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October 2009 • Vol 9 Issue 10

Appapalooza
60 They Have A Program For That? 2009 Edition

Frontside Heavy Gear


8 What’s Happening 18 Dream Hardware 38 Enermax EVO Galaxy 1250W
13 Digital Economy 20 Resplendent Rigs Gigabyte MA785GMT-UD2H
16 The Saint PCs That Shred Benchmarks & 40 OCZ DDR3 PC3-17000 Blade Series
Vista Explorer 8.0 Wallets Alike Fusion-io ioDrive 160GB
36 Antec Skeleton Mini 41 Anand’s Corner
AeroCool Touch-2000 The SSD Update
37 Alienware M17x

Copyright 2009 by Sandhills Publishing Company. Computer Power User is a trademark of Sandhills Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Reproduction of material appearing in Computer
Power User is strictly prohibited without written permission. Printed in the U.S.A. GST # 123482788RT0001 (ISSN 1536-7568) CPU Computer Power User USPS 020-801 is published monthly for
$29 per year by Sandhills Publishing Company, 131 West Grand Drive, P.O. Box 82667, Lincoln, NE 68501. Subscriber Services: (800) 424-7900. Periodicals postage paid at Lincoln, NE. POSTMAS-
TER: Send address changes to Computer Power User, P.O. Box 82667, Lincoln, NE 68501.

Did you find the hidden CPU logo on our cover? Turn the page for the answer.
Page 88

Hard Hat Area Loading Zone Digital Living


PC Modder 72 The Bleeding Edge Of Software 87 At Your Leisure
42 Tips & Tutorials Inside The World Of Betas Games, Gear, Movies & Music
43 Radeon HD 4890 73 Up To Speed 92 The Cutting Edge
Overclocking Upgrades That’ll Keep You Kaypro II
Get The Most From Humming Along
AMD’s RV790 74 Web File Delivery Services
46 Mad Reader Mod Like FTP, But Without The Tears Tips & Tricks
Monolith 80 Open Sores
94 Software Tips & Projects
48 PDXLAN 14 The (Other) Google Operating
Photo & Video Editing For
Welcome (Back) To System
Budget-Tightening Times
Vector’s Packed House
96 Warm Up To Penguins
50 Advanced Q&A Corner Caught In The Web Mixing It Up With Linux
52 X-ray Vision: Microsoft’s
82 Web Comics For Everyone
Project Natal
Hands-Free Gaming Our Generation’s Funny Pages What’s Cooking
54 White Paper: Global 86 The Department Of Stuff
100 Shavings From The Rumour Mill
Foundries’ 22nm Process orwell.txt
Intel Loves Chrome &
New R&D Company You’ve Got To Ask Why
Makes A Splash 101 Technically Speaking
An Interview With Kaspersky’s
Roel Schouwenberg
104 Under Development
Infinite Loop A Peek At What’s Brewing
In The Laboratory
Strange stats and other 108 Intel LAN Fest
oddball items from
computing’s periphery
Back Door
95, 98 110 Q&A With Mark Re
Seagate’s Research VP Gets
Spun Up Over Storage
E D I T O R ’ S N O T E

he other day I brought home and assembled

T one of those electric riding toys for my kids. It


was a blue, plastic replica of a Jeep Wrangler,
and much to my satisfaction, the Big Reveal had the
intended effect. My five-year-old son was especially
thrilled, and was comfortable with driving forward Customer Service
and in reverse in an astonishingly short time. (For questions about your subscription or
to place an order or change an address.)
The Jeep came with a governor screw installed customer-service@cpumag.com
that restricts the gear shift lever to reverse and slow; Toll Free: (800) 733-3809
Fax: (402) 479-2193
once your kids get a feel for driving at moderate Computer Power User
speeds, you can remove the screw and free them to tear P.O. Box 82667
around the yard at a blazing 5mph. As I was doing this, my son had Lincoln, NE 68501-2667

his first chance to really inspect the vehicle, and in particular its faux Hours
dashboard, which is festooned with pretend controls, stickers that Mon. - Fri.: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (CST)
Sat.: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (CST)
look like gauges and dials, and a pair of plastic “radio” knobs that Online Customer Service & Subscription
really turn. Upon noticing these (and the digital radio dial-like Center
www.cpumag.com
sticker between them), the boy started turning the knobs and trying
to push the buttons in an unsuccessful effort to turn on the radio. Web Services
(For questions about our Web site.)
“Dad,” he asked, casually certain that I could unlock this mystery webhelp@cpumag.com
for him, “how do you turn on this radio?” (800) 733-3809
Distracted and taken a bit off guard, I stammered something about Authorization For Reprints
the radio being pretend, and “just for looks.” At this, he tore his gaze Toll Free: (800) 247-4880
Fax: (402) 479-2193
from the Jeep for the first time in a half an hour, looked me in the
eyes, and said, “Why would they put a pretend radio in here?” Editorial Staff
editor@cpumag.com
“That’s a pretty good question,” I replied. “I guess so you can Fax: (402) 479-2104
pretend you’re listening to the radio while you drive.” 131 W. Grand Drive
Lincoln, NE 68521
This answer seemed to satisfy him at least in part, or maybe he
was too caught up in the moment to give it further thought. The Subscription Renewals
(800) 382-4552
governor screw removed, he jumped back into the driver’s seat and Fax: (402) 479-2193
sped off, whooping and hollering just the way I’d imagined he www.cpumag.com
would as I put the Jeep together. Advertising Staff
His question gave me pause, though, and as I rolled what he’d said Toll Free: (800) 247-4880
Fax: (402) 479-2193
over in my mind, it occurred to me how different his world is than was 131 W. Grand Drive
mine at the age of five. Sure, the toys I played with then were covered Lincoln, NE 68521
with the same kinds of fake controls and dials and knobs, but they were
as close as I ever got to actually playing with or listening to a real radio.
My kids have had CD players since they were learning to walk (I
got my first one in high school), and more recently they’ve grown
accustomed to using an MP3 player we got for them; the idea of
moving music from a computer to the player seems as natural to them
as breathing. Having had such constant, ready access to technology
for literally all of his life, my son had no reason not to assume that the
radio in the Jeep was real, whereas I would have had no reason what-
soever to assume it would work.
My point in relating this story is not to decry the way Kids These
Days are spoiled and have no imaginations, nor am I indulging in a “I
walked to school in 10 feet of snow” moment. Rather, when I think of Gotcha.
all the stuff he justifiably takes for granted, I can’t help but wonder Here it is.
what kinds of amazing technology his kids will assume have been
around forever, and I can’t wait to find out.

Chris Trumble, Publication Editor, CPU


W h a t ’s H a p p e n i n g • H a rd w a re
Compiled by Blaine Flamig

And The Winner Is . . . USB


Sorry, FireWire, Bluetooth, DVI, and HDMI. When it comes to the most pop-
ular interface among users of home and business PCs, you all rank behind the
mighty USB, according to a recent In-Stat survey. To that end, let us point you
to Super Talent’s (www.supertalent.com) new diminutive water-resistant Pico
USB memory drives in gold- and nickel-plate designs.
Ranging from $85 to $99, each model features up
to 32GB capacity and 30MBps transfers, while
the $99 models include AES 256-bit encryption.
Elsewhere, if you’re of the mind that two
heads are better than one, check out the $24.99 Split Stick flash drive from Quirky
(www.quirky.com), a unique community that collaborates to bring user ideas to life. In case the Split
Stick’s name didn’t tip you off, the drive integrates two 2GB retractable drives into one anodized aluminum body. ▲

Shure Brings Joy


To The Entire Ear
Apologies for the cheesiness, but Shure’s (www.shure.com)
release of its first-ever line of over-the-ear headphones is U.S. Supercomputing Lead
music to our ears. The company’s sound-isolating earbuds
have been long-time favorites, and it is difficult imagining Over Russia
the SRH840 ($199.99; studio recording, critical listening),
SRH440 ($99.99; pro-level DJing, recording/monitoring), Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is none too happy these days
and SRH240 ($59.99; consumer- and pro-level action) with the state of supercomputing in his country. In a late-July
will disappoint. address at the Security Council meeting on supercomputers,
Elsewhere, AblePlanet (www.ableplanet.com) has an- Medvedev said despite Russia having “something to show for our
nounced its $99 noise-canceling PS500MM for December efforts, we remain significantly behind the global leaders,” pointing
availability featuring a design specifically for gamers. To com- out that Russia ranks just 15th among countries with the most
bat gamers’ extended exposure to “rich multimedia sounds” powerful SCs. Medvedev added that it’s well known that “476 out
that put “a cumulative strain on the ears,” the PM500MM of 500 supercomputing systems use computers manufactured in the
uses the company’s patented LINX Audio technology United States of America” and characterized Russia’s current situa-
designed to preserve hearing. tion as “very difficult.” How difficult? Medvedev said Russia has
Audio-Technica (www.audio-technica.com), meanwhile, “extremely few aircraft (actually one airplane) created on a super-
recently announced its ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint Active computer,” with everything else being “done on Whatman’s draw-
Noise-Cancelling Headphones ($219.95) with newly ing paper like in the 1920s and 30s using the old approaches.” ▲
designed, more comfortable earcups. The foldable cans
house 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets
and are billed to cut up to 85% of back- Linux-based PCs Free?
ground noise. ▲
Remember when Linux was just for you and your smart friends?
“Today, everybody in the modern world uses Linux multiple times
a day.” So stated Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation executive director,
at the recent O’Reilly Open Source Convention. Among the topics
that Zemlin touched on was a vision of a future that will see users
scoring a free PC when signing up for new data plans with wireless
or network service providers, pointing out that AT&T is already
offering netbooks for roughly $50 with service plans. In a separate
interview, Zemlin further propagated his theory by reportedly stat-
ing, “What made the cell phone industry in the United States in
particular take off in the mid-90s was the free phone.” ▲

8 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


What’s Happening • Hardware

“Showing The Love


To Mac & Linux Users”
Usually, we’re a little skeptical when companies get all touchy-
feely when releasing new products, but we’ll cut Das Keyboard
(www.daskeyboard.com) a break with its recently released keycap Q2 Graphic
set. After all, the set is only $14.95, and we really enjoyed our past
experience using Das’ “clicky” boards, which use gold-plated
Chip Sales
mechanical switches and sport two USB 2.0 ports. The keycap set
has Mac and Linux users specifically in mind. Beyond a keycap
Break Rank
puller, the set includes two COMMAND and two ALT/OPTION GlobalFoundries, the con-
keys for Mac typists and two Linux keys sporting a Tux icon. ▲ tract chip-making company
AMD birthed in March,
welcomed its first customer
not named AMD in late
July after inking a deal with
STMicroelectronics to make
low-power chips based on
40nm technology possibly
beginning next year. AMD,
meanwhile, celebrated “40
years of innovation” July 22
by shipping its 500 mil-
lionth x86 CPU since set-
ting up shop in 1969.
Finally, in what could be
deemed a good news/bad
URC’s Universal Remote news scenario for Nvidia,
Jon Peddie Research report-
Goes Haptic ed in late July that estimated
graphics chips sales bounced
Hey, if someone has the inclination and a cool $1,200 or so to up 31.3% in Q2 2009 to
spend on a universal remote, more power to him. But URC’s 98.3 million units. The
(universalremote.com) upcoming MX-5000 isn’t a mere univer- increase defies a normal
sal remote. According to various reports, this high-end beauty for trend of sales slipping
high-end home media systems not only integrates Wi-Fi (along during Q1 and Q2 before
with RF) to display volume, media, and other data on its 2.7- picking up in Q3 prior to
inch LCD, the LCD itself packs haptic feedback. Reportedly, Eric back-to-school and end-of-
Johnson, URC VP of technology, stated the company has been at year PC sales. The bad news,
work on the haptic ability for three years, during which time it at least for Nvidia, is AMD
looked “at hundreds of thousands of button presses.” Acquiring (18.4%) and Intel (51.2%)
and setting up the remote, however, reportedly requires a visit to saw their market share rise at
a local AV specialist. ▲ the expense of Nvidia’s share
falling 2% to 29.2% overall.
Despite the sector’s overall
growth, Peddie writes that
“things probably aren’t go-
ing to get back to the nor-
mal seasonality [until] Q3
or Q4 this year, and we
won’t hit the levels of 2008
until 2010.” ▲

CPU / October 2009 9


W h a t ’s H a p p e n i n g • I n t e r n e t
Compiled by Blaine Flamig

720 DVDs In A Second S I T E S E E I N G


That’s how many DVDs Japanese researchers claim they were
able to transmit in one second recently using what they de-
Bill Gates Brings
scribe as the world’s most advanced fiber optic cable. KDDI “Messenger” Lectures Online
R&D Laboratories and Japan’s National Institute of Infor- How is Bill Gates spending his retirement years? Well, among other
mation & Communications Technology claim the cable moves things, he dug into his own pockets to bring Project Tuva (research
data 10 times faster than what current cables can handle, or .microsoft.com/apps/tools/tuva) online. Project Tuva aims to
30Tbps vs. 3Tbps. Further, the researchers stated in a joint “explore core scientific concepts and theories through presenting
announcement that they were able to move data from up to timeless videos” in a snazzy, search-supporting, Silverlight-based
240km away. The hope is to bring the cable to market by 2012 player. First up is a renowned seven-lecture “Messenger” series that
and possibly connect Japan’s major cities—an endeavor that scientist Richard
would likely run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. ▲ Feynman, a collaborator
on The Manhattan
Project, presented in
Minorities Close Digital 1964 at Cornell Univer-
Divide By Going Mobile sity. Gates watched the
lectures 20-plus years ago
A “Wireless Internet Survey” that the Pew Internet & Amer- after hunting them
ican Life Project conducted this spring of roughly 2,250 U.S. down. “From that moment on I thought everybody ought to see
adults indicates that minorities are getting online from hand- these because they make science interesting,” Gates explains in a
helds at a faster clip than whites. Although mobile In-ternet video. The lectures come complete with commentaries, notes,
access among whites increased from 21% in 2007 to 28% in embedded place markers, subtitles, and links to related material. ▲
2009, African-American usage skyrocketed from 29% to
48%, while usage among Latinos grew from 38% to 47%.
Pew also reports that “by a 59% to 45% margin, white Amer- Apollo 11 Launches Into The Internet
icans are more likely to go online using a computer on a typi- Justifiably so, the Web was lathered in mid-July with coverage
cal day than African Americans,” but when factoring in commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo 11 mis-
mobile devices, “the gap is cut in half; 61% of whites go sion, the first manned mission to land on the moon.
online on the average day when mobile access is included Arguably no site does the event justice as well as WeChoose
while 54% of African-Americans do.” Overall, Pew reports TheMoon.org, an outreach of the John F. Kennedy Presidential
“56% of adult Americans have accessed the Internet by wire- Library and Museum. Beyond dividing the launch in 11 sections,
less means.” ▲ the site accompanies each with fascinating animations, archival
photos and video, and the original 109-hour audio feed between
Welcome To Tiburon; ground control and Neil Armstrong and company in real time.
“Putting a man on the moon really did unite the globe,” stated
License Plate No., Please Thomas Putnam, JFK Library director. “We hope to use the
Internet to do the same thing.” ▲
If you’re passing through Tiburon, Calif., in the future, be
prepared for what some critics are calling Big Brother treat-
ment. Reportedly, town officials will vote in the near future
on a proposal to photograph the license plates (but not the
driver) of every car entering city limits to curb and solve
crimes, despite the town only experiencing 99 total thefts,
20 burglaries, and two auto thefts in 2008. Officials say
monitoring won’t happen in real time but rather will only
involve taking still photos of plate numbers they’ll keep 30
to 60 days before erasing them. “As long as you don’t arrive
in a stolen vehicle or go on a crime spree while you’re here,
your anonymity will be preserved,” stated Peggy Curran,
town manager. ▲

10 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


W h a t ’s H a p p e n i n g • S o f t w a re
Compiled by Blaine Flamig

Laplink Wants To Move WinXP Users


Just because Microsoft won’t be supporting direct upgrades from
Windows XP to Windows 7 doesn’t mean those who want to
make the migration should have
to suffer through a clean installa-
tion. At least that’s the way
Laplink Software (www.laplink
.com) CEO Thomas Koll sees it.
Koll recently touted the compa-
ny’s PCmover software as “the
only program capable of automat-
ically performing this task,” addi-
tionally stating that “without
PCmover, users must copy all
data files manually to an external
drive, upgrade to Windows 7, and
then reinstall all the applications, data, and settings by hand.”
One caveat: Taking the PCmover route will cost you $39.95
(Home) or $59.95 (Pro). ▲

One Million Plus Linux


Kernels & Counting
Efforts to “more effectively observe behavior
found in malicious botnets . . . that can operate
on the scale of a million nodes” just got easier,
thanks to Sandia National Laboratories. Re-
searchers demonstrated in July for the first
time an ability to run 1 million-plus Linux
kernels as virtual machines using Sandia’s
Thunderbird supercomputing cluster com-
bined with VM technology. Sandia’s Ron
Minnich states that powering such a high vol-
ume of VMs on one SC—which scales similar-
ly to a botnet—will let researchers view how
botnets operate and plan ways to stop them.
Ultimately, Minnich states, “we would like to
be able to emulate the computer network of a
small nation, or even one as large as the United
States, in order to ‘virtualize’ and monitor a
cyber attack.”▲

CPU / October 2009 11


What’s Happening • Software

S O F T W A R E S H O R T S

G.ho.st Puts A Scare Into Operating Systems


Open Sourcers With all the hoopla concerning Google’s Chrome OS and Windows 7’s impending
Target launch, you may have missed this feel-good story. With ex-UK Prime Minister Tony
Washington, D.C. Blair on hand, a team of Palestinian and Israeli developers launched the beta version of
their cloud-based G.ho.st (Global Hosted Operating System) in July. As much as a
That symbolic marching you heard showcase for G.ho.st,
headed toward Capitol Hill in which supports 20 lan-
July was the newly formed Open guages and all Web
Source For America—70-plus browsers and includes
companies, organizations, individ- Zoho integration and
uals, and universities supporting 15GB of virtual storage,
the open-source community. The the launch signified that
group’s primary aim is to get gov- people with longstand-
ernment officials to more strongly ing differences can
consider open-source software in work together. G.ho.st
the future. “Open-source software founder Zvi Schreiber
can help deliver improved govern- states, “I wanted to make
ment service—plain and simple— a statement that people
and the administration recognizes who are traditionally at
this more than any in our nation’s war can overcome physi-
history,” stated David Thomas, an cal and political barriers
organization spokesman. To date, to come together to build a product.” Due to travel restrictions, a team of develop-
organization members include ers based in Palestine and another in Israel conducted most of their work via phone
Red Hat, Novell, Canonical, and videoconferencing. ▲
Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Mo-
zilla, AMD, Google, the Linux
Foundation, and Democracy in “Put The
Action. If you’re down with the
cause, sign up at www.opensource
Videogames Away”
foramerica.org. ▲ Those are the words President Obama has spo-
ken in some form or another in recent months
before various audiences, irking gamers in the
process. The Entertainment Consumers Assoc-
iation is up in arms, as well—so much so it
recently made a prewritten letter to Obama
available at its site for gamers to use. Among
the gaming positives pointed out in the letter is
“videogames are very much a new global form
of entertainment, with $11.7 billion in sales in
2008.” Further, “68% of American households
play computer or videogames, and the average
game player is 35 years old.” Separately, ECA
president Hal Halpin wrote an impassioned
column for IndustryGamers entitled “Percep-
tion Is Everything” encouraging gamers to
combat negative gaming stereotypes to take ownership “of at least part of that blame;
until and unless we speak up and do something about it.” ▲

12 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


Job Of The Month Raw Numbers:
You can help make the power grid smarter. Eco-friendly programs were central to the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and one company poised to bene-
fit directly from the stimulus package is Ecologic Analytics. The Minnesota firm keeps
tabs on usage with a Meter Data Management System that maximizes the efficiency in
water, natural gas, and electrical utilities. By properly analyzing the data, power and
resource companies can optimize their distribution to save money and minimize
waste. You will be an Application Specialist who works with Ecologic clients to imple-
ment the analytics software for their needs. Experience in Java or Oracle PL/SQL Teens who own a cell phone
development is required. You will need to help the development team design the soft-
ware to fit each client’s needs and provide feedback for future development. Being
green comes at a price, however. The company says that you should plan to travel
50% to 85% of the time. Mobile teens using SMS

tinyurl.com/krac5b

Average number of SMS messages sent


Browser and received each month
by mobile teens
Wars 2009 Firefox
25.29%
Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari
and Safari all have issued new ver- 5.37% Average number of calls per month by
sions of their browsers. Have Chrome teens on their mobile handsets.
any of the upstarts succeeded 1.56%
in cracking Microsoft’s con-
Source: Nielsen
tinued dominance? Opera
.54%
Top 5 Browsers
in North America,
July 1, 2008, to
July 12, 2009 Other .92%

Source: StatCounter

Internet Explorer 66.31%

Broadband Goes Even Broader


After years of stagnation and slow growth in U.S. broadband penetra-
tion, the adoption of high-speed Internet connections has jumped a
surprising amount just in the last year. In April, 63% of adults
accessed the Web via broadband, up from 55% in May 2008.
Higher usage among seniors and lower-income
Americans demonstrates that faster pipes are now
seen as a basic utility. Households with income
below $30,000 grew their broadband adoption at an
impressive rate of 34% despite a withering recession.

Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

CPU / October 2009 13


Vista Explorer 8.0
fter seeing Microsoft butcher Vista, I wrote a column claim- This was the featured ad on the
A ing that I would not be surprised if Microsoft could never IE8 download page (right).
pull off a major OS release again. In my own defense, I would You can’t make this stuff up. I
point out that history shows few examples of companies who lose thought we were all getting fat?
their way that badly and ever recover, but then Microsoft has I’ll check . . . .
always been an exceptional company. After using Windows 7, I America is home to the most
had to pinch myself and ask where I went wrong. It was like an obese people in the world. Ac-
entirely different corporate mentality and culture had taken over cording to the CDC (Center for
Microsoft OS design. Disease Control and Prevention),
I contacted some old friends at the empire and asked what had obesity in adults has increased by
happened. Apparently, after the Vista debacle, Microsoft had a 60% within the past 20 years, and obesity in children has tripled in
major housecleaning. They purged the old guard, and a new gen- the past 30 years. A staggering 33% of American adults are obese,
eration of up-and-coming executives took over leadership of Win- and obesity-related deaths have climbed to more than 300,000 a
dows and managed to reestablish a consumer-centric focus on year, second only to tobacco-related deaths.
usability, leanness, stability, compatibility, and security. Don’t get In other words, IE8 is so useless to me that Microsoft’s best idea
me wrong, although I have a list of things I’d love to see done for a guilt trip to get me to download it anyway is to threaten to
better in Windows, it’s great to see an overall shift in focus from starve obese children if we persist in using IE7? By “struggle” do
the egocentric “What’s best for us is what’s best for you!” ap- they mean it’s hard to drag our fat butts away from World of
proach to OS design demonstrated in Vista to the humbler, more Warcraft long enough to reach the refrigerator?
service-centric “We’re going to just make everything work and Okay, I’m digressing. So, I finally managed to download IE 8
try to stay out of your way” philosophy that seems to embody without all the other crapware and got it installed and thought, “So
Windows 7. let’s see what Microsoft
Of course, if everything was right in the world, I’d have very lit- means by faster, safer,
tle to write about, but fortunately for me the humility memo did and more user-friendly.”
not reach all of Microsoft’s product groups. Take IE 8, for exam- So the FIRST user
ple, which is the subject of an enormous Microsoft marketing experience in IE8 is a
push. (Note: If you have to spend a lot of money marketing a free, dialog box that obstructs
electronically distributed upgrade to the most widely used browser me from quickly getting
on the Internet to get people to try it, there must be something online to tell me how
seriously wrong with it!) Microsoft claims the product is “safer, IE8 “helps” me to use
faster, and easier to use.” So what’s the very first thing Microsoft the Internet faster. The
tells you about how great IE 8 is when you visit the download dialog doesn’t actually
page for it? ask me a question (which makes it just a pop-up ad) but offers
“Install Windows Internet Explorer 8, MSN Toolbar, and Next and Ask Me Later buttons as options to escape the dialog.
Microsoft Silverlight in one click.” As it turns out, neither option is an appealing one. If you click
Now there’s a compelling value proposition. For reasons I Next, thinking there is some essential installation step you’ve
don’t understand, I can get IE8 together with a toolbar that will missed thus far, you are mistaken. Microsoft just wants to take
enable Microsoft to track my browsing behavior and sell adver- you on a little tour of IE8 and try to trick you into replacing your
tising, bundled with a technology nobody uses that will help default search provider with Microsoft’s. If you click Ask Me
Microsoft kill Adobe Flash. What’s in this for me? Oh wait, way Later, you can go straight to browsing the Web with your default
down in the lower-left corner of the page in small print, it says: search provider and favorites in place and unmolested; however,
“Search smarter, work faster, and browse more safely, all within a IE8 will continue to display this obnoxious dialog every time you
familiar environment.” launch it until you get fed up, click Next, and accidentally switch
They just sort of threw that stuff in at the bottom in case get- your search provid-er away from Google.
ting a free MSN toolbar and Silverlight was not a sufficiently com- That dialog alone spoils all pretentions IE8 had at being faster or
pelling reason to upgrade. After some digging, I found a download user-friendly; if they couldn’t figure out that doing something that
page that didn’t bundle that other . . . what did Microsoft call it in obnoxious immediately on first launch was unacceptable, what
when referring to other peoples’ Internet applications shipping hope can there be for the rest of the product? Just out of curiosity,
with Vista? Oh yes, crapware. what feature could they have put in IE8 that everybody wants and

16 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


loves about Firefox, actually makes surfing faster, and could have out that IE7 was the worst-performing browser at blocking mal-
provided a great opportunity to offer better security? How about ware attacks, suggesting that people would be well-advised to
adding a download manager? I guess those engineers were too busy upgrade their browser to almost anything else immediately.
working on the MSN toolbar or Silverlight to get that feature done Given the fact that Microsoft claimed security leadership with
in time for IE 4, 5, 6, 7, or even 8! IE7 (technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc512583.aspx), these
I know, I’m being a little silly. I’m sure there is some great folks should also ask themselves why they should trust Microsoft
stuff in IE8; let’s go back to the download page and read about an eighth time.
it from Microsoft. We’ll just click the Also note that the report is selective-
“Speed and ease in the real world: ly titled: “Socially engineered Malware
Learn how Internet Explorer 8 deliv- Protection Comparative Test Results.”
ers the best web experience” link What is socially engineered malware?
(tinyurl.com/chwfke). Well, you have to read between the
Bear with me now, I’m using IE8 on lines a little bit, but the study does
the IE8 download page . . . are you expressly explain that “Exploits that
ready for this? Pop! install malware without the user being
Apparently, delivering the best Web aware are not included in this study.”
experience didn’t include shipping Now let me get this straight . . . this
Adobe Acrobat or Macromedia Flash study is not a survey of actual browser
with IE8! If I had the space, I’d walk security vulnerabilities, it’s a study of
everyone through the process I went which browsers are most effective at
through to download and install discouraging stupid people from delib-
Adobe Acrobat just so I could read erately installing malware on their own
Microsoft’s treatise on why IE8 deliv- machines after IE8 has just finished
ers the best Web experience. It’s a confusing them about whether they
damn funny read in that context. can trust a download from, say, Adobe?
Follow that laugh by clicking the For one last great piece of irony, the
“Find out which browser protects big feature in IE8 is a porn browsing
against more socially engineered mal- mode that prevents your spouse or
ware” link (nsslabs.com/anti-malware parents from seeing where you’ve been
/browser-security). surfing—and accidentally downloading
Not surprisingly, the report concludes Alex St. John was one of the founding malware instead of porn. I shouldn’t even
that IE8 is superior at preventing malware creators of Microsoft’s DirectX have to point out that most malware is
downloads, which it claims are responsible technology. He is the subject of the distributed via porn sites and downloads
for 54% of malware infections. IE8 ap- book “Renegades Of The Empire” about targeting children, or that IE8 doesn’t
pears to accomplish this brilliant security the creation of DirectX and work well with Vista’s broken parental
feat by consistently obstructing all down- Chromeffects, an early effort by control system (www.philstar.com/Article
loads, including Adobe Acrobat, which Microsoft to create a multi-media .aspx?articleId=479453&publicationSub
they require for reading their own reports! browser. Today Alex is President and CategoryId=90).
Maybe people would be less inclined to CEO of WildTangent Inc., a technology I think I just guessed which product
download random Internet plug-ins if the company devoted to delivering group all the Microsoft folks who screwed
ones they used commonly were already CD-ROM quality entertainment up Vista wound up in after the company’s
included with the browser? content over the Web. big housecleaning. ▲
The NSS Labs study Microsoft directs
you to is a great read for the critical Send your feedback to
thinkers out there. It raises many more thesaint@cpumag.com
questions about IE 8 security than it
answers. For example, the study doesn’t
mention who funded it, and NSS Labs is a
commercial enterprise. The study points

CPU / October 2009 17


ately we’ve been living an Indian summer, as this
L month’s ration of dreaminess has more of the wet-
and-wild about it than the arid twilight of autumn. Time
to splash out on some outrageous fun.
These Gizmos Don’t Sing It, They Bring It
by Marty Sems

Code X
When you have the bank to pick up an impulse buy like this,
you want to have your cake and eat it, too. Depending on the
date you’re trying to impress, you can show off your green
cred or your utter dominance of the sea. Should she be of an
environmentalist bent, you can spend a mini-break getting
back to nature while the solar-powered hybrid drive cruises
along. If it takes torque to set her heart athrob, the Code X’s
93mph top speed ought to do it. Simply tap a touchscreen to
stoke the dual 710hp, 8.3-liter V-10 engines from Ilmor.
There’s a jacuzzi onboard, plus an air conditioner that can
run on the sun’s rays. Let’s face it, Cap’n Casanova; you
probably had her at “yacht.” All that Swiss shipwright Code
X AG (www.code-x.ch) helps you to do is to run up the score.

Stealth.com WPC-500F
You already know that low-power chips such as the Atom
and Nano make possible some remarkably functional appli-
cations, such as netbooks with long battery life and silent
HTPCs. Now take that fanless thing a step further. With
the right enclosure and some judiciously placed heatpipes,
you can completely seal the case. Stealth.com did just that
with its WPC-500F ($1,995 and up), a dual-core Atom
330/945GC Express system that’s rain- and splash-proof.
Those are military-style sealing connectors on the back, one
of which is able to send video to the company’s TT-840
waterproof LCD touchscreen ($2,295). Step up to an SSD
instead of the base model’s hard drive, and you’ve just
solved your all-weather computing problems.

