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Petri Wessman's weblog

More Pink

I’ve never owned a laptop computer before, mainly because the ones with either decent horsepower or decently light weight have been pretty expensive – and I’ve always had better use for extra cash. With the new “netbook” concept, I finally found an excuse to get me something portable; where 1,500e would have been a big investment, 400e isn’t as much. After some pondering I settled on an Asus 1000HE, it seemed to be the best-rounded of the lot. A new (very!) slightly faster version of the Atom, the usual 1024x600 display, 160 gigs of HD space, wifi and Bluetooth integrated, lots of USB slots, a camera + mic… pretty much everything you might want on the road for normal lightweight tasks. A bit on the heavy side, but that’s mainly due to the 6-cell battery which makes 8+ hour battery life possible.

I specifically wanted it with Windows XP. Even though I use Linux on my workstation and at work, a lot of the programs I want to use when mobile are Windows ones. The Keep, Lightroom, etc. The new Archon (VTES tournament scorekeeper app) should now also run properly on OpenOffice, but in case there are still bugs it’s nice to be able to fall back on Excel. Plus lots of retro Windows games, which work nicely even on a slower machine. I still don’t like Windows and have limited experience with it, but what I need in a portable are specific apps… the OS isn’t that much of a concern, really.

I also specifically wanted a non-dull color scheme… so I went for pink, even though I had to wait an extra month or so to get one. I’m just so fed up with the normal white-or-black ones, I wanted something a bit more fun this time around. Naturally, I also got a red wireless mouse, a pink mousepad, and a pink external DVD drive. Watching peoples’ reactions to the setup is amusing.

I’ve been using it for a bit now, and I’m very happy with it. It works like a charm, the keyboard is surprisingly usable for a netbook, and it’s just so much more convenient than my workstation for quickly checking email or some web pages. I upgraded the memory to 2 gigs before I even booted up the thing for the first time, which helps performance nicely. It’s no speed demon, of course, and most games are a no-go. Also, the 600-pixel vertical resolution is problematic for some apps which have been written for a 768-pixel minimum. Fortunately the thing includes a taskbar-selectable 768-pixel mode, in which the screen becomes a virtual viewport. Not ideal, but much better than not being able to run some apps at all. Even the “heavyweight” Lightroom is surprisingly snappy on this thing… but of course, I don’t intend to actually do any real picture editing on a netbook: Lightroom is there so I can dump a memory card full of pics there and do an initial reject/keep look-through, update metadata, etc, on the road. Then when I get home I can export the new pics (via Catalog Export) to the “real” Lightroom on the workstation and get to work.

As noted, games are mostly a no-go, mostly due to the pathetic Intel 950 onboard graphics. It’s better than no graphics hardware at all, but not by all that much.

…however, it turns out that a netbook is pretty nice for running retro games, since many of those were written for lower CPU and graphics requirements, and for limited resolutions. Also, you can now get copies of old games which actually work on XP (or Vista/7) from Good Old Games. Love those guys: cheap prices, no DRM, no CD/DVD drive needed, great user support. I’ve already bought and installed Fallout and Fallout Tactics and both work great. The GOG forums have a download link for a resolution patch for Fallout which lets it run in true 1024x600 resolution, which is lovely. Fallout Tactics doesn’t have such patch available so the graphics are 800x600 stretched to 1024x600… but it’s totally playable. At some point I also intend to get Deus Ex from Steam and play that – it should work fine and there’s a widescreen patch available for that, too.

At some point I’ll probably upgrade the 160 gig drive to a (maybe faster) 320 gig one, so I can keep a copy of my 80 gig music library on the local disk (both for listening purposes and as an extra backup). I might also switch to Windows 7 at that point, we’ll see. Depends on pricing, I guess.

So far, I’m happy with the pink little thing. Nice improvements would be slightly more resolution (1280x760 or such would be nice) and some more horsepower, especially on the graphics side. However, the point of machines like these are to be reasonably small and cheap, with good battery life. I’m pretty sure that in a year’s time I’ll be able to buy something significantly better with the same form factor at the same price… and at some point, I’ll probably upgrade. Until then, this thing should be quite good enough for a lot of tasks.

I’m actually surprised at how much I’m using the machine. It boots up (or wakes from hibernation) so fast that it’s really convenient for quick email/web checks, and I’m also actually playing Fallout at the moment. I’ve never played any of the Fallout games to date, other than quick dabbles with demo copies; I know they are great, but again: so many games, so little time. So now I’m playing the very retro Fallout 1, and finding it pretty good. Sure, the graphics are extremely rudimentary and I’m given to understand that the “really good” game is the second one, Fallout 2 (sort of like Baldur’s Gate vs Baldur’s Gate 2). I could play the game on my workstation, sure… but playing it on the netbook seems more fitting. Besides, having some games on one’s portable machine is always a good idea.

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Good Old Games

You know how some old computer games used to rock and probably still would, despite retro graphics and limited technical merits? And you know how hard some of those games can be to actually find nowadays, even via eBay and such? …and if you answered “sure” to both of those, you’re probably familiar with the frustration of finally getting that game (or installing an old favorite) and finding out that no, it no longer runs in Windows XP or Vista. Or if it runs, it runs at 60x speed and is totally unplayable. Or some such.

Well, the guys behind Good Old Games are trying to do something about that, and make some money on the side. They are promising a selection of classic games (including Fallout 1 & 2, Freespace 1 & 2, and so forth), tweaked to run on XP/Vista, with absolutely no DRM, and for a cheap price. Sounds a bit too good to be true… but looks like it isn’t. The site is currently in open beta test (I have an access key), and judging by my experiences so far: they are delivering what they are promising, and more besides.

I signed in to my beta account and bought a copy of the first Fallout game for $6. Download was smooth and included a bunch of extras including wallpapers and the game soundtrack in mp3 form (!). It installed without a hitch and ran perfectly (on Windows XP). I’ve never really played Fallout before, just tried it out a bit on a friend’s computer – so I’m now actually playing it for the first time. Sure, the graphics are pretty retro, but the game itself is great. I hear Fallout 2 is even better

…and since beta testers apparently get one free game as thanks, so I also got me a free copy of Fallout 2. That one also worked right “out of the box” (so to speak), and included an mp3 soundtrack etc.

I find it really hard to find anything negative to say about this new service. The games really do work, there is no crap DRM, the price is low, and the website is both stylish and has a nice and smooth user interface. Sure, the game selection now in the beginning is small, and that’s the only bad thing here – but if there is any justice in the world, this thing will take off and their catalog will expand.

Want to try it out? Head over to the site and sign up in the beta, I think they are still open. Getting both Fallout games for a total price of $6, with runs-on-XP tweaks, is a bargain.

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