Some of the tech stuff that I use

A few weeks ago I wrote this piece on apps. Given that some readers found it useful, I thought of sharing about the gadgets that I regularly use. I have bought them over the years and they meet my specific requirements. So they may not work for everyone but most of these gadgets are also the best you can buy in their class.

Well, before any digression, let me begin:

This is the gadget at the centre of my digital life. It helps me stay connected all the time, an important factor in my line of work. I read and respond to most of my emails on this device. It is used for office and personal communication through instant messaging. I also use it to write news reports when I am not in the office and to shoot images for news stories when I don’t have my primary camera with me, which is often.

The best thing about Nexus 5 is the speed. It is fast. And that means it doesn’t slow me down.

I use a black Nexus 5 with 16GB storage. It cost me Rs 28,999. I use it with a Capdase case that I bought for Rs 790 and a Scratchgard screen cover. With matte finish, Capdase case is fantastic but the Scratchgard screen cover is not good.

My only complaint with this Nexus 5 is the storage. I should have bought the 32GB version.

Assembled computer

Like Nexus 5, this one too is one of the most important tools I have. In fact, I can’t live without this (or a similar computer). I am old-fashioned when it comes to computers. I don’t like them small and slim and fancy. I like them fast and functional.

I assembled this computer around two years ago and it is still one of the fastest machines one can buy. The idea was to have a computer that can play almost all PC games at their maximum graphics settings for at least two to three years. I also wanted something that should not slow me down while I am working on it, whether I am encoding videos or browsing Wikipedia. And I wanted a computer, on which I can do some basic photo editing and watch films… so one with a really good monitor.

This machine is everything I wanted in a computer.

Key configuration:

Intel Core i5 3570K: A fast quad-core processor. But this is an unlocked processer so I run it at 4.2GHz instead of its usual 3.4GHz. I use it with Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO CPU cooler.

8GB DDR3 1866 Corsair Vengeance RAMPlenty and fast enough.

128GB Samsung 830 SSDThis is the primary hard disk in the computer.

Asus GTX670 graphics cardPowerful enough to run a game like Crysis 3 at (almost) maximum graphics settings.

Dell U2412M monitorI don’t like monitors with 16:9 aspect ratio. It has to be 16:10. And it has to have an IPS panel, which shows deeper, richer and truer colours. I also need a monitor with fully adjustable stand. Dell 2412M satisfies all requirements. The build quality is not the best but the performance is superb. The screen size of 24 inches and a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels means films look great on it. (I rarely watch television or go to a cinema hall).

Other parts

-- 1TB Western Digital Green hard drive

-- 500GB Seagate Barracuda hard drive

-- Asus Xonar DG sound card

-- Seasonic 560W Gold power supply unit

-- Corsair 550D computer chassis with couple of cooling fans from Antec and Scythe Gentle Typhoons

-- ASUS P8Z77-V motherboard


-- Logitech G105 keyboard (I don't exactly like it) and Logitech M400 mouse (fantastic mouse)

-- I don’t use a CD/DVD drive

-- The PC runs 64-bit version of the Windows 7 Professional

Audio setup

I don’t have a pair of speakers. Well, I do have an old 2.1 Creative set, but I don’t use it. Instead when I am watching films or listening to songs on the computer I use Audio Technica ATH-M50It produces balanced sound with enough detail and bass to make music and films enjoyable. It is definitely not the best, but as a headphone paired with a computer it works really well. It is versatile and with a price of around Rs 10,000 offers performance that is better than headphones that cost double.

With Nexus 5, I use SoundMagic PL11 for listening to music. It is a relatively cheap in-ear headphone and offers good balanced sound, with plenty of bass. I bought it for around Rs 900 but the price seems to have gone up in the last few months. (Yes, it is better than the fancy Apple headphones people get with iPhones).

Camera setup

I use Nikon D3100. For my basic needs it is enough. It is capable of shooting some fantastic images that have good dynamic range and colours. This D3100 is mostly used with three lenses. The kit lens (18-55mm) is capable but not all that great. Mostly I shoot with 50mm (F1.8) prime lens, which is probably the best Nikon lens ever made considering its price is just Rs 13,000. I also use Nikkor 70-300mm for shooting wildlife.
I use a 16GB Transcend SD card (class 4) with the camera. It is a slow card but at least it can store lots of photos, which is important because I mostly shoot RAW.

I bought this several months ago. It is fast and has a fantastic screen. Unfortunately, I don’t use it much. When I am outside, I use Nexus 5. When I am at home or office, I use a desktop computer (or Nexus 5).

I mostly use iPad for playing Real Racing 3 or browsing 500PX and Flickr, the websites where I share photos.

