A look at the FreeNAS server

NewsForge has a quick look at FreeNAS, an open source network attached storage server that can be deployed on pretty much any old PC you have sitting around the house. From the article:
FreeNAS, an open source NAS server, can convert a PC into a network-attached storage server. The software, which is based on FreeBSD, Samba, and PHP, includes an operating system that supports various software RAID models and a Web user interface. The server supports access from Windows machines, Apple Macs, FTP, SSH, and Network File System (NFS), and it takes up less than 16MB of disk space on a hard drive or removable media.


The FreeNAS server has lots of potential and is under active development; there were 11 point releases in the first four months of 2006 alone. It's a good alternative for building a simple network server without having to install a full-blown version of Linux or FreeBSD. It is also a good way to make use of aging hardware, as its system requirements are quite modest by today's standard.
Sounds like not too much troulbe to set up, even with its limitations (no granular user access control, and some easy ways to hose the system if you ignore the warnings...) - there's a good FreeNAS setup and user guide to follow as well.


Teamplay in Games: BF2 vs. DDO

I've updated my Gaming Page with a new review of my experiences playing the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game called Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (DDO). Sort of outside the scope of that article, yet integral to it, are the feelings I have towards MMOs in general. Granted, as I mentioned previously, my MMO experience is decidedly limited, and if I were a more avid player this opinion would undoubtedly change. But as I do play a wide variety of games, from Real-Time Strategy (RTS, like Command & Conquer: Generals) to First-Person Shooters (FPS, like Quake or Unreal Tournament) to Computer Role-Playing Games (CRPG, mostly turn-based as in Neverwinter Nights or Temple of Elemental Evil) and some hybrids (not sure what exactly to classify Battlefield 2 as, it's mostly FPS but very team-oriented), I do feel I can qualify my opinions. With that in mind, I'm going to make some comparisons between team-based play with a game such as BF2 and an MMO such as DDO.

Teams in BF2 are, for the most part, voluntary. (Some servers require you to team up or they reserve the right to kick you, and really to get the most out of the game you should be in a squad anyways). You can opt to be a lone-wolf, and still get individual points, and not (debatably) affect the outcome of the game by lack of team-playing. In DDO, there are precious few quests to complete solo. Being a party member is definitely a requisite to leveling up, unless you want to repeat the same solo quests ad nauseam for fewer and fewer experience points.

Squads in BF2 are loosely based creatures. Some are cohesive units, coordinated via Voice-Over-IP or with in-game commands to tackle objectives. Others spread across the map, and only use squds to provide a convenient spawn point on your squad leader. Parties in DDO are much more intimate. You depend on your party members to get through the quest alive, and if you do die your mates must pick up your "soul gem" to transport to a rest shrine, or they must have a way of resurrecting you, or you have to respawn outside the quest in a tavern and (after healing) make your way back to the dungeon where your mates are trying to still stay alive. There exists VOIP in DDO but I really didn't give it much of a try (my friends and I used the TeamSpeak server we had set up for BF2 while we adventured).

Lastly, there is a time requirement playing both games. You can drop out of a BF2 game at any time, without adversely affecting the squad for the most part. (If you are squad leader, that will pass along to the next highest-ranked player in the squad.) With a party, you have to see the whole adventure through in one sitting or you WILL have an impact (losing a party's Cleric can be a real bummer in the depths of a dungeon).

In summation, I have two real problems playing MMOs such as DDO. They are extremely social games, which is great for those who desire that level of sociability. Me, I don't really like interacting with strangers all that much, even online. I will squad up with people I don't know in BF2, and even enjoy a game coordinating with my team in Counter-Strike: Source. But I don't really enjoy the intimacy of parties within DDO, or the need to interact with strangers every time to form up a new party.

My second problem? I paid for the retail version of BF2 (plus expansions, etc. but don't get me started on that...) For an MMO like DDO, you need to buy the retail version or digital product key for $50 (or less if you can find it in a bargain bin), PLUS you then have to pay $15 per month to play. As one review site pointed out, that almost guarantees you will spend inordinate amounts of time on the game to make your monthly fee worth the expenditure.

