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The 7 Year Console Refresh

Be sure you jump to the second page to see our recommendations for gaming PC builds that are inexpensive yet compete well with the capabilities and performance of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One!!

The consoles are coming!  The consoles are coming!  Ok, that is not necessarily true.  One is already here and the second essentially is too.  This of course brings up the great debate between PCs and consoles.  The past has been interesting when it comes to console gaming, as often the consoles would be around a year ahead of PCs in terms of gaming power and prowess.  This is no longer the case with this generation of consoles.  Cutting edge is now considered mainstream when it comes to processing and graphics.  The real incentive to buy this generation of consoles is a lot harder to pin down as compared to years past.

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The PS4 retails for $399 US and the upcoming Xbox One is $499.  The PS4’s price includes a single controller, while the Xbox’s package includes not just a controller, but also the next generation Kinect device.  These prices would be comparable to some low end PCs which include keyboard, mouse, and a monitor that could be purchased from large brick and mortar stores like Walmart and Best Buy.  Happily for most of us, we can build our machines to our own specifications and budgets.

As a directive from on high (the boss), we were given the task of building our own low-end gaming and productivity machines at a price as close to that of the consoles and explaining which solution would be superior at the price points given.  The goal was to get as close to $500 as possible and still have a machine that would be able to play most recent games at reasonable resolutions and quality levels.

Continue reading our comparison of PC vs. PS4 vs. Xbox One Hardware Comparison: Building a Competing Gaming PC!!

A peacful night in O365 land

Subject: General Tech | November 14, 2013 - 01:23 PM |
Tagged: running gag, microsoft, azure, cloud, office 365

Microsoft's Azure and its applications such as Office 365 are quickly gaining a reputation and it is not a very good one.  On November 11th Azure suffered an outage on some of its services across the entire planet and last night saw the Lync and email servers die.  That doesn't seem to have stopped companies from adopting the service, though perhaps that is more a decision being made by beancounters than it is by people who understand what is meant by "that is not a lot of 9s".  Since email is considered by most users to be the absolute most critical business service there are going to be a lot of complaints; at least you won't hear them until after Microsoft gets onmicrosoft.com working again.  The Register will post more on this as they receive confirmation but for now the hypothesis it was a DNS issue.

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"Numerous other sub-domains of onmicrosoft.com were also affected, we've verified, and the issue appeared to be briefly widespread. It was initially feared a DNS cockup was to blame, but we're still investigating."

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Source: The Register

Looking back at Azure's stormy day

Subject: General Tech | November 11, 2013 - 03:28 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, azure, red dog, cloud

The Register had a chance to conduct a brief interview with the Windows Azure general manager, Mike Neil, about what caused the recent global Azure failure.  The beginning was an update pushed to the Red Dog front end software which customers interface with and which communicates to load balancers for resource scheduling which started to break the ability of some admins to move VMs from staging to production.  While the problems were limited and intermittent, they were occurring in all regions of the globe which did not speak well of the systems partitioning.  Microsoft has realized that Red Dog is a single point of failure and will be working to modify that for the future and also discussed some of the other underlying technologies here.

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"Windows Azure suffered a global meltdown at the end of October that caused us to question whether Microsoft had effectively partitioned off bits of the cloud from one another. Now we have some answers."

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Source: The Register

It's Internet Explorer Tan (Not Ten) & I Don't Understand It.

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | November 7, 2013 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, IE11, AFA 2013

Marketing decisions at Microsoft can be... different. If you include internal videos, you might see Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in a Volkswagon parody ad. They abandon a Sun workstation on the side of a road with trash. I guess electronics recycling was not a thing back then.

The large white characters over the big monster at the end, "つづく", means "[to] be continued".

Expect more of these (perhaps at Anime Festival Asia?)

Internet Explorer Tan mixes the weirdness of Microsoft with the peculiarity of Anime culture. Inori Aizawa (藍澤 祈) is the semi-personification of Internet Explorer. The character describes herself as slow, clumsy, and awkward when she was younger. She stars in a two-minute cartoon created, apparently internally, by Microsoft Singapore. They snuck in more than a few subtle references.

For a bit of humor, her first name (, given names follow family names in Japanese) is romanized to Inori (祈り) as above. That word means "prayer" (and without the suffix, "praying" apparently). Again, this was created internally by Microsoft.

And, you know what? I believe that a well maintained Internet Explorer, if Microsoft can successfully focus on devices and services, will be their grace. Trident (IE's rendering engine) caught up to the standards-compliant ones and, if they continue to push the pack forward, can sell devices on its great experience. The other browsers need Internet Explorer to keep them innovating just as much as IE needs them.

It makes me smile. That could be my brain stuck in a bootloop, but it makes me smile. Almost every frame I look at has a reference to something. Still don't really understand it though.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft teaches you how to inspire confidence in the cloud

Subject: General Tech | October 31, 2013 - 12:53 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, azure, office 365, fail

For the better part of yesterday a good portion of Microsoft's Azure was down across the globe, with no geographic location left unaffected.  Azure is not only Microsoft's cloud storage service but also handles authentication for Office 365 and hosts the Exchange servers used by the new office suite.  Thankfully it was not a complete outage but the scope of the problem is quite worrisome, Microsoft has always claimed that Azure is partitioned geographically to prevent these types of global outages; their FTP service also failed during this outage adding credence to the lack of partitioning and possibility of cascading failures.  A failure of this magnitude on a business critical service is quite worrying but allowed The Register to give us a new term, "Blue Sky of Death".

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"Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud was hit by a worldwide partial compute outage today, calling into question how effectively Redmond has partitioned its service.

The problems emerged at 2.35AM UTC, and were still ongoing as of 10.20PM UTC the same day, according to the company's service dashboard."

