What is retro gaming?

What is retro gaming?

What is retro gaming? The specifics depend on your age, but it generally means playing vintage (retro) video or computer games today. The part people argue about is what constitutes retro.

There isn’t a lot of agreement or consensus about that, and I have some ideas why.

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Optimize Windows 10 for better performance

Optimize Windows 10 for better performance

When I first installed it, I thought it was pretty pointless to try to optimize Windows 10. Of course, I installed it from scratch on a computer with an SSD and 16 gigs of RAM. Then I upgraded a couple of computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10, and I started to see why some people might not like Windows 10 all that much.

Upgraded systems almost always run slow, but I’d forgotten how much slower. And while you didn’t have to do much to Windows 7 to make it fast–that’s one reason people liked it–I find some Windows 10 optimization seems to be necessary. But don’t visit dodgy sites like downloadmoreram.com. Follow these tips for things that actually work.
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Testing gift electronics before wrapping them is an excellent idea

Testing gift electronics before wrapping them is an excellent idea

The late, great Consumerist blog recommended testing a Playstation 4 before gifting it. That’s always a good idea anyway, given that most failures happen very early in the life of an electronics gadget. If they survive the first 24 hours, they are much more likely to have a long life. It’s a good idea with any game console, such as a Nintendo Switch.

This is called burning in.

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Now that Microsoft is IBM, it needs to avoid IBM’s big mistake

Whether Microsoft likes it or not, it’s turned into IBM. The biggest difference I see is that when Microsoft makes a mistake, it catches up with them much faster than the same mistake did to IBM.

But IBM’s biggest mistake was its adamant refusal to compete with itself. And that’s what Microsoft is going to have to avoid. Like Computerworld says, Apple says if you don’t compete with yourself, someone else will. Read more

Where Microsoft lost its way

John C. Dvorak wrote an analysis of how Microsoft lost its way with Windows 8 this week.

All in all it sounds reasonable to me. His recollection of DOS and some DOS version 8 confused me at first, but that was what the DOS buried in Windows ME was called. But mentioning it is appropriate, because it shows how DOS faded from center stage to being barely visible in the end, to the point where it was difficult to dig it out, and that it took 15 years for it to happen. He’s completely right, that if Microsoft had pulled the plug on DOS in 1985, Windows would have failed. Read more

Lessons of the HP Touchpad

At full price ($499 for the 16 GB model and $599 for the 32 GB model) the HP Touchpad was a colossal flop. Like AT&T’s first PC clones of the mid 1980s, it was a me-too product at a me-too price that wasn’t quite as good as the product it was imitating. So, basically, there was no reason to buy it.

At closeout prices, it became an Internet sensation. The few web sites that have it in stock can’t handle the traffic they’re getting. At $99 and $149, it’s selling like the Nintendo Wii in its glory days.

And I think there’s a significant parallel there that highlights the missed opportunity.
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What to do when an Xbox DVD drive sticks

So I got this Xbox really cheap. When I got it home, I found out why–the DVD drive wouldn’t open. Here’s what to do when an Xbox DVD drive sticks.

It’s a good thing I didn’t pay much for it.As it turns out, there’s an emergency eject hole below the drive, about an inch and a half to the left of the console’s eject button. Turn the power off (this is important) and then straighten a paper clip and poke that into the hole to release the tray. Provided there isn’t anything obstructing the tray, it will come out.

Hopefully it’s a temporary problem, but as a drive ages, apparently the teeth on the tray or the gears that mesh with them can wear down, making it hard for the drive to eject its tray. Supposedly you can also cause this problem by leaving discs in the system while it’s powered off.

Whatever the cause, the problem with my Xbox seems to be permanent. After I manually eject it, it will usually work a couple of times after that, then it starts sticking again. I can live with it, since I bought it mostly to experiment with. I probably won’t play Xbox games with it very often.

