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Upgrade Fun Reloaded

Evening Folks! It's looking very much like Dan's/Vickie's/My Upgrade will be going ahead this weekend. I'll be buying processor and RAM from Cameron K tomorrow, and I've put some orders in with A&T Computer and Eyo for the additional parts. In doing so, I'm committing my last Act of Evil with my new CUA MasterCard (as they're shipping me a Visa debit-card, I won't be forced to use a credit limit for things like online shopping); after this, it gets safely locked away in case of emergencies or overseas trips and I'll be paying off credit card debt for the next few months.

So, this weekend will probably be dedicated to getting three PCs up and running. My plans have fluctuated a bit lately, due to two factors - the aforementioned credit limit, which I'm now using to get my mitts on a high-end video card now, instead of September, and the on-switch for the server case Dan gave me to possibly use as his new case. See, Brook's PC includes Vickie's old Hyundai PC case, and during re-assembly, I discovered its power switch had stopped working. The switch for the server case turned out to be an exact fit, so I purloined it for Brook. However, I couldn't find another that matched. Several people volunteered helpful info, and EvilHayama even let me browse his collection of old cases on Tueday night, but while he had some switches that were of the correct size and shape to fit the server case, all were connected directly to his cases' power supply units. I needed a switch that connected to the motherboard.

Finally, I decided to see whether Cameron K's suggestion - Jaycar, a large electrical components store out in Silverwater - would pan out. A quick browse of their website yesterday revealed an online catalogue, and surely enough, it contained a compatible switch. I put an order in yesterday, and with any luck, it should be turning up in the post tomorrow!

Vickie's PC will need the least maintenance, although I do intend to use our recently-acquired jigsaw and cut an appropriately-sized mounting for an 8mm case fan into the front of the chassis. Beyond that, the GeForce4 I bought from Boots is already up and running fine in her system, and as previously reported, Cameron K's extra stick of PC2100 RAM will be going into it, bringing her to 512MB.

Dan's PC - my current PC - will remain nearly unchanged from its current configuration, aside from the removal of the sound card (the motherboard has onboard sound) and the current hard drive. I'll be adding a 20 gigabyte hard drive, which I'll install Windows XP Home Edition on.

The PC that will be mine will consist mostly of parts I've bought/acquired:

  • The Pentium 4 2.4GHz CPU and two sticks of 256MB PC2700 RAM that I'm buying from Cameron K tomorrow.
  • A Gigabyte 8SQ800 motherboard. It's cheaper by $90 than the 8SQ800 Ultra that I originally planned to buy, because it doesn't have the Ultra's extras (onboard LAN, Serial ATA, RAID) that I don't need. It still gives me 8X AGP and dual-channel DDR400 RAM capability, which ought to keep it future-proof for another couple of years (I can always splash out on a pair of 512MB PC3200 sticks, maybe sometime mid-next year if my overseas trip budget allows).
  • A Leadman 400-watt Power Supply Unit.
  • An ATI Radeon 9700. The PRO version is tempting, but Atomic's benchmarks only give it a measly 7 frames per second (127 total) more than the regular 9700 (120 total) in Unreal Tournament 2003 and only 700 more 3dMark2001SE points (10,760 as opposed to 10,065), both tests running at 1,280 x 1,024 resolution. Not really worth paying $100 more for.
  • The SoundBlaster Live! Digital Entertainment 5.1 card from my current system. It fulfills my 5.1 sound requirements with no problems. I don't have any real need for an Audigy right now, especially as I don't have digital speakers or use the system for DVDs.
  • The Evil Server Case from Dan, plus the new power switch from Jaycar. I'm still nursing the odd modding plan; maybe a case fan mounting parallel to the AGP slot, maybe cutting "IMAGinES" into the side panel, maybe spray painting it in IMAGinES website colours or perhaps blue and red... you can tell I've been reading too much Atomic, can't you?

I'll be spending sometime tomorrow night backing data up and getting Dan's case cleaned up. I'll likely hold off doing anything to Vickie's PC until Saturday; Vickie likes browsing after she gets in from work on a Friday night, which makes backing data up beforehand pointless, and I'd like another pair of hands present if I'm to start cutting into her chassis.

