Category Archives: Hardware

Wide Screen

A very astute reader of the blog might have noticed that, recently, some of my screen shots included in posts were a bit… wider… than normal.  That last screen shot on my post about WoW Classic alts was different that the rest.

And some screen shots in the post about the battle at 46-U6U in EVE Online featured some screen shots like that as well.

This is because I recently was able to borrow a Dell U3415W monitor.  The “34” refers to it being 34″ diagonal in size.  It is a big monitor.  Perhaps the biggest one I have ever worked on, at least when it comes to screen resolution.

It displays at 3440 x 1440 resolution.  That is a lot of pixels to push.  My main monitor, a 24″ Dell U2412M was just 1920 x 1200 for comparison.

But the first thing was to find room for it on my desk.  The monitor is big enough that it is curved slightly, so that the whole screen stays in your peripheral vision.  I was able to squeeze it in there and still keep my little (1600 x 900) secondary monitor on the side, so I can play full screen and still be able to see IMs or pull up maps or quest info or whatever.

It fits there

The main problem is what to do with my Snowball microphone.  It used to sit off to the side of the old monitor, but cable reach and space constraints now mean it has to it somewhere in front of one of the monitors.  Unfortunately, it is just tall enough that it blocks something no matter where I put it.  So it moves around at need for the moment.

And once I had the monitor hooked up… well… let me tell you, your perceptions about desktop space and what windows need to be opened up full screen change.  It was kind of crazy, having that much room for stuff on the screen.  I wondered how I would get used to it… and then about an hour later I was.

You certainly don’t need to expand most things to take up the full screen.  Web sites, text documents, chat windows, they can all live in much smaller spaces.  Spreadsheets though!  Now there is some full screen magic.

But first I was on to games.

I wanted to know what games would actually support a 3440 x 1440 resolution.  What could I play full screen?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, World of Warcraft was totally fine with the big screen.  In perhaps a bit of a surprise though, WoW Classic is also good with that much real estate.

A Plaguelands panorama

The UI scales fine, nothing is awkwardly out of place, no bits are stretched, everything is anchored in what feels like just the right spot, and playing in a world that extends to the edge of your vision is actually pretty cool.  I got used to that very quickly.

EVE Online, my other much have, likewise seemed fine with a big screen, though the client has been somewhat resolution agnostic for a while.  It will size to whatever screen you want.  The UI does get pretty small and things you need to click on… and you need to click on many things in EVE Online… can seem pretty far apart until you move around some of the UI, but it works.  And the view can be breathtaking.

In the slow motion scrum of battle

Games that are screen size agnostic, games like RimWorld, had not problem with the bigger monitor.  You just get to see more real estate.  I was a bit surprised to find that Age of Empires II HD was good with the resolution.

An RTS panorama

The awkward bit is that the game anchors the mini-map and the build controls at the lower corners, which are way far apart and distant from whatever you are likely doing on the main screen at any given moment.  Not so bad if you have memorized the key controls.  But if you’re like me and need to click, the sheer distance will slow you down.

Other games worked with varying degrees of success.  EverQuest II seemed good with the screen size overall, save for the experience and control bar at the bottom of the screen, which only scales to about half that width.

I guess it anchors on the left size of the screen

However, the view of the landscape, in the newer zones at least, was very nice.

It’s older sibling, EverQuest, gamely tried to follow suit.  Launching the game, the windows seemed disinclined to stretch and just stayed their usual defaults.  Once in the game, things opened up as it tried to accommodate the wideness of the new reality.

Let’s get wide in Norrath

The UI ended up getting stretched across the screen as things tried to remain relatively spaced. The UI settings acknowledged the screen size, but the view into the world felt a bit stretched across the horizontal plane.

Likewise, Lord of the Rings Online started up fairly awkwardly. As it started up windows were stretched, controls were stretched, and the signs looks bad. But once in the game, things settled down. The UI had a few quirks… when you open up your bags they all have unnecessarily space between them… but otherwise looked good.

From middle to wide earth

I was at least covered on some of the older games I play. I haven’t dug through them all yet, and some are up front about not supporting anything wider that 2560 x 1440. Diablo III falls in that category, not that I have played it recently.

Probably the only downside I’ve seen so far is Minecraft. It runs just fine and scales up to the right size without issue. And when looking out on the world it is quite a sight. But the moment I turn left or right, the way it handles motion blur at the edges of the screen starts to give me a bit of motion sickness. (I get the head ache sort, not the nausea sort.) That might be something I could get used to, but it was unpleasant so I stopped playing around with it pretty quickly.

And then, of course, there is my video card. When I built my current system about two years back, I went with an EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB video card. That was a decent choice as it appears to be just about able to handle the big screen when running some of these games. When I used the GeForce Experience to optimize my graphic settings for the new monitor, it did turn down the detail on some titles. Even with WoW Classic, which I had been running max settings on, needed a couple of settings dialed back a bit.

Of course, I immediately started looking into new video cards, but the timing is bad. Not only is there the whole “kid in college” level of expenses to deal with at the moment, but nVidia just announced a new lineup, but the older cards haven’t seen a price break yet. Maybe by Christmas time there will be a decent upgrade at a good price.

That assumes I’ll get to hang on to the monitor for a while, though it might be one of those things where once you have had this much screen space you can never go back.

[This post was written in WordPress.com’s new “block editor,” about which I will complain at a later date. It is not only awkward to use, but makes the post look different from other posts if you look closely. WP.com deployed the block editor while I was writing this, and I thought I was trapped with it, but I have since figured out how to continue to use the “classic” editor going forward.]

Friday Bullet Points on a Tuesday just to Catch Up

Basically, the month slipped by and ends tomorrow and there were several things I think I should have mentioned, if only to set their place in the timeline of what happened this month.  So on to summaries and links and bullet points.

  • LOTRO Planning a “Mini” Expansion

Standing Stone Games announced that Lord of the Rings Online will be getting a mini expansion pack titled War of the Three Peaks next month.  SSG will be treating it like an expansion in that it will be available in three different versions:

  • Normal Edition – $20
  • Collector’s Edition – $59
  • Ultimate Edition – $99

SSG has been less than forthcoming as to what players will get for the extra $39 or $79, aside from the possibility of boar mounts.  Reaction to this mini expansion has been mixed.

I’m holding my own opinion on value until SSG comes out with more details, but my past experience with Adventure packs, an idea that shows up at Daybreak every so often, only to be disavowed, places my expectations low.

  • EVE Online Mineral Redistribution Plan

CCP put out a dev blog on Friday about the next steps in their economic work, calling it a “redistribution” plan.  However, it reads much more like a continuation of the “starvation” plan that they have been working on so far, with more things being removed from various areas of space and reducing yields on what remains.  The forum thread regarding this change exploded, which was no surprise.  Likewise, the chat in the live stream discussing the changes blew up as several devs tried not to pour gasoline on the fire and failed. (You can watch a re-run of the live stream or read a transcript if you’re that interested.)

