Monday, October 31, 2005

The Daddy of the modern computer chip: Zilog Z80 CPU

The Z80 formed the basis for the personal computer revolution from 1976 well into the mid to late '80s. Such classic units as the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC were powered by the Z80. A testiment to it's design is the fact that it's still being used in embedded applications today.

CPU-World: Zilog Z80 CPU

By way of a link to the previous post, the Sega Dreamcast VMU was powered by a shrunk down Z80 CPU!

---Follow Up---

Captain Zilog

Dreamcast the Afterlife: Dreamcast Homebrew

In it's day the Dreamcast was a powerful gameplay console. Those days have passed now and the Dreamcast looks rather old compared to the latest consoles. But wait! Don't bin your Dreamcast just yet. In fact if it lives in the cupboard (like mine) go and get it out. There's life in that old beauty yet.

Being built on Windows CE made the Dreamcast very popular with homebrewers. There are literally hundreds of great apps out there for the Dreamcast. This site is a good place to look:

Dreamcast Homebrew :: Dreamcast software News :: Dreamcast Emulation & Development News

I'll report back soon on how the following perform:


Both of which are superb apps for running old games on the PC and Mac.

Über Gadget: The New iPod

Having recently attended the Mac Expo in London I was able to test out a few new gadgets, I'll post my reviews/thoughts over the next few days. First, the new iPod.

The first thing you do when picking up the new iPod is flip it over in your hand and look at it from every angle, this new iPod perhaps more than any before it is a thing of beauty. I'm not going to go on about the design, is there really any point? Just look at the picture.

The next thing you do is check out the video playback quality. I was able to view a number of videos, both iTMS stuff and some EyeTV exported shows. The iTMS video was in H.264 and it looked as amazingly sharp and vibrant as you'd always hoped video on an iPod might. There was no sign whatsoever of any blurring, ghosting, shadowing or frame dropping. The word that I use to describe the experience is 'lovely'. The EyeTV show, Battlestar Galactica, was encoded using the standard MP4 profile. Standard MP4 seems to struggle with dark or near black areas of the image and this is evident in the play back. Having said that this particular type of shortcoming is probably something that a gadget freak like myself would notice ;) Sound quality in both instances was perfect.

As for the rest of the features . . . well it was all up to the usually iPod standard - music playback, GUI, photo viewing - all groovy.

At £219 for the 30gb version the iPod is now even better value.

Top Gadget - The Human Brain as a Time Machine

This is a pretty cool theory. Time and the human brain are certainly interesting subjects. It seems that the time states at work in our brains hold some of the keys to the way it works. Read on:

The Human Brain Seen as Master of Time

Tower of Babel crumples with new tech | CNET

Doh! No need to teach foreign languages anymore... or is there? New technologies will enable you to talk all foreign without learning anything. Just attach cables to your face and let the computer do the rest:

Photos: Tower of Babel crumples with new tech | CNET

So you're talking the babelfish version of your desired languages and you look like a Star Trek extra. If the person you're talking to isn't freaked out they might understand you.

Of course anyone who's ever tried to learn a foreign language will tell you that one of the biggest hurdles is the culture. That's certainly something electrodes can't teach you.

"Macintel" Q & A (Intel-Based Macs FAQ) @

Some interesting Questions and Answers about the Mac Intel switch @

"Macintel" Q & A (Intel-Based Macs FAQ) @

Gmini400 Sound Quality

Good morning! Last night I decided to have a play around with my wife's iPod Mini (5gb). Using the same headset I use with the Gmini, my over-riding thought was that the sound quality on the Archos is far superior. I tried using various EQ settings, but couldn't get to the same feel as I'm used to with my player.

After that, I played the music quiz game - which is really good fun and a great idea. Unfortunately, when my wife saw how cool it is she pinched the iPod off me and was busy playing it herself when...shock horror!!! hung! Yes, there may not have been a BSOD but this Apple product definitely crashed. And to make matters worse, there is no hard-wired on/off switch or even an over-ride reboot function, so I just had to leave it on all night until the battery ran out!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Archos Gmini400 - Part II

My Gmini400 Experience

First and foremost the CF-port has been invaluable. I've only got two 256mb cards and my recent switch to pretty much 100% RAW shooting has left me with about 35 shots per card.

