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Scott's Column
Article Sub-Title Goes Here

October 1, 2008
By Scott Lewis

Introductory paragraph goes here.

Current Topics:

Gaming

I am playing Halo on a harder level. I mentioned last month that I started playing Halo and FarCry. I started FarCry on level 4 (out of 5, 2 being the default). About 2 checkpoints into FarCry with the mutants and I could not go any further without cheat codes. So I quit. My sons watched me play Halo (at the default level) and they like it, so I set them up to play it. We tried to play each other in a multiplayer LAN game, but it will not allow that with one CD-Key. I am not going to buy multiple copies of a game so my sons and I can play against each other. I may search online for a key generator or something that will allow us to play each other without buying multiple copies, but that will have to wait.

I was enjoying this enough that I started it over again, this time at one lever harder than the default. It is definitely tougher. It sometimes takes me several tries to get from one checkpoint to another. I have also had to restart levels because I did not have enough ammo at points to survive.

The thing I don't like it the 2 weapon limit. This is just too limiting. There are a number of times in the game when a more powerful weapon is needed, but you don't want to be without your favorite pistol and assault rifle. What I have gotten into a habit of doing it swapping one of these favorites for an alien weapon at the beginning of a checkpoint. Then as I work my way through the level I will eventually go back to the beginning and retrieve my favorite weapon with lots of ammo. This was necessary to survive the level I had to start over.

My sons found a tank. I never saw a tank the first time through the game. So I did the only logical thing. I got to the tank and I drove it into as many buildings as possible using it to kill everything. My sons were shocked that I took the tank inside.

I went by GameStop and saw an interesting game. I don't recall the name, but it was actually three games for one price ($20). I almost bought it. I also saw they had TimeShift for $20. I will probably buy one or both of those games soon. The Orange Box is still selling for $40, so that will have to wait. I have not seen Halo 2 for the PC locally yet, but considering how much I am enjoying Halo 1, even with the boring and annoying spores and "monitor" I think I would pay the $30 it was going for at Fry's in Austin.

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Preparing to Switch to a Mac

I have made up my mind to get a Mac for my next laptop. I will be writing about this over the next few months. I don't know when I will get it (money is tight at the moment). I will cover the steps I am going to take to prepare for moving to the Mac, as well as revisit pricing between Mac and Windows based laptops. I doubt it, but there is a possibility that I may find a Windows based laptop that is so attractive on price and features I might not buy a Mac, but that is unlikely. What is likely to happen in my pricing of laptops will solidify which Mac I will get.

Before doing any research here's what I know. I love the MacBook Air, but have a very hard time justifying $1,800 for a laptop that is probably noticeable slower than the $1299 MacBook (the cheapest model with 2 GB of memory). I don't want to spend 2 grand for another laptop, so it is extremely unlikely I will get a MacBook Pro.

I heard a rumor that the MacBook line is going to finally get a long overdue makeover. As I heard it, the new MacBooks will have an aluminum body, similar to the MacBook Air, and be priced "aggressively." This is probably what I will get. I am weary of the MacBook Air because of the lack of a user replaceable battery (see my laptop battery experience below). But the MacBooks are getting dated. I heard the new MacBooks would be announced on October 14th. We'll see.

I will pass my 17" Toshiba Laptop to my youngest son when I get a new laptop. The battery in the Toshiba is worthless. It lasts 10-15 minutes. This is partly my own fault. Let me start by stating my usual usage. I leave my laptop on my nightstand, and mostly use it in bed. Since there is an outlet right next to the nightstand I tend to leave the laptop plugged in and just move it from nightstand to bed and back.

When it was new I would regularly run the laptop on battery power. I would just take the plug out and let it fall to the floor. My wife didn't understand why I did this. She would ask if I would worry about running out of battery power. No, because I could just reach down and plug it in. Simple. I did this in the hopes of prolonging the overall life of the battery. I would also run it on battery power if I took it to another room.

Well, sloth set in and I got complacent. I was using the laptop less and less around the house and more and more just in bed. So I just got in the habit of never unplugging it unless I needed to. That is the worst thing you can do to a rechargeable battery. It did not take long for battery power to reduce. The plug has also become loose fitting, and it tends to fall out on its own. The battery life was down to 30-40 minutes, which was not a big problem as I rarely use it unplugged anymore. However, when I would deliberately use it on battery power it would skip past the percentage that Windows would use to tell me the power was low. After about 30 minutes (or 22, or 31, or 26 minutes) the computer would slam dunk into suspend or hibernate mode with no warning.