And besides, when I have to justify taking money out of the budget just to buy a game, it's hard to rationalize an extra $180 per year just to actually play the game.


nVidia's Powerful, Complicated Quad SLI

Article from PCWorld's GeekTech editor, Tom Mainelli.
If you have a huge monitor, love games, and have money to burn, you'll probably want nVidia's latest and greatest--but be sure your PC maker knows what it's doing.
It's too expensive. It's too complicated. And it's likely to run basic apps--the ones most of us use every day--a bit slower than a single-card system. So why would you buy a desktop with nVidia's new, high-end Quad SLI technology?

Because you wanna play Oblivion at superhigh resolutions and settings on a massive 30-inch display, that's why. And because (of course) you have entirely too much money.

The thing is, just spending a ton of money on a Quad SLI system may not get you what you want. There's nothing wrong with the technology; but if your PC vendor doesn't implement it correctly, you're stuck with an expensive desktop that has more bark than bite.

Mega-Resolution Technology

When nVidia launched Quad SLI, it said the technology was for people who wanted an "Extreme HD" gaming experience. The technology uses a pair of giant graphics cards, each containing two ultra-high-end 7900 GTX graphics chips. The result is something like a video-processing supercomputer that can crank out impressive frame rates at high resolutions, such as 1920 by 1200 and 2560 by 1600, while using extreme antialiasing settings (to smooth jagged edges) and steep anisotropic filtering settings (to help render crisper textures).

In fact, if you don't have a big monitor capable of running those resolutions--such as Dell's 24-inch or 30-inch monsters--or the cash to buy one, don't bother with Quad SLI. The folks at nVidia will tell you that--just ask them.

Another thing they'll tell you is that Quad SLI is indeed a complicated technology, which is why you can't currently buy dual-chip cards to use in building your own system. A Quad SLI PC requires several particular components--like a power supply powerful enough to run the sun--and some specific motherboard and BIOS tweaks.

The companies selling these high-end systems are supposed to know all of these things; but unfortunately, the one that sent us our system apparently did not.

Big, Bad, and Slow?

The Quad SLI system we tested came from Aeoncraft. Our shipping $4495 Aeon-8000 Quad came stuffed with high-end components, including an AMD Athlon FX-60 processor, 2GB of Corsair memory, two 150GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM hard drives, and--of course--the two gigantic graphics cards.

Despite that impressive array of hardware, the system didn't perform on a par with its pedigree in our initial tests.

In WorldBench 5 tests, the PC earned a score of 119. That's not slow, but it's well below the mark of 142 posted by our current top performer, Xi Computer's MTower 64 AGI-SLI (which has the same CPU and same amount of memory as the Aeon-8000 Quad, but uses a single, older GeForce 7800 GTX graphics board).

Equally surprising was the Aeon's performance on our admittedly basic desktop graphics tests: It managed a frame rate of 372 frames per second on Unreal Tournament 2003 at 1280 by 1024 resolution, compared to the Xi's frame rate of 438 fps. The two systems' scores on Return to Castle Wolfenstein were nearly identical, however. (As noted, nVidia suggests running Quad SLI at a resolution of 1680 by 1050 or higher, but our basic tests max out at 1280 by 1024.)

Because of the overhead of running four GPUs, we expected the Quad SLI to run a tad slower than a comparably equipped system with a single card. And let's face it, nobody is buying a system like this to type Microsoft Word documents and surf the Web. Still, the performance results we recorded were clearly out of whack. To see whether the Quad SLI was responsible for the system's mediocre overall numbers, we removed one of the dual-GPU boards, disabled one of the two GPUs on the remaining board, and reran our tests. The system's WorldBench 5 score rocketed to 136.

We shared our testing information with Aeoncraft and (more specifically) nVidia, to help us figure out what was going on. It turned out that our high-end system needed some fine-tuning.

Under the Hood

After much back-and-forth with nVidia, we determined that Aeoncraft had shipped us a PC with the wrong BIOS, some incorrect settings, and a slightly dated video driver. The driver part is forgivable--these things rev all the time--but the BIOS issues suggest sloppy craftsmanship, especially on a system this pricey.

