Yay, Windows 10 doesn’t suck anymore!

“There’s always something that pisses me off!”, was the most common thing I would say about GNU/Linux in the decade between 1998 and 2008. So in that time I used Windows 98, 2000, XP, and 7 as my primary operating systems, because to be honest, they “just worked”. I appreciate that about Windows, I truly do.

Windows 7 was fantastic, from beta all the way up until I finally deleted it the other day. It’s not that I resisted Windows 10 up until now, it’s that each time I put it onto my computer it presented deal breaking issues that made it annoying and problematic to use. Given that 7 still worked great, why then would I put up with the problems in 10?

I can’t remember now if it was 2016 or 2017 when I threw in the towel and went back to using Win7 instead of Win10 (for the few things I still did in Windows, which was primarily playing Windows games and developing game mods). But, it was earlier this year that I decided to give it a whirl again and, thankfully, a lot has changed for the better. Enough so that I’ve decided to flip back to using Windows as my primary operating system!

My time with Devuan (Debian 9 minus system d) was short, while my years with Linux Mint 17 were long and glorious. To make a long story short, everything other than DirectX games worked flawlessly for me in Mint 17 for years. It made my computer seem like a super computer and the only time it gave me trouble was when I deleted some package that almost everything else depended on (which was easy enough to fix with apt-get). Unfortunately my experience with Devuan was different. I encountered two deal breaking issues and several significant annoyances. The big issues were:

1. The mouse would randomly immediately left click after right clicking on items in Thunar, Filezilla, and other programs that make up the bulk of the user experience. This would cause random right click menu actions to fire – one of those actions is “delete forever”. Others have reported the issue as well and unfortunately none of us were able to solve it. This is a deal breaker, because I can’t live with being a right click away from accidentally deleting something important. Also, it was annoying as hell!

2. The video drivers still aren’t as good for my card as the now unsupported Catalyst drivers. I was happy to see that AMD was kind enough to finally add proprietary support again for my R9 270, but the truth is, it sucks. Some applications require disabling compositing in Xfce to avoid horrible screen tearing (to then only have somewhat annoying screen tearing), while others need it to be enabled to mostly fix screen tearing. Meanwhile in Mint 17 with the Catalyst drivers, all I needed to do to enjoy a perfect experience was open Catalyst Control Center and put a frickin check in the box beside “Tear Free Experience”…

Always something!

Look, I love the spirit of open source and I will forever be thankful to those who generously give their time to creating and maintaining open source projects, but the bottom line when it comes to my daily computing experience is that I’m going to use what doesn’t annoy me. And you know what, that’s fine.

As with anything, Windows 10 has its problems. For example, I still can’t use the audio inputs on my TV tuner card to record with Audacity in Windows, while they work just peachy keen in Linux. Kudos to open source driver developers! That particular issue I decided to resolve by keeping a dual boot of Mint 17.3 explicitly to use for those rare times I want to record something with my microphone. That said, the biggest issue I previously had with Win10 has thankfully been resolved – they finally allow people to disable their Bit Torrent uploading of Windows Update data, an anti-feature of Windows which would kill our “Wireless 5G” internet dead.

Previously Microsoft offered little to no control over the update features in Windows 10. This, combined with the laws of physics and our ISP’s throttling of Bit Torrent traffic, would cause our internet connection to become literally unusable while my computer was on. Not poor or even bad, but “I can’t even ping the DNS anymore” unusable. After a while I found some ways to mitigate the issue, but it wasn’t until one of the most recent patches where Microsoft finally allowed us to actually turn it the hell off. I can unequivocally state that before when their UI said it was off, it most certainly was still on, sucking back our (slow, data capped, and expensive) “rural broadband” internet like a kid who’s about to experience brain freeze for the first time as he sucks back a Slurpee on a sweltering summer’s day. Anyway, THAT (obviously) was a deal breaker for my use of Windows 10 in the past, so thank digital jebus it’s been fixed.

Why should I be thankful? Why couldn’t I just keep using Linux Mint 17 and Windows 7 forever? Why do I even need to think about other operating systems anyway? Because “computer security”, that’s why.

That’s right, possibly the biggest “non-subject” of them all is the very thing that dictates the context of my everyday computing experience itself. I loathe “computer security”, because not only is uninteresting, but the entire reason it exists is simply because some people can’t help but be assholes. All software is the fruit of the “completely arbitrary imagination tree” that humans planted years ago when they invented computer science. As such, it’s inherently flawed, so of course people will find problems with it. Sadly what that means in practical terms is, assholes will steal your credit card numbers and bork your life without a care in the world, so you can either keep your computer systems up to date or you can not connect those computer systems to the internet. Yay, how positively fantastic! 😐

Anyway, after considering the ways in which I have used my desktop over the years and the pros and cons of using a dual boot system, I determined that it was…

A. Mentally exhausting to run a dual boot system where I was doing more than just playing games in Windows (I did all my development of Legend of Hondo in a Linux VM and Windows-only tools in Windows 7).

