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April

   Since I got the Blue Dragon running, one thing I've been playing with is the 5.1 surround sound.  The speakers I bought have optical input (TOSLINK), support both Dolby Digital and DTS and are THX certified. I bought them after a bunch of research on really good computer speaker systems--and I kept running across this set.  At first I thought all that hype about the various supported formats and being THX certified was just a collection of marketing adjectives.  But I knew that the sound quality should be good--everyone who reviewed the system agreed on that.  To my surprise, however, the marketing adjectives are a bit more then bragging.
    I picked up a TOSLINK cable to connect the Blue Dragon to the speaker system more or less to keep the analog inputs free for the Red Dragon.  The optical was kind of cool--it just worked--and I like that.  I then tried to see if I couldn't find something I could test the system out with.  I started with some Bjorn Lynne.  This is only of the only artists I know that has music mixed in surround.  After playing around with some settings, I was able to get the audio stream to be directly sent over the optical cable and decoded by the speaker system.  The results were what I expected--a very clean sound with a lot of direction.  Bjorn Lynne (or Dr. Awesome to those who knew of his work back in the day) is always amazing.  But I wanted to see what my speakers did for movies.
    There is no shortage of movies to select from, but I only have a few here that were not mixed down to 2 channels.  After finding one, it took a bit of reading about Video LAN client (VLC) to figure out how to get it to use digital pass-through so I could have the speakers decode the audio.  Once I did, I could hardly believe the difference--the sound is amazing.  So I have to give props when they are due, and Logitech's Z-5500 speakers deserve the credit.

1 comment has been made.

From Pluvius

Madison, WI

August 03, 2008 at 5:47 PM

Sounds sexy, I want the Logitech Z-5500 speakers too!
Dark skies approaching

Dark skies approaching

    A few days ago I tried to get the Red Dragon to step down as my primary console.  I removed one of the CPUs and gave the remaining CPU's heat-sink and fan a good cleaning.  I then cleaned all the case fans and replaced the side panel that has not been on the computer in over a year.  So far the system has stayed under 160°F, usually around 150°F, despite the hot weather.
    Performance wise, the Red Dragon took a big hit.  I notice the missing CPU quite a bit.  I am actually one of those few people who really multitasks with their computer.  As I type this, I have open 14 windows and have running some 20 programs running.  Given, most sit idle, but when those programs are doing something I notice a significant drop in performance from my main task.
    The Blue Dragon continues to slowly acquires software, but my hesitation to move completely onto the new system--strengthened by laziness (after all, the Red-Dragon is fully functional)--is strengthened by my indecisiveness on storage.  I've also been distracted by playing a couple games.  My new system has some serious power and about the only thing I knew would tax the system would be games.  When I ordered the parts for my system, the seller threw in some first-person shooter.  The game was fairly boring--weak story line, lots of cliches, bla, bla, bla--but the Blue Dragon had little problem running the game maxed out.  I selected 1280x1024 for the resolution and turned on every video option in the game.  The game was single-threaded, so only used one of the 4 CPU cores.  After doing a little reading, I found that very few PC games take advantage of multi-core CPUs.  Seems strange because these CPUs have been on the market for several years now.  The game also lacked 5.1 surround sound.  I don't know why the publisher didn't include that--it just seems obvious.  Overall, I wasn't impressed.  Eight years ago, the video card that came with the White Dragon also came with a game.  The improvements from that time are not that impressive.  ...And that game did have surround sound

1 comment has been made.

From Pluvius

Madison, WI

August 03, 2008 at 5:46 PM

Unfortunately, it seems you had the crap-ware (hindered, free graphics card) version of that game, still an old and not-so-great game nonetheless. You need Crysis if you want to play a new and improved FPS, you need Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for a decent fantasy RPG, you need Mass Effect for an awesome sci-fi RPG, still loving Star Wars: Empire at War Forces of Corruption for a great RTS - Halo Wars should be out later this year. All except the last are multi-threaded for CPU and GPU (4 CPU cores, up to 8 GPU cores). Definitely check them out, or I'll bring a couple down for you to try.
Ducks?

Ducks?

     I just read an article about the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle slated for 2010.  If the wiki article is correct (along with my math), it would cost, here in Beloit, $1.33 to charge (6 hours at 120 volts, 6.5 amps).  That would result in a range of 40 miles, which would cost $0.03325/mile.  Gas is currently around $4.00/gallon.  Although my truck get much less, assume a "normal" car gets 25 miles/gallon.  That means a costs $0.16/miles.  The result: this plug-in hybrid costs almost 80% less for fuel then a gasoline powered car.  Even if you have a hybrid getting 55 mpg, this car will will have a savings of 54%.  If gas prices were back at the $2.00/gallon (as they were around 5 years ago) you would still have almost 60% at 25 mpg.  So here's my question: why the heck are we just now getting this vehicle on the market?!!
   Something else I encouraging is Alliant Energy, the electric provider for the area, is offering the ability to buy renewable energy.  Getting 100% of one's household electricity from renewable energy costs $0.13/kWh, compared to $0.11/kWh.  This includes wind, hydro, anaerobic digests (comes from cleaning waste water), landfill gas, switchgrass (biomass) and solar.  Most of this is low to no carbon--biomass, landfill and anaerobic digesters result in the same carbon output weather or not they are used for power.
   It's fairly fitting that the Red-Dragon, fashioned after a Fire Dragon, should run hot.  In fact, keeping this system cool has been a constant issue since the system was built.  Originally, the case had 7 fans.  Over time, several failed.  Once the system was moved to the Garage, cooling became more of a problem.  Eventually, the side panel was permanent removed and an external blower added to force air over the CPUs.  Despite our efforts, the CPUs can still hit +160°F and usually average around 145°F in the summer.  Keeping the system below 150°F has been problematic.  Even the motherboard reports temperatures of 110°F or more.  The Red Dragon is a heat beast.
   On the plus side, the room stays pretty warm in the cool spring and fall days.  The computer does pretty good as a space heater :)
   With all the heat problems of the Red Dragon, I decided heat would be one of the primary concerns of the Blue Dragon.  The case I chose includes a 250mm side fan and 2x120mm case fans.  I also bought a massive heatsink for the CPU, hoping to pull out and despite as much heat from the chip as possible.  The motherboard also employs heatpipe and copper fin heatsinks on the chipset (north and south bridge) as well as the voltage regulators.  There is also a large copper plate on the back side of the motherboard under the CPU--part of the heatsink assembly--which should help to draw heat away from.
   I ran some initial tests after I installed temperature monitoring software.  The system motherboard and CPU both report temperatures, on average, of around 105°F when idle.  I tried a couple methods to load down all for CPU cores.  The first was compiling the Linux kernel using 8 threads (make -j8).  This resulted in a constant CPU load of about 99% across all cores.  I also tried putting einstein@home to work, which loaded all four cores to 100%.  In each case, the CPU temperature never exceeded 120°F--a full 25°F cooler then the average temperature of the Red Dragon's CPUs. 
   Each CPU of the Red Dragon consumes 66 watts (per the .18µ Athlon MP 2000+ specs) meaning the two of them consume 132 watts.  By contrast, the AMD Phenom 9850 in the Blue Dragon is rated at 125 watts.  The 5% drop in wattage does not account for the 25% drop in temperature.  The improved heatsink may account for this, but it is more likely due to a lower average power consumption.