After installing the proper BIOS, we reran our basic WorldBench 5 tests, and the system scored a much more reasonable 134--not tops, but pretty good. The system did a lot better on our basic desktop graphics tests, too.

Of course, where a system like this should really shine is with games. To test this sucker at the resolutions nVidia recommends, we had to reconfigure a couple of our standard graphics tests. But even at high resolutions, the system posted mixed results at typical antialiasing and anisotropic filtering settings.

For example, in our FarCry test (with antialiasing at 4X and anisotropic filtering at 8X), the Quad setup registered 85 fps at 1920 by 1200 resolution and 48 fps at 2560 by 1600 resolution, whereas a Dual SLI setup (with two standard 7900 GTX boards) posted 94 fps and 59 fps, respectively. A single 7900 GTX board hit speeds of 65 fps and 33 fps on the same tests.

Our Doom 3 tests showed similar numbers for both the Quad and Dual SLI systems at the same settings: the Quad SLI posted 105 fps and 51 fps, the Dual SLI hit 103 fps and 56 fps, and the single card notched 65 fps and 30 fps.

Show of Strength

Not until we moved out of the game setting and cranked up the SLI-only antialiasing and anisotropic filtering settings did the Quad SLI finally show some world-class muscle.

In our Doom 3 test running at 1920 by 1200 resolution with SLI settings at 8X antialiasing and 16X anisotropic filtering, the Quad SLI system posted 86 fps versus 64 fps for the Dual SLI system. And at 2560 by 1600 resolution, the Quad hit 48 fps while the Dual posted 29 fps.

In our Far Cry test using the same settings, the Quad SLI achieved 84 fps versus 49 fps for the Dual SLI at 1920 by 1200 resolution, and it rolled out 46 fps against 28 fps for the Dual SLI at 2560 by 1600 resolution.

Does anyone need to run a game at such high antialiasing and anisotropic filtering settings? I don't think so. In fact while I believe that these technologies contribute to better-looking game play, I'm unconvinced that such super-high settings enhance what the average person perceives on screen. But do some people want to run them that high anyway? Sure they do.

In the end, Quad SLI does offer performance benefits when you use the right combination of resolution and settings. But I wouldn't recommend it unless you're fanatical about gaming, you have enough money to buy a giant monitor, and you've convinced yourself that you can see the difference between 4X and 8X antialiasing (by the way, Quad SLI actually offers up to 32X antialiasing).

What about Aeoncraft and their setup snafu? The company gets credit for coming clean about its mistakes, and a rep assures me that Aeoncraft is shipping new systems with the right settings and is working with existing Quad SLI owners to get their rigs up to speed. Still, I find it disheartening that any PC vendor would offer such an expensive product without knowing how to make it work the way it's supposed to. Maybe that's why I'm so big on building my own PCs: I know who to blame if something doesn't work right.

Tom Mainelli hasn't stopped drooling over that obnoxiously large 30-inch Dell monitor since it arrived. You can e-mail him at geektech@pcworld.com.


Evolution of Dance

Another golden YouTube find. This is a comedian doing the Evolution of Dance, very funny... it makes you miss the old days, no matter what your age. It is pretty short, make sure you watch it until the end!


Sun Puts its Weight Behind Ubuntu Linux

On Wednesday Sun announced that they are putting their weight behind Ubuntu Linux. While Ubuntu has been many people's desktop Linux choice for a few years now, with its Debian heritage, you can see what kind of server it could be. Slap that on the new Sun 1Us with the new Niagra T1's CPU, the one that'll have four, six or eight cores each, and go to town.

Jedi Breakfast

This is funny as hell. LMAO funny. Warning though, it does contain language some may find offensive. But it's still damn funny.


X-Men 3: New Seven-Minute Trailer

Wow. Just wish the Juggernaut looked more impressive...


