Friday, July 31, 2009


NVIDIA CUDA GPGPU technology logo

What is NVIDIA CUDA? If you've read our previous post here, you'll get a brief understanding of CUDA, which is basically NVIDIA's implementation of GPGPU technology by supporting programs (and games) designed to take advantage of CUDA. GPGPU is explained below.

CUDA is found on GeForce 8 series of 3D gaming and multimedia graphics card and above - as well as Quadro FX professional workstation video cards. This is possible because since GeForce 8, as well as the new Quadro, the design of the graphics processor (the GPU) on the card has changed. In fact, it's more like a CPU (the processor on the mainboard) now. Hence what you have is a GPU that functions like a CPU, and is known as GPGPU. But how did this come about and why? Read on.

In the past, GPUs work in seperate processing methods - one part of the GPU will do the processing of the 3D structure, while the other part will then process the image on the structure - think of it like how when you construct a building you first have to build the framework before you can install the windows and floors.

That worked fine for awhile, until 3D games began to get more demanding and this was a poor allocation of GPU resources - what happens if you had more structures to show but less textures and surfaces? Or the other way around? Hence the birth of the new GPU known as Unified Shader Architecture, which combines the mini processes inside the GPU into a single block which can process anything given to it dynamically. So what you have now is one large processor.

So since you have a CPU in a GPU, now you can also use it for processing programs asides from just processing 3D graphics in games (or processing 3D scenes for Quadro cards). In comes CUDA which allows this since the GPU is still not a full CPU so you need an interface medium.

What can CUDA do? Basically anything that a CPU can do - except programs have to be made to take advantage of CUDA for this to happen, so that will take time. Some of the early programs include video conversion tools.

BadaBoom CUDA media converter
BadaBoom Media Converter using NVIDIA CUDA GPGPU technology

This converting (transcoding) process takes up time and if you were to run it on your CPU, not only will you won't be able to do other tasks on your computer because your CPU is busy with the process, it will also be slower since CUDA is a newer technology which can be done from scratch to be optimised faster. One such CUDA transcoder is BadaBoom.

Photoshop plugin
An image filter plugin in Adobe Photoshop

Then there's also the ability to use CUDA for image processing, like running plugin filters in Adobe's Photoshop. Again, this takes time on the CPU so for large images, it will be faster on CUDA. You can also use CUDA for games. That's where Microsoft's Windows DirectX 11's Compute Shader comes in, found in Windows 7. But we'll leave that for another post.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coming Soon - Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 Review

LeadTek Quadro FX 1800 box

If you're a a workstation user, you might be familiar with the professional video cards from NVIDIA called the Quadro. Unlike the GeForce graphic cards, which are designed for gaming and multimedia, the Quadro cards are designed with 3D and digital animation in mind - though they can also handle 3D games as well - but not so good since they're not designed for it!

But why? Want to know more about the differences? Read on to find out.

NVIDIA GeForce and Quadro logos

By the way, both GeForce and Quadro can also be used for programming via NVIDIA's CUDA technology, which makes use of GPGPU, a concept where the graphic card's GPU is used as a processor - just like the processor on the mainboard. The difference in that the program must be specially designed to take advantage of this. That's where technology like CUDA comes in so programs written for CUDA can do this.

NVIDIA CUDA technology logo

CUDA allows you to use GeForce and Quadro card for more than what they're designed for - like video conversion (transcoding), image editing, and even artificial intelligence (AI)!

More on CUDA later - let's focus on the Quadro first, since most people know about GeForce already. Then we'll get on to how CUDA can be used on both cards.

The Quadro is much more expensive than the GeForce because they perform better for 3D work, especially in response times working with a 3D object, thanks to their data transfer bandwidth, optimised drivers, as well as the firmware on the Quadro, which controls things like sacrificing speed for quality. In games, speed is more important, hence why in GeForce cards this will be reversed. In Quadro cards, quality is much more important.

Worth mentioning is that the Quadro runs at 5GBps for its data transfer, taking advantage of the 5GBps PCI Express 2.0 slot (where a graphic card sits on a mainboard). The highest-end single-GPU GeForce, the 285, runs at 4.6GBps. For reference, the older PCI Express 1.0 slot interface supports up to 2.5GBps only.

3D software
Autodesk's 3D software - AutoCAD (left), 3D Studio Max (centre), Maya (right)

ALso, some Quadro cards are specially designed for certain 3D software like Autodesk's classic AutoCAD, or their acquired 3ds (3D Studio Max) and Maya software. While GeForce just needs to be fast for modern 3D games, Quadro needs to be accurate, and this is where it excels in, and that explains the higher cost of the hardware.

Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 card

To take a better look at Quadro, we'll be testing one from Leadtek, the FX 1800, which replaces the previous FX 1700, both coming from the middle-range line. Stay tuned for it!

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Bill Gates @ Facebook

Bill Gates Microsoft Facebook Friends

Sorry Bill Gates, we just had to highlight your plight when you recently decided to try out the social networking phenomenon Facebook in the Web 2.0 age. On the bright side, at least you won't have BrickTech being the 10,001 friend who wants to add to your list :)

To know more about the story that inspired this strip, read on for more details.

Yahoo recently carried a story about Bill Gates, who tried Facebook, but then gave it up after 10,000 people wanted to be his friend. You can read more about it here.

If you're wondering why Bill has dual large monitors on his table, we're referring to the news on C-Net which mentions he has triple LCDs in his office. Find out more here.

Yes, we know how to count.

However, we don't have enough bricks :P

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Google Earth, Sky, Ocean, Moon, Mars

Most people would have heard of Google, primarily for searching for information on the World Wide Web (Web), a part of the Net (Internet), via Google Search. Some may know Google has some other interesting ways to search for other information, like locations via Google Maps ( But did you know there's more to this?

2D Web Google Maps (above) and 3D desktop Google Earth (below)

Google Earth ( is the desktop version of G-Maps, with the main difference being the program is in 3D while the Web version is in 2D.

2D Web Google Sky (above) and 3D desktop Google Sky (below)

Did you know G-Earth also progressed from just searching the land to space as well? It was called Google Sky but it's actually a part of G-Earth. You can also use the 2D version via the Web at

Then Google Ocean was added in G-Earth. However, unlike G-Sky, it's not available on the Web.

3D desktop Google Moon (above) and 2D Web Google Moon (below)

In the past, when you maximum zoom in 2D Web Google Moon, you'll see cheese, based after the phrase "The moon is made of cheese".

Now, there's Google Moon in G-Earth. Like G-Sky, G-Moon is also available on the Web in 2D at There's also another nearby planetary body available from Google - Mars.

2D Web Google Mars (above) and 3D desktop Google Mars (below)

Google Mars is also incorporated into G-Earth, and you can also get it in 2D on the Web via

Venus is the same size as Earth, but it's too hot for life

So, will there be Google Venus at soon? Going by how Mars is heavily being explored as the next possible habitable planet after Earth, there's a chance Venus won't be mapped anytime soon in the near future.

Past (left) and present (right) satellite images in Google Earth

Instead, there's a higher chance G-Earth will incorporate a Future Time Slider in the not so distant future to enable a Temporal Database of what you're looking at - be it G-Maps, G-Sky, G-Ocean, G-Moon, or G-Mars. With this, you'll not only be able to search for past information as you now can in G-Earth, but also future predictions based on historical and present information.

This was what Vinton G. Cerf (the Father of the Internet), the Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist @ Google said during the 2008 WCIT (World Congress on Information Technology), held at KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) Convention Centre (KLCCCC or KLC4?). The WCIT is organised by the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA).

To get G-Earth (which comes with G-Sky, G-Ocean, G-Moon and G-Mars in the latest version 5), visit

images from Wikipedia

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Best Hard Drive

Image from Wikipedia

In technology, many people want to know what's the "best", and this is expected, especially when technology gets obsolete so quickly, you want a sound investment which lasts as long as possible.

While there is no such thing as the "best mobile phone" or "best notebook/laptop", due to a variety of reasons (a phone depends much on what you use it for, and a notebook is made from components so it depends what it uses), there can be certain "best". This includes processor, mainboard, hard drive, and so on. We'll get to the others later. Let's focus on the hard drive first.

A hard drive is a spinning disc/disk inside a casing, and so the faster the drive spins, the better it is. While there's SSD (solid state drive) to replace HDD (hard disc/disk drive) because it's faster and shock-proof, the prices are still high and they do not offer that large a capacity as HDDs can.

HDD (left) and SSD (right), image from Wikipedia

Today's HDD can go up to 2TB like Western Digital's Caviar Green WD20EADS desktop drive and WD's Green RE4-GP WD2002FYPS Enterprise/Server drive, while today's SSD do not even breach the 500GB barrier yet.

