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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Gnome 3.0 Released

The popular Linux desktop environment Gnome has now progressed to the 3.0 milestone. The developers claim this is a more modernized and streamlined version and will come with the same Gnome applications available in the previous release. This comes six months after version 2.32, sticking with the developers release cycle. It has not yet been fully integrated with distributions but beta releases are available from Fedora and OpenSUSE.

The Gnome 3.0 Desktop
Version 3.0 introduces a brand new desktop. Aesthetics seem to be revamped for the modernized look they're aiming for. There's also an activities overview, a new notification system, integrated messaging, window grouping, desktop search and more.

Applications have been spruced up too. Gnome 3.0 includes improvements to the web browser, file browser, text editor and more on top. This isn't so much of draw if you use your own choice of applications but some of them can prove very useful.

Unfortunately Gnome will no longer be a great feature in Ubuntu as Canonical pursue their own environment called Unity. Ubuntu is one of the most popular distributions available so this is bad news for Gnome. However Gnome is still the desktop of choice for a lot of other distributions so they're sure to do well. The next release has already been scheduled for September/October 2011 and this will include yet more new features and improvements.

Can a Better Power Supply Increase Performance?

A decent power supply is essential to provide components with the needed power to function effectively. Under powered components such as processors and GPUs may run at reduced clock speeds if they aren't fed their required amount of fuel.

Power supplies can vary in quality. Higher end power supplies generally have a higher wattage output and greater efficiency. There are also modular power supplies where cables can be added or removed for a tidy system. However this is not a factor in performance.

500W Storm Silent (top)
700W OCZ StealthXStream (bottom)
For a system to perform well, a minimum wattage must be met by the power supply. An estimate can be calculated by online calculators such as the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator. ( It should be noted that some commercial calculators may quote higher requirements to sell more expensive products.

I will be testing system performance of the 500W Storm Silent and 700W OCZ StealthXStream power supplies. Both power supplies meet the requirements of my system so in theory there should be no improvements in performance. I will be testing performance using PCMark Vantage which tests many aspects of everyday usage.

PCMark is the current release of Futuremark's PC benchmarking software. The software gives a score for memories, TV and movies, gaming, music, communications, productivity and HDD. However i will only be providing the overall score.

The chart shows near level performance. So there you have it. A better power supply doesn't mean better performance. As long as the power supply is suited to your system then performance will be defined by the other components.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

How to Silence Your PC

Water or Air Cooling?
Water cooling systems are popular amongst enthusiasts and can provide superior cooling needed for a highly over clocked system. However they are expensive and the overall noise levels are on par with their cheaper counterparts. There's also the additional sound of running water which may put your bladder on overdrive.

Air cooling is reasonably cheap and easy to maintain. There's a wide range of fans available and providing you equip low dBA fans, your PC should be reasonably quiet. In terms of noise level, air cooling seems to be more effective so the following solutions will be based around that principle.

Silverstone's 400W Passive PSU
Power Supply
The power supply is one of the loudest components in a computer so should be a careful consideration. Some power supplies have been specifically designed for quiet operation so these are the ones to go for. Fractal Design have released the Newton R2 which runs from 20 to 30dBA. But the Scythe Chouriki 2 can run even quieter at 7 to 21dBA.

There are also passive power supplies which can be used in systems with low power requirements. Passive power supplies typically range from 350 to 500W and don't have a cooling fan. This would significantly reduce noise levels. Although this option would not be suited to most systems.

CPU Cooler
Cooler Master's Hyper Z600 Passive Cooler
The CPU cooler is another potentially deafening component (maybe a slight exaggeration). The CPU cooler is usually PWM controlled via a four pin fan connector. When the computer is under high stress such as when playing games, the fan will compensate for the higher temperatures and run faster and louder.

Like with power supplies, there are coolers optimised for a quiet PC. Low noise coolers can be purchased and some of these have a replaceable fan that can be swapped with a quieter fan purchased separately. There are also passive coolers available which can cool the CPU without the use of a fan. These would obviously be completely silent but unsuitable for demanding tasks and over clocking.

The Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 Passive Cooler
GPU Cooler
Most graphics cards have reasonably quiet coolers but some of the higher end cards have more powerful fans for the higher temperatures. In these circumstances it may be worth considering a replacement.

You've probably guessed that there's a passive solution for graphics cards too and you'd be right. GPU passive coolers have large metal fins to compensate for the lack of a mechanical fan. For this reason you'll need a hefty case to fit one in your system. As expected, these coolers aren't so great for cooling so if you're temperatures are likely to exceed safe running measures then you'll need to fit an additional fan to tame the heat. Some conventional coolers also allow you to choose the fan. The Thermalright Spitfire is one such product with this particular feature. Combine this cooler with a quiet case fan and you'll be rolling.

Case Fans
NZXT Sentry Fan Controller
Case fans are necessary to bring fresh air into the case and expel warm air out. You'll need an intake fan which is usually positioned on the front and an exhaust which is usually on the rear. I would recommend a minimum of two fans so you can fulfil these requirements. Companies such as Scythe and Noiseblocker (the name gives it away) produce low noise fans suited to a quiet set up. Should you need a PWM fan for the CPU cooler or something else, Enermax have the T.B. Silence range which runs at as little as 8dBA.

