Analog Movement on a Keyboard? Start Your Soldering Irons!

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Systems | November 26, 2012 - 02:44 AM |
Tagged: gaming keyboard

I was patrolling around Revision3 upon news of their Adam Sessler acquisition and came across the Ben Heck Show. Long-time readers of my content know that I tend to be very picky with input devices which landed me reviewing several keyboards over the last year-and-a-bit. User interface is a complicated problem and testing their limitations often unearths interesting subjects.

The Revision3 show’s most recent episode took apart a keyboard, which if I had to guess was based on Cherry MX Black although membrane-dome is possible, and gave its WSAD keys analog control.

The underlying principle of the build relies upon support for analog sticks in the software. It is not unheard-of for an input device to register in the computer as multiple devices in order to increase functionality. Several keyboards report to Windows as three separate keyboards to get around USB input limitations. In this case, the hacked keyboard will report as a keyboard and as an Xbox360-compliant gamepad.

The build uses hall sensors and magnets to detect how far the keystem is depressed and transmit that data as left-stick movement.

I could see a company such as Razer or Steelseries, in a bid to further differentiate their mechanical keyboards, creating a product with this idea. It should be simple for an established peripheral company to design a pressure sensitive keyboard especially given the existence of other pressure-sensitive buttons on gaming devices. Perhaps the implementation could have a toggle to switch between typing and gaming modes?

That would interest me.

Source: Revision3

Minecraft Brings Cake to Raspberry Pi

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | November 24, 2012 - 04:56 PM |
Tagged:

You might like pie, you might be a terrible person who likes cake, I will not judge.

One of Minecraft’s many features is the ability to craft a cake to use as food despite being wholly inferior to a couple of pork chops or steaks. You are not able to craft a pie. Soon you will be able to craft the game on a Raspberry Pi, however.

Mojang made an announcement on their blog recently which outlined their plans to port Minecraft Pocket to the cheap Raspberry Pi computer. While this might be exciting for those who use the Raspberry Pi as a cheap home theatre PC, there is something special about this build.

vidgameartlogo2.jpg

If you close a Windows, someone will open a source.

The Raspberry Pi was designed by David Braben to be an educational device. Its intent was to provide students with a cheap device loaded with much of the software development tools they would require to learn and develop their own applications.

Mojang is also interested in this ideal.

This version of the game, called Minecraft: Pi Edition, is said to be available in multiple programming languages. The intent is for users to learn to program by modifying and extending Minecraft. The game certainly is popular enough with students and would be an engaging way to frame the skills they require in the context of an existing game. I hope it will also help perpetuate the oft threatened ideal that third party game modifications should be promoted and preserved.

Minecraft: Pi Edition will be provided completely free.

Source: Mojang

Dear Intel, please get someone other than Curly to name your systems

Subject: Systems | November 21, 2012 - 06:49 PM |
Tagged: nuc, Intel

Intel's rather poorly named Next Unit of Computing is much more impressive than it sounds.  In a 4" x 4" x 2" box is a Core i3-3217U on a QS77 Express motherboard, two DDR3 DIMMs, a mini-PCIe Intel 520 Series SSD and a WiFi card which gives you performance far above any Atom powered micro machine.  Connectivity includes Thunderbolt, HDMI and up to 5 USB 3.0 ports and it is powered by a small 65W external brick.  The Tech Report were impressed by the overall performance, especially when trying out PC Perspective's favourite shooter from 2004.  At an MSRP around $300, this is a great choice for someone who needs more power than an Atom based machine but doesn't want to pay the premium for a full laptop.

nyuknyuknyuk.jpg

"Intel has crammed a pretty capable PC into a box that will fit into the palm of your hand and dubbed it the "Next Unit of Computing." With its Ultrabook guts, we think it should've been called the Ultrabox. Whatever you call it, though, the NUC offers a possible glimpse at the future of desktop PCs"

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Digital Storm

A small, custom chassis

UPDATE 11/22/2012

Right before the holiday weekend we got an email from Digital Storm detailing some changes to the Bolt system based on ours, and other reviewers, feedback.  Design changes include:

  • "Quieter operation" after moving from a Bronze level 500 watt 1U power supply to a Gold level unit.  I have put that part in quotes because I am hesitant to believe that much has changes on the sound levels of the system; we are still talking about a 1U unit here with two tiny fans.  Until DS publishes some sound level metrics, we'll consider this a modest change.
  • Digital Storm has also given the Bolt "a less glossy and improved external finish" to help prevent fingerprints and dust from reflecting in light.