If you dropped your Xbox and now it won’t open, there’s a good chance something broke off and is obstructing the tray. In that case your best bet is to replace the drive. The best source for replacement drives anymore is eBay, at a cost of $35 and up depending on the vintage. Thomson drives tend to be the cheapest. Samsung drives, which are the most desirable, cost more. If you’re adventurous, read this Xbox repair page, but be careful. Once you open an Xbox, there is an exposed power supply inside, and if you touch the wrong thing, it will ruin your day at the very least. At worst, it really can kill you. I don’t think that page stresses that enough. The power supply sits under the hard drive. Don’t touch anything over there.

If any of this makes you nervous, you’re probably better off calling around and seeing if you can trade in a broken Xbox for one that works. Call your local game shops, or look on your local Craigslist for someone advertising Xbox repair or modifications.

As far as Xbox reliability goes, I don’t have any solid statistics. Whether the Xbox or the PS2 is more reliable depends on who you ask, but I see (and hear about) more broken Xboxes than PS2s. If you buy a used first-generation Xbox, make sure you buy it somewhere that gives you some kind of a guarantee.

Usually the manufacturer sells its consoles at a loss, hoping to make up for it by selling games, which are extremely profitable. Microsoft seems to cut more corners on its consoles than Sony or Nintendo, and the result is that the Xbox and Xbox 360 aren’t as reliable as they could be. I don’t usually recommend extended warranties, but if I were buying an Xbox 360, I would get one. (The original Xbox is discontinued now, so buying a new one of those isn’t an option, unfortunately.)

Replace your video game system’s power cord cheap

This weekend I found myself in search of a power cord for an original Playstation. It’s the same plug that the Sega Dreamcast and Saturn and Sony PS2 use, but it seems like online almost everyone wants $10 for a suitable replacement. I learned how to replace your video game system’s power cord cheap, and I’ll share the secret with you, too.

I found out by accident that the local Game Stop sells them for $4.99. I had to run an errand about four doors away from a Game Stop anyway, so I dropped in. It took me a little while to find, but I found the cable.

It’s not the same. What they sell as a “universal” AC power cable has two round sides on the plug, not a round and a square like the original Sony cable. I knew I’d seen the connector on the end of that Gamestop cable before, so I didn’t pay $5 for it. It turns out it’s universal because it also fits the original Xbox. An Xbox cable works on a Playstation but not the other way around.

Replace your video game system's power cord cheap. Look for this connector.
This super-common power connector fits most video game consoles. If you find one of these in a junk drawer, it can replace a missing video game power cord. Image credit: Miguel Durán/Wikipedia

I did some digging, and I found that the official name for the connectior the Playstation uses is IEC 60320 C7P. The “P” stands for “polarized.” The “universal” connector on the cable Gamestop was selling is the IEC 60320 C7. The nonpolarized plug fits the polarized connector, but not the other way around.

A ton of home appliances use the IEC 60320 C7. Every tape recorder or boombox I ever owned, for instance. It’s the most common connector used for devices that draw 2.5 amps of current or less. Well, my boomboxes are long gone, so I raided my wife’s. Hers just happens to be different. Rats. I ended up swiping the cable from a dead laptop AC adapter. Wouldn’t you know it, it plugs right in to the Playstation’s power port. That old laptop cable was probably made in the same factory as the cables Gamestop sells as universal video game power cables.

I’m happy. I saved five bucks. (The wasted trip to Gamestop doesn’t count because I walked there from someplace I had to go anyway.)

It wasn’t long ago that you could find this type of AC cable anywhere for a two or three dollars, tops. By anywhere, I really do mean anywhere–discount stores, Radio Shack, consumer electronics stores, maybe even dollar stores if you’re lucky.

Cables are high markup items, but even at $3, these things offer a healthy profit margin, so they should still be readily available at something near that price. I know sometime in the last decade I’ve bought one of these things at Kmart.

So before you pay even $5 for a replacement cable, raid the drawer where you keep all your stray electronics wires and see if you can find one that fits. Failing that, look around for something else around the house, like a boombox, VCR, or DVD player, that has a power cord that will fit. If not, hit the electronics section of your local discount store. Odds are it’s closer than the closest game store, and a suitable cable should cost less there too.

