.

Then there is the most important part about using any netbook - the internet. The built in browser does a good job of rendering most pages and Moblin comes with flash pre-installed so you can be youtubing as soon as your install is finished. I had issues with a few pages loading in it but simply hitting the refresh button resolved the issue every time.

Final Thoughts:
One last hitch to mention before closing this one is that I did have X crash on me while using Moblin before running the initial system update after installation - so be sure to do this right away. Also Moblin does not support ext4, which is rather annoying because my Karmic partitions are both ext4.

All in all Moblin is a solid netbook distro. In fact if you are only using your netbook for internet (surfing the net, IM, ect) and media use (music and videos) I would recommend Moblin above all others due to both its fantastic UI and quick speeds. How ever the current lack of software, namely office software, makes the distribution almost useless for school use (which is what a large number of netbooks are used for). Personally I'm going to be keeping a Moblin partition on my EEE PC for occasions where I just need to get online and check my email quick or use instant messenger.

~Jeff Hoogland

Saturday, October 17, 2009

HOWTO: Cricket A600 Modem & Ubuntu

So the Cricket cooperation is too lazy to make their device function by default on Linux so the following is a method I came up with some months back for getting your Cricket A600 Modem working under Linux. There are two methods listed below, choose which ever suits your needs.

Easy Method for Installing (pre-compiled debs):

Attached are the debs and a to get this working do the following -

Step 1:
Download the .deb file for your selected architecture (32bit or 64bit) && install it

Step 2:
Download the, Now right click on the file and select "properties". Click over to the "permissions" tab, and check the box "allow executing file as a program". Now double click it and select "Run", enter your password. Wait a few moments and poof! Your 3g modem should now be appearing in your network manager.


You will need to run the every time you connect your modem.

Before this guide will work for you, you do need to load the device on a Windows/Mac system and install the software for the device and activate it. (I have a Windows VM for just such occasions, it worked fine)

Installing from Source:

Step 1:

Download the archive and extract the contents to your preferred directory.

Step 2:

Open up terminal and use cd to change into the directory of the extracted files.

32 bit Users - Install usb_modeswitch with the following command: sudo make install

64 bit Users - We need to recompile modeswitch to work on the 64bit platform. Run the following commands in terminal to do so run the following in order in terminal:
sudo apt-get install build-essential libusb-dev
rm usb_modeswitch
sudo make install

Step 3:

Plug in your Cricket A600 to an open USB port, wait a moment for it to be detected as a CD drive/the auto play menu to pop up. Now we just need to execute the, it is in the directory of files you extracted, by running the following: sudo ./ (Please note you need to first make this file executable by running chmod +x

After running the you need to wait about 12 seconds (while it works it's magic) and then poof! Your Cricket device should now appear in your network manager as a connection option.


You will need to sudo ./ each time you attach the device for it to work.

Before this guide will work for you, you do need to load the device on a Windows/Mac system and install the software for the device and activate it. (I have a Windows VM for just such occasions, it worked fine)

I played around with udev some trying to automate this process when you play the device in, but I could not get it to work properly, if someone smarter/experienced than myself would like to figure that out I'd be more than happy to add it to this guide.

Trouble Shooting -
If this guide does not work for you try first opening up the and increasing the sleep time from 10 seconds to 20 - some systems require a longer delay.

If anyone has any trouble or has any input let me know,
~Jeff Hoogland

Cedega vs Crossover Games - Hands on Review

Most people who use Linux for desktop use are well aware of the one of the largest issues facing the platform: Lack of commercial software. Now in most cases this is not an issue, no MS Office - use OpenOffice, no Internet Explorer - use FireFox. However one thing which there is currently no replacement for is gaming. Try as they might there are just not enough Open-Source game developers (or even closed-sourced ones) that bring the level of gaming quality, as of yet, to Linux that Windows enjoys.

Enter the world of Win-on-Lin. The Wine Project, was started in 1993 and has slowly come into maturity over the course of the last sixteen years. Wine is a compatibility layer, or more precisely a reimplementation of the Windows API, that allows Windows applications to run under Linux. While the Wine project does a wonderful job of what it is designed to do (run Windows applications on Linux) how ever it sorely lacks in the means of a GUI front end for easy configuration/calibration.

