Psygnosis: Contender Eliminated

Tonight, I would like to pay tribute, and have cancelled my plan for tonight’s post (I had no idea Taco Bell wouldn’t stop you scooping up and taking home armfuls of sauce sachets!)

SCE Studio Liverpool, née Psygnosis, has died at the age of 28.

Psygnosis – later known as Sony Computer Entertainment Liverpool after their acquisition by Sony – was a prominent British game developer and publisher and the developer of a game series that had a long-standing effect on me as a child and an adult. That series was the science-fiction antigravity racer Wipeout, which is largely believed to have been given the double-barrels along with SCEL.

The original Wipeout was widely regarded as Sony’s response to F-Zero; Nintendo’s futuristic mode 7 racing game on SNES. It was designed to have heart-pounding, adrenaline-gushing combat racing action and set the tone for the rest of the series. I will admit that I never had the original Wipeout as a child and didn’t play it until much later. It lacks several features for which the series later became known; weapons in the original are more of an inconvenience than a real threat and players cannot be eliminated. The spark was there, but the series had not yet reached its full potential as a stylish, intense, combat-based racer.

The first Wipeout I played was Wipeout 2097, also known as Wipeout XL outside the UK. Set exactly one hundred years after its launch date, Wipeout 2097 brought with it elements its predecessor was missing. Vicious combat, breakneck speed and teams as memorable as any characters made 2097 a game my brother and I played for many happy hours as children. It was also probably a considerable cause of sibling rivalry: in a decision that I think is a bizzare vacuum of common sense to this day, 2097 had no local two-player, instead requiring a second Playstation, television, copy of the game and connection via the Playstation’s long-forgotten link cable. Like 99.9% of people who had the game, we only had one of each, so we took it in turns. I also remember being irritated no-end by the inability to turn off the checkpoints and their timers which were probably pretty lenient, but as a particularly hamfisted child with crap hand-eye coordination led to some pretty frustrating time overs. I exploded. A lot.

For a lot of the time we had 2097, I was too young to really play it to its full potential. Even so, many of my childhood daydreams revolved around that game, and cheesy as it sounds, it has a special place in my heart: nestled under its sequel, Wipeout 3.

Everything changed with Wipeout 3. I respect the original Wipeout. I have many fond memories of Wipeout 2097. I adore Wipeout 3. The controls and physics were tuned. Two-player was added. The team ranks expanded from four to eight. The settings were divine.

I’m aware for the purposes of this tribute to Psygnosis/SCEL that Wipeout 3 was developed by Psygnosis Leeds. I can’t seem to find any information on whether they still exist as part of Sony.

Where was I? One of the points that makes Wipeout 3 stand above its predecessors is its settings and environments. Psygnosis had teamed up previously with The Designers Republic to create the visual style of the earlier Wipeout games. In Wipeout 3, they paid meticulous detail to making the future depicted in the game low-key, refined and believable. It led to some beautifully made environments. My enduring memory of Wipeout 3 is the track P-Mar Project, in which the racetrack snakes through a park with cherry blossoms in the air, launching the ships into the sky where team-branded hot air balloons float. All this was done with the limited processing power of the then-aging Playstation. If you don’t believe me when I say how beautifully made this is, watch this replay video.

Wipeout 3 was incredible.

Then along came the Playstation 2, and with it, Wipeout Fusion.

Wipeout Fusion is considered by many fans of the series to be its lowest point, and it’s certainly the black sheep of the franchise. The style and setting of the game was distinctly different: The Designer’s Republic had been shifted in favour of a different team named Good Technology who made a rather more half-arsed approach to the game’s design. The gameplay changed with it; gone was the technical course navigation of the previous games in favour of a much, much stronger emphasis on weapons and combat. The changes to the formula give Wipeout Fusion the feel of a bloodsport game, which I’m not sure is what was intended. Ships are larger, clunkier, and less nimble than their predecessors, which combined with the Playstation 2’s new analogue sticks on its shipped controllers gave the controls a slightly stodgy feel, as if the controls were mired in mashed potato.

Fusion is not a bad game by any stretch, but it is very different to the rest of the series. I will give credit where it’s due: watching the game run with the Playstation 2’s graphical fidelity at such a smooth framerate was mindblowing at the time.

The next two chapters in the Wipeout series – Wipeout Pure and Pulse – were relegated from the flagship Playstation 2 to the PSP, which I didn’t have. That is until after 2009, when the series returned to the Playstation 2 with a port of Wipeout Pulse which I still play daily. Wipeout HD on the Playstation 3 and its expansion pack, Wipeout Fury, I wish to play. Ditto for the recent PSVita release, Wipeout 2048, although that doesn’t help the PSVita much from its pit of poor sales and mostly uninteresting titles.

