Thoughts about Interface Design in General
I have been in several situations where a variety of people claim the gamepad is superior for gaming because that is what it was designed for. No elaboration or further justification is given. The controller is designed for gaming and is therefore clearly better. End of – despite often being start to – discussion in their minds.
Really it is a compromise between the needs of popular games and the environment of a couch.
Interface design is complicated. When you design an interface you need to consider: the expected types of applications; the environment of the user; what you are permitted to use; what tolerances are allowed; what your audience is used to; and so on, so forth. There is a lot to consider when you design an application for a user and I could make an educated guess that it is at least as hard to design the input device itself.
The history of keyboard design is a great example of tradeoffs in input devices.
Sometimes it is better to be worse...
The first wave of keyboards were interfaces to the mechanical typewriter. These keyboards were laid out in alphabetical order because as long as each key is accessible and the user could find the letter they wanted – who cares, right? We already have an order for the alphabet that people understands so the users should not have too much difficulty in finding the letter they need.
Another constraint quickly game to light: typists were too fast and the machines jammed.
The engineers now needed to design an input method which could keep up with the typist. Correcting the machine itself was somewhat futile so the solution was to make the typist as slow as possible. The most common letters in the English language were spread all over the place and – while possibly by fluke – the left hand is favored, as in made do more work, over the often dominant right hand.
The problem required making the most aggravating keyboard layout engineers could imagine. QWERTY was born.
Xi3, a company owned by ISYS Technologies Inc, has turned to popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter for its latest project. Xi3 is aiming to raise $250,000 by October 28 to produce two new modular computers: the X3A and X7A. Both units measure 4.27" x 3.65" x 3.65" and are slated for release in early 2013.
The X3A Xi3 is a power efficient business and general computing machine. It will pack a dual core processor running at 1.65GHz, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and 32GB of solid state storage. That storage can further be upgraded to up to 1TB. Rear I/O of the X3A includes two USB 3.0 ports, four eSATA ports, four USB 2.0 ports, and one Gigabit Ethernet jack. Xi3 expects the base level model to retail for under $500 and use a mere 18 Watts of power.
The X7A on the other hand is meant to be a workhorse and gaming machine. Specs include a quad core processor running at up to 3.2GHz, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, up to 1TB of solid state storage, and a GPU with at least 384 shaders. This machine will support triple monitor configurations and will use around 40 Watts. Rear I/O includes four USB 3.0, four USB 2.0, four eSATA, and one Gigabit Ethernet port. This machine will allegedly be capable of playing the latest games, including Crysis 2. It has an expected shipping date of early 2013 and with prices starting at $1,000.
Personally, I like the blue colored model.
At time of writing, Xi3 has raised $24,613 from 55 backers – and has 24 days left to reach its goal. I'm interested to see whether or not Xi3 will actually be able to pull off a gaming machine in that small of a form factor. You can find more information about the X3A and X7A modular computers on Kickstarter..
Subject: Systems | October 2, 2012 - 07:38 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: maingear, kepler, Ivy Bridge, gtx 680m, gaming laptop
Maingear is a company that seemingly ascribes to the “go big or go home” motto, and nowhere is that sentiment made clearer than its latest gaming notebook: the Nomad 17.
Perhaps, the term “notebook” is a bit of an understatement here. The Nomad 17 is a 16.85” x 11.34” x 2.17” gaming notebook that packs the latest and greatest mobile technology into a package that is sure to give your back a workout should you attempt to use this beast as your daily driver (as someone that has attempted such a feat, I can attest to that heh). The Nomad 17 starts at $1,599 and goes up from there, but you do get a lot of hardware for the money.
An Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7-3840QM is the highest end CPU you can add, and it is also loaded out with either a NVIDIA GTX 675M or the GTX 680M graphics card and Optimus graphics switching technology. In addition, the Nomad can be configured with either two 512GB SSDs or two 750GB mechanical hard drives in a RAID O or RAID 1 array. The gaming laptop also does not skimp on RAM, allowing up to 32GB of DDR3 running at 1600MHz.
On the outside, you are getting a backlit keyboard, multitouch touchpad, and large 17” LED backlit display with matte anti-glare coating and a resolution of 1920x1080. On the audio front, it supports the THX TruStudio Pro audio codec and sports two speakers and a subwoofer by DynAudio. Connectivity options include a SD card reader, 6x Blu-ray burner/8x DVD writer optical drive, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. External IO ports include one HDMI, one DVI, three USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, one Firewire, one optical audio out (S/PDIF), one Gigabit Ethernet/RJ45 port, and one RJ-11 port (of all things). Also, it features analog audio outputs, eSATA, and a VGA output.