However, all I have to do is stick the full card into my Gmini, create a new folder, and copy all the files. Even better, when I get home, I now have a USB2 interface to copy all those pictures (usually using DownloaderPro to help with the organisation).

The Gmini400 as an MP3 Player

This is really the main feature of this gadget, right? So how well does it do it's job? In a nutshell - it does it. Just about. Archos promised a firmware update to provide for proper sync capability with WMP10. unfortunately this never materialised (although this feature is fully incorporated into all the recent Archos products). So sync-ing is pretty much out the window in terms of WMP. Of course, you can forget iTunes as well - although there is a Mac fix provided with the Gmini400 that will at least allow the Mac version of iTunes to recognise the player and sync files - I'm just not in a position to comment on how well that works.

My music collection on my PC is somewhere around 36GB. Whereas the music capacity of the Gmini400 is around 18GB. So I obviously couldn't just copy the entire music folder contents. If I had a smaller music collection, this would have worked fine. The 'Mini has a built in database software thingy that will sort through all the music files and generate a library, with artist, album, genre, year info. What I was able to do at first was use a program I got which is really excellent at analysing your music collection and creating playlists of any custom length. Then I used that playlist in WMP to copy the files into the music folder on my 'Mini. Not a particularly tidy way of doing it, but fairly effective. Otherwise I would just pick a few artists, and copy those folder directly then update the library on the 'Mini. Copy a few more artists the next day, and the next day etc etc. It all depends on your music listening habits.

I either ride or walk/bus to work in the morning and home again in the evening. So my music listening, on a day-to-day level, is broken down into either 15 minute or 30 minute segments. So its not entirely necessary for me to have 18gb and a billion songs on my 'Mini. Although it would be nice to just plug it in and go (ala the iPod). Recently I have come across a piece of media management software that does pretty much exactly what I want, and during my trial period with it it has done the job very well. I select how much (time or space) I want to copy, it generates a random list and that gets copied to the music folder of the 'Mini. Underneath the polished exterior, thats exactly what iTunes does with the iPod. So with a little fiddling, and probably a little money spent on some software, music sync-ing can be up and running.

Now the music is on the device, how good does it sound? Well, that is mostly dependent on your headphones and your source music. Most of my mp3s are 256k and my headphones are the Sennheiser PX100s - excellent and cheap! With that setup I simply boost the bass a little in the setup menu, and I'm pretty happy with the results. The Volume can often be very nearly maxxed out, but I do tend to listen quite loud sometimes. If I was serious about listening...say on a 10 hour flight on a loud aircraft I'd invest in an external amp and closed headphones.

The menu system on the 'Mini can be a little fiddly. But I'm a Windows network administrator, these things come as second nature to me, so I found myself getting around the menus pretty easily in practically no time at all. The thing is, you have to consider what functions you really need to use the most. Generally the top five are:


Of course, the most complicated of these is the first one - because "go" may mean play one file, or it may mean play a huge playlist. And here is the greatest failing of the Gmini400: When you select a playlist, the device seems to scan every single file in that list. So if you select a large playlist, you'll lose sometimes a couple of minutes whilt the device scans for all the files it needs. This seems completely pointless - and annoying. although, if you're loading a huge list, maybe for a long journey, losing a few minutes might not be a problem. so consider your perspective. However, the same issue arrises if you use the "Random" play mode, where you can set it to scan either files in a folder (artist) or the entire music folder. Again, if you have a full library, skipping between songs can become a frustrating experience. Sometimes the player will just hang for a couple of minutes. A few times I've had to reboot the player because it just goes completely nuts. So, give it a 200mb playlist, you'll be fine. Give it a 18GB playlist, you're in trouble.

The on-screen display is fairly useful. It will even display embedded album art, which is a novelty thats rarely noticed, because the player is generally in my pocket or in the pouch of my back-pack. Which leads me to...


Listening to audio on the go and watching video are two entirely different things. As a good example of this: You can listen to music whilst driving. Many people do. But if you try to watch a movie whilst driving, you are both breaking the law and endangering your life and that of others.

