Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Computer!

Yep, I got a new computer, and it's awesome.  And the best part is, I built it from the ground up.  Well, sorta.  I ordered each individual part and put it together;  I'll put it that way.

With the help of a couple real thick books, one or two websites, and some real technically inclined friends, I was able to gather an amazing amount of information and theoretical knowledge about the field that is computer hardware and how to put it together.

Here's the specs:

CPU: AMD Phenom II x4 3.2Ghz Quad Core Processor

RAM: 4GB 1600mhz Corsair Dominator DDR3

HDD: 750GB 7200RPM Seagate Barracuda

GPU: 1GB Sapphire Radeon HD 4870

Disc Drive: Sony Optiarc DVD Burner (can't remember the precise write speed)

PSU: Corsair 850w supply

Case: Antec 900 gaming case

Keyboard: Razer Tarantula

Mouse: Logitech G5

Motherboard: Can't remember the exact specs.

Other stuff:

-NetGear Wireless N-Draft internal Wi-fi card

-Lacie: 250GB Firewire 400 drive

-LG 22" HD monitor

-OS: Windows 7 RC

Yep, it's good stuff.  Seeing as I'm mildly bored and feel like bragging once again about my feat, I figured I'd mesh together some info about each part, and my impressions.


Before:  This thing worried me, and was probably the most nerve-racking part of construction.  You see, I assumed that the processor (or some other part) came with thermal glue.  At the time, I didn't realize that the putty-like gray square on the bottom of the heatsink was in fact thermal compound, and thus had to stop for the night to go out and buy some in the morning.  I applied it, and continued on to finish the computer, but then it wouldn't turn on.  I freaked out, and after consulting with my buddies, we decided it might have to do with the thermal compound.  So I went BACK into the computer, and took of the heatsink (the heatsink is strapped on HARD; it was very difficult to strap on, and even more difficult to take off).  The few sparks that did go through the mobo (slang for motherboard) when i first pressed the power button had begun to melt the thermal compound, fusing it with the pre-applied stuff.  Long story short, the pre-applied compound was ruined, and I ended up having to completely scrape it off, and re-apply my own.  I eventually got the computer to work, and it had nothing to do with the compound, but that's another story.  In the process of re-applying the glue, I actually dropped the processor twice.  It was scary.  <=O

After:  Well, this thing is a beast.  I've yet to max out it's usage percentage (highest I came was 92% before it promptly dropped back to 30-40), even will running an internet browser, torrents, messenger, Guild Wars, steam (downloading an update), and anti-virus.  It's incredible, this computer pretty much NEVER lags.  And if it does, it tends to be more the program's fault than the computer's.


Before:  The memory modules look incredibly beastly.  They've got black spikes on top for heatsinks, and have a brushed finish.  At first it was very tough making sure they were actually fully installed, but everything worked out.  They say you should never force anything when it comes to computer parts, but I think it's okay to get a bit strong with your RAM, if it doesn't feel like it's in completely.  The good thing about RAM is that you can only put it in one way, due to the notch it has.

After: On average, I'm using up about 30-40% of my RAM on a constant basis.  This is with messenger, Opera (no torrents), Steam, DaemonTools, and Avast! running.  The two main culprits of RAM usage appear to be Steam (also a CPU hog) and torrents.  Highest RAM usage I've gotten to was about 75%.


Before: Installing the harddrive is simple in theory, but due to the insane amount of cables spewing from the PSU, it's really a huge pain.

After: I haven't told anybody this because it isn't really a big deal to me (As it stands, I've yet to use up more than half of my 250GB external, even though I've had it for a couple years now), but this drive actually only has 700GB on it.  I coulda sworn I ordered one with 750GB.  It performs pretty quick though (faster than my old IDE drive, at least), so I guess that's cool.

Graphics Card

Before: Jesus, this thing is huge.  I was actually planning to buy a second one and try CrossFireX later on, but as it stands I'd be hard-pressed to install anything else in the computer (besides more RAM or HDDs), let alone a SECOND one of these beasts.  It takes up two PCI slots, and has it's own fans and vents.   It has a black and blue color scheme, with blue LEDs.

After: But it sure shows results.  I tried Batman: Arkham Asylum on this computer, and it actually looks better than it does on my PS3 version!