The Nomad 17 with come pre-loaded with the 64-bit versions of either the Windows 7 Home, Premium, or Ultimate operating system.
But, the big reveal for gamers wanting to show off their gaming hardware is this: the Nomad 17 will be available in one of six custom, hand painted designs using glossy automotive paint.
The Nomad 17 is available now, and starts at $1,599. When decked out with the Core i7-3840QM, 4GB GTX 680M, 32GB system RAM, and two 512GB Crucial M4 SSDs (in RAID 0) mentioned above, the system total came out to $3,802. At that price, serious gamers only need apply, but is still an awesome piece of gaming technology nonetheless. Maingear has definitely packed the 17” laptop to the max with hardware.
You can find more photos of the Nomad 17 over at the Maingear website.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 2, 2012 - 04:44 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: trinity, silent pc, passive cooling, asus, APU, amd
AMD officially launched its desktop Trinity APUs (Accelerated Processing Units) today, and along with the new processors are a number of new socket FM2 motherboards to support them. One of the cooler motherboard and Trinity APU pairings was shown off today in a completely silent PC by ASUS and AMD in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan.
The silent system is nested inside a Streacom FC5 chassis that does double duty as a case and heatsink for the AMD APU. Inside the system is an unidentified power supply, two DDR3 DIMMS, Corsair Force SSD, ASUS F2A85-M PRO motherboard, and – of course – the AMD A10-5700K APU that we recently reviewed.
The APU is covered by an aluminum and copper block that is then connected to the metal case via four heatpipes. Then, the outside of the case has a finned design to provide more cooling surface area (but likely just to make it look cooler, heh).
This passively cooled system would make for a really nice home theater PC case, and the GPU prowess of the Trinity APU is well suited to such a task. You can find more photos of the fan-less Trinity system over at FanlessTech.
What do you think of Trinity, and will you be using it in your next build?
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Mobile | September 29, 2012 - 11:33 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Windows Store, windows 8, censorship
And by the way -- Windows Store will censor apps. More on that later.
So around the same time as my future of Windows editorial became published PC Mag published a related piece: Notch from Mojang outrages over certification for Windows Store. Mojang voiced his concerns for the platform and its attempts to “ruin the PC as an open platform.”
I have, and continue to, claim that Microsoft appears to want to close the Windows platform in a near-future revision of the platform. Once there is enough software available through Windows Update and Windows Store it seems highly likely that Microsoft will remove all other ways on to your device -- as they have done with Windows RT. The concept of a cross-device, controlled, and secure platform is just too tempting.
Loyal, but not stupid.
But backwards compatibility is not the only concern with going metro. Everything must be certified.
Indeed - as of the latest July 2012 certification requirements for Windows Store - Microsoft will predictably be censoring applications just as they do with the Xbox. Section 5.8 and 6.2 of the aforementioned certification requirements clearly state: applications must not contain excess or gratuitous profanity and applications must also not contain adult content. Of course this is aimed squarely at the various niches of adult
graphic novels (correction: I apparently meant visual novels, not graphic novels - but I'm sure those would not be let on the Windows Store either) and similarly themed interactive content and the message is clear: get out and stay out.
I can think of a couple of countries where that will not fly.
To be fair Microsoft has addressed the issue in the very same section with the following clause:
We understand that in some cases, apps provide a gateway to retail content, user generated content, or web based content. We classify those apps as either Storefront apps, whose primary function is to aggregate and sell third party media or apps, or Streaming apps, whose primary function is to aggregate and stream web-based images, music, video or other media content. In some cases, it may be acceptable for a Storefront or Streaming app to include some content that might otherwise be prohibited in a single purpose app.
The clause functionally means: “Yeah we know web browsers cannot prevent themselves from surfing to the wrong side of the internet’s metaphorical tracks. This is not an excuse to ban them.” It also does not limit the censorship that Microsoft is clearly imposing.
And frankly the issue is not even with adult content; the issue is with the certification itself. We are at a point where Microsoft seems to want us to accept and migrate to their closed platform where everything is certified.
But what if future certification seriously limits or disables 3rd party modifications to software like attempted with Games for Windows Live? What if Microsoft decides to charge developers tens of thousands of dollars just to certify a patch? These are all serious issues to think about.
While you are thinking - consider a plan to simply ditch the Windows platform altogether and go with an open platform we can actually trust.