Cutting through much of the general rage about the changes, it seems like CCP is trying to solve super capital proliferation via minerals.  However, supers use the same minerals as T1 subcaps, so T1 stuff is going to feel the same resource squeeze.  Updates that are all pain for no gain never fly well with the base.

The changes are supposed to come mid-October, so look for people to be mining heavily until that happens in an effort to try and insulated themselves from the already spiking mineral prices.

  • EVE Online Ship Models

CCP has a deal going with Mixed Dimensions to make models of EVE Online ships that players can buy, who have just added more hulls to those available.

I have always been a bit dubious about the ship models thing since the battleship models from more than a decade ago, not to mention the floating Nyx model that was a bust.  But maybe this time enough players… who always say they want these sorts of things… will actually pony up and buy them.  For me, however, the prices are a bit rich.  And I have that Rifter model from the 10th anniversary special in any case.

  • Microsoft buys ZeniMax Media

Microsoft agreed to pay $7.5 billion to acquire ZeniMax Media.  That name might sound familiar as they own id Software (Doom franchise), Arkane Studios (Prey, Dishonored), MachineGames (Wolfenstein franchise), Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within), Bethesda Softworks (Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises), and ZeniMax Online Studios (The Elder Scrolls Online).

While there will be no immediate change to any of the studios or their titles, it does raise the question as to what in the future will be exclusive to XBox and what will be available on other consoles or even on the PC.

  • Sony PlayStation 5 Pre-Orders Open Up, Hilarity Ensues

As foretold by every similar experience in the past, the pre-order process was swamped by people looking to get the new PlayStation 5 console, slated to ship in November, and by people looking to grab one to scalp on eBay to take advantage of desperate consumers as the holiday shopping season begins.  If you Google what happened, the word “fiasco” seems to be a common thread in much of the reporting.  Some of the confusion was caused by retailers putting pre-orders up for sale a day early.  Sony apologized for what happened and promised to do better in the future.

  • Microsoft XBox Series X and S Pre-Orders Open Up, Hilarity Ensues

Later in the week Microsoft opened up pre-orders for the coming XBox Series X and S consoles, slated to ship in November, leading to another rush to get in first to claim a unit, either to own or to scalp later.  While things were less chaotic (the news stories rank the event somewhere between “mess” and “debacle,” which is better than a “fiasco” I think) there were still issues and all units were quickly sold out.

The added dimension here is that the XBox One X, a previous generation console, saw a spike in orders at the same time, so it is quite possible that at least a few people are going to be very disappointed to find out that they were duped by Microsoft’s naming scheme into ordering the wrong unit.

  • Foreclosing on your Farmville

Zynga announced that they will be shutting down Farmville at the end of the year.

Farmville, the big break out game for Mark Pincus and Zynga and the poster child for Facebook “social gaming,” which at its 2011 peak had more than 80 million players, was also the standard bearer for annoying garbage games that made you pester your Facebook friends or straight up pay cash to advance and help define the whole genre as spammy pieces of shit.

Of course, that is what you get when your founder doesn’t even really like games all that much.

The surprise here isn’t so much that the game is shutting down but that it was still up and running.  Then again, literally the most profitable thing that Zynga has done during its entire existence was buy property in the SF Bay Area.  I am told that selling their building earned them more than all of their games combined over the last decade.  And, as they lucked into the social gaming on Facebook trend, they managed to luck into the peak, pre-pandemic real estate market in SF.  Good for their investors I guess.

I expect I will come up with a few choice words for the game, the company, and the genre to mark the final passing of the game in December.

  • EA Secretly Craves Lockbox Regulations

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

I’m throwing this one in here at the last minutes just to keep me from writing another two thousand word screed on the self-destructive behavior that greed drives this industry towards.

According to a story over at Massively OP, EA decided that advertising their FIFA 20 lockboxes in a children’s toy catalog (Smyths’ Magazine) was a good idea.  My bullet point for this section is obviously sarcasm, but only just.  The only other reason I could imaging EA thinking it was a good idea to effectively throw some red meat in front of legislators keen to declare lockboxes gambling targeted at children is that they believed that the current pandemic and political unrest would provide sufficient cover for their plan… their plan to target lockboxes at children.

This is so dumb, like a dumb sandwich with a side order of dumb and a 16oz cup of dumb to wash it all down level of dumb, that I had to stop and check other sources to make sure this wasn’t a hoax because somewhere in the back of my head something was saying that even EA could not be this dumb.

And yet, here we are.

I mean sure, I guess that the ESA declaration on lockboxes last year, who among the signatories you will find EA, didn’t specifically say that targeting children was bad. But I guess I didn’t think that needed to be said.  As I wrote a year ago, this is how you get your industry regulated.

The End of the Line for the DS Series at Nintendo

The Verge reported that at some point in the last week or so Nintendo updated their Japanese site to indicate that the remaining units in the DS lineup, the 3DL XL, 2DS, and 2DS XL are “out of production.”

If you go the US Nintendo site, mention of the DS line of handheld console has been completely scrubbed, save for the support area, where it now lives in the “Other Systems” category with the Wii, the Wii U, and older generations of the DS line.

So ends Nintendo’s dual screen handheld line.  The Switch was not supposed to replace it, not according to Nintendo at least, and the initial Switch model was certainly bulky enough compared to the pocket sized DS line to support that argument.  But then came the Switch Lite and the writing was on the wall.

Though, to my mind, the real death knell of the DS line was Game Freak moving core Pokemon RPG development to the Switch.  In our family we played some other games on the DS, but it was primarily the Pokemon console, and those core titles were always best sellers on the platform.

The end was always coming some day, and I haven’t really played anything on my 3DS XL for ages, but it is still a bit of a sad note.

On the flip side, the DS line had a hell of a run.

Released in late 2004, when the PlayStation 2, original XBox, and GameCube were the current console generation, it persisted through to pre-orders for the PlayStation 5.  The hardware went through a series of revisions, starting with the DS, then the DS Lite, then the DSi and DSi XL.  Then came the 3D plan, with the 3DS and 3DS XL, the latter getting a couple of revisions during its time.  Finally, in order to satisfy the budget end of the spectrum, there was the 2DS, unique in its form factor, and the final entry in the lineup, the 2DS XL.

That last entry, which was also the last model I owned, was basically the 3DS XL with some improvements and a the 3D option remove.  It was, in its way, the pinnacle of the line, 3D ending up being more of a gimmick than a serious feature for most people.

But we had a number of the various models along the way.

