To use this website fully, you first need to accept the use of cookies. By agreeing to the use of cookies you consent to the use of functional cookies. For more information read this page.

Personal Blog

I was talking with a friend the other day there about the topic of limiting the frames per second (FPS) in a video game when playing on your PC. The argument didn't end with a much clearer understanding than was originally the case and neither side won the argument. 

Many people do not realise how important limiting the FPS in a video game can be for performance. Think about it this way, every piece of information a computer's graphics card needs to produce is more work for the computer. 

If a computer monitor refreshes at 60Hz (around about 60 frames per second) then running 120 frames means that 60 of those frames are wasted. This is, technically, how V-sync works as well. Limiting the FPS allows the GPU to work on the next few frames without filling the GPU doing overtime. 

So go on, try limiting your frames per second.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
fps
gpu
performance

For a long time I have been in and out of Microsoft's smartphone ecosystem with me buying my first Microsoft Windows powered device back in 2005 when I was 13. Back then they were called Windows Mobile phones.

I got my first Windows Phone, a HTC HD7, in 2011, and it feels like a lifetime ago. It was then that Microsoft announced that Windows Mobile was to be replaced by this new, more sleek and modern operating system known as Windows Phone 7. At first it was a great operating system, mainly because it was different to the competition, but within no time at all, I started to see the err in my ways choosing a device powered by Microsoft's operating system. Months into my Windows Phone 7 device there was still no Facebook, and half of the other most useful apps had no intention on coming. The big update known as Windows Phone Mango was supposedly bringing sweeping changes that would improve the device but it was a long wait for something that you weren't even sure would fix the issues.

Microsoft entered a market controlled by two large companies who had actually been their rivals in other markets before now, Apple and Google. Microsoft's corporate business model was their only strength here; the other two were focused on the overall dominance of the smartphone market, whereas Microsoft, with the Office brand amongst other things, could focus on making their devices more suited to the enterprise market.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, they actually went down the route of trying to sell their phones to the average user. This created a variety of different problems for Microsoft because instead of focusing on their enterprise market, they had to cater to everyone, much like how Apple and Google did with iOS and Android. This made them just another smartphone operating system manufacturer, and they lost their own identity trying to copy ideas from their competitors.

My HD7 was the only smartphone I have ever paid to get out of early, simply because the operating system was so bleeding awful. The phone itself was actually really good however.

Windows Phone 10 came out and it's release was a surprise to me, as I had thought by that point Microsoft might have realised that there was no point in continuing with something as dreadful as it. Microsoft even went as far as to buy the Lumia line from Nokia and tried to market them as Microsoft phones.

Nothing worked for them. Windows 10 Redstone 2 was released as a big update and a promised Surface Phone was rumoured. People actually thought that it had a chance of becoming something, but no. Nothing came of it, and this article that I have written was inspired by another, which also talks about how the fate of Windows Phone is a sad one.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
windows
phone
mobile
fate

Shortly after I built my latest PC, the Red Revolution, AMD released their Radeon VII cards. These were designed to compete with Nvidia's stiff competition that just gets stronger and stronger. The main focus of these cards were Nvidia's RTX 2080 cards which have allowed Nvidia to hold top dog position in the GPU market, with AMD more focused on the budget builder, or those just looking to save a bit.

AMD haven't done that as of yet, and the RX5xx series are a bit dated for someone who, like me, is building a new PC. My card in my gaming PC is an AMD Radeon HD 7950 and it's well and truly dated. But I've got brand loyalty, I've always gone for ATI/AMD cards as long as I can remember, because there was once a time when ATI cards were superior in many ways to Nvidia cards with the latter having troubles with overheating and the former having trouble with software.

It's time AMD launched their next generation of graphics cards. Mainstream cards are my focus, I had a high end one with this one and I probably could have just stuck to mainstream, as it replaced a Radeon HD 5670 which was extremely mainstream.

I'm holding out for AMD's next generation of cards in the hope I can get a mid-range card for a lot less than what I paid for my 7950, but I'm not impressed.

Does anyone know what's going on with the next generation of cards?!

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
amd
gpu
radeon
vii
6xx

My 19th birthday present, a Fujitsu T4410 tablet PC, specifically bought for taking to university with me, has lay in the same place for months now, awaiting a new SSD after the scandal of OCZ drives failing (no wonder they disappeared).

But something that I cheaped out on when buying the tablet PC (it was already £1000) was both the CPU and the fact it didn't have 3G. I had hoped to upgrade my tablet to include a 3G card and bought over £250 worth of cards in the hope that one of them would work, including a Sierra Gobi 2000 that actually came from a Fujitsu Lifebook. Alas, none of them worked and I figured out that it was more than likely because the BIOS was locked to prevent it being added afterwards. I knew that there was really only one way to fix this, buy a new computer. I wasn't doing this in a hurry.

However, at the start of the year I was looking for a new battery for my tablet since the one I have now only holds about half of it's full charge, and whilst I was at it, saw a motherboard, which conveniently featured a better CPU and 3G/UMTS card support. It was also only £26. I decided to give it a go.

