Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Upgrading with an SSD - the fiddly bits.

I bought a 500Gb SSD as a Christmas present for my gaming rig. As usually happens with PC upgrades things didn't quite go as smoothly as planned. Most of the difficulties arose from peculiarities of my own rig but for posterity I am recording the main issues here:

0. Peculiarities of my rig: Prior to fitting the 500Gb SSD I had two 1Tb  HDDs,  one 120Gb HDD (archives from older computer) and one 64Gb SSD being used as a cache drive. The plan was to install Windows and common programmes on the new SSD freeing up one of the 1Tb drives for additional storage.

1.Preparations: Shrinking my 1Tb C: drive so that it would fit onto the new 500Gb SSD took quite a while. Mindgems folder size was handy for identifying the main space hogs. I used symbolic links to shift programmes I wanted to keep installed to another drive.

2. Even after deleting a bunch of stuff I still couldn't shrink the C: partition below to 500Gb because of Windows immoveable files. This guide pointed me to the main culprits: Hibernation, System Restore, virtual memory and debugging information. Finally got them all disabled and managed to shrink C: partition down to 150Gb. Minitool is my free partition manager of choice.

3. Fitting the SSD: Thankfully my ageing motherboard (P7P55D-E)  is generously provided with 9 SATA ports which would be enough for my five hard drives and one DVD drive. Two of the ports are even rated for the faster 6Gb/s SATA 3 so I plugged the two SSDs into these.

4. I disabled the cache drive just in case it caused conflicts while cloning.

5. Samsung provided a disk cloning utility with their SSD so I used this to transfer the nicely shrunk 150Gb C: partition onto the new SSD. I guess Minitool could have done the same job.

6. Surprise surprise even after cloning the PC wouldn't boot from the SSD. Checking the BIOS I was frustrated to find the new SSD wasn't even an option in the boot order settings. Remember I said that I plugged the SSD into one of two special SATA 3 ports? Well it turns out these are not integral to the chipset but instead provided via a third party Marvell chip. I had to dig a bit deeper into the BIOS to make sure this Marvell chip was set up correctly and then to get it added to the boot list.

6. Eventually Windows boots from the SSD. Hurray. Everything seems to run as expected.

7. Sony provide an SSD monitor tool called Wizard. I ran this and it gave some suggestions about optimising the system for SSD. Not terribly useful. They have a feature called "Rapid Mode" which I couldn't get to work because it refuses to recognise my operating system (Windows 10???). I am not to bothered because it looks like a RAM cache and I don't need another cache on my system.

8. Gradually try to get things back where I started: re-enabling virtual memory, system restore and debugging. Didn't bother re-enabling hibernation because I don't use it on a desktop. Re-enable the cache now using it only for the HDDs.

9. Hold on a minute: Metro apps aren't all working. Some just hang. It turns out that Windows search index is confused and sometimes points to the old copy of an app on the now replaced HDD. sometimes this will run but more often it won't. I deleted and rebuilt the search index (indexing options in the control panel) making sure it was focussed on the new C: drive. Useful hint - if your metro search interface isn't working you can still access all the useful tools via Win+X menu.

10. Finally everything seems to be working correctly. I have even been brave enough to delete the old C:partition from the HDD in order to use it for programme storage.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

How do you choose a gift for an old codger (like me).

At 51 years of age I have become very settled in my ways. Nowhere is this more evident than at gifting times of year when my wife asks me for gift suggestions. I am very comfortable in my life and its patterns and I don't really need or indeed want anything new. Yes I have my hobbies and interests but over the years these have become sufficiently specialised that I cannot ask an outsider to get me something for one of my hobbies unless I hold their hand through each step of purchasing exactly the right model from exactly the right vendor. In most cases, if I really wanted something I will almost certainly have already purchased it for myself.

In my defence I am a very grateful recipient of any gift at all. True gifting is a shared experience that bring happiness to both giver and receiver. Nevertheless I know my wife and family really want to get Daddy "something he wants". I feel ashamed at the pile of unread books and unused gadgets that have accumulated over the years despite my genuine and heartfelt gratitude when they were unwrapped on Christmas morning.

I am not therefore ashamed to admit that I have put slippers on my Christmas list this year. I am very fond of a comfortable pair of slippers. Indeed I would go so far as to say I cannot properly relax until I have kicked off my outdoor shoes and put on comfy slippers. It is somewhat fortuitous that my current pair are in dire need of replacement and I can assure you that if I am lucky enough to find a pair under the Christmas tree they will be very gratefully received and extensively used.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A mixed bag of games I have played over the last few months

The latter half of 2015 has been some what of a mixed gaming bag for me. I started the Autumn with two very enjoyable games (WItcher 3 and Far Cry 4) but no game I played since has engaged me to the same extent. Anyway for the sake of posterity let us list the games:

Witcher 3: Worthy Game of the Year that ranks among the best RPGs ever made.

Far Cry 4: Far Cry 3 redefined open World shooters and will be remembered as the more important game but I think Far Cry 4 polishes things up a bit and is a worthy successor. The difficulty level is more even and there is a greater variety of stuff to do than in 3. I thoroughly enjoyed the couple of weeks I spent playing my way through Kyrat.

Pillars of Eternity: This text heavy old school RPG in the Baldur's Gate mode has received high praise  across the board but I found my interest in the game waning after about a week. Story is a big part of this game but I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of story snippets that you stumble across. I much prefer the witcher style of storytelling where a small number of "big story" arcs dominate. I did enjoy the challenging party based combat at first but I found it got repetitive after a while. This is partly my own fault because I spent too long in an optional dungeon called "The Endless Paths" which is really just a continuous sequence of combat encounters with very little impact on main quest progression. I have taken a break from the game but I will probably return to it later to finish.

Titanfall: I was really impressed by this multiplayer shooter with big stompy robots. It never really  got commercial traction but there are still hundreds of players and I never had any problem getting a game. It is regualrly on sale and is terrific value now that all expansions are included in the base game. Sadly I suck at multiplayer shooters and this game is no exception for me. It is always a race against time as to whether I can stick around long enough to learn the basics before my embarassment at coming last on every scoreboard forces me to leave in shame.

Lichdom Battlemage: I didn't get very far into this. It is a first person shooter with magic bolts instead of guns. I expected to like this more than I did. Unfortunately I couldn't understand basic elements of the combat system and I always felt that I was missing something. The  game appears to have a very complex spell crafting and use system but I couldn't make head nor tail of it and I was stuck with basic fireballs and freeze rays. Plus you cannot jump which is a source of frustration for me in a first person game.

The Darkness 2:  I can't really say much about this because I installed it in a moment of boredom and only spent a couple of hours playing through the opening chapter.

Sacrifice: This old classic from Shiny way back in 2000 is one of my all time favourite games, guaranteed to cheer me up if ever I find myself in a gaming funk. The abilty to mix and max missions from five seperate campaigns gives the game excellent replayablity. This time I played a pure Pyro campaign (High damage low survivability) followed by a mixed Statos/Persephone/James playthrough (balance of damage and survivability). Great stuff.

Edit: For some inexplicable reason I got the name of Lichdom wrong. Now fixed.