Disc Drive

Before: Probably the easiest thing to install.  I just slid it into the topmost slot, plugged it in and was good to go.

After: Haven't tried burning anything, but it played my Oban Star Racers DVD just swell.

Power Supply

Before: Oh my god, this thing has so much guts hanging out of it.  I have the power supply to blame for my computer being a horrible mess of cables inside, only half of which are actually connected to anything.  It was all I could do to tie what cables I wasn't using away to the side.

After: At this point, an 850w power supply is probably waaaay overkill (I was future-proofing for the possibility of a second GFX card), so of course I'm having no problem powering the various components in my computer.


When you look at the incredible size of the case, this thing looks like it'll be huge.  But it's actually pretty much the same size as the tower of my last computer (an old Dell Dimension).  The case is also pretty heavy, as expected.  It's got a really flexible design, so you can re-arrange the fans, and optical/harddrives.  There's 9 5.25" drive bays, and you can also install up to three hard drives in every set of three bays (or a fan).  As for interface, It's been lackluster so far.  There's two USB ports and one Firewire port on the front, as well as two audio ports.  There's also a HDD activity light, a reset button, and of course a small rectangular power button.  There's no power light, but one isn't really necessary, because each of the midsize fans have a bright blue LED on them that lights up when the computer turns on.  Seeing as, by default there's two medium fans situated in the bottom two 3-bay sets, you can immediately tell the computer is on by the ambient blue glow.  The LEDs really are a pretty feature, in my opinion.  On the top, there's a small depressed area where you can deposit iPods and such that are syncing with your computer, and, more importantly a HUGE fan.  This fan takes up just half the space of the front.  This is good for cooling, but I have one large concern.  If you sit your computer under or beside a desk, and have a habit of eating at your desk, you need to be extremely careful, because any liquids spilled on the tower will go right through the fan grating on the top and hit the circuitry. Coincidentally, the case has a black color scheme with blue LEDs..just like the graphics card.


Really, this is a pretty impressive keyboard.  I would have liked backlit keys (some of them actually are backlit), but I try not to do much heavy computing in the dark anyway, so it's a minor complaint.  This keyboard apparently has all sorts of fancy capabilities for hardcore gamers, like programmable "blank" keys on the left and right, and the ability to store up to 100 profiles.  I paid more attention to the practical parts of the keyboard, though.  The hyper-response keys work nicely, though the letter space is a bit more cramped than I'd like.  There's also shortcuts on the edges for music and other stuff.  Besides the solid and simplistic design, what I like most about this keyboard is the pulsating blue Razer symbol on the hand rest.  Well, no actually that's not it, though I do love that.  What I like most is the fact that you can remove the keys, making it easier to go after dust and such.


I actually had this mouse long before I got the computer.  It's a pretty fancy mouse, and a practical one, with a side leaning middle button, and two side buttons.  It's also ridiculously easy to grip, and has some sort of wierdly smooth plastic that lets it glide across even mildly rough surfaces.  It also comes with an assortment of small weights you can use to customize the feel of the mouse.  Now that's fancy.


Before: The motherboard was the first thing I installed, and initially the most intimidating part of the computer to install.  I was still deathly afraid of static shocking it to death, so I handled it somewhat timidly.  But installing it was ultimately a breeze, and this thing looks pretty cool.  I like it's color scheme, which is primarily blue, by the way...with blue LEDs.  It's got power and reset buttons for those hardcore technicians that need to run a computer without a case, and dual LAN ports (capable of bridging them).  

After: The integrated sound is pretty damn good.

Wi-Fi Card

Before: Easy install.  It comes with an external antenna you can either attach to a wall or sit somewhere higher up.

After: Yeah...I hate wireless.  Only reason there's a card for it in here is because my mom insisted on buying one.


Pretty fancy looking moniter, wtiih a piano-black finish (like the keyboard), and an interesting touch interface.  I'd have preferred buttons, but I appreciate the clean and simple look the lack of button gives this monitor.

Operating System

I had actually originally planned to install Windows XP, but learned it was 32-bit, and decided to just go with W7.  It's a pretty slick OS, I really love how well many programs are integrated.  I almost didn't mind using IE, simply because of how tightly integrated into the OS it is (making it that much more intuitive to use).

So yep, I'm pretty darn satisfied with this rig.

