Every Commie64 game on an SD card is retrotacular

Subject: General Tech | July 25, 2014 - 10:31 AM |
Tagged: commodore 64, gaming, arduino nano, Tapuino

Over at Hack a Day is a link to a project which will warm the hearts of old gamers everywhere, a tape reader emulator for the C64.  Built using a Arduino Nano V3 with an added SD card reader and with a rather low level of difficulty to build there is now a way to relive your misspent youth assuming you still have a working C64 on display somewhere.  The total build will cost less than $20 making this great for folks looking to get into programming Arduino and building their own electronics.  Check it out here.

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"One of the machines that didn’t make it into his collection until recently was a Commodore 64 with Datasette and 1541 drive. With no tapes and a 1541 disk drive that required significant restoration, he looked at other devices to load programs onto his C64."

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Tech Talk

Source: Hack a Day
Author:
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Redefining Price/Performance with AMD Motherboards

Motherboards are fascinating to me.  They always have been.  I remember voraciously reading motherboard reviews in the mid-90s.  I simply could not get enough of them.  Some new chipset from SiS, VIA, or ALi?  I scoured the internet for information on them and what new features they would bring to the table.  Back then motherboards did not have the retail presence they do now.  The manufacturers were starting to learn to differentiate their products and cater to the enthusiasts who would not only buy and support these products, but also recommend them to friends/family/the world.

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Today motherboards are really the foundation for any PC build.  Choosing a motherboard is no longer just picking up some whitebox board that has a 440 BX chipset.  Now users are much more active in debating what kind of features they need, what kind of feedback has this manufacturer received from consumers, what kind of ratings the board has on Amazon or Newegg.  Features like build quality or overclocking performance sway users from company to company and product to product.

In the past 15 years or so we have seen some pretty rigid guidelines for pricing of motherboards.  The super cheap “PC Chips” style motherboards existed below the $90 range.  The decent, but unexciting motherboards with the bare minimum of features would go from $90 to $150.  The $150 and beyond products were typically considered enthusiast class motherboards with expanded features, better build quality, and more robust power delivery options.  Thankfully for consumers, this model is being shaken up by the latest generation of products from AMD.

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MSI insures that everything is nicely packed and protected in their black and red box.

I mentioned in the previous Gigabyte G1.Sniper.A88X review that AMD and its partners do not have the luxury of offering a $150 and above FM2+ motherboard due to the nature (and pricing) of the latest FM2+ APUs.  I am fairly sure the amount of people willing to spend $200 on a motherboard to house a $179 APU that seemingly overclocks as well on a cheap board as it does a more expensive one (meaning, not very well at all) is pretty low.  If there is one bright side to the latest Kaveri APUs, it is that the graphics portion is extremely robust in both graphics and OpenCL applications.  The hope for AMD and users alike is that HSA will in fact take off and provide a significant performance boost in a wide variety of applications that typically require quite a bit of horsepower.

Click here to read the entire MSI A88X-G45 Gaming Review!

More testing of Mantle's mettle

Subject: General Tech | July 16, 2014 - 01:16 PM |
Tagged: gaming, Mantle, battlefield 4, BF4

Mantle is currently supported by the Nitrous, Frostbite 3 and CRYENGINE engines, and the current official list of released or soon to be released games that support the new API has reached eight AAA titles.  eTeknix lined up three of these games to test, Battlefield 4, Thief and PvZ Garden Warfare to test on an R9 290X paired with both a AMD FX-8350 and an FX-4100.   For BF4 with the Ultra preset, no V-Sync @ 1920 x 1080 both systems saw a noticeable jump in performance and Thief even more so for the FX8350 system.  Check out the full results in their review.

Don't forget to enable your team up with the Fragging Frogs while playing BF4, there is still a screenshot contest going on.

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"The biggest claim to fame of this new low-overhead API is its use in EA’s Battlefield 4 blockbuster and the support it has from EA’s famous FrostBite 3 Engine. However, what is all the fuss about? How does Mantle actually perform in practice? Why should you even care about it? These are questions we are hoping to address today."