This is the 16GB version of the iPad.

Office computer

I have a Lenovo ThinkCentre desktop PC with Intel Core i5 3450 processor. It has 4GB RAM. It is not as fast as my home PC but then I don’t play PC games in the office, so it doesn’t matter. This computer is paired with a 22-inch Dell P2213 monitor. It is a monitor with TN panel but because it is meant for enterprise use, it has been calibrated well for colour accuracy. It also has 16:10 aspect ratio and not the 16:9 which is rubbish on monitors

Other stuff

-- I use two Western Digital external hard drives (1TB + 500GB)

-- For my portable storage needs, I use a 16GB Sandisk Extreme USB3.0 pen drive. When paired with computers or laptops that have a USB 3.0 this is a fast pen drive.

-- I use several cables and chargers but there is nothing special and unique about them.

-- I have a Sony Vaio E14 Series laptop powered by Core i3 processor (third gen). But I use it rarely.

-- I have a very old canon Pixma MP145 series printer/scanner but I don’t use it.

I don’t use any music players because Nexus 5 works well enough as a portable music player. I don’t use a web cam or headset for voice chats (Nexus 5 is enough) and I don’t use any video player (rarely watch television). I don’t use an Xbox or Playstation because I rarely get time to play videogames and when I do, I play them on PC. Though I may buy a PS4 or Xbox One in the coming months. 


Good job, Intel and Nvidia! Now show us Haswell and Kepler in mobile devices

If you keep an eye on mobile chip scene, the way I do, you will know that in the last few days Intel and Nvidia made big splash.

Intel announced it would have a Haswell chip with a SDP – a fancy replacement for more traditional and accurate TDP – of 4.5W ready by the year end. The 4.5W is the big deal here because it will allow the chip to go into a tablet.

Haswell in a tablet is a geek’s wet dream. It is a Core processor and is likely to be significantly superior to any chip ARM or its partners currently offer or are likely to come up by the end of this year.

Nvidia, meanwhile, formally announced Logan. The big news with Logan is that Nvidia is finely bringing its PC graphics technology to its mobile chip. Logan is supposed to come inside devices by the second half of next year.

Nvidia claims that it terms of theoretical power (read gflops) the graphics core in Logan will be as powerful as GTX 8800! Even though there is no chance that Logan will have memory bandwidth to push GTX 8800 class performance, this is a big deal.

Both are nice announcements. And both have generated a lot of good PR for Intel and Nvidia, which are struggling to come out of the PC industry where they dominate and adapt their business to the mobile market.

I am not convinced.

The reason: Execution. Or the lack of it.  

Despite superior technology, especially in chip manufacturing, Intel has so far failed to match ARM and its partners like Qualcomm in offering competitive mobile processors. We all know that Silvermont is coming by the end of this year and it may make Intel competitive in the mobile industry but unless we get devices powered by these chips, it is dangerous to hazard a guess.

Keeping this fact in line, I am not too sure that Haswell will really appear in tablets. And even if it appears, it will live up to the hype. Even Intel acknowledges that Haswell in tablet is more like an experiment. It talks of limited availability of tablet-ready Haswell chips.

Nvidia too is struggling in the mobile despite being one of the top semi-conductor firms. Tegra 1, Tegra 2 and Tegra 3 have been passable at best and lame at worst. In February, the company showed Tegra 4 and claimed it would be the best mobile processor in the market. If I remember right, some benchmarks were used and the score posted by Tegra 4 were amazing. But since then we haven’t heard much about it.

In the market, it is difficult to find a Tegra 4 device. I think Toshiba has one tablet and HP has come out with one Hybrid.

In fact, there is a very valid question mark on the ability of Tegra 4 to fit into a smartphone form factor because the amount of power it is supposed to consume and the amount of heat it reportedly produces.

Given that Intel is yet make a really competitive processor despite several tries and Nvidia is struggling to get the Tegra right, I will like to see the tablet running on Haswell and a phone powered by Logan before I can believe the tall claims. 

Posted in , , , , | Leave a comment

Next 3D Mark coming on Feb 4

Finally, we have a date! Futuremark has confirmed that its new 3D Mark benchmark is going to debut on February 4. And what a benchmark it is going to be. Here is how Futuremark describes it:
It is our most ambitious and technical benchmark ever, featuring real-time graphics rendered with detail and complexity far beyond what is found in other benchmarks and games today
But why am I excited about it? After all, as they say in forums, you can't play 3D Mark.

Two reasons.

1- Even though you can't play 3D Mark, the program is important because it shows what is theoretically possible with computers. And those pretty pictures that 3D Mark renders do look amazing.

