My Tech Picks (Spring 2018)

Wow! It’s been a whole year since I did a Tech Picks post! As always, there’s been a few changes but a lot has also stayed the same. If you’re curious about the technology I use on a daily basis, here’s the breakdown:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – As expected, Windows is still my platform of choice. As much as I miss my old iMac, Apple desktops are just not viable for gamers at this time. Windows remains a solid and stable option, but they continue to baffle me with off-the-wall decisions and wishy-washy business choices. I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1803) – Just in time for this post, Microsoft has signed off on the latest version of Windows 10. This version, officially known as “Windows 10 Spring Creator’s Update” is very similar to previous version. One of the biggest changes is the introduction of the new “timeline” task switcher, which is very similar to the “continuity” feature Apple offers in OS X. There’s a few UI and cosmetic improvements that some users will notice, but most of the big changes in this release are under-the-hood. While the official release is not until 4/10/2018, build 1733.1 has been signed-off internally by Microsoft as the “gold” release. It is available through the insider channel now, and should be rolled out to most users in the coming weeks.

Hardware: If you’re a frequent reader to this site, you’ll know that I recently built a whole new rig from the ground up. Despite the huge Meltdown/Spectre ordeal, I’ve remained in the Intel camp. My new box is as follows:

CPU: Intel i7 8700k @ 3.7ghz (4.7 turbo)

Mainboard: ASUS Prime Z370-A

Physical RAM:  16gb

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB)

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main:  Western Digital Blue NAND SSD 500GB     Secondary:  Two Seagate 2TB Hybrids “Firecuda”

Media:  External DVD RW &  USB Memory Card reader

Power: 750 watt PSU

Monitor: ViewSonic VX2457-MHD 24″ (2ms 1080p FreeSync Gaming Monitor)

Mobile: Android  – Google Pixel XL 2 (Android Oreo 8.1) – Since my last post I have upgraded from the original Google Pixel to the Pixel 2 XL . Overall, I’m very pleased with the phone, but truthfully, if I could do it again I’d probably have chosen the regular Pixel 2. This phone is just a TAD too big for my taste and the I feel like the screen on the Pixel 2 is a bit better. But, I was able to jump on a deal and I managed to get a couple hundred bucks off on a new phone, so I took the plunge.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface – No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – I make full use of the Google Assistant that is available on my Pixel.  This is true both in speech and with the Google Assistant chat bot. I use my phone for 100% of these needs. MS has made some headway with Cortana on this newest release of Windows and even the version of Cortana available on Android has seen some considerable improvements. But at this time, I can find no reason to switch from Google Assistant to Cortana or any other AI.

Web Browser: Chrome– While Microsoft continues to improve Edge with each new version of Windows, it still lags behind almost every other browser available. The newest version of Firefox offers some compelling features, but Chrome continues to be my browser of choice.

Search: Google – Google remains my go-to for searches. I’m not a fan of some recent changes made to Google Images, but I still tend to get the best results from Google compared to other engines.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Widely supported and extremely efficient. Google works for me and I have no qualm with Advertising ID sharing or any other aspects of Google’s business model.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 – Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam – No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. I have recently been making more and more purchases on GoG.com due to their vast catalog of retro games. But nine out of ten purchases are still done on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  For streaming, I use Google Play Music, Sirius XM and IHeartRadio. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers – I turn to the other services for live media.

Wearables: Fitbit Blaze–  I’ve recently upgraded from my old Fitbit Charge HR to a Fitbit Blaze. I like the functionality of guided exercise routines and the ability to receive text message notifications. I do predict at some point I’ll have to look into something else. I’m feeling the call the Smart Watch… We’ll see how long I can resist.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Nintendo SwitchWii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360  (and there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP.

Project: PC Upgrade

WARNING: This post is going to be very nerdy and technical.

The time has finally arrived… I am building a new PC.

It’s been a year since I last made a “My Tech Picks” post. But if you follow them, you’ll know that my personal PC is getting a little long in the tooth. In fact, I built it back in 2010.  Over time, I’ve made a few upgrades here and there to various components. (Video card, hard drive, monitor, etc). But I’ve been rocking the same core system for the last eight years. A few months ago, I went to purchase the latest Wolfenstein game on Steam and I noticed that my PC didn’t meet the minimum requirements to run the game… It’s time for an upgrade.

My current CPU is an older  Intel Core i7 950.  This was one of the first generation Core i7 processors (AKA: Nehalem). Today, the Core is still Intel’s main product, but we are currently in the 8th generation (AKA: Coffee Lake).

I always build my own PCs. When I do so, I build them for longevity. So my personal rule of thumb is to go with the best components you can get without having to take a second mortgage on your house. This is especially true when it comes to the CPU and mainboard. Most everything else can be swapped out with relative ease. So I always try to get the very best processor available. Well, a lot has changed in the last eight years since I built my last computer. To so get started, I have a big choice to make: Do I stick with Intel or will I go rogue and snatch up an AMD processor?

Over the years I’ve built a number of PCs. I tend to prefer Intel processors since they usually outperform whatever AMD is offering at the time. In fact, of the eight PCs I’ve built for myself, only two of them have ever contained AMD chips. To be honest, Intel usually outperforms AMD in nearly every benchmark. But, AMD typically offers their CPUs at a much cheaper price.