I have watched a few TV episodes on my 'Mini whilst on my lunch break - and I have to say, that was pretty cool. But if I wanted video (and pay attention here you iPod Video fanboys) I would buy one of the larger VR units, probably from Archos. They are designed with that purpose in mind and are cool devises. But as for me and my Gmini, I hardly look at the screen while it is in use. Generally, I only navigate the menus for playing music and copying files. The video side of it is just a cool little bonus.


Its almost my lunch break, so I'm going to wrap this up here. The Gmini400 has done exactly what I needed it to. It also does pretty much what I want it to, even if it does at time take a little effort. If you're after an iPod beater - this is not it. The Gmini400 cannot beat the iPod at its own game. But there are certain things that this little machine could do years ago that Apple (and Belkin - the Pod's practical housekeeper) are only just implementing or even considering. In the meantime, Archos and others are pushing the envelope further. Merci Archos!

Compaq Evo n1020v - Hot stuff!

I see a lot of these units coming through HP's secondary channel here at work .

The majority are Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz models. (Not the Pentium 4-M chips but the standard Pentium 4 desktop chips.)

Is that an issue?


The Pentium 4 gets really hot really fast. In fact the cooling fan comes on within about 5 minutes of turning the notebook on. The fan sounds like a regular desktop cooling fan too, it's REALLY LOUD! Added to that the heatsink required to cool such a hot chip is substancial. As a result the notebook is rather large and quite heavy(3.5KG). Also since the CPU uses a lot of power the battery needs to be a lot bigger and heavier in order for the notebook to have half decent battery life.

The Compaq Evo n1020v and other notebooks based on desktop chips should not be thought of as a laptops. They are portable desktops / desktop replacements.

If you're looking for a real laptop then choose a unit with either an Intel Pentium-M or an AMD Turion 64 processor.

----How did the Pentium 4 end up in notebooks?----

The heat problem with the Pentium 4 meant that it took Intel sometime to get the Pentium 4 tweaked for mobile use. When the Pentium 4-M did finally hit it ran at rather slow speeds (1.4GHz - 2GHz), which meant very lack luster performance, since the Pentium 4 requires high clock speeds to clear it's long pipelines.

The whole Pentium 4 mobile muddle opened the door for the Pentium-III design to make a return as the Pentium-M seen in Intel's Centrino technology.

Bill Gates on Microsoft: "We're doing a lot of things"

Bill Gates has been talking up Microsoft in an interview with the BBC. Asked about competition from Apple and Google he was at pains to state Microsoft's huge size in comparison to the competition.

"We're a million times bigger than Apple."

The best bit is when the interviewer asks Gates why he doesn't just quit. Bill's reply is classic.

"The PC I dreamed of 30 years ago isn't here yet, it's still too complex."

No need to guess who managed to make it all so complex.

Looks like Gates has never used a Mac!

Check out the video on the BBC website:

BBC: Microsoft aims to trounce Google

Meanwhile. . . .

Microsoft's UK staff have come up with a system to help make system crashes a thing of the past:

Microsoft - We Share Your Pain

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Archos Gmini400 - Intro

The moment I entered the world of digital photography, a device like the Gmini400 was on my wishlist.

Why would a portable mp3 player be a gadget a digital photographer would want?

Well, despite the fact that CF card prices have dropped to a fraction of what they once were - the simple fact remains that even a small hard drive has a far greater capacity than even the most expensive large capacity CF card (around 5GB). In fact, you could buy a notebook hard drive for less money than a mega-expensive top of the line CF card. The problem being that you can't jam a hard drive (unless its a micro-drive of course, but please try and follow me here) into your camera.

So the obvious solution was to have a device that copy copy files from your CF card (or other media) onto a portable HD on-the-fly. Hence around 2001/2 devices like the MindStor started to appear. Decidedly geeky looking gadgets that looked like some mad-scientist type had taped together in his shed. Essentially a 2.5in notebook HD in a case, with a battery and some form of interface. The kind of device that would do the job - but would it be worth the money? Yes, you could get a top-of-the-line 20GB model, but for quite a bit of dosh.

Well, naturally, there was quite a demand for these devices. And despite all their design faults and problems, people still bought them because they needed them. Hence, unsurprisingly and yet surprisingly late companies like Epson started to jump on the bandwagon and offer devices that did pretty much the same thing, but for twice the price offered a COLOUR SCREEN! Woohoo! We're not talking about 20 years ago here, we're talking about 3/4 years ago.

