Thursday, 21 March 2013

A Depressed View of the World

As I sit here and try and decide what to write first, There's an overwhelming desire to be melodramatic. To come up with some short, punctual, poignant words that will sum up and dramatise my current mental state. But there are no words for it. Trust me I've tried. There are none. No words can ever be sufficiently self obsessed and clich├ęd to fully portray the level to which I loath my own being. I hate myself.
"But why?" I hear you cry. "What could possibly be so terrible in your life that you could truly think that little of yourself?". Well that's a good question. Why when there's poverty, famine, pestilence, murder and worse do I think I have the right to be miserable? To be honest I don't. I'm sat here writing this on a £700 laptop, which to some is more money than they could ever imagine owning. But that doesn't stop me from feeling like this, If anything it just adds wood to a stove that's already burning strongly. A fire of guilt and misery.

Sufficiently melodramatic? I think so... But at the end of the day what does it matter? I am just one person of seven million on this earth, I am neither important nor significant. Which brings me on to Twitter, where the hipsters of the earth congregate to broadcast their every thought, as if it were so valuable it would be a crime if it were lost. I do not do Twitter. Micro-blogging is not for me. I am properly self obsessed. I blog for real.
No one reads it of course, because like the other 6,999,999,999 humans on this earth (give or take a few) I am simply a person. Nothing exemplary, nothing unique, nothing special. Many world religions of course would disagree with this, They'd say that we are each special and we're all here for a reason, maybe they'd even go as far to assert that there is a god who loves us uniquely. Maybe there is... More likely not. I can fully entertain the idea that there may be a higher being, something on a scale so massive that we couldn't possibly comprehend it. In the same way that a bacteria couldn't comprehend a human, or understand why the Dettol that was being sprayed on it was so damn 99.99% effective at killing it. You see I don't believe in a god who has direct meaningful interaction with us. If there is a god in my opinion, there's no point praying, because he can't hear you.

We know however that humans are hard wired to accept the existence of a god. An omnipotent being who has influence over our lives. Someone powerful who allows us to look to the future with optimism and faith that no matter what, things will work out for the best. It's a great evolutionary tool for sentient beings when you think about it, you program a creature which has the ability to hate itself to be able to have an inner optimism. Ironic, but useful. So it seems a pretty negative step then to reject the existence of a god. Surely removing this staple of inner strength would leave one open to all manner of ultimately truthful conclusions. These being that the life of the individual was ultimately pointless and would serve no other purpose other than to pass on their DNA, providing they were able to reach an age where they were able to reproduce and didn't die or kill themselves along the way. But of course today we deny Evolution. We aid the sick and the lame, and who's to say whether that is right or wrong? Ultimately all you're doing is denying death to those who deserve it and that's just not fair. Death is not a bad thing. I could go on forever as to why, but ultimately it removes unwanted genetic code from the gene pool , faulty DNA goes and successful DNA can be passed on. That's just evolution, nature, but we deny some the chance to do the one good thing they could do for the human race. The right to die.

It's a pretty sombre thought, but then ultimately the entire universe is a chaotic destructive place. Nature is a destructive and careless entity, which is hardly in-keeping with our pre-programmed desire to believe that we are special and purposeful. We are little boxes of chemicals, programmed to fuck and to kill to survive, and yet here we live. Neutered in a society where it's legal to kill your unborn baby, but not your suffering loved one. So that's religion, or to be more precise my lack of it. "God" plays no part in my life, and neither am I a member of a cult like organisation that provides support and unconditional love to all it's members. I'm one of the faulty ones, the ones who let their logic override their instincts.

Another interesting human condition is that of friendship, or to be more general, the ability to be social. It's another one of those basic human evolutionary tactics that's there to help us survive. As sentient beings it is advantageous for us to live in groups, the list of reasons why is near endless, but it boils down to sex, food and support. Now as a prepubescent human being I should have mastered my social skills in order to allow me to integrate tightly with my surrounding humans for the above reasons. The consequences for not doing so would be isolation from the group and the lone hunter has no one to watch his back. Now I'd not describe myself as completely socially inept, just socially awkward. I get on with some better than others as is natural, but the proportion is not in a good direction. I find conversation with those I have little in common with very difficult, my default response is to be quiet and that compounds the difficulty of making progressive conversation. I end up being the one sat in the corner, on their own and isolated. A lone hunter who evolution would decide, shouldn't survive.

Moving on... Intelligence is a funny old thing. "Ignorance is Bliss" what an incredibly observant quote that is. I see that there are two ways to decompose intelligence, the advantages and the disadvantages. As a person with a persuasion towards the negative, I'll focus there, sue me. On the plus side, intelligence can to an extent allow us to overcome obstacles and survive in situations where we may otherwise not. But notice something, we are talking about survival, and survival normally would imply a relationship between a predator and its prey. Regardless of which we are, to have intelligence alone is never enough, to win the battle the victor would need a balance of strength, stamina, speed and brain power. To have too much of one and too little of another would ultimately render the contest over. The poorly balanced would lose and either starve or be eaten. I find it funny that the brain's balance of intelligence is so closely linked with other crucial capabilities such as social skills. Aspergers it would seem, is the ultimate proof of a god. Or at least that Evolution has a sense of humour.  

I would say that I have an average to above average intelligence, but I am far from "clever". People often perceive me as someone with a particular aptitude for intelligent thought, but I say they're wrong. They misinterpret my relative well spoken-ness (did that on purpose) and my preference for extended vocabulary for intelligence when it's just exactly what it says on the tin. I am well spoken, and I like long words. Why? because they make me sound clever. And I used to want people to think I was clever, even though I wasn't. Why? Maybe it'll keep me alive 5 minutes longer.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Adventure Time // Good Little Girl Chords

Probably wrong in places but close enough :)

Standard Tuning: Capo 2

C:     x32010
Em:    x22000
F:     133211
G6:    320000 
Cadd9: x32030 

Play root note then strum rest like this. (see vid)
G|---0---0---2---0-----| and repeat

TAB: relative to capo

 C          Em
Good little girl

 F              G6
Always pickin' a fight with me

    C             Em
You know that I'm bad

 F                      G6
But you're spending the night with me

 C          Cadd9        F   G6
What do you want with my world?