Which brings me to my topic at hand - Cedega & Codeweavers. What are Cedega and Codeweavers? They two (closed source) programs both based off of the Wine Project to create what it lacks - a user friendly interface. Designed to help you get your Windows games working with ease on Linux. They both have their ups and downs and today I am going to look at each program and see how they compare. I currently have both Cedega and Codeweavers licenses so all the information given is from first hand experience working with both products. I'm going to be judging based on following criteria:
  1. Functionality - How well do they do what they are suppose to do?
  2. GUI Front End - How do the front-ends between the two compare?
  3. Website - Being able to find information is everything, how do the websites compare?
  4. Customer Service/Support - If you are paying for a product you want to know you can get help with it if it doesn't work properly.
  5. Fees & Licensing - How much do they cost and what are you paying for?
Functionality -

Cedega does a fairly good job of helping the user get their programs up and running. Upon selecting install it auto-detects any disc drives on the system for known game discs it can install. If it does not find any (or finds the wrong one) it is easy enough to direct it to the proper file/disc via the GUI. One of the things I really like about Cedega is the large number of pre-defined profiles it contains for different game titles (and just because you game isn't listed doesn't mean it will not work). Basically what this means is when you install a game that has a profile it automatically uses what are known to be the "best Wine settings" to get the optimum performance out of your game.

While Cedega does a great job at actually running the important parts of your games it is obvious that certain aspects of some programs have been neglected, Steam for instance works fine for loading and playing games but the friends network does not work in the slightest and installing flash for it is difficult at best.

Also worth noting here is that while Cedega started off as a fork of the Wine project (version 4.0 and earlier of Cedega was known as WineX or Wine Extreme) initially, it is no longer associated with it. Because of this of this fact the Windows API behind Cedega is also now different from that which powers Wine and as such there are a few applications that will not function under Wine (or things powered by Wine) that perform with out a hick-up under Cedega.

All in all I'm giving Cedega a 9 out of 10 points for functionality - it is a good software.

Functionality 9/10 - Cedega Total 9/10

Upon opening the Codeweavers program installer you are presented with a small list of applications that it will auto install and configure for you. I say small list because by comparison to the amount of game profiles listed under Cedega it feels somewhat incomplete. How ever as with Cedega just because the game you want to run is not on the list does not mean that it will not work. Also like Cedega, Codeweavers will auto detect any disc drives you have when you go to install a piece of software, one thing I also really like is that when detecting disc drives it also detects mounted iso files you may want to install from.

While the given list of games that are pre-configured in Codeweavers is small compared to the games list present in Cedega, it is very obvious that most of the games on the list have been worked on extensively to get them working to a optimum level with a careful attention to detail. Using Steam as my example again upon installation Codeweavers downloads and configures flash, in addition to other things, to help it work almost as good as it does natively on Windows (the only issue currently with the Steam UI is a small scroll bar issue).

Codeweavers is based directly off the Wine project, as such if a program works poorly under Wine odds are it is going to work just as poorly under Codeweavers. As such this also means that any performance you see with an application under Codeweavers can be replicated under just a standard Wine install (how ever it may take you several hours to get everything just right).

I'm giving Codeweavers an 8 out of 10 on functionality. It is good software but it needs to expand its games list some.

Functionality 8/10 - Codeweavers Total 8/10

GUI Front End -
One of the most important things about both these pieces of software is their GUI. One of the wonderful things about Linux is how alot of things "just work" and having a front end to install Windows applications through is a nice addition to have.

The Cedega GUI does a nice job of giving you a centralized location to house all of your Games/Windows applications. (You can add launchers for your favorite native Linux apps/games to it as well) Also present in Cedega that Codeweavers does not have is a "diagnostic test". Basically it checks over your hardware and configuration for anything that may cause issues when running your games. In addition to being able to check your configuration the diagnostic tool also allows for an easy copy and paste of your system specifications which is useful if you are unsure of your setup (or too lazy to type it out) when trying to debug an issue.