Jacqui & Phil drove up from Melbourne last Saturday as scheduled, and I finally got to show the wonders of the Xbox off to Phil. Although Phil was somewhat impressed with Halo, he's another one of these "driving game" nuts, so he, of course, went ga-ga for Rallisport Challenge. The four of us spent a fairly quiet evening at home (if you can call A Knight's Tale quiet), and Jacqui and Phil got up early on Sunday to take the items that came down from Cairns for them back to Melbourne. They also took Brook's PC with them, and as I've not had any phone calls from Brook or her Mum screaming that it doesn't work, I assume it's running smoothly. Then again, I've had no phone calls from them whatsoever...

Oh yeah; Vickie's son Karl has an Xbox now as well! That actually gives us something in common that we can talk about. Karl's trying to get through Halo on Legendary right now.

On the general topic of Xbox games, I bought Enter the Matrix for Xbox on Sunday. Although I wasn't able to stop myself from playing a little of it before we went to see Reloaded on Monday night, I've been playing it since, and it's pretty good. The controls (especially the sniper rifle) are awkward at times. It also has some bug problems, especially when it comes to the computer controlled opponents (sometimes they get stuck on nothing, the path finding AI occasionally fails). The sound has some of the mixing problems of Halo, and the dynamic soundtrack, which uses Don Davis' orchestral score for The Matrix, isn't quite able to convey an appropriate mood during gameplay. The graphics aren't exactly anything to write home about, especially the character models, which seem like they were built and animated using four-to-five-year-old software (Halo and Freelancer leave them for dead, and even Max Payne, the first game to use the bullet-time effect as a gameplay element, looked better). The novelty of seeing the actors from the movie in the FMV sequences (mainly Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe and Anthony Wong as Ghost, with appearances from Steve Bastoni) wears thin rather quickly; although (or perhaps because) the game FMV was written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers themselves, all the characters seem to be trying too hard to be ice cool, at the expense of the player developing any real empathy with them.

It is a fun action game despite itself, especially when you left-trigger your Focus, and you're suddenly doing all of that fun Matrix stuff like running along walls and firing guns whilst cartwheeling. Whether it's worth the $109.95 pricetag for the console versions is another question (and according to GameSpot, the PC version [$89.95] is the worst of the bunch, though not by a big margin). Your mileage may well vary.

Oh yeah: The Matrix Reloaded itself? Well, I liked it... but not as much as I was hoping. There was an uncomfortable sensation of too much change, sort of like the sensation you get from Star Wars Episodes I and II after growing up on the Original Trilogy. The whole flavour and tone of the sequel feels different from the original, and not necessarily in a good way. There was more sitting around and talking than in The Matrix (and some reckon that the first film had too much sitting around and talking anyway), mostly exposition of high concept (which can't really be explained without wrecking the plot for those who've not seen it) rather than using it as an opportunity for the the characters to expand. And not only was there no Tank (it would seem that the actor who played him, Marcus Chong, is in the midst of a legal battle with the studio over promised pay for the movies), but his absence was barely touched upon (he's referred to once, and in passing). Scott Kurtz, writer/artist of PVP, has a rant up where he explains why he hated Reloaded (Editor's Note 27 October 03: Scott seems to have taken the rant down), and although it has a bit of vitriol in it, it does a good job of summing up the problems one might have with Reloaded. Still, it is worth seeing at the cinema.

EvilHayama and I got together on the Loki server of Ragnarok Online last week. Unfortunately, I had some serious lag problems, evidenced in the sudden, intermittent gluing of my character's feet to the ground for periods of up to three or five minutes. It made my journey to meet up with EvilHayama agonisingly slow, and we didn't get much done. Still, it's not bad, but I'm not sure whether I'd subscribe when it eventually goes live. Maybe I need to play it a little more.

Oh, and speaking of live: I received an e-mail from Microsoft about joining the Australian beta of Xbox Live. I filled out their form and submitted it, so we'll see how I go. If I have any luck, I'll need to sort out some way of connecting my Xbox to my broadband connection (most likely involving buying a 10/100 Ethernet switch and 10+ metres of RJ45 cable and drilling two holes in the floor).

Nearly two weeks until Con*Descending, and I haven't done much work on my InSpectres module since I last mentioned it. Gotta get to work - not that I have much I really need to do, but I just want to make sure it's done, so everything runs smoothly.

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