In addition, there have been some hardware changes in the Level 3 unit that we were sent that are fairly significant:

  • Upgrade from a 60GB cache SSD to a 120GB SSD dedicated to the OS installation.
  • Storage drive lowered from a 1TB to a 500GB
  • Upgrade from a Core i5-3570K to a Core i7-3770K CPU

That is a pretty hefty change in hardware specs, in particular the move from the Core i5-3570K to the i7-3770K.  That increases the CPU performance of the Bolt pretty handily and they were able to do that without raising the price.  

This definitely gives us a better opinion overall for the entire Digital Storm Bolt configuration as tested and makes it a much better option when compared to the other recent systems we have reviewed.

END UPDATE 11/22/2012

A couple of months ago Digital Storm contacted us about a new design they were working on that they claimed would easily become the highest performance, smallest custom PC on the market.  The result of that talk was the new Digital Storm Bolt, a system designed in-house by DS to target PC gamers that want a powerful PC without the bulk of traditional desktop designs.

Digital Storm claims that the Bolt is the "thinnest, most powerful gaming PC ever designed" and we tend to agree.  This is not chassis that you can buy off the shelf but instead was custom designed for this system and actually requires some very specific hardware for it to function completely.  Items like a 1U power supply, 90 degree PCI Express riser extensions and slim-line optical drives aren't found in your standard gaming PCs.

Available in several starting "levels" of configuration, the Digital Storm Bolt can include processors from the Core i3-2100 all the way up to the Core i7-3770K and graphics cards starting at the GTX 650 Ti 2GB and increasing to the GTX 680 2GB.  Our system came with the following hardware:

  • Intel Core i5-3570K @ 4.2 GHz
  • Low Profile CPU Heatsink
  • 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz memory
  • GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB
  • 60GB cache SSD + 1TB 7200 RPM HDD
  • Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WiFi motherboard
  • 1U 500 watt power supply
  • Windows 7 Home Premium x64
  • Custom DS Bolt Chassis

Starting cost for this configuration is $1,599.

Check out our quick video review!

01.jpg

The box the Bolt ships in is pretty timid compared to some of the crates that have hit our office recently but that's just fine by me.  Due to the small size of the case though I have actually had some laptop boxes (the Alienware M18x comes to mind) that were bigger!

02.jpg

There she is, the Digital Storm Bolt, a combination of custom steel case design and fingerprint-loving piano black paint.  Measuring just 14-in tall and 3.6-in wide the case is going to be able to fit and blend in places other desktops simply could not.

Continue reading our review of the Digital Storm Bolt system!!

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Dell

The Dell All-in-One

 

Reviewers, at times, can be somewhat myopic.  I speak for myself in this particular instance.  My job as a writer is to test hardware on a daily basis, and as such I have a very keen understanding (or so I hope) of the intricacies of computer design.  If I need to build a machine, whether for test purposes or something that my wife can play Song Pop on, I have a near infinite variety of components that I can choose from to fit the needs of the project.  As such, we often forget that not everyone has that level of expertise.  Most people, in fact, just want to be able to buy something that not only fits their needs, but also simply just has to work.

xps_pack01.jpg

Dog is unimpressed with packaging.  UPS complained profusely though.

This is the reason why we have the Dells, HPs, and Lenovos of the world.  The vast majority of people out there are unwilling to build their own machine and support it themselves.  They neither have the time nor patience to dive in and learn the ins and outs of a modern PC and the software that runs them.  This is not a bad thing.  Just as I do not have the patience to learn how to sew, I still like wearing clothes.  At least during our podcasts.  For the most part.

We must also admit that we are moving well away from the typical beige box that dominated the 90s and early 2000s.  Manufacturers have a much better eye for not only functionality, but also aesthetics.  No longer do we have the hulking CRTs of yesteryear, and neither do we have the large boxes that are nearly indistinguishable from one or another.  Multiple form factors abound and these large manufacturers have design teams that pay very close attention to things like compatibility, power consumption, and thermal dissipation.  With these things in mind, they are able to create unique devices that not just serve the needs of consumers, but also just simply work.

