Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

FSX & Blurries

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

i tried my hand at overclocking again. it seemed to be stable at both 2.6GHz and 2.7GHz. anything higher and the system would crash. so i thought, “great, everything’s looking good.” the next step was to overclock the graphics card. stock speeds are 600/900, which was easily increased to 700/1000. all of a sudden, the system crashed again. to make a long story short, i’m still running the CPU at 2.4GHz with the graphics card at 700/1000.

another problem i discovered was that nvidia’s nTune software is crap. it doesn’t hold any settings after reboot, and it doesn’t like loading profiles either. that’s when i decided to try RivaTuner. it’s a nifty little tool that allows you to overclock, set fan speeds, save profiles, and load them at the click of a button.

one thing that’s been bothering me about FSX is “the blurries.” this is a common occurence throughout the flight sim community. what happens is the ground textures become blurry, whether it be dependent on altitude, speed, etc. the proof is in the pictures…


there have been many tweaks that try to fix this problem, some of which even allocate more processor usage to render the ground textures. well, after a little bit of research, i discovered a tool called nHancer. it’s a much more in-depth tool that allows you to manipulate the 3D settings of an nvidia graphics card. for some reason, FSX likes to use it’s own internal anti-aliasing and filtering method. but nHancer optimizes this method by directing the in-game settings to the video driver, itself. so i gave it a whirl and wouldn’t you know… no more blurries. this is probably the most useful tool i’ve ever used, and FSX now looks the way it’s supposed to.

FSX Add-ons & Computer Woes

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

my collection of add-ons for FSX keeps growing. but most of them are free upgrades from previously purchased add-ons for FS2004. here’s what i have so far:

  • Aerosoft Mega Airport Brussels X
  • Aerosoft Mega Airport Budapest X
  • Aerosoft Mega Airport Frankfurt X
  • Aerosoft Mega Airport London Heathrow X
  • Aerosoft Piper Cheyenne X
  • Carenado Beechcraft Bonanza F33A
  • Carenado Beechcraft Bonanza V35B
  • Carenado Beechcraft Mentor T-34
  • Carenado Cessna 210M Centurion II
  • Carenado Cessna 182Q Skylane
  • Carenado Cessna 182 Skylane II
  • Carenado Cessna U206G Stationair 6 II
  • Carenado Piper Cherokee 180F
  • Dreamfleet Piper Dakota
  • Flight 1 ATR 72-500
  • Flight 1 Cessna 172R Skyhawk
  • Flight 1 Ground Environment X USA/Canada
  • Flight 1 Super 80
  • Flight 1 Ultimate Terrain X Canada/Alaska
  • Flight 1 Ultimate Terrain X Europe
  • Flight 1 Ultimate Terrain X USA
  • FlyTampa St. Maarten TNCM
  • HiFi Sim Active Sky X
  • HiFi Sim X Graphics
  • HiFi Sim XPax
  • ImagineSim KCLT
  • ImagineSim KCVG
  • ImagineSim KLGA
  • Just Flight Flying Club X
  • Just Flight Traffic 2005
  • Level-D 767-300 ER
  • MegaCity USA Atlanta
  • MegaScenery Mid-Atlantic
  • MegaScenery Northern California
  • MegaScenery Pacific Northwest
  • MegaScenery Southern California
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Acceleration
  • Wilco 737 Pilot In Command
  • Wilco 777-200 ER
  • Wilco Citation X

the MegaCity and MegaScenery add-ons are direct ports of the FS2004 versions. they don’t look quite as crisp in FSX, but i was surprised at how easy it was to install them. i haven’t had much luck flying in and out of some of the airport sceneries, as the level of detail brings the FPS to slideshow status. i’m still working on tweaking FSX to find that “sweet spot.” so far, i’ve been most impressed with the combination of Active Sky X, X Graphics, and Ground Environment X. those are definitely worth the price of admission.

in trying to get that extra bit of performance out of my new computer, i’ve tried several times to overclock the CPU with no luck. overclocking the old Pentium 4 with the ASUS P4P800-SE motherboard was a piece of cake. i went with another ASUS board strictly because of their overclocking abilities, but this one is proving to be a hassle. after doing a little research, the P5N-E SLI board is crap when it comes to overclocking Intel’s quad-core processors. however, it’s a champ when it comes to the Core 2 Duo CPU’s. i’m still gonna try to get what i can out of it. i may have been too agressive trying to achieve 3.0GHz right off the bat. although, that seemed like a reasonable goal, as the Q6600 is easily capable of reaching 3.2GHz or higher. based on what i’ve seen, i may not be able to surpass 2.7GHz, maybe even 2.6GHz.