Back in early 2008 we bought a pink DS Lite for our daughter to keep her entertained on a trip that included a six hour flight.  Later that was joined by a cobalt blue DS Lite of my own, since Pokemon seemed like a lot of fun.  My daughter and I played a lot of Pokemon together.

Pokemon Diamond and the DS Lite

The WiFi features of the early units were ahead of their time.  It could be a bit finicky, but it was a deep feature.  Pokemon Diamond and Pearl had its underground feature that allowed players to interact in the caves and visit each other’s bases. (And steal their flags!)  There was online trading between players around the world.  And I was extremely impressed with the WiFi integration with the Wii as demonstrated by games like Pokemon Battle Revolution and Pokemon Ranch.

And my little cobalt blue DS Lite was, and remains, a solidly built unit.  It went on a lot of trips and I never had a problem with it.  Battery life was excellent.

My daughter got a DSi at one point, then a DSi XL, which I thought was a great improvement.  Age was creeping up on me by then and the little DS Lite screen was starting to be blurry to me.

Then the 3DS line came along.  We skipped that initially, there being no real incentive to go to a little 3DS from the big DSi XL, but Nintendo eventually came out with the 3DS XL.  My daughter wanted one for Christmas and, once she had one, I got myself one for my birthday a couple months later.  We were back and playing Pokemon again.

And Pokemon was always the main game for us.  I think the peak for my daughter and I, the point when were were the most into it, was during Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver.  The game was good and the tropes of the core RPG series still felt fresh to us.

There was the Pokewalker, the pedometer which allowed you to unlock Pokemon by getting out and walking… or, you know, cheating.  It communicated with the DS Lite via the IR port.  Only one Pokewalker went through the wash.

Pokewalker on my Belt

There were many download events, the ones where you had to go out to Toys R Us or GameStop to collect.  We event went to the regional championships just to see what was going on.

And, of course, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver was the game where I caught them all for the first and only time.  I got the National Pokedex first, which qualifies you for the achievement in the game.  But that was only 485 Pokemon, because they don’t make you get the rare, event Pokemon.  But I managed to hunt them down, getting the final one by playing Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs to get an egg that could be transferred into Pokemon SoulSilver , which would then hatch a Mamphy, with could be bred with a Ditto to get an egg that would hatch  a Phione, the last Pokemon I needed.  I had 493 Pokemon registered, back when that was all there was.

Back when 493 was all there was

I think we might have burned ourselves out on Pokemon with that run.  We played Pokemon Black & White, but were never that into it, as we skipped Pokemon Black 2 & White 2 when they came out, though I went back and played White 2 later.  It was a decent entry, and actually bucked a few of the tropes of the series.

Then there was the dead time, when the new Pokemon titles were on the 3DS, but we didn’t go there until the XL models came out.  Those saw a return to Pokemon for us and a modest revival of our passion for the games.

We played through Pokemon X & Y, Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, and Pokemon Sun & Moon, though we stumbled a bit with Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon.  We bought it, but neither of us finished it.  We were again in the “too samey” phase again.  But my daughter did devote a lot of time to Animal Crossing: New Leaf after Pokemon faded.

And that was it.  Literally the day after my wife bought me the 2DS XL for Christmas, Game Freak announced that there would be no more Pokemon games on the DS platform.  The Switch was the future.

The 3DS hung around, and even saw a bit of a sales spike at one point after that, but without Pokemon there to anchor the platform, it seemed like time was drawing down on it, which brings us to this past week.

The units are still here.  I can still play Pokemon if I want.  But the support services have been fading since the Switch came out.  None of the DS series Pokemon games can use their global trade center or other connectivity that made the games so vibrant.  That has all been turned off.  And soon enough the store and all the other bits that Nintendo has to maintain will go away.  Like the Wii before it, the DS series will become isolated, stand alone game consoles.

Still, as I said, a hell of a run.  Almost 16 years have gone by since the first units shipped, and you can still play games made for the very first DS on the final 2DS XL units.  And it was a platform for some crazy ideas.  Let’s just start with the whole two screens idea, one being a touch screen.  Then there were the IR ports and the cameras and then 3D support, which included freaking 3D camera capabilities along with AR support along with all the things Nintendo did with WiFi along the way.

Seriously, they got Netflix to make an app to stream their video service on the 3DS series.  I tried it.  It was crap quality, but you could watch stuff.

So it goes.

If I want to play Pokemon today I have a Switch Lite.  It is a nice little unit.  The screen quality is very good.  But it won’t replace the DS series in my heart.  There is too much of my life tied up in that.

Other eulogies for the DS platform:

Oculus and the Facebook Account Requirement

And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like “Log in with your Facebook account!”

Somethin’ Stupid, lyrics slightly altered

I remember back when Facebook bought Oculus back in 2014 and the panic it tended to induce in people.  The quotes I gathered at the time indicated that some people did not like Facebook.  I am not sure why, given all they had done for gaming up to that point, like… um…

Oh yeah, social gaming, and that crash when the accurtate description of the average game on the service became “spammy piece of shit,” was still living large in our collective memories back then.  FarmVille!

Happy FarmVille Memories

But we don’t hate Facebook as much now… oh, right… yeah, Zuckerberg’s decision that money from people seeking to subvert democracy and spread false rumors spends just as well as money from any other product has not made him any more popular.

At least, however, he seemed to be content to leave Oculus and its VR headset business alone.  That was likely because the VR market has yet to meet early expectations.  CCP didn’t get out of the VR space because business there was booming.  So Oculus has been able to improve its hardware over time as they continued to sell units at a decent, if more modest, rate.  That latest model from them is better, smaller, cheaper, and no longer requires so many connections to your PC.  All of that is likely to make VR more viable in the market.

Things have been quiet enough that you might have even forgotten that Facebook bought Oculus… until this week.

This week it was announced that Oculus users would eventually have to migrate to using a Facebook account to log in.  The full announcement is here.  The crux of it is:

Starting in October 2020:

  • Everyone using an Oculus device for the first time will need to log in with a Facebook account.

  • If you are an existing user and already have an Oculus account, you will have the option to log in with Facebook and merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts.

  • If you are an existing user and choose not to merge your accounts, you can continue using your Oculus account for two years.

Starting In January 2023:

  • We will end support for Oculus accounts.

  • If you choose not to merge your accounts at that time, you can continue using your device, but full functionality will require a Facebook account.

  • We will take steps to allow you to keep using content you have purchased, though some games and apps may no longer work. This could be because they require a Facebook account or because a developer has chosen to no longer support the app or game you purchased.

