Category Archives: Indulgence

Wicked, New Orientations

The Truth of Vertical vs. Horizontal Key Layout
The Truth of Vertical vs. Horizontal Key Layout

Few things in life are definitively good or evil in their entirety. This is one of them.

I have no idea what these keys in the center of keyboards are named. What I do know is that recently some manner of vertical orientation was spawned, and it is an abomination.

Be very careful when you buy keyboards now or you may find yourself wildly scrolling back and forth uncontrollably in your applications, or typing over large swaths of text instead of inserting. Even jumping to locations you never intended!

This new vertical orientation is a most vile, confusing and even dangerous development. Be wary!

Overclock Experience on AMD FX-8350 CPU on ASRock 990FX Extreme9 Mobo Using 2400 Speed Memory

A few months ago I decided to sacrifice my AMD FX-8150 – re-purposing it as a decent 8-core virtual server instead. In its place I purchased one of the new AMD 7850K Kaveri APU’s. My former FX-8150 workstation had an Nvidia 670 graphics card and the system consumed a lot of power, even when barely being used for anything. The thought of a 95w Kaveri sounded great.

And it was – with the new Kaveri 7850K chip as my CPU/GPU (APU) and the Nvidia card removed, the system rarely consumed more than 65w (including an LCD 24″ monitor)! When I played the occasional game on it, or the odd video encode, the power would spike up to 150w easily enough, since I had it overclocked a bit. I love this little system and still keep it. But I found that there are times when I really need the raw horsepower I gave up with the FX-8150.

So I decided to purchase the newer AMD FX-8350 instead. Of course, this chip isn’t all that new, really. But after looking at various “not-just-mainstream-talking-head” benchmarks, and see it compared reasonably well with the much more expensive Intel offerings, even their latest and greatest, I decided to go with it. My old FX-8150 was so solid. I was hoping the FX-8350 would be the same, and give me a little more performance as well.

The Kaveri APU’s benefit greatly from very fast memory. The talking heads out there claim that the FX-series processors don’t benefit that much from faster memory, and many claim that the AMD memory controller can’t even handle faster memory speeds well, past 1866 MHz. I decided to purchase faster memory nevertheless, thinking I could always use it in the APU system, since I wasn’t that thrilled with the more bargain Team Group memory I purchased for it. So I bought the AMD Radeon Gamer series memory, 2 sticks of 8 gigabytes rated for 2400 MHz speed at a CAS latency of 11. Expensive, but I didn’t want to mess around this time, wondering.

I also bought the obligatory aftermarket CPU cooler: a Hyper 212 Evo. It’s a beast of a hunk of metal, but I kinda like that. And no matter what, I’m not putting water inside my computer. I’ll just keep the clock speeds down (and power consumption).

For the motherboard, I decided upon the ASRock 990FX Extreme9. I was going to go with the ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z, but it was always out of stock at Newegg, and I’ve recently become more skeptical of ASUS’s quality. I only ever used ASRock boards one other time, for a router I was building, and the thing was a good price, and very solid. So why not? The Extreme9 even had the Intel NIC on it, and a 12x power phase, which is unheard of. So anyway, that’s the board I chose, and it was only $169 – while the FX-8350 I got for $179. 🙂 The 16G of 2400 memory was the most expensive of all at $199!

Anyway, to the point. That’s what I have, and why I got it. In this machine is also a Bluray SATA drive, 2 3T SATA hard drives, and 2 120G SSD’s. All of that, and one ASUS LCD monitor are plugged into a UPS to draw power. So I can see my power utilization. Not uber scientific accuracy of course, but close enough just to have a look-see. Oh and the big power draw (supposedly), I splurged on a new graphics card as well, an R9 290 OC – just to keep it in the family.

I shelled out the $100 to Microsoft as well to get a Windows 8.1 Pro OEM license. That always makes me happy.

