Dan's Data letters #135

Publication date: 10-Dec-2004.
Last modified 04-Feb-2014.

 

Polygons for Christmas

I'm looking for a 3D card, and I'm totally out of the loop about what I should expect for what price and so on. I was looking at a web shop's offerings today and was mostly interested in the GeForce 6800, 6800 GT and 6800 Ultra, because they're GeForces (I'm under the impression that they're more compatible than Radeons), because they're semi-affordable, and because they have 256Mb of memory.

The question is, what's the difference between these? Something comparable to the old MX versus Ti? Also, are there any big differences between the different manufacturers' cards (Asus, MSI, Gainward and PNY cards were available)?

And finally, is it a sane choice to buy one with 256Mb, or should I go straight for a 512mb card and pay heaps of money for it?

Teemu

Answer:
There's no consistent game-compatibility difference between Nvidia and ATI any more. Nvidia's drivers used to be much better than ATI's, but there's nothing in it these days; glory hallelujah, you can force 3D refresh rates to whatever you like for both systems without using outboard software (just in time for the death of the CRT in the consumer marketplace; well timed, lads!). Both architectures have screwup problems in roughly equal, and small, quantities in different games. Half-Life 2, for instance, still has a "stuttering" problem that only happens on Nvidia hardware, but it's work-around-able.

(If you want Linux drivers, by the way, Nvidia is a definitely better choice; ATI's Linux drivers continue to 5uXX0r.)

Regarding memory: You can actually still make do perfectly well with 128Mb, and the price difference between 128 and 256 is non-trivial, so that's not a bad idea, if you ask me.

512Mb is definitely overkill (which is just as well, because it doesn't really exist in the market yet); by the time you can use 512Mb, you'll probably have a PCIe motherboard (I presume you're buying an AGP card now).

You can get 128Mb on 6800 GTs and plain 6800s, but a 256Mb or even 128Mb 6800 GT would probably suit you nicely. There are real architecture differences between the plain 6800 and the GT and Ultra; the plain 6800 has fewer pipelines and shaders. The only difference between the GT and the Ultra is clock speed, and it's not worth paying the premium for.

At the moment, Australian dollar prices for 256Mb 6800 GTs, 128Mb 6800 GTs and 128Mb plain 6800s are around $AU700, $AU600 and (a bit more than) $AU500, respectively. The step up to GT buys you a real performance improvement at Extreme Resolution in the current big-name games; the further step up to 256Mb is less of an improvement. Brand doesn't matter unless you're nuts for overclocking (from which you can't gain much, anyway); buy based on price.

I've got a 128Mb plain 6800 at the moment (and a 3.4GHz P4), and I'm perfectly happy with its performance in Half-Life 2 at 1600 by 1200, with no FSAA. If I want FSAA and snappy response at this resolution, I'd have to upgrade; if I were still running my old 19 inch monitor at 1280 by 960, though, I could probably do fine with FSAA with the current card.

If you don't yet have the Huge Monitor Of Your Dreams (or at least a half-decent 21 inch CRT), then buying a basic 6800 and saving money for a better monitor is, I think, a good strategy.

 

It apparently uses Morse code

I have a old Toshiba T1600 286 laptop. I can't find out what interface the HD has. I have a HVAC program on it I need to run my systems. Any help will be appreciated.

Micah

Answer:
The T1600's hard drive is an old 26 pin JVC unit; its interface was weird then and is utterly unknown today. There's no way I know of to plug it into a modern PC.

If the laptop's still working, though, then the easiest way to get the program off it would probably be a multi-volume Zip archive on floppy disks.

If you use PKZIP for DOS, the "-&" option turns on "spanning", which causes PKZIP to ask for another floppy when each fills up. Any vaguely current Windows Zip utility should be able to extract these archives, too - just put in the first disk and open the archive as if it were a normal single-file one.

 

Spotlight plus pain

I want a flashlight that will give me a tight beam at far distances for night time paintball, that will last at least four hours and be as bright as possible while being semi compact and not more than $US100. I have read your review of Elektro Lumens' FT-3C LED flashlight, and that light looks like it's plenty bright enough but a little big.

Of course, what I'm looking for is contradictory - small and efficient yet bright. I hope that you can give me your opinion on this matter.

Adam

Answer:
The FT-3C is the size you'd expect for a 3-C-cell flashlight, and it's not feather-light either; my review FT-3C with three 4.5Ah NiMH cells in it weighs 433 grams. That's almost a pound. But a full charge of those cells will give you plenty more than four straight hours of run time; it shouldn't have lost much brightness after eight hours, actually.