VirtualHUD
Three cheers for add-on gear that brings vintage tech into
the new millennium. In certain classic car circles, it’s called
“restomod,” which stands for “restoration with modifica-
tion.” The concept is even more exciting when applied to
avionics. No matter how quaint the means of propulsion,
any single-engine aircraft with a front propeller can benefit
from 21st-century attitude and position feeds. Witness the
world through a VirtualHUD (www.virtualhud.com).
Using a small aircraft’s nose propeller as a projection
screen, this windshield-mounted, GPS-enabled gizmo gives
you an eyes-up view of critical flight info such as your
heading, airspeed, pitch, and roll. A VirtualHUD can tie
into additional devices, such as infrared imaging units, and
can “paint” highways and terrain on a dark or obscured
landscape. Models include the LED-powered NightVU
($7,495) and the ForwardVU ($8,995, fully loaded), which
adds a xenon lamp for daytime visibility. An RGB color
laser-based unit is on the horizon at press time. ▲

18 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

Resplendent Rigs
PCs That Shred Benchmarks & Wallets Alike
hen it comes to CPU’s dream PC SSDs featured Intel’s X25-M—many with CUDA, and Open GL processes. Note
W challenge, the latest, most powerful
components are a given. Our competitors,
two or more in RAID 0 configuration for
fast boot and load times. Almost all com-
that in our 3DMark Vantage benchmarks,
we disabled PhysX to produce accurate
which are some of the top boutique ven- petitors used Intel’s Core i7-975 Extreme, CPU scores in 3DMark Vantage. We also
dors in the United States, also use their and all who did were able to clock it past learned SSDs in RAID 0 (a four-SSD con-
overclocking, case-mod, airflow, and paint- 4GHz. PCs came in both Quad SLI (one figuration was most popular), dominated
ing expertise to design systems worthy of Quad CrossFire) and 3-Way SLI configura- HDDs in our benchmark tests.
the moniker “dream PC.” Even better, if tions. Interestingly, 3-Way SLI-based sys- Even with similar hardware, each sys-
you have the cash (and these wonders tems performed better in Far Cry 2, and tem showcases unique design creativity
aren’t cheap), each PC is available for pur- one vendor told us that it’s because 3-Way and overclocking skill. Some systems were
chase from its respective custom builder. SLI features more memory bandwidth per heavy on hardware prowess, while others
Although each system was unique, we GPU. In the future, the greater shader balanced artistic taste with processing
did notice a few trends in the builds. For horsepower of Quad SLI will be seen when power. Prices listed were the configura-
instance, seven of the 11 vendors used Evga games are more shader-intensive. tions we tested, at press time. Read on to
motherboards (five X58 SLI Classified, two Additionally, a few vendors included a discover which systems we found to be
X58 SLI), and nearly every system with dedicated graphics card to improve PhysX, the most intriguing and powerful. ▲

AVADirect Custom Gaming PC graphics cards: two BFG Tech GeForce


GTX 295s in Quad-SLI (factory over-
he Custom Gaming PC features an front-panel LCD, and large side-panel clocked) and one Nvidia GTX 250 for
T automotive-grade coating of AVA-
Direct’s Viper Blue, which is a nice com-
window, you’ve got a desktop that stands
out from the pack, even among our dream
dedicated PhysX processing. AVADirect
tells us that “true multithreaded games
plement to the smooth contours of PC competition. have yet to arrive, so any way to increase
Cooler Master’s Cosmos S case. And The Custom Gaming PC offers a frame rates without increasing CPU load
when you combine the reflective auto number of unique design elements. is optimal.” The Custom Gaming PC
paint with the case’s bright silver handles, The first thing we noticed was the three also features Swiftech’s cooling kits that
pass liquid through three thermoelectric
units, and the loops of green liquid add a
“cool” (pun intended) look to the case.
Custom Gaming PC At the front of the case, AVADirect
$6,889.29 (as tested) added a 5.25-inch backplane that lets you
AVADirect hot-swap and lock four SSDs to save drive
www.avadirect.com bay space as well as an Alpha Cool LCD
●●●● (takes up two 5.25-inch bays) that AVA-
Direct configured to display pertinent sys-
tem information, such as free storage space
and system temperature. The Custom
Gaming PC was packed with hardware,
but three high-speed AeroCool fans (one
in front of the drive cage, one at the base
of the case, and one rear exhaust) and the
Swiftech liquid cooling did an excellent job
of moving the heat out of the case. Other
vendors did a better job of hiding the sys-
tem cables, but there’s enough free space to

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

20 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

work in the case. The Custom Gaming PC


sent to us also featured several white cold-
cathode lights to show off the hardware
from the large side-panel window.
For our benchmarking purposes, AVA-
Direct set up three overclock profiles (adds
$230 to setup cost; AVADirect offers its
mild overclocking service for free, while
extreme overclocking will cost you $100)
in the BIOS to provide quiet computing
(4GHz), high all-around performance Specs: CPU: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme @ 4.7GHz; Motherboard: Evga X58 SLI
Classified (X58 chipset); RAM: 6GB Corsair Dominator XMP DDR3-1600; HDDs: 1TB
(4.4GHz), and best gaming (4.7GHz,
Samsung SpinPoint (x2; RAID 1), 30GB OCZ Vertex SSD (x4; RAID 0); GPUs: BFG
Hyper-Threading disabled). We bench- GeForce GTX 295 (x2; Quad SLI), GeForce GTX 250; PSU: Corsair HX1000W; Optical
marked using the third option, which Drive: LG GGW-H20L
produced 47.06fps in Far Cry 2 and
162.55fps (the highest frames per second disabling Hyper-Threading brought down The Custom Gaming PC offers plenty
of all our test systems) in Left 4 Dead. its 3DMark Vantage, PCMark Vantage, of distinctive features and produced great
The high overclocks also put it into the and SiSoftware Sandra scores. Of course, we gaming results at its 4.7GHz speed. We
top three scores in Dr. DivX, POV-Ray, could have simply switched profiles if we also thought AVADirect’s Viper Blue
and Cinebench 10. On the flip side, wanted to use a multithreaded application. automotive paint was a nice touch. ▲

Digital Storm Benchmark Crusher radiators, and Digital Storm overclocked


the Core i7-975 Extreme to 4.4GHz. As
e have to give Digital Storm cred- lettering along both side panels and the part of Digital Storm’s Stage 2 overclock-
W it: We’ve seen three Benchmark
Crusher systems, including this year’s
top of the case. Digital Storm painted the
exterior white, the interior black, and
ing package, the builder also installed a
Corsair Airflow Fan above the north-
entry, and have yet to see a single paint used black faceplates to create a desktop bridge cooler on Evga’s X58 SLI Clas-
bubble, scratch, or adhesion error with with attractive contrast. sified motherboard. Digital Storm tells us
its high-gloss automotive paint. The Similar to last year’s entry, Digital that it does so to ensure that the mother-
unit submitted this year also features Storm uses its FrostBite cooling that runs board runs cool and stable for the long
Digital Storm’s color logo in raised a single loop of liquid through three term. In terms of airflow, Digital Storm
uses a modified Silverstone Temjin with
a 240mm fan in the center of the case
to push outside air over the GTX 295
graphics cards. Two 120mm side-panel
Benchmark Crusher fans and a 120mm exhaust fan also help
$7,965 (as tested) move hot air out of the case.
Digital Storm The Benchmark Crusher was one of
www.digitalstormonline.com two systems to offer Nvidia’s single-PCB
●●●● GeForce GTX 295 reference boards,
which deliver the same performance as the
dual-PCB version but wouldn’t require as
complex of loop to water-cool. The single-
PCB GTX 295 in the Benchmark Crusher
used Nvidia’s stock cooler setup. Between
the two graphics cards, Digital Storm
installed an X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty
Professional sound card. The hardware
and liquid-cooling loops were nicely illu-
minated by white LEDs in the two side-
panel fans and two white cold-cathode
lights attached to the side panel. Overall,
the Benchmark Crusher features a number

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

CPU / October 2009 21


reviews | hardware

of nice touches that you won’t find from


every custom builder.
In terms of performance, the aptly
titled Benchmark Crusher scored in the
top three in five of PCMark Vantage’s
tests, including first in TV & Movies,
Communications, and Productivity. The
Benchmark Crusher was also the fastest in
WinRAR and in the top three in Sandra
2009’s Processor Algorithm and Memory
Bandwidth tests. Specs: CPU: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme @ 4.4GHz; Motherboard: Evga X58 SLI
The blemishes on the Benchmark Classified (X58 chipset); RAM: 6GB Mushkin Redline DDR3-1866; HDDs: 160GB Intel
X25-M (x2; RAID 0), 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green; GPUs: Nvidia GeForce GTX
Crusher’s scores were in our games tests,
295 (x2; Quad SLI); PSU: PC Power & Cooling Turbo Cool 1200 ESA; Optical Drive:
where the stock-clocked Nvidia GeForce Lite-On iHES206
GTX 295s lagged slightly behind the
competition’s factory- and vendor-over-
clocked graphics cards. Digital Storm Although some of our entries were contrast, and Digital Storm designed
can also overclock (at a cost, as with showy and others focused on raw power, the system so it’ll last. The Benchmark
the processor overclocks) the graphics the Benchmark Crusher offers an elegant Crusher is backed by a three-year ex-
processors and memory in your system. appearance with its crisp white and black tended parts and labor warranty. ▲

Hypersonic PC Sonic Boom ATS or paint jobs (from ColorWare) on a per-


order basis.
s last year’s champ, we really expected side panels. Although not as impressive Inside the foam-lined case, you’ll
A a lot from Hypersonic. The Sonic
Boom ATS they sent us came in a Cooler
as a full coat of paint, it’s probably more
durable for LAN party use. According
find Intel’s Core i7 975 clocked up to
4.43GHz and 6GB of OCZ Blade PC3-
Master ATCS 840 tower painted and ad- to Hypersonic, the custom paint job by 17000 RAM overclocked to 2,350MHz
orned in the Digital Urban Assault scheme, ColorWare adds $2,700 to the bottom (PC3-18800), and Hypersonic informs
which consists of a three-tone, automotive- line. Because they’re not offered on the us that any failed Elpida-based modules
grade paint job on the frame, front, and top Web site, you can request any custom will be replaced, no questions asked.
panels and a custom appliqué on the two chassis modifications (from Hypersonic) Hypersonic also tweaked the timings on
the memory and liquid-cooled the CPU,
voltage regulators, and chipset with its
slick-looking HydroX system, composed
Sonic Boom ATS of Koolance and OCZ parts. LED light-
$13,999.99 ing and a mirrored side-panel window
Hypersonic are nice touches, as well. The dual-fan-
www.hypersonic-pc.com equipped OCZ XTC (Xtreme Thermal
●●●● Connection) kept the memory cool, and
the motherboard that provided the foun-
dation of this system was the ever-popu-
lar Evga X58 Classified.
Without a doubt, Hypersonic aimed
for the stars with its HDD configuration.
The OS and applications directory con-
sists of four OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSDs
in RAID 0. The media directory con-
sists of a pair of 1TB Western Digital
WD1000FALS drives, also in RAID 0.
Let’s let that sink in for a second. Yep,
instead of opting to deliver redundancy,
Hypersonic decided to see how far it could
push the performance envelope. When we

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

22 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

asked Hypersonic for its justification, “per-


formance” was the response we got. OCZ’s
SSDs, while more affordable, just can’t
achieve the performance of Intel’s X25-Es.
Gamers are Hypersonic’s bread and
butter, so that’s who the company built
this system for: “The Sonic Boom ATS
was designed for an extreme gamer with
superior performance expectations,” says
the builder. For handling the multichan-
nel aural demands of games and movies, Specs: CPU: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition @ 4.43GHz; Motherboard: Evga X58
Hypersonic included the Asus Xonar Classified; RAM: 6GB OCZ Blade DDR3-2133 @ 2,350MHz; HDDs: 120GB OCZ Vertex
EX SSDs (x4; RAID 0), 1TB Western Digital WD1000FALS (x2; RAID 0); ODDs: LG
D2X sound card. The graphics horsepow-
GGC-H20L Blu-ray writer/HD-DVD ROM, Samsung SH-S223 DVD-RW; GPUs: Evga
er under the hood of the Sonic Boom ATS GeForce GTX 285 (x3; 3-Way SLI); PSU: PC Power & Cooling 1200W Turbo Cool Series
consisted of a trio of Evga GeForce GTX
285s in Tri-SLI, which, at least in the
DX10 heavyweight Far Cry 2, outper- bandwidth, and that, coupled with one of rigs, making it a well-rounded PC for gam-
formed quad-SLI. The Sonic Boom ATS the higher overclocks we saw for the Core ing or professional-quality content cre-
finished fifth in Left 4 Dead but scored i7-975, makes this machine really shine ation. A questionable storage choice and
a blisteringly fast 140fps doing so. The with CPU-intensive applications. the lack of Web-advertised paint options
memory configuration also garnered the In overall performance, Hypersonic’s are the only things holding this system
system the runners-up prize in memory entrant scored a spot among the top three back from dominating the competition. ▲

iBuyPower Gamer Paladin XLC iBuyPower applied a two-tone black and


red paint job to a Cooler Master HAF
932 case, which we found to be an
n the quest to create an aesthetically USB ports, one FireWire, and one eSATA attractive design.
Isometimes
appealing system, boutique builders
leave out all the front-panel con-
port; an NZXT Sentry LX fan controller;
22X DVD-RW and 6X BD-RE drives;
iBuyPower overclocked the Intel Core
i7-975 to 4.2GHz using an Asetek liq-
nectivity and control conveniences. iBuy- a 12-in-1 memory card reader; and au- uid-cooling kit with a 240mm radiator,
Power’s Gamer Paladin XLC offers a front dio controls for Creative Lab’s Sound which was attached to the top of the
panel with—from the top down—four Blaster X-Fi Titanium. Additionally, case with two 120mm fans both above
and below the radiator. There’s also a
360mm fan in front of the hard drive
cage, a 360mm side-panel fan, and
Gamer Paladin XLC 120mm rear exhaust fan to cool the hard
$5,999 (as tested) drives and two Palit GeForce GTX 295s.
iBuyPower The large fans let iBuyPower cool the
www.ibuypower.com Gamer Paladin XLC without the need
●●●● for a multitude of high-speed, silent
fans. You can adjust the fan speed and
monitor system temperature from the
NZXT front-panel fan controller.
The Paladin XLC features two 160GB
Intel X25-M SSDs in RAID 0 for speedy
OS access, and the three Hitachi Desk-
stars are set up in a RAID 5 configura-
tion (an option you can request from
iBuyPower) and offer data protection and
high storage capacity. There’s 6GB of
Corsair Dominator GT DDR3 running
at 1,866MHz, but because Corsair has
temporarily discontinued the Dominator

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

24 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

GT line, iBuyPower tells us the sys- the difference wouldn’t


tem you purchase would offer different be too large in real-
1,866MHz modules. We like that iBuy- world performance.
Power included a Sound Blaster X-Fi If you’re looking for
Titanium and Xeno Pro NIC to a system a system that offers
with all the hardware a gamer could need. plenty of connectivity
Similar to the system hardware choices, and an attractive design,
the Gamer Paladin was an all-around per- the Gamer Paladin XLC
former in our benchmark tests. For exam- is a good option. iBuy-
ple, the desktop was in the top five in all Power offers a standard
of PCMark Vantage’s synthetic tests. In three-year limited war-
particular, iBuyPower’s RAID configura- ranty with lifetime
tions helped the system deliver 22035 phone support. ▲
Productivity and 34035 HDD scores. It
also produced some of the highest marks Specs: CPU: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme @ 4.2GHz; Motherboard: Evga X58 SLI Classified
in 3DMark Vantage’s GPU-based tests. (X58 chipset); RAM: 6GB Corsair Dominator GT 2000 DDR3-1866; HDDs: 160GB Intel
The 34.55fps Far Cry 2 and 134.81fps X25-M (x2; RAID 0), 1TB Hitachi Deskstar (3x; RAID 5); GPUs: Palit GeForce GTX 295
Left 4 Dead scores were a few frames per (x2; Quad SLI); PSU: Corsair HX1000W; Optical Drives: LG GGW-H20L, LG GH22NS30
second below the top competitors, but

Maingear Ephex window and the white LED lighting


bundle round out this system’s aes-
aingear’s offerings have always been automotive-grade paint jobs—white thetic touches.
M solidly built and subtly impressive,
and this year’s Ephex refresh is no excep-
Smokewerks ($999.99)—which makes this
PC stand apart even in a room full of top-
Under the hood, Maingear equipped
the Asus Rampage II Extreme X58
tion. The version we tested sports Quad shelf rigs. Another Maingear mainstay is motherboard with Intel’s current flag-
SLI, but Maingear also offers a CrossFireX the Silverstone TJ10 case, which was wild- ship Extreme Edition processor, the
version. Like last year’s Ephex, this unit ly popular last year but unique to the Eph- Intel Core i7-975, and then Redlined it
comes with one of Maingear’s signature ex this year. A laser-etched clear acrylic (a free service) from the stock 3.33GHz
clock to an impressive 4.3GHz. If you
want to take the wheel regarding over-
clocking, Maingear mounted the LCD
Poster adjacent to the motherboard’s
TweakIt Extreme OC controls. Main-
gear’s Arctic X20 Liquid Cooling system
keeps the CPU as close to ambient tem-
perature as possible and adds a little
visual flair with clear tubing and Tang-
colored coolant. The liquid-cooled loop
consists of the CPU block, a Swiftech
pump, and a large radiator bolted to the
top of the system and saddled with a
pair of quiet 120mm fans.
The Ephex we tested came with 12GB
Ephex of Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 memo-
$7,864.25 ry. The internal storage subsystem consists
Maingear of two Intel X-25M 80GB SSDs in RAID
www.maingear.com 0 and a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black
●●●● hard drive for media and applications.
One of the more impressive aspects of this
system was the graphics. Maingear decid-
ed to cram a ton of graphics horsepower

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

CPU / October 2009 25


reviews | hardware

into this system: It features two single-


PCB GeForce GTX 295s in quad-SLI
and a fifth GPU in the form of a GeForce
9800GT to act as a dedicated PhysX,
CUDA, and OpenCL accelerator to
offload those CPU-crippling calculations.
But that’s not the only aspect of the sys-
tem designed to give the CPU a breather;
Maingear also installed a Sound Blaster
X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional
Series sound card. Specs: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition @ 4.3GHz; Motherboard: Asus Rampage II
Other highlights include an “all-in- Extreme X58; RAM: 12GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600; HDDs: 80GB Intel X-25M SSDs
(x2; RAID 0), 1TB Western Digital WD1000FALS; ODDs: LG Super Multi Blue Blu-ray
one” memory card reader, two optical
Writer/HD-DVD ROM, Dual-Layer DVD-RW; GPUs: Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 (x2; Quad-
drives (LG Super Multi Blue Blu-ray SLI), GeForce 9800GT; PSU: PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 1200W
Writer/HD-DVD ROM and Dual-Layer
DVD-RW), and a modular 1,200W PC
Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool PSU. The Ephex was decidedly middle- at the composite scores, Maingear’s
Maingear includes lifetime labor and of-the-road regarding the benchmarks, offering was consistently better than
phone support and a three-year hardware scoring hightest in only PCMark Van- average, and, considering the competi-
warranty in the price. tage’s Gaming test, but when we looked tion, that’s no mean feat. ▲

Overdrive PC BigBlock GTR system featured prominently on Velocity


Micro’s system last year. Incidentally,
elocity Micro-parented Overdrive The case, the same customized alumi- it’s a similar cooling setup to the one
V PC really impressed us last year with
its iridescent paint job and component
num Lian-Li case OPC sent us last year,
came bare and unpainted (though paint
installed in the AVADirect system.
OPC’s attention to detail and cooling
choice. (OPC sent in last year’s only is still an available option), but this time expertise really comes across in the sys-
dual-core CPU, but the system dominat- there’re side-panel vents on either side of tem’s wiring, from the completely con-
ed in games.) This year’s BigBlock GTR the Boreas 12 TEC Peltier cooling sys- cealed PSU to the cascading SATA and
also stands out, but not for the paint job. tem, which is the same active cooling tightly bundled PCI-E power cables.
With such a capable cooling system,
OPC was able to “HyperClock” the Intel
Core i7-975 to an impressive 4.32GHz.
The motherboard in this system is the
Evga X58 Classified, and the triple-chan-
nel memory OPC went with is 6GB of
Kingston HyperX DDR3-2000. But in
order to lower latencies and boost sta-
bility, OPC underclocked the memory
slightly to 1,653MHz.
Perhaps one of the most impressive
features of this system is the hard drive
configuration. Because the Peltier cooler
takes up the portion of the system tradi-
tionally designated for hard drives (and
completely blocks the two external 2.5-
inch drive bays), OPC installed a modu-
BigBlock GTR lar, hot-swappable HDD bay in the top
$11,395 three 5.25-inch drive bays, with a maxi-
Overdrive PC mum capacity of five drives. Here OPC
www.overdrivepc.com installed four 64GB Intel X25-E SSDs
●●●●● in a RAID 0 array and a single 1.5TB

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

26 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

Seagate hard drive for photos, videos,


and music. If you’re reading this, you
probably already know Intel doesn’t affix
the term “Extreme” to just any old com-
ponent. These drives consist of SLC (sin-
gle-level cell) flash memory, which is sig-
nificantly faster and more reliable than
the MLC (multi-level cell) flash used in
Intel’s M series SSDs. But the tradeoff is
lower capacity and higher cost; the four
hard drives in BigBlock GTR represent a Specs: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition @ 4.32GHz; Motherboard: Evga X58
stunning $4,185 of the bottom line. Classified; RAM: 6GB Kingston DDR3-2000 @ 1,653MHz; HDDs: 64GB Intel X-25E
SSDs (x4; RAID 0), 1.5TB Seagate; ODDs: LG Super Multi Blue Blu-ray Writer/HD-DVD
For optical drives, OPC again went
ROM (x2); GPUs: Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 (x3; 3-Way SLI); PSU: 1,200W XIgmatek
over the top, with two LG Super Multi Power Supply
Blue Blu-ray Writer/HD-DVD ROM
drives. The graphics subsystem consists
of three Evga GeForce GTX 285s in PCMark Vantage Overall, Music, and, can’t judge a PC by its panels and paint
Tri-SLI. The BigBlock GTR garnered unsurprisingly, HDD. The BigBlock job (or lack thereof). But even among
the top spot in 3DMark’s Overall score GTR also finished second in both Far the heavyweights of extreme PCs, it’s
as well as the best scores in the overall Cry 2 and Left 4 Dead. what’s under the hood that makes Over-
GPU and the best frame rate in the Like the visually uninspired Nissan drive PC’s BigBlock GTR stand above
GPU 1 test. Other bests include the GT-R, this rig demonstrates that you the rest. ▲

Puget Systems Genesis II To house all of these components, Pu-


get uses the highly capable Antec P193.
uget Systems submitted the most processors, capable of processing a stun- The system’s Extreme Liquid Cooling
P unique system of the bunch, the
Genesis II. The version we tested is
ning 16 threads at once. In another
departure from the boutique builder
Package consists of a bevy of Koolance
parts, including CPU and GPU blocks,
built around Intel’s S5520SC Shady groupthink, Puget equipped the system two radiators, and a reservoir and pump
Cove motherboard and a pair of with a pair of Radeon HD 4870 X2s in combo that shows temps and fan speeds
3.33GHz quad-core Intel Xeon W5590 quad CrossFireX. on the front panel and lets you adjust set-
tings as needed. The window kit also
gives you a nice view of the blue-tinted
interior (thanks to blue LED fans, lighted
cables, and cold-cathode lights). When
Genesis II the system first arrived, the 3/8-inch tub-
$10,414.01 ing was severely kinked in several places,
Puget Systems but once warm water began circulating,
www.pugetsystems.com the kinks vanished for good; and the liq-
●●●● uid-cooling system looks great overall.
To feed those thread-hungry proces-
sors, Puget selected 12GB of DDR3-1333
Kingston ValueRAM (three 2GB sticks
per CPU). Regarding hard drives, Puget’s
president, Jon Bach, chose to forgo RAID
altogether, saying that although customers
can request RAID, “We are very big on
building high-quality, highly reliable
computers. . . . I felt like including RAID
was selling out for the sake of benchmark
scores.” As such, a single Intel X25-M
80GB SSD serves up the OS, while a

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

28 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

Western Digital Caviar Black offers an


additional 1TB of storage.
Although benchmarks don’t test for
reliability, Puget’s no-RAID policy does
make sense for most users. However, if
Puget wants to become the solo hero of
reliability, perhaps RAID 1 or RAID 5
would’ve been a more compelling banner
to hoist, not the white flag of “we’re not
playing.” Technically, my mom’s PC
storage is more reliable than any of those Specs: CPU: Intel Xeon (Nehalem) W5590 @ 3.33GHz (x2); Motherboard: Intel
tested here, but my mom’s PC is hardly S5520SC (Shady Cove); RAM: 12GB Kingston ValueRAM DDR3-1333; HDDs: 80GB
Intel X25-M SSD, 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black; ODD: Pioneer 8X Blu-ray burner;
the stuff of enthusiasts’ dreams.
GPUs: Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 (x2; CrossFireX); PSU: Corsair HX 1000W
Puget didn’t exactly cede benchmarks to
its competition, though. As you’d expect,
the Genesis II owned almost every test that the antialiasing. With the in-game AA set- Overall, the system is great for multi-
favors the CPU, getting downright biblical tings at 8X, FC2 runs at 10fps, but when media enthusiasts and professionals who
on Cinebench R10. All that CPU muscle we disable the in-game AA and set the enjoy gaming, as well, but in the end it
did trip up 3DMark Vantage; because the Catalyst Control Center AA setting to 8X, lacked some of the wiring expertise and
benchmark can only handle 8 threads at the system managed more than 80fps, case customizations seen from other
once, we disabled Hyper-Threading to right in line with the top gaming systems. builders. All of Puget’s systems come with
complete the test. Graphics tests represent- According to an ATI spokesperson, the lifetime labor and one-year parts warran-
ed this system’s biggest weakness. In Far dismal Far Cry 2 scores were simply the ty, but our configuration had the three-
Cry 2, we narrowed the culprit down to result of an overwhelmed frame buffer. year parts warranty built into the price. ▲

Smooth Creations Reaper Extreme Edition


he Smooth Creations Reaper Ex- at a high level, is built solidly, and demonstrated decent parity, performance-
T treme Edition is an example of tak-
ing the notion of a dream PC holistically
looks incredible.
For the most part, the benchmark
wise. However, the Reaper Extreme
Edition performed near the back of the
by building something that performs scores for the dream PCs we reviewed pack in many categories.
That said, a dream PC isn’t just about
performance. One must also consider
the construction and looks of such a
Reaper Extreme Edition machine. After all, if you’re laying down
$8,800 thousands for the best system you can
Smooth Creations find, you don’t want parts to fall off
www.smoothcreations.com when you’re schlepping it around to
●●●● LAN parties. And when you get there
and fire the thing up, you want every-
one’s jaw to drop.
The attention to detail on the paint job
is impressive, with an automotive-quality,
two-tone red and black scheme and a
grim reaper on the side for extra pizzazz.
Even parts such as the underside of the
partition containing the PSU and optical
drive are painted. Smooth Creations even
went so far as to paint the included key-
board and mouse (Logitech G15 and G5,
respectively) to match the color on the
Danger Den Tower 26 case.

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

CPU / October 2009 29


reviews | hardware

The look is complete with a clear


Lucite side panel, which reveals the guts
of the system, including a red-colored
watercooling system. This is highlighted
further by the cold-cathode red lighting at
the bottom of the case and the red LEDs
next to all seven case fans. The back panel
is also clear Lucite, inviting gawkers to
behold the system from multiple angles.
The cooling system itself is well-made,
with heavy-duty coupling and Tygon
tubing. There’s nary a kink to be found,
despite the fact that there are tubes ev- Specs: CPU: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme @ 4.16GHz; Motherboard: Asus Rampage II
erywhere, pumping cooled water to the Extreme (X58); RAM: 6GB (x3 2GB) Kingston DDR3-1600; HDDs: 300GB Western
CPU, graphics cards, memory, north- Digital VelociRaptor 10,000rpm (x2; RAID 0), 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green (x2;
RAID 1); GPUs: BFG Tech GTX 295s (x2; Quad SLI); PSU: Topower PowerBird 1100W;
bridge and southbridge, and a host of
ODD: LiteOn DH-4B1S 4X Blu-ray/DVD Burner
power phase chips.
The Reaper Extreme features an Intel
Core i7-975 Extreme overclocked to (10,000rpm) in a RAID 0. The build also SATA and power connectors on all four
4.1GHz, 6GB of DDR3 RAM, and two includes a convenient front-panel card hard drives are glued into place to pre-
BFG Tech GTX 295s in a Quad-SLI reader and a standard one-year warranty. vent shipping mishaps. The Reaper Ex-
configuration. In terms of storage, this rig All told, the Smooth Creations Reaper treme could do with some performance
is a monster, with 2.6TB of total storage Extreme Edition embodies the spirit of a tweaks to catch up to the rest of the field
capacity spread over two 2TB WD Cav- dream PC, with a near-perfect custom of systems we tested, but overall it’s a
iar Green drives in a RAID 1 configur- case mod and paint job coupled with build that virtually anyone would be
ation and two 300GB VelociRaptors sturdy construction—for example, the proud to show off. ▲

Velocity Micro Raptor Signature Edition


elocity Micro is very proud of its For this round, we can only assume that Under that liquid-cooler you’ll find the
V case. So proud, in fact, that the
builder sent this year’s dream rig naked
VM wanted the guts to do the talking,
so the Raptor Signature Edition came
same Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition
processor most of the rest of the systems
(read: unpainted). It’s called the Ve- with a windowed side panel that shows use, but VM overclocked it to 4.15GHz.
locity Micro Flagship LXe-W, and it’s off the VM-branded Domino A.L.C. For the motherboard, VM again waded
really a customized aluminum Lian-Li CPU Cooler and VM’s unmatched into familiar territory, with the Evga X58
that basically acts as a giant heatsink. wiring expertise. Classified. Like the Overdrive PC, this
system boasts 6GB Kingston DDR3-
2000 and the strategic underclock to
1,653MHz to improve performance.
Like the Overdrive PC BigBlock GTR,
VM chose to pull out all the stops for the
Raptor’s storage configuration. Here, VM
installed the same quartet of 64GB Intel X-
25E SSDs in RAID 0, which represents the
current epitome of performance among this
year’s dream PCs. A single 1.5TB Seagate
fills in for media storage. On the inside,
Raptor Signature Edition
VM secured the hard drives in removable
$9,999
trays that slide the SATA power and data
Velocity Micro
ports right into a hot-swap backplane.
www.velocitymicro.com
Two optical drives provide all the disc
●●●●
reading/writing you’d ever need; the top

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

30 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

drive is an LG Super Multi Blue Blu-ray


Writer/HD-DVD ROM, and the bot-
tom is simply a dual-layer DVD-R/W
drive. The graphics subsystem on the
Raptor Signature Edition consists of
three Evga GeForce GTX 285s in Tri-
SLI. A custom-lit GPU fan with a cut
VM logo helps internal airflow and
adds a nice visual highlight to the side
of the case.
VM also threw in its gaming bundle,
which consists of Far Cry 2 and Supreme Specs: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition @ 4.15GHz; Motherboard: Evga X58
Commander. Other bundled software Classified; RAM: 6GB Kingston DDR3-2000 @ 1,653MHz; HDDs: 64GB Intel X-25E
includes Nero 7 and Norton Antivirus, SSDs (x4; RAID 0), 1.5TB Seagate; ODDs: LG Super Multi Blue Blu-ray Writer/HD-DVD
but you’ll be happy to know that these ROM, Dual-Layer DVD-R/W; GPUs: Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 (x3; 3-Way SLI); PSU:
1,200W XIgmatek Power Supply
titles don’t come preinstalled and are
yours to do with as you please.
When you look at the performance liquid-cooler instead of the all-in-one Vantage and also scored the bronze in
chart, the Raptor’s CPU scores tend Domino A.L.C., this system might have both Far Cry 2 and Left 4 Dead. The
to trail those of the rest of the field, been a better-rounded rig. As is, though, Raptor Signature Edition comes with a
and that’s largely due to the meager gaming is this system’s strong suit. It one-year Velocity Micro Standard parts
overclock. With a more substantial achieved third place overall in 3DMark and labor warranty. ▲

Vigor Gaming Force Recon T7N even with all case fans reduced to mini-
mum, Vigor’s prototype CPU cooler was
igor’s Force Recon T7N comes to us on the 12GB of Kingston HyperX DDR3- audible even at idle. Though it was un-
V in a modified Antec 1200 painted a
muted shade of gray. Vigor also plastered
2000MHz memory. Blue LEDs adorn the named as we went to press, Vigor tells us
that the cooler performs on par with the
motherboard, two exhaust fans in the
its logo to the right side panel and affixed rear, three intake fans in the front, and Monsoon III LT, which was featured in
placards with Vigor’s namesake on the the CPU cooler for a subtle splash of col- last year’s dream PC roundup.
front of the case and on the CPU cooler. ored light. It’s clear that Vigor went to The motherboard used in this system
The windowed and vented side panel pro- some lengths to tidy up the wiring, and is a bit of a departure from the field; Vig-
vides a view of the graphics stack, CPU although the results are professional look- or used MSI’s X58 Eclipse Plus, which
cooler, and blue anodized RAM heatsinks ing, the Antec 1200 does a poor job of includes the SLI-enabling nForce 200
providing PSU and wiring hidey holes. chip. Three MSI overclocked GeForce
As the lone all-air-cooled PC in this GTX 285s fill in for the gaming and 3D
roundup, we weren’t surprised to see that rendering muscle behind this system.
the Intel Core i7-975 Vigor installed was These cards employ MSI’s SuperPipe
only overclocked to 4.16GHz. A modest fansink and sport 680MHz core and
overclock, indeed, but when you consider 2,500MHz memory clocks.
that it beat the overclock in the liquid- Vigor also stepped up the audio per-
cooled Velocity Micro Raptor Signa- formance by including a Creative Sound
ture Edition, it goes from “ho hum” to Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Series sound card.
“hmmm.” We paid close attention to the The storage subsystem is composed of two
fan noise on the Force Recon T7N, and 80GB Intel X25-M SSDs in RAID 0 and a
single 1.5TB Hitachi drive for media files.
A single LG Super Multi Blue Blu-ray
Force Recon T7N Writer/HD-DVD ROM drive is Vigor’s
$6,499 optical drive of choice. Vigor also sent us
Vigor Gaming the Logitech G5 Laser Mouse and the
www.vigorgaming.com Razer Lycosa keyboard. Vigor also supplied
●●● us with a selection of preinstalled MAME

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

32 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

Souped-up Scoreboard
We subjected this year’s lot of luxury a well-rounded workhorse. Gaming goliaths or we didn’t forget the tweaks: Any overclocked
PCs to CPU’s latest gauntlet of syn- media-crunching maestros will also shine in their machine that remains stable throughout our test-
thetic and real-world benchmarks. respective benchmarks, letting you see which sys- ing is surely stable enough to survive an enthusi-
Although the real-world benchmarks tem best suits your power-user tendencies. And ast’s workload. ▲
we rely on show you how these sys-
tems handle specific applications, the
synthetic benchmarks are also useful

Benchmark Crusher

Gamer Paladin XLC


for demonstrating how the systems
AVADirect Custom

Hypersonic Sonic
perform in a given type of application,

Puget Systems
BigBlock GTR
Overdrive PC
Digital Storm
such as those that heavily stress the Gaming PC

iBuyPower
Boom ATS

Genesis II
CPU or GPU. Based on these results,

Maingear
you can safely assume that any rig that

Ephex
dominates in every benchmark will be

3DMark Vantage
Overall 29170 30688 30659 30628 30120 31686 24002
GPU Score 30409 32389 32189 33612 31938 33970 22298
1,024 x 768

GPU1 (fps) 85.97 94.56 94.55 94.24 93.13 98.44 61.38


GPU2 (fps) 92.28 95.2 94.02 102.81 93.99 100.61 69.39
CPU Score 25994 26513 26832 25508 25726 26366 31144
CPU1 (Plans/s) 3042.98 3767.22 3799.03 3582.62 3618.93 3714.13 4403.01
CPU2 (Steps/s) 33.3 32.67 33.4 32.48 32.62 33.3 38.94
PCMark Vantage Pro 1.1
Overall 10089 16338 13026 15421 15875 17212 11515
Memories 6553 10361 6864 9943 9919 9309 7649
1,600 x 1,200

TV And Movies 5053 17910 4794 6559 6116 7896 5382


Gaming 16790 13473 19157 20333 20874 17592 13300
Music 10513 10773 11814 13810 13526 14306 7412
Communications 8005 15501 11165 11463 13088 11894 9238
Productivity 11958 25897 18358 22035 25558 24042 16931
HDD 12018 33221 12903 34035 38472 48490 9164
Cinebench 10
Multithreaded (score) 25072 24989 25543 24099 24103 25128 31608
Multithreaded (min:sec) 0:34 0:34 0:34 0:33 0:36 0:35 0:27
POV-Ray 3.7 Beta (pixels/s) 5443.64 5357.9 5427.07 5193.85 5341.37 5360.05 8249.49
SiSoft Sandra 2009 Lite SP3
Processor Arithmetic
Dhrystone iSSE4.2 (GIPS) 106.60 106.28 105.72 101.18 104.52 104.49 168.40
Whetstone iSSE3 (GFLOPS) 92.27 95.57 89.90 88.32 90.43 90.00 136.70
Processor Multi-Media
Integer x16 iSSSE4.1 (Mpixels/s) 222.77 220.50 219.00 211.40 217.41 218.00 350.85
Floating Point x8 iSSE2 (Mpixels/s) 167.67 165.38 169.42 163.00 167.57 168.00 270.00
Double x4 ISSE2 (Mpixels/s) 91.84 92.23 91.58 89.91 92.35 92.36 149.00
Memory Bandwidth
Integer Buffered iSSE2 (GB/s) 25.50 30.74 31 30.25 24.22 28.33 38.78
Floating Point Buffered iSSE2 (GB/s) 24.74 30.89 31.18 30.45 24.22 28.42 38.84
Dr. DivX 2.0.1 (min:sec) 2:32 2:45 2:54 2:55 2:59 3:00 3:06
WinRAR 3.71 (min:sec) 1:09 0:57 1:05 1:01 1:06 1:03 1:20
Games
Far Cry 2 (8XAA) 2,560 47.06fps 27.82fps 83.57fps 34.55fps 37.50fps 82.79fps 10.75fps
x
Left 4 Dead (8XAA, 16XAF) 1,600 162.55fps 123.65fps 140.25fps 134.81fps 127.03fps 146.44fps 106.97fps
Price $6,889.29 $7,965 $13,999.99 $5,999 $7,864.25 $11,395 $10,414.01
CPUs ●●●● ●●●● ●●●● ●●●● ●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

34 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

Reaper Extreme Edition

Velocity Micro Raptor

Vigor Gaming Force


Smooth Creations

Signature Edition

Specs: Intel Core i7 975 Extreme Edition @ 4.16GHz; Motherboard: MSI X58 Eclipse
Recon T7N

Plus (w/ nForce 200); RAM: 12GB Kingston DDR3-2000; HDDs: 80GB Intel X-25M SSDs
(x2; RAID 0), 1.5TB Hitachi; ODD: LG Super Multi Blue Blu-ray Writer/HD-DVD ROM;
GPUs: MSI GeForce GTX 285 OC (x3; 3-Way SLI); PSU: Vigor Bolt 1000W Modular

games (fully licensed of course) and an managed to score third place in PCMark
28425 30725 29556
arcade controller, which will be available by Vantage’s Gaming and Memories tests. It
30984 33178 31259
October for $250. A three-year parts and also placed fourth in Far Cry 2. Despite
88.33 96.03 90.78
labor warranty is also part of the package. never running ahead of the pack, Vigor’s
93.27 98.38 92.38
In the benchmarks, The Force Recon offering did manage to keep pace with
22779 25148 25402
T7N didn’t shine in any single test but the big dogs. ▲
3201.73 3537.94 3581.58
28.95 31.88 32