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Gaming

Source: eTeknix

Take Your Best BF4 Battlefest Battleshots and Win!

Subject: General Tech | July 14, 2014 - 11:37 AM |
Tagged: giveaway, gaming, ea, dice, battlefield 4, amd

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For the next month, until August 12th, Battlefield.com, AMD and Sapphire will be giving away video cards, DICE giftcards and BF4 Premium memberships to the best screenshots submitted to their blog.

This week:

Daily Prize Package: An AMD Sapphire graphics card, a $50 DICE online store gift code, and a BF4 Premium membership code on your platform of choice.

  • Saturday, July 12 – EXPLOSIONS
  • Sunday, July 13 – HELICOPTERS
  • Monday, July 14 – VISTAS
  • Tuesday, July 15 – INFANTRY
  • Wednesday, July 16 – TEAM PLAY
  • Thursday, July 17 – NAVAL
  • Friday, July 18 – PARACHUTES

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Why not team up with the Fragging Frogs to play BF4 and work together to make the best screenshot submissions you can?

Coming soon to a PC near you; the Skywind Public Beta Test

Subject: General Tech | July 9, 2014 - 11:45 AM |
Tagged: skywind, skyrim, morrowind, gaming, elder scrolls, !console

It has been a long time coming and unfortunately it isn't quite here yet but sometime in the not too distant future Skywind will be opened up to the public for testing.  If you do not own Skyrm then you probably have no interest in this mod but you may need to ensure you have a copy of Morrowind, including both Tribunal and Bloodmoon addons.   You will need both games installed as well as the soon to be released assets from TESRenewal.com to try out Skywind for yourself.  If your head is about to explode from the excitement and anticipation you probably shouldn't watch the video below nor read more about it at the equally excited Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN.

In the mean time you can distract yourself by chatting with the Fragging Frogs in the Forum and get some gaming done to burn off some of that nervous energy.

"Skywind, the total rebuild of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind in Skyrim’s engine, continues to play sweet melodies on my heart strings. They’re nostalgic tunes that lull me like the most charming of snake charmers. There’s a new trailer out, and I can practically feel the Balmoran cliff racers pecking at my back, making me invent new deities just so I can use their names as curse words."

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Gaming

The slippery slope of Planetary Annihilation

Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2014 - 02:51 PM |
Tagged: gaming, bad idea, prerelease, planetary annihilation

Releasing unfinished games is no longer limited to EA, many developers have picked up the habit of Early Access versions of their games and it is in danger of becoming as common as pre-purchases have.  For some users this is not an issue, beta testing can be fun if you are that type of person or have a vested interest in trying to contribute to the development of a game.  Uber has gone one step further with Planetary Annihilation, actually releasing an Early Access version of the game to retail stores with a free upgrade to the full version once it is released.  There will be many consumers that do not understand that this is not a finished game and will purchase it with the expectation that it is completed.  This will likely lead to a lot of internet bile being unleashed and bad reviews being published which is something you would think a publisher would want to avoid.  Do you think that it is not an issue or perhaps a self correcting one or do you agree with Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN that this could be the start of a bad trend for the gaming industry?  It is unlikely that this particular game will die in development and never be released but if it becomes a common trend unscrupulous publishers could slap together a demo, sell it as a pre-release and then abandon development; they've already made money so why bother finishing the game if consumers are happy paying full price for a half-baked product?

For those who prefer to play fully finished and perhaps even heavily modded games, why not join the Fragging Frogs for a gaming session

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"The practice of releasing alpha or beta games as part of an “Early Access” plan is not, in itself, inherently harmful. It can be quite good for a game when developers priorities are in order and everyone is given plenty of information about what they’re getting into upfront. Planetary Annihilation‘s early access version on brick-and-mortar store shelves, though?"

Frogs moron

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Gaming

Watch_Dogs; who watches the optimized code?