This became so annoying that I just leave it plugged in all the time now. The last time I tried to run it on battery power it lasted less than 15 minutes. By the way, the laptop is 2 years and 4 months old.

My son already uses my laptop frequently. He will use it in my bed. I don't think it will bother him to use it this way when I pass it on to him, but it will bother me. I will probably replace the battery before giving the laptop to him, this way he can use it for 90-120 minutes like I did when it was new. And with that it will seem new to him. I will also wipe the machine (reformat it and reinstall Windows) before giving it to him.

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Prepare for a Mac Step 1: Prep Old Laptop

I had not planned to write about this step this month. I was in the process of backing up data to DVD discs (more another month), when a friend lent me an external hard drive. The fact that there was a fold on MP3 files on that external drive when we loaned it to me and there were two folders of MP3s on it when I returned it does matter to this article.

So, I am 99% sure I will buy a Mac for my next laptop. Using the external hard drive I took the first step which was to prepare my current laptop. There were two goals to preparing my current laptop. 1) Load the OS and other software that my son will use when I pass it on to him, and 2) keep track of exactly what software I NEED on it for myself.

After backing up everything to the external hard drive (including all the drivers the laptop would require) I deleted all teh partitions so I could install one operating system on the hard drive with no weird partitions. This first part is relatively easy.

My concern came with whether to load Windows XP or Windows Vista. The reason NOT to load Vista was poor video drivers. I have a Toshiba P105-S9312 laptop with a nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS video chip set. We can go back and forth all day long as to why the drivers on Toshiba's web site for my P105 laptop equipped with nVidia video suck. Is it nVidia's fault for making lousy drivers or is it Toshiba's fault for not putting the latest drivers from nVidia out there.

Here is the short version... nVidia does not provide mobile drivers to the public, they provide them to the manufacturers to add any special power requirements or other special features. The drivers on Toshiba's site for my laptop are dated 1/8/2007. Considering that Vista was available to the public on 1/31/2007 these drivers are old. So, do we blame nVidia for not providing newer drivers to Toshiba, or do we blame Toshiba for not doing anything with what nVidia is giving them to update the drivers for this model laptop with this video chip set. Clearly, Toshiba is at fault since nVidia does keep working on its drivers, but is nVidia doing anything about making those drivers work better for this chip set? Maybe nVidia is not adding any enhancements to their drivers for the Go 7-Series, so Toshiba does not bother with providing more up to date drivers than the ones from before Vista went on sale.

Personally I think this is Toshiba's fault more than nVidia. Newer models of Toshina laptops with nVidia chips have newer versions of nVidia's drivers, and typically nVidia's drivers cover a lot of chip sets, past and present.

So how do I solve the issue of bad drivers for my laptop when Toshiba won't make newer driver's available and nVidia won't make a driver install for a laptop with Toshiba?

I remember reading that you can HACK the INF file from the nVidia install to think that your hardware is compatible with the driver version you are trying to install. I decided to give this a try and installed Windows Vista Home Premium on my laptop. I backed up all my important documents and reformatted the hard drive in the laptop. This gave me the chance to remove all traces of Linux and its boot loader.

Once I was up and running I installed the Toshiba/nVidia drivers from 1/8/2007. Next up was to start down the hacking path. I downloaded a much newer version of the nVidia drivers from Laptop Video 2 Go (http://www.laptopvideo2go.com/). On their download page they have a link to a "modded" INF file. Just copy this file to the folder holding the nVidia drivers before running the setup. Voila! They installed.

I distinctly remember not being able to play FarCry or Halo with the Toshiba supplied drivers for Vista. With the Laptop Video 2 Go provided driver and INF file I am able to play both games. There are some issues. Each game will slow down periodically. It is not drastic, but it does happen. The game goes into slow motion from time to time. At first I thought it was due to too many objects on screen at once. But I have seen the slow down in busy and not so busy situations. At least it is playable, where it was not before.

This is where we get to blame nVidia. nVidia has had plenty of time to get good performance out of the 7900 GS chipset. These games literally fly in Windows XP on this laptop. So I have to assume it is the drivers, modded or not.

One thing I found really cool was the sound. The first time I fired a pistol in each of those games they sounded awesome. Nice deep base to the gunshots. Far more than they did when I was playing them under Windows XP. I don't have an explanation, but I like it. Keep in mind this is with the tiny laptop speakers. Very Cool!

So, the laptop has Vista installed and I created a regular user account for my son. I think I am the only person that likes Vista's UAC (User Access Control). It definitely makes it easy for me to control what my son can do with the computer.

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Conclusion

Next up I will detail all the software I install on the laptop for my own use. We will see how many application have counterparts on the Mac.

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