Lacking in the Cedega GUI how ever are native menu entries. Applications installed under Cedega often times feel foreign as you have to open a separate program to launch them or create your own custom menu entry (and hunting down the correct icon for you game can be a headache). Also worth noting with netbooks becoming more and more popular is that the Cedega GUI is obviously designed for a resolution of at least 768 pixel height, parts of it get cut off on most netbook screens. The Cedega GUI as a whole is good but it could stand a few changes - 8 out of 10

GUI Front End 8/10 - Cedega Total 8.5/10

While Codeweavers does not give you a centralized location for all your install applications like Cedega does, however it is still well done. Codeweavers does a beautiful job of integrating with your local menus (Gnome, KDE, ect) when installing applications. In fact if Codeweavers would simply add the games you install to the games section of your menu instead of its own section I do not think most users would be able to tell the difference between a natively installed game and one installed via Codeweavers. Same as Cedega here 8 of 10, fully functional but could still be slightly better.

GUI Front End 8/10 - Codeweavers Total 8/10

Website -

Knowledge is power as they say, one of the most important things about any piece of software you may have is that you fully understand how to use it. Often times these days ones of the best resources for learning such information is an application's homepage.

Cedega's home page is relatively horrid to say the least. It does provide the basic information on the product and pricing but that is about it. Many parts of the website have been 100% non-functional for the last months I have had my subscription and it really takes from the product as a whole. Voting for which applications you wish to be supported is one key feature that is lacking for example. On top of this another "feature" of the page is that you cannot view certain data if you do not have a current subscription - meaning if you are someone looking into Cedega to see if it will run a certain game you will have to pony up the cash to give it a try. Also horrid is the Cedega rating system for applications which has three options: "Certified, Works, and Known not to Work". Certified means you are able to contact customer service in order to get help with said application should an issue arise and well the other two kind of explain them self. Also, and this is not Cedega's fault per-say but odds are is due to a small user base, but the information about many application in their listing is rather lacking by comparison to others.

Cedega's website needs some HUGE improvements, as of now it is functional. So I'll give it a 4 out of 10.

Website 4/10 - Cedega Total 6.7/10

Codeweaver's website is a refreshing change from that of Cedega. It is obviously that of a professional company, the layout is nice and everything is clearly labeled. Everything is accessible with or with out a user login. If you are a member they have a nice system for allowing you to "vote" for which applications you would like to see better support for (So they know what they should be spending time working on). The user forums are slightly non-standard but not necessarily in a bad way, they just take some getting used to. Also a feature worth noting is Codeweavers ticketing system, you can browse past support tickets that yourself or other people have posted for solutions to past issues.

I really do not have anything bad to say about the Codeweavers website, it is well done and fully functional - 10 out of 10

Website 10/10 - Codeweavers Total 8.5/10

Customer Service/Support -

So one of the most important things to know when you are buying something is that you are going to be able to get support for the product if it does not work as it is suppose to.

Cedega's customer support is decent. They give you a good response and help you solve any issues you may be having to a satisfactory amount. How ever also worth noting is that the only way to get customer support is via Email. And they only provide official support for their list of forty or so "certified" games and if you are running certain hardware configuration (they only support nVidia gfx cards and certain distros). And I feel I should also mention that their customer service is rather slow to return emails.

They also how ever have community powered message boards (which they link from their website) where there are a few very dedicated people who work hard to help people solve their problems, I found these boards to be a much faster response than the official email support.

Cedega customer support isn't bad per-say but it also is not anything exceptional - 7 out of 10

Customer Service/Support 7/10 - Cedega Total 7/10

Codeweaver's provides two different channels of customer support, one through their wonderful ticket/email system and on their official message boards. The response time for a ticket I have filed has never been less than a day, often times if I filed the ticket during normal business hours I would see a response within a few hours. Their forums also have a few helpful individuals as well as good number of staff that watch over and do their best to help out with any issues that may arise while using the software.

No customer support is perfect but Codeweaver's is darn good to say the least 9 out of 10

Customer Service/Support 9/10 - Codeweavers Total 8.75/10

Fees and Licensing -

I've spent time talking about the ups and downs of these two pieces of software now - how do you get it? And more importantly how much does it cost?

Cedega starts at 15$ for a three month subscription with varying prices if you buy for an extended length of time (45$ for a year for instance). Cedega is yours to install so long as you keep paying for it (after the subscription runs out you will no longer be able to download Cedega anymore - meaning if you format you are SOL). Also worth mentioning here is that the only "demo" Cedega provides is for a single game - Spore. And as I said above you cannot see the full games data base unless you also pay for it. So unless you know someone else with a subscription you may very well pay for it to try a game only to find out doesn't work well. Too be fair though it's only 15$ for the three months, not truly expensive. I personally do not care for how Cedega licensing works - 6 out of 10.

