Tuesday, December 18, 2012

AMD's Newish Fusion Processor, the C-70

AMD netbooks have this sticker, typically
 On September 1st of this year, AMD silently released its new C-70 processor, which can be considered a successor to their older C-60 part. The processor itself is nearly identical to the previous model. The only difference is the integrated graphics processor, which is now called the Radeon HD 7290 instead of the 6290, clocked at the same speeds, 276 MHz and 400 MHz for boosted mode, respectively. Some sites say the C-70 has Radeon HD 6290 graphics, so I suspect the new name is for purely marketing reasons. On the chipset side, the C-70 comes with AMD's updated chipset, the A68M, instead of the older A50M chipset that lacks USB 3.0 and native SD card and Ethernet support. Currently, the C-70 can be found in large netbooks such as the Acer Aspire One found here at Newegg, shown below. It comes with one USB 3.0 port and a multicard reader, unsurprisingly enough, plus a 64-bit copy of Windows 8. The new C-70 is nothing to be excited about, but should be worth the consideration of new netbook buyers or those wanting to upgrade an old single-core Atom netbook.
Acer Aspire One AO725-0494 AMD Dual-Core Processor C-70(1.00GHz) 11.6" 4GB Memory 320GB HDD AMD Radeon HD 6290 Notebook
The Acer Aspire One AO725-0494

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Featured Game: OpenArena

Like Quake III Arena, but open source!
Year: 2005
Genre: First-person Shooter
Recommend: YES

Remember Quake III Arena back in the day? It was a heck of a lot of fun, and still is, but if you're looking for something new, or just want to support the open source community, OpenArena is a must-download. Not only does it feature better graphics than Quake III, but it's less CPU-intesive in some circumstances. Huzzah!
What you'll need
OpenArena is very easy on your netbook's delicate hardware. The only relevant requirement is an OpenGL card, which all netbooks should have.
Reviews and Awards
I didn't have time to dive into reviews for OpenArena, but a simple Google search found that people really like the game. There are some complaints about the clothing of some (female) characters, which clothing is nearly nonexistent. OpenArena was the base used to create L3DGEWorld, a  visualization program for network data. OA has also been used to test streaming graphics from a server in computer science studies.
If you have kids that play OpenArena, or are offended by the almost-nudity in the game, you can relax. Removing this questionable content is easy. Just open up the 'baseoa' directory in the main game folder and delete 'pak2-players-mature.pk3'. That's all it takes. In the place of the deleted characters are clones of whichever player you're using when you start a map. Know that you won't be able to join a pure server with the package file missing.

This is the final map of single-player mode. Don't fall to your death!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Make Your Netbook More Awesome with ReadyBoost

Netbook kinda slow? Word takes forever to open? Don't wanna crack open your netbook to upgrade the RAM? There's an easy solution to all of these problems. It's called ReadyBoost, and it's as simple as popping in an SD card and clicking a few times. You could be a few bucks away (or none, if you have a card handy) from a faster netbook.

How It Works
Hard drive on left, solid state drive on right. Know the difference! Credit goes to appleinsider.com for this image.
Traditional hard drives are built using platters that hold microscopic bits of data. A device called an actuator arm moves back and forth across the platters to grab the magnetic chunks of data and send them to the processor inside the hard drive, which in turn sends the data to the computer. Because the actuator arm has to move back and forth across multiple platters to get data, hard drives are quite slow at random reads. Enter flash storage. Flash storage uses a special chip to store data, so it doesn't give a rip where the data is on the chip. It can just nab data from anywhere and present it to the computer quickly. ReadyBoost caches often-accessed data on the flash device, and when it's faster to pull data from the flash storage, ReadyBoost does so. ReadyBoost can even compress data to store more cache on the chosen device.
Which Flash Device to Use?
OK, you could use a USB flash drive for ReadyBoost. That's a less-than-ideal solution, as you'd have a bulky drive sticking out of your netbook that you have to be sure not to break. There's a better way. Most, if not all, netbooks have an SD card slot. SD cards don't protrude from your netbook, so you have one less thing to worry about. At an absolute minimum, a 256 MB card will work. Will it make your netbook faster? No! You need a lot more space than a quarter of a gigabyte. Microsoft recommends having 1-3x the amount of RAM available for ReadyBoost, thus a netbook with 1 GB of RAM should have 1-3 GB of ReadyBoost space, and 4 are even better. Speed is of paramount importance; if the card is too slow, ReadyBoost won't work at all. The best way to see if any given card is acceptable is to do your research. Read as many customer reviews as you can. Newegg is a great site for this purpose. I currently use a Transcend 8 GB Class 6 SDHC card.
How to Set Up ReadyBoost
The first step is a given: insert the card and wait for it to initialize. Once that's done, you should back up any data on the card; if it's empty, just proceed. 
Right click on your SD card in My Computer, then click Format.
Change the settings so they look like this (except for the capacity field). Then click Start!
Right click on the icon for your newly formatted SD card and click on Properties.
Click on the ReadyBoost tab. Make sure the window looks like this (alternatively, scroll down to see your other options). Click Apply, and that's it!
In case you're wondering why I had you format your card as exFAT with a 32 MB cluster size, it's for speed. exFAT is Microsoft's proprietary filesystem specifically for flash drives, and when coupled with an enormous cluster size, much more speed can be wrung from your SD card. If you don't want to use the entire card for ReadyBoost, you can click 'Use this device' and use the slider to specify how much space you want to use. If you plan on using your card for more than ReadyBoost, it's a good idea to reduce the cluster size, so any other files you put on the card won't waste obscene amounts of space.
To get a good idea of how much of a performance boost you can expect from ReadyBoost, go here. Keep in mind that Windows 7 does a better job of boosting your netbook than Vista, which is what Anandtech used in their benchmarks. Also know that netbooks with SSD's (solid state drives) won't benefit at all from ReadyBoost, because SSD's are flash storage drives themselves, so adding more flash storage won't speed anything up. If you have a slow hard drive, though, ReadyBoost is the solution.