They are billing this as an ease of use and improved experience, but a statement in that post seems a little more on point as to why they are going this route:

…when you log into Oculus using your Facebook account, Facebook will use information related to your use of VR and other Facebook products to provide and improve your experience. This information is also used to show you personalized content, including ads. For example, we might show you recommendations for Oculus Events you might like, ads about Facebook apps and technologies, or ads from developers for their VR apps.

You will be in the Facebook targeted advertisement ecosystem, which is where Facebook makes its money.  You get to be both customer and product.

Now, does this really change anything?  Theoretically, since Facebook owns Oculus, your account was a Facebook account already.  But I suspect that it wasn’t fully integrated into the Facebook authentication services.  Facebook, like Google and Apple, has made their authentication system available to other services.  And I actually us Google for a few things, as I have 2FA setup on my main Google account.

But would I use Facebook?  With the way that the company has shown itself to be over the last few years?  Maybe not.

I wouldn’t avoid getting an Oculus VR headset because of this, but I also wouldn’t put it on the list of things in favor of getting one either.

Other coverage:

My Actual First Computer vs My First Real Computer

I write about old things here quite a bit.  Games, gear, memories, anything from the past.  And occasionally I will get as far back as the Apple ][+, which I think of as my first computer, trotting out this picture from 1983.  There is a story about getting it, because of course there is.

Apple II+ on Day One… nice digital watch on the left floppy drive!

Actually, I usually go with this picture from a couple months later because it has the joystick I ended up buying and a familiar game title on the screen.

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

In addition to the joystick I have stacked the drives in the more conventional manner of the time and there is the ubiquitous power supply cooling fan hanging off the left side of the case now.

Otherwise it is the same room, same curtains, same folding card table with the same cigarette burn in it somewhere under the computer.

But what if I pulled out this picture instead?

Oh Jesus what is this mess?

Same room, same curtains, same card table, but what the hell is going on there?

Seriously, if I hadn’t of run across this picture I might have completely blanked out this bit of my story.

For a brief period of time I had a Timex Sinclair 1000 computer, a derivative of the Sinclair ZX81.  And when I say “brief,” I mean about a month.

How did I end up with one?  It was a Black Friday purchase.

I’m not sure if we called the Friday after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” back in 1982 1983, but it was clearly the first day of the of the Christmas shopping season still and the adds in the paper before then were full of deals, and one of them was for the Timex Sinclair 1000.  Payless Drugs had that listed in their ad for $99.  My grandmother, knowing I was pining for a computer, pointed this out to me.

Payless was a drug store, which meant it had a pharmacy and lot of general merchandise, but wasn’t quite a grocery store and wasn’t quite a hardware store.  The one by us had a large garden department and was the sort of place you could buy cheap patio furniture and beach umbrellas and a lot of stuff that didn’t quite fit into a some of the other “genres” of retail stores at the time.  They have since been bought by RiteAid, which with Walgreens (which now owns RiteAid), and CVS, make up the drug store triumvirate out in our area.

Anyway, computers and electronics were on the list of what they sold as well, which wasn’t all that odd.  I bought many of the games for my Atari 2600 at Longs Drugs, which had an electronics counter that also serviced watches and handled photo processing.  It was a different time.

My grandmother suggested I get out there and buy it, the whole thing being cheaper than the aforementioned Atari 2600 from five years before.

So I got out there early on Friday morning… not too early, the store opened at the normal hours and not at midnight or anything crazy because we were still civilized back then… and stood in line… because civilized or not we were still idiots and online shopping was decades away… until they opened the doors.

I walked over to the electronics counter, where they seemed to be in ample supply, and bought one… paid cash I’m pretty sure… and brought it back home.

What came in the box was the little black square with the membrane keyboard, a few of the cables, and a manual.  So I had to scrounge up an old B&W TV… kind of surprised there was one about, but there it is in the picture… in order to start doing anything.

There were a couple of test programs you could type in, but not much else, and you couldn’t save them.  When you turned off the unit everything went away.  You have to save everything to cassette tape, which explains why my old Sanyo dual deck boom box is on the table and wired up to the unit.  I am pretty sure that is the same unit I used to record this Dr. Demento tape.

Recorded off the air, circa 1980

It was a less than ideal situation and I would estimate that I could save to tape and then subsequently successfully restore a program to the unit maybe 1 in 4 times.  That may have been related to a few factors, but I was working with what I had to hand.

I went out and bought a couple of magazines dedicated to the ZX81 which had some programs you could type in.  However, I quickly came up hard against the 1Kb memory limit.  So you can see a black box hanging off the back of it which contained an additional 16Kb of RAM so I had some space to work with.

I toiled away on the little machine for a couple weeks.  I will admit that I did like that the keyboard had all the BASIC operators on it, available via a function key, and I probably learned some rudimentary programming in having to type in literally everything by hand at least once.

The ZX81 magazines were, of course, full of additional hardware and upgrades you could add on to the little computer.  More RAM.  Full keyboards.  Real floppy drives.  Computer magazines were like that back then.  It was very much a hobby with all sorts of little companies supporting the ecosystem.  If somebody could wire something up and make it work they could sell it to somebody else.

And while I enjoyed imaging what I might add to the unit, when I got that check for Christmas a month later, my first action wasn’t to start ordering a bunch of stuff for it out of the back of magazines.  My first action was pretty much to arm sweep what I had off the folding table to make room for the Apple ][+.

It was honestly the right choice.  I was very happy with the Apple and have a lot of fond memories of my time with it.

As for what happened to the little Timex Sinclair 1000, I have no memory of that either.  It was an era when used computers and equipment had value.  I bought a few items from a used computer store down the road called Interstate Computer Bank.  But even in that era the little unit was below the threshold of having any resale value as it was.  It probably ended up in a landfill.

A Nintendo Switch Lite

I had a whole post brewing in the back of my head for this week about the Nintendo Switch.

That was largely driven by my daughter, who got one for Christmas.  She, like myself, had been somewhat blasé on the console.  But when Nintendo announced Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the device, she changed her mind.  Leaving aside Pokemon, Animal Crossing was probably her favorite title on the DS series.

So she asked for a Switch Lite, the more portable variation of the Switch Console, and found one under the Christmas tree back in December.

However, Animal Crossing: New Horizons wasn’t out yet.  It is still two weeks away even as this post goes live.  So, to give her something to do I threw in a copy of Pokemon Shield, the latest of the core Pokemon RPG titles, which launched back in November.

The core RPG line continues

She has quite enjoyed the game and has told me that it is a solid title within the framework of the core RPG series. (I think the fact that her boyfriend also got a copy and that he had never played a Pokemon title before helped with her enjoyment.)  She finished the main story and I have been bugging her to crank out 500 words for me about it to post here, because I haven’t played it.

