Thursday, March 24, 2005

Dell 2405FPW Review

Dell delivered my replacement 2405FPW today. The white line pixel problem had actually disappeared on my first monitor when I switched it on the second day, but when a problem has shown itself once, who is to say it would not come back. I feel better knowing I have a new monitor with zero problems from the start.

So, now all the problems are over, how is the 2405FPW? Outstanding!!!

Setting up the monitor was easy. The stand was first out the box and was very sturdy with a nice rubber cable channel at the back. The monitor itself came out next (with VGA cable already attached, which I thought was a bit strange). The monitor hooks into the top part of the stand and snaps into the bottom half. This is a nice design, as there is a release button at the bottom of the monitor, which means it can just pop back off the stand again very easily. The stand also has a height adjustment, which is somehow weighted so the monitor can be raised up and down very easily. When at the top of it’s height setting, the monitor can also be pivoted to give a portrait-style display. Very useful if you are editing lots of documents, I am sure.

Just out of curiosity I first tried the monitor with the VGA cable. It looked very good, but there was a little ghosting. Not unusual for an analog signal at such a high resolution. I immediately switched to DVI and the difference was amazing. The clarity was pixel perfect and the colors were very vivid.

After loading the driver disk (which really didn’t do that much since plug-and-play had already recognized the resolutions of the device), I proceeded to give the first test. Having just purchased the third season of 24 (another Frys bargain at $44), I thought this would be a good start. I loaded up Cyberlink PowerDVD and ran through a couple of episodes. With the 2405FPW's 12ms refresh rate, I saw no visible ghosting on any of the fast action scenes, it looked superb. I then proceeded to try The Incredibles. Coming directly from the digital source, The Incredibles looks fantastic on this screen. If anything the only problem is that having a monitor of this kind of resolution and quality starts to show up the imperfections of DVD MPEG-2 compression more than it does itself. Roll on Blue-Ray.

So, great for DVD’s, but let’s face it the real reason to buy a monitor like this is for hardcore gaming. Next test was World Of Warcraft. Setting the resolution of 1920x1200 was no problem; it was immediately available in the games options. The result was truly outstanding. The vivid colors of Warcraft came through beautifully, and the resolution size and width of the new screen added an amazing amount of immersion to the experience. I immediately used the HUD scaling to shrink the user interface and give me more world viewing area. Even using the UI scaling the interface still looked very sharp. So, last test. Half-Life 2. Again, I loaded the game and the options were immediately available for the new resolution. I have to say that Half-Life 2 on any system is a beautiful game, but seeing it on this monitor just blew me away. The textures on the avatar’s faces, which I think are the most detailed in the game, were unbelievably clear and life-like. During the action scenes again, no visible signs of ghosting and the extra screen size and width added an immense amount of immersion, especially with having virtually no HUD.

Dell has also built a memory card reader and USB hub into this monitor. This I found to be more annoying than useful since every time I turned the monitor on and off from the front it would connect and disconnect all the USB devices attached. I think a better design for this would be to have the front power button just turn off the display and have a rear power button for turning the entire unit including the USB hub off. This is just a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things though.

In addition to the VGA and DVI connectors, the monitor also has connectors for S-Video and composite video input. I haven’t tested these yet, but I will probably give the composite a test with my PS2 when I get it set back up again.

To conclude I would say this was the perfect screen. Clarity, color reproduction and resolution are superb. In true Dell style the build quality is excellent and very well thought out. The size is perfect. In fact, to be honest I have been drooling over the 30” Apple Cinema display lately, but having played on this monitor now I think that 24” is the perfect size. Any larger would be great for TV, but not ideal for desktop gaming as you would have to be moving your head to see the extremes of the display. Moving your head to look at the HUD on the top left corner of the screen would distract from the action of past-paced shooters. At a price point of under $1100 after discount, this monitor blows the competition out the water. I love my 2405FPW, and I think it will be on my desktop for a long time to come.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Dell 2405FPW Blues

My 2405FPW widescreen flat panel finally arrived today from Dell. This is my first buying experience from Dell and I must say I am NOT impressed!

I ordered my monitor on the 6th March. During my wait for it to arrive I spent some time reading the forums on Anandtech. Fun posts about all the people that ordered their monitor after me and had their monitor in 2-3 days. How long did mine take? Well it just arrived today on the 21st. The product did not even leave Dell until the 11th and then incurred further delays with UPS. I would expect any vendor to ship products out on a first come first serve basis. Anything else is unacceptable.

Nevermind, it's here now. At least it's worth the wait... right? WRONG!

The monitor arrived by UPS. It was well packaged and very easy to assemble. I hooked it up and turned it on, and what did I see? A whole line of static white pixels at the top of the display.