Studio Liverpool didn’t just make Wipeout. They made a host of other games, some of which I played, some of which I didn’t. They earned their position at the top of their field and Sony’s decision to close a successful studio is, from the outside, baffling.

Even so, they can’t take the existing games away. Wipeout games have been a part of me for a very long time, influencing things from my childhood daydreams and doodles right up to my modern-day music tastes. It is a series which has brought me many, many hours of enjoyment, excitement, adrenaline, frustration, shock and awe as a child and as an adult. It is heartbreaking to see its creator shut down so unceremoniously – leaving many talented men and women redundant – and likely taking the franchise with it.

Goodbye, Psygnosis, Studio Liverpool and Wipeout. You will not be forgotten.

EDIT: Came across this video from Wipeout HD which I quite like and fits the tone of this post rather well.

Eat like a Champ, or better: like Plant.

Somewhere in Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament or Downing Street, it was decreed by the government many years ago that my student loan should be a pittance that barely covers my rent. I’ve never understood this; surely if I’m paying it back, I should be the one to decide how much I receive. There’s probably some sound financial thinking behind this, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m living on a budget. And thanks to the same financial blue-sky thinking plowing the economy into an active volcano and eliminating all and any of my part time job prospects, I’m living off my parents too. They have my eternal gratitude.

Because of this combination, the contents of my food cupboard for the last few months have looked rather like this:

Tesco may have changed the packets but the contents remain the same; cheap, small packets of human feedstock. Pricing in at 11p a packet, they’re cheap enough for me to shovel two 20-pack crates into a trolley and leave with change from a fiver. They’ll keep you alive, but after the third day you will wonder what hell you have dug yourself in to. After the sixth or seventh, the sharp, salty, chemical taste of almost-but-not-entirely-exactly-unlike-chicken will pervade your mind and become inexorably connected with the concept of eating as the memory of the taste of actual meat drifts into murky history.

And don’t get me started on the curry flavour. The chicken one may not taste like chicken – or indeed, any earthly meat…

I’m sorry, I got distracted there by two children of about ten trading little green-filled baggies in my back alley. Where the hell am I living? When were Pokemon cards replaced by class B drugs?

Apologies. The chicken one may not taste anything like chicken, but at least the taste is vaguely palatable in its own artificial way. The curry is the real deal. No curry tastes this way. Articulating the exact flavour is difficult, but I’d pitch it as spicy yet salty with an oh-so-very vague taste of artificial chilli. I’m being extremely generous with the use of the word chilli. If I’m entirely honest, I think it tastes like a wet burp.

If you’ve only ever eaten these, it’d understandably soil your opinion of instant noodles in general. But don’t be put off, because after discovering a nearby Asian store the contents of my food cupboard now look like this:

Since then, I do my weekly shopping in an Asian supermarket. And it’s not all pretentiousness either; these noodles really are much better than the western ones. The price at this particular store is 32p a packet, which is almost triple the price of the value ones, but the packets are roughly twice the size so the loss is less than you might think. The two flavours are also bumped up to the five I chose out of a huge, huge array they had on sale, even including different types of noodles if you’re the sort of person who is bothered by that. I’m not. They had many different brands too; I chose Nissin because of a buy-five-get-one-free deal they were running. Also Nissin invented the instant noodle.

It was surprising in the extreme. For a small price increase, they actually tasted of pork, chicken, prawn, sesame seed and seaweed. I would be satisfied with these if I got them in a Chinese takeaway, or even in an – okay, realistically – low end Asian restaurant. They’re not as good as real Ramen, but they are certainly good enough to eat for most meals. Not terribly healthy though, I must concede, but on a budget that’s a low concern. And that’s just the Ramen, the same supermarket sold me a five kilo sack of rice for as many pounds. Combined with a few sauces and flavourings (I had no idea you could buy MSG in a bag) I have enough for 400 servings, according to the sack.

So if you’re on a student budget, give your local Asian supermarket some serious thought. You might be pleasantly surprised.

An Unemployed Summer being filled with Rich Videogaming Delight

“Plant!” you shout at me in the street, causing mild surprise! “Why do you have a lovingly drawn header of Super Meat Boy on this post, something everybody grew sick of hearing about in 2010?”

Well, my very rude and very hypothetical friend, the root of the answer lies in the fact that despite reams of resumes sent to the four dark corners of the globe, I don’t have a job this summer. This means that I’ve been spending quite a lot of my free time – free time in which most of my regular socialites and girlfriend are working for their finals, which were billed later than mine – finally redeeming my £4.27’s worth on the last few Humble Indie Bundles.