This AMD FX-8350 machine does run very solid. Like a tank. Just like me FX-8150, I never can seem to bog it down in its responsiveness, no matter what I’m doing, including virtualization.

I don’t overclock that often, and don’t know a ton about it. However, I was surprised that I could easily get the AMD FX-8350 CPU up to 4.4 GHz and the memory up to the full 2400 MHz speed, all while just using the air cooling of the Hyper 212 Evo! It honestly shocked me.

Of course, that’s no big deal unless you are running the CPU at full throttle for a long period of time. And what better way to do that, than to encode HD video using Handbrake – which maxxes out every single core for hours on end. It was my test, both of thermals and voltages, as I fine-tuned things.

People get confused about CPU temperatures. There are 2 different kinds. There is the CPU temperature at the socket, and there is the CPU temperature of the CPU cores themselves, within the chip. Both temperatures have different manufacturer suggestions/limits.

Using the ASRock motherboard’s automatic overclocking setting to reach 4.4 GHz on the CPU and 2400 MHz memory speeds, with handbrake running continuously my CPU core temperature maxxed out at 80c, and the thermal thresholds of the CPU cores reached AMD’s predefined limits, and the voltage automatically dropped at brief intervals to keep the temperatures below the supposed damage threshold.

So I thought, well, I should be able to lower the CPU voltage some, and the Northbridge voltage as well, and still be stable — and this should lower both my temperatures and power consumption. My thinking was, the motherboard manufacturer would want to pick voltages that were on the more greedy side to make sure the overclocks were more likely to work.

This proved to be a good move. I managed to lower the voltage on both the CPU and northbridge without sacrificing any performance, bringing the thermals down well below thresholds, and decreasing the power consumption by about 30 watts.

I’ll show you some screenshots I took while I was in the middle of running those Handbrake video encodes that kept the FX-8350 CPU cores pegged at full. The power draw you’ll see is reported from the UPS the system is plugged into. So here is a list of devices that are currently drawing power on that device:

  1. AMD FX-8350 CPU
  2. 2x8G AMD Radeon Gamer series memory @ 2400
  3. 6 120MM case fans
  4. Seasonic Gold something power supply 😉
  5. AMD R9 290 OC (MSI)
  6. Yeti microphone
  7. ASUS Bluray SATA drive (not actively spinning)
  8. 2 3T Seagate Barracuda hard drives
  9. 2 120G SSD drives (Samsung and OCZ V4)
  10. ASUS VN247 LCD monitor

All of that, with the CPU pegged out and overclocked to 4.4GHz, the system was drawing 307 watts! Of course, if the graphics card were going like crazy, it would be significantly more. But that just amazes me how little that graphics card will draw, too, when it’s not being used except for dual-monitor 1080p (one monitor is plugged into that UPS while the other isn’t).

When the system is idle but awake, just doing its normal system-y things in the background, all those things draw 121 watts with the CPU at 4.4 GHz still. Absolutely nuts! That’s some amazingly good power-awareness work, in both the CPU and video card.

As you can see from those screenshots, there is the idle power draw and the fully loaded CPU power draw running maxed-out FX-8350 on all 8 cores. Also, the AMD Overdrive screenshot shows those cores all maxed out, along with the “thermal margin”. This “thermal margin” value is often confusing to people it seems. It represents the number of degrees you have left to heat up before you reach AMD’s predefined maximum safe temperature per core. By lowering voltages I was able to give myself a comfortable thermal margin while still maintaining a completely stable 4.4 GHz overclock that ran and ran and ran.

The “ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility” screenshot shows ASRock’s included software overclock utility that came with this 990FX Extreme9 motherboard. It’s not the greatest utility – but it’s ok for tweaking some things. The BIOS is the place to do it, and the boot-to-UEFI feature is great. I am incredibly pleased with this motherboard. The ASUS stuff has seemed so buggy lately. I am convince that there is no way I could have gotten such a stable overclock with such low voltages were it not for this fine board (and perhaps the silicon dye god’s favor).