10693
7535
16789
11815
14719
10259
Final Word quality of the paint jobs on the single-
colored Digital Storm, Vigor, and AVA-
6427 8200 6371
11049
7699
19025
14305
19799
11937
Iingt’syouano$10,000
secret that the vast majority of
(and us, too) aren’t capable of buy-
luxury PC. But just be-
Direct systems, as well.
In performance, no single system really
ran away with the top prize, although
9573 11451 11236
cause a top-of-the-line performance PC Puget’s unique dual-Xeon W5590 and
10547 22288 20317
painted to eye-popping perfection is likely Shady Cove combo brute-forced its way
7306 40883 29589
beyond your budget doesn’t mean you to the top in a number of the bench-
can’t get a quality build from these builders marks. Although it’s not much to look at
21654 24173 23966
for a more affordable price. on the outside, the overall best perform-
0:40 0:36 0:36
CPU’s annual dream PC roundup is a ing system has to be the Overdrive PC
4551.43 5094.82 5199
chance for the best of the boutiques to BigBlock GTR, but Digital Storm’s
strut their stuff, pull out all the stops, and Benchmark Crusher, Hypersonic’s Son-
wow us all with the pinnacle of perfor- ic Boom ATS, Maingear’s Ephex, and
90.23 99.71 101.36
mance and peak of aesthetic brilliance. iBuyPower’s Gamer Paladin XLC also
80.00 86.44 87.00
Although this year’s batch certainly aced turned in respectable runs in a majority
the first part, they generally failed miser- of the benchmarks.
185.83 207.64 210.76
ably when it came to pure artistry. The At the end of the day, all of these sys-
141.00 160.13 162.67
paint on Smooth Creation’s Reaper tems are more than capable of playing
77.64 88.16 89.63
Extreme Edition, while a bit cliché BDs, running current games, ripping
(enough with the skulls!), is sure to CDs, editing video, rendering 3D mod-
23.30 26.87 27.48
impress even the most jaded LAN atten- els, folding proteins, or whatever else your
23.30 27.17 27.49
dees. The Smokewerks paint job on the enthusiast heart desires—sometimes all at
2:36 3:05 3:04
Maingear Ephex was a more abstract once and always without flinching. So
1:08 1:05 1:07
offering, but appealing nonetheless. Hy- until next year, dear reader, dream big
personic’s paint/sticker approach and and save your imaginary pennies. ▲
61.39fps 77.92fps 64.96fps
iBuyPower’s two-tone number weren’t
122.92fps 142.46fps` 137.55fps
quite as impressive but at least showed by Andrew Leibman, Nathan Lake,
$6,499 $9,999 $6,499
some creative color choices. We liked the and Seth Colaner
●●●● ●●●● ●●●

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

CPU / October 2009 35


reviews | hardware

Antec Mini Skeleton-90


f you’re an SFF fan and you’re the hard- 33dBA noise output, Mini Skeleton-90
ISkeleton-90
core hardware type, then the Mini
may be for you. Like its
respectively), and the
70mm rear fan whis-
$119
Antec
slightly older and more publicized broth- pers along at 20dBA. www.antec.com
er, the Skeleton, the Mini is an arched Considering this ●●●
open-frame chassis based on slideout trays isn’t a quiet case per
and a top-mounted, downward-blowing se, the end result is
fan. Specifically, the Mini can host a respectably muted,
Mini-ITX motherboard, one 5.25-inch especially when used
drive, two 2.5-inch drives within the with a low-voltage
chassis, and another two 2.5-inch drives CPU, such as the several Mini-ITX 80W draws before accounting for other
that mount in brackets and hang from the options based on Intel’s Atom. hardware. You’re practically restricted to
outer sides. If you need more than inte- But this brings up the core paradox an Atom platform. This is fine if you have
grated graphics, the Mini supports a half- of the Mini Skeleton-90. Will an Atom a dual-core Atom config running some
height expansion slot. owner want an open-frame case? Probably sort of multimedia app with a half-height
A picture of this case doesn’t do its not. However, a power user armed with a PEG card and want to display it some-
diminutive size justice, and it’s just as Mini-ITX board based on the G45 or where as a conversation piece, but this
aesthetically impressive as its big brother. 780G chipsets would . . . if the Mini seems like a very niche role.
You can set the top-mounted 150mm didn’t come with a 90W power supply. We found the Mini Skeleton clever,
fan to 1,500rpm, 2,000rpm, and This is the case’s Achilles’ heel, as such attractive, sturdy, and a breeze to work
2,600rpm (22.8dBA, 28.5dBA, and CPU/board combos can easily exceed on, but it’s a solution in search of a prob-
lem, at least until Antec updates it with a
Specs: Dimensions: 7.5 x 8.3 x 9.1 inches (HxWxD); Weight: 5.5 pounds.; Form factor:
higher-capacity PSU. ▲
Mini-ITX; Ports: 2 USB 2.0, mic, audio out; Bays: 1 5.25-inch, 2 2.5-inch internal, 2 2.5-
inch external; Fans: 150mm TriCool blue LED front, 70mm rear by William Van Winkle

Aerocool Touch-2000
an controllers make it far easier to screen bright, crisp, Touch-2000
F manage your system’s airflow and
temperature. Aerocool’s Touch-2000 fan
and easy to use.
Other useful fea-
$59.99
Aerocool
controller lets you connect and monitor tures include the abili- www.aerocool.us
up to four fans with a single integrated ty to set an overheating ●●●●
control panel. alarm for each fan,
The Touch-2000’s most prominent a lock function that
feature is its LCD touchscreen, which prevents accidental set- accommodate our
measures about 2.2 x 4.5 inches (HxW). ting changes, and the inclu- case, a component on the circuit
The touchscreen displays the speed for sion of one eSATA, two USB, board blocked one of them, making it
each of the four connected fans and, and audio I/O ports on the front of the impossible to slide the Touch-2000
depending on your preference, provides panel, adding functionality and accessibil- completely into the bay. Instead, it pro-
individual temperature readouts in ity to the case front. truded awkwardly from the case front.
either Fahrenheit or Celsius. Altering The Touch-2000 occupied two In other cases without bay spacers,
the fan speed consists of touching a par- of our computer’s 5.25-inch external though, the Touch-2000 fit securely in
ticular fan icon on the screen and using drive bays. Initially, we attempted to the front panel.
the plus (+) and minus (-) icons to install the Touch-2000 in a case with With such a large LCD touchscreen,
increase or decrease the speed, respec- an irremovable spacer between each built-in I/O panel, and nearly flawless
tively. The touchscreen was responsive bay. Although the Touch-2000 had performace, the Touch-2000 makes for a
and featured a backlight that made the notches on each side that looked to great buy. ▲

Specs: Display: LCD touchscreen; Connectors: 4 3-pin connectors, 4 heat sensors; Max by Kris Glaser
wattage per fan: 6W; I/O: 1 eSATA, 2 USB, audio I/O

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

36 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

Alienware M17x
ince its inception (way before Dell’s M17x
S acquisition of the company), Alien-
ware systems, and the Alienware brand
$4,849 (as tested)
Alienware
itself, have been synonymous with PC www.alienware.com
gaming. Whether it’s the relatively afford- ●●●●
able Aurora or current flagship ALX X58
series of desktop systems, Alienware un-
abashedly targets its machines at gamers
and enthusiasts looking for high-perfor-
mance and uniquely “alien” aesthetics.
Like its desktops, Alienware’s latest flag-
ship gaming notebook, the M17x, contin-
ues the company’s tradition of targeting
gamers. As its name implies, the M17x is
built around a 17-inch LCD and sports a
similarly large form factor. Considering
how powerful the M17x is, though, a large numerous color options. The touchpad If you’re in the market for a gaming or
DTR (desktop replacement) form factor was less responsive than I would have DTR notebook, do yourself a favor and
should be expected, as should significant liked and was occasionally jumpy, but it check out the M17x. ▲
weight. In fact, the M17x weighs a hefty didn’t hinder use of the machine. A row
11.7 lbs. It’s far more portable than a desk- of touch-sensitive buttons that runs along by Marco Chiappetta
top PC, but this machine is far from a road the top edge of the keyboard, however,
warrior’s best friend. were finicky at best and sometimes didn’t
Benchmark Numbers
The Alienware M17x’s chassis screams register any input. Thankfully, everything
Futuremark PCMark Vantage
of quality. From its edge-to-edge glass-cov- these buttons control (media player, vol-
PCMarks 5567
ered LCD to its thick aluminum shell, the ume, Wi-Fi, etc.) can be altered using the Memories 4464
M17x inspires confidence. The honey- control panel. TV & Movies 4175
comb-textured touchpad and surrounding Connectivity on the M17x is superb. Gaming 4776
composite bezel also seem to be made of The front of the machine sports a hidden Music 4186
durable materials and resist fingerprints. IR sensor, and the back is home to only the Communications 5280
Aside from a couple of Alienware’s signa- AC power connector. The left side of the Productivity 5705
ture alien heads used on the lid and the machine is outfitted with several display Hard Drive 4130
power button, however, the M17x doesn’t outputs (VGA, HDMI/DVI, and Display- 3DMark Vantage (Extreme Preset)
appear to be very . . . well . . . alien. The Port), a lock port, Gigabit Ethernet port, 3DMarks 4942
GPU Score 4737
machine actually resembles a vintage mus- two USB ports, a USB/eSATA combo con-
CPU Score (PhysX On) 27525
cle car more than anything from outer nector with PowerShare, a FireWire con-
GPU Test 1 14.75
space. With the lid closed, the front edge nector, and basically the system can GPU Test 2 12.98
of the M17x looks much like the nose of connect to any kind of modern display. CPU Test 1 1314.35
a Pontiac Trans Am from the ’80s, a la The right side sports a slot-loading optical CPU Test 2 99.12
“Knight Rider.” With the lid opened and drive, flash media and ExpressCard slots, Left 4 Dead
the machine powered on, though, the light- two more USB ports, and a quartet of 1,920 x 1,200 (High
ed keyboard, Alienware logo, and pulsating audio-related connectors. Quality, 4XAA, 16XAF) 59.25
alien heads tell you the M17x is The M17x is offered with a variety of
definitely an Alienware-built system. configuration options, and, as such, has Specs (as tested): CPU: Intel Core 2
Extreme Quad QX9300 @ 2.53GHz
The M17x’s glossy LCD offers a 1,920 an equally wide array of prices. The ultra-
(12MB Cache, 1,066MHz FSB); GPU:
x 1,200 resolution with excellent bright- high-end machine I tested, which was Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M (x2, 1GB per
ness and uniformity. And its built-in equipped with a quad-core Intel proces- GPU, SLI); Display: 17-inch WUXGA
speakers are some of the best I’ve heard in sor, GeForce GTX 280M SLI graphics, 1,920 x 1,200; RAM: 8GB Dual Channel
a notebook. The lighted keyboard flexes a and a 1TB RAID 0 array, performed bet- DDR3-1333; Storage: 1TB (2x 500GB
7,200rpm HDDs, RAID 0); Blu-ray combo
bit in the center, which is annoying, but ter than any other notebook I’ve tested.
drive (BR-ROM, DVD±RW, CD-RW);
it has good tactile feedback. You can cus- But even with a lower-end configuration, Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit);
tomize the keyboard’s backlighting with the M17x is sure to please. one-year limited hardware warranty

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

CPU / October 2009 37


reviews | hardware

Enermax Galaxy EVO 1250W difference, you’ll find its lower efficien-
cy is worth the added stability under
f you’re familiar with Enermax’s Revolu- handful of helpful features (each labeled heavy load. ▲
Iprobably
tion 85+ lineup, its Galaxy EVO series
looks very similar, from the sleek
with a clever marketing term). HeatGuard,
for instance, keeps the power supply’s fan by Paul Cross
black enclosure to the modular connectivity running for up to a minute after it has been
and quiet 135mm cooling fan. But where shut off, dissipating latent heat and hope- Specs Enermax Galaxy
EVO 1250W
the Revolution put a heavy emphasis on fully extending component lifetime.
Rated Continuous (W) 1,250W
efficiency, the Galaxy is all about output. SafeGuard is a marketing term referring to
Rated Peak (W) 1,500W
Not that the Galaxy EVO sacrifices its the PSU’s built-in protections against 12V Rails 6
own efficiency numbers in the process: It under- and over-volt/current states, safe- +12V Continuous (A) 30A
still achieved an 80 Plus Bronze certifica- guarding hardware against spikes and sags. +5V Continuous (A) 25A
tion. Nvidia recommends the Galaxy EVO If you can get away with the less expen- +3.3V Continuous (A) 25A
for systems running a pair of GeForce GTX sive, more efficient Revolution 85+, that’s Efficiency Rating Up to 89%
285s or a trio of GeForce GTX 280s. Of the route we’d recommend. But when (as advertised) (@ 50% Load)
course, we previously found that the the Galaxy EVO’s extra 200W makes a Fan(s) Location Bottom (1x 135mm)
1,050W Revolution 85+ drove an Intel PCI-E 6-Pin/8-Pin 8x 6+2 Pin

Core i7-975 Extreme and three GeForce Main 12V 24-pin


8-Pin EPS12V 2 (1 8-pin, 1 4+4-pin)
GTX 280s without issue, so it wasn’t a sur-
SATA 16
prise that the 1,250W Galaxy
Molex 4-Pin Peripheral 6
EVO powered this demand- Galaxy EVO 1250W
Floppy 4-Pin 0
ing configuration. $349
Finish Matte Black (textured)
In addition to its com- Enermax Length, including cable
pelling performance, Ener- www.enermaxusa.com bend (in inches) 21.6
max arms the Galaxy with a ●●●● Warranty Three Years

Gigabyte MA785GMT-UD2H gaming system with the addition of dis-


crete graphics. ▲
mall. Quiet. Fast. Those are the three 30-inch Dell display requires dual-link out-
S qualities you look for when you’re
building a business desktop or HTPC.
put; this board should be able to handle sin-
gle-link DVI LCDs at higher resolutions.
by Paul Cross

Gigabyte’s MA785GMT-UD2H mother- Though it’s newer than the 790GX/


board delivers an ideal feature list for either SB750 chipset combo, the 785G/SB710 is MA785GMT-
usage model, thanks in large part to its actually more of a mainstream part, hence UD2H
AMD 785G chipset. The board supports the MA785GMT-UD2H’s $89.99 price. $89.99
Phenom II processors through an AM3 And although AMD’s integrated Radeon Gigabyte
socket interface. It enables dual-channel HD 4200 GPU sounds more advanced www.gigabyte.us
memory configurations via four DDR3 than the 790GX’s Radeon HD 3300, ●●●●
slots. And it includes a new integrated gaming performance is actually a
Radeon HD 4200 graphics core. little slower. Where the 785G’s Benchmark Numbers
Sadly, the DVI and HDMI outputs graphics engine takes a big step
Gigabyte ASRock
can’t be used at the same time. If you want up is its UVD 2 support, acceler- MA785GMT-UD2H M3A790GXH/128M
to drive dual displays with this board, you’ll ating all three codecs used to
Far Cry 2 (in fps)
either need to use the analog connector or encode Blu-ray movies. 640x480, no AA 13.98 17.32
buy a discrete card to drop into its PCI Clearly set up to excel in 800x600, no AA 11.82 14.65
Express x16 slot. Our review sample also environments heavy on A/V,
WinRAR 3.9 Beta 1 1:35 1:39
wouldn’t get along with Dell’s 30-inch moni- the MA785GMT-UD2H is a
tor, displaying a garbled screen at resolutions well-rounded platform that you MainConcept 1.6.1 2:05 2:04

larger than 1,024 x 768. Of course, the can convert into an inexpensive
Note: The ASRock comparison platform’s 128MB SidePort memory
cache was disabled for the most comparable gaming results.
Specs: Chipset: AMD 785G/SB710; Max memory: 16GB (DDR3-1666); GPU: ATI Test system specs: 3.2GHz Phenom II X4 955; 4GB Corsair
Radeon HD 4200 (VGA/DVI/HDMI outputs); Slots: 1 PCI-E x16 2.0, 1 PCI-E x1, 2 Dominator DDR3-1333 (7-7-7); 300GB Western Digital
PCI; Ports: 1 Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 400, 5 SATA 3Gbps, 1 eSATA, 6 USB 2.0 VelociRaptor; Radeon HD 4200.

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

38 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | hardware

OCZ DDR3 PC3-17000 Blade Series


riple-channel DDR3 memory kits as well as current 1.5V DDR3 specs. hit 2,133MHz at CL8-9-8-24 no problem
T continue to be refined for higher per-
formance. We took a look at OCZ’s new
When running at 1.65V, this kit is rated
for a top-end clock speed of 2,133MHz
with 1.66V set on the memory settings in
the BIOS. This was as fast as we could
Blade series DDR3-2133 kit for a few with latency settings of CL 8-9-8-24. push the memory, however. Here we real-
benchmark runs and were duly impressed. We found that the kit performed per- ized an aggregate bandwidth of 28.64GBps
This Blade series kit (part number fectly as advertised in our Gigabyte EX58- in SiSoft Sandra’s Memory Bandwidth
OCZ3B2133LV6GK) is built with Extreme motherboard test bed, with a test. With our processor dialed in to
Elpidia Hyper J1108BASE-MNH-E IC Core i7-975 Extreme Edition CPU. (If 4.1GHz and a slightly more modest
chips. These are new low-voltage 50nm you want to get the utmost performance 1,968MHz memory clock, we hit a blis-
DRAM chips capable of running at both from this module kit, it’s best to tering 281fps in our Crysis 800 x 600
low-voltage 1.2V specification run them with one of Intel’s low-res gaming test.
new D0 stepping Core i7 Of course, this bleeding-edge memory
processors. This new CPU technology also commands a seriously
DDR3 PC3-17000 stepping for Intel is noted for premium price, so unless you want brag-
Blade Series having a slightly enhanced ging rights, you can definitely find better
$409 memory controller capable of values out there. Regardless, OCZ’s 6GB
OCZ higher top-end clock speeds Blade 2133 kit is undoubtedly some of
www.ocztechnology.com over its DDR3 memory inter- the fastest triple-channel DDR3 memory
●●●● face.) The Blade 2133 series kit we tested on the market. ▲

Specs: Capacity: 6GB (3x 2GB); Timings: 8(CAS), 9(tRCD), 8(tRP), 24(tRAS), 1T by Dave Altavilla
(Command Rate); Voltage: 1.65V; lifetime warranty

Fusion-io ioDrive 160GB PCMark Vantage ioDrive Intel X25-M


(4x RAID 0)
Defender (MBps) 406.62 259.71
SDs as we know them are technically the ioDrive. We tested an 80GB variant
S flawed. In fact, it’s arguable that the
SATA interface itself is flawed. You see,
back in March (see page 40 in the March
2009 issue) and took time to revisit Fusion-
Gaming (MBps)
Photo Gallery (MBps)
483.51
482.82
198.44
302.60
Vista Startup (MBps) 657.59 313.26
the SATA interface is an adaptation of the io’s 160GB version to see how it stacks up Movie Maker (MBps) 399.85 376.21
ATA/IDE. Also, SATA chipset controllers against a quartet of Intel X25-M SSDs in Media Center (MBps) 496.54 156.80
bridge from the legacy but newer SATA RAID 0—a ridiculously fast competitor. Application
interface to PCI-E, where they connect to The 160GB SLC ioDrive we tested is Loading (MBps) 460.30 267.05
these “native” serial links on the mother- rated for 750MBps read/670MBps write Windows Media
board chipset. What does this “bridging” bandwidth. Those four 80GB Intel X25-M Player (MBps) 264.33 215.07
from SATA to PCI-E do for you besides SSDs theoretically are capable of 1GBps
adapt an older, backward-compatible inter- read/280MBps write bandwidth. The num- HD Tach
face to a newer interface? It adds latency bers speak for themselves, but it’s safe to Average Read (MBps) 581 702
and slows things down. say that removing the latency of bridging Average Write (MBps) 506 306
Solid-state storage of the future, in all SATA to PCI-E has its advantages. Burst Speed 702 1996
likelihood, will eventually do away with Currently, the Fusion-io drive is a bit IOMeter
this bridging and direct attach NAND flash out of reach for the average end user, but Workstation – 8 IO/
memory volumes to PCI-E. The folks at enterprise applications that demand this target (IOps) 71544 35171
Fusion-io managed to bring a bit of sort of throughput will more easily justify Database - 64 IO/
the future to the here and now with its cost. Fusion-io is also bringing its end target (IOps) 69744 43753
user-targeted ioXtreme
Test system specs: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme 3.33GHz,
ioDrive 160GB SSD to market sometime
Gigabyte EX58-Extreme, 6GB DDR3-1066, Windows
$7,200 in July with a much more
Vista Ultimate 64-bit SP2, ioDrive driver: 1.2.5.0
Fusion-io palatable price. We’ll be
www.fusion-io.com salivating until then. ▲
Specs: 750MBps read/670MBps write; 50µs
●●●● read access latency, 48 years 5TB daily
by Dave Altavilla write/erase, PCI-E x4 interface

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

40 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


The SSD Update
henever I write a big SSD article for AnandTech, I expect drives deliver better sequential write performance and cost less.
W that the next one will somehow take less time or be less
involved. That never ends up being the case. The last time I tackled
Both Intel and Indilinx SSDs are an order of magnitude faster
than the best hard drives, so it ultimately boils down to capacity
SSDs, I came to the same conclusion I ended up with the previous and price point.
time: Intel’s X25-M was the SSD to beat. Unfortunately, at the Intel offers two capacities for its drives: 80GB and 160GB.
time it was still priced well above $400 for even the smallest 80GB Indilinx drives come in 60GB, 120GB, and 250GB flavors. And
drive and wasn’t a very realistic option for many. Thankfully, things as it turns out, the companies’ prices actually work out to com-
were changing, and while my conclu- plement each other nicely. Intel’s
sions six months ago mirrored those 80GB is more expensive than a 60GB
from the six months prior, I’m finally Indilinx but cheaper than a 120GB
comfortable with recommending some- Indilinx. And Intel’s 160GB drive
thing other than Intel’s drive. falls between Indilinx’s 120GB and
Don’t get me wrong, the X25-M 250GB options.
continues to be one of the strongest if Intel’s latest drive, the 34nm X25-
not the strongest SSD on the market M G2, actually further improves ran-
today; it’s just that we need real com- dom write performance, but as of now
petition for this market to mature and the drive isn’t shipping. At the last
develop. In terms of sheer numbers, minute, Intel caught a potential data
Samsung is at the top. The No.1 sup- loss issue and stopped shipments until
plier of SSDs to OEMs unfortunately a fix can be made public. It just goes
doesn’t deliver the best performance. to show you that even though Indilinx
The SSDs that you can get with your has had its share of firmware issues,
Apple or Lenovo system are priced even the almighty Intel is not immune
like a luxury item but don’t perform to them.
like one. Compared to a mechanical My recommendation, if you’re look-
hard drive, especially one you’d find ing to upgrade to an SSD, is as fol-
in a notebook, the Samsung SSD lows: You can’t go wrong with either
works well. The problem is that there Intel or Indilinx. Indilinx-based drives
are other drives that just work better (OCZ Vertex, G.Skill Falcon, OCZ
and at a lower cost. Agility, Corsair Extreme Series, Super
Indilinx is the newcomer that caught my Anand Lal Shimpi has turned a Talent UltraDrive ME, and Patriot Torqx)
eye the last time I did a serious SSD review. fledgling personal page on are cheaper per GB than the X25-M. The
This is the company behind SSDs like GeoCities.com into one of the world’s problem is that if 60GB is too small for
OCZ’s Vertex, the G.Skill Falcon, and most visited and trusted PC you, then you’ll actually have to end up
Corsair’s new Extreme Series. Their Bare- hardware sites. Anand started spending more than Intel’s 80GB drive
foot controller offers the most Intel-like his site in 1997 at just 14 years to get a 120GB Indilinx drive. Pick the
performance out of anything on the market old and has since been featured capacity that seems right to you (keeping
and generally for less money. in USA Today, CBS’ “48 Hours,” in mind that you’ll want to keep at least
When I first met Indilinx’s Barefoot con- and Fortune. His site— 10 to 20% of your drive empty to keep
troller, its performance was the only one I www.anandtech.com—receives more performance as high as possible) and go
could bother recommending other than than 55 million page views and is for it.
Intel. Unfortunately, it was quite immature read by more than 2 million Windows 7 is right around the corner,
back then and needed several firmware readers per month. and regardless of what sort of system you
updates and tweaks before it reached a truly have, an SSD will yield a significant
competitive maturity level. Today, four improvement. ▲
major firmware updates later, Indilinx is at
that level. Talk back to Anand at anand@cpumag.com
The Intel drives still offer better ran-
dom write performance, but the Indilinx

CPU / October 2009 41


hard hat area | pc modder

PC Modder
Enermax’s Magma line of
case fans offers innovations
such as “batwing” fan
blades and long-lasting
“Twister“ bearings.
Tips & Tutorials
case fan, but Enermax has done just that
with its Magma series fans. Magma fans are
available in 80mm ($11.99; www.xoxide
Modding does the body good. A PC’s body anyway, inside and out. Here you’ll find .com) and 120mm ($16.99) flavors and
hardware, firmware, tools, tips, and tutorials for modding your rig’s performance and feature Enermax’s Twister bearing technol-
appearance. Send us your own mod-related tips and ideas at modding@cpumag.com. ogy that the company claims doubles
Magma fans’ life span vs. 2-ball bearing
fans. Enermax claims these fans are the
odding enthusiasts have a available in bottles that also come with world’s first that can operate at 85 degrees

M penchant for the latest toys.


Fast processors, powerful
video cards, silent SFF enclosures, and rad-
dropper caps to eliminate the need for a
funnel when pouring the liquid into
right reservoir openings. Unopened bot-
Celsius for at least 100,000 hours.
The Enermax Magma Twister fans also
feature a batwing-style fan blade design
ically lit motherboards are all fair game tles of F1, which are available in 1L and curved frame that combined offer an
when it comes to a modder’s creative quantities, should last up to three years. additional 20 to 30% airflow over standard
mind. Recognizing the appeal of uncon- fans. And the blades are even removable
ventional customization, an entire industry Logisys FP708 for easy cleaning. The Enermax Magma
has emerged to support the community. Thermal controllers are a popular way fans are rated at 18dBA and 21dBA for the
to add some bling to a system while 120mm and 80mm fans, respectively, and
Mods & Ends incorporating additional features at the vibration-isolating mounts help minimize
Feser One F1 Cooling Fluid same time. As you can probably sur- even more unwanted noise.
To keep a liquid-cooling kit function- mise, the Logisys FP708BK (black) and
ing properly and operating at peak FP708SL (silver) give users the ability to Fashionably Fresh Firmware
performance, a quality cooling fluid is connect and control case fans—three in LaCie LaCinema Rugged (v5.15E)
paramount. Sure, plain old water treated fact—but they also incorporate a digital An update for the LaCie LaCinema
with anticorrosives is fine for some clock that displays date and time. Rugged media player improves book-
folks, but a high-end liquid cooling kit mark support.
just begs for a similarly high-end cooling www.lacie.com
fluid. Enter Feser One.
Feser One F1 Cooling Fluid ($18.99; DViCO TViX M-6500 / 7000 (v1.3.137)
www.crazypc.com) is available in a num- This firmware update for the TViX
ber of colors and features anticorrosive M-6500/7000 series media jukeboxes
additives compatible with aluminum, increases the readability of on-screen
brass, copper, and nickel waterblocks. characters (including the subtitles), adds
The Feser One high-performance flu- The Logisys FP708 mounts in a 5.25-inch drive support for more Wi-Fi modules, fixes
id is also non-electrically conductive, bay and incorporates a digital clock with a some HDMI audio issues, and enhances
so leaky fluid won’t short out any sys- thermal controller. playback quality of multiple file types.
tem components. The www.tvix.co.kr
coolant’s anti-algae The Logisys FP708 ($26.99; www
properties keep your .xoxide.com) fits in an available 5.25-inch Qnap TS-109 (v3.1.0 build 0708)
tubing clean. Feser drive bay and offers low, medium, and The latest firmware update for the
One F1 nonconductive high fan speed controls and three tempera- QNAP TS-109 NAS server features a new
UV cooling fluid is ture sensors that can be mounted any- UI design and resolves some issues relat-
where in a system (but are labeled CPU, ed to IP Filter and Network Access
Feser One F1 UV-reactive HDD, and SYS on the unit’s display). Protection, importing SSL Secure Certifi-
cooling fluid doesn’t cates, and network service discovery.
conduct electricity and is Enermax Magma www.qnap.com
available in a multitude It is hard to believe that new innovations
of colors. can be added to something as simple as a by Marco Chiappetta

42 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


hard hat area | pc modder

Radeon HD 4890
Overclocking
Get The Most From AMD’s RV790

Some Radeon HD 4890 cards, such as the Asus EAH4890 TOP, give users
the ability to alter GPU voltages using software. And with a bump in GPU
voltage and enhanced cooling, higher overclocks should be possible.

MD’s ATI Radeon HD 4890 is Although their features are technically implemented around the chip to reduce

A an interesting product to both


gamers and modders alike. It’s
both a relatively good performer, consid-
very similar, the RV790 does differ from
the RV770 in a number of key ways.
Some may be tempted to say the RV790
signal noise. The changes to the core and
the addition of the decap ring result in an
increase in die and packaging size, but the
ering its price, and it’s based on the most is simply an overclocked RV770, but that end result is a GPU that can run at much
powerful single-GPU card from AMD to isn’t correct. The RV790 at the heart of higher clock speeds than the RV770.
date, the RV790. But what makes the the Radeon HD 4890 is composed of It’s these high frequencies that we’re
RV790 so interesting is that the chip was more transistors than the RV770 (959 going to explore in this month’s mod.
designed from the ground up to operate million vs. 956 million). It also has a few We’re going to take an Asus factory-over-
at very high clock speeds. inherent features that are conducive to clocked Radeon HD 4890, the EAH4890
Fundamentally, the RV790 GPU used higher frequency operation. The addi- TOP, increase its GPU core voltage, mod
on the Radeon HD 4890 is very similar tional transistors are actually dedicated to its cooling, and see how much faster we
to the RV770 used on the older Radeon updates made to the core in an effort to can make it.
HD 4870. The two GPUs share many of achieve higher clock speeds. According to
the same features, including the number AMD, it re-timed the entire chip and Physical Modifications
of shader processors (800), an equal altered the power distribution on the The first thing we did to our
amount of texture units (40), and similar RV790. In addition, a decap ring, or EAH4890 TOP was mod its stock cool-
ROP configurations. a ring of decoupling capacitors, was ing assembly to ensure it was operating at

CPU / October 2009 43


hard hat area | pc modder

To enhance the cooling performance on our Asus EAH4890 TOP card, we replaced its stock TIM (thermal interface material) with a high-performing
type from OCZ (in addition to polishing the base of its heatsink so it would make better contact with the GPU). Slightly stretching the springs used on
the GPU heatsink’s retention clip also helped to ensure a tighter bond between the heatsink and GPU, ensuring optimal performance.

peak performance. The coolers installed on assembly and GPU/RAM. Even if you pattern and don’t overtighten too early.
most graphics cards at the factory are usual- don’t plan to mod your Radeon HD 4890, Install one screw on the left side until it is
ly treated to sub-par applications of TIM take a screwdriver to its heatsink retention barely tight; then, install one on the right
(thermal interface material), and the bases screws and ensure that they’re snug. side, one along the top edge, and so on.
of their heatsinks aren’t always perfectly A giant glop of thick, silvery thermal Working this way ensures the heat-
smooth. Remedying these two problems paste was revealed after we removed the sink assembly stays flat and level, main-
will decrease our operating temps, and it EAH4890’s stock cooler, so we carefully taining good contact with the GPU and
doesn’t require anything more than some cleaned it up using some cotton swabs other components.
good thermal paste and metal polish. and a lint-free microfiber cloth. Be careful
Removing the cooler from the during cleanup to avoid dripping on the The Soft Mods
EAH4890 TOP requires the removal of components mounted to the surface of After modding our card’s cooler, we
no fewer than 14 screws. There are 10 the GPU, as this could cause a short cir- installed the card into our test system and
screws holding the bulk of the heatsink cuit. We also cleaned up the base of the moved on to the second part of the pro-
and cooler assembly in place, while the copper GPU heatsink and polished it to a ject, the GPU volt mod. Some Rade-
remaining four are dedicated to the cop- near mirror finish using some wadding on HD 4890 cards, such as our Asus
per GPU heatsink. To remove the screws, metal polish. The heatsink’s base was in EAH4890 TOP, can have their GPU
we used a small Philips screwdriver; one pretty good shape from the get-go, but voltages altered using simple software util-
with a magnetic tip is preferable. We there were some burrs along one edge that ities. The Asus Smart Doctor Utility, for
should warn you that the four smaller we were able to minimize with polishing. example, gives users the ability to alter
screws used on the GPU heatsink reten- While we had the heatsink assembly GPU voltages, fan speeds, and frequencies
tion clip on the back of the card are removed from the card, we also took of the memory and GPU core.
spring-loaded, so work slowly and be some time to clean the components in its With the card installed and Asus Smart
careful when removing these screws. The VRM and its RAM chips. The solid-state Doctor fired up, we found that our card
last thing you want to do is shoot one of components in the VRM and the RAM had a default GPU voltage of 1.312V.
the screws across the room because you contact the heatsink assembly through Before altering that setting though, we
were in a rush. thick thermal pads. These aren’t easy to decided to overclock the card a bit to see
With all of the screws removed from the replace because they fill a relatively large how high it would go in its stock form.
EAH4890 TOP’s heatsink assembly, some gap between the components and heat- So, we cranked the fan speed to max to
slight rocking back and forth will free it sink, but ensuring the surfaces of both are keep temps down and raised the GPU
from the GPU and RAM. Don’t rock it so clean certainly won’t hurt. and memory frequencies until the system
far that you damage surface-mounted PCB With all of the cleaning and polishing was no longer stable. We found that the
components; a slight tilt is all that is neces- out of the way, we applied a smooth layer card peaked at 965MHz/1,055MHz
sary. During this step, we found that the of high-performance OCZ Freeze thermal (GPU/memory).
screws on our card weren’t very tight. This compound to the GPU and reinstalled the Next, we increased the GPU voltage to
is bad news, because it could result in cooler assembly. When tightening all of 1.45V—the maximum setting available—
improper contact between the heatsink the screws, be sure to work in a rotating by moving a slider all the way to the right

44 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


hard hat area | pc modder

and then proceeded to overclock the card clock speeds. These cards, of course, com- overclocker-friendly product. The features
even further. Ultimately, we were able to manded a price premium, but other than AMD incorporated into the GPU’s
max the GPU frequency available in the their frequencies, they weren’t any differ- design make it well-suited to high-fre-
Smart Doctor utility at 1,000MHz and ent from the originals. By taking the time quency operation, and it seems to be
pushed the memory up to 1,100MHz, to mod and overclock a standard Radeon comfortable running with higher voltages,
increases of 11.1% and 10%, respectively, HD 4890, you should be able to hit the as well. With only some relatively minor
over stock. same kind of frequencies offered by the mods, we were able to increase our card’s
newer models without having to spend performance significantly. If some of you
Worth The Effort? the additional money necessary for one of more adventurous overclockers take more
A few months after the original the newer cards. exotic measures, even higher performance
Radeon HD 4890 cards hit the scene, As is always the case when overclock- is surely possible. ▲
AMD and its partners released factory- ing, your mileage may vary, but the
overclocked versions with 1GHz GPU RV790 GPU is definitely a modder- and by Marco Chiappetta

Performance: Before & After The Mod


sing a Core i7-920-powered subsequent frequency increases sometimes by as much as 13.16%. board. We witnessed double-digit
U test bed running Windows
Vista Ultimate SP2, we ran a hand-
affected frame rates. To more
clearly illustrate the performance
As an interesting aside, increas-
ing the GPU voltage also let us
percentage gains in 3DMark Van-
tage, and every game we tested
ful of popular applications and increases, we have also listed the increase the card’s memory volt- showed higher performance, at
games to see how modding and percent improvement over stock. age higher than its stock form, both resolutions.
overclocking our Asus EAH4890 As you can see in the chart, presumably because the memo- Ultimately though, the
TOP affected its overall perfor- there is a significant amount of ry controller was better able to benchmarks show that mod-
mance. In the chart shown here, performance to be gained by handle the increased clocks. It ding and overclocking the
we’ve listed the performance of modding and overclocking a certainly wasn’t due to the Radeon HD 4890 is worth the
the Asus Radeon HD 4890 run- Radeon HD 4890 card. The GPU tweaks we made to the card’s effort. Measureable perfor-
ning in its stock form, while un- volt mod and cooling enhance- cooler, because operating tem- mance gains are there to be
modded and overclocked, and ments not only let us overclock peratures were actually higher. had, essentially for free, if you
finally while volt modded and the card higher than was possi- Gaining 100MHz on both the don’t mind voiding your war-
more significantly overclocked, ble in its stock form, but also fur- GPU and memory resulted in per- ranty and spending a little time
to show how the mod and its ther increased its performance, formance increases across the tweaking frequencies. ▲

Radeon HD 4890 (GPU Radeon HD 4890 (GPU @ Radeon HD 4890 (Voltage @ Percent
@ 900MHz, Memory @ 965MHz, Memory @ 1.45V, GPU @ 1,000MHz, Improvement
1,000MHz) 1,055MHz) Memory @ 1,100MHz) Over Stock
3DMark Vantage (Extreme Preset)
Overall Score 4872 5112 5406 10.96
GPU Test 1 15.69 16.04 17.39 10.83
GPU Test 2 11.94 12.37 13.1 9.72
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars*
1,920 x 1,200 93.2 97.8 100.8 8.15
2,560 x 1,600 62.1 65.4 67.9 9.34
Left 4 Dead*
1,920 x 1,200 92.46 96.51 101.34 9.60
2,560 x 1,600 57.16 61.23 64.68 13.16
Crysis**
1,920 x 1,200 25.68 25.92 26.39 2.76
2,560 x 1,600 15.75 16.03 16.62 5.52

* High Quality, 4XAA, 16XAF ** High Quality, 16XAF


Test system specs: CPU: Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz (Turbo Mode Enabled), Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-EX58 Extreme (X58 Express), Memory: 6GB OCZ
DDR3-1333, HDD: WD Raptor 150 10,000rpm, Windows Vista Ultimate SP2, ATI Catalyst Drivers v9.7

CPU / October 2009 45


hard hat area | pc modder

Give Us Your Mod


Have a computer mod that will bring tears to our eyes? Email
photos and a description to madreadermod@cpumag.com. We’re looking
for rigs that are recognizable as PCs; your Wookiee mod won’t find a home here.
If we include your system in our “Mad Reader Mod” section, we’ll help you
load up your modder’s toolbox with $1,500 and a one-year subscription to CPU.