*mute*               TAB
You're a good little girl.

 C         Em
Bad little boy

F                  G6
That's what you're acting like

  C            Em
I really don't buy

F                G6
That you're that kind of guy

    C         Cadd9       F   G6
But oh if you are tell me why

*mute*                TAB      
why not just say good bye?

 C          Em
Good little girl

F                G6
you've stolen my heart away

  C            Em
i like how you smile

F                   G6
and make fun of the words i say

C              Cadd9           F  G6
who would have thought i could fall

it's not so bad after all. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

So my life is a bit of a mess at the moment. I'm in the middle of a Computer Science degree at a pretty decent UK University, having an incredible streak of bad luck and generally feel like my life is just going off the rails. Next to no one I know reads this so I guess it makes no difference to just rant to the internet here. No one ever explained twitter to me, and I'm the kind of person who likes to write things out in full, somehow I suppose micro-blogging just isn't for me. Suffice to say, i'm not the most succinct person you'll ever come across.

Thing one. I've built my desktop PC to be pretty damn good. It's far from the best these days, it's been neglected for some time, but every time I use it I get a real sense of pleasure, even if it's just to do some trivial task. You know why? Because that piece of technology is hand crafted to be exactly what I want it to be. If there was a single component on there that wasn't doing exactly what I wanted it to be I would probably change it. There are some minor things (for example an Antec 140mm fan that whines as it starts up) but all in all the machine just fits like a glove. Particular highlights are my Mouse, SLI GTX 480's and IPS Display

Which brings me to my laptop. Now for all intents and purposes my main Asus laptop is a pretty damn awesome piece of kit. It's got a pretty nifty spec for an Ultraportable laptop and the fact that it can game as well as it can is in itself pretty noteworthy. However, the display(for example) is a pretty basic 1366*768 TN Panel. It's thin for sure, but it lacks the punch of my desktop display which makes me want to stop and stare every time I look at it. Right now I'm sat typing on my laptop with my desktop to my right and I keep looking over and fixing my gaze on the IPS panel. It's just better, and I'm happy to have it.

But the thing is, not everyone needs an IPS display, most people probably don't know what one is or can even conceive of why it might be nice to have. These days IPS panel prices have gone through the floor, presumably as a result of the bucket loads of cash going into the development of panels for mobile devices, but still not everyone will buy one. Because no one glove fits all. While I enjoy the heightened experience my tailored hardware brings me it may not be ideal or necessary to everyone in every usage scenario.

And this is where I take issue with some of the modern hardware/software companies. Namely Apple and Microsoft. Apple have for some time had a very much one size fits all strategy, especially with their mobile lineup. It's been heavily criticised by a million different people over and over again and I'm not going to bother adding to that particular rubbish heap. Microsoft on the other hand have really surprised me of late, And I think the problem is that Microsoft (or rather it's directors) feel that they need to be more like Apple. And so we have Surface. And Windows 8. A desktop OS with a tablet interface. That's like saying you *can* use it for whatever, but we're going to tailor it to work best on this platform because that's what we want you to use.

It's an arrogance that's becoming increasingly common with large tech companies who feel that as a result of their size or industry dominance they can just do whatever they please and forget the first rule of business, the customer is always right. If you're running a small business and a customer comes in and asks for a service which you imply to offer (like idk maps on a phone?) and you then fail to deliver that customer will a) be unhappy because you failed them and b) take their business elsewhere. These days however Micropple and Dog will a) brush off your indignation, carry on unabashed and b) lock you into their ecosystem so deeply that it's not worth the effort of leaving.

It's getting to a point where ecosystem lock-in is so bad that it rivals the bank system. The FSA and the like have been going on for years about the fact that even unhappy bank customers nine times out of ten don't bother to change their bank because it's too much hastle. If you buy a Mac today you are buying into the apple ecosystem in a way that for a lot of people will be very difficult to leave. One example off the top of my head. You buy a mac and reconnect with a very close friend who uses facetime as their way of video calling. You buy a PC now and you can't talk to that person in the same way. And I disagree with that. I think the world benefits when we have open standards, strong cross platform interoperability and strong partnerships between companies. Open source is right in the right places but open standards to me is that thing that really kicks it home.

Open standards that is, that reach across software and hardware. Say I buy a new tablet from manufacturer A. And decide that for my usage model it would benefit from a higher resolution screen, rather than having to sell or retire a product I can just swap the screen. It's cheaper, it's more environmentally friendly and it gives the end user a tailored user experience. Seems obvious, people do it for desktops all the time. But there's no standards for mobile devices. And that lack of standards is in my opinion a real choke point on modern electronics.

Friday, 30 December 2011

New Phone Wishlist

  • SSD onboard storage (not just a flash chip, propper controller based SSD)
  • USB 3.0 
  • Decent large aperture camera, Good image stabilisation, 1080p video, 5MPxl+
  • 4.65" 1280 x 720 IPS or OLED Screen 
  • Android 4.0 ICS
  • Nvidia Tegra 3 SOC
  • Metal, Plastic & Glass Thin Construction

Friday, 16 December 2011

How to Get Anti Aliasing in The Old Republic

- Head to

   (This may be a hidden directory)
   (Or equivalent for XP)

- open client_settings.ini

   It should look like this

- Add the line AntiAliasingLevel = X into the ini file

- Set X to the Level of AA you want (Eg. 2,4,8,16)
(from my quick testing 0x AA -> 2x AA is less intensive then Low --> High Shadows)

-Start the Client!

   Apparently AA is currently disabled due to a bug, I have been running it fine so far as have many others.


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Asus U46SV Review

I knew going into buying my latest laptop that I wanted something light, portable and powerful, a combination which is never easy to balance. I had the following objectives/ limits that I imposed on my choice of machine.

- A fully fleged mobile processor - I didn't want a low power model, or another Atom, this time I wanted something meaty. i5 or i7, Dual not Quad for battery reasons, and something that supported Vt-x

- A long battery life - My last notebook, My Mini 311, strugled to get past 4.5 hours even with its extended battery. I wanted something that would give me near all day battery life when surfing the web or taking notes.

