HTPC 2013

So about the HTPC…

It’s now 2013. Three years since I bought the thing, or so. It’s still running fine. I’ve done some upgrades during the past months, and I’ll discuss them in this article.

First of all, the CPU fan had to go. And by go, I mean replaced with a thin form factor, larger fan. The fan is attached to the case with some wires. It looks ugly, but then again, you don’t really see it from where you sit in the living room. There’s little to no vibration or noise from the fan. The one i got, and that i can recommend to any case that needs a low-RPM thin fan, was the Scythe Kaze Jyu Slim, from Jimm’s PC Store. I paid 8 euros for it. Works like a charm. It’s not attached to the CPU heatsink, but it still moves enough hot air out to keep things running. I guess I could run things passively, as I have speculated in the past, but I don’t really like my stuff running that hot, even if it’s within spec. Things just tend to last longer when they are at least somewhat cooled.

The second thing I replaced, was the hard disk. I wish I had a few extra bucks for an SSD, because that is what I will put in as an OS drive (if just for the fast boot time), but right now, I opted for a 3TB Western Digital Red. The old drive was a Western Digital Green 1TB, which had a number of issues (I lost one drive due to a feature relating to power saving, which wore out the drive prematurely. The warranty of course covered this, and no problems with WD). The drive also was a bit sluggish, it felt. But then again, the Green series drives are “supposed” to be. They run at lower RPMs, and are designed for power saving instead of high performance. The Red series drives (I paid around 150 for my 3TB version) are designed for NAS use, and are rated for a very large amount of usage hours. The HTPC is pretty much always on (well not really, but a lot of the time), so this was a good choice. I’ve now had it in use for a few months, and I can’t say I have any complaints. The drive runs smooth, silent and has a lot of capacity. It’s also, unsurprisingly, faster than the Green drive. I have a 20 GB partition set aside for the OS (which I will get to in the next paragraph) and the rest for media and backup from my desktop (over smb, I suppose it could be nfs too..). Nothing bad to say about the drive really. 3TB should be enough for everyone. “:)”

As for the OS, I am now running XBMC 12 “Frodo” RC2. There’s an RC3 but I have not upgraded, except for what I get through apt-get. I have to say that this is by far the best “out-of-the-box” XBMC experience so far. Every damn thing worked. The only thing I really had to set, was the audio output, since I’m running it out through SPDIF instead of HDMI (which was the default). I now no-longer had 9 audio devices to choose from (as in XBMC 11), but three. HDMI, SPDIF, and analog, which is exactly what you would expect. Before I had three devices, each with the three options. Very confusing. I also didn’t have to fiddle around with alsaconf or anything else to get both stereo and surround sound to work using the same output. Very much recommended.

Ok so here’s where I’m at right now. There are two final upgrades I would like to do, and I would like to finalize the fan-attachment so that it doesn’t look like ass. Still thinking about how to do that. The other two, are: SSD for the OS (I could take any size, really, as XBMC takes around 4 to 5GB), and upgrade the RAM from 2 to 4GB.

So TF2 works with ATI on Steam for Linux after all…

I figured there has to be a way to get things working, and there was! After some diligent googling, I was able to find this page, which lists the steps to get TF2 working through the native Steam for Linux client. I tried it out, and had it working within 15 minutes. Trying the game out in an online game, I had an fps (and an otherwise smooth experience too) of between 60 and 140 as reported by the game itself, using the developer console, and the command cl_showfps 1. In short, you enable the ppa:xorg-edgers/ppa repository, apt-get update/upgrade, and reboot. You should get a fresh set of drivers and a newer version of xorg and related libraries. If you are using a Radeon card like I am, you will get a “Testing Only” watermark, or something similar, in the lower right corner of your screen. This can be removed by editing /etc/ati/signature (though i had another file by this name as well, under a different path, I edited that as well), and replace the string found in the file with (all in one line):

9777c589791007f4aeef06c922ad54a2:ae59f5b9572136d99fdd36f0109d358f
a643f2bd4a2644d9efbb4fe91a9f6590a145:f612f0b01f2565cd9bd834f8119b
309bae11a1ed4a2661c49fdf3fad11986cc4f641f1ba1f2265909a8e34ff1699
309bf211a7eb4d7662cd9f8e3faf14986d92f646f1bc

In all the game went from unplayable to an enjoyable (and fast!) regular game! On Linux! The setup I have is: Xubuntu 12.10, using propietary fglrx drivers from the xorg-edgers repository, Radeon 6850 card, on an Intel i5 build (Asus Z68 motherboard). I also am running in dual-screen mode, and the game still worked fine (on the one screen, as I wanted).

Just a short post here, nothing more to report as of yet. Waiting for Left 4 Dead and those other games that I like a bit more than TF2…

Thanks to ‘iamoverrated’ (you are shirley not overrated!) on reddit. For the console command in TF2 i used this page.

