Download more RAM — Safe? Scam? Joke?

Download more RAM — Safe? Scam? Joke?

A software developer asked me today about a website called Download More RAM. I don’t think he heard my other coworkers snicker. He asked if it’s possible to download RAM, then asked if it was a security issue. I said it’s best not to visit it, and spared him the history lesson.

Yes, there’s some history to it.

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The Logitech F310 on Retropie

I went looking for a reliable, modern controller to use on my Retropie setup. I eventually settled on a Logitech F310, betting the Logitech F310 on Retropie would make a nice combination based on my experience with other Logitech peripherals in regards to their quality and value for the money.

The reviews I found suggested the F310 continued in this tradition, and I found enough people who said they got it working with Linux to feel confident I could get it working on the Raspberry Pi. And sure enough, I did.

I paid $18 for mine, and my first impressions of the quality were good. It’s precise, and button pushes register with a slight click. It’s no worse than a Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo controller, and if anything, I think I liked it a little better. A pair of Logitech F310s costs more than the Raspberry Pi board, but playing games is a lot more enjoyable when the controller does what you want it to do all the time, not just most of the time.

The F310 wasn’t a drop-in replacement for the controller I’d been using, though. I had to configure it for Retroarch, the software that provides most of Retropie’s console emulation.

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Setting up Retropie on the Raspberry Pi

I bought a Raspberry Pi over the weekend intending to turn it into a retro gaming system. I’d rather not have a mess of systems and cartridges out for my kids to tear up and to constantly have to switch around at their whims; a deck-of-cards-sized console with everything loaded on a single SD card seems much more appealing.

I followed Lifehacker’s writeup, which mostly worked. My biggest problem was my controllers. NES and SNES games would freeze seemingly at random, which I later isolated to trying to move to the left. It turned out my Playstation-USB adapter didn’t get along with the Pi at all, and was registering the select and start buttons when I tried to move certain directions, pausing the game.

When I switched to a Retrolink SNES-style pad, the random pausing went away. The precision reminded me of the really cheap aftermarket controllers of yore for the NES and SNES. I concluded my controller, which I bought used, was worn out. Ultimately I ended up switching to a Logitech controller, which worked well. Read more

Are video games a good investment?

An article on Slashdot asked this weekend whether video games were a good investment. So are video games a good investment? Will they appreciate over time?

The answer is generally no. Collectibles in general are not–they follow a boom and bust cycle. I’ve seen it happen in my own lifetime.

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Microsoft: No x86 apps for ARM

So, The Register reports that Windows on ARM will not have compatibility with apps compiled for x86. Intel has been saying this for a while, while Microsoft has been mum. So now we know.

There are arguments both for and against having an x86 emulation layer.
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Review: GT Max Playstation-USB converter

After my disappointing experience with an inexpensive–perhaps I should just say cheapX-Kim USB gamepad, I decided to give the GT Max Playstation-USB converter a try. This inexpensive (under $5) adapter lets you use Playstation and Playstation 2 (PS2) controllers with a PC.

I’m just interested in being able to use it with emulators for older systems, so I can’t comment on its suitability for using Playstation dance pads with PC games, or using inexpensive PS2 controllers with PS3s. Other users report some degree of success for that.

I’m happy to report that I can now play five or six levels of Jumpman or 9 innings of Baseball Stars without my hands hurting.

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Windows, ARM, emulation, misconceptions and misremembered history

I keep reading stuff about Windows and ARM and, well, I think people just aren’t remembering history.

I’m not saying that Windows 8 on ARM will save the world, or even change it substantially. It probably won’t, since Microsoft tends not to get things right the first time. But will I automatically write off the project? No. It could prove useful for something other than what it was originally intended. That happens a lot.

But I’m more interested in clearing up the misinformation than in trying to predict the future.
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Intel inside a Mac?

File this under rumors, even if it comes from the Wall Street Journal: Apple is supposedly considering using Intel processors.

Apple’s probably pulling a Dell.It’s technically feasible for Mac OS X to be recompiled and run on Intel; Nextstep ran on Intel processors after Next abandoned the Motorola 68K family. Mac OS X is based on Nextstep.

Of course the x86 is nowhere near binary-compatible with the PowerPC CPU family. But Apple has overcome that before; the PowerPC wasn’t compatible with the m68K either. Existing applications won’t run as fast under emulation, but it can be done.

Keeping people from running OS X on their whitebox PCs and even keeping people from running Windows on their Macs is doable too. Apple already knows how. Try installing Mac OS 9 on a brand-new Apple. You can’t. Would Apple allow Windows to run on their hardware but not the other way? Who knows. It would put them in an interesting marketing position.

But I suspect this is just Apple trying to gain negotiating power with IBM Microelectronics. Dell famously invites AMD over to talk and makes sure Intel knows AMD’s been paying a visit. What better way is there for Apple to get new features, better clock rates, and/or better prices from IBM than by flirting with Intel and making sure IBM knows about it?

I won’t rule out a switch, but I wouldn’t count on it either. Apple is selling 3 million computers a year, which sounds puny today, but that’s as many or more computers as they sold in their glory days. Plus Apple has sources of revenue that it didn’t have 15 years ago. If it could be profitable selling 3 million computers a year in 1990, it’s profitable today, especially considering all of the revenue it can bring in from software (both OS upgrades and applications), Ipods and music.

Running ancient DOS games on modern Windows

So today I was one of at least two people trying to help Jerry Pournelle get the original Railroad Tycoon running under Windows XP. The secret is DOSBox, a cross-platform DOS emulator.DOSBox emulates a 386-class PC, with VGA and a SoundBlaster, under multiple operating systems–most notably, Linux and Win32. It’s pretty slick in a number of ways. Boot it up, and you’ve instantly got sound configured and 637K of conventional memory available, along with enough extended memory to round out 16 megs. All without messing around with arcane and archaic memory manager commands in config.sys. (Remember that?)

When Jerry last e-mailed me, the game was running but he was having difficulty getting the mouse to work, even when hitting ctrl-f10 to lock the mouse. I suspect it’s easier to get PS/2 mice to work with the emulator than USB mice, as under Windows USB is a different driver. But I’m not certain. I’m still trying to find my box of old DOS games so I can even test the emulator properly. Based on his site, it looks like he got it working, but didn’t elaborate on what it took. I don’t blame him–if I’d just gotten the original Railroad Tycoon running again, I think I’d have better things to do than write back a dozen people to say, “It works.”

Because DOSBox actually emulates everything and doesn’t rely on the hardware, you need a GHz-plus machine to get 486 speed out of it. That’s the price you pay for higher compatibility. The cardinal rule of emulation has always been that any machine can perfectly emulate any other machine as long as speed is not a factor. Fortunately, those aren’t especially rare or expensive these days.

I’m definitely going to keep looking for that box of old floppies. My 1.3 GHz Athlon ought to run that old DOS stuff pretty well, I would think. I’ve been wishing for about six or seven years that something like this would come along. Long enough that I wasn’t even ready for it when it appeared in a reasonably mature state…

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