Fees and Licensing 6/10 - Cedega Total 6.8/10

Codeweaver's CXGames costs 40$ for the product and a year's worth of support and updates. After that it is 35$ for a following year of support/updates and even if you do not renew you still get to continue using the Codeweavers software you had paid for initially. Now 40$ is a fair bit of cash if you are unsure if something is going to work for you - however Codeweavers offers a 7 day demo of the full software so you can use it and see if it works for your needs. Also worth noting is that while Codeweavers is closed source software they are powered directly by the Wine project - and as such they give back to it (with code and money). I don't mind paying a reasonable cost for good software and the fact that they give some of it back to the Wine project also makes me feel good - 9/10

Fees and Licensing 9/10 - Codeweavers Total 8.8/10

Final Scores - Cedega 6.8 & Codeweavers 8.8

Follow Up -

Obviously no piece of software is perfect - these two included - and while Wine technology has come a long way in the last decade (or so) it still has a long way to go. As you can see from the numbers and the above information I prefer Codeweavers to Cedega, come the end of the year I do not think I will be renewing my Cedega license Which of the two is right for you is your choice, I just hope my little comparison here may have presented you with some information on each of them you had not known before.

Update -

For my thoughts on the recently released CXGames 9.0 check here.

~Jeff Hoogland

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What is Ubuntu Linux

A computer is a means to an end. What that end is exactly varies depending on who that final user is. On my two personal computers I run Ubuntu Linux as my operating system. What is Ubuntu? This is a question I field several times a week. Ubuntu is an operating system - like Windows or OSX. It is what allows the computer to perform all those tasks that we use them for in our everyday lives.

One common misconception about Linux is that in order to be able to use it you must be a programmer. This is no longer the truth, using Ubuntu requires as much coding knowledge as using Windows does. Ubuntu is a fully polished operating system that has been long ready for everyday use. Some of the things I like to highlight about Ubuntu when describing it to people are the following:

Ubuntu runs faster than the Windows platform on the same hardware for many reasons, but in short the operating system itself has less overhead to deal with. As such it leaves more resources for your other applications to utilizes thus allowing them to run faster.

Ubuntu is immune to viruses and malware. Now this isn't to say if you download a file that is infected with a Window's virus it stops being a virus, its just that the code that allows a virus to run a muck on a Windows system does not work on Ubuntu due to the permissions a Linux based operating system uses.

Ubuntu "just works". To any of you who have ever (re)installed Windows you are familiar with what goes into it. After installing the system you have to hunt down drivers and gather all those programs (office, firefox, anti-virus, ect.) that you need to go about your everyday tasks. With Ubuntu most all hardware works fresh off the disk and productivity software comes pre-installed, what few drivers are required Ubuntu will find, download, and install for you in most cases.

Ubuntu is free. Yep thats right, free as in free speech or free beer. It is available without charge for anyone who would like to try it out. It is just a download away.

All that being said I would like to again restate my first sentence: A computer is a means to an end. If Windows works well for getting you to that end then I guess you can stop reading here. How ever if it does not(or does so slowly), if you are interested in trying something new, or any of the above information sparked an interested in you - please continue on. Is Ubuntu for you? Ubuntu is perfect for casual computer user and programmer a like. There are only a couple cases in which I do not recommend using Ubuntu in your everyday computing:
  1. Gaming - Try as we might gaming on Linux can be hard. Many commercial games do not have Linux installers and as such it can be hard to get some games to run on Ubuntu.
  2. Specific Piece of Proprietary Software: This one is along the same line as gaming, certain applications (such as Adobe's CS suite) are not 100% functional under Ubuntu.
If either of the above two situations apply then Ubuntu is not for you. How ever if you are like most computer users out there and use your computer for things such as the ineternet (instant messaging, web browsing), research, media (music & videos), office or schoolwork (spread sheets, power point, text documents) - then Ubuntu is perfect for you.