Subject: General Tech | June 25, 2014 - 01:38 PM |
Tagged: gaming, watch_dogs, ubisoft, excuses

Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN have posted UbiSoft's reasoning behind the disabled graphics options on Watch_Dogs in this article.  The explanation they chose is a little bit disingenuous as performance issues are likely not the main reason the so called "E3 enhancements" were removed, though their point about Bokeh sometimes creating issues in seeing the environment around is well founded.  After all how can you have a long distance gun battle against distant blurry figures?  The more likely reasoning revolves around a standard practice for AAA games when showing off a demo at a show like E3, they polished the engine specifically for that specific in game demo.  By cherry picking one or more scenes and spending extra programming time to make it as pretty as possible they raise buzz about their unreleased game and hope to accrue extra pre-orders.  Unfortunately this rather dishonest practice has become a tradition for shows like E3, but on the plus side gives modders extra things to play with!

If you would rather watch frogs; or even better join them, make sure to check up on what they are doing tonight and Friday.

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"Good thing: Watch_Dogs on PC can look nearly as good as the (in)famous 2012 E3 demo that started at all, and it’s not even that hard to do thanks to some hidden graphics files that modders dug up. Bad thing: they were hidden. That certainly doesn’t look good. Ubisoft has an explanation, though."

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Gaming

Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Various

The Road to 1080p

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The stars of the show: a group of affordable GPU options

When preparing to build or upgrade a PC on any kind of a budget, how can you make sure you're extracting the highest performance per dollar from the parts you choose? Even if you do your homework comparing every combination of components is impossible. As system builders we always end up having to look at various benchmarks here and there and then ultimately make assumptions. It's the nature of choosing products within an industry that's completely congested at every price point.

Another problem is that lower-priced graphics cards are usually benchmarked on high-end test platforms with Core i7 processors - which is actually a necessary thing when you need to eliminate CPU bottlenecks from the mix when testing GPUs. So it seems like it might be valuable (and might help narrow buying choices down) if we could take a closer look at gaming performance from complete systems built with only budget parts, and see what these different combinations are capable of.

With this in mind I set out to see just how much it might take to reach acceptable gaming performance at 1080p (acceptable being 30 FPS+). I wanted to see where the real-world gaming bottlenecks might occur, and get a feel for the relationship between CPU and GPU performance. After all, if there was no difference in gaming performance between, say, a $40 and an $80 processor, why spend twice as much money? The same goes for graphics. We’re looking for “good enough” here, not “future-proof”.

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The components in all their shiny boxy-ness (not everything made the final cut)

If money was no object we’d all have the most amazing high-end parts, and play every game at ultra settings with hundreds of frames per second (well, except at 4K). Of course most of us have limits, but the time and skill required to assemble a system with as little cash as possible can result in something that's actually a lot more rewarding (and impressive) than just throwing a bunch of money at top-shelf components.

The theme of this article is good enough, as in, don't spend more than you have to. I don't want this to sound like a bad thing. And if along the way you discover a bargain, or a part that overperforms for the price, even better!

Yet Another AM1 Story?

We’ve been talking about the AMD AM1 platform since its introduction, and it makes a compelling case for a low cost gaming PC. With the “high-end” CPU in the lineup (the Athlon 5350) just $60 and motherboards in the $35 range, it makes sense to start here. (I actually began this project with the Sempron 3820 as well, but it just wasn’t enough for 1080p gaming by a long shot so the test results were quickly discarded.) But while the 5350 is an APU, I didn't end up testing it without a dedicated GPU. (Ok, I eventually did but it just can't handle 1080p.)

But this isn’t just a story about AM1 after all. Jumping right in here, let's look at the result of my research (and mounting credit card debt). All prices were accurate as I wrote this, but are naturally prone to fluctuate:

Tested Hardware
Graphics Cards

MSI AMD Radeon R7 250 2GB OC - $79.99

XFX AMD Radeon R7 260X - $109.99

EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 - $109.99

EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti SC - $153.99

Processors

AMD Athlon 5350 2.05 GHz Quad-Core APU - $59.99

AMD Athlon X2 340X 3.2 GHz Dual-Core CPU - $44.99.