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Source: The Register

Time to give up on programming applications for Skype?

Subject: General Tech | October 25, 2013 - 01:19 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, skype, API

If you have used third party software to bring extra functionality to Skype like call recording or integrating the ability to integrate in a non-standard way then you better enjoy it now as you only have until December before you are cut off.  At that time Microsoft will be blocking access of all third party apps to Skype which will break not only your own applications but will reduce Skype's compatibility with some headsets.  You can follow the link to the Change.org petition that is in The Inquirer's coverage of this decision.

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"ANGRY DEVELOPERS, a breed not unlike Angry Birds but without the desire to fling themselves at naughty pigs, have started a petition asking Microsoft to withdraw its plan to switch off the desktop API for Skype."

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Source: The Inquirer

Things that make you go hmmmm, NVIDIA edition

Subject: General Tech | October 7, 2013 - 01:46 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, linux, microsoft, open source

If you haven't heard the accusations flying over the possible scenarios that lead up to Origin PC dropping AMD cards from all their machines you can catch up at The Tech Report.  They keep any speculation to a minimum unlike other sites but the key point is the claims of overheating and stability issues, something that apparently only Origin has encountered.  If they had stuck with mentioning the frame pacing in Crossfire and 4K/mulitmonitor issue it would be understandable that they not sell AMD cards in systems designed for that usage but dropping them altogether is enough to start rumours and conspiracy theories across the interwebs.  Winning a place in the Steam Machine was great for NVIDIA but at no time did they imply that AMD was unworthy, they merely didn't win the contract.

Today some oil was tossed on the fire with the revelation that NVIDIA is specifically limiting the functionality of its hardware on Linux.  Just after we praised their release of documentation for Nouveau, their open sourced driver, we find out from a post at The Inquirer that NVIDIA limits the number of monitors used in Linux to three so as not to outdo their functionality in Windows.  For a brief moment it seemed that NVIDIA was willing to cooperate with the open source and Linux communities but apparently that moment is all we will have and once again NVIDIA proves that it is willing bow to pressure from Microsoft.

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"According to a forum poster at the Nvidia Developer Zone, the v310 version of the drivers for Basemosaic has reduced the number of monitors a user can connect simultaneously to three."

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Source: The Inquirer

Microsoft's Azure cloud qualifies as secure

Subject: General Tech | October 1, 2013 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, azure, cloud, DoD, secure

Microsoft just picked up a big win in their battle against IBM and Amazon for a share of the Cloud now that the US Government has certified them as being secure.  This is their first such certification which opens up a very large market for them and will make them more attractive to private firms as well.  While most salespeople will tell you that the only thing that matters about the cloud is high availability, IT departments are far more concerned about security.  High availability is assumed, if that is the only sales pitch a cloud provider gives you then you should probably stay away from them, your clients will be much happier knowing their proprietary data is secure and available as opposed to just available.  Slashdot commenters await you.

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"Microsoft's cloud storage platform Azure received their first government certification yesterday, less than 24 hours before the official shutdown. The certification, which grants Azure 'Provisional Authority to Operate,' should make it easier for Microsoft to compete with rivals like IBM and Amazon Web Services for government contracts. The certification signifies that the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and US General Services Administration have all deemed Azure safe from external hackers. Government cloud contracts are a lucrative market, as seen by Amazon's recent tussle with IBM over a $600M contract for a private CIA cloud."

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Source: Slashdot
Manufacturer: Microsoft

If Microsoft was left to their own devices...

Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting 2013 set the stage, literally, for Steve Ballmer's last annual keynote to investors. The speech promoted Microsoft, its potential, and its unique position in the industry. He proclaims, firmly, their desire to be a devices and services company.

The explanation, however, does not befit either industry.

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Ballmer noted, early in the keynote, how Bing is the only notable competitor to Google Search. He wanted to make it clear, to investors, that Microsoft needs to remain in the search business to challenge Google. The implication is that Microsoft can fill the cracks where Google does not, or even cannot, and establish a business from that foothold. I agree. Proprietary products (which are not inherently bad by the way), as Google Search is, require one or more rivals to fill the overlooked or under-served niches. A legitimate business can be established from that basis.

It is the following, similar, statement which troubles me.

Ballmer later mentioned, along the same vein, how Microsoft is among the few making fundamental operating system investments. Like search, the implication is that operating systems are proprietary products which must compete against one another. This, albeit subtly, does not match their vision as a devices and services company. The point of a proprietary platform is to own the ecosystem, from end to end, and to derive your value from that control. The product is not a device; the product is not a service; the product is a platform. This makes sense to them because, from birth, they were a company which sold platforms.

A platform as a product is not a device nor is it service.

Keep reading to see what Microsoft... probably still cannot.

Office 365 might not be great for enterprise but for BYOD it is looking interesting

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2013 - 01:24 PM |
Tagged: office 365, microsoft, Android

While Enterprise admins are less than impressed with the new Office 365 model and the changes that are required to their environments to make this new product function correctly many SMBs, students and home users have a lot to be happy about.  Device sharing is going to be a big thing, with one license allowing you to use Office 365 on a variety of the devices you own.  Support on NVIDIA's Shield is still a rumour but compatibility with Android phones is much closer to reality.  There are workarounds you need to put into place in order to make most Android phones function correctly, which The Register kindly linked to in their article and you will need to hunt down the originally released Microsoft installation file which they have pulled but you will be able to use Office 365.  Hopefully you won't be trying to write long dissertations on your phone but reading and editing are quite possible.

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"Unlike the video editing or CAD workstation beasts that are still utterly reliant on Windows, Android is slowly evolving into a workable platform for basic productivity."

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Source: The Register