Archive for November, 2007

Talk to Santa on Windows Live Messenger

Friday, November 30th, 2007

This service has now been withdrawn.  Here's the full story.

Here's something fun for kids - Talk with Santa on Windows Live Messenger.  It's easy:

  1. Sign in to Messenger.
  2. Add Santa’s address to your contacts: [email protected]
  3. Start chatting with Santa.


Give your PC a Holiday upgrade

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Over on ZDNet I've put up a post that looks at Holiday upgrades that you might want to consider for your PC.

The first, and most important, upgrade that I suggest is adding more RAM:

I’m always amazed at the lengths that some people will go to in order to try to make too little RAM go further.  I’ve seen people waste good money on “RAM doublers” and other utilities that make dubious claims about being able to improve performance when they could have spent that money on some RAM and got instant and measurable results.

Unless you’re running 2GB on 32-bit Windows or 4GB on the 64-bit flavors, there’s always a performance gain to be felt from fitting more RAM. 

Adding RAM is probably the easiest hardware upgrade, and anyone that can handle a screwdriver can do it.  I know that readers here at ZDNet are probably very comfortable with such upgrades but for first-timers, cracking open a PC and tinkering with it can be a daunting experience.  I find that if you hand-hold someone through an upgrade like adding more RAM, their confidence level will be boosted tremendously - that alone could be a great Christmas gift for someone!

Another RAM upgrade that you can do that might be beneficial to your system is to upgrade the speed of your RAM.  For example, if your motherboard supports PC2-6400 RAM but you’ve got slower rated RAM fitted, adding faster RAM is worthwhile (especially for gamers).

If you’re going to push your RAM to the limits or go further and overclock it then you need to go for good quality RAM, and my money goes to Corsair or OCZ.

For more ideas, read the rest of the post!

What is AA and AF and what do they do?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Question:  When reading reviews of games and graphics cards I come across AA and AF and sometimes things like 4xAA.  What does this stuff mean?

Good question!

AA stands for Anti-aliasing (sometimes you might see FSAA which stands for Full Scene Anti-aliasing).  This is a technique that computers use to make curved or angular lines less jagged.  The science behind this is complex but the idea is simple - to make what you see on the screen seem more realistic.

When you read something like 4xAA, this refers to a particular level of anti-aliasing (for example, 2x, 4x, 6x ...).  The higher the number the more sampling pixels are used and the better the image, to a point at least.  For example 4xAA is usually enough when running a screen at 1280x1024, while you may only need 2xAA to get the same level of quality at 1600x1200, and your performance will better as well.  There is no hard and fast rule, experimentation is the name of the game.

AF stands for Anisotropic Filtering.  This is used to improve the quality of distant textures on screen (for example, the landscape of a game).  Again, 4xAF refers to a particular level of filtering (1x to 16x).  The higher the number, the better the image (but the more computer power you need).

Other terms you might see ar HDR which stands for High Definition Rendering which is used to add lighting effects, and bloom which is similar to HDR but not as complex.

Firefox out now

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Another day, another version of Firefox is released.  Version fixes three high-impact security issues found in earlier versions.

Expect the new update to be coming your your browser soon.

SnagIt and Camtasia Studio for free

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Here's an offer that any blogger won't be able to resist - get a free copy of SnagIt and/or Camtasia Studio from TechSmith for free!  And it's all totally legal.

What's the catch?  No catch.  There aren't the latest versions of SnagIt or Camtasia but both are otherwise fully-functional and not time-limited or crippled in any way.

You can also upgrade to the latest version of SnagIt or Camtasia Studio for half price.

I'm a long-time user of both SnagIt and Camtasia (in fact, SnagIt is one of my most-used applications and over a course of a year I take thousands of screenshots) and highly recommend both.