- A low weight & small size - Coming from an 11.6" notebook, I knew that whatever I bought would feel big and heavy in comparison. So I decided to aim for either 13.3" or 14" with a weight below 2.0kg.

- A mobile GPU - As much as the Intel HD 3000 is a large step up from their older graphics chips, I wanted a mobile GPU that I could run some classic titles on. I initially aimed for an Nvidia GPU as it would allow me to write and test CUDA code on the go, but eventually settled for considering other options.

- A good screen - My Mini 311 had an 11.6" 1366x768 display so I knew that anything else with the same resolution ran the risk of feeling cramped. I Ideally aimed for at least a 1600x900 panel, and would have liked an IPS panel if it were possible, but laptops with good screens are a very rare thing.

- less than £1500 all in - At the end of the day this was for Uni and I'm not made of money, I was saving, and that 1500 had to include any upgrades I would do myself.

And so I began considering my options. Scouring the internet I found many laptops that all checked various boxes but few that ticked them all. When I first started looking the model of choice was the 2010 Sony Vaio Z series. In its best spec, this had an i7 620M, Geforce 330M, 8GB DDR3, 128GB SSD, 13.1" 1600x900 IPS display, 8hour battery and weighed about 1.7kg. PERFECT you would think, but it was not to be. The 2010 Z series was discontinued just at the time where I had saved enough money to buy one. There were a few refurbished models available but it's termination coincided with the release of Intel's new Sandybridge mobile processors. Fast as they were, there were few models that were quick to the market, and those that made it in swiftly, were quickly recalled on account of the Sandybridge Chipset flaw.

With my beloved Z series realistically out of the picture I had to investigate other options. Asus were producing some nice 13.3 and 14" laptops with 10 hour battery life and Nvidia GPU's (520M's - 13.3 and 540M's - 14") I couldn't find anywhere in the UK with stock of the 14 inchers so contacted Asus and was told that they didn't sell their 14" models in the UK "because it wasn't a popular size" Damn.
I explored various other options including dells, Toshibas, HPs, many brands and was still no closer to what I wanted. Acer had however produced a 13.3" Timeline Notebook with a 540M GPU and i5 2410M which was initially appealing, but on closer inspection it turned out the cooling wasn't up to prolonged stress and the CPU would throttle after a few minutes load.

It was shortly after this that Sony announced the replacement Z series and the S series. The new Z series unfortunately took more of a Desktop replacement route than a complement route, somewhat spurred I fear, by the arrival of the Macbook Air (which I had ruled out on the basis of their poor battery life when running Windows. It was incredibly light and thin, but bereft of any Discrete GPU built into the chassis, instead, Sony had built a dGPU into the external optical drive and connected it with LightPeak. While a neat option, I would have my fully fledged desktop at home, so wanted a complement rather than a replacement.

The S series on the other hand was available in two varieties, both 13.3", The SA and the SB. The SB was a more budget orientated machine with a Radeon 6470 GPU, lower end CPU's, and a 1366x768 display, so was overall a lot lower spec than the previous generation Z series. The SA series on the other hand had much higher performance specs. Starting at over £1000, the base spec had an i7-2620M, a 6630M GPU and a 1600x900 display and as such was much more in line with the performance of the previous Z series. There was also a slice battery available for an extra £100 and warranty extensions from the standard 2 years.

Weighing up the options I intended to get a Vaio SA, with Slice Battery, 3 year warranty and upgrade the machine myself with an extra 4GB of ram and a 120GB SSD. I went to my local Sony store to go and play with one but I was told they were only available online and they didn't keep a show model in the stores. So I played with an SB series (which has a very similar chassis) and noticed that the fan vent was at the back behind the screen, which was blocked when the screen was opened. This oversight led me to Google some user reviews to which I found there were many angry users claiming if put under load for more than 20 minutes the CPU would reach it's thermal threshold and throttle itself to 800MHz. As I intended to use my Laptop for some light gaming, I decided this wasn't acceptable so looked around again.

I then found that ASUS were trialling a 14" laptop in the UK market, the U46SV. It's a 14.0" 1366x768 laptop, i5-2410M, GT 540M, 4GB DDR3, 500GB 5400RPM, 8 Cell Battery with WIFI N & BT 3 weighing in at 2.0Kg. The specs ticked most of my boxes apart from the screen resolution which was unfortunately low, as well as the CPU being not *quite* as high as I would have liked. With a retail price of £699 it offered a significant saving over the Vaio SA so I decided to take the plunge and go for one.

The online pictures make it appear to have a cream coloured chassis which simply isn't the case. The model has an all aluminium case with a lightly contoured pattern around the touchpad and a smooth surface around the keyboard. It's black underneath and has a well sized opening for easy access to the inside. The battery at the back protrudes out from under the laptop slightly lifting the laptop above a surface allowing good airflow to the underneath. With it's <1" thick chassis the specs defy the size, it's a compact laptop with great specs and I quickly powered it on.

The Stock OS was rather full of rubbish. I ran some preliminary tests on the stock OS but soon fitted a 120GB Corsair Force 3 SSD and did a clean install. I also fitted another 4GB of Corsair DDR3 1333MHz RAM.  Before my fresh install I created the recovery CD's which took 5x 4.7GB DVD's and took over an Hour! I decided not to even use these and installed the OS from scratch from an OEM Windows 7 Pro 64* DVD. The Install was smooth and fast and the driver install was painless, I used the supplied Driver DVD and de-ticked the options for installing all of the unnecessary gubbins that was included.  

Within a few hours of the install I started getting some weird hard drive timeouts (the mouse would go slow for ~ 30 seconds and nothing would respond). Eventviewer reported IAStor errors and the problem was similar to one I had with my previous laptop, so I used the same steps as before and uninstalled the new Intel Storage driver and returned to the stock microsoft one. This seemed to work and the lag stopped immediately. However it introduced a BSOD or freeze on wake issue which I couldn't seem to fix. So after some investigation I reverted to the most recent Intel Rapid Storage drivers and made some changes to the registry which have so far, stopped the problem reoccuring. And sleep seems to be working fine too.  