But her response has been such that I was going to write up a post committing to the idea and would buy a Switch Lite myself if Nintendo announced that the next core RPG title ended up being a remake of Pokemon Diamond & Pearl.  I was hoping for that on the DS line, it being the oldest titles yet to be remade, and I was deeply disappointed when Nintendo and GameFreak abandoned the 3DS before they got there.

And then my wife and daughter got me a Switch Lite for my birthday this past weekend and of course I had to go buy a copy of Pokemon Sword to have something to play on it.

My new Switch Lite

Also pictured, a Kirkland Mister Meeseeks keychain and a vintage MAD Magazine from 1969, both from my daughter.

So now I am all-in with Pokemon on the Switch I guess.

The hardware is nice.  The unit is light, though it does not feel as solid as any of the DS/3DS units we have owned.  I sort of miss the second screen and the built-in stylus of the old hardware as well.  But the screen on the Switch Lite is very good, though it isn’t big enough to keep me from having to wear my reading glasses when I use it.  And it is a touch screen and works with a couple of the third party styluses that I keep around for pecking out anything of length on my iPhone as my big hands and sausage-like fingers are not ideal for precision clicking.  So I have that going for me.

Possibly best of all, the Switch has a button on the front, recessed to you don’t click it by accident, that allows you to take screen shots.  Pokemon Sword screen shots mean Pokemon Sword posts… at least once I get an SD card for the Switch.  So expect that.

And, finally, there is Pokemon Home, the Switch platform replacement for Pokemon Bank.  I have a bunch of Pokemon in Pokemon Bank, including a large collection of legendaries.  All of those can make a one-way journey to Pokemon Home, from which they can be accessed in Pokemon Sword & Shield.  So I am going to have to work on getting Pokemon copied over.  Pokemon Bank is/was a subscription servers (though it was only $5.00 a year), but they’ve given lapsed returning users like myself a five day free access period.  We’ll see what I can get copied over.

I have Pokemon that came from earlier generations (I played Pokemon Emerald and Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen on the DS Lite, as it had a GameBoy Advance cartridge slot) that have gone through a variety of copy and transfer processes just to get to Pokemon Bank.  Nintendo is pretty conscientious about that, even if it is sometimes like jumping through hoops. (There is even a rumor of Pokemon Go connectivity.)  So I am not going to leave anybody behind if I do not have to.

On the DS/3DS front, as expected, all of the back end services have been shut down.  I am not sure how Nintendo can still sell Pokemon games on the 3DS platform now that a lot of the promised functionality has been cut off, but whatever.  Time to abandon that ship I guess.

So there we are.  On to the Pokemon trail yet again.  I still want the remake of Pokemon Diamond & Pearl.  But I can bide my time until then.

California Explores Gaming Power Usage

The misperception that computer gaming is conducted only at the “fringe” of society has dampened curiosity about their role in energy use.

-A Plug-Loads Game Changer: Computer Gaming Energy Efficiency without Performance Compromise

The state of California issued a 92 page long report last year exploring the electrical usage of computer gaming in the state,  prepared for the California Energy Commission by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, exploring both why video games use as much electricity as they do and how the state might plan for the future related to gaming power usage.

That electrical generation has an environmental impact is multiplied by the fact that the northern half of the state is mostly served by one of the more dysfunctional companies of the breed, Pacific Gas & Electric.  The company has gone bankrupt twice in the last two decades and has a habit of setting up situations where it ends up blacking out large swathes of the state due to its own incompetence.  Even my late grandfather used to refer to it as “Perpetual Graft & Extortion.”

Anyway, the whole report is available for download from the state as a PDF file here.  But the key graph early in the report indicates why this is even being discussed as it ranks various categories of electrical usage.

Estimate Power Use of Various Residential Activities in 2016

That is computer gaming using 4.1 terawatt-hours of electricity, which puts it ahead of the total power consumption of Cambodia, if the CIA is to be believed and I am able to do the unit conversion in my head.  Also, we appear to use about a terawatt-hour of electricity a year on hot tub pumps.  I could have guessed that I suppose.

The report opens, naturally enough, with how this number was arrived at, definitions for quite a few terms (kind of interesting), an attempt to break gamers out into discreet usage segments, and even a chart of power usage for specific titles from various gaming  genres on different platforms. Also, there is the revelation that people play a lot of games online.

For the purposes of this report the computer gaming energy use category includes:

…desktop and laptop computers, consoles, and media streaming devices and associated displays, local network equipment, and speakers, as well as associated network and data-center energy.

If I wanted to nitpick, I would go straight to asking how data-center power usage figures into  residential plug-load numbers, but nobody is going to listen to me and I suppose as long as we’re only referencing data centers within the state then I ought to let it slide.  Even the report admits that the whole thing is complicated to address.

Then there is the matter of what we should do about it.  As I like to put it, the “So what?” part of the report that attempts to move it from interesting trivia to some for of action.  As the report points out, there has not been a lot of focus on energy consumption in this area, dubious EnergyStar ratings and efficiency measurements for computer power supplies (the 80 Plus program) being about the sum total of the efforts.

The possible suggestions include expanding power/efficiency ratings for components to having a system of ratings for games that indicate the energy use effects that they might have, along with some possible ways to incentivize players to use less power.

Then there are some forecasts of power consumption going forward involving various scenarios from the status quo maintained to VR takes off to consoles explode well beyond current popularity.

In the end it is mostly an interest read, an attempt by some people serious about their jobs to quantify, explore, and explain a complex situation that defies easy measure.

Much of the information in the study is based on earlier studies which are available online from Greening the Beast and which go into more depth in places:

In the end you and I pay the electrical bill, so it makes some sense to be at least somewhat aware of the impact game, setting, and hardware choices might have on your monthly statement.

Reviving the 190cs and Some History

I’ve written some about my early days of gaming, days dominated first by the Atari 2600 and then the Apple II.  I have also written extensively about the era from EverQuest forward, when I was playing on a Windows machine of one sort or another.

But there is a whole middle-era that I have mostly left out, or only alluded to in passing, that involves me working and playing games on the Apple Macintosh platform.  And it was quite a big part of my evolution as a gamer.  Flashes of that have come through when I wrote about Air Warrior or when I mention things like Marathon or Bolo.  But it isn’t a topic I’ve delved into much, for reasons I will get to.  But first, some history.

Being in Silicon Valley and an Apple II enthusiast meant it was easy to keep an eye on all things Apple, including the coming of the original Macintosh.  But even though 1984 wasn’t like 1984, or so that ad told me, I wasn’t buying a Mac. (This is also why I have no Nintendo nostalgia.  Who needed a NES when you had an Apple II?)

I was still invested in the Apple II though, which had more software, did more things, and was all I needed at the time.  I played Wizardry and Ultima III and Bard’s Tale and Karatka and was happy.   Meanwhile, the original Macintosh was neat and all, but other that drawing pictures in MacPaint, there wasn’t much to it.