The last screenshot above is the CPUZ utility showing the memory speed and timings, in case someone doesn’t believe that an FX-8350 can run with 2400 speed memory. There it is! It’s using those AMD memory modules, though.  And if you look at the northbridge speeds in the ASRock utility screenshot, you’ll see that the bandwidth is there. I could probably even press it further. Haven’t tried yet, though. It most certainly increased my AIDA64 scores below. The AMD chips, even the FX ones, actually do seem to benefit from fast memory.

All in all, I’m extremely happy and surprised by this system. I’m also impressed with the memory bandwidth AMD has provided even on the FX series processors. I had an evaluation copy of the AIDA64 test suite, and included the benchmark results below.

What astonishes me is that there are cases where this FX-8350 CPU greatly outperforms even the i7-4770k from Intel. Of course, there are cases where the Intel i7-4770k CPUs outperform the AMD FX-8350 as well. The price difference between the two is huge, though, especially when you take into account motherboards with comparable features.

I used to run i7’s several years ago, but switched to the FX processors after experiencing how much better the AMD chips handled virtualization. I have no benchmarks, but using the systems I could certainly feel the difference. And virtualization is a lot of what I do. Playing games, I can never tell the difference. But if I’m playing a game on a system that’s running some load in a virtualized environment at the same time, the AMD system runs smooth, while the i7 system acts choppy. That’s why I switched.

But all silly Intel vs. AMD stuff aside, if I look at just this chip, and even the small overclocking up to 4.4 GHz, I can certainly notice a huge performance gain while transcoding video with Handbrake. I have also noticed that running the memory at 2400 MHz most definitely improves the responsiveness of the system, such that I can’t even tell when I’m running with all the cores maxxed out.

Honestly, I was a little hesitant about going with the FX-8350 chips, since they are older than the newest releases from Intel. But right now, I have absolutely no regrets. They are still amazingly great performing workhorses and absolutely rock solid. Especially if you invest in the quality components.

AIDA64 Extreme benchmark test results:

Anyway, I hope you have found something useful in all this. It’s hard finding any more detailed information out there related to specific use cases and experiences.

I’m so pleased with this purchase and have absolutely no regrets about spending the money for the quality components. And no regrets about not spending twice even that much for an Intel-based system.

Besides the incredible solidity of this system, the thing I’m most impressed with is how well it utilizes power. Although the FX-8350 chip isn’t the most power-efficient chip, it’s not bad for an 8-core! And it seems like AMD has gone to some great lengths to only draw power when you really need it, whether it’s a CPU or a GPU. I swear that R9 290 isn’t drawing any power it seems. You do see it when you’re gaming though.

Oh, and I should mention, I overclocked this while leaving Cool and Quiety enabled in the UEFI, and also C6 state on the CPU, which gives it the ability to save lots of power. This has not impacted the stability of the overclock at all. Then again, I’m hardly pushing this chip to anything close to what it’s capable of, either.

Anyway, just thought I’d share my happiness and enthusiasm in case you might be questioning similarly.

BTW – the hardware support for AES encryption on this chip is phenomenal. Encrypted disks and folders? No worries. 😉

Impressions of Chromecast and Google TV Comparison

Downstairs Kitchen Chromecast TV

I am a cord-cutter and have been for years. No cable TV service. No satellite TV service. However, I do watch shows streaming from the Internet, and over-the-air broadcast television (digitally recoded and streamed to the home network of course).

One of the difficulties you encounter when leaving cable TV and satellite services behind is finding a convenient way to bring all the content available on the Internet into one place at home for simple, brainless enjoyment on your big TV.

On the other hand, dealing with broadcast television is no big deal at all, thanks to incredibly excellent software and hardware, such as the long-developed and free DVR system, MythTV and Silicon Graphics’ HDHomeRun digital tuner. By the way, if you’re interested in making yourself a MythTV DVR, I wrote up a big little howto of what I did.