The Performance of the machine however is Incredible. The CPU being a fully fledged Dual Core Sandybridge is lightning quick, even when heavily throttled. The CPU is a 35W model which Turbo's to 2.9GHz when under one core's load, 2.7GHz when loaded on two cores and 2.3GHz as standard. Under maximum load the temperatures would just break 90C which is jointly because of the quite compact chassis and the soft fan profile which keeps noise to a minimum while stopping temperatures from spiralling out of control.

The Optimus GPU setup works well, better than I expected to be honest and the performance of the GT 540M 1GB is absolutely brilliant for a compact mobile chip. It heats to a max of 88C and it's 96 SP's gives it performance in the region of a 9600GSO desktop chip which is sufficient to run any game at decent settings at the stock 1366x768. I tested Dirt 2, BFBC2, Crysis Wars, Just Cause 2, Burnout Paradise and From Dust and it blasted through all of them with no problems. It runs Just Cause 2 on a mixture of Mediums and High's with 4x AA and is brilliantly smooth! It was the same story with the others with the performance being surprisingly good.  

The 1366x768 screen is of average quality, it's a pretty standard LED TN panel with predictably meh vertical viewing angles but I guess it has a hinge for a reason. On my old laptop and desktop I would adjust the digital vibrance in the Nvidia control panel to give a more vibrant (but not overly saturated) picture. However because the display is connected to the Intel GPU, I have to use the Intel display options to adjust the colours manually. I've found a happy medium now which is fine, but sometimes when the machine switches to the 540M it doesn't use the same colour profile, which apart from anything, results in everything having a bluish tint. It's not the end of the world, but it's something that could do with some work.

The Keyboard is nicely laid out with a good feel even though it's not backlit, The Mousepad however is exceptional. It uses an Elan Devices Corporation Touchpad which supports multitouch and my god is it good. The two finger scrolling is superb and the three finger side swipes for forward and back feel natural and work perfectly. This is simply the best trackpad I have used bar the Macbook one. It is well sized and has a good feel to it. The buttons are shiny (which I'm not so keen on) but their motion is good and their not too noisy. All in all, these are some seriously good HID's.

The SSD itself has had really great performance, when it works, scoring 7.9 in the WEI and having read speeds of over 550MB/s. I was worried that Asus would have had the internal SATA port connected to the SATA 2 controller which would have hampered performance somewhat but luckily this wasn't the case. The machine boots really quickly and applications fly open, It's noticeably quicker than the F60 SSD in my desktop, and I'm definitely considering buying a 256GB and doing some reorganising.

Battery life is generally impressive. With Minimum Brightness, Wifi + BT off, In Battery Saver mode (which locks the CPU in it's x8 Multiplier) and just idle on the desktop, or working on word documents it really does get 10 hours of battery life. On the other end of the scale when gaming it gets about an hour and 20 minutes, mainly due to the 35W CPU + 35W GPU and 88WH Battery. Battery Scales from there with it getting 6 - 8 hours when playing videos or browsing the web.

I noticed before and after the reinstall that there were some issues with stuttery sound while watching videos which was slightly strange. This sometime got to the point where the machine would restart during particularly bad stuttering. This was concerning of course so I started googling and deploying tools. DPC latency checker identified that there was indeed an issue with a driver with the DPC latency rising to over 15000ms! (below 500 is ideal). This was exacerbated by opening Resource Monitor which proved a useful way to narrow down the faulty driver. By disabling devices I discovered it was the Gigabit LAN Driver that was causing the issue. By Disabling it when it's not in use the problem is gone and hasn't raised its head since. Still working with Asus on coming up with a full fix.

I've now begun travelling with the notebook and have found it to be light and practical. The Power supply is a 90W model, has a Blue LED and gets quite hot when charging or powering the machine, but I've yet to see it become unstable. It's of average bulk and size and of normal length and the power tip locates firmly with a 90 degree tip. The Battery seems to wear at a standard rate and came with 1% wear as you'd expect.

I've installed Ubuntu 11 under VirtualBox for my Programming and it works rapidly thanks to the VT-x Support. I'm also intending to use Office One Note for taking notes in lectures and have set up my Outlook and suchlike. The spec of the machine means it can handle Win 7 64* with no problems and with an SSD the boot times fly.

Overall I'm really happy with the machine, The build quality is solid and the price is very competitive. The Keyboard is nice and the Trackpad is immense. The performance is awesome and the spec is very good for the money. The size is just right and the machine looks very smart and definitely worth the cost. I'd advise anyone to get one without any hesitation, but maybe don't use a Sandforce SSD if you're upgrading :P

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Why I love the HP / Compaq Mini 311