2- This version of 3D Mark is especially significant because it is going to be the first proper graphics benchmark that will allow comparison between devices on separate platforms. The new 3D Mark will help compare the hardware in iPhone with the hardware in an Android device. This is something that is going to make the job of people like me, who write about these gadgets, easier. At the same time, it may force companies making smartphone and tablet hardware to support common standards and be more open to reveal details of their products.

Now, the bad news. For now, the benchmark is going to be available only for Windows computers. There is still no ETA on when it will come to iOS, Android and Windows Phone. But let's hope it will be soon.

Posted in , , | Leave a comment

Next-gen consoles and why PC games suck

It’s silly season. The season when rumours fly thick and fast ahead of a major technology product launch. This time there are two launches – next-gen Xbox, codenamed Durango, and next-gen Playstation, codenamed Orbis. Given that the current consoles were launched in 2006, there is a lot of anticipation among geek crowd. 

I am not a console gamer but I do keep an eye on the technology for two reasons. One, I write about it. And two, I believe PC gamers have their fate intricately linked with console gamers. If console gamers get good hardware, we will see better games on PC. If they get poor hardware, PC gamers are likely to get ill-designed ports. 

Of late, there has been a lot of discussion around the possible hardware in next-gen consoles. For now, the consensus is that the hardware of Durango is going to suck. PS4 will fare much better but even its hardware may not match what current computers have. 

Timothy Lottes, the guy who created FXAA for Nvidia, has now weighed on the issue. While he largely agrees that next-gen Xbox may not fare very well in comparison to the current gaming computers, he says that PS4 has a chance to shine bright.

It is an interesting post. And a must read for computer hardware junkies. But other than the idea that PS4 can be a fantastic console, I have one more takeaway from it – Microsoft is single biggest reason for poor state of PC gaming. 

I have been saying it for quite some time that the current computers have unprecedented amount of horsepower. But lack of appropriate software holds them back. When it comes to gaming I am sure DirectX, Microsoft’s graphics API for Windows, shares some blame.

Posted in , , , | Leave a comment

How tech bloggers got it wrong about Tegra 4

It is an unfortunate truth that many people writing on consumer technology do not really know jack-shit about the hardware that powers them. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. But when it comes to the core hardware like graphics chip or processors or RAM etc, these folks find themselves in uncharted territory.

Result: They tend to just repeat what technical marketing guys at various companies tell them.

The classic case of this PR-speak-finding-its-way-to-news is Tegra processor, a chip made by Nvidia.

There is a perception (wrong) that bigger is better as far as specifications are concerned. And people particularly love more cores in their chips. So when Nvidia launched Tegra 3, it announced that the chip has 12 cores. It was wrong because Nvidia was terming ALUs as cores. The company has not done that in the computer space where it sells graphics cards with more than 1500 ALUs. But it knows that because mainstream tech journos are mostly ignorant about core technologies, it can get away with it.

The company is again at it with Tegra 4. There is a leaked powerpoint slide doing rounds on the web in which Nvidia says the new chip has 72 cores. And most tech bloggers are again treating it as a gospel of truth. It sounds good in the headline too. New Nvidia chip has 72 cores! Yes, that’s a good headline. No wonder sites, including Engadget and The Verge, like it, even if it is not entirely correct.

Tegra 4 probably has just 72 ALUs. This is also the reason why Nvidia is claiming up to six times better theoretical performance with Tegra 4 compared to Tegra 3. Simple math. 12 X 6 = 72

ALUs (arithmetic logic unit) are one of the basic components in a logic chip like microprocessor. Several ALUs and few other elements make up a unit inside a graphics card that can be considered a sort of engine for the chip. In a chip, there can be several of these engines. Traditionally, on the GPU side there has never been a focus on cores. That is a CPU-related area where the whole of the logic chip (but without uncore area like L3 cache) is considered as one core.

But in the mobile industry things are different. There is no standardization, neither in how the things are represented and communicated nor in the way they function. So, everybody is playing fast and loose with definitions.

For end users it is very confusing and ideally tech journos and bloggers should ask the questions that can help mitigate the issue. But for different reasons, including the fact that few people writing about personal technology understand it, talk about it.

The best way to look at the issue is this: Imagination’s PowerVR 543MP3 chip has 3 cores. Yet, it trounces Tegra 3, which has 12 cores. It is pretty obvious to ask why. But no one does that.

Image credit: Junesy

Posted in | Leave a comment


© 2012 SixtyFourBits. All rights reserved. Content is copyrighted and may not be reproduced on other websites. Swedish Greys - a WordPress theme from Nordic Themepark. Converted by Modified By Javed