Friday, August 7, 2009

No More Heroes

I haven't played anything on me Wii in several months now. It's a bit disheartening. So, I decided to order a couple Wii games to get back in touch with the little guy. Unfortunately, however, I found it difficult to get into the swing of things. Maybe motion controls just don't sit well with me.

No More Heroes was one of the two games I decided to try out for Wii. I had heard some mildly good things about it, and it seemed like an interesting game. I was right; this game is chock full of various interesting ideas and concepts. Presentation-wise, I'd probably give this game a 9 or 10. But it seems the developers poured all their creative juices into the conceptual work, and had little left to use for the actual gameplay. I think No More Heroes is most fung during the cutscenes and dialogue, to be frank.

At it's core, No More Heroes is basically a mindless hack n' slash game. It follows the exploits of Travis Touchdown, a fairly typical nerd and otaku (a type of nerd that typically specializes in knowledge regarding anime, manga, and toy models). The backstory of the game is only skimmed over, but from what I understand, he somehow met this hot diva by the name of Silvia Christel, who challenges him to rise to the top of an assassin's organization by defeating each of the top 10 assassins. He agrees, primarily only because Silvia hints that she might "do it" with him if he makes it.

And so Travis uses his beam katana (which he won from an internet auction) to slay each ranked assassin, one by one. Silvia's "organization" requires some hefty fees to register for each ranked battle, though, so between events, you'll spend some time doing odd jobs around town to make enough money to register for the next battle. You might also use your hard-earned cash to upgrade your weapons, buy some new duds, or beef your stats.

Once you've got enough money, you register for the next battle, seek out the target assassin's hideout, hack up his minions for 15-30 minutes (with one or two special battles thrown in to shake things up a tad), and then Silvia calls you using the Wii remote speaker, mostly to tell you how certain she is that you will be slaughtered in the upcoming battle (with a couple passing words of encouragement thrown in as well). You confront the assassin, and Travis engages in a [often] totally random and nonsensical, yet amusing conversation oozing with stereotypes and pop culture with the target, before you fight him/her. After he or she is defeated, Silvia appears, flirts a bit, then leaves. This process is repeated several times, until you beat the game.

Of course, there's a more indepth story in here somewhere, but you won't realize it for some time. And unsurprisingly, what few plot twists there are in this game, really might throw you for a loop.

No More Heroes is a strange game, really. Sometimes it's mind-numbingly repetitive and boring, yet at other times it's exciting and over the top. Unfortunately, there's more repetitiveness than there is over-the-top-ness.

In battle, you use Travis' beam katana and pro wrestling moves to come out on top. Travis' beam katana will be your weapon of choice most of the time, and it really does slice and dice enemies in a satisfying manner. Downed or stunned enemies must be finished via either a parting stab, or a brutal slice. Either method causes a huge amount of blood to erupt forth, not unlike a fire-hose. Enemies come at you in crowds, and die easily enough, so you'll quickly find yourself getting used to your vision being partially impaired by blood flying everywhere. To give yourself a bit of style, as well as break out of simply swinging your beam katana everywhere, you have various wrestling grapples and throws at your disposal. Stunned enemies can be thrown using a variety of motion commands. It's impossible to kill an enemy this way, but it does leave them downed, so you can insta-kill them with a quick stab (this doesn't work on bosses though). Your beam katana also runs on a battery. Occasionally you'll need to stop and press 1 to start waggling your remote with fervor, to recharge the katana as quickly as possible.

When you're actually in the assassin's hideout, the game's not so bad. The hack n' slash aspect is often shaken up by special events, such as enemies in one room inexplicably lining up in a straight single-file line, so that you can bat a ball at them and kill each one in one go, or the sprinklers activating, shortening out your beam katana.

Each boss is very interesting, and usually quite a bit of fun to fight. They're often unique reincarnations of various popular character archetypes. Like for example, the samurai Shinobu. Anyone who's seen their fair share of anime knows that a katana wielding schoolgirl is one of the more common character types we've seen out there (and popular, at that). Maybe the fact that she also has an afro is a jab at Afro Samurai. I dunno.

My beef is with the money gathering aspect. Everything about this part of the game is boring and uninteresting. This may not be a fair jab, but, this being a game and all, I'm not sure why I should have to do menial minigame tasks to get through the game. Games are supposed to be fun, and the developers surely could not have thought that these odd jobs were fun.