B. Honestly, all the software I actually use in Linux runs just fine in Windows anyway. With the exception of that blasted TV tuner card! Lol…

Is Windows 10 perfect now? No, but is a lot better than it once was and being completely frank, it does “just work” where several “modern Linux distros” have failed me; various “little things”, like working perfectly when transferring files from my Galaxy S8 (as apposed to taking forever while also having to disable thumbnails for pictures and video in Linux MPT connections) and the simplicity of having all my files and programs immediately accessable.

Firing up a purpose built Linux virtual machine in VirtualBox from my Windows desktop gives me the best of both worlds. I can work on mods for a Star Wars Galaxies or World of Warcraft personal server while also running the client, a web browser, and listening to music, all at full speed and full functionality, with no pains in my ass at all. What’s not to like about that?

I’m sure the many “FOSS” purist of the Internet would be happy to troll me for using Windows at all, let alone for not using GNU/Linux or FreeBSD as my main operating system, but man people like them are nutcases! Seriously, some folks take things way too personally and a little too far… Me? I’m going carry on with my efforts to use open source software to create fun open source stuff too, because that’s what makes me happy. I’ll just be doing it from Windows 10, except when I need to use that microphone… 🙂

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Celebrating 20 Years of Using Linux & Switching to Devuan

Bloody hell, Murdoch!” has it really been that long? Well, the date on the the purple CD below confirms it…

Testing Devuan ASCII as a replacement for Mint 17.3. With a visit from the first Linux Distro CD I ever used!


Where does the time go, eh?!

For the past few days I have been running my desktop off of one the cute little 80GB Toshiba 5400RPM laptop drives that came inside one of the Dell Inspiron 1501 laptops we bought back in 2007. It was what I had on hand in SATA format and quite surprisingly, it’s actually not that bad – Devuan 2.0 boots faster on it than Slackware 14.2 did off my older SSD. Silly Slackware lol… Anyhow, after accidentally deleting the wrong partition or drive more than a couple of times over the years, I am playing it safe with my change of distros this time. Dotting the i’s, testing the drivers, software, and so on, before diving into the format/reinstall of my Linux SSD.

Having used and liked PCLinuxOS for a year or so a few years back, I gave an XFCE spin of it a whirl and was happy to see that the AMD drivers finally worked for my GCN 1.0 / Pitcarin based R9 270. However, the garbage that is PulseAudio was still there crapping up the system, screwing up recordings using Audacity, so I decided to move onto Devuan in my 20 year anniversary “distro hopping”.

Devuan = (Debian – SystemD) * DarkPurpy Goodness

Turns out, Devuan XFCE installs PulseAudio too and indeed it had the exact same issues as PCLinuxOS (binary signal drops and noise every 0.64 seconds while recording from my TV tuner RCA inputs and other PA related crap…), so out it and it’s stupid problems went! Ah, the sweet relief of GNU/Linux un-stupefied… As with any “plain Debian” installation, many things require manual configuration as compared to Mint, but that’s fine. With Devuan I don’t mind, because I’ll only need to do it once and forget about it until security updates cease in 2023, much as I have done with Mint 17.3, whose security updates will cease early next year.

I have very much enjoyed using Mint 17.3 XFCE! In fact, were it not for the need to keep up to date with security patches, I would be content to keep using it on my desktop until the hardware plumb stops working. With GNU/Linux, this system feels like a super computer and really, for the few games I play in Windows, it’s perfectly fine. So switching from the old software packages in the Ubuntu 14 repo that I enjoy using to slightly newer versions of those software packages in Debian 9 repos, is great. “Change for the sake of change” isn’t my thing.

Stability + Simplicity + Familiarity = Efficiency = Happiness

That’s what GNU/Linux means to me.

It wasn’t always that way, especially in the years between when I discovered Linux and when I started using Libranet Linux (a Debian based distro from North Vancouver, Canada). Prior to those days, the primary function Linux (and the BSDs) served in my life was to gobble up my Interwebs, blank CD/DVDs, and “free time”, while I installed and configured like, twelve bazillion distros. I liked to use the desktop for many things over doing those same thing in Windows, but given my habit of playing Windows based games, I was often too lazy to reboot just to browse the web with Opera in Linux. I could, after all, just browse the internet using Opera for Windows. Anyway, it wasn’t until about Ubuntu 8.04 that GNU/Linux really displaced Windows as my primary operating system. By then drivers and software had finally gotten to the point where everything I wanted to do (other than play Windows based games) actually worked properly. Before then… ggrrr there always something that pissed me off when I ran Linux. Still is when I use Slackware! lol…