Apple has been at the forefront of this type of design for quite some time.  This is a company that has prized fit, finish, and functionality far more than they have pursued cost cutting and homogenization.  This has lead to much higher margins for the company, and a nearly rabid following by the people buying their platforms.  We certainly can argue that they probably perfected the “all-in-one” machine back in the Macintosh days, and since that time they have not stood still.  The iMac was a further advancement in that field, but the introduction of relatively inexpensive and large LCD panels allowed them to further shrink the all-in-one.  It also allowed them to further sculpt the design into what we see today.

xps_pack02.jpg

Everything is nicely supported in the box.

Obviously people around the industry have noticed this trend, and noticed the devoted following of the Apple consumers.  It is hard to miss.  The world is a big place though, and surely there are people who crave the type of design that Apple pushes, but do not necessarily want to jump on that particular bandwagon.  Dell has recognized this and created their XPS One lineup of products.  Not everyone wants to run OSX and pay the Apple tax.  If this is the case for a reader, then this might be the product that catches their attention.

Continue reading our review of the new Dell XPS One 27-in PC!!

Lenovo Launches IdeaCentre Q190 SFF PC

Subject: Systems | November 17, 2012 - 03:59 AM |
Tagged: SFF, PC, Lenovo, ideacentre q190, htpc

Lenovo recently launched a new small form factor PC with the IdeaCentre Q190. This small desktop measures 192mm x 155mm x 22mm and packs some hardware punch that handily surpasses the specs of traditional net-top computers. Exact hardware specifications have not yet been released, but the company has talked about the top-end model.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190.jpg

The IdeaCentre Q190 PC will have up to a 2nd generation Core i3 Intel Sandy Bridge processor, 8GB DDR3 memory, HD3000 integrated (processor) graphics, a 1TB hard drive, and a 24GB caching SSD. These specifications are, of course, for the top end model.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190_1.jpg

The IdeaCentre Q190 with the optional optical drive attached.

In addition, the Q190 can support a DVD writer or Blu ray optical drive that mounts on top of the PC, which adds a bit of depth but can still be mounted vertically with the supplied stand. Other optional accessories include a handheld wireless keyboard and mouse trackpad.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190_2.jpg

External IO includes an SDXC card reader, S/PDIF optical audio port, VGA video output, two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.

The Q190 will come preloaded with Windows 8, and an option for Windows 8 Pro. Lenovo is pushing the HTPC merits of the computer, and it will certainly do a serviceable job. It would also make for a nice low-power desktop system as well, and it looks nice enough to display on your desk.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190 will be available in January 2013 and will have a starting price of $349, with the top end model described above costing a bit more (the exact amount is as yet unknown).

Source: Lenovo

Breaking News: Steven Sinofsky Leaves Microsoft Immediately

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Mobile | November 12, 2012 - 10:02 PM |
Tagged: windows rt, windows 8, microsoft

Our regular viewers know that I am not too fond of Microsoft’s recent vision; I will get that out of the way right at the start. I am a major proponent of open platforms for uncensored art with perpetual support and Windows 8 shows all the signs of Microsoft turning its back on that ideology.

And Steven Sinofsky, the one who allegedly came up with that vision, is no longer with Microsoft: effective immediately.

surface-cover.jpg

Not much in the line of reasoning is known about why Steven Sinofsky parted ways with his long-term career as head of Windows division. He had a clear and concise vision for his products and it was evident both in Windows 7 and in Windows RT.

Rumors exist that his fellow executives were not on pleasant terms with him. All Things D claims to have sources which suggest that his colleagues were unhappy with his conduct in terms of collaboration.

But that is all hearsay.

What it means for Microsoft is that the face that set sail is no longer at the helm. Microsoft could revert back to their twitchy attempts to appease everyone and abandon their vision. On the other hand it is entirely possible that the company could continue off on the last bearing set by Sinofsky.

No-one knows, but I stand behind my previous assertions that the PC industry will get messy in the next few years as things boil over at Microsoft.

Source: All Things D

The Content Industry Will Never Get It

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | November 10, 2012 - 04:47 PM |
Tagged: piracy, kinect

We do not like straying from our usual topics into the music, movie, and console gaming industries although I will make an exception for this. It has a computer hardware angle, I assure you.

So I came across an article this morning regarding a patent which Microsoft filed about a year and a half ago. This patent describes a process where a device can monitor the number of people viewing a copyrighted work and permit “remedial action” should that number increase beyond some arbitrary level. In other words, the technology would prevent or adjust the price of consuming content based on the number of people in your private residence.

Hey if you want to bring your significant other over -- that’ll cost you!

drmsucks.jpg

Hey did I tell you about this awesome DRM we're working on? Huge success.