Time moved on, and new Mac models came out.  I used my student discount to buy my friend Kip a Mac 512Ke, but stuck with my Apple II.  Then two things happened.  First, somebody swiped a box of mine while I was moving out of the dorm at the end of the semester.  That box contained mostly Apple II disks, which cut the legs out from under my investment in the hardware.  I didn’t lose everything, but a lot of software was gone and I wasn’t going to go buy it all again.  I wasn’t even sure I could buy all of it again.

Second, as part of a group project we did a bunch of work at one person’s office.  They did all their stuff on the Mac and so I did a bunch of the writing for the project on a Mac SE with an Apple Extended Keyboard on Microsoft Word.

The Mac SE was the first model to lose the already dowdy looks of the original Mac, a look that was still present in the Mac Plus.  The new Apple Desktop Bus keyboard and mouse that came with it were a lot better than the original Mac versions.  And Microsoft Word was really good on the Mac.  I really like the WYSIWYG aspect of it.  It was light and ran well.  Add in the ability to print your documents out on one of those new laser printers and I was sold.

In early 1987 I bought a Mac SE through a contact that was able to buy at the Apple developer support prices, which probably saved me $1,500.  Computers were expensive back then.

It was a dual floppy unit, because I came from the Apple II world and having two floppy drives was freaking critical… especially if you wanted to copy disks for friends.  (I remember sitting there with the cover off of both Apple II floppy drives, adjusting the speeds of both to get them sync’d up in order to get past some particularly gnarly copy protection scheme or another.)

But I still needed a hard drive.  You couldn’t get by without that even back then, the sizes of which seem comically small by today’s standards.  A 20MB drive was a pretty common option, but I went out and spent all that money I saved on the Mac SE on a 70MB drive from Jasmine Technologies, a company I would later end up working for.

Anyway, I was committed.  My Mac era had begun, and would continue on for almost exactly a decade.  I ended up working at companies that did Mac products, even working directly with Apple on a few things.  I ran a Mac oriented BBS from 1990 to 1995, which gave me a knowledge of modems at the dawn of the dial up internet which also got me a few jobs.

But Apple was a ship without a rudder in the 90s, wandering thither and yon, unfocused and living on its past reputation.  By 1997 the place looked doomed.  Michael Dell was telling people that the company should shut down and give the stockholders the proceeds.  The startup I was working at folded up shop and I had to take what little Windows knowledge I had gained to try and find a job elsewhere.  Having Macintosh on your resume at the time was only slightly better than having McDonald’s listed.  A lot of people I knew made the transition.

A year later I had a job in enterprise software, secured largely on my rather superficial knowledge of ISDN (I was hired to work on that, then never did, moving immediately into speech technologies), and a Windows NT Desktop machine in front of me.

Since it had always been my habit to have a machine similar to my work machine at home, I swapped over to Windows there was well.  I soon had a Dell Pentium II machine set to dual boot into either Win95 or WinNT.  It wasn’t my first Windows box.  I had a 66MHz 486 a few years back just to tinker with Win95, but it was the first Windows box set to be my main machine.  Somewhere along the line I got a 3Dfx Voodoo I card… I forget now why I bought it… some game needed it I am sure… so when EverQuest came out I was ready to go.

And almost all of that Mac stuff went away.  I kept that Apple Extended Keyboard for a long time.  It just sat on a shelf, gathering dust, but it was such a good keyboard that I hated to just toss it.  I got rid of the PowerMac 8500, the last desktop Mac I owned, and the Windows compatibility cared I had borrowed from a friend at Apple so I could run ZMud when playing TorilMUD.  After using it on that other Windows machine, I had to find a way to keep using it.

Other bits and pieces disappeared over time.  The TI MicroLaser Plus laser printer stayed a bit, but it was a decade old and supplies were getting scarce.  Boxes, diskettes, CDs, and manuals of various historical value got tossed as time went on as my wife and I moved, then moved again.

Now, more than a decade on from our last move there are very few things around the house to suggest I ever had anything other than a Windows box during my career.  There are some Mac World Expo badges hanging off a peg, a couple of really old CD jewel cases with titles like Spaceship Warlock or Pathways into Darkness (early Bungie title!), or my affection for the big ball Kensington Trackball that might give it away, but not much else.  I am in a constant battle between keeping old stuff and not having my office turn into a trash heap of old crap.  So I do my own Marie Kondo thing and sift through stuff and ask myself if it brings me joy or not, which gets me to throw things out now and again.

And I have forgotten much.  I am able to go write about TorilMUD as often as I do not because I played it so much during the 90s, but because it is still there and I can get ZMud to still launch, so I can revisit and refresh old memories.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was once again going through my office and throwing things away (like a Jambalaya MRE a friend brought back from the Gulf War) and in a drawer in a dresser that is stuffed in the closet in my office I found my old Macintosh PowerBook 190cs along with the power supply… and the receipt.  I paid $1,499 for it at ComputerWare back in early 1996.

I remember having this laptop… the only laptop I have ever purchased for myself, since work has always seen fit to issue me one if they think I need one… but I didn’t know I still had it until I dug it up.

It was a curious model, straddling the 500 series and 5300 series of Apple PowerBooks.  It had the then new simpler design aesthetic (the 500 series looked like Batman’s laptop) but was powered by the 68040 processor rather than the PowerPC processors then entering the Macintosh model line.

It was the last 68K series laptop Apple produced, and the last 68K Mac I ever owned, putting it at the end of a long line that included the SE, Plus (to run my BBS at one point), SE/30, IIci, IIsi, Quadra 700, and Quadra 800.

I pulled this antique out of the drawer and set it up on my desk, uncertain if it even still worked more than 20 years after I purchased it.  I had to figure out how to turn it on.  It was part of the ADB era, when Apple put a power button on the keyboard with a symbol I had long since forgotten.  But when I figured it out, the speaker chimed and the unit spun up into life.

MacOS 7.5.2 – And Look at all that RAM!

The motherboard battery had faded years ago, so the time and date came up as midnight on January 1, 1904, the default day zero of the MacOS at that time.  I was a little concerned as to whether or not it would recognize 21st century dates, but it seemed to handle that.

Digging through the drive, I found some old apps.  There was a copy of Eudora, my favorite email app of old, probably full of notes to my girlfriend at the time, now my wife.  I used to write her emails while builds ran.  Now I just text her.

There was a copy of Claris Emailer, which I used to monitor the support account.  At a startup you have to do all the things.

There were all sorts of little utilities.  A copy of Microsoft Word 5.1a, the last good version of Word.  At that point it had achieved a fullness of features yet still fit on a 1.4MB floppy.