All picking on Slackware aside, I really do owe a hell of a lot of “good times” in my life to Patrick and the Slackware gang. Being the second distro I used after trying RedHat on that purple CD (which I bought in a real brick and mortar store back in 1998 folks!), Slackware taught me how to install, configure, and use GNU/Linux in a way that was both fun and useful. I remember using Basic Linux, a floppy disk disto based on Slackware 7, to turn my 486 Compaq LTE/25 into a cool “electric paper machine” that I used to write on. I remember loving the KDE 3.5 desktop that I used with some version of Slackware for a year or so… I loved Slackware up until I got married, had kids, and decided that I wanted to spend more time using the system rather than dicking around with the system. Hence my use of Ubuntu and later Mint, with some Debian 7 and PCLinuxOS sprinkled in there for stability and delicious flavors. Anyway, as much as I do enjoy going “full nerd” with Slackware, at this point in my life Slackware requires more effort to build than I want to put into it. C’est live, n’es pas!

Moving on… Thus far the only issues I have found using Devuan 2.0.0 ASCII are…

  • MTP from my Galaxy S8 is slow as hell and required adding Caja (the MATE file manager) to XFCE to magically kick FUSE into action (works in Thunar now too, even though it didn’t add any MTP related deps…).
  • Mozilla are still jerks. Thanks, I’d rather use Chrome + ALSA than Firefox + PulseAudio.
  • RocketTux gets some funky screen tearing in the top row of tiles, even with compositing enabled. At least it’s not all web pages – screen tearing is a HUGE part of why I won’t use the open source AMD/Ati video drivers.

That’s all I have noticed so far in my pre-switch testing. I hesitate to call this switch away from Mint 17.3 an “upgrade”, because there just isn’t anything I feel I need to “upgrade” to. As far as desktop computing goes, Mint 17.3 XFCE (and the amazing world of GNU software!!) really nailed it. Devuan 2 with XFCE simply carries on hammering it home.

So, thank you – Thank you to everyone who has and who continues to give their time, their effort, their mind, to GNU/Linux.

Benchmarking My FX-8320 with Core3 and TrinityCore in VirtualBox

One of the biggest disappoints I have had when it comes to computers was buying an early version of the Intel Core2 Quad Q8200, because Intel disabled their hardware virtualization support (VT-d) on it, as part of their arbitrary and consumer-unfriendly pricing scheme. That was back in 2008 and at $185, it was the best new CPU I could afford at the time. Certainly, it was better than the Pentium DualCore I was using!

When it came time to upgrade, I spent a long time researching all of my options for new hardware, so that I could not only get the best performance for my dollar, but so I could have access to all the features and functionality of a desktop. I really wanted to get into using virtual machines for something truly useful… something like modding a SWGEmu server (Core3)! I also wanted to get better performance in games, such as Planetside 2 and Guild Wars 2, but that was secondary.

This was fall 2013 and at that time, hands down the best deal was the AMD FX-8320 if you could catch on sale for $135 CAD or so (with the FX-6300 being the next best for the same price). Absolutely, a Core i7 3770 (non-K, because VT-d is was disabled on the K version…) would have been way better, but it was also $340 – $370 CAD, which was basically my whole upgrade budget. Obviously I couldn’t buy a CPU without a motherboard and RAM, so I waited until the FX-8320 went on sale and bought it. I’ve been nothing but pleased with it since – seriously, it’s a super computer!

I reused my Silverstone Heatsink/Fan tower, which is enough to keep the cpu around 45C while compiling with all 8 threads natively using gcc in Linux. It’s stock speed is 3.5GHz and it turbos up to 4.0GHz. I’ve played around with over clocking on it and it is most happy when sitting at 4.0GHz with turbo and power management options disabled. In Windows, it sits at 4GHz all the time and Linux it down clocks to 1.8GHz while idle. Letting it down clock in Windows causes noticeable performance issues while playing games and while compiling in a virtual machine, but Linux seems fine either way.

Usually I have a single VM open using VirtualBox, where I work using the Xfce desktop environment in my Debian 8 Linux guest, inside my Windows 10 host. This gives me the best of both worlds – all the GNU software I love, functioning pretty much the same as running it on the hardware directly, and all the Windows software I use (mostly DirectX based games) can take full advantage of my AMD R9 270 video card. As much as I appreciate the WINE project, honestly, Windows games work way better in Windows. A lot of GNU software on the other hand seems to work just fine in a virtual machine, which is awesome.

I like using VMs, because they are their own self contained systems that can share files with the host system and with each other, without messing each other up. For instance, while I could build TrinityCore directly in Windows and get a decent performance boost while compiling, it would also mean I would need to have a MySQL database running in the background too and… I don’t want that running all the time. Yes, I could put just the MySQL DB in a VM, but… you know what, I prefer working in Linux anyway, so it’s just better to have the whole thing as one self contained “work environment”. So that’s what I have, a VM for Legend of Hondo, a VM for helping with the Tarkin 2.0 server, and a VM for Solozeroth (TrinityCore). And some other ones, such as old timey Slackware, just because!