Finally, after about 5 hours of ripping out the insides of my 2010 Lifebook, I have managed to breathe new life into it. My once T6570 powered tablet PC now features a P8700 (lower TDP, better performance, longer battery life) and a new 3G card! Although this was more of an experiment, it was also to help bring back power to a laptop I love owning, even if just for fun or my own reasons. It has been a fun experiment that worked really well.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
fujitsu
t4410
upgrade
pc
tablet

This post is written for a particular family member who wanted to know what this means.

By the year 2025, BT aims to abolish the good old POTS or Plain Old Telephone Service, also known as the Public Switched Telephone Network or PSTN.

Wait? What?! Does that mean no more landline calls?!

No. Let me explain how the system works presently. We have a hybrid system where our internet is sent on approximately three-quarters of the bandwidth of the line that we use. We use Copper To The Cabinet* (CTTC), Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) or Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) to deliver an internet connection. Broadband as it is called, refers to the fact that three-quarters or more of the cable are given to the internet whilst the remaining quarter is given to the phone line or PSTN.

When broadband first arrived, to cope with the increased internet speed and the ability to use the phone and internet at the same time the phone signal was compressed. This meant it went from taking a full 100% of the bandwidth to just about 0.5% (0kHz to 4kHz). The rest of it went to the internet connection where 87.5% of the line was given to download (138kHz to 1104kHz) and the remaining 10% to upload (25kHz to 138kHz). Finally, to ensure that the analogue PSTN does not receive interference, there is 2% of the bandwidth reserved between it and the upload. Remember, the way that these signals are transmitted is as frequencies in pulses. This also explains why upload tends to be a lot less than download. Below is how this is all separated out:

As you are no doubt aware, removing the copper cabling that is in use at present and replacing it with fibre makes the bandwidth increase so faster connections are available.

The abolishment of the PSTN from the signal would have an increase on speeds because that existing 25kHz would allow the internet to use that instead.

So what would happen to phone lines?

The purpose of this article was to inform someone in my family of what we have recently chosen to do in our own home - abolish the PSTN from it. Yeah that's right, as of this week we've got no PSTN telephones in the house and we now use a PBX powered by Asterisk (that I setup back in November for my own line) and a bunch of SIP phones. Businesses have done this for years, but the flexibility of these phones is what makes them great.

When BT gets rid of the POTS and PSTN, we will all use phones running on VoIP or Voice over IP technology, basically internet phones. But that doesn't mean you need to buy any new phones, BT or whoever is in control of the phone line in your home will need to provide a compatible option to connect these phones to the new VoIP network.

I'm a bit of an expert now on SIP, VoIP and the PSTN so if you've got any questions just fire away!

*officially, Copper To The Cabinet is not a thing, it's just what I've called it here!

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
pstn
voip
sip
pbx
bt
abolish
pots

Just a few days ago I was saying how Microsoft is becoming one of the tech greats again - Windows 10 finally feels like a decent OS (although it never will be macOS or Linux and will always have flaws at it's core), their cloud platform is really quite something, opening the .NET library to everyone and making it cross platform and their awesome work with the latest version of Microsoft Office. Then they pull a stunt like buying GitHub.

Microsoft has always been very committed to GitHub since apparently they made the most contributions to repositories, which is nice to see, but it's sad to see a company, whose CEO once referred to open source as a cancer, whose main products are all proprietary, paid for, non-open source, buying a company who is committed to making open source a big thing.

Of course I use GitHub - who doesn't in the software development world. I have my own private repositories where I store the latest versions of Dash and ZPE amongst other software but from my point of view, particularly from the point of view of integrity, I am worried about the future for GitHub. If Microsoft pushes new restrictions as they have done in the past (for instance, the shutting down of the new free, non-Microsoft developed Halo 3 remake on PC) then GitHub may not be the place for open source developers to put their faith into.

I'm not being critical of Microsoft here, by the way, I'm just pointing out that I don't think their $7.5 billion purchase was the right move for the community.

As of 17th of June, I am no longer a paid member of the GitHub service. I'll be moving to my own private Git repository at some point soon.
Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
microsoft
purchase
github

It's true. We're finally on to BT's Superfast package! Finally our internet connection at home is fast enough to download a server backup each day without sacrificing the whole connection.

After doing a speed test this morning I have noticed that we've had a huge increase in speed. From 12Mbps all the way up to as high as 48Mbps, we're getting a much better all-round experience.

Upload isn't bad either - we're getting 8Mbps which is 16 times faster than the 0.5Mbps upload we got yesterday!

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
bt
superfast
fibre
fast
internet
broadband

I thought I'd share some Linux wisdom with you all. Today I'm talking about symbolic links.

Until recently I have been making my live site a direct duplicate of all content of the development site. This meant that I needed to have two copies of all static files. Uh oh. For instance, my photo gallery on my website is about 400MB in size, so that's 800MB used for the photo gallery between the development site and the live site. 