And in a folder titled “Games ƒ” I found… some games.  Old games.  Games from 20 years back.

Not a lot of games.  This was my work laptop after all.  But a few goodies in there that I didn’t think I still had around.  So I have something from that era to write about, old games played on era authentic hardware.

But first I want to get the PowerBook on the network so I can get some screen shots moved over.  The 190cs didn’t come with built-in Ethernet, but I had a Global Village PC Card that had both modem and Ethernet support.  However, that needed an external dongle (referred to as Clyde by the team that worked on it for reasons I do not recall) and I could not find the dongle.

But a packrat friend and former co-worker of mine had one and sent it to me. Now I just need to get it configured.  As it turns out, MacTCP from 1995 was pretty primitive.  There is, for example, no support for DHCP.  So far I’ve gotten to the point where the router sees the 190cs and has allocated it the IP address it asked for, but it cannot ping anything and cannot resolve any domain names.  Launching Netscape Navigator 4.04, the only browser installed on the unit, yields no web yet.

At least I have a bunch of network utilities in another folder.  20+ year old network utilities, but maybe they will tell me something.  We shall see.

Also found in the same drawer as the 190cs:

Recorded off the air, circa 1980

Maybe I’ll get to that later.  I do still own a car with a cassette deck.

The Other New Rig in the House

After a practice run by building up my daughter’s new computer it was time to work on my own.

I wish I could say that I spent a lot of time digging into the details of things, but I sort of did that with the first computer, so the second one was a bit more arbitrary.  I went and browsed configs in PC Partpicker to see what looked good then threw everything together and ordered it.

I ended up with this:

Putting it all together went about as expected.  The cats needed to be involved again, and aside from when Rigby decided he needed to stand on the motherboard, they mostly contented themselves by stealing zip ties and other little items from the table.  The worst moment was when I put the video card on top of the new case, then forgot it was there and knocked it off by accident.  It fell all the way to the floor and bounced a few times, which is exactly the sort of thing you want to happen with expensive new electronics.  Fortunately my bare foot broke the initial impact, though I did have to stop to bandage up the bleeding gouge it left.

I went for the “a few dollars more” approach that often grips me when I am purchasing the CPU.  That is the core bit of the build, the part I am never going to change, so I tend to buy beyond my needs.  Six cores, twelve threads, maybe somebody will make a game that will use all of that some day.  Right now it barely wakes up to get WoW or EVE Online moving.

I do want to give a shout out to Cooler Master for their CPU cooler kits.  I’ve built up four machines this decade, two with their kits and two without, and I have to say they are good.  The i7 doesn’t come with a stock cooler, and after fumbling with the Zalman I bought but ended up not using for my daughter’s rig, I was feeling tentative on the whole subject.  But I remembered that Cooler Master install from 2010 and decided to go with them again.

And I am glad I did.  Their install kit isn’t revolutionary or anything, but it has an extra step in it that makes all the difference.  I’m always a bit nervous when working on the CPU and the cooler and the motherboard at the start, getting that back plate mounting lined up and set.  But the Cooler Master kit makes it easy.

Then there is the motherboard.  For no good reason I went with the MSI full ATX model.  Having WiFi and Bluetooth on board seemed like a good idea.  It actually let me stand up the computer out in the family room where I was doing the build before moving it back in my office for the direct hookup to the router.  Did I really need the LED lighting on the motherboard though?

Mystic Light!

Well, you know I have it on and running.  There is even an app that comes with it to control it… which is hardly a surprise because MSI included at least a dozen different applications to control various aspects of the motherboard, all of which use the Windows 10 alert system to tell me when there are updates.  Anyway, I had the app.

Mystic Light Control

Apparently if I had multiple MSI devices that supported the Mystic Light option, I could get them all to pulse various colors like the floor in Saturday Night Fever.  All I would need is a strobe and a fog machine, and we’ll get to the former.

Having gone with a full ATX, I needed a bigger case than the tight little model I bought my daughter.  While I like the Cooler Master cases, I was attracted to some of the Fractal Design models as well, and ended up going with the model linked above.

On the bright side, it looks good, had a spot for my optical drive, space for the new hard drive and a couple of old ones, and good ventilation features, with two very quiet 120mm fans included with the case.

On the downside, the space under the motherboard is tighter than I would have liked.  My daughter’s case was a dream in that regard, while this one was a much tougher fit.  The two fans have white LED lighting that has an unfortunate resemblance to a swastika.

Not exact, but you can see it

And then there is the HDD read/write light on the top of the front panel which is so bright it ought to come with a seizure warning.  Seriously, this thing was in the same league as those survival beacons a friend’s dad, who was a Navy flier, used to have around.  I put a piece of masking tape over it and my office still probably looked like a gun battle was going on from outside.  So I put a piece of duct tape over the masking tape and I can STILL see the light.

It shines through this no problem

But at least I don’t feel like I am in a disco anymore when in my office with the lights out.

I did, however, cop out when it came to the video card.  CPUs are forever, video cards I’ll replace every year or two.  And, while video card prices are coming down, I couldn’t get on board spending $450 or more to get a serious boost over my old card.  So the GeForce 1060 was a compromise.  It is a bit better than my old one, draws less power, and produces less heat, but it isn’t a dramatic change at all.  The dropping value of crypto currency means I might be good to upgrade in a year or so. (The story behind that.)

And then there was the move from Windows 7 to Windows 10.

At this point most of the issues have been worked out of Windows 10.  And while I could have gone with Windows 7 again, it is falling out of support in 2020, which I am reliably informed arrives in less than two years.  Given how long I stayed with Win7, it was probably time to move on.

Still, there was some things to get used to.  While it wasn’t the Window-menu free abomination that was Win8, I do miss the compact, list everything as one-line aspect of Win7.  And the update notifications are a little more in my face than I would like.  Also, why the hell did they take the mixer out of the sound option on the task bar.  I used that ALL THE TIME.  Now it is hidden in the control panel somewhere, so I have to go find it to make Minecraft quieter so I can hear my audio book.

I did also opt to go with Zinstall’s transfer utility to move things to the new machine.  It didn’t matter with my daughter’s machine.  Going from MacOS to Windows meant full reinstalls anyway.  But for all the crap I have, I decided to go for it.  I used it for my wife’s last computer upgrade and that went well.  It isn’t cheap, and it isn’t perfect, but I don’t think there is a better option for getting everything over and in a running and configured state.  I had to go find the product key for my copy of Office 2013, but when I opened up Notepad++ all my documents opened up just like they had before.

Anyway, I am setup and running and on the new machine in under a week, which frankly beyond expectations.  I have a couple more fans on order for the case, just to complete the cooling vision.  I miss the big 210mm case door fan on my old Cooler Master HAF case, but I’ll make do.

