15 May, 2010

A computer without enough hardware

I walk the line

I finally did something with the machine I was having trouble with. Turns out I won’t be using it for a NetBSD machine after all—it’s been set aside as a machine to run Café World, from FaceBook. Why? Because it’s not running anything else except for Google Chrome, Xubuntu and Café World. It's not able to be pimped out any more than it already is, as I don't have the CDROM drive that goes in the multi-function bay. What were Compaq thinking when they released this range of machines? That people would not want to add a second hard drive or more memory? I’m guessing that at the time it was released, they thought nobody would want more than 512Mb of memory on their machine—where have I heard that quote before...

Anyhow I set the machine up as an attempt to try running Café World better than the last time I tried to run it on Windows XP. So far at least, it appears to have been somewhat of a success, even though it has less resources available than the 2.8GHz Celeron machine. To refresh memories, the machine has a 1.3GHz Celeron, 512Mb of memory, and (now) a 10Gb drive with Xubuntu on it. Nothing else to get in the way of running Chrome, and running Café World in that browser. I ought to retain most of the speed I saw on fatty (the 2.8GHz machine) without the game slowing down because the computer’s going to fetch something or rehash the stored files database or check out what packages need updating, or whatever. The only time the game slows down is when it’s swapping, which can really impact gameplay negatively. Currently the only other disadvantage is that I have to keep switching the monitor over between the two machines.

So, what else will happen to this machine? Other than me putting the CMOS battery back in (done), and figuring out what the weird GRUB2 error message is, there’s nothing much else to do to it. Aside from adding twin (a screen-like terminal multiplexer, but with window borders), that is. And no, I don't have the nice monitor any more—that went back to the owner.

12 May, 2010

No Competition, and cheap build quality.

Windows XP SP3, 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 (Celeron), 512Mb memory, Google Chrome, Flash plugin. And Café World.

In short, a bit of a disaster. You'd think that Microsoft should have been able to walk away with this one laughing. However, it was not to be so. The weird bit is, Windows XP (SP3) has been quite good at other stuff on my computer. It's competently executed Second Life clients better than I was able to run them under Linux, and of course, it's usually been easier to play games under Windows, especially games written for Windows. This time, I tried out Café World on Facebook under Windows and under Linux, and I think you can guess the result. Linux won. Hands down. No competition. Not even close.

I watched the hard drive activity while the game was running under XP, and the hard drive was running pretty much flat out all the time, I'm assuming that the computer was running out of main memory, so it was going back to the hard drive to grab a bit more space to swap bits of itself out, then requiring that piece about five seconds later, so swapping it back in, etc etc etc. In short, I was the victim of a concept known as disk thrashing, when the computer simply hasn't got enough memory to keep up with everything it needs to do.

If you're asking what else I had running in the background, there was pretty much nothing aside from what would be running on a Windows XP Home computer with most of the services turned off. In short, there wasn't any other computing activity that would have impacted on Chrome, which was the only application running with an exposed window.

The astute among you would have noticed I didn't state what version of Linux, but for argument's sake, it's the latest Ubuntu. Of course it's got all of the fixes from the 2.2 series right up through the later series of 2.6.32 kernels. In comparison, Windows XP has had whatever fixes have been applied to the NT kernel throughout the years it's been around (since about 2000 or so). Is it fair to compare these two operating systems purely on the basis of one admittedly hard-on-the-system game executed through the web browser running the Flash plugin? Maybe, maybe not. However, the stats are there.

My wife has a very old machine (600 MHz Pentium 3, 384Mb memory, running Kubuntu) and put simply, her system lagged seriously when she tried Farmville. It lagged even worse when she tried Café World. So I tried out a wee experiment, because I can do this on a local network system, you see. I ssh'd from her machine to my machine running Ubuntu, and turned on X forwarding, and compressed the link too, just to smooth things out a bit. Then I started Google Chrome, and pointed it at Café World. Put simply, it still worked, although the connection was a little laggy as would be expected with an encrypted SSH link. Given I couldn't try the same thing from her Linux box to my Windows XP setup I didn't even bother trying that scenario, given the way the game had misbehaved under Windows.

Hardware failure

A good long time ago, I bought a set of headphones with a microphone. At the time, I loved the sound I got from these headphones—needless to say, I still love the sound, but some of the aspects of hardware build quality are starting to show their weaknesses. I've had to open up the volume control again for the third time, this time to replace a broken earth wire in the microphone lead. It used to be that if you had a microphone lead, you could almost run over it with a truck and the darn thing would still keep trucking. That's not been the case for a couple of decades. Cheaper prices have seen off the evil demon of quality. These days, if it breaks, you just go out and buy a new one, as it's typically cheap enough to buy. What a shame, except I can't even afford (usually) the cheap, poor quality leads, so I have to patch them up myself. Luckily I'm reasonably handy with a soldering iron, so I had that apart, and crossed my fingers as I tied down two connections again. It seems to work well now, but I don't know how long the fix will last. I hope it lasts longer than the previous fix.

06 May, 2010

What is this I see before me?

  I don't quite know why I took notice of this, but I did rather wonder where the rest of it went...
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