Overall, the method described is expensive and isn't necessary. I have been for quite a while considering symblinking the two to avoid static content being duplicated. Alas, it has been done. I now have a new section on the web server called user_content - a place where all user content that is identical between the live and development websites will go. This not only simplifies the copying of content by no longer needing a manual copy between the development and live sites, but it also reduces the storage space that was wasted with the old design.

For example:

Bash
ln -s /www/user_content/jamiebalfour.com/files/gallery /www/sites/jamiebalfour.com/public/live/gallery/content

simplifies the whole process of the gallery updates on both the development and live sites.

Overall, using symbolic links has made huge differences to my web server.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
symb
symbolic
links
linux
sh
website
web
server

Today I attended the Amazon AWSome conference and today I decided in the next few weeks I will move over to use AWS in more and more of my projects.

The conference was very useful because it gave me an insight into how I would use AWS but it also covered the basics of getting started and how I can migrate to the Amazon cloud service. I found the talk interesting and I found that the presenters were well informed on what they were speaking about and within the first part of the day I decided it's time to move to using it.

So what did I learn? Well, perhaps most crucially, I learned that it's not as daunting as I first imagined and that they have most of the features I currently have available from day one. I also learned that it's not going to be overly expensive to make the shift - perhaps cheaper in the long run too.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk

I'm sure that a lot of you will remember a lot of revolutions in technology, but perhaps the biggest one was when we moved away from parallel ports, slow serial ports and eventually even PS/2 and moved to USB. Eventually, the competition started to appear such as FireWire and eSATA, whose focus was mostly on storage as opposed to general (or universal) use. Both have pretty much vanished. eSATA attempted to side with USB by forming a combo port, but unfortunately did not last, partly due to the lack of robustness in SATA and eSATA cables and partly due to the fact that SATA as a standard has all but been replaced by PCI Express.

We all knew that when PCI-X and AGP were superseded by PCI's younger sibling, PCI Express, that it had come back with a vengeance. Boasting 2.5Gbps across a single lane all the way back in 2004, PCI Express was bound for success.

A single lane PCI Express card

But it's not until now that one of the things I've dreamt of has become a reality. Back in 2011, I proposed on my blog an idea to expand PCI Express into external GPUs through the use of ExpressCard - an exceptionally clever use of both PCI Express and USB to make a single standard capable of multiple speeds (sounds familiar, right?). Of course, eGPUs did exist for ExpressCard, but they were slow and cumbersome - not something many people would want.

Behold, Thunderbolt! Thunderbolt was original only capable of 10Gbps, which is the speed of a single PCI-E version 3 lane - that's a 16th of a desktop graphics cards maximum bandwidth. So next came Thunderbolt 2, capable of twice the speed, we're now talking about 20Gbps, and eGPUs were now actually possible. The problem with Thunderbolt 2 is that there were very few eGPUs made. One possible reason for this is because the majority of computers featuring Thunderbolt 2 were Macs. Not many PCs were built with the capability to use Thunderbolt 2, and it makes little sense to make an eGPU for Mac users since the majority of us don't intend to play games on our Macs and use them more for productivity. 

Thunderbolt now uses the USB-C connector

Of course, the natural successor to Thunderbolt 2 was Thunderbolt 3. Prior to the announcement of Thunderbolt 3, Intel was working on improving the old USB standard to feature a more robust, smaller, yet more capable USB connection. Since USB Type A and USB Type B already existed, USB Type C was the name for this connection. USB Type C, or USB-C as it is often referred to, offered up to 10Gbps over the USB standard, aptly named USB 3.1. Within a few weeks of USB-C being announced, it was made clear that the new USB-C connector (remember, USB Type C is the name of the connector, not the standard) would also become the connector for Thunderbolt (Thunderbolt has always been lazy since originally it used the mini DisplayPort connector as the primary interconnect for Thunderbolt). 

USB-C as the primary Thunderbolt connector meant that this new connector offers USB 3.1 speeds of 10Gbps, DisplayPort speeds of 17Gbps, HDMI speeds of 18Gbps and Thunderbolt speeds of 40Gbps, all over the one connector. To me this is awesome. This means so much will get replaced by this connector. 

Let's take a look at what this connector is directly capable of:

  • Thunderbolt 3 - x4 PCI Express Generation 3
  • DisplayPort 1.2
  • HDMI 2.0
  • USB 3.1
  • VGA - through DisplayPort
  • DVI - through DisplayPort or HDMI
  • USB 3.0
  • Native PCI Express cards supporting so many connections such as FireWire, eSATA, RS232, LPT and much more
  • PCI through PCI Express converter
  • Thunderbolt 1 and 2 devices

Because of the ability to connect straight on to the system bus (PCI Express), the system can indeed use many different PCI Express cards directly. 

So, whilst I originally was concerned that Thunderbolt would destroy all other connectors, the Thunderbolt standard seems to have added better native connectivity to older standards than before, which is amazing. One connector for all seems to finally be true.

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
pci
express
thunderbolt
express
card
expansion
future
connection
usb-c
type
thunderbolt
egpu