Tag Archive for ‘Hardware’

The Ageia PhysX Card ➝

Al Williams, writing for Hackaday:

Around 2006, a company called Ageia produced the PhysX card, which promised to give PCs the ability to do sophisticated physics simulations without relying on a video card.

Keep in mind that when this was built, multi-core CPUs were an expensive oddity and games were struggling to manage everything they needed to with limited memory and compute resources. The PhysX card was a “PPU” or Physics Processor Unit and used the PCI bus. Like many companies, Ageia made the chips and expected other companies — notably Asus — to make the actual board you’d plug into your computer.

I remember there being a lot of hype when this first launched, but it seemed like such a useless product to me. There were never that many games that supported it and most people would get more benefit from spending that $300 on a better CPU, GPU, or by purchasing a second GPU that they could run in SLI or CrossFire.

➝ Source: hackaday.com

Tech Is Still Cool

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for present-day Apple, there’s still a lot to be excited about in the world of technology. The following is an unordered list of things that I’ve been excited about recently. If you have any thoughts about the following items or have some tech that you’ve been excited about, I’d love to hear from you.

Old MacBooks

I recently purchased two 2015 11-inch MacBook Airs — one for myself and one for my wife. They can run up to macOS Monterey, which is still supported by Apple and by the vast majority of application developers. And if you’re willing to deal with potential pain points, you can use OpenCore Legacy Patcher to install macOS Sonoma on the machines as well.

I have Sonoma running on mine and it runs like a champ. Other than the non-retina display and lack of USB-C ports, these machines feel surprisingly modern.

Old MacBooks are also very easy to upgrade. In addition to the 2015 MacBooks that I recently purchased, I have a couple of older 2011 models that I’ve been toying with as well. The battery and storage has been a breeze to upgrade on these machines. I’ve put brand new batteries and 500GB SSDs in both and completed the tasks in less than ten minutes each.

Linux

An entire operating system, complete with its own selection of applications and features to explore. I’ve been doing so primarily through virtual machines on my work laptop, but I plan to dual boot Sonoma and Ubuntu 24.04 on my 11-inch MacBook Air now that this new long term support release is available.

The most interesting thing about Linux to me is the myriad of windowing managers. I can’t say its necessarily better than what we have on macOS, but it has plenty of innovative ideas that has me working a bit differently — using multiple virtual desktops never clicked with me on macOS like it has in Linux.

Self-hosting

There isn’t much that excites me more than being able to eliminate my reliance on a service controlled by someone else. I have three servers where I run various applications from my home office alongside a Linode and SiteGround account where I run services as well.

Plex and Mastodon likely get the most use from me, but I’m also a huge fan of Invidious, Miniflux, and Wallabag.

I’d like to self-host even more and should be doing so soon. I’m waiting on the arrival of an Umbrel Home. It should be here in the next few weeks. I have Umbrel running on an old Mac mini now, but it seems to bog down quite a bit when I have more than a few applications running on it. I expect the Umbrel Home should handle things a bit better.

Emulation Handhelds

I have a Retroid Pocket 2+ and a Retroid Pocket 3. Both of which are excellent devices for what they are, but I’d love to have something that features a bit more horsepower for PlayStation 2 and GameCube emulation.

I’ve been hemming and hawing over whether I want to get myself an Ayn Odin 2 or a Retroid Pocket 4 Pro. I believe both of them would be able to run the games I’m interested in, so it’s just a matter of which form factor is preferable to me.

I just love the idea of having a single device that can run all of the games from my childhood.

Emulation on the App Store

Apple updated their App Store guidelines earlier this month to allow for retro game emulators in the App Store. It’s still very early days and Delta appears to be the clear standout. It supports Nintendo systems up to Nintendo 64 and Nintendo DS.

I’m still using AltStore for now, though. Delta is a great emulator, but it just doesn’t compare to RetroArch in terms of the number of systems supported. I expect RetroArch will eventually make its way into the App Store, but that will take some time. I’m sure there are some changes that will need to be made to the app to fully come into compliance with Apple’s guidelines.

I’m okay using AltStore for now, but I’m excited about a future where I won’t have to resort to hacks in order to run this type of software on my own device.