Today, things are very different. Both Intel and AMD’s latest CPUs are priced about the same. Also, this time around, AMD’s Ryzen 7 processor boasts some serious tech-specs that put the current Core i7 to shame (at least on paper).  The latest Ryzen 7 1800x features 8 cores and 16 threads versus Intel’s  6 cores and 12 threads. But, Intel still takes the lead in clock speed. Then, there’s the whole Spectre/Meltdown controversy to consider… Intel is susceptible to both and AMD users only have to worry about one.

When it comes to graphics, I almost always use Nvidia products. I’ve owned a few ATI cards over the years, but I’ve generally been dissatisfied with them. ATI cards almost always tout better specs, but they tend to fall short when it comes to their driver performance. But, things are different this time around. ATI’s latest card the Vega 64 is a BEAST. It delivers top of the line technology at a mid-grade price point. Not to mention, my current monitor supports Freesync technology. This is a big plus if I own an ATI card. Of course, the biggest problem is actually getting my hands on one. The Vega 64 cards are supposed to retail for $500. But due to the crypto-mining craze, they are literally sold out worldwide. The only way to get your hands on one is to dish out over $1,000 to a reseller and even then, they are still nearly impossible to find.

This problem isn’t isolated to just ATI cards either. Almost any GPU is going to come with an inflated price at the moment. And there’s really no end in sight for the shortage. Some experts say prices should normalize in the fall of 2018, while other predict it might go on for two-three years. Literally speaking, this is the worst time in history to try to build a gaming PC… But I won’t let that stop me. Worst case scenario, I could always keep my Geforce GTX 960 and wait for things to settle down. But, I think I can find a few mid-grade cards at an affordable price that would still be an upgrade over my current setup.

I plan to build within the next couple of weeks. So which will I choose? Intel or AMD?  Nvidia or ATI?

I’ll be making an announcement on the site later this month.

 

Tech: My Tech Picks (Spring 2017)

I last posted a “tech picks” update back in the fall. So, I figure that it’s about time to refresh my hardware and technology picks for those who read the site and are curious about such things. – Since the fall, a lot has changed, but a lot has also stayed the same. Here’s where I’m at these days:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – Just as I was in the fall, I’m still using Windows as my platform of choice. MS continues to baffle me with some of their recent decisions, however. Windows is a solid and stable option, but they continue to throw a wrench in what would otherwise be a well oiled machine. (In-OS advertising, etc). I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1703) – Since my last Tech Picks post, Windows 10 has received a refresh. The most current version is now “Windows 10 Creator’s Update”. Much like the “Anniversary Update”, this update is pretty solid. But again, it is not without it’s faults. It seems MS is getting greedy and sneaking in advertising anywhere they can manage: notification, file manager, start menu, etc. Luckily, these can all be disabled if you do a little poking around. But overall, it’s a pain in the ass. The OS itself does seem a bit more polished in terms of UI. Gamers will want to pay attention to the new “Game Mode” offered in this build of Windows.  But thus far, I’ve seen very little improvement by enabling this setting.

Hardware: No updates to my main rig since the last post, with the exception of my monitor.  I did upgrade to a new ViewSonic screen – larger and with a better response rate. This monitor also features “freesync” technology, but I am unable to take advantage of this since I run an Nvidia card.

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Seagate 2TB Hybrid SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 1Tb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Monitor: ViewSonic VX2457-MHD 24″ (2ms 1080p FreeSync Gaming Monitor)

Mobile: Android  – Google Pixel (Android Nougat 7.1.2) – If you read my last Tech Picks update, you’ll remember I switch from Windows Phone to Android. At the time, I was running a Nexus 6 – I have now taken the full Google plunge and adopted the Google Pixel as my daily mobile device. I love this phone beyond words. Everything about this device pleases me. I like the looks of the phone (even if it is an iPhone clone), the Pixel Launcher provides a great UI and integrates with vanilla Android perfectly.  My own personal preferences led me to select the standard Pixel over the larger Pixel XL.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Despite now using an Android phone, I see no offerings in the tablet area that tempt me to make a switch to Android. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change here.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – I make full use of the Google Assistant that is available on my Pixel.  This is true both in speech and now with the virtual “assistant” chat bot that Google offers. I use my phone for 100% of these needs. Despite using Windows on my desktop, I do not engage Cortana on my desktop any longer. (A shame, I felt there was much potential there – but MS seems to continue to cripple Cortana by limiting her interaction with non-MS services).

Web Browser: Chrome– While Microsoft continues to improve Edge with each new version of Windows, the browser still pales in comparison to nearly any other. Chrome continues to be my browser of choice due to it’s performance and integration across all my devices.

Search: Google – Google has become my main search engine of choice. I still applaud Bing for providing result that are just as good, but for me – the integration with other Google services wins out over the pretty interface that Bing provides.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Widely supported and extremely efficient. Those who are concerned about ads and preference sharing may still find Outlook/Hotmail to be a better option. But these are not concerns that I hold.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  For streaming, I use Google Play Music, Sirius XM and IHeartRadio. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers – I turn to the other services for live media.

Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR–  I still own and use my older FitBit Charge HR model (albeit not as religiously as I should). Lately, I’ve been engaged in a special “Wii Fit U Project” so I’ve often had a Wii U FitMeter clipped inside my pocket as wll.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.