The right way to run a Wi-Fi cafe

Article from NewsForge by Nathan Willis:
One of the benefits of living in a place as exotic as Abilene, Texas, is that it presents you with a choice of not one but three Internet-connected coffee shops. Last week, I spent an afternoon in each, scouting for the place I'll go to hole up and get work done this summer when the triple-digit temperatures hit, when mentally calculating the air conditioning costs begins to prove too distracting at home. I haven't yet reached a final decision, but I have some choice words for anyone weighing the idea of starting up a new Internet coffee shop.

Before I begin, let's be crystal clear about one thing: When I say Internet-connected coffee shop, I mean free Internet. I'm looking at you, T-Mobile and Starbucks -- if I'm interested in paying for a wireless connection, I can do that pretty much anywhere (not to mention more cheaply) without you.
Read the rest of the article at NewsForge.


Tech Workers of the World, Unite

The rich get richer, the shareholder is valued more than the employee, jobs are eliminated in the name of bottom-line efficiency (remember when they called firing people 'right-sizing'?) and the gulf between the rich and the working class grows wider every year. You see this libertarian ethos everywhere, but nowhere more clearly than in the technology sector, where the number of union jobs can be counted on one hand. Tech is the Wild West as far as the job market goes and the robber barons on top of the pile aim to keep it that way. They'll offshore your job to save a few bucks or lay you off at the first sign of a slump, but they're the first to scream, 'You're stifling innovation!' at any attempt to control the industry or provide job security for the people who do the actual work.

Read the full article over at Wired News. If you could join a union in your workplace, would you?

Earn well, live cheap

More Americans are abandoning the commuting rat race for working at home.

By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer
May 11, 2006: 1:28 PM EDT
High gas prices, traffic tie-ups, expensive housing - who needs it? Most Americans, if they want a good paying job.

But an increasing number of people are opting out by telecommuting, giving them access to companies in high-paycheck areas while at the same time being able to live in areas with more reasonably priced real estate.
Read the full article over at CNNMoney.com


Anime News: 10 Years of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Mainichi Daily News has a lengthy, multi-part article on the history of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The article looks back at the 10 years since Evangelion appeared and how it changed the world of manga. From the article:
In a series of 26 episodes, Evangelion told the story of a 14-year-old boy called Shinji Ikari, who piloted a biomechanical combat robot called an Evangelion, which fought against mysterious extraterrestrial monsters known as Angels. But Shinji was also a regular junior high school pupil, and his school life featured strongly in the anime's plot too. As did psychotherapy and the Old Testament, which director Hideaki Anno attributed as influences while creating the series. Evangelion become a huge hit across Japan, attracting fans across generations, sparking a massive public debate over its controversial final episode -- which many criticized for leaving the work unfinished -- and sparking unprecedented merchandising sales that set the scene for the current manga market.


Captain America vs. The Patriot Act?

From Slashdot: Yesterday, Marvel Comics released the first in its miniseries Civil War, which can only be described as a gutsy comic-book series focusing on the whole debate over homeland security and tighter government controls in the name of public safety. The seven-issue series once again puts superheroes right back in the thick of real-world news, just as DC Comics has Batman battling al-Qaeda in a soon-to-appear comic and Marvel's X-Men continue to explore themes of public intolerance and discrimination. In Civil War, hero is pitted against hero in the choice of whether or not to side with the government, as issues ranging from a Guantanamo-like prison camp for superheroes, embedded reporters and the power of media all play in the mix as Superheroes are ordered to register as human WMDs or be branded fugitives.


New Apple Campaign Target PC Flaws

Apple just started a new campaign to emphasize the advantages of Mac versus a regular tasteless PC. The ads represent a young cool looking man (Mac) and a white collar in his 40's (not cool, PC). In one of the ads the PC repeat itself several times because it had to reboot. In an other one (and maybe the most aggressive of all) PC is sick because of a virus, while Mac is healthy. You can watch the new spots on Apple's site. They're really quite amusing. Just imagine using the marketing power of Apple for advocating Linux in such a fashion... might actually lay to rest much of the FUD...


Just because it's been awhile...

Q: How many lawers does it take to shingle a roof?

A: That depends on how thinly you slice them.