Some FAQs about PCs you wish you knew before you bought it!

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Q: Can you suggest a free WAV to MP3 program?
That is called an "encoder", because MP3 is a "codec". Try Ostrich Encoder, based on the LAME codec. (Trust me, it's anything but.)

Q: What is "thermal grease", what does it do, and do I need it?
Thermal grease is used to give better conduction between the item being cooled and the heatsink. Basically, nothing is completely flat, so even in a very smooth surface, conduction is limited to the area actually physically touching. Thermal grease can seem into those crevices and let those conduct as well, improving cooling efficiency.

Thermal grease is usually used by overclockers, who will apply a slight bit (about grain of rice) on the item applied. Then the heatsink is applied with pressure, spreading out the grease.

Do you need it? If your heatsink/fan is pre-attached, leave it alone. If you have a separate heatsink/fan, it may help, but not by much. At most you'll get 1 degree Fahrenheit difference. I doubt you'll get even a 2 degree difference.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Not Another GeForce FX vs. Radeon 9700 Pro Article

Most reviewers said NVIDIA, maker of the GeForce FX chipset, has failed the graphics card race to ATI Radeon 9700 Pro series. Some went as far as using the word "boondogle", while others stick with simpler words like "disappointment".

The truth is, NVIDIA simply made a prediction of what the market want several months back, and the market went in a different direction. NVIDIA is used to telling the market what it needs. By keeping to the every-6-month release schedule, no one can keep up, and thus NVIDIA can maintain its position as market leader. Then ATI designed the R300 core for the Radeon 9700 series almost from scratch. They overengineered the thing, and went for a different set of design criteria from NVIDIA's requirements. When GeForce FX series slipped, ATI was able to get their products out the door and capture the market's hearts, and in turn, push the market to a new direction, AWAY from NVIDIA's predicted market.

GeForce FX can be best compared to a Ferrari. It has plenty of horsepower, and has excellent handling. It can handle a road course or a slalom with ease.

Unfortunately, most PC games and benchmarks nowadays are NOT road courses or slaloms, but ovals and drag strips, where horsepower is far more important.

NVIDIA made the decision many months back to make individual pixels smarter by building the engine that can apply more effects to individual pixels than ever before. Hoever, the rest of the market has not followed. Instead, the market is obsessed with higher resolution and more color depth. ATI Radeon decided to go for raw pixel pushing horsepower instead (128-bit memory interface, quad pipelines, 20-GB/sec memory bandwidth, etc.) back then, and when GeForce FX slipped, ATI was able to PUSH the market into ATI's vision for the market instead of NVIDIA's vision for the market.

The current "benchmark" flap only illustrate the situation even more clearly. NVIDIA has recently issued a press release that 3DMark 2003 does NOT accurate represent a typical gamer's needs. There are some truth in that press release. 3DMark 2003 has 3 primary tests: DX7, DX8, and DX9. All are weighted equally to give you the final score. However, there are currently NO GAME on the market that uses DX9. Majority of games use DX7, with a few using DX8. Only a FEW upcoming games plan to use DX9. ATI, of course, loves the situation, and they stand behind the benchmarker, FutureMark, 100%. Futuremark also defends their position as being neutral territory... They don't play favorites among any manufacturer. They indeed are the ONLY widely recognized "forward-looking" synthethic benchmark for graphics cards and systems.

To reuse the analogy, NVIDIA is complaining about the testing tracking being more ovals and dragstrips, when most races (games) are done on road courses and slaloms.

NVIDIA, as it slipped the release schedule, lost control of the market. To regain control of the market, they need to redesign their next generation of product to overtake ATI's raw performance, THEN steer the market back to NVIDIA. ATI of course, is not sitting idle, as it is busy designing the R350 core for the Radeon 9800 series.

The ultimate beneficiary are the consumers.

Just be sure you're NOT lead by the nose into something you DON'T need.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Q: I downloaded 3DMark 2003 from and I got a really lousy score. Should I upgrade my hardware?
Personally, I would say no, because 3DMark 2003 tests something that is NOT used by any game or graphics program currently on the market: DirectX 9. See this link for details.

Basically, if your card does not support DirectX 9 natively, your score WILL be at least 25% lower than those who don't. Since the ONLY cards on the market that supports DirectX 9 are the ATI Radeon 9700 series and GeForce FX series, only people who have bleeding edge hardware will get the top score.

Here's also a few facts... NO GAME currently uses DirectX 9 features, though supposedly Doom 3 will. MOST games still use DirectX 7, with a select few use DirectX 8.

So should you upgrade? I see only two reasons.

1) You got money to burn and you want to REALLY future-proof your PC, no matter the cost
2) You want to play the "my benchmark score is better than your benchmark score" game.

Both of which are extremely childish, in my opinion.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Q: What is a GeForce 4 Ti 4800? How is it related to the rest of the Ti series?
A Ti4800 is a Ti4600 with AGP 8X support.

The entire Ti series is basically like this

Ti4680 (4200 with AGP 8X support)
Ti4800 SE (4400 with AGP 8X support)
Ti4800 (4600 with AGP 8X support)

Yes, I know this is confusing. NVIDIA's numbering scheme didn't help much either.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Q: What is an .ISO file? What do I do with it?
In general, .ISO file is an "image" of a CD. Basically, the raw data of a CD is pulled and dumped into a single file, maybe compressed. WinRAR and WinISO can read the file. Nero and similar package can burn it back onto a CD-R.

Q: What is the difference between music CD-R and regular (data) CD-R?
Music CD-R are for those stand-alone CD-R copiers / mixers. Those machines ONLY work with music CD-Rs. They cost more because they have to pay an extra fee to RIAA. The computer ignores the special marker on the music CD-Rs. There is no benefit to buying music CD-Rs to record music, despite what some salespersons claim.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Q: My video card has both a VGA and a DVI output ports. I want to connect TWO VGA monitors to it. What can I do?
Most manufacturers includes a free DVI to VGA adapter. If you didn't get one, you can buy one here:

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Q: Where can I find some REALLY cool laptops?
Check out, which is a company that imports the best Asian laptops (usually Japan). Some examples... A Sony laptop that's only 1.8 pounds, a notebook that has a built-in video camera, and more...

Q: What is "dual channel DDR"?
It's a new technique to get more throughput from the memory. Basically it divides the memory into two areas. Basically, the idea is both areas of the memory can be accessed at the same time. This complicates the design of the hardware significantly, and the advantages are not completely proven at this time. Still, it is the latest and greatest. Some mainboards support this now. You will need to put in two separate DIMMs (one for each channel) to use this feature.

This is a feature of the chipset / mainboard, and has nothing to do with teh CPU. Therefore, it can be done on both Intel and AMD platforms. AMD platform is just the first to do it. NVIDIA's nForce 2 is the first. Sis is coming out with a chipset to do the same for Intel.

Q: Is PC133 SDRAM compatible with PC100 systems?
Maybe, maybe not. The latest generation of PC133 SDRAM use a different SDRAM chip size that makes them no longer fully compatible with PC100 systems. You should buy PC100 SDRAM for use in PC100 systems.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Q: Is there a way to save a Real Networks video stream to my hard drive?
Depends. If there is no option under File / Save As, then no. There is no "ripper" to save a video stream at this time. There was one, but Real sued them out of existence (completely within their rights too). After all, if any one can steal their stream, what's the point of having a stream?

Q: What can I use to build a shoot-em-up?
Try a program called GameMaker, at It is capable of a lot of different 2D games.