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Newsletter 3-2-2008


It´s that time again! Time for a giant email from Bill about some technical mumbo jumbo.

Back in the day, some of us have had to deal with audio questions. But wait! We don´t do audio, right? Well our desktops sure do, and we advertise HD audio capability. If a board has audio, it´s going to be HD audio with 6 jacks. The old 3 jack AC97 audio style is long gone. So what if I´m advertising 7.1 Surround Sound, and there´s only 6 jacks? It still works, trust me. You know how the el cheapo speakers only connect to a single green port on most of your work (home?) computers? One jack, 2 speakers. Scale that up a bit and you get the idea. Surround sounds speakers (the ones behind you and next to you) have their own ports, the center speakers (and sub) has its own port, and all the rest of the front speakers have their own port. Even better, I have a picture that I shamelessly jacked from other documentation:



There are some more new AMD processors available, that we will begin using on Tiger very shortly. Nobody gives dual core much thought nowadays, but that is the majority of what we sell. For dual core AMD processors, your choices have previously been the lowly AMD64 X2 4200+ and the decent AMD64 X2 6000+. Now we have the AMD64 X2 7550 and 7750! The actual clock speeds on both of these are lower than the 6000+ model, clocking in at 2.5ghz and 2.7ghz respectively. The nice thing is that they run cooler, they´re cheaper, and they´re not EOL. The bigger number can also fool the non-technical, which may help it move better. Pricewise, these are both coming in at $xx. Yes, both. So why would you use the lesser processor if the cost was the same? You wouldn´t. Both are in TV anyhow though, as I SKU´d up some Tiger stuff with the 7550 before the 7750 became available. Both of these chips will work in any AMD board, like most AMD chips out there.

New video cards! Well almost. nVidia is releasing the GeForce GTS 250 in a week. It´s basically a rebadged 9800GTX+. Performance and price should come in almost exactly where the current 9800GTX+ is, although it will now follow nVidia´s new naming scheme of 3 letters plus 3 numbers. I´m still waiting for the bottom barrel GPU´s to come out, and there will be a newsletter when they do. In the interim, our cheapest vid cards are still the 8400GS (awful performance) and 9500GT (passable). ATI isn´t keeping quiet however. Their now established Radeon 4850 (9800GTX equivalent) and Radeon 4870 (GTX 260 equivalent) are dropping in price by quite a bit this week. The 4870 is an especially good deal, coming down to $xxx retail. I´ll have our wholesale pricing late this week. Price per dollar, this is the new best value out there.

Lastly, some low level technical stuff. Stop reading now if technical stuff bores you. For today, I´m going to cover hard drives. As we all know, hard drives are mechanical in nature, with spinning disks inside of them known as platters. Each platter is sectioned off in a logical grid-like pattern, which makes it easy for the hard drive to find what it´s looking for. Each little section has a density to it, as in how many megabytes (or more) fit onto a square inch. While the platter is spinning around, this an arm that goes over it which contains a read/write head, or just head for short. The head itself floats over the spinning platters on a cushion of air. This cushion of air is generated by the spinning platter. What happens if the cushion of air goes away, or if the hard drive experiences a shock (like a laptop falling to the ground)? That little head thing crashes into the platter gouging a nice canyon, which is great for destroying data or destroying the head. It also makes a really cool sound, which sounds kinda like throwing a turkey into a jet engine. Anyways. Hard drives can contain either one or more platters. Take a 250GB hard drive, the current versions of them have a single platter. Logically, that means the single platter contains 250GB, and therefore the platter density is 250GB. What happens if you toss 2 platters inside that drive? Wow, you now have a 500GB drive! And so it goes with capacities. Platter densities continue to increase, hence the existence of 2TB hard drives. As the platter densities increase, it gets harder and harder for that head to magnetize a cell as a 0 or 1. If the head magnetizes a cell into a 1, that magnetic field has a tendency to leak over to its neighbors and turn their values into 1´s as well, regardless of what they used to be. Seagate was the first to introduce parallel recording, which is simply a different way of pointing the north/south poles of the magnet so they don´t leak over to their neighbors as much. For future hard drives, the hard drive guys are starting to screw with the data cells on an atomic scale to prevent this bleedover of magnetism, the likes of which are better suited for a physics article. The other bit about hard drives is the buffer, or cache. All our regular hard drives have 8MB buffers, Raid Edition drives have 16MB, and my own personal ones at home have 32MB. What does the buffer do? As data is spewing into a hard drive from your system, it collects into the buffer. The hard drive is smart enough to take everything in the buffer, rearrange it, and spit it onto the spinning disks in a logical order that allows for the fastest speed possible (writing in a straight path) versus randomly running all over the disk trying to write a single 0 or 1 at a time. About Raid Edition, what makes them that way? Simply put, their internal guts are stronger and more precise thereby reducing the likelihood of drive failure. Think old beater 1990´s Chevy´s versus Honda´s at the time, with Honda´s being the RE drives. Another thing that RE drives have is the logic to know when they´re attached to a RAID controller. Hard drives have errors all the freaking time, but almost always self correct it or declare that sector of the drive to be bad and write that data somewhere else. Sometimes this self-recovery takes too long, and the RAID controller thinks the whole drive died and drops it from the array since it wasn´t responding fast enough. RE drives stop trying to self-correct after a short period and let the controller know there was a fault, and from then on the controller deals with it or lets the drive have more time to fix itself. All this stuff is about the guts, interfaces are for a different day.