46 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


hard hat area | pc modder

Bren’s own steady hand (with a little help


from his Tablet PC and Adobe Photoshop)
created the dozens of characters that line the
periphery of Monolith’s case panels.

Although Bren didn’t intend to show off his


system’s internals, the cold-cathode lighting
that illuminates Monolith’s intricate
characters also gives the inside of the
case a wicked glow.

A closer look at Monolith’s side-panel


centerpiece shows the extreme detail that
helped make this mod a winner.

Monolith “Originally, the characters weren’t


going to be on the case,” Bren says. The
the risk of scratching the paint.” Bren adds
that he had to scrap his first front panel
characters were intended for a book he when he drilled holes for 140mm fans,
ICPUndoesn’t
Bren “Slyfox” Leach’s case, the apple
fall far from the tree. Loyal
readers may recognize the Leach
was writing. Bren adds that he was writ-
ing the book for his own enjoyment
rather than the 120mm fans his rig uses.
Although it would’ve been easy for
surname; dad Dennis “DeadGuy” Leach rather than to see it published. The work, Bren to go with a stock Danger Den case
bested the competition to claim victory at which you might think of as a combina- (at this point, you’ve hopefully figured out
CPU’s inaugural PDXLAN mod contest tion of science fiction and fantasy, was his dad is that Dennis Leach), he made
back in 2007 at PDXLAN 9. Leach the also the inspiration for the detailed, I- Monolith his own. Bren added two inches
Younger certainly followed in Papa have-to-get-one-more-look-at-that circu- to either side of what Dennis is using as
Dennis’ footsteps with Monolith, easily lar designs on either side panel. his current case of choice. These dimen-
the head-turner of PDXLAN 14 and win- Although the characters are laser-etched sions were crucial, as Bren needed to put
ner of CPU’s mod contest. into Monolith’s 3/8-inch-thick acrylic suitable distance between the case panels
Monolith’s calling card is its series of panels, they were far from easy to execute. and the six suspended 12-inch cold-cath-
characters (we called them runes, but Bren drew each one by hand in Photo- ode lights that give Monolith its glow.
hey, it’s not our mod) that line the edges shop on his Tablet PC before the charac- “Monolith” is an appropriate label
of its top, front, back, and side panels. ters made their way to the case panels. To for this mod’s internals, too. A brace
Although you won’t find these characters give the characters their wicked glow, Bren of Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775
in any Rosetta Stone software, and Bren laid down three coats of black spray paint CPUs are yoked to Intel’s D5400XS
himself hasn’t ascribed any meaning to and then added a coat of white spray “Skulltrail” motherboard. An ATI
them, the characters nonetheless come paint. He then laser-etched the characters Radeon 4870 X2 brings the system
with a story worth telling. through the paint into the acrylic. graphics muscle, and an 850W PSU
“The glow is the best part,” Bren says. delivers plenty of gas when Bren puts
“This is the first time we’ve tried to make Monolith’s pedal to the metal. And
laser etchings glow like that.” you’d better believe that’s Danger Den
Interestingly, Bren says producing the liquid-cooling gear.
impressive panels wasn’t his biggest hur- Monolith isn’t Bren’s first mod, and
dle. “The toughest part was assembling the with his pedigree, we’re guessing it
case and keeping it together without ruin- won’t be his last. Aspiring to fashion a
ing the paint,” he says. “Any slight gouge monolithic mod yourself? Bren offers
would be obvious once the light shined the following pointer: “Make sure
through. Even removing the screws and everything works before you [create] the
transporting the case was hard because of pieces and build the mod.” ▲

Bren didn’t discriminate when he added


liquid-cooling to Monolith; even the
southbridge got the waterblock treatment.

CPU / October 2009 47


1 Little Caesar’s was one of the vendors
on hand to periodically refuel hungry
gamers.
2 Although the focus was on gaming,
PDXLAN 14 had plenty of “extracurric-
2
ular” tournaments, such as a midnight
“Thriller” dance-off. (Yes, these guys
1 practiced.)
3 Behold, the rarely-seen geekalete (or
athleek; we’re not quite sure) in his
natural environment, a Crucial-spon-
sored Dodgeball tournament.
4 PDXLAN 14 offers enthusiasts the
chance to hang out, show off their rigs,
frag their competition, and, of course,
have a good time.

“Thriller” dance-off took place and was as


3
much a pacesetter for the LAN party as it
was an homage to the late King of Pop. The
next day, a Crucial-sponsored dodgeball
tournament let attendees show off their ath-
letic acumen. (Yes, Virginia, there is such a

PDXLAN 14
Welcome (Back) To Vector’s Packed House
thing as a geek athlete.) And to help thirsty
dodgeball gladiators get their quench on,
gamer clan Team TB teamed up with Bawls
to serve up G33K B33R floats. Remember
folks, PDXLAN is all about camaraderie.

Ically,fknows,
there’s one thing Matt “Vector” Conwell
it’s how to throw a party—specifi-
a LAN party. Of course, it helps that
come together for a great time. Hardcore
cyberathletes need not apply.
And Conwell’s gambit has paid off in
The Mod Squad
PDXLAN also happens to be a haven for
Conwell does this sort of thing for a living spades; PDXLAN 14 was host to another some of the most prolific modders we’ve
(literally). But it’s PDXLAN, now in its 14th sold-out crowd. There were plenty of big- come across. As such, we gave modders the
run (with no signs of slowing down), that time sponsors (Intel and Nvidia, among opportunity to showcase their rigs and their
has a special place in Conwell’s heart. others) in attendance, too, and Vector gave talent in our mod contest.
away piles of hardware at the LAN party With help from past mod contest winners
A Different Kind Of LAN that spanned four days. Richard “Darth Beavis” Surroz and Rod
For the uninitiated, the capacity crowd “[TB] Rod” Rosenberg, along with April
that fills the PDX Holiday Inn’s convention Gaming, More Gaming 2009 Mad Reader Mod winner Brian
center was Conwell’s brainchild six years & More Than Gaming Carter, we set out to pick a winner from
ago. Conwell hoped to fill a distinct gap by The lighthearted mood that permeates among a field of exceptional mods. It was no
hosting a regional LAN party in the Pacific PDXLAN, imbuing the event with its easy task, but in the end, Bren “Slyfox”
Northwest, but when he approached the unique character, was evident in the gaming Leach’s “Monolith” mod took home top
CPL (Cyberathlete Professional League) action. Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2, and honors. Check out Monolith on page 46.
with the idea in hopes of sponsorship, CPL other tournaments are serious business, but
didn’t bite. It seemed Portland, Ore., wasn’t bragging rights and trash talk are the spoils Coming Back Better Than Ever
large enough to support the LAN party that of these victories. Battles in classic titles, such Like what you see? Feel up to making the
Conwell envisioned. Rather than throw in as Warcraft III, raged, as well. The eclectic drive (or flight) to PDXLAN? Conwell and
the proverbial towel, however, Conwell set mix of games underscores a LAN that’s all his crew are ready for you. The next two
out to build a LAN by his own rules. about giving gamers exactly what they want. PDXLANs are on the books for Nov. 6,
The result is PDXLAN, a LAN party And when the PDX faithful needed a 2009, and Jan. 15, 2010; reserve your seat,
where camaraderie counts more than com- break from gaming, there were plenty of and we’ll see you there. ▲
peting; PDXLAN prides itself on being an extracurriculars to spice up the weekend.
event where gamers of all skill levels can Shortly after Friday’s opening ceremonies, a by Vince Cogley

48 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


Get informed answers to your advanced technical Each month we dig deep into the CPU mailbag in an effort to
answer your most pressing technical questions. Want some advice
questions from CPU. Send your questions along with a on your next purchase or upgrade? Have a ghost in your machine?
Are BSODs making your life miserable? CPU’s “Advanced Q&A
phone and/or fax number, so we can contact you if Corner” is here for you.
necessary, to q&a@cpumag.com. Please include all
Lincoln W. asked: I was browsing the Web the other day when I
pertinent system information. noticed that Evga and a few other manufacturers had recently released
single-board GeForce GTX 295 cards. I immediately began looking
around for reviews to see how they perform but couldn’t really find any-
thing useful at all.
I’m wondering if integrating the two GPUs on a single board has in-
creased performance over the original GeForce GTX 295, which uses two
boards? I want to get the fastest graphics card available for my next build
and want to know if it’s worth paying a little extra for the newer Evga card.


Or should I just save my money and go with one of the originals? Thanks!
Even as we A: Unfortunately, we haven’t taken one of the single-PCB Ge-
Force GTX 295 cards for a spin just yet, so we can’t give you any
hard numbers at this time, but save for any GPU and memory
clock speed differences, they should perform the same as the orig-

write this, it’s very inal dual-PCB variants of the GeForce GTX 295.
Although the new single-PCB GTX 295 cards look very differ-
ent physically from Nvidia’s original reference design, the two
cards employ identical GPUs, have the same-sized memory inter-
faces, and are outfitted with the same amount of frame buffer
memory. Although the single-PCB-based GeForce GTX 295 is a
difficult to find any more elegant option in our opinion, on a basic technical level, it’s
not much different from the original dual-PCB GTX 295. As far
as your OS and games are concerned, the newer single-PCB and
older dual-PCB cards will appear to be identical.
With that said, if you think the older GeForce GTX 295 cards
original dual-PCB are going to drop in price due to the arrival of these new cards
(making them a more attractive option), think again. Even as we
write this, it’s very difficult to find any original dual-PCB Ge-
Force GTX 295 cards for sale. And some of the newer single-
PCB versions, which cost less to produce, have already dropped

GeForce GTX 295 in price to sub-$500 levels. If you wait much longer, the originals
will likely disappear completely.

Stevie D. asked: I recently set up a RAID 0 for my pair of 80GB


Intel SSDs. I have the new X25-M drives, and they are crazy fast. I use
them as my OS volume and set up my critical files on a 1TB RAID 1
cards for sale.


volume with another pair of 500GB WD drives I have. I run every-
thing on my Intel DX58SO motherboard and the ICH10R controller
that is onboard.

50 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


I recently noticed my performance in HD Tach had dropped off the map the apartment on her laptop, my brother’s mother-in-law is constantly
for my RAID 0 Intel SSD array for some reason. Though the system feels coming into the house to use the computer—at all times of the day.
pretty snappy, I’m seeing about 250MBps read performance, whereas pre- We’ve tried moving the wireless router to the kitchen, which is closest
viously I had been pulling more than 500MBps with this same exact setup. to the garage, but the signal is still too weak to be useful. Are there
I’ve heard rumors that Intel SSDs have had issues with performance any high-powered routers he could buy? Is there a way to boost the
degradation over time. Is this what I’m seeing here? It doesn’t make signal to better move through walls? He’s got a very nice D-Link
much sense to me actually because I thought, if anything, these drives 802.11g router with multiple antennas that I told him to buy, but it’s
dynamically adjust to user work patterns over time, which should actually not cutting it for some reason.
optimize performance over the long haul. What am I really seeing here
and how can I get my performance back in check?
A high-gain directional outdoor
A: That, Stevie my man, is a very good question. The anomaly Wi-Fi antenna is a great tool to
with the Intel X25-M SSDs that you noted is observable and boost Wi-Fi signals and focus
confirmed by Intel itself, as well. This was a fringe performance them on a specific area.
issue that only really manifested itself when the drive was put
into a heavily conditioned state after a series of benchmark runs
that test a specific access pattern repeatedly. However, since then,
Intel has released a firmware update that provides a resolution A: Whoa, this is one time we hope someone isn’t a CPU reader.
to this situation. Point your Web browser here to get the latest If your brother’s wife sees this, he’s toast. Luckily, there are a
firmware for your X25-M SSD: downloadcenter.intel.com number of quick and easy fixes that should help your brother out
/Detail_Desc.aspx?agr=Y&DwnldID=17485 so his wife won’t need to be doing any research on her own.
That said, we’re highly skeptical that it was actually an anomaly We’re going to assume that running a wire is out of the
with the Intel SSDs you have in that RAID 0 setup. More than likely question and that getting a usable, stable Wi-Fi signal to the
it is a glitch we’ve seen in testing SSDs that involves a setting under garage apartment is the only option. Signal boosters that
the Windows Vista Device Manager Properties button and the Pol- increase range are available, but they need to receive a clean
icies tab. On this tab is where you can enable write caching for the signal to amplify, which likely means leaving it in the house.
drive (which we recommend), as well as set the Enable Advanced That may not overcome the interference issues you think are
Performance feature. We’ve found that this “advanced performance” being caused by the walls, so a signal booster probably isn’t a
option can sometimes become stuck in some sort of unstable state good option.
that can dramatically skew performance results. Check here for clues Instead, we’d suggest investing in an outdoor, directional Wi-
(technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/2007.04.windowsconfiden Fi antenna that can focus the signal directly on the apartment
tial.aspx). We’re still confirming the instance of this bug with Intel, and also eliminate the need for the wireless signal to pass through
but it was repeatable in our labs on a test bed similar to yours. one of the house’s walls. If possible (and it seems to be, based on
This particular bug manifested itself back in the day of the information in your question), place the router in an area of
Windows 95, believe it or not. It involves a cache flush mecha- the house that’s close to an outside wall or window facing the
nism that still seems to be similarly implemented in Windows garage. Then, all you have to do is remove one of the router’s
Vista. Theoretically, it should also affect any SSD, not just Intel stock antennas, connect the directional outdoor antenna, and aim
SSDs. There’s good news, though: To get rid of the anomaly, we the signal directly at the garage apartment. It may require drilling
simply needed to uncheck the Enable Advanced Performance a hole through a wall for the outdoor antenna’s cable or purchas-
checkbox. Try this yourself and you might see your performance ing an extension cable to run from the router, through a win-
in HDTach return to expected levels immediately. You don’t dow, and to the outdoor antenna. Doing so will result in a much
have to reboot even to see the results (if this is what is affecting stronger Wi-Fi signal centered on the apartment, which will like-
your performance). We’ve also been able to re-enable this feature ly solve your brother’s “problem.”
without witnessing any ill effects (or gains, either), at least with Although the antennas included with most routers are good
Intel’s X25-M. enough to send and receive signals in and around the average
We’d suggest just leaving it disabled, with write-caching enabled. home, they are not powerful enough to overcome strong interfer-
Try it out for yourself and let us know what you find. Good luck! ence or obstacles that a higher-gain antenna could. A good high-
gain directional antenna from a company such as Hawking,
Chris R. asked: My brother is in mortal danger (his words, not Netgear, or Trendnet should be all you need. ▲
mine) and has asked for my help. His mother-in-law recently moved
into an apartment he and his wife have above their detached garage. by Dave Altavilla and Marco Chiappetta,
The place is actually pretty nice, but it’s either not close enough to the experts over at HotHardware.com
pick up the Wi-Fi signal from within his house or there is something in
the walls of his house or the garage that is blocking the signal. It’s not For bonus content, subscribers can go to
a huge deal, I guess, but because she can’t get Internet access from www.cpumag.com/cpuoct09/q&a.

CPU / October 2009 51


X-ray Vision: Microsoft’s Project Natal
Hands-Free Gaming

f star power is any indication of future from Nintendo’s Wii for natural interac- Microsoft is hoping to give Xbox a sim-

I success, Project Natal is off to a great


start, with guest appearances from
celebrities such as Steven Spielberg and
tion with games.

Gaming Market
ilar boost among nontraditional gamers
with Project Natal. However, Project
Natal goes beyond the interactivity found
Paul McCartney during Microsoft’s Among serious gamers, Xbox and Sony’s in the Wii, making gaming even easier
announcement of the Xbox system for PlayStation 3 lead the way. However, the with more intuitiveness. No controller is
hands-free gaming control at the E3 con- Wii is the platform with the most sales and required. Instead, Project Natal uses cam-
ference in the summer. Surprisingly, media buzz. The Wii’s interactive con- eras to measure the movement of players,
Project Natal easily outshone all of the troller, which allows players to make natur- recreating those movements in the games.
stars, generating a lot of excitement after a al hand and body movements to indicate
variety of demonstrations during E3. moves in the game, has brought the Wii Xbox Moves Forward
Microsoft has not released many into homes of recreational gamers, such as It’s unclear when Microsoft began
details surrounding Project Natal, includ- those who don’t want to take the time to working on Project Natal, but it appears
ing a projected release date nor an expect- learn how to use every button on the com- the project took a big step forward with
ed price. However, if the technology plex Xbox and PlayStation controllers. Microsoft’s recent purchase of 3DV
works as hoped, it appears Microsoft will Wii made gaming easier, and Ninten- Systems of Israel, which had worked on a
have more than answered the challenge do has been rewarded. 3D depth camera.

Project Natal Components


Microsoft has not released a lot of specific details about how Project Natal will
work, but here is what we know after the announcement at E3. ▲

Hardware. The Project Natal hardware, Compatibility. When released, Project


shown here in black, has a shape a little like Natal will work with any Xbox 360 system.
the sensor bar on the Wii. However, it will
do far more work, as it contains the various
components listed below.
Software. Obviously, to successfully pull
off all of the tasks listed here, Project
Natal needs incredible software that can
Video camera. The RGB video camera work quickly and accurately, avoiding
tracks your body's position and records latency. Some of the challenging items the
your movements, allowing the software to software must deal with include being able
interpret your moves and recreate them to pick out the striped pattern in your
in the game. It even calculates the shirt, differentiating it from the
difference between a gamer who is striped pattern of the sofa.
sitting vs. standing.

Microphone. The multi-array


microphone can pick up voice
Depth camera. The 3D depth commands from players and, in
camera measures the depth of multiplayer scenarios, recognize
your body as you move, allowing Project Natal to measure forward and different players’ voices. It also can
backward movements. Although the technology behind the depth camera isn't differentiate between users’ voice commands and
exactly known yet, it is believed to use a 3D sensor and infrared technology. stray noises elsewhere in the room.

52 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


With little official information to go Game developers are currently working As we wait to see whether Microsoft
on, we are left to speculate when and with Project Natal development kits, but and Xbox can make this hands-free gam-
how we will begin to see this technology such development probably will require ing system work in the real world, Project
hit the consumer market. It’s possible several months, so you shouldn’t expect to Natal does have one advantageous posi-
Microsoft will offer Project Natal in a see any actual products until at least mid- tion: It already appears to have the stars
variety of configurations, potentially as a 2010. In addition, even though the de- aligned in its favor. ▲
standalone device to add to current monstrations looked great, putting such
Xbox 360 systems or as a bundle with technologies to work in the marketplace is by Kyle Schurman
new Xbox systems. always a difficult step.

Project Natal Demonstrations


During E3, Microsoft demonstrated several games and movements. of Microsoft Game Studios Europe. Molyneux also founded Lion-
We’ve listed some of the interesting capabilities of Project Natal head Studios, which created “Milo,” one of the highly interactive
here, along with quotes from Peter Molyneux, the creative director demonstration pieces used.

Mimicking tools and objects. When you play a Strength of movement. Project
racing game, for example, the player must mimic Natal can tell the difference between
the steering wheel, the gear shift, and the acceler- a forceful punch and a light tap,
ator pedal. As shown here, a second player can such as in the martial arts game
serve as the “pit crew” for the racer, changing (above). Project Natal's software
tires by mimicking body movements of lifting a can recognize even subtle gestures,
tire. Project Natal can determine the “force” the such as a nodding of the head, as
player uses on these nonexistent tools and well as more pronounced gestures,
objects by measuring the movement of the player's body and limbs. such as the swinging of an arm
through a pond (below). Notice
Realistic feelings. As the players be- how Natal creates a reflection of the
come more involved in the Milo game, actual player and her red jacket in
they naturally react to the character Milo. the pond, distorting the reflection
For example, after several minutes of as the ripples of water cross over it.
play in this video demonstration, Milo “She’s in that pond,” Molyneux says. “Every hand movement is being rec-
throws a pair of goggles toward the play- ognized, being able to swish the water with her hand. Everyone that has
er. In this demonstration, the player experienced this, the hair is standing up on
instinctively moves her arms to try to catch the graphical object. the back of their necks.”
“She felt the need to reach down for those goggles,” Molyneux says.
“That was not acted. Every single person that has experienced this reaches Recognition. Project Natal will differentiate
down, because they feel so connected to Milo’s world.” between women and men, as well as children
and adults, automatically loading the correct
Using personal objects. During avatar. As players return to the game, Project
a demonstration of a skate- Natal recognizes individuals. The software
boarding game (at right), also tracks 48 joints in the body, allowing it to
Microsoft showed Project Natal correctly monitor movements and gestures.
could conceivably scan the
players actual skateboard using Beyond gaming. Xbox is more than
the video camera, then reproduce that skateboard graphically in the game. In a gaming machine, and Project
Milo (at left), the player draws a picture on a piece of paper, holds it up to the Natal will work beyond gaming,
Natal camera, where Milo “grabs” it and brings it into the game. The paper in too. For example, you could search
the game includes a scanned representation of the player’s drawing. for downloadable movies using
“The piece of paper was held up only your voice or hand gestures
to Milo,” Molyneux says. “Natal rec- to “sort” through movie titles, as
ognized the piece of paper, scanned shown here. Then operate the
the piece of paper in. Milo looked at movie with voice commands such
that piece of paper, recognized the as “play” and “pause.”
shape, recognized the color. … This In addition, a few weeks after the E3 announcement, Microsoft’s Bill Gates
is true technology that science fic- said in an interview with News.com that future versions of Windows could
tion has not even written about. And make use of Project Natal's interactive technologies, especially for Web video
this works today, now.” conferencing and other types of communications. ▲

CPU / October 2009 53


hard hat area | white paper

White Paper: GlobalFoundries’ 22nm Process


New R&D Company Makes A Splash

f the recent announcement that HKMG (high-k metal gate) transistor thinning the EOT, the leakage of electric

I GlobalFoundries demonstrated a
22nm equivalent HKMG transistor
caught you by surprise, you’re not alone.
that can scale down to the 22nm
node—and smaller. This announcement
occurred during the 2009 Symposium
current through the transistor gate has
increased dramatically,” says John Pellerin,
R&D director for GlobalFoundries.
Not only is the technology behind the on VLSI Technology in Japan. Such leakage continues, even when
22nm process groundbreaking, but With the new 22nm technologies, the transistors in the circuit are turned
GlobalFoundries probably isn’t the first GlobalFoundries has demonstrated the off, which consumes power and lessens
company that comes to mind as a leading ability to allow for low-power opera- battery life. With the amount of gate
advanced semiconductor manufacturer. tion in transistors for mobile devices leakage occurring, conventional gate
Don’t feel bad if the company name while avoiding increased leakage cur- technologies (using silicon dioxide as
behind the announcement blindsided rent. Such improvements should mean the insulator and a poly-silicon gate)
you, though: Technically, Global-Found- increased performance and battery life, reached a barrier, preventing them
ries has only been an “official” company especially for ultraportable notebooks from shrinking further without signifi-
for a few months. and smartphones. cant power consumption and perfor-
Certainly, work toward the technolo- Essentially, as the transistor shrinks in mance problems.
gies behind 22nm transistors has oc- size, the switching precision of the tran- With the new technologies developed
curred over the past several years, but the sistor suffers. Shrinking the EOT in the by GlobalFoundries and IBM, however,
announcement wasn’t a bad way for high-k oxide layer retains the necessary scaling the EOT for the 22nm node is
GlobalFoundries to celebrate its three- precision in the HKMG transistor, now possible.
month anniversary. but shrinking the EOT also typically “The idea of a high-k dielectric is to
increases leakage current, causing the use as thick of a dielectric film as possible,
The Need For 22nm Technologies chip to consume more power and gener- which reduces the gate leakage while
In June, GlobalFoundries demon- ate more heat. maintaining the high speed capabilities
strated for the first time a thin EOT “As transistors have scaled to improve associated with a very thin gate dielectric
(equivalent oxide thickness) in an performance by shrinking their size and material,” Pellerin says.

Shrinking The EOT


With 32nm nodes, the required EOT (equivalent oxide thick-
ness) decreases below 1nm. To achieve an even smaller
EOT requirement for the 22nm node, the BIL (bottom inter-
facial SiO layer) must be modified and shrunk, allowing the
EOT to potentially shrink to 0.5nm.
As shown in this image, the BIL is not visible in the gate
stack, allowing for a scaling down of the EOT. To greatly
shrink the BIL, a metal alloy is included with the TaN (tanta-
lum nitride) layer. This combination, along with the CAP (k-
boosting capping) and HO2 layer, is believed to scavenge
oxygen from the BIL, nearly eliminating it and allowing for
the much smaller EOT. ▲
Source: GlobalFoundries

54 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


hard hat area | white paper

Founding GlobalFoundries GlobalFoundries “was launched to • AMD has entered into manufacturing
Officially, GlobalFoundries became a address the evolving needs of the indus- commitments with GlobalFoundries.
company on March 2, 2009. AMD and try,” he says. “GlobalFoundries is built • The company has a technology part-
ATIC (Advanced Technology Investment on the philosophy that manufacturing nership with IBM.
Company), a high-tech investment com- operations must embrace both high effi- • GlobalFoundries is a member of both
pany owned by the emirate of Abu ciency and extreme flexibility to meet the SIA (Semiconductor Industry
Dhabi, formed GlobalFoundries. customer needs.” Association) and the GSA (Global
AMD has provided many of the Through collaboration with companies Semiconductor Alliance).
researchers and research projects for and universities around the world, the • The CNT (Center for Nanoelectronic
GlobalFoundries; in fact, sometimes the researchers behind GlobalFoundries have Technology) involves GlobalFound-
two companies are referred to inter- been able to contribute to and benefit ries, Qimonda, and Fraunhofer-
changeably, even though GlobalFoundries from chip-making technologies and work Gesellschaft, along with university
is its own company. As an independent that occurred for several years before the researchers, to advance nanotech-
company, GlobalFoundries can provide founding of the company. nologies.
cutting-edge silicon technologies to Some of the collaborations involving • As a part of its research and develop-
the entire market, Pellerin says. GlobalFoundries include: ment, GlobalFoundries is a member of

Working Together
The ISDA (International Semiconductor Development Alliance) is Such collaborations have a history of successes in semicon-
a technology alliance including GlobalFoundries (along with AMD), ductor technologies. For example, as part of the current collabo-
IBM, Chartered, Freescale, Infineon, NEC, Samsung, STMicroelec- ration, GlobalFoundries and IBM are working on next-generation
tronics, and Toshiba. The companies also work together as part of EUV lithography, including the creation of a test chip.
the ASTA (Advanced Semiconductor Technology Alliance) and the “We are actively investing in the development of next-genera-
IBM Technology Alliance. tion techniques, and it is our belief that a collaborative R&D
Within the framework of their collaborative R&D model, the model is the most effective way to continue to break through
companies share three things: these barriers and ensure the industry can continue to bring
• Objective. They work together on the early stages of research leading-edge technology to market,” Pellerin says. ▲
and development, bringing technologies to market more quickly. Source: GlobalFoundries
“The success of the alliance has led to multiple extensions
and expansions of the relationship, which today encompasses
development of technologies through the 22nm node, early-
stage exploratory research beyond 22nm for both SOI and
bulk silicon capabilities,” says John Pellerin, director of R&D
for GlobalFoundries.
• Investment. The companies share some facilities. For exam-
ple, GlobalFoundries researchers are in place at advanced IBM
facilities, working together under an agreement through 2015.
• Return. Under the agreements, GlobalFoundries works with
advanced technologies and next-generation technologies. As
GlobalFoundries advances these technologies, such as with
the 22nm breakthrough, the other companies will receive the
products based on the technologies more quickly and in
greater volume, all at a workable price-to-cost ratio.

“The costs associated with research and development for


advanced technology nodes are projected to reach more than $1
billion at the 22nm node and beyond,” Pellerin says. “We em-
brace a collaborative approach to innovation that combines a
shared objective with a shared investment by partners around
the world. Our partners range from early-stage R&D to the evalu-
ation of production-ready process technologies to the most ad-
vanced technologies and manufacturing processes.”