Immoral hiring practices

This isn’t related to me particularly, but I wanted to discuss it briefly. There are companies probably everywhere, that have immoral hiring practices. Ta-da, who would have guessed, right? What I want to focus on is hiring people for jobs that they know 9 out of 10 people will quit within any arbitrary short period of time. Say a month or two. Most of these jobs are telemarketing jobs. When they call people up, the HR person, or the person pretending to be the HR person, will tell you about how glad they are to hear about you, and how wonderful the job is going to be. “Please come in for an interview so we can discuss your employment closer!”. You go in. You get a pre-packaged, clearly falsified image of the job, the company and the HR-person. In actuality, you’ll have to work your ass off, earning your tiny salary, and doing it in an immoral way. The HR person knows that the job sucks, that you will have to bend rules and maybe even lie to get your job done, calling people and tricking them into signing up for whatever. Many of these companies have a reputation online, as long as you look around for a bit. Some of them are even on ‘Kuningaskuluttaja’ (Equivalent to maybe the.. Consumerist in the US?), some even several times. They are there because people have compained that they have ordered things from the company without even knowing it, or sometimes, they claim, without even getting a phone call.

What kind of an HR person works for such a company, knowing that the persons you hire this week will probably not be here a month from now? How long can you do it “just for the money”? I mean I can understand just doing a job and not caring for the consequences for a while, just to get  by. But imagine hiring people for a living, and talking trash to do it. Day in and day out. How long could you do it? How profitable can it even be? Hire 1000 people per year, and out of those, less than 2 % actually stay with the company for any meaningful amount of time. I’m just pulling these numbers out of my ass, but they’re probably pretty close. Sure, you don’t pay these people a lot, so even if they leave the next week, no biggie. Some of these companies have to operate at the very brink of illegality, getting notes from the ‘Consumerist’ every now and then, being plastered all over forums and news papers.

And still, people keep applying for those jobs. Still people pick up the phone and end up ordering or signing up for something, even though they clearly said “no”.

Steam on Linux

The inevitable thing that everyone has to post about: Steam on Linux!

I’ll relay my personal experiences here in very short form. I first downloaded Steam when it went open beta before christmas. I was doing this on my Arch workstation, that ran on the radeon drivers. Steam was available through the AUR, and was installed as easily as ‘packer -S steam’. Really. Granted, since I am running a 64-bit system, and steam is a 32-bit application for linux, I had to download some packages from the multilibs repositories, but that’s a minor inconvenience. The main point is the client worked right out of the box. I could log in using my regular steam user account and i saw every game in my library. Some games were separated under the Linux category. These were games that I owned, that were Linux compliant. What a great feature! Also, I was happy to see that going to the Steam Store, there was a separate ‘tab’ for Linux games. Very good and non-intrusive choices from Steam.

Then come the problems.

  1. The installation location for the games was not changeable. By default, they went to something like ~/.local/share/Steam which sits on my SSD on my installation, and was not a proper location for larger games. Adding a location was available in Steam through Steam -> Settings -> Downloads & Cloud -> Steam Library Folders. On Arch, this did not work, and the UI bugged out by showing a steam error popup that was unreadable graphical garbage. This is most likely an ATI issue, or it was fixed in an update, because it works through the UI on my Intel-based Thinkpad T410s.
  2. When adding the steam library folder works, I am unable to choose where games are installed. I was able to circumvent this by symlinking the default steam library location to another location on a different drive
  3. You cannot remove the default steam library folder. See 1 and 2.
  4. TF2 installed correctly, but had some audio issues which were dealt with in the Arch wiki. Using Radeon drivers, gameplay *worked* but was unplayable due to low FPS. Everything worked, don’t get me wrong. I could look for online games, join the game, play the game, but I got shot in the head a lot, because FPS was, like, 10.
  5. Using fglrx propietary drivers resulted in TF2 not launching, and steam/tf2 having some sort of segfault shit-fit (based on steam.log). Trying different versions of fglrx and even xorg did not improve the situation. Based on some of the stack traces I read, it seemed to have something to do with OpenGL. The game would attempt to launch, blank the screen for a fraction of a second as if it were transitioning to fullscreen mode, and then give up. To the credit of the Steam client, it did not crash, and i was able to resume my session without a hitch.

But as noted, there are several awesome features, and the client itself works rather solidly. OS integration was working too, as I was sent a gift by Anteuz, and i was able to redeem the gift using a steam:// link in linux. That worked fine! The chat feature works, though I’ve had it crash once, but that’s to be expected in beta software. I’m working on reporting some of the bugs, as long as they are not already reported (I think they are). I’d like to try this on an Nvidia card, but I don’t have a machine with such a card. Both our machines at home that are able and willing to play run ATI/AMD. The cards we have are the 6850 and the 4850.

I was also toying around with Xubuntu 12.10, and I had somewhat of a better experience, but TF2 would still not run, and crashed with the same errors. Client installation was about the same, but less UI issues than in OpenBox in Arch.

The only game that I owned that I really got working on either machine was the indie game Cogs. It worked.. fine. TF2 worked but with low FPS.

That’s all for now, I’ll keep you posted.