Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stage 27: Everything Old Is New Again

After careful deliberations over the weekend (aided in no small part by my heroic intake of wine and Ciclon Rum Drink on Saturday night), I finally came to a decision re: my HDD & desktop setup dilemma:

My old PC shall remain as my desktop unit and Ward's PC shall fulfill its original purpose and find its way into the MAME cabinet. The RAM shall be split 1.5 GB per machine, and the 250GB HDD will be assimilated into my old PC via this snazzy IDE to SATA Hard Drive Converter I found for a mere $15 on eBay:

The 80GB HDD will once again migrate out of my old PC and into Ward's machine, where it will hopefully lead a long and fruitful life. Heck, I might even add the 30GB HDD from the piece of shit PC currently serving as the MAME PC as a 2nd HDD.

So once again I play the waiting game as I pass the time until this newest piece of hardware shows up at my door. It probably won't be here till next week sometime, so I continue my slow march through the hundreds and hundreds of Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and Virtual Pinball games that need to be synched up - I'm at the "O" section in the Genesis folder now. Yay!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Stage 26: Decisions, Decisions

I don't know what it is about me and tech-toys, but I certainly enjoy the prospect of spending my hard earned (well, earned, anyways) money on them.

Anyhoo - I have once again found myself wondering which iteration of the 2.5 PCs I now own will find its way into the MAME cab and which one will be living on my desktop as my actual PC.

Having cloned my old 80GB IDE HDD to the new 250GB SATA one, I totally formatted the old one and reinstalled Windows fresh. Waving a magic wand to make that annoying Microsoft Validation thing go away (*ahem*), I began to diligently put my massive collection of games onto the virgin platform and buckle down to get this thing ready to put into the MAME.

But soon I came to realize that for all it's fanciness and cool new super-quiet case, my old PC was still markedly more powerful than the one I got off Ward.

Not by a lot, but after some benchmarking the differences were signifigant enough for me to think that the benefits of 2GB of RAM in Ward's PC vs. the max 1.5GB I could have in my original PC was not worth the slower CPU (my 2.4 gHz vs. Ward's 2.01 gHz) nor the seemingly slower graphics card I had (my Radeon 9600 XT 128 MB vs. Ward's ATI Radeon X1300 PRO PCIe 256 MB). It's amazing the difference you can find in reality vs. the differences you see on paper, heh!

This leaves me with the following choices:
a) Continue with current plan.
My old PC will go into the MAME and the one I got off Ward will be my new desktop computer.

b) Get an IDE to SATA Converter and swap the HDDs.
My old PC (with some of Ward's RAM & the 250GB SATA HDD) would remain on my desk and Ward's PC (with the 80GB IDE HDD) would go into the MAME. Converters cost around $20-35, so this isn't such a bad idea, moneywise. Unlike ....

c) Buy new IDE HDD and don't switch at all.
A new 250GB (or more) HDD for my old PC, which would remain my desktop computer with the extra RAM mentioned above and the now extra 80GB IDE HDD installed as a 2nd drive. Ward's machine would go into the MAME with a massive 250GB SATA HDD loaded with the MAME stuff.
I have to confess to being torn between options B & C. It's not like I play a ton of PC games or anything on my PC as it is, but the idea of having a more powerful PC in the cab dedicated to playing 20 year old arcade games doesn't sit well with me.

So I guess the choice now is as follows: $35 for an IDA-SATA converter or $100 for a new IDE HDD? The difference sounds like a lot of money, but for the extra $60 I could get a hell of a lot more space and a lot less hassle. But do I really need all that space? Hrmmmmm ...

Until I decide, I am continuing to sort through the massive pile of games and prepare them for their final destination. I have all the Intellivision, MAME, Atari, NES, Daphne and Sega Master System games sorted and in sync with their screenshots and preview movies.