Smaller "tactical" flashlights, like the XM-2 are almost as bright but don't have enough run time. You could always change batteries in mid-session, of course, but you'd be burning through quite a lot of lithium cells; there are rechargeable lithium ion CR123A cells these days that don't cost much, but they only have about a third of the capacity of the non-rechargeable kind, so would crap out in maybe 40 minutes in a flashlight like this (they can also have wiggy output voltage that can be bad for flashlights).

Consider an occasional-use "weapon light" system with a flashlight that comes on when you slightly depress the trigger or squeeze the hand-grip or flip a switch, or whatever (there's no shortage of those sorts of things going pretty cheap on eBay, though most have filament globes), plus a headlamp with a hefty battery pack. That battery pack can sit on your belt; given the bandoliers of assorted stuff that paintballers normally carry around, a few batteries shouldn't be much of a problem.

There aren't many (any?) LED headlamps around yet that use the 3W or brighter Luxeon Star LEDs, to my knowledge, but there are several options that have a few small LEDs for close-up work and a filament globe for spotlighting - the Petzl Myobelt 5, for instance.

 

I'm so happy, 'cause today I found my friends...

I recently bought an Inova T3, which takes the little 123 type lithium batteries. I could have sworn that I read on your site a good place to buy these in bulk (cheaper then the several dollars a battery one finds in retail stores). Do you have any suggestions on where to get these? And I read your posting about generic batteries... that generics where often better, assuming that they were recently made. I cannot remember if it covered lithiums - are generics just a good as name brands for these too?

Jason

Answer:
Option 1: eBay. You won't often find really big bulk lots, but 10 cells will do for domestic purposes, and prices are pretty good. You can buy bizarre-brand 123s with confidence; they may have slightly lower capacity than brand name cells, but the difference is unlikely to be worth paying anything much for. Mind you, 10-packs of Panasonic and other brand name cells are also often sold cheaply.

Option 2: Surefire. Whip out the credit card and you can get their quite good own-brand cells for $US15 plus shipping for 12, or $US90 plus shipping for 72.

Note that the ten year shelf life for these cells means that buying a huge quantity of them is not a daft idea (and also means that old cheap generic cells probably still have many years of shelf life left). If you use your flashlight regularly, and also use a cell here and there in cameras (your friends may be impressed if you've got a bunch of Those Funny Batteries They Can Never Find in a drawer), a few dozen cells may be a great deal.

 

Monstering the little guy

I'm sure you already are aware of this stupid issue but, in case you were not:

San Francisco Chronicle
Monster Vintage
More on Monster Vintage
...and the list of links goes on and on.

Now I see one of the cases is settled but still, the stupid tactics remain...

I really hope the US keeps their stupid legal/lawyer frenzy for themselves and that it doesn't spread out (I'm from Brussels...)

Denis

Answer:
Other readers have pointed out the publicity that HardOCP recently gave to the problems various small and not-so-small businesses with "Monster" in their name have had with Monster Cable, who are indeed aggressively suing anyone who conducts business using that magic word, in all sorts of contexts. The SFC piece mentions, in case you're wondering, that Monster Cable went after the Monster job search site years ago, and settled.

On the one hand, it's certainly true that businesses have to actively defend their trademarks, lest they lose them.

On the other hand, you're not likely to win a trademark lawsuit against people whose products and services aren't related to yours, and trademark law doesn't require you to sue them to defend your own marks (not that I'm a lawyer, or any kind of expert on world-wide trademark law). Spotted Frog Lawn Care and Spotted Frog Limousine Service can, and should, peacefully coexist. It would seem that Monster Cable have registered their trademark as it relates to all kinds of business that they're not actually currently in

The gripping hand, however, is that most of Monster Cable's products are, in my opinion and that of various other people who actually have relevant qualifications, overengineered, overpriced and misleadingly promoted. This lawsuit frenzy is just another reason to spend your money elsewhere.

I would, mind you, buy tickets for Monster's court dates against the people responsible for the hundreds of thousands of Google hits for "Monster Dicks", "Monster Cocks", "Monster Black Dicks", "Monster Black Cocks", et cetera.

And where the hell were these guys during the whole MonsterHut fiasco?

 

Master Windu's got a purple one

I might think that the seller of this object have way too much faith in his fellow humans.

Which wouldn't stop ME from playing around with said object, but..

Peter

Answer:
Whoa.

Unsurprisingly, the person selling these light sabers hangs out on CandlePower Forums.

I didn't even know these things existed before you brought them to my attention, but I had been looking for a green laser pointer that didn't run off weedy AAAs. Those are easy enough to find for only somewhat ridiculous prices these days (see Wicked Lasers, for instance), but a big-ass C-battery-powered one would manage to stay close to its new-battery power level for a lot longer. The bigger casing will give the diode much more heat sinking, too, which high powered diode lasers need.