Despite donating towards them at the time, I never really touched them for more than a glancing blow due to some deadline or other steaming ever closer and finding a fair few of the games less interesting than this receipt I’ve just found that tells me I bought three cans of macaroni cheese on Valentine’s day.

“But Plant, you handsome stallion!” you retort. “Why are you telling me about them when this isn’t a gaming blog in the slightest? Why do you never talk about your life as a student biologist instead? And when are you going to finish that post about your crappy UoS-approved house?”

I’m getting to that, you fictitious nuisance. And I’ll do it when I can write a funny joke about all my taps being backwards. Comedy gold.

Okay, so that’s not entirely true, some of the games were interesting enough as I did pay money for them in the end and I’m too impoverished to give away money without getting something useful in return. Useful being a relative term where videogames are concerned, but my point is that some of them are actually really good fun.

Indie games are a personal soft spot of mine. That’s debatably because my brother and I are currently developing one for Windows Phone, but at least partly after Minecraft left an impression upon me comparable to that of crack cocaine. I used to get a kick from LEGO, but now I’m looking for the bigger thrills. I now have to re-arrange cubes at least once every other day or I get the shakes.

The Humble Bundles have left me with a few choicy picks, such as the delectable Trine, a game whose USP is the ability to switch between three unique characters with individual skills in a manner reminiscent of Sonic Heroes, only not shit, the artsy and cinematic Trauma which at first appears more pretentious than a beret with built-in latte foam dome and goatee curler but turns out to be a compelling and ethereal experience, and Super Meat Boy, which is most unashamedly a videogame and is a great big squishy beanbag of fun. Between these three and Minecraft, I have been left with piles of wasted time, a knackered gas lift on my office chair and an intense, warm glow of satisfaction.

“Do you have a point to this?” you reply, glancing pointedly at your watch and having taken a seat on a nearby bench.

Not really, apart from letting my housemates and girlfriend – who read this blog and have likely declared me legally dead by this point – in on precisely what I’ve been doing in here for the last few days.

Wasting time at my computer, of course, but thanks to indie games, in one of the best ways.

Factory251 OR A practical guide to distressing your Chucks with Ecstasy

The nightlife in Salford is terrible. Oh, there’s the Crescent, with its plethora of Real Ales to choose from, and Bar Yours, the Union bar, which has regular entertainment provided by the various societies around the University. Some of it is even entertaining.

My point in saying this is that if you want to go for a night out, you have to go into nearby Manchester. The nightlife situation here is understandably much better, with all the major chain clubs like Tiger Tiger and Baa Bar making an appearance, and independent bars like 5th Avenue, which is full of hipsters*, and the delectable Font, where brightly-coloured cocktails flow like water. However, with every Yin must come a Yang, and Manchester serves one up on a golden plate. Factory251 is the name of this dish, and it’s stone cold and two hours late.

At a glance, Factory251 doesn’t seem any different to any other club in Manchester, except perhaps a little smaller. The club is split into three floors, with each its own DJ and genre of music. The ground and first floor change with each night of the week, but from my experience the second and top floor is always dubstep. You enter on the ground floor, confusingly named the first floor by the club’s advertisers**.

* My derision against hipsters from a couple of months back has evaporated.

** This isn’t unique to Factory251. It seems a lot of people like to call the ground floor of a building the first floor. Yes, this would be correct in America, but here in Britain it’s always the ground floor. Textspeak is one thing, but when spoken language degrades to the point where the location of, say, a room in a building is ambiguous then something is clearly badly wrong. But I digress.

The second thing you’ll notice about Factory251, subsequent to the lightened pocket and anal soreness after paying the entrance fee, is that you can’t see a damn thing. Most clubs will have some form of ambient lighting alongside the spotlights and strobes in order to provide visibility, however limited. Factory251 dispenses with this, and in case the dizzying array of rotating lamps gave you enough visibility, there’s a fog machine that is never switched off. That’ll teach you to try and walk around.

The only static lights on each floor are on the bar, to which the extremely numerous clientele are attracted rather like moths*. Did I mention how long it takes to get a drink? Put a schoolboy at the back of the crush for the bar, and by the time he gets to the front he’ll be old enough to get served**. Due to a curious combination of this and the sweltering humidity, I usually feel completely sober within 15 minutes of entering the place.