56 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


hard hat area | white paper

the NRI (Nanoelectronic Research fundamental building blocks of chip “We have been in active discussions with
Initiative). The NRI looks at semicon- designs,” Pellerin says. the world’s top 20 fabless semiconductor
ductor technologies a decade or more providers, and there is tremendous inter-
in the future. Going Beyond 22nm est in our capabilities as a leading-edge
• GlobalFoundries is continuing sever- Even though actual manufacturing of foundry,” Pellerin says.
al partnerships AMD initially formed, transistors using the 22nm node won’t With the quick start GlobalFoundries
including memberships in the FCRP begin for a few years, GlobalFoundries is has had as a company, additional an-
(Focus Center Research Program), the already looking beyond 22nm. nouncements of new technologies and
SRC (Semiconductor Research Corpo- “We are committed to long-term, partnerships wouldn’t be a surprise at all.
ration), and Sematech. next-generation technology develop- It might be too much to expect ma-
ment at the 22nm node and beyond,” jor technological advancements and
“Since 2003, when AMD joined the Pellerin says. announcements at the company’s initial
IBM Technology Alliance, our engineers So, over the course of the next few pace of every few months, but there’s no
have been working with IBM and years, look for additional announce- doubt GlobalFoundries is off to a fast
its alliance partners to enhance the ments concerning collaborative efforts start with no plans of slowing down. ▲
performance and power efficiency of in research and development between
transistors and interconnects, the two GlobalFoundries and other companies. by Kyle Schurman

GlobalFoundries Roadmap
This roadmap shows manufacturing nodes already in the pipeline, of all other foundries at the 32nm mode, and we are committed
including high-performance 65nm SOI and 45nm SOI chips. to maintaining this leadership position at the 28nm mode and
In mid-2009, GlobalFoundries began construction of a fabrica- beyond,” Pellerin says. ▲
tion facility in Malta, N.Y., that eventually will work with 22nm Source: GlobalFoundries
production, beginning in
2012. When the fab is
completed in 2011, it
will work initially with
28nm designs (and pos-
sibly 32nm).
Along with 32nm SOI
manufacturing in 2010,
GlobalFoundries should
begin manufacturing LP
(low-power ) chips based
on a 40nm or 45nm
manufacturing process.
By 2011, 28nm
chips, both in LP and
high-performance/G
(general-purpose) chips
will be in the pipeline,
followed by the 22nm
production in 2012.
The research into the
G and LP chips focused
on HKMG technologies.
G chips focused on gate
scaling, while the LP
chips focused on pre-
venting gate leakage.
“We are on track to
introduce HKMG ahead

CPU / October 2009 57


hard hat area | white paper

32nm HKMG Technologies


The use of HKMG by GlobalFoundries in its 32nm manufacturing materials have a dielectric constant (k) of about 3.0. With the
process (graphic A) will continue through 22nm manufacturing in air in the pores, the k value drops to about 2.4, an improve-
the next few years. As shown in graphic B, HKMG is the latest tech- ment of about 20%.
nology that has allowed for continuing shrinkage of transistors. • Reduced power. HKMG requires less power to operate, pro-
HKMG offers several benefits, including: viding improved performance, especially for mobile devices.
• Improved circuit speed. Even with less power consumption, • Scaling. GlobalFoundries’ researchers aren’t stopping at 32nm
the circuits in HKMG work more quickly than other transistor with HKMG.
technologies.
• Minimizing complexity. By employing what GlobalFoundries “HKMG transistors will be a fundamental element for technolo-
calls a "gate first" approach in the R&D phase, HKMG is a low- gy scaling beyond 22nm,” Pellerin says. “HKMG is a critical com-
cost, low-complexity technology. ponent of our technology roadmap, especially for applications in
• Reduced capacitance. By introducing pores into the dielectric, the fast-growing market of ultraportable notebooks and smart-
HKMG reduces the capacitance of the insulator material phones with extended battery life.” ▲
around the copper wires (graphic C). Today's low-k dielectric Source: GlobalFoundries

Cu Cu
33nm

50nm
Pores in dielectric

58 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


60 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com
we suggest yourself, because the version
we used may be different from the one
you download, or perhaps come from a
hat is it about cool little apps different source.
W that power users find so appeal-
ing? Does it make us feel smarter for
Because these aren’t full-blown reviews,
there’s no official CPU score. On the other
getting more work done in the same hand, we invite you to check out our 2009
amount of time as mere “normal users”? lineup of power user apps and see if you
Do they confer upon us “computer wouldn’t give it four or five stars.
superhero” status whenever we trot
them out to perform a task? Perhaps it’s Performance Tweakers based on the same core) have thermal
just the thrill of discovering something AlacrityPC sensors that A) are slightly tricky to read
new before it makes it to the main- Ken Salter and B) don’t have a published upper
stream? Whatever the reason, every year alacritypc.kensalter.com temperature limit or thermal offset
we bring to you a list of our favorite lit- Free value. The result is that many CPU tem-
tle (and some not-so-little) applications A modern PC needs lots of back- perature-reading programs seem to be
that do something way-cool or way-use- ground processes and services to support running a little “off” when gauging
ful (and usually both) and hope that all your hardware and accessories, but these processors. RealTemp was written
you’ll find them as invaluable as we do. those background tasks can slow down by someone who calibrated program
We’ve been presenting this list for your PC when playing those hardcore readings with an infrared digital ther-
four years now, but for you new people, games. With just one preset icon, mometer, so its measurements jibe bet-
here are the ground rules: First, if an AlacrityPC temporarily shuts down the ter with real-life observations. It also
app made our list last year, then it sits background processes you designate as includes a basic benchmark and Taskbar
out this year (observant readers will “not currently needed” and then launch- Tray displays of core temperature.
know that we broke this rule for a cou- es the game. When the game shuts
ple of apps); apps that have been on our down, AlacrityPC reloads your back- Drivercleaner
lists before 2009 must have received a ground processes as if nothing happened. Driver Heaven
significant upgrade since then to be If you don’t know what processes are www.drivercleaner.net
included now. Second, the app needs to worth shutting down, AlacrityPC can $9.99
be malware-free, which we check by take a pretty good guess that, in our You’d be surprised how often
scanning it with one of our top-two experience, is normally correct. Windows problems all come down to
security suites (Norton Internet Security drivers, and not just buggy ones.
2009 or ESET Smart Security 2009) on Real Temp Sometimes when you upgrade to the lat-
two different computers, and then mon- TechPowerUp est drivers, portions of the old ones are
itor with a firewall to check for illic- www.techpowerup.com left behind, and often the results are
it Internet communications behind Free strange crashes, hang-ups, and/or slow-
our backs. Just to be safe, however, Unlike earlier CPUs, Intel’s Core 2 downs. Drivercleaner knows how to
you should scan any of these programs and i7 line of processors (and Xeons remove drivers from Nvidia, ATI, Intel,

CPU / October 2009 61


Logitech, Realtek, Creative Labs, hard drives, for not only does it use gov-
Microsoft, and more. Just run it and ernment-approved algorithms, but it
select the drivers you want to remove, also does so in a way that you can plau-
reboot, and install your new driver as if sibly deny the very existence of encrypt-
the old one was never there. ed volumes (meaning the encrypted area
looks like random data whether it is full
Autoruns or empty, letting you claim that there’s
Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell nothing hidden). The latest version of
technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals TrueCrypt goes a step further, allowing
/bb963902.aspx you to encrypt entire operating systems
Free and boot drives (including Windows),
There’s no point to running back- through the years (Ad-Aware and Spybot- and the program now takes advantage of
ground tasks that you don’t really need, Search & Destroy, anyone?), and this multicore CPUs to employ paralleliza-
and Autoruns is the best tool for ferret- year’s cream of the crop comes from tion and pipelining, which “allow data
ing those programs out. Sort of like Malwarebytes. It’s so good there are to be read and written as fast as if the
MSConfig on steroids, Autoruns dis- unconfirmed reports on blogs that a drive was not encrypted.” We didn’t test
plays programs that automatically major antivirus program’s tech support this claim, but the new version is signifi-
launch at Windows launch—be they staff directed users to run it first before cantly faster than the old.
executed from the Startup group or the installing their own AV product in times
Run or RunOnce Registry key. It also of trouble. The paid version ($24.95) VirtualBox
displays auto-start services, BHOs offers real-time background scanning, Sun Microsystems
(browser helper objects), Explorer shell scheduled foreground scanning, and auto- www.virtualbox.org
extensions, toolbars, Winlogon notifi- matic update downloads, but we find the Free
cations, and more. It can optionally free version an invaluable first step to Running a virtual OS inside your
ignore all Microsoft-sourced apps, clearing off owned machines. main OS is probably the safest way to try
making it easier to zero in on third- out an unknown program or potentially
party programs. Process Explorer malicious Web site, but for years, to get
Mark Russinovich good performance and useful features
HDTune Pro technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals you had to shell out serious coin for
EFD Software /bb896653.aspx VMWare Workstation. Sun’s VirtualBox
www.hdtune.com Free brings virtual machines to the masses,
$34.95 Mark Russinovich’s Process Explorer is providing good speed and powerful net-
Your hard drive is arguably the most so good at what it does that Microsoft working features as well as a good sys-
important component in your PC, since started distributing it (along with tem for taking “snapshots” of virtual
both your OS and your personal data Russinovich’s other tools) itself; it’s essen- machines. VirtualBox is only a year or
reside there, and HDTune is the best tially what Windows’ Task Manager two behind VMWare in features, but for
program for keeping track of your drive’s should have been, exhaustively listing most power users, this is plenty.
health and speed. There’s a free version running processes and providing you with
that covers the basics of read perfor- more details for any executable by simply VMWare Player
mance testing, SMART drive health clicking on it. As programs start and stop, VMWare
attribute monitoring, and error scan- they remain visible with green or red www.vmware.com
ning, but you’ll want the Pro version’s highlighting in order to call attention to Free
handy tools such as folder size scanner, themselves, while right-clicking some- If you don’t want to go through the
write speed testing, and secure drive and thing in the list reveals many useful hassle of creating your own virtual
file erasing. Both are attractive and easy options, such as a Google search or a machine(s), then the free VMWare
to use. breakdown of what DLLs or network Player is worth checking out. With hun-
connections a particular program is using. dreds of free and commercially available
Security environment images (called “Virtual
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware TrueCrypt Appliances”) already made, VMWare
Malwarebytes TrueCrypt Foundation Player makes it easy to check out differ-
www.malwarebytes.org www.truecrypt.org ent OSes, run different server programs,
Free Free and diagnose complex networking
Many foreground malware (aka spy- For years, TrueCrypt was the best issues—all directly within Windows.
ware) scanners have risen and fallen way to encrypt USB flash drives and Given a strong enough host machine,

62 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


running a “live” server with VMWare remove all metadata from DOC (though
Player isn’t out of the question, yet it not DOCX) files or whole folders full of Active Ports
retains the advantages of easy backup DOC files in a single pass. DeviceLock
and portability inherent to all virtualiza- DeviceLock
tion offerings. inSSIDer www.devicelock.com
MetaGeek Free
VirusTotal Uploader www.metageek.net If you’re looking for a simple way to
VirusTotal Free determine what programs are communi-
www.virustotal.com cating on the Internet and what remote
Free IP address they’re talking to, then Active
VirusTotal.com is a Web site where Ports is for you. Upon startup, a
you can upload a file and have it auto- sortable list appears instantly, displaying
matically scanned by 41 antivirus the process name, the IP addresses and
engines, all of which are always kept ports (both local and remote), whether
up-to-date. Odds are, however, that it’s an active connection or merely an
VirusTotal has already seen the file you open port listening for something, and
want it to scan, so it can show you the the pathname of the file that’s running.
last test result instantly, saving you the If you’re suspicious about a particular
frequently minutes-long scanning queue. process, clicking the Terminate Process
A new Windows-only uploader makes button will immediately stop the pro-
submitting files a snap: Just right-click If you’ve ever tried to set up any wire- gram from running.
the file and choose Send To VirusTotal less networking in a crowded down-
from the pop-up menu, and off it goes. town area, you know how clogged the Miscellaneous Tweak Tools
The results appear automatically in your 802.11 airwaves are. inSSIDer scans HWiNFO32
default Web browser. these airwaves with any wireless card in Realix
Windows, displaying all the access www.hwinfo.com
Doc Scrubber points it finds in a table, with the signal Free
Javacool Software strengths of each AP in two graphs. Determining what hardware is inside
www.javacoolsoftware.com Once your network is set up and you’ve a desktop isn’t that tough: A screwdriver,
Free set your wireless security settings, you flashlight, notepad, and pencil are pretty
can use inSSIDer to verify the changes much all it takes, along with some
you’ve made. Unlike similar programs, patience. Notebooks are trickier, because
inSSIDer works with Vista and Win- you can’t normally open them up and
dows XP 64-bit. take a peek. HWiNFO32 is the best
sleuth we know for getting to the nitty-
AnVir Task Manager Free gritty details of a computer’s hardware.
AnVir Software Everything, including RAM timings,
www.anvir.com LCD build dates, battery wear levels,
Free and more are instantly visible with
If you think Process Explorer is too HWiNFO, making tweaking your hard-
simple, then AnVir Task Manager is for ware drivers or replacing components a
you. ATM has several modules living snap. The DOS version is similarly pow-
within its tabbed interface, such as a erful and runs from a floppy, excellent if
Do you know what your DOC files say detailed task monitor (complete with you want to run it from a bootable
about you (other than that you’re bril- drill-down screens for active DLLS and thumb drive or floppy or if you don’t
liant, of course)? Stored within each network ports), a startup program en- have Windows.
DOC file are details like who your word abler/disabler, a hardware/SMART hard
processor is registered to, how long you’ve drive monitor, a VirusTotal file submit- SIW
had a file open, and how many times it’s ter, and a lot more. AnVir offers four Topala Software Solutions
been printed. There may even be early versions (free, $39.95, $59.95, $79.95) www.gtopala.com
revisions and edits, which could be with different capabilities, but even the Free
embarrassing if brought to light, stored free version is stuffed with handy tools. Short for System Information for
there that you thought were long gone. You’ll want to keep a copy on your Windows, SIW takes a detailed inventory
Doc Scrubber can display and optionally emergency thumb drive. of your Windows computer, both on a

CPU / October 2009 63


log files, recently accessed file lists, NirSoft offers 16 free password recov-
abandoned uninstallers and entries in ery tools, which generally work by
the Add/Remove Software Control decrypting the password file of various
Panel, and more. It works for all major applications such as Outlook Express,
and most minor Web browsers and can Internet Explorer, Firefox, and AIM/
clean out “Registry rot” from all the Google/Yahoo! Messenger. It can also dis-
major Window variants. play the wireless encryption keys and
passwords Windows saves for network
EeeRotate shares, Remote Desktop access, VNC
Edw accounts, and dial-up passwords. Each is
hardware (rather like HWiNFO, but vk.edward.li.googlepages.com/eeerotate invaluable when fixing problems related
slightly less detailed) level and software Free to forgotten passwords. Some security
level. If you need to know your registra- Reading ebooks on your notebook or software flags these applications as “hack-
tion keys for various software; email pass- netbook would be a lot easier in some ing tools,” but, really, they’re virus- and
words; and lists of file associations, circumstances if you could rotate your malware-free. These tools are packaged as
installed applications, registered DLLs, device 90 degrees counterclockwise, a ZIP file, letting you choose the recovery
and scheduled tasks, SIW has you cov- with your screen on the left and the key- apps you want to install.
ered. It also adds handy tools such as a board on the right, sort of like an open
network port scanner, MAC address book. The developer of EeeRotate had Half-Open Limit Fix
changer, real-time monitors for your that very idea but realized there wasn’t Half-Open
CPU and other hardware, and even a always an easy way to tell Windows to half-open.com/home_en.htm
monitor tester. There’s even a portable rotate the display 270 degrees and then Free
version that works from a thumb drive. rotate the orientation of the trackpad to
match. Hence EeeRotate, which works
USBDeview on all WinXP notebooks (not just
NirSoft netbooks) and uses two simple key-
www.nirsoft.net board shortcuts to work the ebook-read-
Free ing magic.
Windows keeps a permanent list of all
USB devices that you have ever connect- PureSync
ed to your PC, which is why you only Jumping Bytes In an effort to limit the ability of infect-
receive a “New Device Found” message www.jumpingbytes.com/en/puresync.html ed Windows systems to make jillions of
the first time you plug in a particular Free Internet connections at the same time,
USB device. Occasionally, Windows There are a lot of backup methods Windows XP SP2 and Vista limit the num-
gets confused about these devices, out there, but simply synchronizing ber of “half-open” network connections it
and they can suddenly stop working. folders (one on your internal hard drive can make to 10. While we can only guess
USBDeview lists this database and lets and the other on a separate drive) is a how effective it is at keeping bots from tak-
you edit its contents, effectively unin- good strategy that’s easy to conceptual- ing over the ’Net, a side effect is that
stalling any previously installed USB ize. As a bonus, after the first synchro- BitTorrent and other P2P programs work
device, meaning you can insert it again, nization, successive syncs are generally at a snail’s pace. Although there are several
get the “New Device Found” message very fast. Microsoft’s own SyncToy has workaround patch programs that eliminate
again, and reinstall its driver. It also lets made our list in the past, but PureSync this limit, HOLF is the easiest to use by far
you forcefully disconnect any active goes a step further, offering binary file (and just as effective as other methods). It
USB device. comparisons, its own automatic sched- also offers a convenient way to revert back
uler, a thumb drive mode that starts the to the default system settings.
CCleaner syncing when a certain USB drive is
Piriform attached, a camera mode (which is as SpyMe Tools
www.ccleaner.com effective with your camera’s photos as it LC IBros Solutions
Free is with other files), and a lot more. www.lcibrossolutions.com
CCleaner (short for “Crap Cleaner,” Free
really) is the easiest and safest way to Password Recovery Tools for Windows The most surefire way to see if your
delete all those superfluous files that tend NirSoft computer has been changed without your
to clog up a system over time, such as www.nirsoft.net knowing is to check the Windows
temporary Internet cached files, cookies, Free Registry for changes, but what’s the easiest

64 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


way to do this? SpyMe Tools is the easiest If you capture more than three screen you could duplicate this functionality
way we’ve found: Just run it, click Scan, shots per month, you’d really benefit with a Web browser, Zinc simplifies sort-
and then save the results. Then install from a dedicated screen-grab program. ing through programs and episodes to
some software you think will change the SnagIt is the leader in this field, but it child’s play, and almost fun.
Registry and run another scan, saving the isn’t cheap, and you have to buy into its
results. Finally, click Compare and choose workflow system for maximum effec- PeaZip
the two saved results; in a moment a col- tiveness. CaptureWizPro, on the other Giorgio Tani
lapsible tree appears with the Registry hand, does almost everything SnagIt peazip.sourceforge.net
changes. An additional real-time mode does (including video capture with Free
displays Registry changes as they are made. sound and autoscrolling windows; plus, You say you’re hungry for a WinZip
it can capture tricky items such as screen alternative that’s free, opens up more
Executor savers and mouse tooltips), but its inter- archive formats, works as a portable app
Martin Bresson face is more like a conventional Win- on your thumb drive, and has versions
executor.dk dows program. At $39.95, it’s also that work identically under Windows
Free slightly cheaper. and Linux? If so, look no further than
Although Launchy is the most popu- PeaZip. Windows users can enjoy full
lar “keyword launcher” for Windows, VirtualDub shell integration, while everyone gets drag
Executor has the goods to take away the Avery Lee and drop, a basic scripting feature for
former’s crown. A keyboard combination www.virtualdub.org repeating similar compression jobs,
makes Executor appear, and typing pro- Free impressive file-splitting functionality,
gram names, URLs, or keywords executes If you’ve ever worked with video files strong encryption, checksum/hash file
programs, jumps to Web pages, or per- and wanted to do some basic editing, integration, and even a benchmarking
forms tasks that you’ve preprogrammed. cleanup, and file conversion, you know program (in case you’re curious about
Executor has niftier skins, “fuzzy logic” that the software that comes bundled how swiftly your system can handle com-
that interprets things better even when you with most video capture hardware, in a pression/extraction). As a bonus, PeaZip
make typos, and easier keyword creation word, stinks. Commercial apps such as is attractive and easy to use.
for custom tasks. Executor was written by Adobe Premier are somewhat expensive
someone who found Launchy wanting but and are overkill for simple processing. MediaMonkey
still good, so if you use Launchy now, VirtualDub, however, is free, simple, and Ventis Media
you’ll find Executor has a familiar feel. fast. Written by a talented programmer www.mediamonkey.com
frustrated with commercial offerings, Free
Media File Utilities everything about VirtualDub is slick and iTunes may be the world’s most popu-
Badaboom Media Converter quick, and it generates impressively lar media player, but you need to play by
Elemental Technologies smooth and attractive results. Apple’s rules. MediaMonkey is perhaps
www.badaboomit.com the world’s best “alternative” media play-
$29.99 Zinc er, and it lets you play by your own rules.
Your iPhone and PSP are starved for ZeeVee Keep your music stored in different fold-
media that’s been transcoded to fit their zeevee.com ers or network drives. Sync with a broad
small screens and low-power processors, Free range of portable devices (including the
but the process normally takes more than Zinc is a combination of Web brows- iPod). Rip music to MP3, M4A, OGG,
an hour or two for a full-length movie. er, browser plug-in, and video streaming WMA, or FLAC. Fix incorrect tags in
Badaboom harnesses the power of your service that works well with a PC remote bulk with powerful editing tools. Burn
Nvidia video card’s GPU to slash the and a computer connected to your TV in audio CDs or data CDs filled with MP3s
processes to close to 10 minutes, yet the the living room. It streams television pro- and playlists. You can even create a pub-
picture quality is actually better than most grams, Netflix movies, and even Hulu lic jukebox where listeners can select
other transcoding programs that rely on programming directly from the content music without altering your library. It’s
your supercharged CPU. Although not creator’s Web sites. In other words, all good with MediaMonkey.
cheap, it pays for itself after five movies if “Lost” episodes typically come from
your time is worth more than $3 an hour. ABC’s servers instead of Hulu’s, so you Miro
can watch programming that might not Participatory Culture Foundation
CaptureWizPro be on Hulu. Though Zinc keeps track of www.getmiro.com
PixelMetrics what you’ve watched, it doesn’t store Free
www.pixelmetrics.com programming; that comes though a Miro is a combination media player,
$39.95 streaming Internet connection. Although media downloader, and BitTorrent

66 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


client. You may think this an odd com- Web site, which makes interacting with As amazing as it sounds, Windows
bination, but consider this scenario: You the programming from your couch and doesn’t include a way to make a
find an RSS feed that lists torrents for a computer remote somewhat annoying. bootable flash drive or USB thumb
new episodes of television programs Hulu Desktop is a standalone, fullscreen drive, but it’s clearly possible. You could
available for download. You point Miro application that makes Hulu much more follow several complicated tutorials on
at the RSS feed, and as new episodes friendly when you aren’t using a key- the subject, but the easiest method
become available, Miro starts download- board and mouse, and it’s fully integrat- comes from HP in the form of its USB
ing them via BitTorrent and offers them ed with your Hulu account—all your Disk Storage Format Tool (aka
to other peers for a period you desig- programming is ready to go. It’s still SP27608.exe). Just install it, point it to
nate. As episodes are saved, they appear slightly buggy in Windows (the Mac the system files from a bootable floppy
in TiVo-like listings, ready to be version is solid) but worth using as-is. disk (hint: bootdisk.com has dozens of
watched on your schedule. Miro also different ones), and then unleash it on a
downloads YouTube videos and video Boxee flash drive. (It also works with conven-
podcasts (and queues them up, too). Boxee tional memory cards.) With just five
www.boxee.tv/homepage clicks and 10 seconds, you wind up with
iTunes Agent Free a bootable flash drive, suitable for
Jaran Nilsen and Justin Katz Boxee takes Hulu Desktop a step fur- updating BIOSes, running Norton
ita.sourceforge.net ther, letting you easily enjoy your own Ghost, etc.
Free videos, music, and photos from your
Despite having just badmouthed couch, assuming you have a PC (or Mac) Clonezilla
iTunes, there’s no denying that it has connected to your television and you have Steven Shiau
many sterling qualities. And now that an appropriate remote control. It also lets clonezilla.org
you can purchase DRM-free songs from you view Hulu’s television content (for Free
the iTunes Store, you can play your now) and stream Netflix movies, making it Norton Ghost, while a favorite of
purchased music on many non-iPod an all-in-one media player. Optional plug- techies everywhere to clone disks and
devices. iTunes doesn’t know how to ins let you view photos from Facebook, make partition images, is getting a little
sync with other portable players, but download videos from MTV.com, or listen long in the tooth, and without updates, it
iTunes Agent does. Simply keep it run- to music from Pandora.com. Its interface is isn’t always able to recognize the latest
ning in the background, and it detects arguably more clunky than Hulu.com, but hardware. Clonezilla consists of a Linux
your devices and “tricks” iTunes into the content should keep you occupied for LiveCD (running either Ubuntu or
syncing with the device. Configure hours on end. Debian), a collection of Linux tools, and
iTunes Agent once, and iTunes works a usable (if not terribly attractive) text-
with your player automatically with- DVD Flick based GUI to create and restore disk
out fuss. Dennis Meuwissen images to other HDDs, USB storage
www.dvdflick.net devices, or network stores. It’s as fast as
Hulu Desktop Free Ghost and has full support for Linux
Hulu Say you want to enjoy watching and Mac partitions. Up to 40 copies
www.hulu.com Internet videos on your TV in your living can access a disk image server at the
Free room but don’t want to make a dedicated same time.
HTPC. If you have a DVD player (and
who doesn’t?), then DVD Flick will save TeraCopy
the day. DVD Flick converts nearly every Code Sector
video format used to encode Internet www.codesector.com
videos to standard DVDs. If you spend Free
more than five minutes with it, you can Copying hundreds or thousands of
easily add a menu system, subtitles, and files with Windows’ own Explorer is just
custom audio tracks. torture. It’s completely incapable of
properly estimating how long the job
Disk & File Tools will take, and it stops cold if it has trou-
Hulu has done more to legitimize HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool ble with even one file or directory, leav-
TV-over-Internet than anything else, HP ing no log for you to determine what
with buy-in from most of the major h50178.www5.hp.com/local_drivers file was the problem. TeraCopy takes
television networks greatly improving its /17550/SP27608.exe care of all these problems, making several
long-term survival prospects. Still, it’s a Free attempts at reading damaged files before

CPU / October 2009 67


moving on to the next file. A log win- the volume of your computer. You can
dow alerts you to the problem file(s). As also program other mouse buttons or
a bonus, it’s normally faster at copying hotkeys to activate the volume-control-
files than Windows, and there’s a flash ling scroll wheel. Or just set it to use the
drive-compatible portable version. scroll wheel to adjust the volume when-
ever a certain program such as Winamp
VirtualCloneDrive or Windows Media Player is active.
SlySoft Never bother with the tiny Taskbar
www.slysoft.com Tray volume icon again!
Free
If you want to open and use an ISO StrokeIt
file without having to burn a disc, then TCB Networks
VirtualCloneDrive will save you some www.tcbmi.com
time and sanity. It emulates a CD/ Free
DVD-ROM drive in Windows, letting whether you’re trying to fool a teacher Winning this year’s “Funniest Utility
you double-click an ISO file to mount or boss into thinking you’ve complet- Name” prize is StrokeIt, which adds
it as if it were an actual disc. It also ed a task ahead of schedule or you’ve mouse gestures to pretty much any
lets you to extract specific files within got some idea of indicating version Windows program and even Windows
an ISO as needed. You can store disc numbers with date and timestamps, itself. By default, StrokeIt recognizes 80
images on a network share for using ISO SKTimeStamp makes it easy. Just right- mouse gestures (performed by holding
files among multiple computers with click a file or set of files, choose Proper- down the right mouse button and drag-
virtually no loss in speed vs. regular ties from the pop-up menu, and then ging the mouse in a certain pattern)
optical media. change the date(s) and time(s) in the that correspond to performing actions in
TimeStamps tab. 20 programs, including Firefox and
ImgBurn Internet Explorer. Most gestures look
Lightning UK! Hard Disk Manager 2009 Professional like capital letters, but the classic “for-
www.imgburn.com Paragon Software ward” and “back” gestures of a simple
Free www.paragon-software.com horizontal line drawn either to the right
Windows includes almost no tools for $129.95
burning CDs and DVDs, and the OEM Although GParted has made it easy for
software that comes with CD/DVD/BD anyone to perform basic disk and par-
burners is sometimes quite lacking.
ImgBurn is a good compromise between
tition manipulations, due to its nifty
GUI, there are some tasks it can’t per-
What’s On
“powerful” and “easy.” A straightfor- form. In these cases, Paragon’s HDM Your Desktop
ward interface makes copying discs a 2009 Professional is the best tool for the
snap, along with ripping (ImgBurn job. Partition resizing, copying, moving, GoToMeeting. A good way to organize
doesn’t circumvent copy protection, backup, restoration, MBR editing—it’s impromptu meetings between friends
however), creating discs from ISOs and all there. It also comes with two boot discs and work mates. Skype is good, too,
other images, and creating audio CDs (one Windows PE-based and one Linux- but not as easy to set up in advance.
from a wide range of digital for- based) to ensure compatibility when
mats. Given the proper VIDEO_TS, restoring from bare metal. It isn’t terribly BBC iPlayer. Unfortunately, unless you are
HVDVD_TS, or BDAV/BDMV folder, cheap, but it is fast, easy, and reliable. a UK license payer, the BBC won’t let you
it can create DVD, HD-DVD, or Blu- use this. But one day it might.
ray Discs with ease. Customizations
VoluMouse AlShow. An alternative to the Windows
SKTimeStamp NirSoft Media Player—it’s freeware and fast.
Stefan’s Tools www.nirsoft.net
CCleaner. Tidy up everything and
tools.tortoisesvn.net/SKTimeStamp Free
recover wasted space from
Free Frankly, almost all of NirSoft’s cata-
Windows .TMP files and others.
There are many reasons for wanting log is pretty great (we’ll wait while you
to manually alter the Created, Last check it out), but VoluMouse is, as far AnyPlace. Lets you access remote
Modified, and Last Accessed date and as we know, unique. Once installed, just PCs, handy if you need a file and
time of a file in Windows (and some of hold down the Alt key and roll your it’s not on your notebook.
them may actually be legitimate). Still, mouse’s scroll wheel to raise or lower
-Mike Magee

68 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


or left can do program-specific tasks, never heard of. Klipfolio’s sidebar con- if you regularly switch between desktop
such as skip to the next track in sumes less memory and feels more spry sizes or monitors.
Winamp or read the next message than the competition (Microsoft, Goo-
in Outlook Express. You can also cre- gle, and Yahoo!) and has thousands of Batchrun
ate your own and associate them with widgets (called Klips) available. Klips are Outer Technologies
specific apps. collapsible, so they don’t take up much www.outertech.com
space when idle, but they display lots of Free
Power Meter Plus information with a mouseover. The There’s nothing inherently wrong with
Matt Collinge built-in RSS reading Klip is especially DOS batch files for some simple
mattcollinge.wordpress.com/software attractive and useful. Windows automation, other than you
/power-meter-plus have to Google how to write them (who
Free Wubi honestly remembers?) and a DOS win-
The battery life icon in the Taskbar Agostino Russo, et. al. dow appears when they run. Batchrun
Tray is among the more annoying aspects wubi-installer.org uses simple point-and-click and wizards
of using a notebook. It’s hard to tell how Free to write scripts that can start programs,
much battery power is remaining at a Want Linux on your PC but don’t kill processes, copy and paste text, and
glance. Power Meter Plus puts a “power want to mess around with repartitioning copy/move/delete files. And even if doing
thermometer” right on the desktop that’s or replacing the Microsoft boot loader all this wasn’t blindly obvious from its
basically transparent when your battery is with Grub or LILO? Wubi comes to the simple interface, the built-in Help file
full but becomes more opaque as it rescue, automatically creating a “parti- will get you going in no time. Batchrun
drains, calling attention to itself. It man- tion file” on your NTFS hard drive and is only 800KB, and there’s even a por-
ages to not interfere with your programs installing Linux onto it. It alters the table version for thumb drive use.
or Desktop icons by jumping out from Vista or WinXP boot menu to add a
under your cursor whenever it gets close, Linux entry and lets Linux run with TrayEverything
and it has other options to tailor its 98% of the speed of a native installation Massimo Galbusera
appearance to match your desktop. with almost no drawbacks. Wubi comes www.winapizone.net/software/trayeverything
with Ubuntu and Mint Linux, but the Free
PStart base version of Wubi lets you install If your Taskbar is crowded with all
Pegtop Software more distros. the minimized apps you have running in
www.pegtop.net the background, then TrayEverything
Free IconRestorer should take care of all your problems.
Having a thumb drive full of portable Freesoftland TrayEverything can make all your apps
applications is amazingly handy, but fsl.sytes.net/iconrestorer.html minimize to a Taskbar Tray icon or
manually jumping through subfolder Free make the app essentially turn invisible
after subfolder to find that executable upon minimization. TrayEverything can
can get annoying. PStart is an “instant collect up to five child windows of a sin-
start menu” for portable programs, let- gle app and reduce them to just one on
ting you manually create a Taskbar Tray the Taskbar and even password-protect
icon and menu for all the apps on a minimized apps.
thumb drive, or you can just let it scan
for all executables and make a menu Internet Tools
automatically. The menu stores relative So you have all your Desktop icons Digsby
pathnames, so assigned drive letters can arranged exactly the way to want them, dotSyntax
change, but the shortcuts still work. You but suddenly some utility or game www.digsby.com
can also define hotkeys and perform changes your Desktop resolution, Free
searches for programs. spreading your icons all over the place as If you have multiple email and instant
a result. IconRestorer takes a snapshot of messenger accounts as well as at least one
Klipfolio Personal Dashboard all your icons’ positions (and, optionally, social networking site, then Digsby will
Klipfolio your wallpaper) and lets you restore save you lots of time and effort. Digsby
www.klipfolio.com their position with just two clicks. monitors your email (letting you mark
Free IconRestorer can optionally run the spam in many cases), lets you instant-
There is no shortage of sidebars avail- background and save your icon positions message with AIM, Facebook Chat,
able for Windows, but the best one comes every few minutes. It also stores different Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, and
from a company that you’ve probably icon arrangements for multiple resolutions Yahoo! accounts while maintaining a

CPU / October 2009 69


unified buddy list, and monitors your response to a surge of downloading, then people who are spread out around the
Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter ac- NetWorx is the program you’ve been world, then Skype is a godsend. For com-
counts. It takes up much less RAM than yearning for. NetWorx is essentially a puter users with broadband connections
having all those Web browser tabs and “smart meter” for your network (or dial- and Skype (with versions available for
IM clients open and consumes a lot less up) connection, constantly monitoring Mac, Windows, and Linux), Skype is
on-screen real estate. your connection. The Taskbar Tray essentially a free long-distance telephone
bandwidth bar displays all network activi- and videophone network.
Postbox ty in real time, while the Quota feature
Postbox, Inc. lets you know how much you’ve down- Wireshark
www.postbox-inc.com loaded overall and can warn you when Wireshark Foundation
Free you approach a limit. Lots of other handy www.wireshark.org
Postbox gives you the power of features make it an essential tool for net- Free
instant searching and filtering (via an work troubleshooting, too. One of our favorite open-source apps,
integrated search index such as Google Wireshark is the latest and greatest ver-
Desktop) of your email messages with FavBackup (IMAGE: 30jc10) sion of Ethereal, a network packet snif-
an interface that’s much more conven- FavBrowser.com fer with an elegant GUI that makes sort-
tional and inviting than the essentially www.favbrowser.com ing and analyzing the results a snap.
similar Opera M4 Mail module. Add Free When fed raw packets with the appro-
tabbed browsing and Gmail-like thread- priate hardware and software drivers,
ed message views, and you get what may Wireshark can read Ethernet, 802.11,
be the best email client in the world. It’s and PPP packets and break down the
based on Mozilla Thunderbird, which communications of hundreds of pro-
means it gets regular updates/patches tocols. There’s simply no better net-
and has all the “conventional” email fea- work troubleshooting tool available—at
tures you need. any price. ▲

Google Gears by Warren Ernst


Google
gears.google.com
Free
Google’s Web applications seem With Web browsers becoming the
poised to make substantial inroads in the “new OS,” our browser settings and What’s On
desktop software market, but there’s a lit- bookmarks are now valuable enough to
tle problem: You need to be online in be worth saving, but backing up this
Your Desktop
order to use them. Google Gears is a information can be tricky. FavBackup
Foxit Reader. An Adobe Reader
framework that allows Google Reader backs up and restores things such as
lookalike that’s much faster
and Google Docs to work on your PC bookmarks, certificates, cookies, skins,
and takes up less memory.
even if you aren’t connected to the toolbars, mouse gestures, and stored
Internet. And it automatically resyncs passwords, though that isn’t exactly new.
AdMuncher. I hate pop-up ads, and
your data to the Google cloud when a However, FavBackups works with
Ad-Muncher’s rate of success
connection is reestablished. Several third- Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari,
is very high indeed.
party sites now also use Gears (such as and Chrome. FavBackup works fine
Zoho and Remember The Milk), with from a thumb drive and makes transfer-
GetRight. My download manager of choice.
more on the way. In short, Gears makes ring your browser settings from one
Web apps better. computer to another a snap.
Ultimate Defrag. For my defragger, I
NetWorx Skype prefer Ultimate Defrag for its wealth
of configurable options and hard
Softperfect Research Skype Technologies
disk defragmentation strategies.
www.softperfect.com www.skype.com
Free Free
Configuration Mania. This Firefox
If your broadband has a monthly limit, If your circle of family and friends all
add-on adds dozens of new
you’re wondering about instantaneous live in your city, then Skype probably
controls, from line scrolling with
bandwidth at a given time, or you want holds no appeal to you. But if you want
the Spacebar to link prefetching.
your computer to perform an action in to call or have video conferences with
-Barry Brenesal

70 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


The Bleeding Edge Of Software
Inside The World Of Betas

OpenPandora 0.7.0 Beta 2


ost users of the Pandora Internet own icon in the Taskbar Tray. The main
M radio service are pretty happy with
the wide variety of music choices the ser-
OpenPandora window looks and feels a
lot like Pandora’s Web site, but Open-
vice offers, and the almost magical way it Pandora reorganizes Pandora to take up
psychically zeros in on the music you like a lot less space on-screen by converting OpenPandora 0.7.0 Beta 2
is uncanny. Still, Pandora works through previously clickable regions into pull- Publisher and URL: Eitan Pogrebizsky,
your Web browser, and always having a down menus. getopenpandora.appspot.com
browser window (or tab) dedicated to Of course, OpenPandora does more ETA: Q1 2010
music playback can be annoying. But than just put Pandora in a window. It adds Why You Should Care: OpenPandora is
an open-source solution in the form of features commonly found in standalone the best way to enjoy the Pandora Internet
OpenPandora takes care of nearly all of players. You can operate Pandora’s controls radio service, bar none.
Pandora’s browser-based annoyances. directly from the Taskbar Tray icon. You
OpenPandora is actually a shell pro- can also enable the controls on your multi- The most annoying was the Taskbar
gram that uses the Internet Explorer ren- media keyboard to work with Pandora or Tray controls for Skip and Play becom-
dering engine to connect with and play set global keyboard shortcuts. Enterprising ing disabled at seemingly random times,
content from Pandora, and it therefore users can even use a Wii remote to operate but at least the global hotkeys for these
still makes use of and requires the IE Flash Pandora from a distance. OpenPandora can commands worked fine. Overall, Open-
10 plug-in. Still, it feels like a standalone send song information directly to Windows Pandora enhances the intrinsic goodness of
application and works independently of Messenger, Xfire, or Skype. Pandora; it’s well worth checking out. ▲
any browser window, even minimizing to Perhaps because the beta is unofficial,
its own Taskbar icon and possessing its we encountered a few glitches with it. by Warren Ernst

RealPlayer SP Beta (Build 12)


here was a time when RealPlayer was Video” tab appears over the video, let-
T the de facto standard in streaming
Internet video and audio, though, of course,
ting you download and save the video
to your hard drive. By default, it adds
that was a long time ago. Since then, Real- the saved file to your RealPlayer li-
Player has taken a beating from iTunes and brary, letting you view the video as
the Windows Media Player on one side, often as you like—even when offline.
and embedded Flash videos (from sites You can share and upload saved videos
such as YouTube and Hulu) on the other. to your Facebook or Twitter account. RealPlayer SP Beta (Build 12)
Hoping to still stay relevant, RealNetworks Once saved, RealPlayer SP can convert Publisher and URL: RealNetworks,
claims it has “totally rewritten” RealPlayer. the file to a format compatible with your www.realnetworks.com
In some ways, RealPlayer SP is the best portable media player, including most ETA: Q4 2009
version of RealPlayer yet. It still integrates smartphones and iPhone variants, option- Why You Should Care: Real takes a stab
paid and free downloads of music, videos, ally depositing the video within iTunes at dethroning the dominant media players,
and somewhat basic games through its own to facilitate the transfer. Even for older zigging where others zag.
online store and still rips and burns music PalmOS devices, the videos look good.
and (unprotected) video discs. RealPlay- On the other hand, many desirable features free. What you’re really paying for
er SP, however, adds plug-ins to your goodies aren’t unlocked unless you pay is the convenience of not having to fire up a
browsers (IE and Firefox for now, though $40, such as H.264 video transcoding, second program to do what you want. It’s a
Google Chrome is an option during instal- high-speed CD burning, DVD burning, tough sell, but perhaps the ease of one-stop
lation) to interact directly with many Flash- and a graphic equalizer. We understand shopping is worth the price. ▲
based streaming videos. Visit YouTube, for RealNetworks needs an income source,
example, and a RealPlayer “Download This but the competition generally offers these by Warren Ernst