Or: the countdown to a fresh Start.
Over time – and not necessarily much of it – usage of a platform can become a marriage. I trusted Windows, nee MS-DOS, guardianship over all of my precious applications which depend upon it. Chances are you too have trusted Microsoft or a similar proprietary platform holder to provide a household for your content.
It is time for a custody hearing.
These are the reasons why I still use Windows – and who could profit as home wreckers.
1st Reason – Games
The most obvious leading topic.
Computer games have been dominated by Windows for quite some time now. When you find a PC game at retail or online you will find either a Windows trademark or the occasional half-eaten fruit somewhere on the page or packaging.
One of the leading reasons for the success of the PC platform is the culture of backwards compatibility. Though the platform has been rumored dead ad-infinitum it still exists – surrounded by a wasteland of old deprecated consoles. I still play games from past decades on their original platform.
Subject: Systems | September 26, 2012 - 09:00 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: synergy, maingear, Ivy Bridge, gtx 680, cablecard, AIO
Custom PC manufacturer Maingear took the wraps off of its latest all in one computer today, and it features some impressive specifications for an AiO system. As the release of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system approaches, Maingear is gearing up support by introducing a system with desktop specifications and a large 24” touchscreen display with the new Alpha 24 Super Stock.
On the outside, the matte black Alpha 24 all in one has a prominent 24” glossy touchscreen display running at 1920x1080 resolution. Above the screen is a webcam. There are ports along the left side of the bezel and ventilation slits for the HSF on the back.
What makes the Alpha 24 interesting is all the hardware that the company has managed to pack inside the monitor-sized form factor. Internally, you will find a mini-ITX motherboard with Intel Core i7 3770K Ivy Bridge processor, and up to 16GB of DDR3 laptop RAM, 256GB Crucial M4 mSATA SSD, 3TB mechanical hard drive, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 graphics card (GTX 650 and GTX 670 GPUs are also options). The Alpha 24 also features 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, with an optional Bigfoot Killer Wireless add-on card. Not bad at all for an all in one system!
Maingear is further pushing the multimedia and home theater PC aspects of the Alpha 24. An internal DVD or Blu-ray optical drive can be added, for example. Also interesting is the inclusion of an optional CableCARD tuner that will allow the Alpha 24 to tune into encrypted cable TV stations and act as a DVR using software like Windows Media Center. Unforunately, details on the specific tuner they are offering were not given in the press release. The Alpha 24 can also act as a monitor for external video sources connected over HDMI, such as a game console or another computer.
Maingear did not skimp on the I/O either for the claimed “no compromises” Alpha 24. Internal expansion slots include two mini PCI-E and one PCI-E x16 slot (for the GPU). External connectivity options include three USB 2.0 ports, a SD card reader, mic in/audio out jacks, and space for a single slim optical disc drive along the right edge of the display. Ports along the left edge of the display include the graphics card's video outputs – 1x DVI, 1x HDMI, 2x DisplayPort – two S-Video connectors, power jack, Gigabit LAN, HDMI output, two USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, optical audio output, and analog audio jack. The back of the Alpha 24 hosts a VGA and HDMI input along with antenna connectors.
Also, the internals are user serviceable and things like the GPU can easily be upgraded, according to the company – allowing for future upgrading to keep the system relevant. Maingear CEO Wallace Santos stated the following in the company's press release.
“In this day and age, there shouldn’t be a reason anyone would need to compromise for an all-in-one performance PC. Other all-in-one PC solutions pale in comparison to the ALPHA 24 and can be summed up with just a few words: 1080p gaming set to Ultra, maxed anti-aliasing and tessellation.”
Currently, the Alpha 24 has an MSRP starting at $1,349 for the base model. It will ship with Windows 7 x64, however it should be available pre-loaded with Windows 8 later next month following the Windows 8 release.
All in all, the Maingear Alpha 24 looks like a decent computer for the price, though you are paying a bit of a premium for the all in one form factor versus going with a traditional desktop – and building a PC yourself by following the PC Perspective Hardware Leaderboard. So long as the reviews come back stating that build quality is good, it is definitely an interesting machine if you are limited to OEM options and don’t want a tower sitting under your desk – the CableCARD tuner option is also a nice touch.
You can find more photos of the Alpha 24 over at the Maingear website.
What do you think about this system, enough future upgrade-ability to sway you away from a traditional tower PC?