A couple of years ago if you had of told me I would have a glorified netbook as my secondary PC I would of just laughed at you. The first wave of n230 7” atom PC’s seemed so useless for anything real world. The screen was too small, and it ground to a halt if you showed it anything more complicated than 2+2=4. It seemed like a combination that was just not thought through. Surely there was a happy medium somewhere between the 15.6” monsters and their 7” tiny brethren.
And so just past Christmas 2009 I decided that I would start looking for a new ultraportable, but one that would be usable for more than just basic office work. By this point netbooks had mainly evolved up to 10” atom N270’s which while a step forward was still not enough. The main problems with them were the resolution, keyboard and mouse. 1024x600 is simply not enough to run windows in comfortably. You spend your whole life scrolling up and down and applications often didn’t fully fit into the screen. On top of that the keyboards and trackpads were squeezed into the chassis and I struggled to find one that was comfortable enough to use day to day.
On the other end of the scale there were the Sony ultraportables. They were small and powerful but with a £1000+ price tag there was no way I’d be affording one of them anytime soon, and I needed it in the next few weeks. One thing that caught my eye however was that Asus had produced a few 11.6” netbooks with 1366x768 screens. The screen resolution sounded too good to be true but unfortunately they were paired with 1.33GHz Atom CPU’s. So I endeavoured to find an 11.6” laptop with a little more under the lid.
I’d read a little about the Nvidia Ion chipset on sites like Anandtech, but never really considered owning something with one in. Then, I came across the Mini 311. I thought my birthday and Christmas had come at once. Here was a machine that had the same 11.6” 1366x768 display of the Asus’, but also had a 1.6GHz Atom N270, Ion LE chipset, 160GB HDD, 1GB of DDR3, Wifi, 6 Cell etc etc. It sounded like a brilliant base for a good little ultraportable, especially running a nice lightweight OS like Windows XP. I’m not a fool however, I knew well and good that the N270 is a single core with hyperthreading, and that hyperthreading is nothing like having two cores. On top of that 1GB of Ram wasn’t going to hold me over for long so I went into it knowing that I would be performing some upgrades at some point during my laptop’s lifetime.
£300 later, I had ordered a Mini 311 direct from HP and before I knew it, it had arrived on the doorstep. I unboxed it with a strong sense of awe. In the flesh it was such a pretty machine! The white lights contrasted brilliantly with the silver and black casing and even the font of the keys was pleasing to the eye. I powered her up and she was swiftly into the OEM Windows XP installation. I was pleasantly surprised with the pace of the machine. It was able to swiftly browse the web, while playing back some H264 video in Media Player Classic (which leveraged all 16 of it’s graphics cores) and there wasn’t any significant slowdown. If anything I did find in heavier sessions that I would be limited by the HDD access speed (which was 5400rpm), RAM, (of which 128Mb was allocated off to the Ion chip) and the CPU speed of apps that weren’t GPU accelerated.
So I used the machine for a few months and started getting to grips with it. The screen was and still is brilliant. The vertical viewing angles left a little bit to be desired but the pixel pitch more than made up for it. The keyboard was well sized and nice to use and the mouse although not perfect, was more than usable. Battery llife was also not bad, heavily browsing the web I’d get ~3hrs from the 55wH battery, 5 hours when working on documents, offline, low brightness. I did find that for some tasks the 1.6GHz single core really wasn’t up to heavy CPU only loads. Extracting zip files for example, was a task that simply took more time than on a desktop quad core so I resolved to start upgrading the machine to get the absolute most from it.
I started by ordering a stick of Crucial 2GB DDR3 1333MHz and buying a Hitachi 320GB 7200RPM HDD. The combination gave a healthy boost to the overall system performance, and the amount of Graphics Ram increased itself to 256MB. Thanks to these upgrades many older games became easily playable, however the restricted CPU horsepower continued to limit many titles.
It was at about this point I discovered the MyHPMini forums. This was just a bunch of owners of various models of HP netbooks and among them there was a subforum for 311 owners. Many of these members, like me, realised the potential of the machine and it seemed a large number of quite technically minded people had purchased Mini 311’s and more importantly, joined the forums.
When I found the site there were a few active projects looking at getting more from the 311. First was the ION LE –> ION conversion mod. Basically all this did was flash the GPU BIOS to allow DX10 effects to be used on the Mini’s GPU. Still to this day I haven’t used this mod and my reasons are thus. The conversion doesn’t actually give you any extra performance. People seem to think it does, but I see no way it can. It doesn’t raise clock speeds or increase the shader or ROP count so there’s definitely no hardware improvement’s to be found. As well as this, DX10 as an API did little to improve performance in games. It was generally used to add complicated effects on top of DX9 games, and only in the latest range of titles. As awesome as it is, the 311 was never built to play the latest titles at anything near the top graphical settings. As such the added DX10 effects netted me no gain and as someone said a long time ago, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
The next notable mod was a project some guys were doing to enable some mild software overclocking for the CPU’s powering our Mini 311’s. Their stock Frequency was either 1.60GHz or 1.66GHz and they were hoping to get that frequency up a bit. I got stuck into the thread and before we knew it we had a usable mod. It revolved around using the Asrock OC tool which, as you can guess from the name, is designed to overclock Asrock motherboards. Now obviously, our HP didn’t have an Asrock motherboard, but Asrock did produce an Ion Motherboard which the tool was compatible with. A bit of technical modding to some .ini files later, we had a usable tool that could adjust the base clock of the CPU.
The stock base clock of the N270 is 133Mhz. This is then translated to the CPU clockspeed through a 12x multiplier (6x when Idle) to give a full clockspeed of 1600Mhz. The RAM speed is also derived from the base clock with the default being 1333Mhz or 8x the base clock. Using the Asrock tool I was able to push the CPU to nearly 2.0Ghz without my additional 2GB stick and to just over 1.8GHz with my additional RAM. The machine didn’t appear to be running into a CPU boundary, but more a RAM speed one. With the base clock overclocked past about 150MHz my 2GB stick would start erroring, and I wasn’t able to adjust the timings or memory ratio because the machine came with an OEM’d HP BIOS which had been gutted of all of the great Nvidia performance BIOS options present in their original ION chipset Bios.
So with my 1.8GHz overclock I got an appreciable increase in CPU performance, which helped out in any and all situations where I was CPU limited. I had heard that people using Liquid Nitrogen on ITX Atom boards had managed to get theirs up to 2.2GHz so I felt that to get a good 1.8GHz wasn’t bad. I also decided to break out a few GPU overclocking tools and see which worked the best with the Ion chip. In most games I was CPU limited but for the GPU limited ones I decided to see how much more I could eek out of my little Ion chip. It’s stock clocks are 450 core, Memory tied to the CPU memory speeds, and 900MHz shader cores. I tried rivatuner but it wouldn’t recognise the chipset, Nvidia System tools on the other hand recognised it no problem and was happy to play with the clock speeds. I got them up to a happy stable 525MHz Core and 1200MHz Shaders, which was a healthy boost to my little 16 cores.
I found that the combination gave me a great little boost in Games like KOTOR, and meant I could enable a few more pretty graphics options and the CPU clock increase gave a nice little performance boost across the whole OS. However, I knew I needed more from the CPU and what I needed was to be able to get the RAM multiplier down a notch. In the meantime I decided to stick with what I had and create profiles on my Windows XP Desktop. My performance profile raised the Max 3D clocks to the 525/1200 speeds and power save brought the 3D clocks down to 2D speeds.
It was around this time I decided to give Windows 7 a go. I had got some spare Windows 7 Pro Licenses at home and decided to chuck one on a separate partition. I split the HDD in three, Win XP, Win 7 and Data/Media, and then delved into the Install. By default the Mini 311 comes with AHCI enabled, which means XP reinstalls are “fun” to say the least (I’ve since created a custom install disk in case I ever need to wipe a 311). Windows 7 installs on the other hand are no problem as it plays nicely with AHCI, so I chucked the 32* disk in my external optical drive and before I knew it I had a nice shiny clean OS.
I found the initial Win 7 Performance to be ok, the OS was generally thrashing the HDD and CPU for quite a while after the install, so I took to disabling the Indexing service and the like. I also found that AVG with Win 7 really compromised the system performance, as did MS Security Essentials. I figured out that it was the Real Time scanning that was the real problem (it was adding minutes to the boot time) I’ve since settled on ESET Smart Security, which has a very small footprint and in my experience Is the best package for keeping a machine squeaky clean.
I also experimented (almost jokingly) with Virtualisation. I tried running Ubuntu 10 in VirtualBox but even the install took a month of Sundays. The lack of VT-x combined with the general lack of grunt means I reckon I’ll be holding off on Virtualisation until I get a majorly more meaty mobile machine. I also abandoned iTunes on Windows 7 as it was just getting to the point where the app was getting so heavy that it was compromising multitasking! I switched over to WinAmp which uses minimal resources while doing the same job and it’s not a problem at all.