72 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


software | upgrades

Safari 4.02
With Apple claiming more than 11 mil-
lion downloads in the first three days of
its release, the Safari 4 browser clearly is
finding its niche. The iterative update
addresses stability issues in the Nitro
Java Script engine in the first release.
There are also security patches that plug
The Internet is king this month, as the update world is dominated by Mozilla’s
a hole in the WebKit sites that allowed
and Apple’s new browsers, along with Microsoft’s updated Silverlight. To make cross-scripting attacks from malicious
it all safer, Norton’s next-gen security software gets a public beta. Web sites.
www.apple.com/safari

Software Updates LimeWire 5.2.8 & 5.2.7 µTorrent 1.8.3, Build 15772
The popular file-sharing software issues two This is the most recent of several builds
Adobe Lightroom 2.4 updates within a day of each other. 5.2.8 from June leading to a more stable ver-
In addition to bug fixes for recent versions patches bug fixes, but 5.2.7 fixes a specific sion of the 1.8.3 version. Some of the last
of the image organizer and editor, Adobe issue of LimeWire Store downloads not three builds include fixes to memory
adds support for several digital cameras, being added to iTunes in Mac OS X. leaks in the main window and protocol
including the Nikon D5000 and Canon www.limewire.com associations. Version 1.8.3 should also
EOS 500D. apply the following fixes to handling of
www.adobe.com Microsoft Silverlight 3 seeds: applying an alternate upload rate
Microsoft has launched a new version of its when the seed is prescheduled, restarting
Adobe Camera Raw 5.4 rival to Adobe Flash. Silverlight 3 lets devel- HTTP seeds after a pause, and HTTP
The RAW image converter for Photo- opers add more out-of-browser experiences, seeds for multiple torrents.
shop CS4 and Elements 7.0 adds support so Silverlight apps have more functionality www.utorrent.com
for newer digital cameras, including the when offline. New IIS (Internet Informa-
following: Canon EOS 500D, Nikon tion Services) Smooth Streaming adds Winamp 5.56
D5000, Olympus E-450, and Sony A380. 1080p HD video streaming capabilities. The media player that helped spark the
www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/ A new SketchFlow workflow process allows MP3 revolution adds “Orgler” function-
cameraraw.html faster prototyping (creating models to test ality that lets you track and share your
an application’s UI or screen layout). own listening history. Winamp 5.56
CCleaner 2.21.940 www.microsoft.com/silverlight should be much friendlier with iTunes/
The system file cleaner adds support for iPod: There’s better syncing with iPods,
the newest versions of a host of programs, Norton Internet Security 2010 Beta and now you can import your iTunes
including Adobe Photoshop CS4, Illus- Norton puts its next-generation security Library. New language packs are avail-
trator CS4, and Reader 9.0; OpenOffice suite online for public beta. This iteration able, too.
3.1; Nero 9; and AVG AntiVirus 8.0. promises superior performance and built- www.winamp.com
Windows 7 operations are improved, in tools to further enhance a PC’s overall
and 64-bit Registry cleaning should be speed with the new Norton Performance Driver Bay
more accurate. System. A rebuilt security engine com-
www.ccleaner.com bines zero-day detection of unknown mal- Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Series
ware threats with profile-based detection 2.18.0013
Firefox 3.5 of known threats. For most of the X-Fi family of Creative
The official release of the browser’s www.symantec.com audio cards, this set of drivers enables the
promised upgrade delivers faster perfor- What U Hear feature. Both Dolby Digital
mance, easier tab management through OpenOffice.org Portable 3.1 and DTS support have been restored for
drag and drop, and a private browsing The popular, free Microsoft Office alter- cards that included those decoders in their
mode that leaves no trace of your Web native gets squeezed into a USB flash drive Windows XP drivers. This set of drivers
history. On the other end of the privacy so that your programs and files can be supports both Windows 7 and Vista.
spectrum, you can turn on Location- used on any PC. Version 3.1 brings the support.creative.com
Aware Browsing that tells sites where OOo Portable up-to-date with the most
you are surfing from. recent upgrade to the core programs. by Steve Smith
www.getfirefox.com portableapps.com

CPU / October 2009 73


reviews | software

Web File Delivery Services


Like FTP, But Without The Tears
et’s make no bones about it: As our wouldn’t mind seeing a space between the however, you can only send one file at a
Lwe must
file delivery needs continue to grow,
turn to the Internet for help.
words in these names from time to time.
For the most part, we avoided services,
time. You can sign up for a free Lite ac-
count, which offers simple amenities: the
Yes, we have baby servers in our homes, such as online file storage, that tack on file ability to send any file up to 100MB with
FTP accounts, and file sharing between sharing and delivery as additional, rather 100 downloads per file and access to a
computers—each option is great for some than primary, features. Most online backup Knowledge Base if you have questions. At
things, but they all lack one desirable fea- services include some form of file sharing or this level, you can still only send one file
ture or another. delivery options, but for this article, we’re at a time.
Email services are handy for sending more interested in delivery services that The next bump up, the Pro plan, offers
and receiving files, but they have caps on may also offer some amount of storage, be much more. The maximum file size in-
the size of file attachments you can send. it permanent or temporary. creases to 2GB, with 500 downloads per
Typically, 10MB or so is the limit. This The services we took a look at primarily file. Additionally, you get 2GB of online
limitation is a pain for anyone who needs hang their hat on delivering large files to storage, the ability to send multiple files
to send a video clip or audio file and sim- other people rather than acting as an online and folders, the ability to control the expir-
ply can’t, in some cases even after refor- storage space that allows users to retrieve ation dates on sent files, and live chat or
matting the file to a lower quality. files when they need them. Think of these email support in addition to Knowledge
Historically, the alternative to emailing online file delivery services as being similar Base. You also get a dropbox, which is
large attachments is using an FTP site, to FTP sites without the storage. essentially just a waiting room of sorts for
but these, too, have their limitations. One all of the files people send you. Instead
is the fact that you need to provide and YouSendIt of having to follow each download link
maintain local storage for the site; another YouSendIt is a popular file delivery ser- separately, you can just visit your dropbox
is that any type of online file transfer is vice, and with good reason. Although for and grab what you need, all from the
only as effective as how well the person a fee YouSendIt offers more feature-heavy same place.
on either side of the transfer understands options, anyone who needs to send a large The other available plans are designed
the process. Ever try explaining to a file (up to 100MB) in a pinch can do so for use by companies rather than individ-
grandparent who lives far away how use right from the Web site’s home page. uals and have more features than the Pro
an FTP client to retrieve the video you All you have to do is enter the recipient’s or Lite plans. You can try any of the plans
took of the family reunion? email address, your email address, and for free for 14 days. (Incidentally, this is
Web file delivery services are a viable attach a file. Click Send It, and the task is our kind of free trial—no credit card re-
alternative to both of the above means of complete. The recipient will receive an quired. Just sign up and enjoy.)
transferring. For one thing, they take the email with a download link, and they can We were tempted to use our 14-day
burden of administration off of your simply follow it to retrieve the file. The free trial testing out the Business Plus
shoulders and put it on an Internet-based download link remains active for a week. plan instead of the Pro, but a closer
file delivery service provider. This requires nothing from you mone- examination revealed that the options
Yes, we DIY types are understandably tarily, nor do you even need an account; between the two differ little enough to
hesitant to give another entity control
over . . . well, anything, really. But for the
sake of convenience and ease of use, con-
sider using one of the services. The only
annoying thing about this type of service
is that their names are all mashups. We

YouSendIt
Free (Lite); $9.99 (Pro)
www.yousendit.com
●●●●

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

74 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | software

YouLoad The other two available plans, Pro-


$9.95 (Basic); fessional ($19.99 per month) and
$19.95 (Professional) Enterprise ($29.99 per month) offer
Load only slightly better features for the
www.load.com money. The Professional plan offers
●●● 1GB file transfers, SSL encryption for
your dropbox, 100 uploads and 150
downloads per month, and longer ac-
for the Basic plan, which is cess to sent and received files. The En-
$9.99 per month. The Basic terprise plan offers a 2GB limit on file
plan offers middling features transfers, unlimited uploads, and 200
warrant the extra cost for an individual such as a 100MB file transfer size limit, no downloads per month.
user. A business would want those extra SSL protection for your stored files online, Like YouSendIt, YouLoad does a good
features, such as unlimited downloads and 50 uploads and 100 downloads per job of giving appropriate features to
of a particular file and detailed tracking, month. On their own, the features are each plan. Both the Professional and
and be willing to pay for them. Thus, decent and include reporting and tracking Enterprise plans also offer branding
the Business Plus plan is appropriately tools, the ability to manage sent files and options for your dropbox, which allows
named and aptly featured. Kudos to downloads, and SSL encryption for sent you to set up custom folders for other
YouSendIt on that one. files, but for 10 bucks a month we expect a people to access. It’s an important option
You can also use the Pay Per Use option little more horsepower. for businesses to have as they swap files
in a pinch. It’s actually a lot like sending a
physical package in that you pay a fee for
“postage.” The difference, of course, is that Web File Sharing
your “package” gets there faster and is digi-
tal. The fee for a one-time delivery of one
file up to 2GB is $8.99 and includes the
ability to track it. You can also spring for a
A close cousin of the
file delivery services
described in this article are
be entirely private, but you
can also make certain files
and folders public so that
• Syncs files between
PC, Mac, and mobile
devices
return receipt, password protection, and file storage and sharing other people can access • Share folders with
certified delivery ($3.99 each). services. These are de- them. Here are a few such specified users
YouSendIt Express is the desktop client signed less specifically for services to try out.
for YouSendIt. It’s a free download and sending and receiving large Sugarsync
promises to offer you a 25% increase in files and more for light to Wuala www.sugarsync.com
upload speeds. In our tests, however, there moderate file storage with www.wuala.com • 2GB of free online
was little difference in speed between a sharing capabilities. • 1GB of free online storage (upgradeable
Web-based YouSendIt upload and one The idea is that you can storage with paid plans to
from the desktop client. An upload with move some of your storage • Desktop client that 30GB, 60GB, 100GB,
the client was 5:47 (minutes: seconds); to the cloud, which makes syncs with your online or 250GB)
without the client, it was 6:03. Still, You- two things easier. One is account • Continuous real-time
SendIt Express is a nice tool to have, as it the ability to transport your • Compatible with backup to cloud
offers drag-and-drop functionality, the abil- files more easily than keep- Windows, Mac, and account
ity to send folders, and extra options in- ing a flash drive in your Linux • Desktop client that
cluding password protection and certified pocket all the time. (Ever • No file size restrictions syncs your files
delivery conveniently on your desktop. had one go through the between your online
wash? Or be gnawed on by DropBox account and any other
Load YouLoad a puppy? We have.) www.getdropbox.com computers running the
YouLoad is one of the services provid- The other computing /home client
ed by Load, which also offers hosted activity these services • 2GB of free online • Syncs files between
email, Web analytics, hosted DNS, and make simpler is sharing storage PC and Mac computers
content management. It’s designed more certain files with other peo- • Desktop client that and iPhone, iPod touch,
for businesses than individuals, but you ple. asically, you get a syncs your files Windows Mobile, and
may find that it works for you. certain amount of online between your online BlackBerry devices
We were disappointed to find that You- storage and in many cases account and any other • Share folders with
Load offers no free trial. If you want to try a desktop client. You can computers running specified users
the service, the best you can do is sign up configure your account to the client

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

76 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


reviews | software

with clients, though it’s not such an im- FileSend


portant feature for individual users. You Free (Basic);
don’t really need branding options to $8.95 (Premium)
send a video to your brother-in-law. www.filesend.net
One impressive feature of the Enterprise ●●●●
plan is that you can send visitors of your
Web site to a YouLoad upload page and
give them a custom URL from which to
download files. The custom URL can downloads, download
build on your site’s address—such as www acceleration, and no
.[genericwebsitename].com/download1. download wait time.
Overall, YouLoad has fairly low pricing Another nice perk is
options, especially for its top-drawer that you can park your
plans, with smart extras, but the core fea- files in the My Files
tures are somewhat disappointing. to register for the free account first and dropbox, and they’ll never be deleted as
then read the confirmation email carefully long as you maintain the account. (You
FileSend to learn the other details. can still download your files for 60 days
Like YouSendIt, FileSend lets you up- In the end, the Basic account includes after you terminate your account.) This is
load and send a file right from its home some strong features, such as the afore- sort of a roundabout way to get online
page. No account of any kind is required mentioned 300MB file size limit, the abil- storage capability, in that you can upload
for these last-second or one-time file trans- ity to recover lost file links and manage a file, and instead of sending it, you can
fers. You can send a file up to 120MB to uploaded files, and less download wait click the Files tab, and on that screen,
as many as three email addresses, or you time. You can store up to 300MB of files you can create folders and move files. If
can simply copy and paste the download in a dropbox on the Basic account, al- you click one of the files, it will take you
link. Enter the email addresses, click Send though those files will be deleted 60 days to a download page. So, you can park up
It, and away it goes. after their last download. some of your files online and download
Creating an account requires that you You can upgrade to a Premium account them as you need them.
enter a username and password, re-enter to get more features and a larger file transfer A knock on FileSend is that download
the password, and provide an email address. size. Prices for a Premium account vary ac- speeds were slow compared to the oth-
Click Register, and the process is complete. cording to what length of time you register er services. Whereas the other services
One thing we found odd was that for. For example, you can get 30 days for downloaded the test file in about 90 sec-
locating the list of features for the free $8.95, but if you pay for a year up-front, onds or less, it took FileSend 4:45 to
account was an endeavor in link hunt- it’s only $49.95 for all 12 months. A Pre- complete the task.
ing. In fact, at press time, there was no- mium account offers a file size limit of FileSend offers a Rewards program
where on the Web site that listed any of 1GB, fewer advertisements than a Basic wherein you receive a point for each down-
the features of the Basic account, other account, and support for uploading multi- load on your account. You can build up
than the 300MB file size limit. You have ple files. You also get unlimited parallel points and exchange them for money off of
the price of some services or, in some cases,
cash. Granted, the first item you can cash
Need For Transfer Speed in on requires 8,000 points (and therefore
8,000 downloads), but it’s nice to know
T esting upload and download speeds is easy enough to do, but the results will vary
widely depending on various factors, including the time of day, the type of Internet
connection being used, and even geographical location. Thus, your results may vary.
the possibility is there.
We liked that FileSend is so simple. The
Web site is relatively uncluttered save for
Further, some sites throttle speeds depending on the type of account you have, so that
the occasional ad, and it’s easy to use. Con-
issue was an unavoidable factor, as well.
sidering the low price and high perfomance
We tested these services on the same machine with the same wired Ethernet connec-
of its services, FileSend is an attractive tool.
tion. All tests were conducted in mid-afternoon. Suffice it to say that each service was
compared equitably to all the others. YouConvertIt
Upload Download We used a stopwatch to clock the
YouSendIt 6:03 0:48 Although it’s still in beta, YouConvert-
upload and download speeds of a
YouLoad 8:28 1:33 It’s Send File(s) tab is a sublimely simple
42.7MB video file. When appropriate,
FileSend 5:12 4:45 way to send large files online. There are
we also checked speeds when using a
YouConvertIt 6:13 1:03 no plans to compare and no account to reg-
desktop client. Results are reported in
SendThisFile 8:32 0:25 ister for. Just enter a recipient’s email
minutes:seconds. ▲

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

CPU / October 2009 77


reviews | software

address, browse for and attach a file (or SendThisFile


files), and click Send It. You can also opt to Free
include your own email address to get a $4.95 (Starter);
delivery notification, add a title, and add a $9.95 (Pro)
message. The recipient will get an email www.sendthisfile.com
with a download link, and they can retrieve ●●●●
the file at their earliest convenience.
Yes, that sounds virtually identical to
some other services described herein, but any given time, the
the difference is that YouConvertIt’s E-Z only way to manage
Web interface is not designed to entice your uploads is by
you to use their service; it is their service, wrangling a pile of
or part of it. Although it works well, emails—one for each
YouConvertIt’s Web-based file-sharing upload. That can be a tedious task, so in to files for six days instead of three, and
functionality is not necessarily the site’s that sense, YouConvertIt is woefully the option to set the maximum number
bread and butter. There are four tabs on under-featured. of downloads per file. A downside is that
the site: Convert Files(s), Convert Online The Web site’s interface is very clean you only get 500MB per month of files to
Video, Send Files(s), and Convert Units. and easy to use. What YouConvertIt will transfer. The only differences between the
With these other online tools, YouCon- look like after it’s through beta remains to Starter and Pro plans is that the Pro plan
vertIt converts files from one format to be seen, but it looks promising. If you need gives you 10GB of file transfers per
another, lets you download or convert on- better FTP-like file management, skip this month and files are available for eight
line video, and even has a tab where you service for your file delivery needs. But days; it also costs twice as much.
can convert various measurements, such as bookmark this site, as you’ll find its other The two top-tier plans are Business Plan
U.S. dollars to English pounds. Hundreds features eminently useful either way. ($19.95 per month) and the Enterprise
of file formats are supported, including var- Plan ($69.95) per month. Aside from
ious types of productivity, audio, and video SendThisFile greater per-month transfers (25GB and
files. All of this functionality is as simple to The strength of SendThisFile is that it 90GB, respectively) and more days the files
use as YouSendIt’s Send Files function. For offers plans for virtually anyone and every- are available for download (10 and 14),
example, to convert online video, you sim- one. That said, the features in the lesser they offer a host of additional features over
ply enter a URL and click Download, or plans are somewhat weak. With a free plan, the Starter and Pro plans. These features
enter an email address and a file format to your upload speed is slower than with a include ad-free and customizable FileBoxes,
convert it to another format. paid account, any uploaded files will be emails, and file link retrievals. The Enter-
Another aspect of YouConvertIt that deleted after three days, files can only be prise plan also offers stronger encryption
makes it stand out from other Web file downloaded three times before being delet- (192-bit Triple-DES) and immensely more
delivery services is that you can attach mul- ed, and you can only upload a file at a time. options for administrative flexibility.
tiple files (up to five), up to a total of 1GB You get significantly more for a paid All the plans offer a FileBox, which is
in size, right there on the home page. Thus, plan, including password protection for essentially an inbox where people can send
even in its free and simple status, YouCon- files, secure file transfers, download no- files to you. With a Standard FileBox, you
vertIt offers some strong features for send- tices, deletion notices, the ability to de- essentially get a short form visitors to your
ing files online. lete a file after a user-specified number of Web site can fill out to send large files to
The downside to YouConvertIt is that downloads, and the option to have a copy you; SendThisFile provides the code for it,
there is no dropbox to store and manage sent to you as well as the recipient. You so it’s easy to add it to any Web page.
files. If you have several files in the mix at can send up to five files at a time. Each plan also features a dropbox-type
The Starter Plan is in- area called My Files, where you can keep
expensive at $4.95 per track of the files you’ve been working with.
month (or $49.95 per It’s not particularly useful for managing the
year), and offers full- files in the sense that you can’t organize
speed file transfers, access files into folders, but it does give all the
information you could ever want about
when files were uploaded and downloaded,
YouConvertIt
who received sent files, and more. ▲
Free
www.youconvertit.com
by Seth Colaner
●●●●

CPU RANKING ● 0 = ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS | ● ● ● 2.5 = ABSOLUTELY AVERAGE | ● ● ● ● ● 5 = ABSOLUTELY PERFECT

78 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


loading zone

Open Sores
The (Other) Google Operating System
ecently, Google dropped a veritable
R bombshell on the computing world
when it announced that it will be devel-
oping a new operating system, Chrome
OS. Such an announcement immediately
generates questions about how it will
compare to the two dominant operating
systems, Windows and Mac OS X, and
what the implications will be.
The foremost question on most minds,
of course, is whether Chrome OS will be
a “Windows killer.”

What It Is, What It Isn’t


Chrome OS is set to be released into the
wild (on netbooks, at least) in the second
half of 2010. Until then, or until betas
start hitting the Web, all we have to go on
is what Google tells us about this project;
everything else is rampant speculation.
So, what do we know? We know that
Chrome OS will be built on a Linux kernel
and that Google is eagerly recruiting the
open-source community to participate in
building the project. Also a matter of public
record is the fact that Google sees Chrome
OS as a fresh approach to operating systems
by optimizing it for the Internet. Most of
the tasks one will perform on Chrome OS
will take place online. (The “Chrome”
moniker, evoking Google’s Chrome Web simplicity, and security. The company Web browser on steroids, as many appli-
browser, is certainly telling of the direction intends to keep it lightweight, capable of cations already run within Web browsers,
Google is taking.) starting up and being ready to go in mere but ostensibly, Chrome OS will take this
Characteristics that Google asserts seconds. By the description, it almost idea to the next level.
Chrome OS will embody include speed, sounds as if it could be construed as a Google is also already working with
hardware vendors, including Acer, Adobe,
Asus, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo,
Android & Chrome OS? Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and
Toshiba. An impressive cadre, indeed.
T he astute observer no doubt has a major question at this point: Doesn’t Google
already have a Linux-based operating system in the works?
Indeed it does—Android, and the two will overlap somewhat. Although Android is start-
Whatever it may be, Chrome OS is not
Windows or OS X. But it doesn’t claim to
ing to appear on netbooks, its purpose is primarily for devices such as smartphones. For be; the intent of Chrome OS is not to cre-
that matter, Android may find its way onto TVs, car navigational or entertainment systems, ate a better version of what conventional
or any other low-power computing environment you can imagine, while Chrome OS will be wisdom says is an operating system. It’s
developed to run on netbooks, notebooks, and desktops. ▲ going to be a different animal altogether.

80 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


loading zone

areas, and there’s no reason to think that it Unix, and Apple is essentially synonymous
The Windows Killer? can’t continue its streak with Chrome OS. with “closed source.”
Chrome OS will not be a Windows But what of the Mac factor? A discussion However, there are plenty in the open-
killer—at least, not in the way one might of competing OSes isn’t complete without source community who see Chrome OS
think. Windows and Mac OS X go toe- mentioning OS X. However, the reason as the most promising avenue for a suc-
to-toe on consumer operating systems; this is a battle primarily between Microsoft cessful Linux-based venture since Ubuntu
they serve essentially the same purposes and Google is that they’re not only compet- made a splash on netbooks. They have
for users, and they’re found mostly on ing for market share, but also for space on cause for optimism for the same reasons
the same types of computers (notebooks the same devices. Mac software exists on some are deeply suspicious of Chrome OS
and desktops). Mac hardware, but Windows, Chrome OS, as an open-source project: Google is huge,
Chrome OS is not playing the same and other Linux distros, such as Ubuntu, with virtually unlimited resources and a
game. For the foreseeable future at least, are all vying for a presence on multiple ven- powerful brand name to throw behind it.
you won’t be choosing between Windows dors’ hardware.
or Chrome when buying a PC; potentially, Waiting
you’ll run Chrome OS alongside Windows, Open-Source Reaction We’ll all have to wait until Chrome OS
or possibly in a dual-boot configuration. A fascinating wrinkle in the story of is at least in beta shape before further com-
In order for Chrome OS to kill Win- Chrome OS is that although it’s techni- mentary is warranted. For the time being,
dows, the game has to change. This cally open-source, the open-source com- we know very little about how this new
Web-optimized OS needs to be so su- munity as a whole may not fully support operating system will impact the market
perb and indispensable that it alters the the project. and computing in general, and it’s any-
fundamental way the vast majority of us After all, Google is a giant in the tech body’s guess as to how Google’s ongoing
compute. Cloud computing, although industry, no longer a charming grassroots relationship with the open-source commu-
it’s presently all the rage and certainly startup; consumers in every market have nity will impact the project. For that mat-
offers many attractive amenities, has a learned to distrust The Man, and the ter, nobody knows if Chrome OS will
long way to go before it even begins to open-source community is no exception. achieve success or if it will be a colossal,
supplant local machines as our de facto Further, there is some speculation as to embarrassing failure.
choice for computing. Chrome OS may how exactly Google is going to pull off What we can be assured of is that the
push technology a step in that direction, relying on the open-source community to release of Chrome OS will be an impor-
and it may take a bite out of Microsoft’s build Chrome OS while ultimately main- tant moment, and the effects of the pro-
market share here and there, but it seems taining control of the project, especially as ject—good, bad, or both—will be felt on
unlikely that it will supplant Windows it matures and hits the market. a large scale. ▲
anytime soon. Other concerns include whether
Remember, Microsoft has been in the Chrome OS will be thoroughly open- by Seth Colaner
operating system business for a very long source, or if it will end up licensing
time, and whatever one may think about codecs and software
Microsoft in general or Windows specifi- from third parties
cally, every computer user has used a Mic- such as Microsoft, as
rosoft operating system at some point. well as how Chrome Clash Of The Titans
There’s a reason why XP and Vista are OS may negatively
so ubiquitous and why netbooks largely
abandoned Linux-based OSes in favor of
impact the adoption
of existing Linux
M icrosoft and Google have been duking it out for years,
and the emergence of Chrome OS is just another battle
in the war, albeit potentially a deeply significant one. Though
XP. There’s a reason why Windows 7 will desktop distributions. the two companies started on completely different footing—
likely be everywhere soon, too. Perhaps open- one making the most ubiquitous software in history, one per-
Yes, Chrome OS will be based on source apologists have fecting arguably the greatest Internet tool of all time—they
Linux, which has also been around for reason to fear that have gone blow-for-blow on many fronts. ▲
quite a while, but there’s so much more their contributions to
to an operating system than just the ker- such an endeavor may Google Microsoft
nel. Just ask the makers of every other eventually be sub- Google (search engine) Bing
Linux distro that have fought for space sumed into what will Google Docs Microsoft Office 2010 online
in the consumer market. become a proprietary Google Chrome OS Windows 7 (and Vista and XP)
All that being said, it would also be fool- (although potentially Android Windows Mobile
hardy to count out Google. There’s a rea- free) operating sys- Gmail Hotmail
son we all say “Google it” instead of “search tem. After all, Mac Google Talk Messenger
engine it”; Google has succeeded in certain OS X is built on Chrome Internet Explorer

CPU / October 2009 81


caught in the web

Web Comics For Everyone


Our Generation’s Funny Pages

sk a Web comics aficionado to represent a range of tastes and topics that

A name the “best” or the most


“popular” examples of the form
and you are likely to get an impatient
make the back page of newspapers and
even the comics shop racks look narrow.
The form has evolved far beyond simple
lecture on the inherent diversity of “Dilbert” wannabes and gag strips. Josh
the medium. Neufeld’s “A.D.: New Orleans After The
“Any rational person will have their Deluge”, was visual news reporting of
own answers,” says Gary Tyrrell, host of the effect of Hurricane Katrina on the
the hub for comics creators Fleen.com. city’s residents. When Google released
“Librarians line up twenty deep to throw its Chrome browser, legendary comics
money at the guys that do ‘Unshelved’ artist and theorist Scott McCloud
(www.unshelved.com), [a comic set in a received the commission to explain the
library]. Grad students worship Jorge new software to users via an enormous
Cham’s ‘PhD: Piled Higher & Deeper’ Web comic book.
(www.phdcomics.com). There’s a lot of “I think as far as the scale, importance,
terrific work out there.” and community of Web comics, I don’t
Tyrell’s point is well taken and in fact think anyone can be disappointed in how
fundamental to the phenomenon that is it has grown and how important it
Web-based comics. Although the Comics continues to be,” says McCloud, who
page of most newspapers may squeeze in devoted half of his bestselling book
20 syndicated and comic strips, the infi- “Reinventing Comics” to the possibilities
nite pages and no-cost distribution mech- of online, graphic storytelling. When
anism of the Web have allowed a very McCloud wrote the book in 2000, he
different ecosystem to evolve. envisioned an emerging digital comics
Web comics may be off the radar for a whole new generation of cartoonists, the aesthetic that included animation and
many, but the numbers tell the tale. Web has become a viable starting point multimedia formats and nonlinear forms
“Penny Arcade” (www.penny-arcade for a cross-platform comics career. of storytelling, what he calls an “infinite
.com) claims to reach more than 2 million “They don’t see syndication as offering canvas.” Generally, he admits, this vision
unique hits each month, according to co- anything they can’t do easier or better for has not yet come to pass. Most Web
author Jerry Holkins (see sidebar), and themselves [online],” says Tyrrell. “And comics follow the one-panel or three- and
the popular Web comic brand has its own you know what? They’re right.” four-panel gag conventions of newspapers
annual Expo for tens of thousands of Literally thousands of strips now live and magazines. But he is encouraged by
attendees. Other leading comics, such as online, each finding unique niche audi- the ways the Internet has transformed the
“PvP” (www.pvponline.com) and “xkcd” ences that never would have been comics industry.
(xkcd.com), can draw several thousand vis- available in print, where a handful of syn- “There is no question that distribution
itors a month just to their home sites (up dication gatekeepers control the flow of is where the revolution went from 0 to
to 80,000 and 800,000, respectively), creativity. The aforementioned ubiqui- 60,” he says. “There are no filters. You
according to Web analytics firm Compete. tous, long-running “Penny Arcade” by have a much bigger freshman class thun-
The Web comics phenomenon is be- Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (see dering through the doors and a much
ing felt in the print world. Nicholas sidebar), the wildly innovative “Pup Pon- more natural evolution of genres. People
Gurewitch’s series “The Perry Bible ders The Heat Death Of The Universe” really forget how incredibly limited the
Fellowship,” started as a college newspa- (www.drewweing.com/pup/13pup genres of comics were, at least in North
per comic, became a Web hit, and then .html) by Drew Weing, the highly person- America, back in the early ’90s. There is
turned into a hot seller on Amazon.com al “Mom’s Cancer” (www.momscan more of a biodiversity of ideas, of styles,
when the book collection hit in 2007. For cer.com) by Brian Fies—Web comics of approaches, of voices.”

82 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


caught in the web

of merchandise sales, on-site advertising, But one of the distinguishing charac-


Comics Culture Digitized and reselling original art to cobble together teristics of the Web comic is its unique
Although there are thousands of a business. Although various strips have relationship to the audience. Being cre-
comics on the Web, this is different from tried over the years to exact direct subscrip- ator-owned and living on a highly interac-
“Web comics,” aficionados of the form tion payments from users online, the paid tive medium, the artists usually maintain
insist. Companies such as Marvel and DC content model never took hold with a user a direct dialogue with their readers.
and the newspaper syndicates have been base that is accustomed to free content and “It is a radically different kind
trying to leverage the Web as another way usually consumes too many different of relationship with their audience,”
to distribute and promote their print for comics to make any one subscription says McCloud.
years. But Tyrrell and others argue that
Web comics represent a different culture
and business model.
“Web comics are creator-owned,
specifically intended to be published in
electronic form (but may be collected in
print at some later point), [and] may
change size, shape, format, and art style
rather than stay within strict boundaries,”
he contends. Tyrrell estimates that literal-
ly hundreds of thousands of such comics
have been produced over the years, but
only a couple hundred have attracted seri-
ous business models and critical attention. The Web helped comics artists explore a range of genres that few newspaper comics syndicates
The Web allows professional print comics ever considered publishing. Web comics portals and ratings hubs such as TopWebComics.com
artists such as Karl Kerschl (“Teen Titans: help users discover everything from sci-fi epics to highly personal and real-life narratives.
Year One,” “The Flash”) to have indepen-
dent projects online, such as his tale of a Comics artist and theorist Scott McCloud was one of the early champions
“dim-witted Yeti,” “The Abominable of Web comics as a new direction for graphical storytelling.
Charles Christopher.”
But the Web has also built for some appealing. Re- The popular strip xkcd, for instance,
popular comics creators real sustainable portedly, the mak- has tens of thousands of posts to its site
business models. “There are 10 people here, ers of “Ache- forums. Authors now make the rounds of
all told,” says “Penny Arcade” co-creator wood” (achewood the comics conventions. Comics artists
Jerry Holkins of the staff his decade-old .com), “xkcd”, “Girl Genius” (www.girl also leverage the community power of the
comic now supports. Many other comics genius.com), “Ctrl+Alt+Del” (www.ctrlalt Internet to help one another and generate
post irregularly and give up quickly. del-online.com), and numerous others new audiences. Collectives of artists, such
Holkins says the secret of their suc- derive their makers’ primary income from as Dumbrella (www.dumbrella.com),
cess is no secret, really. “We update a range of revenue streams. bring together groups of Web comics to
when we say we are going to,” he says. Although some in the print industry offer common Web hosting, shared ecom-
And they stuck around long enough to look down on Web comics creators as merce platforms, and cross-promotion.
emerge from the clutter and the Web mere “T-shirt merchants,” Tyrell con- Because so many niche Web comics are
booms and busts. “We showed up at a tends that the new business model emerg- available, word of mouth and Web comic
very auspicious time.” And since its ing for the online comics industry isn’t portals such as the TopWebComics.com
launch in late 1998, “Penny Arcade” has much different from those for traditional ranking engine and Webcomics.com
become the model for subsequent Web syndicated strips. directory help match the right strips to the
comics successes. “Charles Schulz didn’t get to buy his right audiences.
“A very small number make a spectacu- own hockey arena from syndicating
lar living, and others clearly are managing ‘Peanuts’ to 2,000 papers worldwide. He The Perfect Medium
to pay the bills,” says McCloud. “There got it from putting Snoopy on everything In many ways, the Web comics phe-
are real business models, but they are a lot from baby underwear to insurance nomenon is one of the best and long-lived
of work.” company blimps.” More and more Web examples of how the Internet can funda-
Tyrrell estimates that 60 to 75 Web comics are finding a home, and revenue mentally change a medium. Almost from
comics actually support their creators. offline, in book reprints and tradi- the beginning of the Internet, and even
Most self-publishers use a combination tional syndication. earlier, graphic artists seized upon digital

CPU / October 2009 83


caught in the web

platforms as fertile and new ground for they get from reading a good book or mechanisms for finding it [will develop].
comics and distribution. Widely credited watching a great movie. I don’t think Problems precede solutions, so first you
as the first digital comic, the Colorado that is what the long-form side of need too much good stuff and then you
Daily strip about college life “Where the [comics] has delivered as often. When find ways to find it all.” ▲
Buffalo Roam” by Hans Boordahl came there is a clear source of endlessly
onto Usenet in 1992 in simple GIF form readable long-form stuff on the Web, by Steve Smith
to find an audience. Others such as
“Doctor Fun” and “NetBoy” were ap-
pearing on the Internet by 1993.
From these earliest days, the promise
Q&A with Tycho:
of the Internet to generate a wider range Penny Arcade Talks Outside Of The Speech Balloon
of comics—and audiences for them—
became clear. In this, Web comics have With its wide syndication in books, newspapers, and even into a series of video games,
been scouts on the forefront of the digital “Penny Arcade” is the most recognizable Web comic strip of all. Launched in 1998, the
media “revolution” that many theorists strip is also among the longest-running series online. Co-creator Jerry Holkins (aka the
envisioned a decade ago. Newspaper strip’s Tycho Brahe) tells us
comics embodied a century of “mass what it is like to sit atop
media.” In that model, economies of scale the world’s biggest Web
allowed the cheap distribution of infor- comics empire.
mation to everyone, but it required the
centralized control of the medium and CPU: Do you two still do your
the gateway. By lowering the barriers of own artwork and writing?
entry for media production and allowing Holkins: We’re the only ones
effortless distribution to anyone via the who work on the comic strip
Internet, a content producer no longer itself, yes. That’s the part of
needed a “mass” audience to make a liv- the job we like! We wouldn’t hire anybody to do it.
ing but could assemble a dedicated group
of readers to support an effort. CPU: What technical tools do you use to make the strips?
More than 15 years after the appear- Holkins: The text itself is written wherever we are, on whatever I have available. Tool-
ance of the first Web comics, literally wise, [co-creator Mike Krahulik] draws the strip using a vast Wacom tablet and the latest
thousands of comics series abound on the Photoshop. Nothing special. He does it on a Mac, I guess, but that’s not especially novel
Web. There are so many comics with for weirdo creative types like him. The process is so organic, essentially the result of our
dedicated followings that aficionados like conversations. We’re essentially trying to please ourselves, to the exclusion of the greater
McCloud and Tyrrell blanch at the very universe.
idea of listing the “most popular” or
“best” Web comics. “Blockbusters,” CPU: It seems that Penny Arcade comes closest to the traditional success model of
“bestsellers,” and “Top 40” charts are the comics, syndicating and licensing into multiple platforms. Are you the exception that
relics of a mass media age. proves the rule that most Web comics don’t get the recognition print comics have?
If anything, the choices are so vast now Holkins: Even with the recognition we’ve garnered, our footprint is infinitely smaller
that the key problem of post-mass culture than any Sunday comic, let alone a monster cultural foundry like a Dilbert or a Far Side.
emerges: discoverability. How do you find It’s a matter of scale, and I’m careful to avoid anything approaching Web comics boost-
the comics and artists that match your erism. The Internet is a transmission medium, and we’ve leveraged it—accidentally at
sensibility and tastes? Sites such as first, and now with greater confidence. But that’s all it is, a way to get ideas from one
Webcomics.com and TopWebComics.com place to another, and it is not host to some mystical power.
are a start. But McCloud expects we will
resolve the current “needle in the haystack CPU: Do you read other Web comics yourself?
problem” with the other tools of discovery Holkins: Lots and lots, but I am partial to “Achewood” and “xkcd.”
now germinating online, such as social
media sharing and social networks. He still CPU: Looking back at the history of Web comics and their initial promise to proliferate new
hopes that some of his original dreams of multimedia formats and audiences, are you disappointed at some of the paths not taken?
richer, deeper, long-form digital comics will Holkins: I think you may be talking to the wrong dude. I just make my little JPEGs and
come true online. upload them to the Internet. I’m not looking at the state of the medium cluckingly, shak-
“I don’t think people often find that ing my head with sadness at its squalor. Unless someone is stabbing me with a knife, I
kind of extreme visceral pleasure that don’t care what they are doing. And if they are stabbing me with knife, I ask them to stop.