New Computer

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

well, it’s finally time to say goodbye to my tried and trusty ol’ pentium 4 computer. it has served its purpose well, but i’ve decided to get a bit more with the times and update my hardware technology. i’ve failed to keep up with all the latest and greatest, save for reading a few computer magazines here and there. so i did quite a bit of research before tackling this build. here is the list of parts:

  • Intel Q6600 2.4GHz Quad-Core CPU
  • ASUS P5N-E SLI Motherboard
  • 4GB WINTEC AmpX DDR2800 RAM
  • EVGA GeForce 8800GT 512MB Video Card
  • Seagate 500GB SATA Hard Drive
  • Western Digital 320GB SATA Hard Drive
  • LITE-ON SATA 20x DVD±R DVD Burner
  • Arctic Cooling Freezer Pro 7 CPU Heatsink/Fan
  • Cooler Master Centurion 5 Case
  • BFG Tech 650W Power Supply
  • Antec 120mm Exhaust Fan
  • Antec 80mm Intake Fan

i used a pre-built gaming pc that i saw for sale as a template. most of the parts are the same, but i upped the RAM, added another hard drive, improved the cooling, and used a higher rated PSU. even with these changes, it still turned out to be cheaper to build than buying it pre-built. can’t complain about that.

i also picked up a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium. not wanting to lose my familiarity and the stability of Windows XP, i decided to create a dual boot system. it was a piece of cake to do this, although a tedious process having to install drivers and software under each OS.

ok, so first impressions… this thing flies. XP boots up at least twice as fast than on my old computer, and Vista loads just as quickly. i’ve heard lots of complaints about Vista, but after playing around with it for almost a week now, i have to say that i’m a fan. i understand that it’s more of a resource hog than XP, but it’s a lot easier to shutdown and disable any unnecessary background programs and services. the interface is pretty snazzy, but takes some getting used to. i’m sure people probably have gotten comfortable in their ways with XP, but i think it just takes time to get accustomed to Vista.

as far as games go (which is the primary reason why i built this), i don’t think i could ask for more. the Windows Experience Index is a rudimentary tool within Vista that attempts to measure the abilities of various components, and here’s what mine turned up:

Processor: 5.9
Memory (RAM): 5.2
Graphics: 5.9
Gaming Graphics: 5.9
Hard Drive: 5.7

at the moment, 5.9 is the highest score value that can be achieved. so i am more than pleased with the results i got. i plan on overclocking at some point, so hopefully that RAM score will increase.

i installed FSX, Rail Simulator, Crysis, and Unreal Tournament 3 under Vista. i finally have a machine that runs FSX decently, averaging about 25-30 FPS most of the time. that number tends to drop in the more densely populated areas, but i haven’t seen it go below 15 FPS yet. this seems to be more than acceptable. Rail Simulator isn’t really a demanding game, but it is DirectX 10 compatible. it runs with all settings completely maxed out, and without a hiccup. Crysis is the ultimate test for a gaming rig. i think this game really shines when played with DirectX 10. with the new rig, i am perfectly capable of playing with all settings maxed out at “Very High,” but some of the cutscenes bring the machine to its knees. after searching around the internet, this seems to be the general case. oh well, what can you do. lastly, Unreal Tournament 3 also runs with all settings maxed out. this was the case even with my old computer. i think this is more a testament to the newest Unreal engine, itself.

i have a Matrox TripleHead2Go (analog version) and three 19″ widescreen monitors. Matrox developed a tool under XP that offered more resolutions to accomodate the growing trend of widescreen monitors. the digital version of the TH2G has widescreen support built in. so far, my only complaint is that i cannot get these widescreen resolutions in Vista with my analog TH2G. but this is more an issue with Matrox, rather than Vista. after searching around, Matrox has indicated that they will not be developing this same tool for use under Vista, and that the only alternative is to purchase the digital version of the product. talk about poor product support. i refuse to shell out another $300, so i’ll just restrict my TH2G gaming to XP.

i’ve been messing around with Vista so much that i haven’t gotten around to getting the XP partition completely setup. i got as far as installing drivers and basic software, but have yet to install the rest of my game collection. FS2004 will take hours alone, given the number of add-ons that i need to install. but i’m looking forward to getting it up and running. if FS2004 ran that well on my old computer for that long, then i can only imagine what this new rig can do.