The laser in question is actually a tweaked up Changchun GLP-III, and you can find a few interesting things if you search for "GLP-III". Like the FDA being not happy at all about it, for instance, here. Illegality makes things so much more interesting, don't you agree?

The price-per-milliwatt of the monster Changchun laser is actually very good, by current high power green pointer standards. When I first put this page up, the list price was $US999 plus shipping; even if it made (only) 115 milliwatts, that meant it cost about the same per milliwatt as all of Wicked Lasers' higher power pointers, with the giant battery compartment coming for free. Now it's only $US699 for a guaranteed 100mW-plus laser, so it's considerably better value - though still, of course, not what you'd call cheap.

(This all assumes that everybody's telling the truth about the power ratings, mind you.)

All of this is entirely academic for me, of course, since all of these high powered pointers are entirely illegal here in Australia. If I had bought an (alleged) 16 milliwatt laser from Wicked, and been pleased by the fact that it's perfectly capable of putting a dot on low cloud, I certainly wouldn't admit it to you.

Regarding the faith-in-your-fellow-humans comment - yes, pointers this powerful present a considerable eye damage risk. Regular 5mW-and-below pointers, even green ones, aren't much of a threat to your vision; staring into the beam is dumb, but a glance is no more risky than glancing at the sun. Something that can burn through a plastic cup in seconds, in contrast, obviously has the potential to fry your retina much faster.

Green pointers that've had their step-up crystals removed and are thus throwing only their basic invisible high power infrared beam are also dangerous - more so, since you can't even tell they're shining at you until it's too late. It's also possible for a misaligned green pointer to let out IR while still throwing a green beam; that can happen if you drop them and their internal alignment goes bad.

 

At least there are some full stops

i suppose you think homeopathic medicine is a lot of crap too many vet practices worldwide use it as a complimentary medicine with exceptional results.[so much for placebo effect] it is a shame that you obviosly have trouble accepting something that you are obviously not able to comprehend, this still does not validate your assumptions. ignorence is responsible for far too much needless suffering and progress. it is too easy to be negitive, try being positive and make sure your claims have a basis infact rather than your own narrow vision of how you think things should be!!!!!

M & D

Answer:
"M & D" sent me another e-mail as well (perhaps I got one message from M and one from D), containing essentially the same content as this one, but not any more capital letters. The subject line of one of the messages made reference to Harmonic Products, whose claims I presume M & D find plausible. Whatever. Anyway, their reply address is nonexistent (Special Achievement Award!), which completes the perfect picture of the kind of supporter that alternative medicine could do without.

So M and/or D didn't get my reply, and probably won't ever read this page, but here goes nothing anyway.

The if-homeopathy-is-placebo-how-come-it-works-on-animals argument made no sense when it was first put forward well over a century ago, and it makes no sense today.

1) Placebos do work on animals. Someone merely paying attention, "medical" or otherwise, to a sick animal, will often at least temporarily help it. Animals, like people, can be conditioned to expect medical treatment to be helpful.

(Shortly after I put this page up, a reader e-mailed me to point out that in his experience and that of his local vets, many animals perk up a lot simply because they've been taken to the veterinary hospital. Any unfamiliar environment, in the opinion of the vets he talked to, encourages animals to pretend to be healthy as hard as they can, lest they become attractive to the predators they fear may inhabit the strange new place.)

2) The results of many medical treatments for animals - particularly treatments for the kinds of minor conditions for which people tend to use homeopathy - are not objectively measured. The results are reported by humans, not by the animals, and people's reports are eminently susceptible to placebo-effect-at-one-remove. Similar effects can be seen in, for instance, parents who're sure their kids go nuts when they have sugary soft drink - even if what the kids have actually been given is a diet drink with no sugar in it.

3) "Homeopathic" remedies, and other "alternative" treatments, are not well regulated. Actually, in most countries they're regulated only by the people who sell them. (It's a peculiar characteristic of many alt-med boosters that they see corruption and kickbacks everywhere in orthodox medicine, but have no problem with alternative practitioners who directly profit from selling the alleged remedies they prescribe.)

Because of this poor regulation, alternative remedies may contain pharmaceutically active amounts of ordinary drugs. On more than a few occasions, "alternative" treatments that work very well have turned out to contain plain old real medicines, though the manufacturers generally claim that the Viagra got into their herbal impotence pills entirely by accident.

Here's a relevant page.

If you want to ask me a question, feel free - but please read this and this first.

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Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)