I still have to go through the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo folders, and it's slow going indeed. Last night alone I found over 230 duplicate snaps/movies in the Genesis folder! A long haul now, but once everything is setup I can copy them all to DVDs for future reference and won't have to worry about this kind of crap ever again.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Stage 25: The Ol' Switcheroo

I arose Saturday rather hungover thanks to my pals Lynn, Louise, Colette and Sarah (yeah, I hang with tha ladiez, yo) with full intention on getting Ward's PC in shape to replace my PC, with my PC in shape to replace the MAME PC. The Ol' Switcheroo was in full effect.

But a problem quickly arose: Ward's Motherboard was PCIe and my old one was AGP. What this meant was that none of the three (count 'em: three) AGP video cards I had laying around would work on this bastard. Should have seen that coming.

Compounding this problem: My old motherboard won't support Serial ATA harddrives, which naturally the new 200GB drive was. Ward's machine supports both Serial ATA and IDE harddrives like my old harddrive, but without a PCIe video card I couldn't even begin my plan to clone my old harddrive onto the new one. Argh!

The solution came two unexpected sources: The provincial government of Nova Scotia's recent decision to rid the provice of their absurdly antiquated Sunday shopping restrictions and the unexpected arrival of my lovely and talented girlfriend Holly at my place with a set of wheels borrowed from her employer.

After a few calls to local computer shops reveal that not all nerd-infested businesses were eager to jump on the Sunday shopping bandwagon just yet, Holly suggested I try Futureshop and they were indeed open. A quick jaunt to Bayers Lake and 40 mins later, I was back in my house with a brand new ATI Radeon X1300 PRO PCIe video card. It was a little pricier than I wanted, but it should fill the gap in my regular PC needs until I finally make the switch to Dual Core or something a year or two down the road.

So I began the furious disassembling and reassembling of my old PC and Ward's PC on my living room table, much to the delight of my roomate Colin. There was a comical amount of the following procedure:
1) Put one of the computers on living room table and remove case
2) Fiddle around inside with screwdriver and headlamp on head
3) Reattach case and reinstall on desk
4) Turn on PC and discover something is wrong
5) Scratch head, groan, and then return to Step 1
I finally bumbled through some of my obvious mistakes ("Hrm, this thing marked 'POWER FOR MOTHERBOARD' might be important ...") and got both machines back to basic running states.

Using a neat program called Acronis Migrate Easy, I was able to take my old HDD and clone it onto the new HDD with little difficulty. This immediately made my legitimate copy of Windows very suspicious and I was soon innundated with demands that I verify my ownership of the disc. Looks like someone will be doing some pirating in the not so distant future. Yahar.

But I soon hit another wall - Ward, likely in a hurry to dump me out of his car with a defective PC and peel away with the money, neglected to give me the drivers disc for his motherboard, which meant I was unable to get the Ethernet Card (aka, the Internet) or the Sound Card working properly.

So I focused the remainder of my day once again prepping my files for the final MAME experience. I managed to rename and sort all the Intellivision files and got through about 250 of the 750 Sega Genesis games before my eyes began to fail me.

Ward has promised to deliver the CD unto me tonight, so hopefully I can get even further in this process soon. As I had oft said, I am keen on wrapping up the software/hardware end of things so I can focus on making my cabinet look the role. I guess we'll see how the week goes.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Stage 24: The Brain Is Here

After some time off from thinking about this thing (and shoving turkey into my face), I am preparing to dive back into action on my mostly functional cab. Thanks in part to his generosity and willingness to take my hard earned cash from me, I am now in possession of Mike Ward's old PC.

It's a beast of a case - it looks like the that giant fucking black thing from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm hoping to crack it open this weekend and peer inside to see what my $425 bought me.

Possible Ideas

* Swap out the 200GB harddrive for the 80GB harddrive on my current pc.
I don't know if I need so much space for the MAME, but my porno collection does indeed runneth over. I don't think it's hard to clone my current HD onto the new one, but maybe it is. Hrm.

