LEDs never get old

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (741 Words)

Like any self-respecting geek, I like gadgets, and I like LEDs. They just add something to every occasion, whether it’s christmas decorations, keys, desktop toys. They’re like chocolate sprinkles - there’s nothing they can’t improve. I have two new LED-bristling gadgets in my household this week, so I’m happy as a pig in.. well, you know.

**Powerball Neon Pro

** An implulse purchase this one, I just happened to come across it as I was buying something else. It’s a device about the size of a tennis ball, with an internal gyroscope which when spun up, begins to exert the expected gyroscopic forces (i.e. resisting being tilted off its axis), but because it can rotate internally, you can essentially feed force back into it by moving your wrist in circles, which speeds up the gyroscope if you do it right. It’s meant to be good for strengthening your wrists for racket sports, playing guitar and relieving RSI, of which only the latter two particularly apply to me. But let’s put it this way - it has a gyroscope and LEDs in it - to people like me, that’s a sale right there. And you can have competitions around how fast you can get the gyro spinning - my record so far is 9214 RPM, which feels like it’s taking off but on their website people claim to have achieved 16,000 RPM plus, which is just scary.

You can certainly ‘feel the burn’ in your forearms after twirling one of these for a while, and it’s a bit of fun while I’m waiting for a build to finish. 😀

New GPU Test Rig

With the help of some recent donations I’ve invested in a new test machine, designed specifically to just run graphics card tests. I don’t really get chance to test many graphics cards because I don’t want to be messing with my main machine when I have projects on, so I really needed something that can have cards swapped into it and multiple OS’s installed as needs arise.

It’s a small form factor machine based around a Thermaltake Mini/Micro ATX chassis, which I chose because I find Shuttle machines overpriced and not configurable enough. As you can see it’s very black indeed, I had to increase the brightness and contrast in the photo just so you could see it - light just falls into its black aluminium surfaces. Disaster Area would be proud 😉

I made sure I got a motherboard with an embedded Intel GMA chipset in it (the 3100, which is just crap enough to be a good test), as well as a PCI-E slot. I have a few other cards (thanks to everyone who donated their old cards) although I’m always on the lookout for more, particularly the earlier ATI ‘X’ series, since whilst I have one of every generation of NVIDIA, my only ‘X’ generation ATI died a little while ago, leaving me with only the more recent HD 2600 and FireGL 5600, and the older AGP-based 9600 (for which I’ll be building another machine from old parts later - I can hear my wife clucking her toungue already). Also important for a small form factor machine, I got a modular Antec 500W PSU - ie one with only minimal directly attached cables (motherboard, CPU and PCIE), and the you only attach new cables you need for the devices you have. Saves a lot of space, particularly compared to the number of cables you usually get attached to higher wattage PSUs. I’m actually impressed by how quiet it is - in fact the entire machine is almost silent despite having quite a lot of fans in it altogether.

So far I have XP and Vista installed on it, and I plan to put Ubuntu on it before I’m done. With the GMA, things run mostly ok under DirectX, the only problem I had was with 32-bit indices (still); even the soft depth shadowmapping and HDR demos worked ok, although the performance is nothing to write home about. GL comes off worse, unsurprisingly; most things still work, but FBO support appears to be glitchy in particular. I also seemed to get some odd corruptions every so often. Sticking to DirectX for the GMA still seems the safer option.

As befits its sinister, if diminutive visage, it’s joined my network under the name ‘Darth’. 😀Rest assured I resisted donning my dressing gown and doing an “Arise…” speech at it. Just.