Back on the OS front, I left my games installed in XP and set Windows 7 up as a “working” OS. I set up Office 2007 and got my Chrome Browser synced in etc etc. I found the performance generally fine (things could get sluggish if I was running more than one “heavy” app) but once I’d got the right apps sorted the OS was generally responsive.
It was at about this point I came across a mod being worked on by “Icelord” on the HPMini forums to reopen all the advanced Nvidia Performance options of the BIOS. It was no mean feat, but before I knew it there was the final BIOS file ready for flashing. Now many people can go their entire lives never having to flash a BIOS, and that’s good, because doing so results in the production of more grey hairs than taking a cat to the vets. On top of that having to flash IN WINDOWS is generally considered one of the worst ideas ever dreamt up in the history of mankind. But here I was about to flash a handwritten BIOS into my laptop in windows. There is no reset; get this wrong and you have a DEAD laptop on your hands. The only way back would be a new motherboard, or possibly soldering a new BIOS chip on if you’re very good with a soldering iron, neither of which is ideal. So I stopped every unnecessary running process, took a deep breath, and started the flash.
I sat there watching a small bar moving across the screen, knowing that if something went wrong, and that bar stopped, I had killed my Mini 311. It didn’t stop. It said the flash had completed successfully. But would she restart? Was this the last time my machine would ever be alive and in an OS? I clicked restart. The screen went black. I waited for an eternity. Where was the boot logo? Where was my BIOS? After a few very tense moments, the screen flashed back to life and I had my new custom BIOS ready to dive into. F10. I’m in. Phew! The first few pages were the same as before but then there was the lovely “advanced” menu. Options and options and options, but crucially, The RAM Ratio was adjustable, and even unlinkable! But I didn’t want to dive in completely headfirst, because the CMOS chip in the 311 had no reset. You get the settings wrong, and you have a dead machine! This custom BIOS was turning out to be rather fraught with danger!
So I began researching the best settings to go for to get the most out of my machine. And eventually I picked my point and went for it. I chose an FSB of 185. Yep. 37% faster than stock, keeping the CPU multiplier at 12x resulting in a clock speed of 2,220MHz, while dropping the ram down to 932Mhz at 7-7-7-18 2T timings. Noice. But would it work? I had to feed the FSB into the BIOS as a quad pumped frequency, which in basically meant multiplying the value I wanted by four. But I then also had to give that value in terms of an integer + a variable. I gave it as 512+228 and the Ram ratio of 10:4. I also bumped the VRAM up from 256Mb to 512MB, just in case. I then pushed the enter key, and F10. Save and Exit BIOS. The screen went black, again I was torn up inside, what was I doing? Would this kill it? Would this be the end of my machine? The screen was black... No life? No? Had I really done it? The screen flickered on. She posted. My Mini was alive, just. The POST had been very slow, and I was worried she was going to conk out on me. But she didn’t. My amazing little machine booted straight into Windows 7. The OS loaded nice and swiftly, and I fired up CPU-Z. The settings had taken. I had a 2.22GHz Atom N270. Awesome. I fired up Prime95 to check for stability and sure enough she seemed solid. I left the machine attached to the mains for a few hours to check she was stable and also checked the new idle clock of 1.11GHz was stable (which it was, even without liquid nitrogen!). I’d done it. YAY!
I booted round into XP to get some game on. I also had my Asrock Tuner to see if there was any headroom left in the machine (There wasn’t). I then reconfigured my GPU profiles which had broken because Nvidia System Tools covers all the bus speeds on the system and my new FSB didn’t match the one in the profile. And so I fired up some games, and my god they liked the extra clockspeed. It really made a difference, and when recombined with my GPU overclock, My little Mini absolutely flew.
A few months later (while perusing ebay) I made another discovery. A company called laptop-powerup were exporting 3rd Party batteries from China and these weren’t just any batteries. The Stock model is a 55WH 6 Cell Battery, manufactured by HP. I’d seen lots of cheap third party 44WH batteries made in China which obviously would have lost you 20% of your battery capacity. But this wasn’t one of those batteries. This was not a 6 cell. This was a 9 cell, 78WH battery. That’s an extra 42% capacity. Hell Yeah! Needless to say I bought one, and £40 and a few weeks later, I was the proud owner of one of the first Mini 311 9 Cell batteries in Britain. She fitted cleanly into the body of the machine, and her extra cells sat in a protrusion that lifted the base of the machine off a flat surface, which as someone pointed out, would be good for cooling. I took some pics and posted them up to the MyHPMini forum. I was inundated for information on battery life etc. So I began to test, and I really did get at least an extra 42% from it. That resulted in an Idle time approaching 9 hours, a web browsing time of around 5 hours and a gaming time of around 3 hours. Noice.
And to be honest that was it. That is pretty much all the successful improvements I’ve made to my Mini, and to be honest I don’t think I could have asked for a better base to work from. My 1.6GHz, 1GB, 160GB, 128MB ION, Win XP machine has become a 2.22GHz, 3GB, 320GB 7200RPM, 512MB ION OC, Win7&XP Dual Boot Machine. What a transformation.
I’ve considered various other upgrades over the time I’ve had my Mini. I’ve looked into fitting a Mini PCI-E SSD into the slot underneath, but have yet to find a one that is both cost effective and compatible. The Idea would be I would have my Main HDD (for Media and some apps) and have my Mini SSD for my Win 7 OS. Unfortunately most Mini PCI-E SSD’s aren’t really Mini PCI-E. They use the connector, but electrically they’re SATA. Thing is my Mini PCI-E is definitely not electrically SATA, and there’s some debate on the forums as to whether they’re electrically USB or real PCI-E. In recent months Supertalent have released a new range of real PCI-E SSD’s, but they’re prohibitively expensive, and the higher performance model isn’t out in the UK yet. Hopefully if the price falls and someone can confirm compatibility then it could be an upgrade for the future.
I also considered getting a WWAN chip for the laptop to get some internal mobile internet going, but I’ve since got my Mifi going nicely. This way I can have various devices hooked up to my 3 Mobile internet contract. The internal modem would be a pain to fit as well as I’d also have to buy some more aerials and route them up through the screen, which would involve taking the screen apart, which is something I’d prefer to avoid on pain of death. I’ve also considered adding Wireless N but have wanted to do so without removing Bluetooth. I use Bluetooth for a Razer Pro¦Click Black mouse which is great for gaming so I can’t really remove that but having 150Mb/s of wireless bandwidth would be mighty fine useful for chucking data between machines. I have a Buffalo Wireless N Router which is great for my phone but I’ve yet to find a half height Mini PCI-E Wifi n + Bluetooth card. Other options for adding Bluetooth separately have also proved expensive or just downright impractical.
Ultimately the Mini 311 has been the best machine I could have ever wished for. One of the things that has always frustrated my about Notebooks is their relative “un-upgrabable-ness”, But the 311 has broken that mould. This machine is so different to the machine it started out as it’s amazing. On the surface it appears like any other Mini 311 but as soon as you power it on it’s apparent this one is something special.
One day however, I will have to get a new laptop. But there is no way that my next machine will be as amazingly flexible as my 311 has been. I’m currently considering a Sony Vaio SA. It’s a different kind of machine to be honest. Whereas the Mini was always meant to compliment my Desktop machine the Sony will be looking to do alot of the work that my Desktop currently does, including Virtualisation, and some, but not high end gaming. When I’m done upgrading it, it’ll be a 2.7GHz (3.4GHz Turbo) i7 Dual Core, 8GB DDR3, 256GB Sandforce SSD, Radeon 6630M 1GB GPU, Win 7 HP 64* all in a 1.8Kg 13” chassis with a 1600x900 display and a sheet battery that brings total life in stamina mode up to 14Hrs. This is going to be almost a desktop replacement machine, but it’ll cost around £1400. Gulp. I can’t really afford it, but after the year I’ve had I really think I could do with something absolutely awesome. I’m looking tentatively at what options I’ve got in terms of desktop upgrades. To be honest my machine isn’t struggling with any current titles, especially thanks to the free GTX 480 that I won, so I’m really struggling to justify dropping £££’s on mega upgrades. I think I’ll wait for Ivy Bridge + GTX 600 series. And If I have the money, then I’ll pull the trigger on some upgrades. But I won’t have the money, so I’ll probably have this spec for a good few years to come.
To summarise, the Mini 311 is a shining star in what is generally a very dull notebook sector. It’s the perfect form factor, and absolutely amazing for an enthusiast. It’s also very humbling to go back to having one core of an old architecture, it really make you appreciate having our modern quad and six core CPU’s that we take for granted today. I’ve recently managed to get Burnout Paradise running really smoothly under WinXP, with all my overclocks enabled, Temps hit 90C but it just plays and plays (battery life suffers somewhat though). So anyway as Guns n’ Roses say, “Take me down to the Paradise City!”