The graphics are also somewhat of a mixed bag. The quaint town of Santa Destroy is uninteresting and a horrible attempt at an open world. But I think part of the concept of Santa Destroy was for it to be a very uninteresting place. On a technical scale, the graphics quality in No More Heroes varies somewhat. I personally think they're not bad, but the framerate does dip occasionally (particularly when there's a LOT of blood flying). Fortunately, the style used for the visuals saves what shortcoming the technical quality might have. It's slightly cell shaded, but I also liked how they did Travis' cheap motel apartment, and while the grunt enemies look largely the same throughout the game, the bosses all have unique duds. The music and BGM is also interesting, though most of it is ultimately forgettable. Like I said though, I really enjoy the dialogue.

I'm not sure how much the average person would get out of No More Heroes, but if you consider yourself a connoisseur of anime and videogames (and particularly the culture surrounding them), you may be able to relate to many of this game's concepts. I got a kick out of quite a number of them, but I really don't think this game is for everyone. Even given the outstanding ideas present here, I feel the gameplay is too lacking to merit a recommendation. A 6.5/10.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hand's On: Playstation Keypad

For those times when my PS3 was my only portal to the internet (besides my iPod Touch), I decided I would like a keyboard to be able to carry around easily. So, I looked to the Playstation Keypad.

I actually think this thing is a little overpriced, as are many of the "Official" PS3 accessories. But alas, it's not bad.

The keypad is a small platform that mounts right onto the PS3 controller. Please note that it does NOT feed off of the controller, and has its own battery, as well as a mini-USB port (just like the controller one) to charge it with. The PS, Start, and Select buttons aren't actually electronic, and have small nubs on the other side to push their actual corresponding buttons on the controller. This way, you can still play games perfectly fine with the keypad turned off.

The keypad does not come with a USB cord to charge with, so you'll have to use the one that should have come with your PS3 (or any others you might have). When you first flip the on switch on the right side, nothing happens. When not in use, the keypad sits in standby mode and doesn't generally use much charge. Since the on/off switch isn't especially conspicuous, and the keypad really does act like it's completely off when not in use, I can see it being quite easy to leave it on by mistake. Fortunately, the battery life is fairly generous. I don't have any estimates, but it didn't falter once throughout an intense 2-3 hour chat session in PS Home, and it hasn't yet failed to flicker to life whenever I press a button while the switch is on. It connects to the PS3 just as any controller would. You turn it on, and press a button, and it will search for and, within a few seconds, connect to the system. Just as with a controller or PS headset, you can instantly pair it via a USB cable. By the way, you can actually use this with other bluetooth devices that support wireless keyboard functionality. Be that a computer or a cell phone, I thought that was a nice piece of info.

Typing on the keypad is a mixed bag. It's not especially difficult to reach the keys, but, (unsurprisingly), its not a miracle pad that will allow you to play games while typing. Besides the regular alphabet and numbers, you use the shoulder buttons to access much of the punctuation tools, and most of the more advanced symbols. Really, it works similarly to a calculator in that respect. This takes some getting used to, but what keyboard doesn't require a bit of practice time before you're up to speed? However, unless you use this thing on a very regular basis and thus are used to the full layout of the symbols, you will find it difficult to type anything particularly eloquent with this thing. For quick jots and notes, it's quite excellent, but this is no replacement for a full sized keyboard.

The keyboard also has two shortcut keys. One takes you directly to your message inbox, and the other opens the XMB to the Friend tab. I don't actually use the inbox much (I'm more in the habit of using the "Message List" option on friends), so I didn't make much use of these shortcuts. But they were a nice thought, nonetheless.

I thought the keys were spaced decently, though I did mistype a couple characters on a mildly frequent basis.

The other major features of the keyboard is touchpad functionality. I don't have any idea how they made this work, but it does, to some extent. You just press a little button near the bottom of the pad, and that converts the entire board into a touchpad. You just run your finger over the keys to move the cursor. It's quite a bit wonky until you calibrate it, but I was just fine using the analog sticks. It's a nifty feature, but just like the touch buttons on the PS3, I think Sony went a bit overboard adding it in.

Overall, the PS Keypad is a decent pad. Yes, decent. After spending about two weeks using it, I still don't think it's worth its $40-50 price tag, but it's not a horrible device. Average, I suppose.