Some of you might be wondering at this point if all of what I say above is true why don't more people use Ubuntu? If it is really more secure, faster, and free why is it such an unknown platform?
  1. People are afraid of change, even though Ubuntu can do everything someone needs they are still resistant to using something new.
  2. Money. There isn't as much money in promoting Ubuntu as there is Windows. If the Geek squad can bank on your Windows system being brought in at least once a year for them to work on why would they recommend installing something that would change this?
Ubuntu is all of what I have said and so much more. For those of you who are interested it is a free download. For those of you who would like further reading I'd like to recommend:
Why Linux is Better

Linux is not Windows

Anyone with questions about setup or installation feel free to drop a comment or shoot me a message. Anyone with suggestions on things I can add or edit in this little article please do the same.

~Jeff Hoogland

Size Matters

Technology and computers advance at a rapid rate. Each generation of systems is faster than the last and often times less expensive. In addition to growing quicker our computers have also been getting steadily smaller. When the first netbook came into mass production back into October of 2007 it seemed that perhaps technology hand finally reached it's limit in the means of size.

Enter the subject of this article - The Open Pandora

The Open Pandora is a project that again brings a notable size reduction to computers. Sporting a pocket size (140mm by 83mm) it is sure to be the smallest full computer the market has ever seen. Thats right - that wasn't a typo - "full computer". The Open Pandora is a full computer system you can hold in the palm of your hand. Sporting a 600mhz processor and 256megs of RAM (full tech specs) the Open Pandora is going to be running a customized Linux distro that will allow for both gaming and personal use. Since the Open Pandora is sporting a full Linux distro that means you will be able to do all those things you are used to on a computer - type documents and surf the net/instant message, with wifi functionality. The Open Pandora sports a good size (43 key) QWERTY keyboard, a D-pad, two rubber analog pads, a touch screen, a microphone, TV out, blue tooth, an 800x480 resolution screen,and two USB ports. The Open Pandora will support any USB device that works on Linux (so pretty much all of them).

How ever gaming is where the device really shines - this is what it is being designed for in fact on the homepage they boast "The [Open Pandora] most powerful gaming handheld there is." This statement is not a stretch by any means - take a peek at the types of games this little guy is going to be able to handle:
  • Atari 2600, 7800, 5200, and Lynx
  • Nintendo NES, SNES, Gameboy, GBA and NDS (with combination of inbuilt touchscreen and external TV)
  • Sega Master System and Genesis
  • NEC PCEngine (TurboGrafx-16)
  • SNK NeoGeo, NeoGeo Pocket, and Pocket Color
  • Sony Playstation
  • Atari 400, 800, and ST
  • Amiga
  • PC (DOSBox)
Quiet the impressive list! Also worth noting at this point is that even though it will be running a full Linux distro the Open Pandora will not be able to run applications via Wine. The processor in the device is an ARM chip - not an x86 chip which is what Wine technology requires to run.

Unfortunately the only draw back to the Open Pandora is the fact that it hasn't been released yet! They are currently taking pre-orders for the first batch (limited to 4,000 units) The pricing is reasonable, it currently runs around the same cost as a netbook:
  • Pandora $330
  • TV Out $19.99
  • Carrying Case $19.99
  • Battery $28.99
  • Power Adaptor $7.99
  • Stylus $7.00
  • Dev Fund $20
  • Air Mail shipping $24
  • UPS 24/48 hr shipping $49
The unit itself includes a stylus, battery, and power adapter (oh and note the Air Mail shipping - the Open Pandora is being produced in the UK). Obviously this is only a broad overview of the device, take a look through their wiki and their homepage for more detailed information. At any rate this is a project to be watching!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Linux Gaming - Performance Optimizations

Gaming on Linux is not as daunting as some may think. Running native games on Linux is as easy as it is on Windows at this point - how ever as many Linux users know there are not as many titles for Linux as there are for Windows. That being said - Wine technology has come a long way in recent years, not two years ago it took much tweaking and fiddling to get games such as Counter Strike: Source or other such games to work under Linux - now that is no longer the case. There are many applications with a Platinum Rating (meaning they run without extra configuration) in the Wine application data base.

That being said I'd like to move onto the focus of this article: Performance Optimizations. One of the most important thing in PC gaming is achieving optimum performance while playing. The following are things I have done to increase my games' performance on Linux:

#1 : Use nVidia - This one is straight forward. While ATI chips are typically physically on par performance wise with those of nVidia, ATI's Linux drivers are poor at best by comparison.

