Soundcards. Soundcards?

There are still people who buy soundcards. I happen to be one of them. Why? Well, I like to listen to my music as close to the original production as possible and, having a soft spot for loud American popcorn movies, Mahler symphonies and concert blueray discs, I to listen to these in 5.1. Over the years I invested in a nice set of speakers and a dedicated Marantz 5.1 amplifier to deliver what you a arrogant high-end afficionado would call a upper middle class listening experience. To make the connection between computer and amplifier and to ensure a Dolby Live surround signal I bought a rather Creative X-Fi Titanium HD a few years that for some time did what it was supposed to do, even though the drivers were buggy and GUI looked like a five year old had a go at Visual Basic.  Recently though a new motherboard, processor and videocard was implanted, together with and a new Windows 7 install, and suddenly the card refused to encode Dolby Live. Why? No idea. The card was ripped out, installed in a different slot, the drivers were re-installed (including Creative’s Dolby package), but still no Dolby. Everything else worked fine, but no encoding. So, the infamous Creative support was asked for help. I explained everything as simply as I could, gave them each every hardware item’s name, even made a little move from a screen capture.

What did I get: ‘install, re-install. re-socket, re-install’. The fact that this was a fresh install didn’t register. I requested referral to second level technical support, but to no avail. So I bought an Asus Sonar Essence STX and told Creative to go and stuff themselves .


This card represents the best incremental step forward to the overall performance of my entertainmentwork station for a long time. With a built in headphone amplifier and its external power source this has transformed my listening habits. It’s now a pleasure to listen to a good recording of Mahler’s second symphony, the sound stage being delivered broad and with incredible depth by the Q-Acoustics front speakers. As an added bonus, the dolby encoding works flawlessly, and I can finally listen to Incognito’s 30 year anniversary concert in glorious 5.1 (as the best girlfriend refuses to let me have a similar setup in the living room. Interior design decision. Aha.)

So, if your partner won’t let you have a surround sound in YOUR livingroom, go out and spend a few quid on this card and turn your office into a sound stage. Or at least get some good headphones and enjoy your favourite tunes without alienating the neighbours.

Geekiness aplenty.

A cooler monster

This picture was taken by the best girlfriend ever after wandering randomly into my study and seeing this enormous red, glowing thing on my (messy) desk. She obviously asked herself what in the world that thing would be: a Dr Whoish weapon? An alien artifact? Nope. It’s actually a fancy CPU cooler called the ‘Silent Knight’ and now sits on my new processor.

I had recently acquired ‘Ghostbusters – The Game’ and was quite confident that my moderate gaming rig would be happy to cope with it, but was let down badly. 4 gb, a HD5670 and a Phenom X III obviously don’t get you very far anymore, so I had to upgrade. As I have lost the will to scour hardware sites and compare prices, I went for a moderately priced MoBo/Processor/Ram/Cooler bundle from a very friendly chap at Maplins in Colchester and a HD 6850 that I sourced from the brillant Nexus Computer in the same Essex metropolis (a true geek haven, with knowledgeable, friendly staff). Together with 8 gigs of ram and a fresh Windows 7 installation, this is now an impressively quick rig for under 400 quid (and still implanted in my ancient beige metal case from the late 20th century), and the Ghostbusters are having a very impressive blast.

And yes, the silent knight fitted into the old metal case with ease and now keeps the little monster at a breezy 40 celsius, even when Ray,Peter and Egon are at it against dozens of ghosts.


5 Months with the EEEPC. An interim review. By a female user

Last Christmas, I gave her an EEEPC, but the very next day, I wanted to take it away (because I wanted it for myself). (with apologies to Wham)

In the past I have discussed the reasoning for buying an EEEPC: form factor, operating system and price were certainly the most important considerations. I knew that my significant other wouldn’t be interested in a dual core processor, an enormous hard disc or copious amounts of ram, as all a laptop should do (for her) is email, browse the web (including flash), watch movies, listen to music and synchronize her Ipod. And do it safely. A tall order? Obviously not, as the little EEEPC has been doing this quite happily ever since. So, after 5 months, I asked the best girlfriend ever for an interim review.

FB: What kind of laptop(s) did you use before? B.G.E:  An IBM thinkpad running XP and a G4 Ibook. The former because it was given to me by my employer and I let my IT department deal with any windows related problems, the latter because you gave it to me. Both did what they were supposed to do.

FB: Did you have any problems with the EEEPC’s unusual GUI? B.G.E: No. None whatsoever. It’s self-explanatory and easy.

FB: Did you have any problems with the EEEPCs applications? B.G.E: The original Skype version that was distributed with it crashed and was unusable, but after updating it, everything worked fine.

FB: Are you happy with its multi media capabilities, and what do you do with it? B.G.E: I generally use it for the BBC’s Iplayer and have watched an ripped .avi movie. Quality is astonishingly good for a machine that size, but head phones improve the experience enormously.

FB: Did you have any problems using its networking interfaces? B.G.E: No problems with both Wifi or ethernet.

FB: Do you use it for productivity purposes? B.G.E: I am looking forward to use it away from my desk more frequently in the future.

FB: Are there any limitations in your user experience due to the EEEPC’s size? B.G.E: Some people may mind its screensize and the fact that you have to scroll horizontally much more frequently than with bigger laptops. The trackpad goes on my nerves and could be better. An external mouse enhances the experience immensely.

FB: What’s the best about the EEEPC? B.G.E:  It’s cute looks, its size (it easily fits in my handbag) and people want to talk to you about it in cafes.

FB: What’s the worst? B.G.E: The mousepad.

FB: Thank you. B.G.E: Thank You.