84 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


orwell.txt
ecently, one of many nightmare DRM scenarios reared its new device. This is incredibly convenient, but as recent events
R ugly head; a bookseller released the George Orwell clas- have illustrated, that convenience comes at a cost.
sics “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm” to be sold by As “the cloud” becomes more pervasive, more and more of
Amazon.com for use on its Kindle ebook reader. Amazon sold your data is stored in the cloud. The iPhone is a very controlled
many copies of the books, only to find that they’d purchased system where applications are limited to those approved by a sin-
stolen merchandise: The bookseller in question wasn’t actually gle corporate entity. Most of the earliest online music stores re-
the legal copyright holder. When the true rights holder figured lied on DRM with restrictive and sometimes ridiculous limits
out its books were being sold illicitly, on when and how you could use your
it contacted Amazon. own content.
You probably already can see where But what content is actually yours,
this is going. The Kindle is a closed and what content are you just using?
device. Amazon owns the operating The answers to this question aren’t as
system. And when the dust settles, simple as they once were. Are you
even though you have paid for the simply renting a copy of a book?
books that it hosts, they have a kill When the second edition is released,
switch that they were all too happy to should first edition owners get a free
flip. Suddenly, anyone who had a update? And when the third edition
copy of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” resid- rewrites a chapter, will historians be
ing on his Kindle found in its place a able to see the contents of the first
hole: Amazon had reached into the edition to see the effects of subse-
devices owned by individuals and quent revision?
deleted the ebook’s file. History was There’s more than a little irony in
rewritten. We’ve always been at war the fact that the biggest case of DRM
with Eurasia. run amok so far involves a novel like
Amazon, of course, issued refunds “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Most of us
to affected users, but to me that’s not read this book as kids, and over time
really the point. The point is a corpo- scary imagery of governments moni-
ration reached into its customers’ toring and controlling the information
devices and deleted content without flowing to the population in an effort
permission. This is the problem with to control history only becomes increas-
having a device where the hardware and Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda is the ingly real.
software are controlled by a single entity. creator and director of the popular We can happily proclaim that America
If you bought a printed book from News for Nerds Web site Slashdot.org. doesn’t have it as bad as Iran or China,
Amazon that later turned out to have been He spends his time fiddling with where the government firewalls your
illegally reproduced, would someone from electronic gizmos, wandering the ’Net, packets and monitors what you see and
Amazon be able to walk to your home, watching anime, and trying to think hear. You shouldn’t kid yourself—the
enter with their master key, and rummage of clever lies to put in his bio so that Internet is definitely being monitored by
aorund in your bookshelves to find the he seems cooler than he actually is. your government—but in America, the
book and take it back? Of course not. But government has been replaced by corpora-
in a world of DRM, this is almost exactly tions that we don’t elect. Corporations
what happened. that operate with one purpose: Maximize
That’s not to say there aren’t substantial Shareholder Value.
benefits to electronic distribution. If your On second thought, maybe that’s
house burns down, Amazon will not send even worse. ▲
you a new copy of a paperback it shipped
to you before the fire, but if your Kindle’s Contact me at malda@cpumag.com
screen cracks and you need to have it re-
placed, you can freely download your
ebook purchases and load them onto your

86 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


Games
Digital Living
Gear
Movies
At Your Music

Leisure
Audio Video Corner
The entertainment world, at least where it pertains to technology, morphs,
twists, turns, and fires so fast it’s hard to keep up. But that’s exactly why we
love it. For the lowdown on the latest and most interesting releases in PC
entertainment, consoles, DVDs, CDs, and just leisure and lifestyle stuff we (for
the most part) love and recommend, read on.

by Blaine A. Flamig
DVD
Elvis Presley—“From Elvis In Memphis: Legacy Edition” Byte
The word in the late 1960s was that Elvis’ better days were behind him. With his leather-clad,
senses-battering “Comeback Special” in 1968, he emphatically squashed such sentiment. On 10/6
the heels of that TV special, Elvis returned to Memphis to record. A wise move, as the tracks Anvil! The Story Of Anvil
from those sessions resulted in several stellar albums, including 1969’s terrifically soulful, expert-
Bones: The Complete
ly executed “From Elvis In Memphis.” This two-disc edition contains all the tracks from those Fourth Season
$13.99 sessions, including “Suspicious Minds,” “In The Ghetto,” “Kentucky Rain,” and even “Hey Jude.”
Snow White And The
American Sound Studios Bluesy, countrified, and deftly arranged, the “From Elvis In Memphis” sessions marked Elvis’ last
Seven Dwarfs
www.elvis.com hurrah recording-wise and perhaps his greatest musical achievement overall.
Red Dwarf: Back to Earth
Stargate Atlantis: The
Bill Frisell—“Disfarmer” Complete Series
Within American music circles, jazz/folk/roots guitarist Bill Frisell is considered royalty based Collection
on a career of sustained excellence. On the thoroughly engrossing “Disfarmer,” Frisell displays Snatch (Blu-ray)
exactly why his talent is so well thought of. Commissioned to serve as a soundtrack to the strik-
ingly dour yet beautiful black-and-white Depression-era photos that Michael Disfarmer shot of 10/13
his fellow Heber Springs, Ark., residents, “Disfarmer’s” songs feel as if Frisell grew them straight Legend of the Seeker: The
$11.99 from the earth. Oozing with authenticity, these instrumentals from Frisell and his Complete First Season
Nonesuch Records crack band—including “That’s Alright, Mama,” “Lovesick Blues,” and “I Can’t Help
Lovejoy: The Complete
www.nonesuch.com/artists/bill-frisell It”—float weightlessly but carry mountains of substance. Ethereal yet anchored, Season Six
“Disfarmer” is musical interpretation at its finest.
Natural Born Killers
(Unrated Director’s Cut)
The Great Buck Howard
You’d figure a guy whom Johnny Carson booked 61 times on “The Tonight Show” could get 10/20
some respect. Such isn’t the case for Buck Howard, a washed-up but still egomaniacal “mental- The L Word: The
ist”—not magician; that’s a dirty word to Buck. Buck’s aim is to recapture fame and get booked Complete Series
in Vegas, but only his half-packed audiences in Akron, Bakersfield, and the like care. What little It’s Garry Shandling’s
we learn about Howard comes from the viewpoint of Troy (Colin Hanks), a law school drop- Show: Complete Series
$19.99 out who becomes Buck’s road manager. As Howard, the always captivating John Willy Wonka & The
Magnolia Home Entertainment Malkovich is gold. Cameos from Tom Hanks, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, and others Chocolate Factory (Blu-ray)
www.greatbuckhowardmovie.com don’t hurt, either. The real treat, however, is the subtle life lessons writer/director
UFC 100: Making History
Sean McGinly’s script provides in a satirical approach that’s loving vs. cruel.

Watchmen 10/27
The Guardian: The First
Vision—the key element missing from director Zack Synder’s “Watchmen.” Sad really, consid- Season
ering the universally revered, 12-issue graphic novel source material. Snyder’s lukewarm inter-
Battlestar Galactica: The
pretation of “Watchmen’s” world of flawed vigilante superheroes is unattached viewing—like
Plan
safely turning pages in a photo album vs. experiencing history up-close with life-and-death
Life After People: The
consequences at stake. That said, Jackie Earle Haley’s emotionally grinding take on the fascinat-
Series
$29.98 ingly conflicted Rorschach and Billy Crudup’s spot-on turn as the god-like Dr. Manhattan go
Warner Home Video far to combat Snyder’s blandness. A three-disc director’s cut does add 24 minutes to the the- Monty Python: Almost
The Truth
www.watchmen.com atrical cut, but there’s something to be said for saying more with less.

CPU / October 2009 87


No-Frills Fun — by Chris Trumble
$19.99 (PC) • ESRB: (T)een • Tilted Mill Entertainment • www.tiltedmill.com/hinterland

he gameplay vs. graphics issue is of course building, smart use of your re-
T largely a matter of taste, but even given
the considerable popularity of retro gaming, in
sources (natural and human),
and occasionally a bit of luck.
general, gamers tend to put a lot of stock in a You begin the game with only
game’s graphics. As such, we should point out your house and one or two visitors
right away that Hinterland: Orc Lords is not a milling about and must decide
graphical tour de force; it’s not unfair to com- which of your visitors would be the
pare the game with older stuff like Diablo II or biggest assets to your nascent com-
casual-gamer fare such as Fate. It looks decent, munity; you are responsible for your
and we love that your character displays the followers’ spiritual well-being and
gear you equip, but even the much-maligned happiness in addition to their food supply and deplete your town’s resources, so success in
graphics of World of Warcraft (for example) physical safety. You make visitors residents by Hinterland requires vigilance and some inge-
are a significant step up by comparison. Which building them houses and/or farms, churches, nuity on your part. You won’t micromanage
brings us to another interesting thing about or places of business, and when you make smart research and resources to the extent that you
Hinterland: In a world where single-player- choices, you improve your town’s appeal, which must in games like Civilization, but you can’t
only games are often pilloried in the press, makes future recruiting easier. (Each visitor has a focus entirely on combat, either; it’s a nearly
Tilted Mill staunchly stuck to its game’s core list of standards that you must meet before they ideal blend of gameplay elements, especially
strengths and elected not to bolt on some can become part of your town.) You make when combined with Hinterland’s relatively
half-baked multiplayer mode just to appease money and win the fame you need to build quick games and immense replay value. The
keepers of the status quo. your town through adventuring in the sur- class you choose at the outset affects nearly
The result of these things and some very rounding countryside, on your own at first and every aspect of your path to victory, and each
clever game design on Tilted Mill’s part is a later with a small contingent of your town’s resi- time you start a new game, Hinterland ran-
fun, addictive game with a small footprint dents. Like you, they gain experience as they domly generates a fresh, new region, stocked
that is simple to pick up but tough to mas- fight, leveling up or getting hurt (and sometimes with differing resources and monsters for you
ter. You play as one of a number of charac- dying) in the process. The difference is that if to gather and hunt, respectively.
ter types (knight, scoundrel, orc lord, etc.; you die, you are ported back to town and resur- In short, the game is manageable enough
these are called “backgrounds” in the game) rected—you are only mostly dead—whereas a to play in short stints, is highly engrossing,
and must secure an entire region in the follower that falls in combat is gone for good. and perhaps best of all, costs a mere $20 ($15
name of your king. Doing so entails a tad You can lose fame more easily than you if you know where to look). That’s what we
of exploration, lots of combat, some town win it, and raids from surrounding areas can call a stimulus package. ▲

88 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


Free to $9.99 (PC)
ESRB: Varies By Game
GOG.com
www.gog.com

A Service For Good Old PC Games — by Dr. Malaprop


ovies, music, artwork. These all reflect culture and can be revisited with bundled add-ons (wallpa-
M with relative ease. For instance, you can easily watch films made
decades ago, such as 1927’s “Metropolis” or 1982’s “Blade Runner,” to see how
pers, artwork, game guides, offi-
cial soundtracks, and more)—
they influenced modern cinema. Music and photos are easy to find and enjoy. DRM-free and for a reasonable
Revisiting classic games is much more difficult. Content is often tied price. The company is aware
closely to source platforms. Sure, Xbox Live’s XBLA or Wii’s Virtual Con- that plenty of great classics
sole make some retro games playable, but that doesn’t provide you access haven’t yet been added to its
to the majority of videogaming’s library that’s splintered across long-lost catalogue but is working dili-
hardware. Think of PC games such as Descent: Freespace or Fallout from gently to grow its library. Keep in mind that some publishers don’t like the
the 1990s. You’re not going to walk into a store or even the official com- idea of making games available DRM-free, and signing deals with publish-
pany site to purchase those games. Furthermore, many of these older ers is a time-consuming process, especially when they no longer exist.
games don’t run on modern hardware. The service has been adding at least two games per week, so the library is
GOG.com (currently in beta) is a new online service that takes a step in growing steadily beyond its 130 games as we went to press. GOG.com seems
the right direction. Any of us can rattle off dozens of PC games that are no like it’s on track to be the ultimate place to find classic, long lost PC games, so
longer playable on current hardware or legally available for purchase. GOG be sure to check it out. As for older computer games (Commodore 64, Sin-
is working toward building a library of classic PC games for sale—often clair Spectrum, etc.), you’ll be stuck with emulation and abandonware sites. ▲

$59.99 (360, PS3); $39.99 (PC)


ESRB: (T)een
Codemasters
www.overlordgame.com

When Dungeon Keeping Isn’t Enough — by Dr. Malaprop


hen Codemasters released fires. You gain control and unlock as a minion for brief spells, which
W the original Overlord in
2007, it was lauded as a Pikmin-
the four types of minions over the
course of the game. You control
we enjoyed. At the end of the day,
Overlord II provides more varied
style action-strategy game. The your minions through a combina- gameplay, keeping you more
sequel is in the same vein as Bull- tion of puzzles and RTS-style action engaged as the game progresses.
frog’s comedic, good-to-be-bad against the Glorious Empire (pat- Targeting gave us problems and
Dungeon Keeper games from the terned after the Roman Empire). could be improved, but overall we
late 1990s. Overlord II picks up Many shortcomings from the had a good time playing the bad
years later with the son of the original are addressed. For exam- guy. Graphics are a visible step
original Overlord. In the early lev- ple, you can now see a minimap as up from the original, and the
els, you lead him through a prov- you play. The camera control is voice acting continues to
ing ground (which doubles as a updated but causes conflicting charm. This is a no-brainer if
training ground) to ensure his evil control issues when sweeping your you liked the original. ▲
is truly of legendary value. minions into place. We liked that
As in the original game, you will minions can ride. For example,
control the Overlord and his min- Browns mount wolves to make
ions. Each minion type (Browns, them more effective at battering
Reds, Greens, and Blues) has special through reinforced forces, and
skills. For example, Reds are vulnera- Greens can mount spiders to
ble in melee but can set and absorb climb walls. On occasion, you play

CPU / October 2009 89


I Ain’t ’Fraid No Ghost Sim-ply Irresistible
—by Dr. Malaprop —by Dr. Malaprop
$49.99 (PC) • ESRB: (T)een
$59.99 (360, PS3); $29.99 (PC); $39.99 (Wii) Electronic Arts • www.thesims3.com
ESRB: (E)veryone • Atari Games
www.ghostbustersgame.com
he idea of having little computer people fascinated us from the

I n lieu of a film sequel to “Ghostbusters II,” you can think of this vid-
eogame as the third installment of the series. Writing comes courtesy
T moment we first played Activision’s Little Computer People on
the Commodore 64 in the mid-1980s. By fast-forwarding beyond the
of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who also star in the game in likeness debut of The Sims in 2000 and its sequel four years later (with nu-
and voice, along with Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson as the remaining merous expansion sets along the way), you’d find that our interest in
two iconic Ghostbusters. You play as a rookie fifth member of the the game had waned. It was just too much reliving the trials and
team. Sigourney Weaver does not return, but Alyssa Milano steps in tribulations of a fake person in your computer.
as Venkman’s love interest, Dr. Selwyn. The Sims 3 surprised us, and we’ve found ourselves guiltily
The story picks back up in 1991, a couple of years after “Ghost- sneaking back to spend more time with the game. There seems
busters II,” in New York City. A supernatural shockwave leads to all to be a bit less content, but the game feels more focused. And
manner of phantasms and monsters, requiring the services of the don’t fret—many (many) expansions are planned. Having a sin-
Ghostbusters. The game pays ample fan service to the films, and gle town that’s easy to navigate with speedy load times makes
you’ll don a proton pack and PKE meter as you set out on mis- getting around convenient, which leads to greater exploration.
sions. All manner of fun technology will be introduced as you Configuring new characters is simple but feels limitless. The
progress through the game. You’ll spend plenty of time new Trait system provides an easy and unique way to imbue
wrestling and capturing ghosts with your proton stream and your characters with personality. There are numerous interface
resuscitating your injured AI Ghostbusters. The game does not improvements, and the game makes it easy to play the way you
offer much in the way of depth, but Ghostbusters want without force-feeding chores down your throat.
meets our expectations and stays true Overall, The Sims 3 is a relaxing and enjoyable way
to its legend. ▲ to pass time. If you’d given up on The Sims franchise
because you didn’t want the responsibility of living
an alternative virtual life, The Sims 3 may just
change your mind. ▲

Hefting Iron In The Wild West —by Dr. Malaprop


his prequel to 2007’s Call of Juarez is an can use a lasso to jump to higher ground, and
T improvement. You opt to play as either
Thomas or Ray McCall, two brothers fighting on
fight stealthily with knives and arrows. How-
ever, as Ray, you can be more brash, knocking
the side of the Confederacy. A military decision down doors or wielding dynamite and a hand-
puts their family farm in harm’s way, and they gun simultaneously. With these options, we
desert to take care of business. Their action expected co-op campaign play, but disap-
results in a commanding officer hunting them pointingly that’s only available in more lim-
down, heading to Mexico in search of Aztec ited multiplayer capacity. We enjoyed the
treasure, and bloody betrayal over money. classic Western narrative, but the overly
Women, heavy irons, quicktime chases, horse- similar enemies and repetitious missions de-
$59.99 (360, PS3); $49.99 (PC) back riding, gunfighting duels, and double-cross- tracted from the game. Still, Bound In Blood
ESRB: (M)ature es abound—all of which keeps things interesting. brings satisfying variety to the genre and
Ubisoft Each brother has his own pros and cons. led us to finishing the game in a hair under
www.callofjuarez.com Play as Thomas and you have greater agility, 10 hours. ▲

90 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


Kaypro II
raditionally, in European cultures, a woman brings to a mar- Nor is there any doubt that the Kaypro II was cutting-edge in its
T riage a dowry. This can be financial wealth, lands, furniture, heyday, with a devoted following through hobby groups. The parent
silverware, and jewelry, but in my wife’s case, it was simply a Kay- company was smart enough to set up a training regimen for its dealer-
pro II. It wasn’t a dowry, either—just something she had from the ships, giving owners a feeling of both security in their computers and
early 1980s through the mid-1990s, when it got lost in a move. an abiding interest in their concerns. This was only sensible, since the
That’s too bad. I’m sure in a hundred years it will be worth close to original retail price, $1,795 (later dropped to $1,595), wasn’t the kind
what she paid for it. of investment people made on easily disposable goods. Kay and his
Lest you think I’m being unfair, I people realized that the personal comput-
promise to dispense equal justice next er was a luxury item, and as such, provid-
month to my own Radio Shack TRS- ed luxury support.
80 of roughly the same time period. Need more info to make you go out
Though, at least, I had the sense to and invest? The Kaypro II came with a
throw it out. My wife kept her CP/M whopping 64K memory, and both serial
disk copies of old bundled Kaypro and parallel ports. It utilized a Zilog Z80
software, such as Perfect Calc, Perfect processor, with a system clock rate of
Writer, and Perfect Files, through into 2.5MHz. There were 2K bytes of static
the early years of this century, perhaps RAM for screen memory and a charac-
hoping with an admirable but forlorn ter-generating ROM. Games were rather
faith that the operating system would limited, though I do remember my wife
come back into fashion. showing me its version of “Star Trek.”
The Kaypro was produced by Non- As to its name: It was called the
Linear Systems, a firm founded by Kaypro II because the Kaypro I was a
Andrew Kay in 1952. Kay’s early claim demo unit. Or because the Apple II
to fame was the invention of the digital was the bestseller back in the day. Or
voltmeter, but by 1982, he presciently because a 2.0 version impresses people
realized that the non-Apple personal as something that has all the 1.0 bugs
computer market could sustain more removed. Each of these theories has
than just the then-popular Osborne 1. been advanced, and all may have fig-
The 9-inch green phosphor Kaypro II ured into the final choice.
screen, with 80 columns and 24 lines, Kaypro and its computers ultimate-
was easily superior to the Osborne 5-inch Barry Brenesal has written more ly died like the dinosaurs and civilized
screen with 52 columns and 24 lines, and than 1,000 published articles and conversation because of an unwillingness
this greatly hurt the latter system’s sales. reviews on electronic technology since to adapt to changing times. Kaypro lost
The Kaypro also possessed a solid alu- 1987. His first personal computer many users before switching operating sys-
minum case with a detachable keyboard was a Radio Shack TRS-80 model 100. tems and architecture in 1985, moving to
that slotted onto its screen and a pair of It was last seen functioning MS-DOS compatibility with successive
double-density 5.25-inch floppy disk drives as a boat anchor. releases of the Kaypro 16, PC, AT, 386,
for sealed storage. At close to 30 pounds and 2000. This stumbling entry into the
(and with a folded size of 8 x 18 x 15.5 PC market has been repeatedly blamed
inches), promoting it as portable was for the company’s downfall. It continued
stretching matters a bit. In fact, a contem- with diminishing revenues for several
porary “Byte” review noted that “a ma- years, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy
chine of this weight needs a comfortable in 1990, and chapter 7 in 1992.
handle,” and comfort in a handle was Still, there remains to this day a small, de-
something the unit didn’t provide. But voted following of Kaypro users. And there,
contemporary users lugged it everywhere but for a moving loss, would be my wife. ▲
with the same enthusiasm shown by Olym-
pic Bulgarian weightlifters for their train- Wax nostalgic with Barry at
ing equipment. barry@cpumag.com

92 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


tips & tricks

for the page itself. By default, Picasa


puts your HTML code in the necessary
tree of folders and subfolders within My
Documents\Picasa HTML Exports\Page
Title; you can change the location for
easier retrieval. Click Next to go to the
Web Template selection window where
you can preview six default templates
with various layouts and colors. Choose
one and click Finish to generate the
code and automatically launch the page.
You can upload this code to your own
Photo & Video Editing For Budget-Tightening Times Web site.
For even greater design flexibil-
ity, some enterprising photo enthus-
imes are tough, and budgets applying a gradient sky to a landscape, iasts have developed additional Picasa

T are tight. For many of us, this


is no time to invest in high-
end photo-editing software.
It’s time to make do with the free tools.
As we move ever closer to the snapshot-
because the gradient will be applied in a
level fashion and will look askew if the
main image is not squared.
Now go into the Effects tab and click
Graduated Tint. Click the Pick Color
HTML templates for you to try. The
folks at The Future of Memories
(www.futureofmemories.com) have creat-
ed much fancier templates than Google.
Go to www.futureofmemories.com
taking holiday season, let’s drill into a few area and move the eye dropper to just the /templates and look for the Download
surprisingly advanced capabilities avail- right shade for your sky. For now, don’t Now link to download templates. You
able from some of the most basic image- worry about it only filling half your image. will need to unzip the folder into your
editing software. You might be surprised We’ll adjust positioning
by the features that have migrated into next. Click when you have
these familiar and free downloads. With a the right color. You want
few no-cost tools, you may be able to put to match the intensity of
off that expensive software purchase until the color in the sky to the
after the economic rebound. color saturation of your
When Google’s Picasa launched several foreground to make the
years ago, it was the most rudimentary of skyline look natural, so
image organizers and uploaders. With the don’t overdo the tint you
release of Picasa 3.0 recently, however, we choose. In the photo itself,
are getting some very fancy image- and locate and move the cross-
even video-editing tools. hairs to just above the
horizon, and this will give
Blue Skies you that graduated sky
Ever see those gorgeous azure skies in effect. Now, use the Feath-
professional photographs? With a little er slider to adjust the The once rudimentary Picasa photo organizer has now become
trick, you can get them, too. In most intensity of the grada- a surprisingly adept editor. Here, we straighten an image and
cases, digital camera shots tend to “blow tion—nothing but blue add a gradient blue sky.
out” the skies to an unappealing white. skies from now on.
Picasa 3 users can mimic the Photoshop Program Files\Google\Picasa3\Web\
masters by very easily laying in a digitized HTML Photo Galleries Templates folder.
gradient sky. The first thing you need to A little-known feature in Picasa is its Once you’ve unzipped the templates,
do with a landscape, however, is level the ability to create Web photo galleries that repeat the process outlined above for
horizon. Double-click your image in the can be uploaded to your Web site. In exporting images into HTML. You will
Library to bring it into the editor. In the Picasa 3.0, simply create or highlight a see that the Template selection window is
Basic Fixes tab, click Straighten. This folder or select the multiple files you want populated with more options. Each tem-
superimposes a grid so you can move the to convert into a Web page gallery. In the plate also has a preview to explain the lay-
slider to line your horizon up with one Folder menu, click Export As HTML out. And don’t forget that the templates
of the reference lines. Click Apply Page. The next page lets you choose the from The Future of Memories are dona-
when done. This is a critical first step to image sizes for your Web page and a title tionware. Give if you can.

94 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


tips & tricks

a folder of videos in the Library window pull stills into Movie Maker. For now, just
Video Editing On The Cheap and use the Movie button in the bottom import one image. Now drag the image
Curious Picasa users may already have launch bar. This puts you into the same three times into the Video layer of the sto-
discovered the video slideshow maker Movie Maker interface you would use for ryboard on the bottom of the screen. You
included in the program. But Picasa also animating stills. But in this case, you will will have three instances of the same
has one of the fastest and easiest video find all of your video clips lined up in the image. Drag the Ease In effect onto the
clip trimmers and YouTube uploaders storyboard on the bottom of the screen first instance of the image. Drag the Ease
around. In Picasa, simply find the video where you can rearrange them, add title Out effect onto the second instance. If you
clip in the Library or use the File/Import slides, captions, or soundtracks. This is click the Play button now, this combina-
From menu command to find your clip. video editing, simple and super cheap. tion of effects will give you a zoom in and
We have had good luck with Picasa recog- out animation on the same image. Now,
nizing and editing WMV and MPEG for- Still Life Movie Making drag the Grayscale effect onto the first
mats but mixed success with AVIs. For One of the coolest digital imaging slide. If you play the sequence now, your
the quickest route to YouTube, double- tricks combines still pictures with video video will open with the image in black
click your clip. storyboarding. Video slideshows let you and white and zoom out in full color.
In the video screen, you can drag the control the timing of individual slides in Now, you can add different transitions
start and stop blocks on the progress bar to a sequence, apply a range of effects or between the slides to add another layer of
trim your video on the fly. But also look for transitions, and add soundtracks. The animation. Play with it on your own to
the tiny icon below the progress bar for the process turns all of these stills into a find a host of creative slideshow effects.
Captioning option. Click the button and video file. Google Picasa 3 will do this in Next time, we’ll drill deeper into free
enter a caption, and the caption will appear a very basic way, but ambitious docu- photo and video editors, just in time for
superimposed on your clip in the finished mentarians on a budget might prefer your camera’s holiday workout season. ▲
product. When done with trimming and Windows Vista’s Movie Maker that is
captioning, clicking Create Movie will fin- included in Vista Home Premium and by Steve Smith
ish your project; you can click the Upload Ultimate versions of the OS. Here is a
To YouTube button to send it directly to quick trick that demonstrates some of the
your account with title and tags. program’s potential.
That was the quick way. For more in- Open Movie Maker and click Pictures
volved multi-video presentations, highlight in the Tasks column to open the Import
Media Items window. This is where you
Evil Robot Theory
Continues To Be
Windows Tip Of The Month Advanced
If you have persistently slow boot and shutdown times or you just can’t figure out which
program has been making your hard drive thrash like a relentless coffee grinder, then Artificial intelligence and robotics are
advanced users might want to try peering into the Event Viewer for some clues. Just type serious business. So serious, in fact, that

Source: technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article6736130.ece
Event Viewer in the Vista Start search box to bring the application to the surface. Once a number of leading minds in the field
the program is open, drill down to Applications\Microsoft\Windows\Diagnostics gathered in a secret meeting (well, not
Performance\Operational. In the middle pane, you will see a long scroll of Warning and so secret anymore, it seems) to discuss
Error messages with precise timestamps. Highlighting one of these events will reveal the possibility of an AI over-
details about the file or service that is causing performance degradation, such as excessive throwing its human
disk access or delayed boot and shutdown times. The tool can’t tell you what to do about masters. These fears
the problem, but it will help you identify the persistent aren’t without
drags on your system. merit, either: The
Registry Tip Of The Month military already
Windows Vista has added an extra irritating step when opening the Display Settings win- uses unmanned
dow from the desktop; now, we have to go through the Personalize window. You can drones to attack
use the Registry to create a more direct right-click shortcut to Display Settings. Go to targets, and South
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\Background\shell and right-click to make a new key that Korea has intro-
you name “Display Settings.” Double-click the Default Value for this new key in the right duced robotic bor-
pane and input “Display Settings” as the Value data. Return to the Display Setting key in the der patrol guards
left pane, right-click, and make a new key you name “command.” Double-click the Default capable of shooting their
Value in that new key’s right pane and make the Value name “rundll32 shell32.dll, marks. As far as we
Control_RunDLL DESK.CPL,@0,3.” The effect will be immediate. When you right-click the know, though, John
desktop, you will see a direct context menu link to the Display Settings window. Connor is still safe.

CPU / October 2009 95


tips & tricks

OSS in favor of ALSA. This caused the


organization behind OSS to shift gears
again and offer OSS in open source.
This battle between two competing
audio subsystems is one of the biggest
causes that there is not a wider array of
audio-related software.

Can You Hear Me Now?