It routinely frustrates me when people side with the content industry because they know that one-or-so unapologetic pirating acquaintance who they feel is ripping off the whole system. The problem is that all evidence which I have seen to suggest whether or not a pirate has actual damages actually shows sales increases or is wholly based on junior high school-level statistical errors.

The content industry does not demand for you to pay them for their content: they demand that you pay them for their content under specific conditions. There were no less than two services present at CES 2011 which allowed users to input a movie title to find out where it is legally available. If it was in Vudu, Hulu+, Netflix, in Theatres, which theatre, what show-times, as a DVD or BluRay on Amazon, on TV soon, and so forth.

Everyone I discussed those services with, thus far, were amazed with how useful that would be.

I then ask them: Why is it so hard to give them money that we need services to instruct people how to legally license content?

What if the person watching the content at a friend’s house ends up purchasing it? They are attempting to open up extra streams of revenue by controlling the system more aggressively. When the system gets too convoluted for users to abide by they blame that loss in revenue on piracy.

You could imagine this occurring for video games as well: what if a publisher decides that split-screen gaming is a premium service to be licensed on a per-controller basis? The content industry is attempting to focus their licensing arrangements as granularly as possible. This is bad for you, it is often bad for them, and it is terrible for society.

Do not assume that a copyright holder will act sensibly. It is not about cheap people. It is often not even about revenue despite whether they believe it is or not. Just look at Ubisoft’s DRM “success”. An exodus of 90% of your customers should never be called a success and yet they genuinely believed it was.

Source: Mashable

Zotac Updates ZBOX AD06 With New AMD APU

Subject: Systems | November 7, 2012 - 05:04 PM |
Tagged: zotac, zbox ad06, zbox, SFF, htpc, barebones, APU, amd

Zotac has updated its small form factor ZBOX AD06 PC with a new AMD Accelerated Processing Unit that features a faster GPU portion and a dual core Zacate CPU that Zotac claims offers up to a 10% boost in performance versus the previous ZBOX.

Zotac ZBOX AD06 With New AMD APU.jpg

On the outside, the ZBOX AD06 is approximately the size of a Mini-ITX motherboard, comes with a bundled VESA75/100 mount (to attach it to the back of your monitor), and features a number of ports. Internally, the ZBOX AD06 features an AMD E2-1800 APU with two CPU cores at 1.7GHz and a Radeon HD 7340 GPU. The “Plus” version bundles in 2GB of DDR3 memory and a 320GB hard drive, otherwise it is very much a bare-bones system that allows you to add your own storage.

External ports and connectivity options include:

  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 2 x analog audio jacks
  • 1 x DVI
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x S/PDIF optical audio output
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0

The Zotac AD06 also features a bundled media center remote that will work with Windows Media Center or XBMC. And thanks to the more powerful APU, it should work well as a low-cost home theater PC. Unfortuantely, there is no word on pricing or when the AD06 or AD06 Plus will be available for purchase.

Zotac ZBOX AD06 Plus vs AD06.png

You can find the full press release below.

The Ceton Echo Windows Media Center Extender is exactly what it says it is

Subject: Systems | November 6, 2012 - 03:32 PM |
Tagged: wmc, htpc, echo windows media extender, ceton

The Ceton Echo is not a competitor to Roku or other streaming devices which hook you up to Netfix and other online sources, instead it competes against the XBox as a way to utilize Windows Media Center without having a PC as well as retrieving online sources.  If you do have a PC, especially one with a TV Tuner then the Ceton Echo becomes even more powerful as you can use it to handle DVR duties as well as to stream content from your PC.  Missing Remote just got this device in and will be testing it over the next few days to find out just how useful this device is; it will be available to the general public at the end of November.

MR_echo1.jpg

"The XBOX 360 has ruled the Windows Media Center (WMC) extender market since it killed off third-party completion with the release of Windows Vista, but for many the brutish gaming console’s size, appetite for electricity, and unpleasant noise levels made it unwelcome in the A/V stack. With a lithe chassis, miserly power consumption, and a modern system-on-a-chip (SOC) offering the potential for proper HD file support the Ceton Echo could be just the thing to breathe fresh life into Microsoft’s aging platform. Our sample just arrived so it has not been run through the wringer yet, but since the hardware is set and pre-orders starting it is worth taking a look to getting a basic understanding of what the Echo has to offer. Check back later for our full review when the software is finalized."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

HTPC