2TB is 2,000GB or 2,000,000MB

The spin rate, or RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) determines the HDD's performance (mostly - there are some smaller details like amount of Cache on the drive to help it perform better).

Desktop drives spin at 7,200RPM and older drives spin at 5,400RPM. Some smaller drives, like notebook drives, still spin at 5,400RPM. Server drives can spin up to 15,000RPM. However, the best desktop drive spins at 10,000RPM and only comes from WD, under their Raptor line.

WD Raptor drives spin at 10KRPM

Now, WD makes the VelociRaptor notebook-sized drive which spins at 10KRPM, making it not only the world's fastest notebook-sized drive, but also desktop drive if you opt for the heatsink version which matches the size of a desktop drive.

The WD VelociRaptor is the evolution of the WD Raptor

The notebook-sized VelociRaptor drive (above) and the desktop-sized heatsink version (below)

This evolution continues the legacy of WD's Raptor drives which spin at 10KRPM even in the older desktop-only models. RAID the VelociRaptors together and you'll pretty much have the fastest non-server HDD RAID on the planet. Until SSDs come down in price and increase in capacity, if you're looking for the best notebook-sized or desktop drive, you can't go wrong with the VelociRaptor.

Remember the VR is a notebook-sized drive (if not with the heatsink version), it is NOT a notebook drive. This is because the VR is DOUBLE in HEIGHT of a notebook drive, making it UNLIKELY to fit in ANY notebook. The notebook size refers to the width and length.

If you're looking for the best drive for a notebook, any notebook drive will do as they all spin at 7,200RPM, just like desktop drives. If you want speeds like the VR on a notebook, you'll have to look at SSDs (mentioned earlier above), which may even be faster than the VR, and offers drop-proof protection since it has no moving parts, unlike the VR. The only downside is what was mentioned - which is the smaller capacity and the higher price - for now.

Coming up next, we'll be testing the VelociRaptor and we'll be using this drive in tests of other hardware designed for high-end purposes, like 3D digital animation modelling and graphics rendering, via NVIDIA LeadTek Quadro professional workstation video cards, Intel's Core i7 (Nehalem) quad-core processor, and enthusiast desktop boards from ASUS.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

P1 (Packet One) WiMAX

If you're a Malaysian, chances are you've heard of P1 by now, that local WiMAX (a form of wireless broadband) company. They're under the parent company Green Packet, which makes solutions to sell to other countries under their CPE line of products. The P1 service is their "guinea pig" to be used here as an example to showcase CPE to places like the Middle-East.

P1 is known for pushing their WiMAX service as the better Internet connection compared to other services, be it landed wired options like Telekom Malaysia's Streamyx broadband, or wireless solutions from DiGi's wireless broadband service to Maxis' wireless service. But is it really?

What exactly is WiMAX and what's the difference? For a start, WiMAX is NOT Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity). While WiFi covers a small area (Hot Spot), WiMAX covers a very big area.

Wi-Fi support is found in Intel Centrino 1 notebooks (generation 1 - Carmel in 2003, gen 2 - Sonoma in 2005, gen 3 - Napa in 2006, and gen 4 - Santa Rosa in 2007). Centrino 2 notebooks (gen 5 - Montevina in 2008) onwards come with BOTH WiFi AND WiMAX for convenience. But did you know Centrino 2 notebook's WiMAX CAN'T WORK with P1's WiMAX?

That's because WiMAX comes in a few different frequencies, from 2.3GHz, 2.5GHz, and 5GHz (WiFi uses 2.4GHz and 5GHz). P1 is using 2.3GHz while Centrino 2 uses 2.5GHz. This is simply because 2.3GHz hardware is cheaper so places like Asia will use more of 2.3GHz while 2.5GHz is used in places like the United States. Hence why if you want mobile WiMAX you have to buy P1's WIGGY USB mobile WiMAX modem, which runs at 2.3GHz to match P1's WiMAX. So much for making connectivity simple by Intel. Thanks to Green Packet, you have to invest more.

However, does this make WiMAX a better service compared to other options in the country?

First of all, WiMAX is not meant to replace the main broadband service in the country, which is TM's Streamyx landed line. It's only meant to cover places where Streamyx isn't offered, but considering P1 mostly covers the Klang Valley, which is already well connected, the point is moot. So it's more if you don't have a need for a phone line because you rely on a mobile phone.