PC Building

I built a gaming PC last fall, with the goal of having it run Steam as a headless home server. I’m using one of these inexpensive display emulators and interacting with the system entirely through Steam Link and VNC — using Screens. With this setup I can play any PC game I’d like and emulate more powerful systems from any device in the house — most often my iPhone and the living room Apple TV.

For anyone curious, here are the parts I used for the system:

  • AMD Ryzen 5600 Processor
  • AMD Radeon RX 7600 Graphics Card
  • 32GB of Crucial DDR4 3200 Memory
  • ASRock B550M-ITX/AC Motherboard
  • 2TB Crucial NVMe Solid State Drive
  • 4TB Samsung SATA Solid State Drive
  • Fractal Terra Mini-ITX Case
  • Noctua NH-L9x65 CPU Cooler
  • Corsair SF750 Power Supply

It’s not the most powerful thing in the world, but it’s more than capable of playing everything I’ve thrown at it. And since I’m streaming everything over Steam Link, I’m not all that concerned about playing anything at high resolutions — 720p or 1080p are more than sufficient for my needs.

But with this project, I’ve started paying attention to the world of PC hardware again. Primarily through YouTube channels like Gamers Nexus, JayzTwoCents, optimum, ozTalksHW, and more. This is an area of tech that I haven’t really paid attention to since the early 2000s. And, boy, does it feel fresh and exciting in comparison to Apple hardware.

Steam Link

How amazing is it that you can just play games from your PC on all of your devices? I can have Skate 3 running in RPCS3 on a computer in my home office and use my iPhone as a display and a Backbone One as the controller. Or I can use the television in my living room paired with an Apple TV and an 8BitDo Pro 2 controller.

Steam Link is to video games as Plex is to movies and TV shows.

There are definitely times when the bandwidth just isn’t there, but most of the time everything works smoothly. And I’m sure it will get even better if I actually work on running ethernet to all of our Apple TVs — a project that never seems to receive the priority necessary to accomplish.

iPods

I recently purchased an iPod from Elite Obsolete Electronics. It was a 5.5-generation model that I paid to have modded with a 128GB microSD card and a brand new face plate, backplate, and click wheel.

I’ve since toyed around with just about every feature the device has to offer. I’ve added Click Wheel games, played around with the Notes feature, setup a preset in Handbrake to convert video to a compatible format, and it’s been a blast all along the way.

There’s something nice about using an offline device. Something that, by its very nature, only has the content that’s on it right now. If I want something new, I have to connect it to a computer and sync. It allows me to be a bit more intentional about the content I’m consuming.

Currently, the iPod is my primary method for podcast and audiobook listening. Huffduffer is a great tool that I’ve been getting a lot of use out of for adding random audio files to the iPod.

I’ve also been using the iPod for the majority of my YouTube viewing. I download the videos with my Invidious instance, convert them with the aforementioned Handbrake preset, and then add them to the Apple Music app for syncing — I’ve found it to be a bit easier to add them to the Apple Music app as music videos rather than adding them to the TV app.

Christmas Gift Guide

It’s been several years since I’ve published a gift guide on Initial Charge. But I thought it was a great time to bring it back. I’ve maintained a private wishlist site where my family and I post links to things that we want and we can all view each others’ lists. The site isn’t just for gift giving, though — I also use it throughout the year to keep a running list of things I want to purchase for myself.

I happen to have a number of items that I’m pretty excited about acquiring, though. So you can think of this as a gift guide for people who happen to share my interests.

Retroid Pocket 3+ — an excellent retro emulation handheld. I already own the Retroid Pocket 2+ and the 3, but the 3+ includes a pretty decent performance boost over the 3. It’s far from perfect, but the more powerful internals allow it to better emulate PlayStation 2, GameCube, Wii, and Nintendo 3DS games.

8bitdo Pro 2 — I love 8bitdo’s controllers and this seems like the one to get right now. I’d mostly pair it with my Retroid handheld for playing on a television, but I’d also use it with my Apple TV, MacBook Air, and Nintendo Switch.

Apple TV 4K, Wi-Fi + Ethernet — I’ve purchased every Apple TV iteration since the first generation. This one would go in the living room and the old one would be moved to the bedroom. The old bedroom one would likely get handed down to my in-laws.

