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Archive for Richard Swinburne

Zune HD versus iPod Touch: Round 2, Video

Posted on 23rd Nov 2009 at 10:28 by Richard Swinburne with 14 comments

Richard Swinburne
In the previous round of this face off between the Microsoft Zune HD and Apple iPod Touch, I concentrated on the music end of things. This time round I'll go into the video playback.

Firstly, the iPod Touch: media playback is pretty good with the nice sized screen suitable for both 4:3 and 16:9 content, although there's very little media support (basically just MP4) and you can't get subtitles unless you buy through the Apple store - something I flat out refuse to do because of DRM.

Comparatively, the Zune HD screen feels notably smaller, to the point where anything that isn't using the whole (very) widescreen format is almost squint-worthy. In that regard the iPod offers a better viewing experience unless you only watch widescreen videos.

Media support for the Zune is also very limited, but it accepts WMV as well as MP4, though most converters prefer the H.264 for MP4. Again, this means the ever popular MKV format is neglected on both parts - however the Zune will happily accept a full fat 720p MP4 and downscale it into its own native format - that's pretty neat! Although, a waste of storage if you're going to convert it from DVD/MKV/AVI anyway.

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Zune HD versus iPod Touch: Round 1, Music

Posted on 19th Nov 2009 at 10:57 by Richard Swinburne with 26 comments

Richard Swinburne
Before my job moved to central London I never really spent enough time going anywhere that justified a mobile media device, but having to spend an hour door to door to get to work and home everyday presented itself with an opportunity to kill time.

So, about 6 months ago I bought myself a 16GB iPod touch. I'm sure you're all familiar with it since it's basically an iPhone but thinner. I've always been tempted by the great press Microsoft's ZuneHD was getting though. It seemed to offer more than the iPod, and greater functionality potential thanks to its Nvidia Tegra CPU that can output 720p h.264 video via HDMI without a hickup.

On a trip to California recently (thanks again, Kingston) I managed to pick a ZuneHD up and can now do do a side by side comparison with the iPod touch.

Which is a better media device? Well, let's break down the parts:

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What's really happening with the Lucid Hydra?

Posted on 16th Nov 2009 at 12:22 by Richard Swinburne with 6 comments

Richard Swinburne
The rumour is that Nvidia really really doesn't like Lucid's Hydra chip - you remember, it's load balancing chip which, when present on a motherboard, allows you to mix and match graphics cards in a multi-GPU system.

The reason is obvious: Lucid is making something that could clearly damage Nvidia's SLI business model, so it's within reason that it would be miffed and it's not unlike Nvidia to protect itself with software DriverIDs and whatnot as has been evident from the recent kerfuffle over Batman Arkham Asylum.

Of course there's more than one side to every story, and we've recently spent time trying to find out what's happening with the Hydra chip and whether there's any truth to the rumours that Nvidia is playing a part by causing a stir with motherboard manufacturers.

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1.35V DDR3 memory: how much power does it save?

Posted on 11th Nov 2009 at 10:29 by Richard Swinburne with 5 comments

Richard Swinburne
As soon as Kingston admitted to providing Intel with its 1.35V DDR3 at the IDF Clarksdale demo, we started hearing the buzz from more companies such as G.Skill Press Release, all announcing low voltage DDR3 arriving very shortly.

But what does the drop down to 1.35V bring you?

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Gigabyte TweaKING OC Event: European Final

Posted on 3rd Nov 2009 at 14:55 by Richard Swinburne with 2 comments

Gigabyte TweaKING OC Event

European Final

Manufacturer: Gigabyte

Gigabyte are well known for its overclocking events: the Gigabyte Open Overclocking Championship (GO OC) ran earlier this year and encouraged competitors to overclock their Core i7 CPUs using any means possible, and ran Super Pi 8M and 3DMark 06 for the best scores.

Gigabyte TweaKING OC Event: European Final
18 Teams competed from all around Europe. Click to enlarge

The TweaKING event in Paris is the European leg of this new style of OC tournament. Less emphasis is placed on the quality of CPU and more is placed on the ability of the teams to tweak the memory and motherboard. How? The CPU frequency is capped at 4GHz, meaning the teams had to crank the memory and baseclock on their Lynnfield i5-750 CPUs up as high as possible to achieve the best result.