Matrox Triplehead2Go

Monday, August 20th, 2007

i don’t know what i did to deserve it, but i was treated very well on my birthday this year. first, i got a new 19″ widescreen monitor. since i already had two, this completed the trio of monitors that i would need to fly in virtual cockpit heaven.

then, just a few days later, my parents dropped a bomb on me. well, a package really. this is what was waiting for me at home…

Triplehead2Go!!! i couldn’t believe it. three monitors and a TH2GO. what a birthday!!!

the only problem with the TH2GO is that it doesn’t play too nicely with ATI cards. with a X1950PRO in my computer and an X800XT sitting in the closet, i didn’t want to sell myself short of the full experience. so i shelled out the cash for this…

eVGA nVidia GeForce 7800GS CO… so far, it’s worked flawlessly. it even overclocks further to a stable 472/715. not too shabby for an AGP card.

if you’re interested in the new setup, i shot a little video clip of the new hardware in action. just click on the pic below…

Flight Sim Desk (Concept)

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

sheesh!!! my desk is a complete and utter mess right now. in search of some relief, i scoured the internet looking for a potential replacement for my 16-year-old piece of furniture. i came across some rather nice workstations, and some made specifically for flight simmers like myself. the problem is that they are EXTREMELY expensive. so i’ve decided that i’m going to make my own.

click on the picture above and you’ll see my concept for a desktop cockpit. it’s nothing fancy, but it’s functional and practical. basically, i wanted ample space for all my peripherals AND i wanted them to be easily accessible. plus, the simpler the design, the easier it should be to build, right? ( <— famous last words )

Benchmarks and FS2004

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

well, i spent the weekend running tests on both the new video card and the PC as a whole. the benchmark testbeds used were 3DMark06 and PCMark05. for reference, here are the main system specs:

Asus P4P800 SE Motherboard
Intel Pentium 4 CPU, 3.0GHz @ 3.495GHz
Centon DDR400 3GB RAM @ 466MHz
Western Digital 7200RPM, 8MB Cache, 250GB Hard Drive
Western Digital 7200RPM, 8MB Cache, 120GB Hard Drive
Visiontek Radeon X1950PRO 256MB AGP
Rosewill RD-550 v2.2 550W Power Supply Unit

3DMark06
i ran 3DMark several times before i became fully familiarized with the program and was able to get the settings just right. all tests were run in order to achieve an overall score, as well as several tests just to measure FPS. i wanted to mirror as closely as possible the settings that i use within FS2004, so all results are based on the following:

Resolution: 1440 x 900
Anti-aliasing: 4x
Anisotropic Filtering: 8x

(click thumbnail to enlarge…)

3DMark06 Total Score: 2882

as you can see, the results aren’t really that staggering. i can only assume that a card with such graphics and power potential is bottlenecked by the rather old CPU. i would really like to see how the X1950PRO might perform with a CPU such as the Core 2 Duo. even if the improvement isn’t that significant, it can’t be any worse.

PCMark05
for some reason, i was unable to get an overall PCMark score. however, i did get component scores:

CPU: 4367
Memory: 3665
Graphics: 5363
HDD: 4428

for an Intel Pentium 4, that’s about on par. to be honest, i’m quite pleased with the system’s overall performance. but in comparison, an E6600 Core 2 Duo is easily capable of producing scores in the 6000+ range.

furthermore, prior to upgrading the video card, i used the motherboard’s automatic overclocking utility to up the CPU’s speed to 3.6GHz. upon inspecting the BIOS post message, i discovered that while it was overclocking the CPU, it was UNDERCLOCKING the memory by a significant amount. instead of running at 400MHz, it was running at 266MHz. i quickly fixed this and set a 1:1 ratio for the CPU and RAM clocks prior to running any tests.