20TB WD Red Pro — These are priced at $330 at the time of this writing, which is an unbelievable deal. The 8TB drives I’m currently using for media storage are nearing their capacity, if I’m going to upgrade, I’d want to go a lot bigger and this capacity offers the best price per terabyte from my preferred hard drive manufacturer.

CyberPower 1500VA UPS — My current uninterruptible power supply is maxed out in terms of power outlets. This model only adds two, but that should give me enough room for the new hardware I’m planning to add.

ThunderBay Flex 8 — This is a bit expensive, but the ThunderBay 6 I’m currently using will eventually reach capacity and I’ll have to move to something with more bays. The ThunderBay 8 only offers two more, but it also has a PCIe slot, which can be used for additional storage or accessories.

2012 Mac Mini, Quad Core — You can pick these up from OWC or eBay for under $200 at this point. I would install Ubuntu and run it as an Umbrel. And for the price, they offer pretty decent performance in a chassis that matches the rest of my server hardware.

Anker 40W, 521, Nano Pro — This is the charger I have in my laptop bag and I love it. I’d like another one to keep in the living room for more flexibility in our charging setup — we’re just using Apple’s 18W USB-C power adapter at the moment.

Ledger Nano X — I still dabble in cryptocurrencies and would like a hardware wallet for more secure storage, rather than keeping everything on an exchange. From what I’ve researched, this is the best option on the market.

M2 MacBook Air

M2 MacBook Air with Magic Mouse, Retroid Pocket 3, and HomePod Mini

Automattic has a pretty generous laptop replacement policy — there aren’t too many restrictions on what I can get. Essentially, we have a limit on the amount of storage and memory we’re able to select, but beyond that we have the option of ordering any of Apple’s notebooks. It’s an interesting position to be in.

With this much freedom, the major deciding factors (for me at least) are physical size and performance. The last go-around, I opted for a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. It was a nice machine and served me well over the past two years, but I was more than ready to upgrade.

This time, I ordered an M2 MacBook Air in silver with 24GB of memory, 10-core GPU, and 512GB of storage. I thought I’d share my thoughts on each of the major aspects of the new machine.

Physical Dimensions

The differences between the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2020) and the M2 MacBook Air seem so minuscule. All Apple laptops are thin and light these days. But the M2 Air is about 12% lighter than the MacBook Pro, which is definitely noticeable in my bag and when carrying the machine around the house.

I was actually a little concerned about the difference in depth — the M2 Air is 0.26 cm deeper than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The backpack I use has a zipper compartment where you have to kind-of shimmy the laptop in from the side and it always felt like a snug fit for the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

I was a little concerned that it would be even worse for the MacBook Air with that additional depth. But I guess the thinner chassis more than made up for it. It’s actually easier to put the M2 in and take it out of my bag than it was for the Pro.

Two Thunderbolt and MagSafe

Moving from four Thunderbolt ports to two Thunderbolt ports plus MagSafe would likely be a deal breaker for others, but it’s made absolutely no difference for me. I don’t actually connect much to my laptop. On the rare occasion, an external drive or SD card adapter, but more often than not I’ll use the ports to top-off my iPhone or AirPods. Two ports are fine for my needs.

MagSafe is an interesting feature for me. Despite my affinity for it on older laptops, I haven’t even used it on the new MacBook Air and I’m not sure I ever will.

At my desk, I have a single USB-C cable running from a power adapter to the desk surface. I use that same USB-C cable to charge my MacBook, iPad, Retroid Pocket 3, and most other devices I use (since most charge over USB-C). It’s nice having just a single cable for all of this — I can just swap it to whatever device needs charging the most.

If I used MagSafe, it would be a dedicated cable only for use with my MacBook. That would mean I’d have to keep another cable around for charging everything else. But it’s not like I’d get any of the benefits of MagSafe at my desk. It’s not really possible to trip over the cord because of it’s positioning. It’s all downside.

Similarly for travel, if I took the MagSafe cable with me, it would be a dedicated cable that only works with my MacBook. I want the cables I bring to be usable by as many devices as possible. I’ve even gone so far as to buy little USB-C to Lightning adapters, so the cables I use for my iPhone and AirPods can also be used to charge everything else.