Well - I was looking for a device like this. My first trip abroad with a digital camera taught me I needed a ton of storage space, and being shackled to a PC was not the best solution. My trigger-finger twitched and I almost took the plunge with one of these devices. But then, like a sudden flash of logic, the iPod came along. And here, at last, I saw potential. All of a sudden you could get massive amounts of portable storage, for a pretty reasonable price. But sadly, the iPod could only do music (and music is still what it does, indisputably well).

I saw potential. I saw near misses. iRiver nearly hit the jackpot. I saw Apple doing what they do best and I saw other companies struggling to catch up. And then I stumbled across a little French company called Archos. Apparently, they'd been in the game for a while, with a few jukebox devices. And they had a new device coming out: The Gmini400. What was it that caught my eye with this device?

Can you see that, sticking out the side of the gmini? YES! A CF card! "Hoorah!" my inner-monologue cried. What a blindingly obvious yet genius idea! Stick a CF-port on the side of your device! Thank you Archos! Immediately, there was really only one device I could choose from within my budget. The only thing I had to find out was: Is it completely rubbish? I mean, it is French after all...

Well, a few reviews gushed over it. The problem is in this market, any decent opposition to the iPod is often given a very biased look; one way or the other. But at least this player seemed to be able to - well to play music files. And even video files to boot! Plus it would be recognised as an external hard drive (funny that - but maybe the iPod's biggest failing) so would act as a handy digital-flask too!

So I bought it.

Coming up, I'll go into detail about my experiences with my first portable mp3 player - that just happens to take CF-cards and play videos.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Okay so it’s not a gadget in itself but it does feature a whole load of awesome gear! Pictured above is the 20th anniversary issue, while I can't claim to have a collection that big, I think I must own every issue since about 1993. I might just get round to putting them on eBay one day ;)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Apple's Pipedream - PowerPC G5 3GHz & The XBox360

A month ahead of the release of Microsoft's new XBox 360 IBM have released infomation about the custom PowerPC processor powering the unit.

"The IBM-built chip features three customized PowerPC computing engines that can each handle two simultaneous tasks at clock speeds greater than 3 gigahertz. It was customized for Microsoft in less than 24 months from the original contract."

With that information in mind here is my take on what took place this time last year:

Steve Jobs calls IBM late 2004 and says "we need a PowerPC G5 3GHz by Q1 2005 a G5-Mobile by Q2 2005 and a multi-core G5 Q3 2005, what can you do?" IBM respond "Just a minute Steve we've got Bill Ga... Joe Blogs on the line oh and Sony and possibly Nintendo. We'll call you back."

Steve unhappy with IBM goes and meets his mate from Intel for a game of golf. While putting the 9th hole Steve asks what chips Intel have lined up for 2006. The Intel guy is more than happy to chat about their plans for 64-bit Dual-core Pentiums and power efficient 64-bit Pentium-Ms.

After finishing the game of golf Jobs and his friend from Intel get to talking about Microsoft and IBM. Jobs is unhappy about IBM's time being taken up with the Cell for Sony and especially the new found friendship between Microsoft and Big Blue. The Intel chap is also unhappy, the Microsoft XBox with it's trusty Intel Pentium III was selling like hotcakes and Microsoft's decision to jump ship and turn to IBM has left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Over coffee Jobs and the Intel buddy get to talking about how great it would be to have the power of Apple's OS X combined with the future CPU products from Intel. Certainly the Apple cool factor would help win some of those AMD lovers back for Intel and Job's really could do with a modern CPU
to put in the Apple Powerbooks let alone a quicker CPU down the road for the PowerMac range.

The deed was done and Apple were on their way to Intel land.

Needless to say IBM did phone back. "Steve we can get you a dual core G5 for October 2005 but 3GHz just isn't going to be possible... uughh one of our 'other' customers has got the first call on those. Oh and the mobile chip won't be ready until we can rework the G4 design. How does 2006 sound for the Mobile G4-64 1.5Ghz?"

Steve took the dual core G5s at 2.7GHz. Not because he really wanted to but because he had no other choice. He knew the Intel boys had it all taken care of for 2006...