Sunday, 31 July 2011


So I’m sat on a train home, just finished work, and it’s been an interesting week computer wise. Managed to get Burnout Paradise going on my 311!!! It’s awesome, and I never thought my little Atom + Ion chip would be up to it. Got the CPU still at 2.25GHz and have overclocked the GPu from 450 core, 900 shaders to 525 core, 1200 shaders, and it is more than playable! Battery life is about 2hours (if that) and the machine does get *very* hot, but it’s awesome. Game is running at 1366x768 on all low settings but considering that it still looks good :)
Also been ogling laptops for uni, my current favourite is the Sony Vaio SA series which (although it has an ATi GPU) is an amazing machine. Only thing is my preferred spec is ~ £1200 so it may be a little bit out of my budget. Either way, I’m saving as much as I can, and soon I’m going to be selling off some old bits and bobs on forums and eBay. I’ll check back with how that goes.
Work has been good, built some nice machines with i7 2600’s, 8GB of ram and a Radeon 6950 Graphics Card, one had a Vertex 3 SSD in it as well (which is always nice). Suffice to say lots of 7.9’s in the Windows Experience Index.
Sent the Crosshair III Formula I won back to Asus as they decided they’re going to replace it with another something of some description rather than send me a sound card for it. Will report back when I hear from them.
Desktop has been going well, only issues I’ve had since I got my 480 is idle power consumption and heat (although some of that is because the British summer is FINALLY here) I’ve brought my CPU down to stock volts and have it going along nicely at 3.6GHz. Also configured the machine to auto turn off the screen etc. 
And Finally, I’m currently in the process of reorganising how I store all my data and backing it up. Only problem? I’ve lost the mains led for my external hard drive. *facepalm.* Ahh well life goes on...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Life with a GTX 480