The New Rig in the House

We’ve been running on the same hardware around our house for quite a while now. We are working our way towards museum status on the console front, what with a Wii and a PlayStation 3 still hooked up to the TV and multiple samples of the soon-to-be-abandoned Nintendo DS/3DS line scattered about the landscape.

On the PC front my wife has the most recent machines in the house, both a desktop in her office and a laptop which she uses for work being of recent vintage. My daughter and I were both sitting on some aging processing iron for our gaming needs. But the dam broke on that when my daughter headed back into World of Warcraft. The coming of Battle for Azeroth and the finishing of Legion got her invested again. This will be the last expansion before she heads off to college, so we’ve both been talking it up, making plans, and getting ready.

However, WoW was crashing for her pretty regularly on her old machine, a 2012 vintage iMac. At the time I bought it, the unit was a magnificent piece of hardware, a 27″ model with an i7 Intel processor. But time makes a mockery of hardware that stands still. The burden of regular upgrades to MacOS have slowed the machine down. I cannot say for sure that Apple deliberately hamstrings older models, but they got caught doing that on the iPhone.

My own machine is actually older than hers. I initially put it together back in 2010, which I am shocked to learn was eight years ago now. How does this happen? But I had to refresh it in 2013 when a power supply blew and zapped the motherboard. So I at least have a generation 4 Intel i5 in it, along with an updated video card.

But with an iMac there are no upgrades. That beautiful industrial design, that slim package built around a magnificent screen, that all stays frozen in time. It will always be running a 3rd generation i7 and an nVidia mobile chip set from the time. Even some every day tasks, like web rendering, was feeling a bit on the slow side, and WoW would crash regularly and could barely keep up with the current version of Dalaran. So it was about time for a refresh.

This time around my daughter wanted a Windows machine. The iMac, and the one mentioned here is the third one that has been out in the family room for her to use, was chosen by me due to its ease of administration. Like every corporate IT group, if I have to keep things running then I get to pick the configuration. Also, parental controls were available and easy to configure and maintain relative to the Windows alternatives.

But now she is old enough to drive a car, has a job, and is giving serious thought to exactly which university she wants to attend. Also, she is tired of being limited to the MacOS options when it comes to software, so I did not fight the Window option. If anything, I was in favor of it because it would be cheaper.

I set out to build her a modest but capable Windows desktop. I wanted it to be cheap-ish because she also wants a laptop for school at some point, we still have the whole “pay for college” thing looming in the distance, and I also want to refresh my own desktop at some point.

My new favorite tool for configuring and pricing setups is PC Parts Picker. I spent some time there tinkering with configurations. One of my problems is that it is easy for me to fall prey to the “for just a few dollars more…” aspect of pricing. Why get processor X when processor Y is just $80 more… and you know what, processor Z is just another $120 more than that… and soon I have a configuration priced well beyond what I really want to spend. This time I planned to hold the line.

Fortunately there was some inspiration on PC Part Picker. One of their sample builds was based around the Gen 8 Intel i3 processor. I might have eschewed the low end of the line in the past, but at this point the i3 is a pretty hardy specimen. It now comes with four cores and the clock rate is good, while the heat and power draw are modest.

But what really sold me on the sample config was the case, a small Cooler Master model that, frankly, looked nifty. I don’t know why, I just wanted to build up a PC in that case, and since I was keeping the budget small I thought I might as well keep the form factor small as well. So I ended up with the following parts list:

I was still hemming and hawing about it when Prime Day came along at Amazon and the SSD I wanted was actually one of the sale items. So I ordered that, then just went all-in and ordered everything else.

Everything had arrived by Friday last week so I set about putting everything together on Saturday morning.

Getting the case together and the hardware set did not take too long. I was surprised at how small the Mini ITX motherboard was. It is basically a bit wider than the RAM slots, with just enough room hanging on over the end for a PCIe slot.

Motherboard, CPU in place

I ended up not using the Zalman CPU cooler, opting for the stock one simply because the Zalman was too big for me to attach and work around easily. The stock cooler is probably good enough. We don’t plan on tinkering with clocking or anything.

The video card was missing from the initial build. The one on the list is the one that is in my current machine. I plan to move it over to her system once I get around building out my own new setup. There was also 8GB of RAM to install as well.

Then it came time to install the OS. I went to the Microsoft Store down at the mall to pick up a copy of Windows 10 Home. I’d never actually been inside, so just wanted a reason to go in. The place is pretty empty most times I walk by it, at least compared to the mob that is always in the Apple Store right across the way, so I never go in lest I be pounced upon by the staff. This time I wanted something though, so the pounce, which came right away, was appreciated. Good luck getting helped that fast at the Apple Store.

Of course, installing Windows took longer than actually assembling the hardware.

And not just because the cats stepped in to help…

The Windows installer recognized the SSD just fine, but did not like the way it was formatted, or so I gathered once I deciphered the error. MBR and GPT were new acronyms for me, but it has been a while since I installed a fresh OS. Unfortunately, Googling the error sent me off to the BIOS for some settings that had zero impact on the error. I finally realized I just needed to delete the curren partition on the SSD and let the Windows 10 installer format it however it felt it needed to and everything went fine from there.

Then came the really long task… installing World of Warcraft. That was the first thing my daughter wanted on the machine. But installing WoW, which weighs in at 58GB these days, over WiFi was taking a long time. Eventually I turned everything off and dragged the new box to my office where I could hook it up directly to the router. That sped things up. Then I brought it back out to the family room, got it set up with my old monitor and a scrounged keyboard and mouse, and set her off to try it out.

She was impressed with the load time. WoW practically leaps off of the SSD into memory. She was a little less impressed with the way things looked. However, that was more a matter of going from the really nice screen built-in to the iMac to the hand-me-down 20″ monitor she was using, a unit that dates back to about 2003.

New Rig in Operation

The built-in video support was up to the effort and she was able to move up the grapic settings for WoW to 7 on their basic 1 to 10 scale. When the video card is in place at some point in the future she’ll be able to run at max settings.

As it turns out, you can use the iMac as a monitor, and we even have the cable for it. We will experiment with that this week. But for now she is all set up on a handy little system. I am not as happy with the case as I thought I would be… the moveable front panel aspect of it is kind of flimsy… but the airflow through it is really good. The 140mm fan it comes with barely has to turn to keep the whole thing cool. We shall see how the magnetic dust filters on the top and front work out.

Now I need to use this warm up to help me spec out my own new system.  I will probably go with an Intel i5 for my own use.  I am tempted to go with the Mini ITX motherboard and a small, well ventilated case though.  I don’t need a super-deluxe ATX motherboard with SLI support and all that.  I always overbuild on that front.  This time I will try to keep things slimmed down.