To add salt to injury, the CEO of P1 is Michael Lai, who was the ex-CEO of TM. He created a 'scene' at the Carcosa Seri Negara during a TM Press Conference back when he was the CEO, when he was questioned by the media as to why TM was introducing a new RM77 per month unlimited wired broadband Streamyx package when existing customers were paying RM88. His excuse was "Well, it's like going to a Hypermarket like Carrefour. Today the chicken costs this much. Tomorrow you go and the chicken costs less. That's the way things are."

It doesn't take a genius to notice that there's a very stark difference between the price of produce at a supermarket and a monthly service charge from a provider. TM was effectively punishing its loyal customers while rewarding new users. The answer by the CEO was an insult.

This pattern of punishment was repeated in P1 when the service was launched, P1 promised an unlimited package, but has recently changed this service to a limit with a quota. In addition, there have been complaints in the newspapers of customers getting slower speeds than claimed.

WiMAX cannot and will not triumph Streamyx because in tropical countries like Malaysia with heavy thunderstorms and rain, wireless services don't work well - just see your satellite TV service ASTRO (which scrambles transmission during heavy rain). Speaking of ASTRO, are you aware there once was a plan to offer Internet access via ASTRO? Just like how in the US there's Cable access. Look at the back of your ASTRO STB (Set-Top Box). See that network/modem port?

Of course, if we had Cable Internet, that would mean a rival for TM hence why this project never took off. Also, look at past wireless services from Time's Webbit (now defunct) to learn something about history. In summary, TM monopolises the telecommunication system in the country so they won't let anyone take over.

Last but not least, TM is a GLC (Government-Linked Company), with over 42% share and Khazanah Nasional Berhad holding 41% (RM1.4billion). As Khazanah is owned by the Finance Minister, who coincidentaly is also the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mohd. Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, anyone who knows about Malaysian Politics will understand this monopoly won't be toppled anytime soon. Moral of the story? Change 2013.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

x86 (32-bit) and 4GB of Memory

This might be something you already know - or don't. x86 (32-bit) computer systems can only recognise up to 4GB of total memory - regardless of what type of memory. This includes the DDR1, 2, or 3 memory modules slotted on your board inside the computer casing, as well as the memory (usually GDDR3, 4, or 5) that comes with your graphic card (which contains the GPU or Graphics Processing Unit) - if you have one installed.

Some boards come with integrated GPU so the memory is shared from the main installed modules. For these, there is no need to take the graphic card memory into consideration. But what if you have a graphic card?

If you have a graphic card, and say it comes with 512MB of memory, plus you have 4GB of memory sticks installed on your board, you will only be able to use about 3.5GB of memory because the other 512MB has to be allocated for the processor to access on the graphic card. This is a limitation of x86 design.

To circumvent this problem you have to move to x64 (64-bit), which means you have to install an x64 operating system (OS), like Windows XP 64 (rare), Windows Vista 64, or the upcoming Windows 7 64 - currently available as a freely-downloadable RC (Release Candidate) version from Microsoft's site here.

Keep in mind to use an x64 OS, your processor needs to be able to support x64 as well - check Intel or AMD's site (depending on which brand of processor you have) to see, or see here to see what processors support x86 and x64 OSes.

There is one caveat to using an x64 OS however - only x86 software can run on it (this backwards compatibility is included), and this means there can be no legacy 16-bit code in the x86 software, which can sometimes happen to older hardware which have outdated software.

x64 also means you can go beyond 4GB of board memory - so feel free to install more up to how much your board supports and if you can afford it. Having more memory means you can have more things open on your desktop without having to close something to free up memory for something else to open.

Keep in mind memory on the board and memory in the form of hard drive storage is 2 very different things. The board memory dictates how much you can open on your desktop at any one time while your drive storage dictates how much you can keep on your computer. There is a dual-stage of storage and usage going on between drive and memory so they're not the same.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Coming Soon - Intel Core i5

Intel Core i-class processor

There's a new processor (CPU - Central Processing Unit) coming out from silicon (sand) by Intel soon - the Core i5 (as well as the i3). Yes, they're related to the i7, which is pretty much the best desktop CPU on the planet.

The main difference between the i7 and the i5 and i3 is that unlike the i7, the i5 and i3 will use a dual-channel memory module system instead, just like pre-i7 desktop platforms. While the i7 introduced triple-channel, the i5 and i3 are designed for middle-range or mainstream (i5) and entry-level (i3) desktops. But what chipset will it need?