I thought maybe it was some kind of configuration of driver issue, so I tried VGA aswell as DVI. No luck. So I then disconnected all external inputs, and guess what... the line was still there. A manufacturing defect. Does Dell have QA? Do they even test any of their products before they go out the door? I would have to suspect not. I was very disappointed.

So, 20 minutes on hold to Dell and 3 internal transfers later I arrange for a replacement monitor. Fortunately they will pickup and drop-off at the same time so I will not have to be without a monitor, this is one blessing in what seems like a string of disasters.

Come on Dell, get your act together! Products should be shipped out on a first-come-first serve basis. It also wouldn't hurt to turn these things on and even maybe give them a test before you ship them out.

So, my review on the 2405FPW is delayed yet again. I could technically review now, but I feel my mood may negatively influence my review so I will wait for the fully working model. Let's see how quickly then can get a replacement out... maybe they can beat their previous 2 week shipping attempt.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

New PC Up and Running

Well, after what seemed like an eternity of waiting for FedEx and a few trips to Frys, I have just finished putting together my new PC with parts mostly from List of parts are...

Intel 915GUX motherboard
Intel Pentium 4 3.6Ghz socket 775 800mhz FSB
BFG GeForce 6800GT OC PCI-X graphics card
Antec P160 super tower case
Antec SP160W side windowed side panel
Antec Neo Power 480w power supply
1GB PQI dual channel DDR2-4200 (3-3-3-8) memory
Western Digital 250GB SATA hard drive
Danger Den TDX Intel 775 water cooling block
2 x Vantec 120mm Stealth Fans

Used some of my existing hardware such as my Pioneer dual layer DVD burner and my water cooling setup comprising of Danger Den Black Ice radiator, a single 5 1/4 bay reservoir, and a DTek Customs CSP750 Mark II pump.

I have to say I was very impressed with the case. I have been a fan of Antec since my last case (the Sonata) was so well put together. This case is no exception and the aluminium finish looks superb. The motherboard tray can be pulled out and the board mounted outside of the case and then slid back in again, very nice. The windowed side panel (an extra $29 direct from Antec) makes this case even smarter, especially with a couple of neons mounted inside. It also has two built in temperature probes which link to the LED readout on the front of the panel. Currently I have them connected to the GPU heatsink and the chipset heatsink (the chipset incidentally runs at what seems like a VERY hot 61C under load).

The Neo power supply, also from Antec, is also a very nice piece of kit. It runs super quiet and not very hot at all. The cable management system is great, being able to only connect the cables you need helps streamline the airflow in the case.

Although the memory is 3-3-3-8 it seemed to default in the BIOS to 4-4-4-12. I went in and manually adjusted it to 3-3-3-8 and I have had no problems or crashes since. Neither the CPU or the GPU is currently overclocked. With the new NVidia 71.84 drivers I am getting the following benchmarks...

3DMark03 11988
3DMark05 5091

My benchmarks for my old system which was a P4 2.4Ghz socket 478 with a GeForce FX5900 (standard) using older 66.93 Nvidia drivers was...

3DMark03 5455
3DMark05 1033

As you can see, quite an improvement especially on the 3DMark05 benchmark which seems more geared towards next generation games.

Incidentally I also did a test overclocking the BFG to 409mhz/1080mhz and got a 3DMark05 score of 5540, a nice 10% performance gain but still the card stayed pretty cool even on stock heatsink and fan.

Memory bandwidth benchmarks in Sandra are coming out at 4823 Int, and 4834 Float. I expected this to be a little higher, since many reviews of lower latency DDR2 are now coming in above 5000. Not sure yet why this is so low. I have a feeling there is somewhat of a bottleneck on the FSB since the standard Pentium4 775 runs at 800mhz FSB and the memory bus is running at 1064mhz. It would be interesting to try a Pentium Extreme Edition since I understand the FSB runs at 1064mhz also thus potentially reducing the bottleneck. I am still kinda learning about the Pentium architecture so I could be talking BS here... I will have to go do some more research.

This setup runs Half Life 2 and World of Warcraft great on my Samsung 192N at 1280x1024. I should be receiving my new Dell 2405FPW on Friday which should stress the card a little more since it runs at 1920x1200. I will post some pictures and a review of the Dell later aswell as some information on performance at this resolution.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

MX1000 Laser Mouse Review

Historically I have not been a big fan of wireless mice. I love to game, which requires very accurate mouse tracking and in the past wireless mice have just not delivered this so I have been tethered to a USB mouse for a long time. That is... until now!