Unfortunately, getting content streamed from the Internet isn’t as perfect. Most of the old-school big content providers, like television networks, sell and license their content differently, and many allow it to be watched only in certain ways, on certain devices. It’s a stupid mess, really.

For example, my Boxee Box, which I loved for several years, was one of the first devices to try aggregating this ugly mish-mash of content “out there” – and they did an exceptionally good job of it. Services like Hulu bring many shows into one website. However, if you wanted to watch a show that was from CBS, you could watch it on the Boxee Box just fine – but you couldn’t on Hulu. And Hulu blocked the Boxee Box, so you couldn’t use the Boxee Box to watch Hulu. Ugly. Ugly everwhere here with these old-school content providers, or new-school content providers owned by the old-school ones, like Hulu.

It’s not so bad when you have a major network like CBS though – because they broadcast their shows over the air, and MythTV picks those up just fine, and even lets you record them locally. And honestly, the HD picture quality of broadcast television is better than cable ever was, or satellite.

Netflix is great for watching content, and offers this content at a very reasonable flat monthly fee. They also seem to run on every hardware device out there, except for Free and Open devices. Netflix runs on Google’s new Chromecast device, if that tells you anything.

After I got hooked into the Linux-based Android devices, I decided I’d try out a new Google TV device from Vizio called the Co-Star. This quickly replaced my Boxee Box. Although Netflix was on the Boxee Box, Amazon Instant Video was not. And I loved how I could be watching a YouTube video on my phone or tablet, and then just send it out to play on my Google TV if I wanted to enjoy it more thoroughly. Honestly, I’m not very keen on watching video content on a phone or tablet. It makes me feel to constrained.

The Co-Star was, and still is, a super great little box, only costing $99 at the time I bought it. I use it every day. It’s what I use to watch Netflix, Amazon Video, and YouTube subscriptions. I also turn on the police/ambulance blotter from time to time, just because it’s bizarre what goes on out there. Or I watch NASA TV. Sometimes I’ll watch stock prices coming in from Google Finance on it. Or I’ll listen to my music from Google Play streaming in excellent audio quality.

Then along came Google’s new little $35 HDMI plug-in WiFi device called Chromecast. They didn’t call it Google TV, even though it was Google and a device that does the TV. So I was a little confused. The Vizio Co-Star was small, but not that small. So how exactly is Chromecast different from Google TV?

For $35 I figured I couldn’t go wrong, though, and ordered one. It turns out, it’s just like Google TV, only with almost everything chopped out of it, and one little piece added in. (Of course there is a lot of tech behind it, and a new direction I’m sure).

Like Google TV, a Chromecast device will allow you to send YouTube videos from your Android phones or tablets to the TV with the Chromecast device plugged in. It also lets your watch your Google Play movies, or listen to your Google Play music. Personally, I don’t use Google Play for movies because they never seem to be available at a high resolution for viewing on your TV – only on your devices.

Another neat feature is that you can send videos on any web page you’re viewing (using the Chrome web browser) to your Chromecast device. Basically, this turns your TV into a remote monitor that mirrors what you have displayed in the Chrome browser tab you’ve chosen to “cast”. Unfortunately, you can’t send these to your Google TV – at least just yet. More fragmentation? Hopefully it’s just that Google TV hasn’t yet been updated with this capability.

The Chromecast has Netflix, and it works great. Just like Google TV. However, that’s all it has. No Amazon video, and no apps you can install yourself. However, you can fire up Amazon Video in your web browser, and then “cast” that browser tab to the Chromecast TV, which works great – just be sure the computer doesn’t go to sleep or the stream to the TV stops.

I’ll tell you, though – I’m really impressed with this Chromecast device, though. Especially for $35. It allows you to plug it into any television in your house with an HDMI port, and from that point on, you can send content to that television. I’m finding I use it quite a bit, actually. Hanging out in the kitchen, I might throw on a YouTube video, and later in the middle of it, need to go to another room, and whether than room has Google TV or Chromecast, I can use my phone or tablet to just transfer what I’m viewing instantly to that room’s TV instead. I ended up buying another one, if you can’t tell.