Fan controller can also reduce noise. These are available as either automatic or manual. With automatic fan controllers a pre-defined temperature is set and the fans will adjust speed according to this figure. This means that the fans won't always be running at full speed and will often be quieter. The manual variety allows the user to adjust fan speed as they see fit. If the computer is idle or resources are in low demand then the fans can be set to a lower speed and the computer will be quieter.The only problem with this is that bad decisions could lead to your computer overheating so an element of care is needed here.

Noise from the system can be emitted through the case. Fans and other components can also cause vibrations which produce noise. Inner panelling can be purchased which absorbs the sound, making the computer quieter. There are also vibration guards that are fitted onto fans to reduce vibration.

The Scythe Quiet Drive Enclosure
Hard Drive
Conventional hard drives have rotating platters. Because they function mechanically, they make noise. Solid state drives don't have mechanical parts so they are also a lot quieter. These are a lot more expensive that standard hard drives so large storage space isn't usually an option (unless you're filthy rich of course). For large storage space a standard hard drive is needed. Hard drives with a low RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) will have slower rotations of the platters and will generally be quieter. The downside to this is that the hard drive will be slower. The hard drive can also be muffled with an enclosure. This will reduce noise but increase the temperature of the hard drive. This shouldn't be a problem as hard drives are usually located at the front of the PC, right behind the intake fan.

Closing Comments
The upgrades with the greatest impact will probably be the power supply and the CPU cooler. Decent power supplies can be expensive but it should reduce noise. Case fans are relatively cheap so that's an alternative option. If all measures are taken to reduce noise then you should end up with a silent beast. However this is only an assumption as I'm currently broke and can't afford many upgrades.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Battle of the Browsers

The Contestants
There are many options to go for when choosing a browser but which one is the best? Sure, some browsers have more features than others or may be more preferable to certain individuals. However in this article I will be looking at performance alone.

The major browsers today are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari. I will be analysing the performance of the most recent releases as of this date. The versions used are shown below:

Internet Explorer 9.0 64-bit
Firefox 4.0
Chrome 10.0.648.204
Opera 11.01
Safari 5.0.4

Each browser will be benchmarked on the same computer running Windows 7 64-bit using V8, Sunspider and Peacekeeper. The browsers will be tested in the default set up from installation without any extensions.

V8 is a suite of pure JavaScript benchmarks and the score is a geometric mean of individual results. The suite benchmarks kernel simulation, one-way constraints, encryption and decryption, data manipulation, regular expressions and other functions of JavaScript on the web. Higher scores indicate better performance.

Chrome makes a comfortable win here, more than doubling any of the competition. This is followed by Firefox, Opera, Safari and Internet Explorer which has an extremely low score.

Sunspider is another JavaScript benchmarking tool. The developers place emphasis on real world performance by avoiding microbenchmarks. The results are given in milliseconds so less is more.

Firefox is the winner this time, closely followed by Chrome. Another poor performance from Internet Explorer which pretty much triples every other score.

This is Futuremark's browser benchmarking tool. Futuremark are reputable developers of the benchmark suites PCMark and 3DMark. Peacekeeper is split into six tests, all of which provide valuable information. For this reason all six tests will be shown as well as an overall score.

This test measures the browser's ability to render and modify specific HTML elements used in web pages. Higher scores indicate better performance.

Opera takes the lead in this test. Internet Explorer actually excels here taking second place and Safari comes in last.

Social Networking
This test measures typical webpage functions such as loading, sorting and searching for data. Higher scores indicate better performance.

Another win for Opera here, followed by Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Complex Graphics
This test measures the performance of Canvas, a fairly new technology for drawing and manipulating graphics without external plug-ins. As Canvas is not yet supported by all major browsers this score will not be taken into account for the Peacekeeper overall score.

Chrome wins this time round, closely followed by Opera. Least effective here is Safari which takes the bottom place.

This test measures the browser's ability to add, remove and modify data stored in an array.

Chrome takes an astounding lead here with all other browsers around the same mark.

DOM Operations
This test measures the performance of DOM (Document Object Model). DOM is the standard API JavaScript uses to create dynamic webpages.

Another win for Chrome with Opera very close behind. Internet Explorer comes in last.

Text Parsing
This test measures the browser's performance in typical text manipulations such as using profanity filters for chats, browser detection and form validation.

Yet another lead by Chrome. Internet Explorer actually comes in second this time and Safari takes the last place.

Peacekeeper Overall
This is the overall Peacekeeper score comprised of all other Peacekeeper tests except the complex graphics test as previously mentioned.

Unsurprisingly, Chrome leads overall followed by Opera, Internet Explorer, Firefox and then Safari.

Final Thoughts
Out of the benchmarks used in this article, Chrome won two and Firefox won one. Chrome ranks highly in all of the tests and appears to have the greatest performance of the browsers tested. Firefox performs well in the V8 and Sunspider benchmarks but is let down in the Peacekeeper tests. This could be due to Futuremark's particular methodology so i'm going to rank Firefox number two. Opera comes in closely behind as it performed well in the Peacekeeper benchmarks and even took the top spot in some of the tests. Safari may have come in last for the Peacekeeper benchmark but as Internet Explorer came last for both Sunspider and V8 I'm going to rank Safari fourth and give last place to Microsoft's own, Internet Explorer.

This article has only looked at performance. There are many reasons why you might choose a certain browser over another. For example, Firefox has a great number of add ons and extensions which other browser struggle to compete with. Which browser do you use and why? Comment in the box below.