Don’t go into a store asking for an IEC 60320 C7 because they won’t know what you’re talking about, of course. The name may be listed on the packaging. The United States doesn’t require that name to be molded onto the cable, although some countries do. Study the image above and you should recognize the cable on sight in a store. If worse comes to worse, print out the picture above and bring it with you to compare. Miguel Durán drew it to be helpful, so let it help you.

So why does Sony use the polarized connector? Probably to fool people into buying a replacement cable from them at an inflated price to replace a lost cable. They fooled me, and I should know better.

Linux gets more attractive on the Xbox

There’s been another milestone in getting Linux running on Microsoft’s Xbox game console. It’s now possible to get it going if you bridge a couple of solder points on the motherboard to enable flashing the unit’s BIOS, then you use the James Bond 007 game and a save game that exploits a buffer overflow, and with a few more tricks, you can unlock the hard drive, put it in a Linux PC, install Linux, then move the drive back to the Xbox and turn it into a cheap Linux box.
It’s still convoluted and not for the faint-hearted, it’ll void your warranty six ways ’til Sunday, but getting Linux to run on certain old Macintoshes was nearly as difficult.

That’s not really my point, because I do expect it to get easier. The main reason I bring it up is because when this appeared, a flood of people started asking why? Why do you want to turn a game machine into something other than a game machine? Why go to the trouble when you can buy a pre-installed Linux PC at Wal-Mart for $199?

Pure spite. The Xbox costs $199, and the general consensus is that it costs Microsoft far more than $199 to make the thing–the money in game consoles is the games and controllers. Companies sell the consoles at a loss. If you buy an Xbox and turn it into a Linux PC, you’re probably not buying Xbox games, so Microsoft loses money.

Quality. The Xbox is built better than the $199 Wal-Mart PCs. And it comes with better hardware. The 733 MHz Intel CPU is a better performer than the 700 MHz VIA CPU in the Wal-Mart special. The graphics hardware in the Xbox is worlds apart. The sound quality is better. And the Xbox gives you a DVD drive, not just an old-fashioned CD-ROM.

Looks. Let’s face it: The Xbox is designed to go in your living room, so the Xbox looks good there. It’s ready to hook up to your TV and your stereo. Slap on Linux and some audio and video playback software, and you’ve got yourself a great media PC. And for an added bonus, you can install emulators for old consoles you had in the past and play Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog on it. Just because games are old doesn’t make them any less fun. You’ll go to nearly as much hassle trying to modify the $199 special to connect to your TV set, and in the end you’ve still got an ugly, cheap-looking white or beige box.

Price. Even at full price, and even with the trouble, it’s hard to build a PC with the Xbox’s specs for anywhere close to the price. And refurb units are available for $140-$170 (search your favorite price-grabbing site), making it an even better deal.

Irony. Let’s face it, there are people who want a computer running Linux on hardware that says “Microsoft” on the front. I understand. I once ripped the innards of an IBM PC/XT out and replaced them with an IBM 486SLC2 motherboard so someone could run Windows on what looked like an XT.

The downside is that yes, you’ll have to either make or buy a special cable to allow you to connect a standard USB keyboard and mouse to the Xbox so you can use it. But the cables cost $15 and a Google search on Xbox USB keyboard will turn them up, so that’s hardly the worst aspect of this. The rest of the process isn’t as easy as it could be, and that’s the worst part.

But after a couple of hours’ work–and let’s face it, most of the people who are going to think about doing something like this love a challenge, so it’ll actually be pretty fun–and $199 for the console, a $5 game rental, $15 for the USB adapter, $25 for a USB hub, and the cost of your favorite USB keyboard and mouse, you end up with a pretty decent little computer for under $300. It will only get more attractive if the rumors that Microsoft will soon cut the price of the console to $149 are true.

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