I must say at first I was very sceptical, but although it took a little getting used to I knew the first time I layed hands on this mouse that it was something special. The mouse itself is a little larger than my normal MS Intellimouse, but after the initial adjustment I found it to be extremely comfortable to use over extended periods of time. The tracking and communication of tracking information is second to none... it could just as easily be a wired mouse, I could not tell the difference. I think this is more down to the way the information is relayed from the mouse to the base station than it is to the laser tracking since I never really had that much of an issue with the regular wired IR tracked mice. Either way the whole package works very well.

As for the laser tracking, I have had this mouse for some time now on a variety of surfaces and have never had ANY slippage whatsoever. Although I don't think this is a huge issue for IR mice since most people are aware of the kind of surfaces it does and doesn't work on, it is nice not to have to worry about having a good surface if you want to take the mouse out and about.

Logitech are about to release the MX3100 combo which includes this mouse plus the MX3000 keyboard for a retail price of $149. The keyboard also communicates with the same base station, which cuts down on the number of receivers. My previous Logitech wireless keyboard was not compatible with this mouse base station, so I ended up with two wireless receivers... not a very neat solution. It is not yet clear whether this keyboard will be available seperately. I am hoping it will since it would be a shame to have to go out and buy the whole kit and end up with a duplicate mouse.

The mouse itself is not cheap at $79, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has the money to spend and wants the best mouse money can buy. I would most definitely recommend it to any power gamers out there and indeed challenge them to find a better mouse, wired or wireless. If you like your keyboard wireless too though, it would be worth holding out for the combo pack.

World of Warcraft Review

After the plethora of second rate MMORPGs that have come to market lately, especially from a large corporation that shall remain un-named, finally we get an MMORPG that is both beautiful and engaging.

There is so much I could say about this game, but I want to keep this review short so you can go see for yourself!

The graphical style of World of Warcraft may not be to everyone’s taste, but it undeniably embodies the beauty and creativity of high fantasy. The world ‘feels’ alive with all its beautiful colors, and it’s flickering, glimmering detail.

Graphical character customization could be better. The options here are a little limited, but still enough to create a character you can feel good about. A wide variety of clothing options in game help alleviate this a little, but hopefully this is something Blizzard will improve after retail

The sound is just incredible. From the amazing musical score to the creaking, stomping of the ent-like protectors in the Elven lands, it’s all there.

The user-interface is very easy to use, and detailed tooltips make sure you are never lost wondering what something is used for.

Quests in this game are wonderfully compiled. Each quest is weaved together from multiple tasks that REVEAL a STORY as you complete each stage. That’s right, I said a REVEAL a STORY! As in… ‘I want to complete this part of the quest to see what happens next’. Quests are beautifully written in a true role-playing style that really absorbs you into the game and makes you feel like you are affecting the world itself. As quests progress, they also take you into new parts of the world as you become ready for them, giving you even more of a sense of accomplishment and adventure. Pay attention other MMORPG developers who have forgotten than MMORPG still has the letters RPG at the end!

As well as being able to play above land, the game features the amazing ability to play underwater. Sunken ships and sea creatures adorn the seas for more questing and adventuring.

The class system is very well put together. You choose a class when you create your character, and as you level you can learn new skills from your class trainer. These skills are extremely varied from one class to another, and blizzard have made sure that each class has some very cool skills to utilize. You also get to purchase talents as you level, which helps you to enhance your skills and differentiate your character from others of the same class and race. In addition, each race also gets fixed racial traits from the beginning (such as increased dodge change for elves etc.).

PvP still needs some work, but there is a strong foundation for Blizzard to build upon after release, which is exactly what they plan on doing with ‘battlegrounds’. The two sides of Alliance (Good) and Horde (Evil) form the basis for PvP. There are two types of server… regular and PvP. Both have the ability for player vs. player, but only on the PvP server can you potentially be attacked while questing (though only in enemy, or contested territories).

I only tried trade skills at a very basic level, but they seemed very well implemented with both gathering professions (such as mining, fishing, skinning etc.) and production professions (such as smithing, tailoring etc.). Also there are service professions such as enchanting and first aid. Any character can take 2 primary professions such as those mentioned, and an unlimited number of what are called ‘secondary professions’ such as cooking and fishing.

I must say this is the only MMORPG I have played where I have had so much fun playing the game, that I forgot all about leveling. I truly felt drawn into a world of fantasy and adventure.

Blizzard have injected the RPG back into the MMORPG genre and spiced it up with creativity and great gameplay. They have kept of the best parts of the existing genre and made the other parts even better. With ambitious plans for the future, from a developer we can trust to do the right thing, this game will only get better and better.

I for one can’t wait to step back into the World of Warcraft!