#2: Use the latest drivers - New drivers are released for a reason! I have seen a further performance increase with almost every new set of nVidia drivers that have been released (173 to 180, 180 to 185, and now 185 to 190 - You can always find the latest nVidia drivers here and install instructions can be found here)

#3: Look for optimizations for each game itself - Many games' "default settings" do not yield the best performance you can get! Optimizing varies depending on the game itself but for the most part every game out there has at least a few tweaks that gain you better performance. Search around online for things pertaining to your particular game.

#4: Check the Application Data Base for more Information - Whether you are using Wine, Cedega, or Codeweavers (And I have used all three) they all have their own application's data base. Be sure to check what it says about the game you are trying to run as often time there are further suggestions there on how to make it run better. (And most times the Wine application data base is applicable to all three as Cedega & Codeweavers are based on the Wine project)

If anyone else has other general optimizations that work well for most games feel free to let me know and I will add them to my list.

~Jeff Hoogland

Comments on Windows 7

Oh Microsoft... Odds are many of you know how I feel about Windows and this company in general – I stay away from it. How ever in light of Windows 7 being released I figured I would take a quick moment to stop and look back at the platform I used once upon a time before I was enlightened to the choices in the world of operating systems. As with my look into OSX/Mac I plan to try and be fair in my little review of sorts here but, as always if you feel I give some miss-interpreted information feel free to call me out on it.

The first thing I would like to point out there really isn't much truly “new” in Windows 7. In fact when I asked my older brother, who makes his living in the computer field, to highlight what makes Windows 7 so great he said something along the lines of: Its faster, more secure, and a lot less buggy than past Windows versions. Oh ok, so basically it is what an operating system is SUPPOSE to be. Leave it to Microsoft to get it's clients excited about new “features” it should have had from the start. That being said Windows 7 could quite possibly be the best Windows based operating system ever released. Microsoft has really worked hard to bug test it, Windows 7 is I believe the world's largest open beta for a piece of software ever, and get it working as it should so it will be ready to be installed onto production machines the day it is released. In short Windows 7 is gearing up to be what Vista should have been from the get go.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that if you feel that you must use the Windows platform for what ever reason – be it a hardcore gamer or for that one piece of proprietary software you cannot live with out – then it appears Windows 7 will soon be the best choice out there for doing so. And hey – the starting price for “home basic” is only 200$ (We all have that laying around right? The depressing part is this is down 60$ from the initial Vista home basic cost) and always remember – Ubuntu is free.

~Jeff Hoogland

Macbook Comparison

I work at the Beverly Arts Center, in Chicago. I have found that many arts people prefer Apple laptops to any other brand. Why is this? The long standing art-computer myth is that Apple computers are superior for doing art work and 3D design. Now I will concede that at one point in time this was true – but this is no longer the case and has not been for some time. The simple fact is that Apple computers use essentially the same hardware as any other computer you will buy: same processor, ram, hard drive, etc. In addition to the hardware all being essentially the same, all of the applications you are going to be running to do arts work (in most cases this is Adobe software, such as Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign) run on both the Windows and Mac platforms.

Following I am going to do a series of comparisons between a couple different Macbook Pros and other laptops, of different brands, that are of comparable price.* Note: I round off all prices to the nearest whole five dollars because I dislike that whole “1.99$” mind game.

Round – 1:
Macbook Pro #1
Cost: 1,200$
Size: 13 inches
Processor: 2.26GHz Dual Core
RAM: 2gigs DDR3
Hard drive: 160gigs – SATA 5400RPM
Graphics Card: nVidia 9400M – 256meg Shared

Asus G50VT-X6
Cost: 1,250$
Size: 15.4 inches
Processor: 2.53GHz Dual Core
RAM: 4gigs DDR2
Hard drive: 320gigs – SATA7200RPM
Graphics Card: nVidia 9800M GS – 512meg Dedicated DDR3

HP Pavilion dv7-1270us
Cost: 1200$
Size: 17 inches
Processor: 2.4GHz Dual Core
RAM: 4gigs DDR2
Hard drive: 320gig – SATA 5400RPM
Graphics Card: nVidia 9600 – 512meg Dedicated DDR2

Round – 2:
Macbook Pro #2
Cost: 2,500$
Size: 17 inches
Processor: 2.8GHz Dual Core
RAM: 4gigs DDR3
Hard drive: 500gig – SATA 5400RPM
Graphics Card: nVidia 9600