Subject: Systems | September 21, 2012 - 03:04 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, hdtv, guide
Missing Remote posted something a little different but perfect for their niche, a compendium of links to shared calendars in which you can find the broadcast times of every show on a wide variety of channels. The links are either shared Google calendars or ICS links which are compatible with most calendar applications. Never miss a TV show again, even if your guide is on the fritz or you are setting up a recording remotely.
"Missing Remote is proud to have many writers that are avid television watchers. When we were looking around for a list of shows and their start dates we found just those--list after list, so we have done the hard work for you and compiled these lists into shareable Google calendar with internet view or you can download and use it. Make sure you subscribe or come back, as we will be updating these all season. If you are like us and prefer to schedule only when it shows up on the guide, you will be watching this list daily when you can add your new shows up to 14 days in advance. We have made HTML links to look at the Google Calendar links and you can subscribe through that link, or ICS which is read by many of the popular desktop calendar applications, and you can subscribe to them through there"
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- 12 micro-ATX round-up: compact chassis @ Hardware.info
- How to Access Region-Locked Online Content From Anywhere @ Techspot
- Pivos XIOS DS Media Play! Network Media Player Review @ NikKTech
- Mi Casa Verde Vera Home Automation Controller - VeraLite Review @MissingRemote
Subject: Systems | September 17, 2012 - 01:05 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: micro ATX, llano, htpc, gigabyte, GA-A55M-DS2, amd, a8-3870K
If you are on a tight budget and can't afford the cost of a Llano based notebook, or simply just don't want a mobile PC then Legit Reviews can help you out with their new system build guide. For just under $300, shipping included, they will show you how to set up an A8-3870K based system on Gigabyte's GA-A55M-DS2 motherboard, 4GB DDR3-1333 and an OCZ Vertex Plus R2 60GB SATA II SSD along with an optical drive and a micro ATX case. It won't win any overclocking awards but it has enough outputs to make a decent HTPC system and will handle light gaming duties thanks to the integrated graphics on the A8-3870K
"Are you looking to build a budget PC, but have a limited budget to work with? We have had a number of readers and businesses that we consult with looking for new systems that will save power and be faster than the systems they currently have. When we started to look into low cost Do-It-Yourself (DIY) systems we found that you could easily build an AMD Llano system for less than $300. And when we say under $300 we mean with shipping included! You would think that for under $300 we would have to cut corners and use knock off brands, but that is not the case here. We are using the top of the line AMD A8-3870K APU and an OCZ Vertex Plus R2 60GB Solid-State Drive (SSD) into this system. The one corner that we did cut is..."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Giada Mini PC i35G Review @ Madshrimps
- Midrange System Buyer's Guide @ AnandTech
- DinoPC Predator Extreme 3570K OC @ Kitguru
- Building the 2012 AnandTech SMB / SOHO NAS Testbed @ AnandTech
- HP Pavilion 23-1000z Review @ TechReviewSource
- Vizio CA27-A1 Review @ TechReviewSource
- Lenovo IdeaCentre K430 Review @ TechReviewSource
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Processors, Systems, Shows and Expos | September 12, 2012 - 09:34 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mineral oil, Intel
Intel has been dunking servers in oil for the last year and found the practice to be both safe and effective. Ironically it has been almost a year since we played around with mineral oil cooling – and when we did – we did not want to upgrade or fix anything. Intel agrees.
Intel inside, slick mess outside.
Often cooling a computer with a radiant that is not air focuses on cooling a handful of specific components and leaving the rest exposed to air. Gigabyte in their recent live presentation showed how the company reduced waste heat on the motherboard as it delivers power to the CPU as the latter likely receives more cooling than the former. With mineral oil you are able to more efficiently cool the entire system by immersing it in a better coolant than air.
This still makes Ken wake up in a cold sweat… is what we convince ourselves.
After a full year of testing servers, Intel has decided that oil immersion cooling should be utilized by more server hosts to cut costs over traditional air conditioning. In their test they used heat sinks which were designed for air and dunked them pretty much unmodified into the mineral oil dielectric. Apart from the mess of it – Intel engineers always carried cleaning cloths just in case – Intel seems to only sing praise for results of their study.
Of course Intel could not help but promote their upcoming Phi platform which you may know as the ancestor of Larabee.
Now the real question is whether Intel just wanted to shamelessly plug themselves – or whether they are looking so closely at alternative cooling solutions as a result of their upcoming Phi platform. Will we eventually see heat dissipation concerns rear their heads with the new platform? Could Intel either be sitting on or throttling Phi because they are waiting for a new heat dissipation paradigm?
Could be interesting.