I would see the benefits of MagSafe while traveling, since it’s more likely I’d be in scenarios where the cable can be tripped over, the battery life on this machine is incredible. I can be strategic about when I charge my laptop to limit the chances of the cable being tripped over.

MagSafe just doesn’t seem worth it at this point when compared to the benefits of a universal cable.

Battery Life

Speaking of battery life. It’s amazing. I’ve had a few days where I’ve tried working my entire day from battery alone and ended at around 30% each time. None of those days included any Zoom meetings, but I didn’t make any adjustments at all — no dimming of the screen or avoidance of apps, it was just a normal day for me.

I’m pretty confident that, even on days with meetings, I’d be able to make it through without much trouble at all.

The Notch

It stinks. It really does. Hopefully Apple will find a better way. Maybe the Dynamic Island will make an appearance in future Apple laptops, but even that is a stop-gap measure until they eventually find a way to hide all of that tech seamlessly behind the display.

Until then, I’m using Boring Old Menu Bar to hide the notch. With a black menu bar, I forget that the notch even exists. Until I open Thunderbird and notice the massive gap between the “Window” and “Help” menus. Or my mouse cursor disappears underneath it.

Silver

The last two laptops I’ve used were of the Space Gray variety. It was time for a change. Silver is classic and looks better as it ages. It doesn’t show scratches as easily, which tend to accumulate around the ports especially.

No Touch Bar

The Touch Bar was not a good feature. The idea of having a specialized interface for each application sounds like a neat idea on paper, but in practice, I would just rely on the keyboard, mouse, and trackpad for interact with my apps. Eventually, I switched the Touch Bar to displaying the exact same interface regardless of what app was running and everything it contained just mimicked the functionality of a traditional function row.

There is one single feature that I miss about the Touch Bar, though — an indicator for Fast User Switching.

For those unaware, you can actually use Touch ID to quickly switch between user accounts on your Mac. I have a user account for work-related tasks and a separate one for personal tasks. This way I can remain focused while working and have a separate environment when I take breaks and want to check in on Mastodon or something similar.

With the Touch Bar, I could rest my finger on the Touch ID sensor that’s associated with my personal account and there would be an indication displayed that I can press the button to quickly switch accounts. This same functionality exists on Macs without Touch Bars, but the indicator isn’t present.

This can cause some annoying results. Touch ID can, in some instances, misread your fingerprint and then when you press the button, you’ll just be kicked back to the Lock Screen where you’ll have to select “Switch User” and then login to the other account. This never happened with the Touch Bar because the system would indicate when it was ready to switch to the other account. Now I just have to set my finger on the sensor, wait a moment, and then press it, hoping that it will switch to my other account like I want it to.

I wish Apple would add an indicator of some kind on the system’s main display to mimic the Touch Bar’s functionality in this process. It would do a lot to smooth out the rough edges.

Performance

It’s incredible how fast this machine is. And that Apple was able to build it without any active cooling system. It’s faster than any computer I’ve ever owned in my life and is completely silent under full load.

For comparison’s sake, here are the Geekbench 5 results I received on the M2 MacBook Air alongside the results from a few other devices:

Single CoreMulti-core
MacBook Air (M2)18868620
iPad Pro (M1)17157245
iPhone 13 Pro17374683
MacBook Pro8873980

I’m not sure if there’s all that much to say beyond that in regard to performance. It can handle everything I’ve thrown at it and then some. At this point, the performance of my machine isn’t a limiting factor for my workflows.

Overall

I love this machine. Great performance and incredible battery life in a thin and light chassis, what more could you want? The notch is really the only blemish of note and there’s ways to hide that with software to minimize it’s annoyances.

Unless you really want a larger display from the MacBook Pro or you need to save $200 with the M1 MacBook Air, this is the laptop to buy.