Read more about how Microsoft stole PowerPC from Apple and how they allowed Apple access to the x86 world and ultimately OS domination:

New Xbox processor offers powerful speeds - Games -

Archos Gmini 402

With all the fuss that surrounds the iPod these days it's easy to forget the mighty Gmini. A fine player to be sure, with great sound quality and flexible video playback. It's pretty clear the the only real competition to the Apple is Archos. Having been in the video player (and recorder) market for some 3 or 4 years they certainly know how to deliver a compelling portable video experience.

The World's Smallest PC - OQO +1

This looks pretty cool, it's a 'full spec' PC in the palm of your hand. Wouldn't it be cool if Apple made an iMacPod like this... hhmmmm

oqo : running Windows XP on the palm of your hand

-----Follow Up-----

As mentioned in the comments from our friend at currently the OQO +1 uses the super cool but rather slow Crusoe Transmeta chip. An OQO running the new ultra-low power Pentium-M surely must be a possibility. Even a 750MHz Pentium-M would be quicker than a Transmeta chip since the Pentium-M is a very efficient design. That's what brings me back to Apple. An iPod/iMac Mini hybrid would be very cool.

UFO Master Blaster

Launched in 1979 by a company called Bambino the UFO Master Blaster was the first LED electronic game I owned, and what a gem it was! The UFO's would descend with increasing speed down one of three columns, left, centre or right, sometimes even cross columns as they got closer to your ship. The unit had a joystick and a single bright orange fire button. The gameplay was nicely balanced -- you always felt that your next go would be your best go! The industrial design of the unit was awesome, it was almost a toy in itself. In short this is a classic gadget.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the game was the sound effects, a simple four tone system. Amazingly this strange sound effect can be heard on a Vangelis track released around the same time -- obviously video games were not under ban in Greece back in 1979! If anyone can remember the track title please let me know. :)

Oh my word! This is a cool toy!

Words don't do this justice, just watch the video:

One Crazy RC Toy

Monday, October 24, 2005

TWiT 27 with Larry Lessig is ON THE AIR | this WEEK in TECH

After a weeks absence TWiT is back.

Check it out:

TWiT 27 with Larry Lessig is ON THE AIR | this WEEK in TECH

The Connectix Quickcam

Could black and white video the size of a postage stamp be fun, even useful? The Quickcam proved that it could.

The golf ball size serial device capturing video at 196 x 147 in a glorious palate of 16 shades of gray was a marvel. I can remember Phil and I making a small movie and editing it all in Quicktime player -- it was a kind of epoch moment (if there is such a thing) in gadgetdom, this was a signpost proudly pointing to the future of video capture and editing.

As a demonstration of the Quickcam abilities I now present my very first movie, Flame (How It Burns) . . .
Click here to download, then double click to play in iTunes, this video will play on the new iPod!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Over 3000 Video Game Ads

This site holds a whopping 3037 different video game adverts. I'm sure there are so real gems in here:

Video Game Ads: All adverts, video game commercials, spots, ads: From Atari to XBox

Friday, October 21, 2005

What is a Gadget?

According to Wikipedia 'Gadget' can mean:

* A gadget or gizmo – a device that has a useful specific purpose and function.
* The first atomic bomb was nicknamed the gadget by the scientists of the Manhattan Project, tested at the Trinity site.
* Gadget (full name: Gadget Hackwrench) is a character on the cartoon Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers.
* Inspector Gadget is a cartoon character in the eponymous TV series and the series of live action movies based on it.
* GADGET is an after-school club at Glenbrook North High School that participates in many NASA competitions.


There, I'm glad we've clarified that point!

DigitalLife TV Episode 10: Available Now!

The latest episode of DigitalLife TV is out. Patrick Norton and co talking about some of the latest tech news:

DigitalLife TV Episode 10: Available Now!

Thoughts on Apple's PowerPC-to-x86 Transition

This is a mildly interesting article. The question 'which Macs will get Intel chips?' is a good one. As this article reveals the answer is pretty clear to see. Also add to that the recent release of new iMac and PowerMac G5s it's plain to see those units won't be featuring Intel chips until at least mid-2006.