FS2004 Performance
after the mediocre test results, i wanted to see how performance within FS2004 was affected. i had made note of framerates before swapping video cards, but i wish i had benchmarked my system in order to get a quantifiable difference. however, the change within FS2004 was noticable.

i mainly fly from the virtual cockpit view since i use a TrackIR. i changed no settings within FS2004 from the time before upgrading the video card to after. for purposes of these comparisons, i used the following references:

– PSS 757-200 (this is what i’ve been flying the most as of late)
– ImagineSim & SimFlyers add-on airports (these are known framerate hogs)
– default Seattle airport scenery
– cruising altitude of 35,000 feet for in-flight FPS

(click thumbnail to enlarge…)

 
 

as you can see, the X1950PRO, in combination with the RAM overclock, produced some rather significant gains. strictly speaking in terms of average FPS, my system saw the following:

On the Ground, Add-on Airport Scenery: 200% increase
On the Ground, Default Airport Scenery: 25.88% increase
In the Air @ 35,000 Feet: 89.19% increase

i can’t complain about these results. i was on the verge of uninstalling every piece of add-on airport scenery i have until now. the X1950PRO AGP really does add some power to an aging system, and it has certainly added to the enjoyment of my flight sim experience, while at the same time, it has lessened the frustration that normally comes with it.

Final Thoughts
i’ve discovered a motherboard made by ASRock that might allow me to upgrade to a Core 2 Duo without breaking the bank. while it supports the newer Intel processors, it also supports both PCI-e and AGP, as well as DDR and DDR2 memory. this would allow me to use many of the components that i already have, while taking advantage of more advanced CPU capabilities.

Visiontek X1950PRO 256MB AGP

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

 

in an effort to extend the life of my aging PC, i went ahead and upgraded the video card a few steps further. after reading numerous positive reviews, i made my way over to the nearest Best Buy and picked up the Visiontek Radeon X1950PRO 256MB AGP. now, the X800XT was no slouch of a card, but i’m hoping to get a little more out of the X1950PRO.

when i got home, i was eager to tear the box open and get the card installed as soon as possible. upon further inspection, the card itself uses a 6-pin PCI-e power connector. this leads me to believe that is a direct port of the PCI-e version. for my 2-year-old power supply, which lacks any 6-pin connectors, the package came with an adapter that converts the 6-pin connection on the card into two 4-pin molex connectors. quickly realizing that i had no more 4-pin connectors available, i remembered that i had just installed a new 550W PSU in my HTPC. the best part is that it has a couple 6-pin connectors readily available.

swapping power supplies turned out to be a bigger chore than i would have liked. my gaming rig needed a good cleaning, and the HTPC is so small that i basically had to take the whole thing apart. by the time i got the X1950PRO installed and both PC’s put back together, it was getting late and i had other things to do. so i booted up once just to make sure everything worked and called it a day. i’m hoping to test it out fully over the weekend.

My Computer

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

 

my current hardware setup is as follows…

Computer:
Asus P4P800SE Motherboard
Intel Pentium 4 CPU [3.0GHz (OC’d to 3.6GHz), 800MHz FSB]
Intel Pentium 4 CPU [3.0GHz (OC’d to 3.495GHz), 800MHz FSB]
Kingston Technology 1.5GB DDR400 RAM
Centon 3.0GB DDR400 RAM (OC’d to 466MHz)
Western Digital 250GB Hard Drive
Western Digital 120GB Hard Drive
ATI X800XT All-In-Wonder 256MB Video Card
Visiontek Radeon X1950PRO 256MB AGP Video Card
eVGA nVidia GeForce 7800GS CO
Creative Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS Sound Card
Antec TrueBlue 480W Power Supply Unit
Rosewill RD-550 v2.2 550W Power Supply Unit
Thermalright XP-120 Heatsink
Powmax Silver ATX Case (Modded to fit 4 Fans)

Peripherals:
Samsung 940BW 19? Widescreen LCD Monitor (LEFT)
ProView PL926WBI 19? Widescreen LCD Monitor (CENTER)
Acer AL1916W 19? Widescreen LCD Monitor (RIGHT)
Logitech S-510 Wireless Keyboard/Optical Mouse
CH Products USB Flight Yoke
CH Products USB Rudder Pedals
Saitek X52 HOTAS Controller
Desktop Aviator Cessna Avionics Panel
TrackIR 4 Pro
Matrox Triplehead2Go
Saitek GH30 Headset

there’s not really much else i can do in the way of upgrading my current computer. with technology moving ahead at a frantic pace, i’m stuck with socket 478, Pentium 4, and AGP architecture. of course, i would love to build a brand new computer, but hardware has yet to catch up to Vista and DirectX10 standards. additionally, software developers have much to do, as well. so as the saying goes… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!!!