So first another big thanks to Bit-Tech and Asus for my brilliant prize, I hadn’t imagined I was going to come away from the event with anything near as meaty a 480 so was over the moon when I got it plumbed into my system. I wasn’t remotely sad about pulling out my GTX 280. It’s the last remnant from my RMA saga with VCS and the bad memories won’t be missed. I personally love reference coolers on Nvidia Cards, there’s something solid and reliable about them, and I always prefer a reference model to a cheapened custom model. To my delight the card was a full reference model, laced with a carbon fibre design and fully equipped with a big shiny heatsink and 4000RPM delta fan for cooling. Yikes.
I spent some time looking over the card. The carbon fibre design really appealed to me and the overall design of the card (including the little Geforce by the power connectors) was much to my liking. So with little delay, I ripped out my old 280, wrapped it up in an anti-static bag, and dropped in my shiny new 480, plugging in the 6 and 8 pin connectors from my old card. It posted first time (which is very nice if you’re me) and with a nice whisper of idle noise I was into Windows. I reinstalled the 275.50 drivers, cranked up the digital vibrance a bit (seriously love this feature) and started up GPU-Z. Idle temps of 45C with a 44% fan speed at 1700rpm was acceptable but I made a mental note to try and lower the speed at some point (as none of the rest of the fans in my system make anywhere near 1700rpm’s worth of noise, even though it’s still really quiet).
I fired up a bit of Unigine Heaven and popped on the tessellation for the first time on my own system. At 1920x1200 the 480 made mincemeat of it, and I soon began popping on some 3dMark Vantage and Crysis benchmarks. Load temps were maxing at 88C with the fan at about 2600rpm, which while still hot was alot cooler and quieter than some people had told me 480’s ran. Over the next few days I got playing some games and found almost all of them preferred the 480 to my previous 2x 280’s. That shows you the difference architecture can make. One of the only exceptions was Vantage which gave the 280’s 4000 points more than the 480!!! O_O
Just Cause 2 was a good example. Although several of my friends swear it’s a well optimised game, I’d often had issues with performace, and got generally poor scaling from the SLI profile. No such problems with the 480 though, even with SSAO and GPU water physics Maxxed the game ran like a knife through butter. Very impressed by the performance on show here and sunk a few more hours into what is a superlative free sandbox game.
Next up Crysis, the 2x 280’s managed but struggled with everything on very high, often dipping down to 20fps (or lower) and that resulted in me having alot of the options such as shadows and postprocessing set down to high. No such issues with the 480 though! On all high’s @1920x1200 w 4xAA It posted an average of over 60fps and up at Very high posted an average of 33fps :D Think I might play through the storyline one more time when I get back from holiday.
The Witcher 2 also ate up the performance of the new card. My GeForce2 card ran it on good settings with a pretty consistant framerate (apart from large fight scenes) but the 480 just mushed through everything! I set the game up to ultra (with Ubersampling off) and it Plowed through the game like a witcher in a brothel. Even with the settings bouncing off the top the frame rate was still smoother than with my 280 and I actually reached the end of my first playthrough. I’m really happy with the performance (and the game!) and looking forward to playing through the storyline a few more times.
I also tried out the Nvidia demos for the 4 and 5 series. Design garage still ran like a raytracing application whereas the Superonic Sled demo ran silky smooth. The Endless City GeForce5 demo took the fight to my 480 though, with masses of tessalation on show. Still smooth enough framerates in this and in the Aliens vs triangles demo. The Medusa GeForce2 demo also ran without a hitch as you’d expect.
Generally I found that in almost all games settings could be maxxed and performance was much improved. The higher average framerate in games like BFBC2 and TDU2 meant that gameplay was more enjoyable on the whole, which I’m very pleased with indeed :)
Among other games I found that Assassins Creed: Brotherhood (which I’m currently playing through) could be maxed in DX11 mode and was still silky smooth. All this performance is making me question spending £1K+ on a big system upgrade before I go off to uni but I think I’ll see how it goes.
Since getting the system I’ve also moved my system to another room and unfortunately the desk it’s under doesn’t give as good ventilation as the place it was before. This, combined with some hot weather, has resulted in my CPU temps rising from 44C / 62C to 50C / 68C hot for a Phenom II, but tbh I’m not confident my Overclock is all that great anymore. It needs alot of voltage to keep it stable and the Hydro H50 doesn’t seem to be doing a particularly stellar job at getting rid of all of that heat.
Because of this hot weather I decided to try setting a custom fan profile for my new 480. In the past I’ve always used Rivatuner for custom fan maps, but it’s now long since been unsupported and I don’t know whether it was the 480 or the 275 drivers but it just didn’t give me the options to change the fan max and minimums. I decided to give EVGA Precision’s fan control a try and set about adjusting the little graph you can use to adjust the curve of fan speeds. I dropped the idle speed a little bit (to around 1300rpm) and raised the loads speeds to try and keep the max temps down.
This resulted in a hell of a lot more noise under load, but despite the hot weather, load temps came down to 81C. I’ve since put this back to stock, because having a hot room has resulted in idle temps of 60C (even though it would hit this and then cool itself)and I just didn’t find the jumping nature of the fan control ideal. I also think that it made a mistake at some point and failed to raise the fan to the correct speeds. I got a weird cut out that looked like a thermal trip, so decided it was best to go back to stock for now.
Besides the heat I’m very glad I got the GTX 480. It’s closest card is the 570 and it’s better in a lot of ways. It has 1.5GB of ram, a 384Bit Memory interface and 48 ROPs to the 570’s 1.2GB, 320bit memory interface and 40 rops. They both have 480 Fermi SP’s and both have quite similar clocks (700,1400,3696 to 732,1464,3800). The 570 of course does put out less heat and draw less power so it’s more overclockable but it also has the crazy power limiting hardware nvidia chucked into the 5 series cards which kinda spoils the fun in some games and applications. At the end of the day I’d rather take the 480 as the more complete architecture should see it hold it’s own at higher resolutions and in games going forward.
Overall I’m really impressed with the 480, It’s given me no real issues and has plowed through everything I’ve thrown at it. I’ve thought about picking up another one while I can @£199 but I think the heat and temps might just kill me / my machine. I did find getting it free a bit peculiar though :P I’m so used to planning every purchase and upgrade to such an intricate level of detail that just having a 480 drop into my lap really did come as quite a surprise! A pleasant one though, I’m very glad to be rid of my 280 which will be finding it’s way into a friend/cousin’s machine and I’m looking forward to a solid summer of great DX11 capable gaming!