Read on:

Apple's PowerPC-to-x86 Transition in Question

In addition to Powerbooks I think the Mac Mini must be a logical candidate for Intel chips. A Pentium-M based Mac Mini would smoke the current Mac Mini with it's rather elderly PowerPC G4 chip. Pentium-M would also enable Apple to keep the Mini mini since the Pentium-M has amazing power management features.

If proof was needed here it is:

Intel copies the Mac Mini

Great Gaming Moments: #1

Ok so maybe I shouldn't *start* with my all time top gaming moment. But if I don't do it now, I'll forget. The setting was Phil and Nina's house, I guess some time around 1990-1. The game? Papyrus' Indy 500. What a classic! I have many good memories of that game, but as far as an achievement goes, it was the 33-car wreck that I'd have to say I'm proud of. Thats right, I turned headlong into oncoming (200mph) traffic and managed to involve every car on the track in one amazing crash. Which I then got to watch all over again with the state-of-the-art replays. I can just hear the amazing sound effects now. Anyway, to understand a little more about this game, and my 33-car achievement, read this great article over at gamespot. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I/we (thats Paul) never actually bought Indy500 or Indy Racing. Which is a shame, especially as we missed out on the later version of the Indy500 track.

History of Papryus Racing Games

"Indeed, one of the "hidden" joys of any Papyrus game is reverse track driving, wherein the player attempts to create the most cataclysmic head-on multicar pileup. And certainly breakaway parts only added to the fun.

Nonetheless, Kaemmer remembers the potential victim count being quite a bit higher in Indy 500, where "The strategy was to lie in wait on the front straight, which was lined on both sides with a concrete barrier, and leave no place for the hapless opponents to go. We would quite often get everyone but four or five in one giant wreck. I may have gotten everyone once..."

iTMS Video Experience

So you can now buy videos from Apple in iTunes. When I first heard the news I thought two things, first, how much? and second, what about the quality, will I be able to watch a film or TV show in comfort without worrying about the resolution and H.264 compression? As I have just recently dumped my Sony TV in favour of a 20' iMac with EyeTV 200 I figured that perhaps I was in an ideal situation to be able to answer the second question. Here are my conclusions.

It's all about context.

The Powerbook Experience
Not acceptable. Unfortunately while the H.264 compression is very effective, the 320 x 240 pixels resolution blown up to 1280 pixels wide makes the Powerbook viewing experience frustrating. It seems that the tipping point where resolution becomes noticeable seems to be around 440 to 480 pixels wide. Playing back home encoded video at 480 wide produces very nice results for the most part.

The iMac Experience
A very mixed bag, due mostly to context. If I watch the video whilst sitting on the sofa, around a distance of 9 feet then it really is hard to spot the difference between the iTMS video and a standard SKY TV broadcast at PAL resolution. Up close, the results are much the same as on the Powerbook.

The iPod Experience
I don't have one so I would know. :( My guess is that they look and play back in splendid fashion. As an interesting side note I've also read that although Apple state the max resolution for iPod playback to be 480 pixels wide, some have managed 720 wide with little or no problem, a hint at future video downloads perhaps?

If you miss the digital boat...

You risk ending up like AGFA:
Agfa near the end: Digital Photography Review

"Germany photographic company AgfaPhoto is likely to close down by the end of the year, making around 1700 of its workforce redundant..."

The Amstrad CPC 464

Pretty much where is all began, the Amstrad CPC 464, my first big league gadget. It's fair to say there had been others before the 464, some of which will be mentioned here soon, but they were just toys in comparison to the sheer geek factor of my first home computer.

I have my mum and dad to thank. Though they never really said so, they had to save for quite some time to be able to afford this piece of gadget history. They ordered it from a catalogue company some 6 weeks before it had even been launched, hence began the seemly agonising routine of coming home from school everyday expecting it to have arrived only to find that it hadn't.

Then, one Wednesday morning, it arrived, some 20 minutes before I was due to leave for school! I remember taking the manual to school with me and reading it through most of English and all of Maths! Ah, good times. When I got home that night I had more waiting to do, waiting for my very own computer guru to arrive - dad! With the touch of a computing demi-god dad unfolded the wonderful world of personal computing right before my very eyes, tears of joy followed. The future had arrived and it was all mine!


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