Asus G71G-Q2
Cost: 2,250$
Size: 17 inches
Processor: 2.0GHz Quad Core
RAM: 6gig DDR2
Hard drive: 640gigs – x2 SATA 7200RPM
Graphics Card: nVidia 9800M GS – 512meg Dedicated DDR3

HP HDX 18-1180US
Cost: 1,800$
Size: 18.4 inches
Processor: 2.0GHz Quad Core
RAM: 4gigs DDR2
Hard drive: 500gigs – SATA 5400RPM
Graphics Card: nVidia 9600M GT – 512megs dedicated DDR3

Alrighty, the information posted above is a wonderful comparison for those who under stand it all. For those who are a bit hazy, or want to read my thoughts on the above specifications, let me break down a few of the more important facts about the above information.

Round 1 – Breakdown

First off lets take a peek at the processors – all three of them are Intel Dual cores; two cores means twice the power. Your processor is like the heart of your computer, the stronger it beats the faster everything is going to run. The processor in each of the non-Apple laptops listed are quicker than the Macbook; in the case of the Asus over 10% faster, for nearly the same price.

RAM stands for “Random Access Memory”; it stores short term information on your computer and data that has not yet been written to the hard drive (among other things). The more RAM a system has the better it is able to multi-task (meaning having many applications running at once). I will concede that the Macbook is using the slightly newer DDR3, but even with this advantage the Macbook only possesses half the total memory of the other systems. Even with the slightly slower DDR2 the fact that they have 4gigs makes each of the other laptops far superior to the 2gigs of DDR3 the Macbook has.

Most people are familiar with the purpose of their computer's hard drive. It is where all your information is stored. This again is an area where the Macbook get crushed by other laptops of comparable price. The Macbook only stocks a 160gig by default while each of the other two have 320gigs – so twice as much. Also in the case of the Asus the hard drive is 7200RPM (reads per minute) as compared to the 5400RPM in the other two – meaning it will access your data faster.

Last point between the three systems is the graphics cards. Again the Macbook gets crushed. Possessing only a 9400M, it is slower technology compared to the HP's 9600M GS and the Asus's 9800M GS. In addition to being slower technology, the graphics card in the Macbook is “shared” memory. Meaning that it has to take from the already reduced amount of RAM the Mac has to dedicated to video processes.

Whew, Round 1 over! I think you can tell for yourself who the winner is here...

Round 2 – Breakdown

The first thing I am going to mention here is the price of the three laptops compared in round two – the Macbook is 2.5k, while the Asus is 2.25k, and lastly the HP is weighing in at 1.8k. The main reason for the price difference is that they where the closest Asus and HP I could find in price to the highest end Macbook (on the site I order from), but do not let their lower price mislead you the Macbook is still in for a tough fight this round.

Point one is processer once again, now at first glance it may appear that the Macbook is far superior to the other two weighing in at 2.8GHz while the other two are only 2.0GHz. Now take a closer look – I'll wait. Ok, notice anything? Thats right the Macbook is packing the same old dual core it had in round one only slightly faster. Each of the other two brands knows that a high end laptop needs a high end processor – they are packing quad cores. Just as dual core means that the system is as good as have two processors a quad core means it is as good as having four. Another way to think of it is cores is to a processor as horsepower is to a car engine, the more the better typically.

Moving onto RAM the HP starts to show it's price tag a small bit, it is still only packing 4gigs of DDR2. The Apple has upped it's game and is now stocking 4gigs of DDR3. Asus is not about to slack behind how ever, it is now stocking 6gigs of DDR2.

Hard drive is again a close comparison between the HP and the Apple, the both come in with identical 5400RPM 500gig drives. Have no fear though, Asus is again going to come in and mop up the competition. This time stocking dual 320gig 7200RPM drives (for a total of 640gigs of space), two hard drives is useful because this way if one is ever to fail you still have a second place too store stuff. And for you more intense computer users out there it means the system is raid ready.

Lastly are the graphics cards again. For the third time in a row the HP, which is 700$ less, ties with the Apple. Again, three for three, the Asus comes in and crushes the both of them with its 9800 compared to their 9600s.