However, for the TV I sit down in front of, Chromecast is no replacement for Google TV. Chromecast to me is best thought of as the device that lets you send something you’re watching on your tablet, phone or PC to a larger screen. It performs admirably, too – very good video quality. The TV you see here is one I just bought, specifically to have in the downstairs kitchen. It is showing the screen you see when nothing is being sent to it, and the background pictures periodically change. You can name the screens whatever you like – I chose “Downstairs Kitchen” for this one. 😉 It is powered by the USB cable that is included and plugged into a USB port on this TV. It can also draw power from the HDMI port, if your HDMI port is powered. The device boots when you turn on the TV, and it is a matter of a few seconds only.

If more Android apps begin to support Chromecast streaming, this little device would be indispensable. Well, if I’m honest, I think it probably pretty much already is for me. The tech they’ve implemented for this is wonderful. And at $35? It is spectacular.

Disorienting Yourself

Disorienting YourselfLast week, for a moment, in the morning, I wondered if it was Wednesday or Friday. I wasn’t sure. Turns out it was Saturday. I like to check from time to time. Often I know the day of the week, but rarely the day of the month. After all, people’s moods and behaviors are influenced heavily by the day of the week, and that is good to consider when dealing with them. Never trust a person on a weekend. They may have the best intentions, but they are reeling in some bizarre fantasy existence. Or maybe it’s the other way around. That’s more up to them, than to me. All I know is you must target the right person of the person. That is, if you must.

My last written piece here was about an abdicating Pope, the textures of our personalities coming through the ringer of the Church, and mechanical organs. It took someone like the Pope, way back in the day, with power enough to decree that all the world has lost a calendar day. To fix things. I wonder who could get away with something like that now? Would it be the purview of astronomers or physicists? Do politicians decide the day, or perhaps some government agency? The monkey with the most money?

There is nothing really anything about a Tuesday, or a Sunday. Or 4pm for that matter. In one hour, or next year. I imagine around two weeks ago I decided to “go dark”. No messages. No calls. I imagine it was around two weeks ago, because it feels like… what I remember two weeks feels like in my memory. You know, week-ends are a fairly new invention – the last hundred years or so. And yet here we are now, everyone taking them for granted. I think it had something to do with industrialization and the labor movement.

Of course, weekends and days of the week, and the calendar, are illusions: pretty tick marks on a scale that measures something we didn’t always realize was the Earth’s rotation around the sun. An illusion much like money – which we give power through our collective belief and adherence.

Outside so many buried bulbs are sprouting up so beautifully unique within their bounds. Two yards of fresh manure compost still steams, nearly ready, being turned.

I wonder if we might inevitably embrace a metric system of time measurement if we manage to venture out into space, losing the baroque nature of an Earth-centric scale. Like so much has been lost and gained as we evolve into the creatures that we are.

I have been missing from friends for this time, and missing from those who rely on me to answer their questions and do things for them. There have been people who pay me each month to be always available to them. The last of these is gone. Perhaps it is like children growing up to move out of the house, both sweet and sad. There are others who have not paid me, but I’ve always been there for them. This will remain true, but on time scales that arise from my own organic flow. It will take a while to respond.

Being someone who creates, you are presented with interesting challenges. These challenges depend upon the landscape in which you create. Some people are most comfortable creating add-on bits to mostly already-existing structures, with already-existing tools. These are the craftsmen. It’s a different type who ventures into the dark void to create something utterly new. Here is your blank white page, with little or no context. Go!

These are the rare and courageous lunatics who make all new things possible. And they fail, or they fly. But always they are met with opposition, from others and especially themselves. This can’t be done. This has already been done. This is impractical. And the worst of all: nobody will care. It is a matter of constraints, those constraints that others place upon you, those you place upon yourself, and constraints we all experience as a natural course of being an being who exists within a social context, filled with collective ideas and beliefs.