Gigabyte TweaKING OC Event: European Final
Much time was spent in the BIOS tweaking settings. Click to enlarge

This still puts an emphasis on CPU quality to some degree, but its also brings the motherboard back into play more, which is an angle Gigabyte obviously wants to push. There was no limitation on the OS tweaks allowed too; so WinXP hacks a plenty were rolled out: services were neutered, registry was copiously tweaked and anything deemed excess was cut off.

However, every team had a standard set of hardware to use: nothing extra was allowed, not even an additional fan. Even screwdrivers were provided!

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Reader Advised HTPC Buyers Blog, Oct 09 #1

Posted on 27th Oct 2009 at 11:28 by Richard Swinburne with 38 comments

Richard Swinburne
Yep, you read that right, I want your help in designing a Home Theatre PC reference guide to go on the site and in the mag.

I get constantly asked for one, but we simply don't test enough HTPC hardware to be as widely knowledgeable as I'd like in order to recommend a setup with 100 percent confidence.

The difficulty is that HTPCs vary by country; in the UK we don't have analogue HDTV (cable) access like the US, not to mention other issues, like varied internet TV services and user need - does it need terrabytes of storage or is gaming compatibility a priority, for example?

With that in mind we want your advice; what have you seen that works? What would you recommend to others that fits the spec below?

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Own an Intel SSD? Tell how worn out it is!

Posted on 23rd Oct 2009 at 10:45 by Richard Swinburne with 28 comments

Richard Swinburne
Kingston dropped an interesting titbit that we thought we'd pass on to all Intel SSD owners - of which there's soon to be a lot more once the latest value X25-X drives arrive.

Basically, the biggest unknown factor in NAND Flash technology is wear and tear. The cells have a limited amount of data writes, so don't last forever, even though intelligent wear algorithms mean an MLC drive will last 10 years having written a few hundred GB a day to it - far more than any normal user will do.

One question that will get more important as time goes on is the second hand market: How can you account for wear if you're buying it off someone else?

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SSD performance tips for Intel chipsets and RAID-0

Posted on 16th Oct 2009 at 20:02 by Richard Swinburne with 4 comments

Richard Swinburne
We had a chat with the Kingston labs team this week in California and noted down some free performance improvements, and limitations, you should be aware of if you own one or more SSDs:
  • The Intel SATA ICH9R/10R/P55 controller under RAID-0 has a maximum real world performance capacity of about 600MB/s in total between it and the CPU.

    Despite the fact you'll need several (four+) SSDs to hit this limit at the moment, it's worth bearing in mind that to get ludicrous performance you'll need at least a PCI-Express x8 card.

    Until Intel increases its DMI and/or SATA controller bandwidth, this could prove a more regular limiting issue when future SATA 6Gbps parts arrive.

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Lab Update: AMD Athlon II X4 620 and Lynnfield Memory

Posted on 9th Oct 2009 at 11:17 by Richard Swinburne with 14 comments

Richard Swinburne
This week I have been mostly testing AMD's Athlon II X2 620 CPU.

Yes, we're a bit behind, but the Radeons arrived and deciding between a £75 quad core or the latest and shiniest DirectX 11 graphics cards is like wondering whether we'd rather eat out at Marcus Wareing, or go to a burger van at a motorway lay-by.

For the record, The Berkeley is fantastic.

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Lab Update: Many-a-P55 Motherboard

Posted on 23rd Sep 2009 at 10:56 by Richard Swinburne with 16 comments

Richard Swinburne
I wouldn't be understating the situation when I say we've got a lot of P55 boards to get through: three Asus (P7P55D Deluxe, Vanilla and Maximus III Formula), two Gigabyte (UD5 and mATX UD4), three MSI (GD80, GD65 and CD53), ECS (something-or-other) and requests for more.

As it stands we've already reviewed the P7P55D Deluxe and found it just too expensive to justify a purchase. That's not Asus' fault, but Intel and Foxconn for making the platform cost just prohibitively expensive. To be honest, in the time we've already spent with the Gigabyte UD5 we highly suspect it to end up the same way.

In fact, we'd have had a full UD5 review already but someone got cake in the CPU socket. I kid you not.

Despite suffering assault via a Victoria sponge (we suspect, on evaluating the evidence), the board still worked and overclocked very well, even though six socket pins were damaged. The memory capacity constantly flicked between single 2GB and dual channel 4GB, so it took us all day to pin-point the problem with inconsistent results.

The plus side of all this is that we can conclude Intel's Lynnfield CPU and socket design is remarkably resilient to damage. And dessert. The downside is that it makes our job harder to work out what the hell is going on!

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