Post game banter – Last Thoughts

A couple other things worth noting is that the Macbook does have a slightly lighter and smaller design. In my personal opinion though if you are looking for light and compact do yourself a favor and go get a netbook – they are easily under 600$ for a quick one. Another thing Apple boasts on it's website is a lengthy battery life time for all of it's Macbook, while I will say that odds are it is going to out last the HP or the Asus by a bit your battery life is directly linked to what you are doing on the system. If you are only typing papers your battery is going to last much longer than if you are playing a 3D game or even just connected to wifi or playing audio. One of my friends had said that the reason they liked Apple is because they are an international company (which I will agree is useful for warranties/services when traveling over seas) while this is true they are not the only international company out there. Asus is one as well along with several others. Lastly if some sort of great hate for Windows/Microsoft is what is keeping you buying Apple again (And trust me if anyone under stands disliking Microsoft I can), there are other alternatives out there other than Windows and Mac (Such as Fedora or Ubuntu).

Also worth noting is that for the average computer user out there looking to buy a laptop – all of the laptops listed above are easily over kill. Most people will not notice terribly much difference between these higher end laptops and one that only costs five or six hundred dollars in their every day tasks.

Anyone who has spent a bit of time with me knows that I am decently anti-Apple, for many reasons including them being over priced for what they are, even so I did my best to try and present a fair comparison here if anyone feels there is anything I missed please feel free to drop a comment here or send me a message and I will consider adjusting the information/adding to it. Also drop a comment if you found any of this useful or interesting.

~Jeff Hoogland

*All Apple prices/specs where accessed from on 06/09/09. All comparisons prices where done via on the same date.

Computer Applications Everyone Should Know About

Many people pay out large sums of money for software that many times has a completely free alternative they are simply unaware of. I've realized that some people do not realize the vast amounts of complex and powerful software that are simply clicks away, so I am going to take a moment and highlight some of what I feel are the best ones out there. All of these are legitimate pieces of software, that I have found often times work better than their commercial counter parts.

Web Browsing -
Application: Mozilla Firefox

Many of us have at least heard of this one. It is easily the most popular piece of open source software out there. It job is to replace Internet Explorer if you are on Windows or Safari if you are on OSX. Firefox is a wonderful upgrade because in addition to running faster than most other browsers it is also the most secure. Meaning less viruses and Mal-ware for all you Windows users out there.

Office Suit -
Application: OpenOffice

To pick up the latest copy of Microsoft office odds are you are looking at spending a couple hundred dollars. OpenOffice is a full featured office suit, it contains a Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Power Point, Drawing, and much more. It opens and saves files in all the standard .doc, .ppt, .xls, formats so it is full compatible with all MS office files.

Anti-virus -
Application: Avast

Many of us are aware that the quickest way to non-functioning Windows system is to catch a virus or two. Avast is one of the best anti-virus programs out there. It provides real time protection with minimal resource usage. It is free for home use so long as you are willing to register each year for a new key (which is a short and easy process)

Anti-Malware -
Application: Spy Bot Search & Destroy

The Windows system is riddled with holes and exploits just waiting to make your life in front of the computer that much harder. In addition to having an awesome name Spy Bot S&D is the best program out there for hunting down malware that has found it's way into your unsuspecting system. The only slight draw back to this one is that it is NOT real time protection, meaning you need to remember to run the update for it and scan your system each week.

Archiving -
Application: 7zip
Compressing files is useful when you are trying to to send a large amount of files to someone or simply for storing files that is not often used often. 7-zip contains a custom archiving format, .7z, that is much more efficient than the standard .zip. In addition to having this custom format it also can compress into the more universally standard .zip in a more timely manner than the built in Windows compression software or commercial software such as WinZip

Instant Messaging -
Application: Pidgin
Pidgin is a full featured instant messaging client similar to Trillian. It can connect to a wide range of networks, from AIM to Facebook, to Yahoo and MSN. It contains a logging feature that can be easily toggled on and off, along with a pile of other useful and fun plugins.

Photo Editing -
Application: Gimp
Gimp is a tool for manipulating images on the computer. In contains essentially all of the features the commercial soft Adobe Photoshop does. If you are already familiar with the Photoshop GUI there is also a plugin for Gimp called “Gimpshop” that makes Gimps GUI mirror that of Photoshop's.

I just highlighted a few of the more popular applications here but there are literally hundreds of free/open source applications out there for almost every task imaginable. From GNUCash (money management) to Kompozer (web-development) you can find just about anything you need. This website: can help you easily locate what you are looking for.

~Jeff Hoogland