AMD Athlon X4 760K 3.8 GHz Quad-Core CPU - $84.99

Intel Pentium G3220 3.0 GHz Dual-Core CPU - $56.99

Motherboards

ASRock AM1B-ITX Mini-ITX AMD AM1 - $39.99

MSI A88XM-E45 Micro-ATX AMD A88X - $72.99

ECS H81H3-M4 Micro-ATX Intel H81 - $47.99

Memory 4GB Samsung OEM PC3-12800 DDR3-1600 (~$40 Value)
Storage Western Digital Blue 1TB Hard Drive - $59.99
Power Supply EVGA 430 Watt 80 PLUS PSU - $39.99
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit - $99

So there it is. I'm sure it won't please everyone, but there is enough variety in this list to support no less than 16 different combinations, and you'd better believe I ran each test on every one of those 16 system builds!

Keep reading our look at budget gaming builds for 1080p!!

Qualcomm Focuses on Android Gaming, Snapdragon Benefits to Gamers, Developers

Subject: Processors, Mobile | June 23, 2014 - 10:08 AM |
Tagged: snapdragon, qualcomm, gaming, Android, adreno

Today Qualcomm has published a 22-page white paper that keys in on the company's focus around Android gaming and the benefits that Qualcomm SoCs offer. As the dominant SoC vendor in the Android ecosystem of smartphones, tablets and handhelds (shipping more than 32% in Q2 of 2013) QC is able to offer a unique combination of solutions to both developers and gamers that push Android gaming into higher fidelity with more robust game play.

According to the white paper, Android gaming is the fastest growing segment of the gaming market with a 30% compound annual growth rate from 2013 to 2015, as projected by Gartner. Experiences for mobile games have drastically improved since Android was released in 2008 with developers like Epic Games and the Unreal Engine pushing visuals to near-console and near-PC qualities. 

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Qualcomm is taking a heterogeneous approach to address the requirements of gaming that include AI execution, physics simulation, animation, low latency input and high speed network connectivity in addition to high quality graphics and 3D rendering. Though not directly a part of the HSA standards still in development, the many specialized engines that Qualcomm has developed for its Snapdragon SoC processors including traditional CPUs, GPUs, DSPs, security and connectivity allow the company to create a solution that is built for Android gaming dominance.

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In the white paper Qualcomm dives into the advantages that the Krait CPU architecture offers for CPU-based tasks as well as the power of the Adreno 4x series of GPUs that offer both raw performance and the flexibility to support current and future gaming APIs. All of this is done with single-digit wattage draw and a passive, fanless design and points to the huge undertaking that mobile gaming requires from an engineering and implementation perspective.

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For developers, the ability to target Snapdragon architectures with a single code path that can address a scalable product stack allows for the least amount of development time and the most return on investment possible. Qualcomm continues to support the development community with tools and assistance to bring out the peak performance of Krait and Adreno to get games running on lower power parts as well as the latest and upcoming generations of SoCs in flagship devices.

It is great to see Qualcomm focus on this aspect of the mobile market and the challenges presented by it require strong dedication from these engineering teams. Being able to create compelling gaming experiences with high quality imagery while maintaining the required power envelope is a task that many other company's have struggled with. 

Check out the new landing page over at Qualcomm if you are interested in more technical information as well as direct access to the white paper detailing the work Qualcomm is putting into its Snapdragon line of SoC for gamers.

Source: Qualcomm

Fly like an eagle

Subject: General Tech | June 18, 2014 - 01:33 PM |
Tagged: gaming, oculus rift, Birdly

Creative geniuses have found another way to combine the Oculus Rift with other hardware to create something new, in this case it is a bird simulator.  Strap yourself in to the device and use your arms to flap the wings of your bird body and lean to try your skills at aerial manoeuvring. The Oculus provides your birds eye view of the ground and there is even a fan placed in front of you to give even more immersion.  Hack a Day also mentions an olfactory component, it will be interesting to see how that was pulled off.

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"Have you ever dreamed of being able to fly like a bird? Sadly, we’re just too heavy with our solid bones and fatty tissues – but now there’s a simulator called Birdly which will give you the experience you crave."

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Gaming

Source: Hack a Day