Anyhow, with all that background out of the way, here is what compiling Core3 and TrinityCore looks like on my machine!

Host System
AMD FX-8320 (Locked at 4.0GHz with Turbo disabled)
8GB DDR3 2133 RAM (2x 4GB)
SK Hynix SL300 250GB SATA3 SSD
Windows 10 64Bit Build 15063.138
VirtualBox 5.1.20

Core3 Environment
Debian 8.5
Linux kernel 3.16.0-4-amd64
GCC 4.9.2
Core3 (SWGEmu) 2016.10.06

TrinityCore Environment
Debian 8.7
Linux kernel 3.16.0-4-amd64
GCC 4.9.2
TrinityCore 3.3.5 2017.04.22
A chart goes here...
As you can see there, TrinityCore takes a hell of a lot longer to compile from scratch that Core3! It also uses more RAM on average and has a much higher peak RAM usage as well. Apart from that, both projects appear to scale similarly when they have access to more threads.

I should note that the 8 cores on my FX-8320, as far as gcc compiling goes, are indeed a 8 physical pieces of hardware handling one job each, unlike an Intel i7, which would be 4 physical pieces of hardware doing two jobs each. For floating point math operations, my FX-8320 only has 4 physical lumps of hardware that can only handle 4 jobs, unlike an Intel i7, which could handle 8 floating point math jobs. Thankfully the gcc compiler uses the “integer units”, of which I have 8! So with that said, if you have an FX processor and you’re working with gcc, you can safely ignore the warning in VirtualBox about assigning more CPU cores than you really have – crank it to the max and make sure you have enough RAM!

My problem is, 8GB of RAM isn’t really enough for compiling with 8 cores AND running the game in the host system. So, I tend to leave the VMs at 6 cores with 3.5GB RAM, which leaves plenty of RAM for working in both the host and the guest (running the server while playing the game, for instance – which works great btw!). Yes, that does mean that the computer takes long to compile, but nice part is that much of the time I don’t need recompile the entire projects. So in reality, most of the time the difference is more like shaving off 10 seconds from a 40 second compilation, which isn’t worth worry about.

Knocking 10 minutes off that 30 minute compile of TrinityCore might be worth the 30 seconds it takes to shutdown, move the RAM slider, and boot up though. Unless it’s lunch time or “AFK for hours on end, because distractions!” time…

On a related note, I have been thinking lately that it would be interesting to see how this compares to compiling on the same setup using a new AMD Ryzen processor or a recent Intel i5 or i7 processor. I’ve read several benchmarks/reviews, including this Linux gcc compiling related test on XDA, and it’s safe to say that yup, when you spend more money, you get a better processor!

Unfortunately, for the $135 CAD that I spent for my FX-8320 3.5 years ago, it’s still the best option for my work load in its price range. I was hoping the new 4 core, 8 thread Ryzen R5 1400 would be priced around $165 CAD, but it’s $225. The 8 core FX-8300 (a slightly lower clocked, but still fully unlocked, FX-8320) at $145 is only $15 more than the 6 core FX-6300 and honestly it’s a steal for Linux programming and VM work (which is basically the best case scenario for the Bulldozer/Piledriver based CPUs, as their 8 real hardware ALUs are great, but their 4 real hardware FPUs, slow cache, and crowded input pipeline are not so hot for stuff like playing games, music encoding, and some photo editing tools).

It’s kind of a bummer that today I can’t spend less to effectively double my performance, as I did when I made the jump to the $135 CAD FX-8320 from the $185 Core2 Q8200. I was overjoyed back then when my compile times in Rescue Girlies (based on Supertux 0.3.3, an SDL based project) were literally cut in half. That’s my kinda upgrade! Yeah, so anyway, I won’t be upgrading any time soon, because it doesn’t make sense to shell out $295 for the 6 core, 12 thread Ryzen R5 1600 (plus motherboard and RAM) that will almost double my performance. That kind of money would be better spent elsewhere, for all the difference it would actually make in my life! 🙂

When it comes time to upgrade, I am hoping that AMD will have a nice 4 core, 8 thread APU with 512 shaders for around $165. I don’t play any new games and an APU like that would give me a 15% to 25% boost in performance, while dramatically reducing the power usage of my desktop. Yes, it would have half the shaders of my R9 270, so I would probably have to dial back the graphics settings a bit but meh, my old eyes are getting blurry anyway! So we’ll see what 2018 or 2019 brings. Hopefully we’ll get some micro-ATX motherboards with 4GB GDDR6 Video RAM for the APUs, because that would be cool!