That last piece I mentioned also spoke about transcendence. Moving beyond. Finding perspectives and vistas. Sewing seeds for next year. And sometimes to really do, you must first un-do. You know your pen. You see the paths. And here you are.

Radicalism is almost never right, because it is reactionary. Reactionary against something. This is fundamentally different from transcendence. Transcendence does not seek to destroy, though some things may fall away. Transcendence embraces more, beyond our current context. Even software developers can do it. Even with accountants and marketing people keeping their pen. Their world is fear, control and manipulation. Yours is truth. And no one will progress anywhere without you.

The common thread is order, and in that you are common brothers struggling against the always-present universal nature of entropy. To address the common fears, almost everything can be done, if you can imagine it realistically. The harder part is starting down the path, and bringing help along if you need it. And nothing has been done before, if you didn’t do it. So many times I have been asked to study what’s out there so I know what to do. That’s more limiting than a calendar, or clock. You know what needs to happen, and if you don’t know the full picture, find it out. Then create, and will never have been created before. And as for people not caring… well, I suppose it depends on what they care about.

What they care about on a weekday, I should say. But this is the weekend. Or rather, the day of transition, Friday – the portal into your weekend world. Where you can entertain such ideas as might become you. At least, in a sense.

Lunatics all, really. With your clocks and broken hearts. Something to keep you going. To keep you focused on. Til the weekend always comes. And the alteration of data represents more money to live. And the environment we choose and make, conducive to this long maintenance, or as an alternative, an acknowledgement: that void of the un-done whose shreds serve only fertilize the ground. For all that grows.

The Pope, You and I. And Gadgets!

In recognition of an event that has not happened in more than half a millennium, the Bishop of Rome abdicating, here is a piece of music composed by Bach and played on a cathedral organ.

I am not a religious person in any traditional sense. However, I do recognize history. As much harm has been done in the name of God, so too has much benefit come.

Cathedral organs were, for centuries, the pinnacle of human technological achievement. The complexity, scale, craftsmanship, art and engineering was a major milestone. Cathedrals themselves are astonishing achievements.

While browsing through YouTube for a good video example, I ran across several submissions where the person taking the video within the cathedral could not help but continue panning around the vista continuously. Even today these structures manage to fill us with a sense of awe, whether we believe in any god or not.

The West has Christianity because of the Catholic Church. They brought education. And even today the Catholic Church strongly advocates academic achievement, even in deference to science, particularly amongst the Jesuit order.

I have never been Catholic. But if you are aware of our history in the West, you realize the significance – the impact the Catholic Church has had upon our most fundamental thought processes. It is our legacy, in many ways.

It was the first multinational organization, at a time, much like today, when all people were ruled by a very few individuals who held nearly all the resources and power. The Catholic Church brought a common sense of ethics and morality, and a respect for written law, that all Western nations, despite language differences, share in common. They became a force that dictators and rulers had to heed. And this helped bind Europe with a common identity that eventually transcended the notion of earthly rulers.

And that’s the key here. Transcendence. Moving beyond where we find ourselves. And this can be sad, painful and exhilarating. We look for a rebirth into something new. As individuals, and as nations. A rebirth into something kinder. Something better. Something wiser.

The Pontiff has abdicated his position, calling for someone who will be, perhaps, more open. But perhaps not caught up so much as us in all the fast-paced, momentary and superficial trappings we lap up. Perhaps while even being more open, he will still remind us of the importance – to look within ourselves.

God knows we need some good and big changes for the better. Or perhaps there is no being to know this. Perhaps we have to do this on our own. The harder route. The route where we must take responsibility for all that we say and do. And all that we do not say – and all that we do not do.

It is worth a prayer to something larger than ourselves. If only to our better selves that we aspire. May we all make wise choices in the time to come. And may we find peace and comfort in that.