Certainly there are applications that
help with sound manipulation on
Linux, but very few of them are general-
purpose graphical utilities. Most of the
programs that deal with sound on Linux
Mixing It Up With Linux are very niche-oriented, such as music
notation editors, guitarist-specific utili-
ties, MIDI sequencers, and file convert-
s Linux gains in popularity, OSS was originally released as free ers. But if you’re looking for something

A there are two forces that


contribute to its growing
software base. One force is
that as Linux gets more followers, more
casual programmers become involved
software, and independent developers
gravitated toward it and added drivers.
As it became more popular, the lead
developer chose to switch it from open
to closed source. This move alone
to dip your toe in for sound editing,
that’s hard to find on Linux. In your
search for that general-purpose GUI
sound editor, you’ll come across a lot of
abandoned projects.
and contribute to projects that whet turned off many Linux developers who Thankfully, Audacity is not one of
their appetites. The other force is that as believed it should remain open. To those. Even better is that Audacity
more nonprogrammers adopt Linux, make matters worse, the development doesn’t limit itself with just basic fea-
those users gravitate toward programs cycle of OSS was measured in years, not tures. It comes with some advanced
that interest them. Audacity (audacity weeks or months; bugs with OSS would stuff, so it’s a great program for begin-
.sourceforge.net) is an open-source, gener- not be fixed in a timeframe that most ners to moderately advanced Lin-
al-purpose audio-editing program that is other developers wanted. Because of its ux audiophiles.
curiously driven by both factors. It start- popularity, it was eventually merged By being an open-source application
ed out life as a research project that with the Linux kernel itself. But because that lets you record and edit sound files,
attracted casual programmers. But as it of its shift to closed source and slow Audacity comes with the standard suite
evolved, more nonprogrammers jumped development response, an opening for a of basic sound manipulation tools, such
on it and started contributing to it. different audio subsystem appeared. as adjusting the volume of sound files,
It is one of the few general-purpose The ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound doing fade in/out effects, inserting
sound-editing programs freely available Architecture) was created as a replace- silence, white noise, and so on. You can
for Linux. ment to OSS. It’s designed to provide work with a number of different non-
drivers and a common programming proprietary file formats, such as WAV
The Sound War interface for programmers who want to and MP3. However, it can’t handle
If it seems odd that Linux doesn’t add sound to their programs. It also has proprietary file formats—Apple AAC,
have a host of audio-editing programs, features that didn’t exist when OSS was RealAudio, and Windows WMA files.
part of the reason is due to Linux’s his- originally designed, such as hardware On the surface, file format support does
tory. Because Linux traces its roots to mixing of multiple audio channels. The appear limited, but Audacity offers a
Unix, most Unix systems didn’t have common programming interface is way around the problem.
sound until very recently. Additionally, intended to abstract as much of the Most other sound-editing programs
during the early developmental years of audio hardware from the developer as will let you record sound from any of
Linux, there were a lot of proprietary possible. However, by supporting all the hardware devices, and Audacity’s no
sound cards. As a result, it was difficult this disparate hardware and adding new different. However, Audacity also lets
to create a unified audio subsystem for features, programming is a bit more you record the sound coming out of
Linux to work with. One of the first complicated with ALSA. your speakers. If you do have a propri-
attempts at creating a common envi- Eventually ALSA gained enough etary sound file, you can essentially
ronment for programmers to code is popularity among programmers that, by use your speakers as a converter. For
OSS (Open Sound System). 2002, the Linux kernel switched off example, if you wanted to work on a

96 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


tips & tricks

RealAudio sound file, set Audacity to unlike those two competing


record the playback and then play the standards, VST is available on Linux,
RealAudio file. Audacity will capture Windows, and Mac. This gives you
the sound that was played, and you can access to far more effects plug-ins than
save it into a supported file format. either of the other sound technologies.
But that’s the kind of stuff we expect There are literally hundreds of VST
from most other basic sound-editing plug-ins available, and more are devel-
programs. Audacity also has some more oped by communities of other sound-
advanced tricks up its sleeve. editing programs. Be advised, however,
that VST plug-ins are platform-specific,
Do More With Audacity so you won’t be able to use a Windows
With most other basic sound-editing VST plug-in on Linux.
programs, you can usually only edit one VST plug-in support
or two files at a time. But one of Au- with Audacity is done
dacity’s more powerful features is that it with an Audacity plug-
gives you the ability to work with multi- in, the VST Enabler.
ple tracks within a project. This type of Although the VST En-
ability is something usually reserved for abler does what it’s
commercial grade audio-editing software. supposed to do, that is
So if you have a lot of different support VST plug-ins,
sound files you want to edit, Audacity is some plug-ins will look
well-suited for the task. All you have to or behave differently
do is import the files you want to work than expected. The ap-
with into the same project. You can edit pearance issue is due to
them all at once, one at a time, or any the VST Enabler pro-
combination. You can insert silence viding generic controls
into two tracks, apply a fade effect to instead of custom controls that the plug- You can split and mix multiple sound files
three, or split a single track into multi- ins may call for. And some of the behav- separately with Audacity.
ple pieces. However you want to slice ioral issues with a plug-in are due, quite
and dice each track, or a group of simply, to bugs within the VST Enabler.
tracks, it’s very easy with Audacity. To be sure, Audacity isn’t quite an
Another powerful feature of Audaci- industrial-strength sound-editing pro-

Source: www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327185.600-microwave-weapon-will-rain-pain-from-the-sky.html
ty’s is in its effects library. Unlike some gram, but it’s well on its way. It has
audio-editing programs that have their some features that rival audio-editing
own effects library, Audacity gets its programs that cost several hundred dol- U.S. Military Takes
effects from two different sources. One lars. It has a good foundation for
source is the Nyquist programming lan- expandability with the Nyquist pro- Pain Laser To The Sky
guage, which was developed for sound gramming language and existing VST
synthesis and music composition. You OK, we’ll fess up: This addition to the
plug-ins. And most casual users will
can use it to design instruments and Pentagon’s Active Denial System (see
probably never outgrow Audacity’s
then have those instruments generate page 46 in the July 2007 issue of CPU for
capabilities as they are right now.
sound. You can write your own custom more information) isn’t a laser, per se.
It should come as no surprise then that
effects in Nyquist and have Audacity On the other hand, it certainly will “rain
some audio vendors include Audacity
interpret it directly. You can download pain from the sky,” as NewScientist
with their products. The products
plug-ins from others, or you can write points out. The nonlethal weapon
Audacity is bundled with range from
your own. employs microwaves to heat skin to
professional audio equipment to con-
But Audacity isn’t just limited to a painful levels without causing a burn.
sumer sound cards. Some vendors even
specialized programming language for its (That’s the idea, anyway.) But will ADS
go so far as to customize Audacity for
effects. It’s also capable of handling VST get off the ground? (If you’ll pardon the
their specific use.
(Virtual Studio Technology) plug-ins. pun.) The U.S. GAO (Government Ac-
So even if you don’t use Linux for
VST is a way of integrating synthesizer countability Office) indicated that ADS
mixing sound files (and more), it’s hard
is the lowest-rated of eight nonlethal
and effects plug-ins with sound editors. to beat Audacity’s features and price. ▲
It competes directly against Microsoft’s weapons the military uses.
DirectX and Apple’s Audio Units. But by John Jung

98 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


Intel Loves Chrome
& You’ve Got To Ask Why
he buzz over Google’s Chrome OS when it was announced in not up to the promise of WiMAX broadband. If you’re in the
T July mostly focused on how and when it might compete with middle of a mob all using iPhones, you might well experience a
the mighty Microsoft on operating systems, but the likelihood is lot of contention.
that, at least in the short term, it won’t. Earlier this year, AT&T announced it would upgrade its 3G
I’ve written before about how Intel has been pushing the Linux- HSPA network to 7.2Mbps with 2011 being the date set for the
based Moblin operating system for all it’s worth, so I took the time whole of the USA to benefit. The USA is lagging behind some
to put a call in to a contact in Santa Clara to ask for Intel’s view on other regions; 7.2Mbps has been on offer in Europe for some
the Google announcement. I made the time. I’ve used it for the last nine
call not out of idle curiosity but because, months, and while it sounds like a
among other connections, the chip dream, it’s not as good as it’s made out
firm’s CEO Paul Otellini sits on the to be. If there’s contention or if you
Google board. find yourself in a little leafy hollow,
I wasn’t surprised to hear that not the speed drops down to very much
only did Intel collaborate with Google less than this. That’s OK if you’re
to help with the Chrome concept, but using Skype, but it plays havoc with
the company is all behind it, too. There browsing or transferring other data
are a number of reasons for this, and and email. It’s simply not consistent
not just the bad blood between Intel enough to be of much use for a
and Microsoft. Chrome netbook unless you’re in a
Chrome, as Google made clear at the major population center where there’s
announcement, will primarily be aimed plenty of bandwidth to take.
at the netbook market and is browser- WiMAX is still relatively untested
based, so it depends on an Internet con- apart from a few select sites, and it’s
nection being omnipresent. Intel has its arriving far later than Intel originally
fingers in the netbook concept in several intended or predicted. And right now,
ways: The first is that the overwhelming few PCs or other devices will support it
majority of netbooks use its low-cost natively and instead need add-in cards
Atom microprocessor. The second is that or dongles to work at all. This will
many telecoms around the world are change, though, and there are some
practically giving away netbooks as part of solid implementations beginning to
their service contracts. The third is that Intel Mike Magee is an industry veteran. appear around the world. Intel’s WiMAX
is pushing the small form factor for all it’s He cut his teeth on ancient products plan seems to have legs—if not this year,
worth, in a bid to beat off the ARMs and like the Dragon and the Japanese PC then next year, we suspect.
Qualcomms of this world. A fourth reason platforms long before the IBM-PC won. All the ducks have to be in a row. There
is that Intel still believes that WiMAX will He worked for a corporate reseller in has to be the right kind of support for
be the true broadband of the future. the mid-’80s and saw the Compaq 386 WiMAX at the infrastructure level, net-
The rather nebulous agreement Intel sandwich box and every GUI known books have to have built-in WiMAX
made with Nokia just before the Google to humankind. Mike decided that the chipsets, and a slim OS is preferable to a
Chrome announcement all forms part of the way to go was the Interweb around fat OS like Windows to keep the overall
same pretty picture. Intel believes in conver- 1994 after editing PC mags in the late price of netbooks from rising. As we write
gence big-time, and it wants to be there be- ’80s and ’90s. A co-founder of The this, a couple of market research compa-
cause it will sell CPUs, it will sell chipsets, Register, Mike started the chip-driven nies estimate that netbook sales will dou-
and it will sell WiMAX wireless kits. INQUIRER (www.theinquirer.net) in ble this year, and by the time you read
Chrome will work with 3G, and it will 2001. He has contacts from top to this, Google thinks there will already be
work with WiMAX and with Wi-Fi. The bottom in the business, spanning the Chrome-equipped netbooks. How will
cost of 3G services is falling because the entire chain, who help him root out Microsoft react? ▲
operators realise that they have to go with interesting rumours and speculation.
the flow. But the speed and reliability of Send rumours to “Mad Mike” Magee at
3G, despite enhancements made to it, is mike@cpumag.com

100 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


What’s Cooking

Technically
Speaking
An Interview With
Kaspersky’s Roel Schouwenberg
oel Schouwenberg is a senior antivirus researcher for Kaspersky
R Lab Americas, where he has nearly a decade’s experience. He is
also a part of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team.

by Barry Brenesal

CPU: According to information on your Schouwenberg: I do believe that one Schouwenberg: Very competitive.
company’s Web site, not only can people billion people have access to the Internet, Somebody may buy malicious code for,
easily buy virus code on some Web but those figures aren’t necessarily useful. let’s say, $300, then turn around and sell it
forums, but now they can actually lease There are people who have access to as elsewhere on the Web for nearly twice that.
bots—the computers they control many as four machines, after all.
through malware. CPU: Has there been, to your knowledge,
CPU: It seems a bit sensationalist, much success from international organiza-
Schouwenberg: That’s very true. The though, to claim that anywhere from 5 tions in closing down these people?
underground for viruses now functions as an to 10% of the computers that are con-
entire ecosystem. You have certain groups of nected to the Web at any given time are Schouwenberg: We know that some
people who are busy writing malicious code, actually infected. successes have not been made public. We’ve
and others who sell these. You have the ones also seen some publicized victories. There
who try to infect as many computers as pos- Schouwenberg: I think 5 to 10% is a was an instance of a forum called Dark
sible, and then those who put up parts of the reasonably good estimate, though some Market, a sort of get-together place for cyber
botnets created in this way for rent. They put it higher, closer to 20%. But it is criminals and their customers, to arrange any
advertise: “We have 5,000 machines avail- admittedly hard to quantify, and certainly services the latter were interested in. It was
able, to do with as you wish. You can down- working for an anti-malware vendor I’d actually taken over by the FBI in an under-
load other malicious software onto these rather not hype up the numbers. That cover operation. Last year they made quite a
computers, get passwords, etc.” would be scaremongering. number of arrests, in the dozens.
Another case, which I think may be a
CPU: How many bots are we speaking CPU: How much are these leases go- bit ahead of its time, was when we
of when we talk about the kind of control ing for? worked with the Dutch police. The lat-
this malware provides to its leaseholders? ter shut down a botnet consisting of
Schouwenberg: They follow the mar- 150,000 machines and arrested its
Schouwenberg: I find it rather hard ket—to use the old expression, “as much owner. I do believe that in the future, if
to speculate myself, but there are several as a fool is willing to pay.” We have seen we really do want to make the Internet
respected figures who have done so about some cases of people paying thousands safer, law enforcement will play the pri-
the number of infected machines at any of dollars to control 25,000 infected mary role. It will also have to work
given time. Most of them agree that it’s in machines. But you can look around and together with the private sector in order
the hundreds of millions of computers. get that usually for $500. Maybe $300, if to be particularly effective.
you find a good deal.
CPU: So if we were looking for some per- CPU: How is international law enforce-
spective, how many computers are active CPU: So the marketplace for infected ment doing against cyber criminals, in
on the Web, infected and otherwise? computers is pretty competitive? your opinion?

CPU / October 2009 101


What’s Cooking

Schouwenberg: Other anti-malware For example, in Japan, a malware author regularly to see if critical updates are available
vendors are certainly doing as we do and was arrested last year. Why? Because in that for these applications.
working around the world with law malware he used a cartoon graphic. This The second important thing is installing
enforcement agencies. But at the allowed the authorities to arrest him for anti-malware software with a good firewall.
moment, this is missing from key global copyright infringement. At the moment, The final thing is that you need to be care-
organizations such as Interpol. It’s a really issuing malware in Japan is not illegal. ful. This isn’t easily quantifiable, but when
big hurdle, because international coopera- you get an email saying, “Do you want to
tion is difficult to get going with current CPU: The Japanese don’t have on the see this celebrity without any clothes on?”
resources. And these criminals have got- books a law against the distribution of then it’s really highly unlikely that clicking
ten very good at cutting down on the malicious code? on it means you’re going to see that image.
amount of time necessary to switch bases I think that rather than believing whatever’s
and relocate servers. Law enforcement Schouwenberg: They don’t, and that’s coming your way is legitimate by default,
takes weeks to move on such cases. the case in a number of other countries, as we’re at a stage in the Internet’s evolution
Catching small-time cyber criminals? In well. What we’ve seen is discussion in these where we need to consider whatever we
many instances, it’s not that hard. They forums of where they may go next to be receive is malicious by default. Only when
make mistakes, and they can be tracked hosted—to Panama, for example. The local we check with the source can we trust it.

They follow the market—to use the old expression, “as much
as a fool is willing to pay.”—Roel Schouwenberg
down. But the big-time criminals are laws don’t affect them. The FBI can come CPU: Was there ever a point where the
much more professional. They cover up to them, if it wishes, but it has no jurisdic- Internet consisted of a lot of nice little
much better. tion. There is nobody who can touch them houses with picket fences, and it was safe
at the moment in such a situation. to go everywhere?
CPU: Care to make an educated guess
how many of these sites offering illegal CPU: I’m sure you’re asked this all the Schouwenberg: The Internet was
cyber services are active? time, but given the level of sophistication built on trust, as it were. It was not built
displayed by today’s malware, what steps with the idea of it being a warzone. A
Schouwenberg: I think there are hun- can we as individuals or as owners of lot of the old protocols, how we com-
dreds of these sites around the world. We small businesses do to lessen the risk of municate, were created with the idea in
know of a couple of dozen of these inter- ending up as a tiny part of somebody’s mind of peace and quiet. Some of these
national online marketplaces, but there are botnet leasing agreement? protocols are being improved and be-
also plenty of regional ones—for example coming more resistant to attacks, but for
in China, which is responsible for roughly Schouwenberg: There are a number of compatibility’s sake, it’s taking quite a
50% of the malware out there. pretty easy steps you can take. First, you long time.
always need to make sure that your operat-
CPU: Are the Chinese authorities not ing system is up-to-date, that you have all CPU: Do you think we will end up with
being particularly helpful in efforts to crack the patches installed. Criminals these days a safer Internet?
down on this kind of illegal behavior, or will exploit flaws in programming to install
do they simply lack the resources, in your malware into a system. You could be visit- Schouwenberg: It’s going to be very
opinion, to get a handle on the issue? ing your favorite news Web site which has challenging. One of the big problems of
been compromised—and you’re now mak- the Web is that it is very, very easy to be
Schouwenberg: The Chinese govern- ing a connection to a malicious server that anonymous. The obvious solution
ment hasn’t been as proactive in trying to will try to exploit these vulnerabilities. So would be to make an Internet on which
tackle this as, say, the U.S. The FBI made your computer may end up getting infect- anonymity is no longer possible, but
cyber crimes one of its announced top ed simply by visiting a legitimate site. that’s something I’m not sure quite a lot
three priorities a few years ago. On the It’s not just your OS you should update. of people would like to see. The majori-
other hand, it took until 2009 for a U.S. It’s also third-party applications, such as ty of people would prefer an unsafe
president to note that his country had a QuickTime, RealPlayer, and, most impor- Internet over one where they’ve lost
big problem with malware and botnets. tantly, Adobe software. You should check most of their privacy.
Legal systems around the world are in
many cases not sophisticated enough to Subscribers can read bonus content with Roel Schouwenberg
deal with the cyber world. ONLINE www.cpumag.com/cpuoct09/Schouwenberg

102 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


What’s Cooking . . .
by Anastasia Poland

Under Development
A Peek At What's Brewing In The Laboratory
Virginia Tech’s RoMeLa Gives E-readers To
A Big Hand To Robotics Research Bloom With Color
ou dig your e-reader. But why,
T ake a moment to review the intricacies
of your hand. Consider your ability to
eliminating [the need] for the complex control
of the individual joints.”
Y in this day and age, with all the
funds directed at electronics devel-
pick up, move, squeeze, and throw things; One thing that is extremely important in
opment, “they” haven’t released a
type; strum; etc. The challenges of replicating development of a usable hand is “compli-
full-color version, you’ll never know.
the functionality of this delicate and compli- ance,” or what Hong describes as “the con-
Turns out, “they”—Gamma Dy-
cated appendage have been many, especially trollable amount of ‘squishiness.’” This
namics’ Principal Scientist Jason
because traditional robotic design includes “squishiness” determines a robot hand’s abili-
Heikenfeld, Ph.D., with support from
heavy and awkward electric motors and actu- ty to grasp lightly or clasp tightly as needed.
the University of Cincinnati, Sun
ators . . . until now. High-end robots use costly force control to
Chemical, PolymerVision, the Na-
Professor Dennis Hong is directing the team monitor compliance, but RAPHaEL simply
tional Science Foundation, and the
of researchers at Virginia Tech’s RoMeLa changes the air pressure.
Air Force Research Laboratory—are
(Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory) that has Hong describes one of his team’s break-
working on it. Heikenfeld (also an
eschewed the traditional route and come up through moments with a bit of amusement.
assistant professor of electrical engi-
with an alternative for powering robotic hand “When we saw the performance of the early
neering at UC) and team have created
movements: compressed air. prototype, we all shouted ‘Aha!’ Immediately
what they call Electrofluidic Display
Hong explains the functionality of after that, the hoses popped out due to the
Technology, or EFT. EFT utilizes
RAPHaEL (Robotic Air-Powered Hand with pressure, and we all shouted, ‘Aww . . .’”
tiny (about 300 microns) etched pix-
Elastic Ligaments): “The dexterous robot hand As far as best uses for RAPHaEL go, Hong
els with reservoirs filled with liquid
uses a unique corrugated tube actuator devel- envisions “low-cost prosthetics, sign language
pigment to create vibrantly colored
oped at RoMeLa . . . to simplify the actuation displays, factory automation, or audioanima-
electronic paper.
[and] design and to lower the cost. When tronics for entertainment.”
In short, the reflective display
compressed air enters the corrugated tube, it There are no plans to mass-produce
contains two slender layers of plastic;
expands and moves the finger. When the air RAPHaEL anytime soon. “We want to publish
one houses the pixels and reservoirs
goes out, a “rubber band” (elastic ligament) our work for other robotisists to use and even-
and the other a translucent electrode.
pulls it back to its original position. To further tually benefit the [larger] society. Making
The reservoirs are shaped such that
simplify, all three joints of a single finger money is good, but we are just having too
most of the pixel area (thus pigment)
are actuated by one compressed air line, much fun now.” ▲
is hidden from view. When the elec-
trode is activated, the pigment is
drawn from the reservoir and distrib-
Virginia Tech lends a hand to
uted as a thin layer behind the view-
robotics research in the form
ing surface, mimicking the colorful
of their dexterous RAPHaEL.
display of traditional print media.
Heikenfeld is excited that the tech-
nology surpasses any out there, espe-
cially in delivering “brightness, color
saturation, and video speed,” accord-
ing to a UC press release.
Uses for the ultra-thin (less than
15 microns thick) EFD are many
and varied. Beyond the e-readers,
Heikenfeld and his team expect
EFD to work handily in electronic
windows, cell phones, foldable dis-
plays, and signs. ▲

104 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


What’s Cooking . . . Under Development

High-End Medicine For Your Doc’s Pocket


ou live out in the boondocks and you raw form, this data may be saved in the The current cost for a probe is between
Y love it. But your sister has a baby on
the way with pregnancy complications the
memory of the phone or sent over the cell-
ular network to anyone who has the same
$2,000 and $3,000, depending on the
desired functionality. However, Zar and
local doctor isn’t quite able to figure out software installed on their phone or a team are “looking at completely new
with the tools he has at hand. Your dad has viewing application running on a standard designs that may be available for less than
that heart condition that requires attention, laptop or desktop.” $500 in the next couple of years.”
but monitoring it would mean an expen- Zar was responsible for developing the “The modified probes are available
sive extended hospital stay more than probe’s software and drivers, while Richard today to developers who wish to integrate
100 miles away. Medical needs are more shifted necessary data acquisition hardware them into systems,” Zar says. “As a plat-
than inconvenient. and associated electronics. They reduced form on a smartphone, there needs to be a
When David Zar and William Richard power consumption 100mA, while the fair amount of customization to integrate
of Washington University in St. Louis data rate had to be reduced to 12MBps the remote capabilities of the handsets to
began working to upgrade an ultrasound (compared to 500mA and 480MBps, the cellular networks and back-end data-
probe they developed five years ago, that respectively, on a notebook or desktop.) bases being used (if any).” ▲
sort of rural community was a perfect sce-
nario to try their invention on. Well, that
and developing countries, folks requiring at-
home monitoring, and emergency medicine
on the go, such as battlefields or patients
being transported to the hospital. Originally
designed to plug into a laptop’s USB
port, it’s now compatible with a USB-
enabled smartphone and small enough to
slip into your pocket.
Zar explains how the device works: “The
probes are USB-based and communicate to
the phone in a similar way to how a flash
memory drive does. The software on the
phone tells the probe when to start and stop
sending data, and the software can also con-
figure certain data acquisition parameters for
the hardware inside the probe.
“Raw data [is] sent from the probe to
the phone, where the software then pro-
duces an image based on that data, user- New mobile ultrasound probes developed by Washington University in St. Louis are
specified contrast enhancement, and so on. USB-enabled and work with smartphones. (Credit: David Kilper/WUSTL Photo)
Since the data sent to the phone [is] in a

“Real Virtuality” Delivers Sensory Delights


n a move to out-sci-fi sci-fi, a group of scientists from a host stimuli, but “Real Virtuality” plans to offer olfactory, gustatory,
I of U.K. universities (York, Warwick, Bangor, Bradford, and
Brighton) have received funding from the EPSRC (Engineering
and tactile stimulation, too. Alan Chalmers and his University of
Warwick team are still in the early development stages for the
and Physical Sciences Research Council) to develop a project breakthrough technique that will incorporate a “predetermined
called “Real Virtuality,” essentially a helmet, complete with smell recipe on demand,” says Howard, through a series of puffs of
computing capabilities and electronics, that cocoons a user’s scent delivered through a tube under the nose. A device will stimu-
noggin to present a multisensory virtual reality. late sensitive areas on the tongue and convey a sense of texture,
What sets this project apart from other VR development is the such as crunchy or chewy. Tactile devices will vibrate the skin.
team’s work incorporating all five senses into the apparatus, accord- Still more theoretical than ready-for-market, the researchers
ing to David Howard, lead scientist and a professor at University are hoping that their “virtual cocoon” will eventually be helpful
of York. Typical VR projects only supply visual and auditory in education, onsite job training, or even medical consults. ▲

106 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


Look For CPU At These LAN Parties
Across The Nation—& Beyond!

08.13.09 09.25.09 11.14.09


QuakeCon - Dallas, TX FragFest - Utica, NY CapLAN - North Vancouver, BC, Canada
www.quakecon.com stgc.yuku.com/topic/17 caplan-bc.com
LAN Lordz - Wichita, KS
08.14.09 09.26.09 www.lanlordz.net
Carolina Armageddon - North Carolina NCGC LAN Party - Grovetown, NH
PNP LAN - Largo, FL
www.carolinagaming.com www.electronicesthetics.com/LANParties.htm
www.pnplan.com
The HOLY LANs - Bristol, CT RIGG LAN - Maricopa, AZ
Traverse City Fragfest 15 - Traverse City, MI www.forumjunkies.com 11.15.09
www.fragfest.cx Whempy's LAN Party - Columbus, OH
10.02.09 whempyslan.org
08.15.09 Brainerd Area PC Gamers - Brainerd, MN
LANmine - Chicago, IL bapcg.org 11.20.09
www.lanmine.cc Intel LAN Fest Infernal LAN - DuPont, WA
Meno Falls LAN - Pewaukee, WI
10.03.09 lanfest.intel.com
E-Town LAN - Emporia, KS
www.menolan.lastnightinmybody.com Super Gaming Center - Neptune Beach, FL
www.etownlan.com
NGC's LAN-A-GEDDON - Greenville, TX sgamingcenter.com
LANManiac - Brea, CA
www.networkgamingclub.com ZonaCon - Orlando, FL
www.lanmaniac.com
PNP LAN - Largo, FL www.seads.org/LANParty/lanparty.htm
www.pnplan.com 10.09.09 11.21.09
Protocol 42 - West Jordan, UT The HOLY LANs - Bristol, CT
JaniCon - Jacksonville, FL
www.protocol42.com Network of Gamers - Janesville, WI
www.seads.org/LANParty/janicon.htm
www.networkofgamers.com
08.20.09 UWL LAN Computer Science Club - La Crosse, WI
NGC's LAN-A-GEDDON - Greenville, TX
Super Gaming Center - Neptune Beach, FL www.networkgamingclub.com
www.uwlax.edu/csclub
sgamingcenter.com
10.10.09 11.25.09
08.22.09 LAN Lordz - Wichita, KS
Krosswirz - Quincy, IL
AsylumLAN - Evansville, IN www.krosswirz.net
www.lanlordz.net
www.asylumlan.com/legacy SUNYIT Gamers Club - Utica, NY
E-Town LAN - Emporia, KS 10.17.09 stgc.yuku.com/topic/17
www.etownlan.com Arkansas LAN - Arkansas
The Geeks' LAN Party - Yellow Springs, OH www.arkansaslan.com
11.28.09
KC Beatdown - Overland Park, KS
geekslan.wikidot.com NGC's LAN-A-GEDDON - Greenville, TX
www.kcbeatdown.com
LAN Lordz - Wichita, KS www.networkgamingclub.com
NCGC LAN Party - Grovetown, NH
www.lanlordz.net TigerLAN - Hays, KS
www.electronicesthetics.com/LANParties.htm
Muncie Gamers - Muncie, IN www.tigerlan.org
www.munciegamers.com 10.18.09 12.05.09
LANManiac - Brea, CA
08.28.09 Whempy's LAN Party - Columbus, OH
www.lanmaniac.com
LANsomnia - Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada whempyslan.org
PC-Gamers.net Frag-Fest - Fishersville, VA
www.lansomnia.ca 10.20.09 www.pcgn.net
08.29.09 Super Gaming Center - Neptune Beach, FL PNP LAN - Largo, FL
NCGC LAN Party - Groveton, NH sgamingcenter.com www.pnplan.com
www.electronicesthetics.com/LANParties.htm 10.23.09 12.12.09
Overkill LAN Party - Tampa, FL LAN OC v5.0 - Ohio City, OH LAN Lordz - Wichita, KS
www.overkill-lan.com lanoc.org www.lanlordz.net/index.php?page=home
Protocol 42 - West Jordan, UT Maryland LAN Gamers - Greenbelt, MD
www.protocol42.com www.marylandlangamers.net
12.20.09
Super Gaming Center - Neptune Beach, FL
09.04.09 Necronomicon - St. Petersburg, FL
sgamingcenter.com
Chibi-Pa LAN Party - West Palm Beach, FL www.seads.org/LANParty/lanparty.htm
www.seads.org/LANParty/lanparty.htm R-Dot LAN - Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 12.30.09
Penny Arcade Expo - Seattle, WA www.r-dot.org Krosswirz - Quincy, IL
lanfest.intel.com Ubercon XII - Piscataway, NJ www.krosswirz.net
ubercon.com
09.05.09 01.02.10
Cold Fusion LAN - Mentor on the Lake, OH 10.24.09 LANManiac - Brea, CA
www.coldfusionlc.com/cflan Carolina Armageddon - North Carolina www.lanmaniac.com
www.carolinagaming.com
LANManiac - Brea, CA
KC Beatdown - Overland Park, KS
01.15.10
www.lanmaniac.com PDXLAN 15 - Portland, OR
PNP LAN - Largo, FL www.kcbeatdown.com
www.pdxlan.net
www.pnplan.com Krosswirz - Quincy, IL
www.krosswirz.net 01.16.10
09.11.09 Protocol 42 - West Jordan, UT Midwest LAN - Darien, WI
The HOLY LANs - Bristol, CT www.midwestlan.com
www.protocol42.com
09.12.09 10.30.09 01.17.10
KC Beatdown - Overland Park, KS Whempy's LAN Party - Columbus, OH
The GXL 768 - Millville, NJ
www.kcbeatdown.com whempyslan.org
www.thegxl.com
LANifesto LAN - Clanton, AL
lanifesto.org 10.31.09 02.06.10
LAN Lordz - Wichita, KS NCGC LAN Party - Grovetown, NH Carolina Games Summit - North Carolina
www.lanlordz.net www.electronicesthetics.com/LANParties.htm www.CarolinaGamesSummit.com
Shadow Company Elite Tournament - Semmes, AL Peace, Love, and Rockets - Keller, TX LANManiac - Brea, CA
www.wix.com/audiodell/SCE-TOURNAMENT www.peaceloveandrockets.org www.lanmaniac.com

09.18.09 11.06.09 03.01.10


Midwest LAN KC (PC Night) - North Kansas City, MO PDXLAN 14.5 - Portland, OR Madicon LAN Party - Harrisonburg, VA
www.extremelankc.com www.pdxlan.net www.madicon.org

09.19.09 11.07.09 03.05.10


Cold Fusion LAN - Mentor on the Lake, OH LANManiac - Brea, CA Digital Overload - Providence, Rhode Island
www.coldfusionlc.com/cflan www.lanmaniac.com www.digital-overload.com
Krosswirz - Quincy, IL TechLAn - Montgomery, WV
www.krosswirz.net www.lanville.org For our full list of upcoming events,
NGC's LAN-A-GEDDON - Greenville, TX 11.13.09 visit the CPU LAN Yard page at
www.networkgamingclub.com TusLAN - Tuscan, AZ
09.20.09 www.tuslan.net www.computerpoweruser.com/LanYard.
Super Gaming Center - Neptune Beach, FL
sgamingcenter.com
Whempy's LAN Party - Columbus, OH
whempyslan.org
Would you like us to help promote your next LAN?
Give us a call at 1.800.733.3809 or visit our LAN Yard site at www.computerpoweruser.com/LanYard
to input your own information and see your LAN party name in our upcoming issues.

We'll be glad to consider your event!

CPU / October 2009 107


Kevin Nowak’s Antec Twelve Hundred- Michael “Cincy” Meyer’s sweet watercooled gaming Brentt Graeb’s case mod contest-winning
based mod muscled out the competi- rig was a bridesmaid at PDX 14, but finally became system, seen here in action at Desert Bash.
tion at LAN Fest Colorado. a bride at LAN Fest Sacramento. Or something.

Intel LAN Fest


What We Did This Summer
e at CPU have been proud to and running an AMD Phenom 9950 mod contest included a repeat entry by
W work with Intel this year in bring-
ing case mod contests to many of the
Black Edition quad-core, overclocked
to 3.2GHz.
Michael “Cincy” Meyer, who came ever
so close to victory the previous weekend
events in the LAN Fest event series We sent a contingent to Arizona on in Portland at PDXLAN 14. (See page
across the country. The summer months June 13 and 14 for Intel LAN Fest Desert 48 for more info.) His unnamed rig was
have been especially busy, as gamers Bash, which took place at the El Zaribah a watercooled monster with a Mini-ITX
have flocked to several LANs to have a Shrine Auditorium in Phoenix. Organizers server nestled inside; the main system
good time, in the process helping Intel (including local gaming clan LANCamp) ran an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650
raise more than a quarter-million dollars battled a generator snafu for a while, but with 8GB of OCZ Reaper memory and
for outstanding charities such as United pulled off a great event, packed with tour- a GeForce GTX 295. The gaming ser-
Way, Child’s Play, and Shriners Hos- naments, prizes, food and drink, and of ver consisted of a Zotac GF9300-D-E
pital for Children. course a case mod contest. Our friend mobo, 2GB of G.Skill RAM, an Intel
On Saturday, May 23 through Sunday and modding guru Dewayne Carel from E8400 CPU, a Seagate 320GB hard
May 24, we headed to The Ranch in pic- Modders-Inc.com graciously helped us drive, and a dedicated Silverstone 350W
turesque Loveland, Colo., for Intel LAN out in judging the contest, and in the end power supply.
Fest Colorado. This 34-hour frag-fest was Brentt Graeb’s watercooled rig with exter- Congratulations to all our LAN Fest
a credit to its volunteer staff, who took nally mounted aluminum enclosures case mod contest winners! We’ll choose
advantage of the excellent venue and put housing a RAID setup took top honors. an overall winner later this year, which
together a first-rate LAN. We did a little In July, we attended Intel LAN Fest will be featured in our “Mad Reader
gaming, chatted with some old friends, Sacramento 2009, held July 24 through Mod” article, so if you have a mod you’d
and made some new ones, including our July 26 in a cafeteria at Intel’s Folsom like to show off to the world, check the
mod contest winner, Kevin Nowak. His Campus. This event included a BYOC LAN Fest event schedule at lanfest.intel
rig was built into an Antec Twelve Hun- and a console-only lounge, and seats sold .com, and maybe we’ll see you at the
dred with all sorts of cool stuff bolted on out well in advance of the LAN. Our next LAN. ▲

108 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com


back door | q&a

Q&A With Dr. Mark Re


Seagate’s Research VP Gets Spun
Up Over Storage
As Seagate’s senior vice president of research, Dr. Mark Re not only gets to see the
technologies that will be holding our terabytes of personal data someday, but he’s also
on the front lines of creating the technologies that will make that storage possible.

What are you working on challenges to get to that


Q right now? theoretical limit.

All kinds of good stuff. One Do you have 3TB


MR that we’ve been working on for
quite awhile is called heat-assisted magnet-
Q and 5TB drives pret-
ty much in the closet, just waiting for At least in the time frame
ic recording, or HAMR. The magnetic
disk is made up of small grains of magnetic
the market to catch up? MR we’re talking about.

materials that are isolated from each other I would say we have a steady Is this a passion or a job? Why are
with very thin layers of some sort of oxide.
So today’s disk storage material is a cobalt-
MR path where we’re doing evolu-
tionary development of the drives, scaling
Q you interested in storage?

based alloy for the magnetic material with the current technology with obvious im- ’Cause it’s cool! Two surfaces
some oxide around it. Today, these little
magnetic grains are about 10 nanometers
provements in the architecture, electronic
channels, format efficiency, etc. We’re
MR are flying over each other, basi-
cally atomically smooth, spaced about 10
in diameter. As you make them smaller, trying to poke around and see when the nanometers apart. The coatings on there
they have a tendency to become thermally next technology transition is going to are just a couple of nanometers thick.
unstable, even at room temperature. If they come. Clearly, we’d like to take whatever That’s a chemical and mechanical marvel!
got too small, the magnetization would the incumbent technology is and keep Within the recording head alone, there
start slipping around randomly. So you using and scaling it. There’s probably a are three quantum mechanical effects at
have to increase what is called the aniso- good three to four more generations of work. It’s just an amazing amount of
tropy of the magnetic material—basically products we can make with what we’re technology in there.
the stickiness, how hard it is to flip the doing today. Beyond that, we make 40 million or so
grains. At some point, you get to a stage drives a quarter, so it’s extremely high vol-
where the recording head can’t produce It seems like the biggest threat to ume at very low cost. To me, it’s kind of
enough field to flip the grains.
That’s where the heat-assisted part
Q your business is cloud computing.
With cloud, we don’t need local storage.
the X Games of high technology.

comes in. The idea is to incorporate a laser If you could pick one major break-
into the drive and then use near-field op-
tics on the recording head. The media MR Even in these clouds, there’s
going to be huge amounts
Q through that you want to be a part
of, what would it be? Something you’re
that’s heated is easier to switch. When it of storage. You’re still going to have to still working on that hasn’t happened yet?
cools off, it goes back to a very stable state. store data somewhere, and hard drives,
at least as far out as we can see, are the I’ve gone through quite a few

Q Where are we with areal density? most cost-effective, reliable way to mas-
sively store data.
MR technology transitions that
were pretty big. We always worry that the
And I think there’s another human sky will fall and things will break on that
The current state of the art aspect to this. We have a packrat gene. next technology transition. So I think . . .
MR in shipping products is some-
thing on the order of 300 to 400 gigabits
Cloud computing will certainly become a
part of the storage infrastructure, but I
whatever we’re going to do beyond per-
pendicular recording, being the first
per square inch. And, theoretically, with still think people are going to want to company to implement that would be
the materials we know, we could get to have something physical they can hold. something I’d be really proud of. ▲
something like 50 terabits per square
inch. There’s a lot of runway, and So the death of Seagate’s retail divi-
obviously there’s a lot of engineering Q sion has been greatly exaggerated?
Subscribers can go to www.cpumag.com
/cpuoct09/re for bonus content.

110 October 2009 / www.computerpoweruser.com