* Take 1GB RAM out of this beast and supplement my actual PC's current 1GB RAM setup.
Same reasons, different technologies involved. I don't know if I need 2GB of RAM to run these MAME games - the speed problems are usually based in the processor speed, not the RAM.

* Buy new video card for my real PC and put my current video card into the MAME.
I've been jonesing for a new video card for PC games lately anyways, and since my alternative is to strip out the crappy TV-Out beater card currently in the old MAME PC and put it in the new one, I can see this one happening. The video card in my PC has more memory and a TV-Out so it would work just fine.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what I decide to do, hopefully between my poker tourney on Saturday and the hangover that will invariably follow on Sunday I can get some shit done on this. I am keen on finalizing the software and hardware aspects so I can move onto cosmetics. I'm just so vain.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stage 23: When It Comes to Cabinet Power, You Must Strip It

Bonus points to all of you who sang the title of this post in your head. In a world of confusion and uncertainty, one thing remains clear: we need more DEVO.

But my title is both acoustically pleasing and versatile: I recently stumbled across something that will help me solve my dilemma as to how to properly power the cabinet and all it's associated devices.

In its current semi-functional state, the cabinet takes a few moments to turn on. There's the actual MAME PC, the monitor, the speakers and eventually the marquee lamp and likely some extra fans in the base of the structure. That's a lot of switching on to do, and obviously doing it all in one fell swoop would be preferred.

Enter The SmartStrip, a powerbar that appears uniquely tailored for just my needs.

The SmartStrip is like your average powerbar: surge protection, angled-plug, spaced outlets, etc. But with one important difference - the Control Outlet.

What the Control Outlet does is simple yet important: when something that is plugged into the Control Outlet is turned on, the SmartStrip delivers power to all the other outlets and anything that is plugged into them.

So if I have all my gear plugged into this bad boy and have my PC plugged into the Control Outlet, when I turn my PC on everything else will spring to life, presuming it was all left in an "on" state, which clearly I will ensure.

Once this is all in place, the next step will be to find a way to start up my PC at a distance, likely via something like the Ignition 1 PC Power Switch, although this particular model appears to be in large demand and short supply.

Still if there's one thing the Interweb has taught me (outside of the fact that it's comprised mainly of a series of tubes) is that if it exists I can likely find it online for sale. Or maybe I'll just get funky and wire up some extension to my existing power switch. Or ask someone who knows how to do this for me.

The SmartStrip has been ordered and is apparently winging its way towards me from Pennsylvania or wherever. Maybe when it gets here I will finally summon the motivation to rewire the marquee light?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Stage 22: Weekend Update

Not surprisingly, I failed in performing any of the tasks I had thought about doing this weekend. I blame the Internet, the return of swing music and the fact that it was a nice day on Saturday and my girlfriend had access to a car. It's hard to turn down a nice day trip with lines like "but I have to research arcade cabinet designs".

Anyways, I did manage to pour a solid five hours into sorting out ROMs and compiling screenshots for my Atari 2600 and NES collections. You see, in order for the ROM and screenshot and movie preview to line-up in my Maximus Arcade front-end, the file names all have to be identical. This means no extra spaces, things capped that shouldn't be capped, version info in brackets, etc., etc.

Not surprisingly, since I gathered these games, movies and screengrabs from places all over the web, not everything was in sync. So this meant a TON of arduous renaming and double-checking of hundreds and hundreds of files. This was about as fun as being kicked in the mouth, but once done it shouldn't have to be done anymore. I'm keen on archiving all these things onto DVDs so I can clear them off my main PC and I want to make sure everything is hunky dory before I burn them off.

So I did get some stuff done afterall. I guess it wasn't a TOTAL waste of a weekend, but the daunting task of lining-up all the ROM/snaps/movies for the MAME, Genesis, SNES, Master System and Intellivision games is looming large in my mind. Sigh.