If the i7 used the Intel X58 chipset, then the i5 and i3 will use the P55 chipset (for a start), followed by the various other desktop board chipsets that will come later. Since the i5 and i3 will be dual-channel, the contact pins on the CPU will also be less (1156 compared to the i7's 1366).

Other highlights of this new P55 chipset includes the new SATA3 (6Gbps or 600MBps) support (the ports remain the same just like how USB 3.0 ports look the same but support the newer speed - but that's not out yet though!).

SATA3 is designed for SSD (Solid State Drives), not HDD (Hard Disc Drive), as SSDs are faster since they work like USB Flash drives, since both are Flash drives, based on Flash memory. HDDs don't really make full use of SATA2 (3Gbps or 300MBps), so SATA3 is actually for SSDs.

Updated 15th July 2009 - However, PC Perspective has reported that ASUS (the largest board maker around), as well as Gigabyte (and maybe even MSI), who together make up the Big 3 Board Makers, have pulled the SATA3 feature from their upcoming P55 boards due to some problem with the Marvell 88SE9123 chip which powers SATA3 (apparently it can't go to 6Gbps speeds).

Anyway, the new P55 chipset is also a Southbridge, as the Northbridge is finally gone. In the X58 chipset, the Northbridge was a just a controller hub.

So while you need a new board and CPU cooler for the i5 and i3, you can use the same dual-channel DDR3 memory modules from the Intel 3 Series (depends on board) and 4 Series boards. Some might say it's a step backward, but some might say it's a step forward to bring the Core 2-class of CPUs to the i-class of CPU, while keeping the memory standard for mainstream.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sun Virtual Box 3 for 3D

Sun Virtual Box 3 Windows 7 RC
That's Windows 7 RC running in Sun's Virtual Box 3 window (on a Windows XP desktop)

If you've read this post before (scroll down to the bottom of it), you'll know about Sun's Virtual Box (VB), a virtualisation software like Microsoft's Virtual PC 6 (VPC6), which is designed for Windows XP and Windows Vista.

Virtual PC 7 (VPC7) is designed for Windows 7, but unlike VPC6, VPC7 is designed to work transparently on Win7 as a compatibility feature for Windows XP software, hence it's known as "XP Mode". If VM (Virtual Machine) software sounds familiar, you might have heard of VMware before. But what's the difference?

VB differs from the popular VMware by being free, and it differs from MS VPC6 by emulating better computer hardware (since it's newer), and like VPC7, it offers a "Seamless Mode", where you can hide the virtual desktop running in VB and use the virtual windows with your actual operating system (OS). VMware calls this the "Unity Mode".

Anyway, since VPC7 only works on Win7 and only runs XP, this makes VB an attractive option if you're running XP, Vista, Mac or Linux, and if you want to run virtual Vista, Linux, etc.

Additionally, VP7 requires your processor to support hardware virtualisation (known as VT in Intel and V in AMD). If you have an Intel Core i-class or an AMD Athlon-class or AMD Phenom-class processor, it's ready. If it's an Intel Core 2-class or Intel Pentium 4-class processor, it may or may not. Check the Intel Archive Site here to see the list.

Moving on, in our previous VB post, we talked about using VB2 to sample Win7 RC (Release Candidate) instead of installing 7RC on your computer. However, VB2 suffers from one major flaw - while it emulates newer hardware than VPC6 which uses older hardware, it doesn't support 3D, in the form of Microsoft's Direct 3D - the most important component in DirectX for Windows, and OpenGL (Graphics Library), used in Mac and Linux.

VB3 solves that by including 3D support - albeit it's experimental. With VB3, you can now take full advantage of the newer emulated hardware - just like how VB2 did, except now you have 3D.

In our following post, we'll show you how to use these free VM software. In the meantime, feel free to play around with them. Remember, they're virtual. So whatever happens in them happens in the virtual OS - NOT the OS which these VM software runs on. So relax. You're safe.

This also means you don't have to bother with anti-virus or almost any forms of security. Hence why most anti-virus won't even work in a virtual OS. Which means using a virtual OS is a very secure way to experiment with any dangerous software which might otherwise wreak havoc on your actual OS. Using virtualisation is a good way to visit unknown sites which might otherwise harm your computer with your actual OS. However keep in mind you can share files between the virtual OS and your actual OS so make sure your actual OS has an updated anti-virus! We'll show you how to share files between the virtual (guest) OS and your actual (host) OS next time.

Free Virtualisation Software Download Links:
* Virtual PC 7 requires 2 install steps - the VPC7, followed by a virtual XP image (included)

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