My Computing Hardware

Kev Quirk and ldstephens recently wrote about their collection of Apple devices and I, coincidentally, had already drafted a quick idea in Ulysses to document and share a list of my current computing devices. If only so I can better wrap my head around what hardware I’m using and what I use each device for.

iPhone 13 Pro: My true, primary, general purpose computing device. There’s very little that I can’t do from my iPhone, but it’s often more comfortable to perform the more intensive tasks from devices with larger screens. But it’s always with me, so it’s my main camera and gets used more often than any other device I own.

iPad Pro, 11-inch (3rd generation): Like my iPhone, but with a larger display. And that’s generally how I use it — for the majority of my computing tasks, but a little less mobile. It’s also my go-to device when I want to watch media outside of the living room — at the kitchen table during lunch or to have in the background at my desk during the work day, for example.

MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020, Four thunderbolt 3 ports): My work laptop. It’s used for a lot of writing, email, Slack, RSS reading, and app testing. I also have another user account on the machine if I need to do any personal tasks and don’t have another device handy. This is mostly with the intention of leaving my iPad at home when I travel for team/division meetups.

Mac Mini (2018): My main home server. It houses our Plex library, stores local copies of our photo library, runs Channels DVR, is used as a backup server for all of the non-iOS devices in our home, rips CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, archives a few YouTube channels for my son, and acts as a general purpose file server.

Mac Mini (Late 2014): The latest addition to my computing setup. I got it fairly cheap from OWC and it runs Steam on Windows for streaming games to our Apple TVs and Retroid Pocket 2+ using Steam Link. It’s not particularly powerful, so it won’t run the latest games at high settings, but it’ll run run plenty of indie games like Untitled Goose Game, Celeste, and older titles like Half-Life 2.

Mac Mini (Mid 2011): This machine serves a very specific and singular purpose — it runs TunesKit M4V Converter (still available under a different name) to remove DRM from iTunes purchased content. This software only works on older versions of macOS with an outdated version of iTunes. Since I still purchase content from iTunes, but prefer to watch through Plex, this bridges the gap.

Retroid Pocket 2+: Mostly used as a gaming device using Launchbox, RetroArch, Steam Link, and various emulators, but is also occasionally used for media playback — Pocket Casts, Plex, and Channels.

Google Pixel 3: This is a test device for work, which is used for trying out new builds and attempting to recreate user-reported bugs in our Android apps.

It would be great if I could simplify the home server setup a bit. I made an attempt at this with virtual machines, but gaming just wasn’t stable enough — I ran into a few games that simply wouldn’t run — and TunesKit M4V Converter requires that the system be able to playback the video it removes DRM from. Since there’s no way to use HDCP within a virtual machine, I was only able to remove DRM from standard definition iTunes content — running it natively is the only option for high definition content.

There will be some changes to my hardware soon, though. I’m expecting to receive a Retroid Pocket 3 soon to replace the RP2+ — I got my shipment notification yesterday. And I’ll likely be ordering an M2 MacBook Air in the next few months to replace my current MacBook Pro.

After a Hard Decade for the Mac Pro ➝

Basic Apple Guy:

Apple in 2022 seems of the mentality to give “pros” pro things, even at the cost of more utilitarian design. And in recent years, Apple has nearly completed the transition to Apple Silicon and has shown a dedication to designing for rather than against thermal limits – both the MacBook Pro & Mac Studio had their thermal capabilities prominently highlighted during their announcements. These two changes address the sins of its predecessors, so unless the next Mac Pro becomes an existential threat by ripping a hole in spacetime, it’ll be a much safer purchasing decision than the Pros that preceded it.

Setting aside my frustrations regarding repairability and the ever list of software annoyances, Apple has been absolutely hitting it out of the park with Mac hardware over the past few years.

➝ Source: basicappleguy.com

Software Updates Are More Interesting Than New Hardware ➝

I agree to a certain extent — current software updates are more exciting than current hardware updates.

But to me, the 2012 Mac Pro, 2015 11-inch MacBook Air, 2011 iMac — stick Pop!_OS on any of those machines and you have something that’s far more interesting than anything Apple is currently doing.

➝ Source: ljpuk.net

‘A Surprisingly Great Experience’ ➝

Chris Hannah shares his experience building a gaming PC. I really like his hardware choices. I’ve been out of the PC hardware game for quite some time, but I imagine if I was building one, I’d end up with something very similar.

➝ Source: chrishannah.me