After making your choice between a Jagerbomb, which is comparatively cheap*** but consists of barely 150ml of booze, or a pint of lager which costs £158, you have to join the dance floor. Again, in most clubs, joining the dance floor is voluntary, with at least half of the club dedicated to tables, booths, benches, seats, or at the very least an area you can stand away from the hive and where the music is a little quieter. This means the area is suitable (loud) talking, enjoying a drink, or mingling with attractive ladies****. This is a good thing. It’s something you want in a club.

* Or probably a taxic response to smelling Stella Artois.

** Although in total fairness this is a problem in any busy club. There was an idea floated in the newspapers a few years back for an arrangement where customers queue and go to numbered stations on the bar when called forward, like in the Post Office. It was a great idea. Why has nobody done this?

*** Ish.

**** Font is very good for this, especially because the girls in there tend to have higher brain function.

Factory251 has no such area, and the jostling is relentless. Enjoying a pint of Stella would be impossible under the best of circumstances, but I’m sure even Hobgoblin would be terrible in Factory251 if they sold it. Some beers recommend on the bottle being drunk with a fine meal or in the warm rays of a summer sunset. None recommend being drunk whilst crushed between a hooting Burger King shift manager in a muscle shirt and a woman who looks like a bison that’s been shaved and hurled through Primark.

Ducking into the toilet provides little respite from this. Always present in there, as much of a fixture of the gents toilet as the actual fixtures, is the staple of Manchunian nightclubs: the man who sells squirts from his huge stock of cologne. Actually, that’s not quite true, as the term selling implies some choice in the matter. It’s more that he accosts you with the spray when you least expect it, and then demands a pound, usually when you have no change. I consider it a Hugo Boss branded mugging.

Anyway, the man in Factory251’s gents has a unique selling technique involving shouting crude sexual puns in broken English, much to the amusement of the patrons of the toilet. I won’t judge the clientele of Factory251 because, in fairness, they’re very, very drunk* by the time they get there. Therefore I can forgive conversations as perennially inane as this, usually conducted between two peers on either side of me at the urinal:

Drunkard #1: Arrr yeah, kid, gonna get fuckin’ clunge** tonight, lad!
Drunkard #2: YEAH LAD! Gonna get us some fuckin’ birds, Wooo!
Drunkard #1: Fuckin’ Hi-Five, lad!
They Hi-Five, awkwardly leaning around behind me to do this.
Drunkard #1: Wahurr, Hey Spray Guy, what d’ya think of this, hurr?
Cologne Seller: NO ARMANI NO PUNANI

* A situation in which I’m hardly close to godliness. Think staggering around my shared kitchen whilst bellowing the lyrics to The Girl from Ipanema.

** I hate this word. Of all the slang for lady bits, “clunge” is the least sexy and “sausage wallet” the funniest.

So in Factory251, ducking into the toilet for a moment of peace is clearly not an option. And where would I be ducking from, you would ask if this was a conversation and not a blog post? The second floor, of course, where the music is dubstep and the street drug of the night is ecstasy, which as far as I can tell makes you lie on the floor periodically springing up to give a stranger a big hug. A very, very tight hug. An airless hug. The kind of hug where their full weight presses the broken glass and dirt from the soles of their boots into the toecaps of your brand new Chucks. This kind of hug doesn’t exist in the realm of sobriety, and the world is a better place because of that.

So there you are. Factory251 in Manchester. I’ve a few loose ideas to wrap up here, so here’s a big list of disordered advice to fool you into thinking this post has a point:

  • Don’t go if you’re entranced by the idea of a floor of indie music, as there sometimes is. The much superior 5th Avenue is practically next door.
  • Go if you like air that has had all the oxygen removed and replaced with BO.
  • Go drunk. Very drunk.
  • Have pocket change for the cologne guy. I’m serious, this guy has incredible spraying reflexes and does not take no for an answer.
  • I once saw a guy walk into the middle of the gents and piss on the spot. Classy.

I will give one plus point, though. If you’re drunk, the cologne guy is an absolute riot. And that’s just about the only thing I like about the place. Cologne guy, for brightening up many a poor clubbing experience, I hand it to you.

Sorry, Factory251, it could have been beautiful, but it just wasn’t to be. Avoid.

Dull Hypothesis Visits a Christmas Fayre

Last week, I went to a Christmas market. End of story.

If only it were as simple as that. In a desperate attempt to stave off complete emotional necrosis and actually feel seasonal for a couple of weeks, I hauled myself into Manchester to visit what I was promised would be a bustling Santa’s workshop itself, where holiday goodwill pours from the stands of German traders like hot, spiced wine.

Ever heard of a German Christmas fayre? I have no idea if they’re a recent thing around here, but over the last few years they have been oozing into Britain’s major cities every December to flog Lidl bratwurst in rolls of stale bread to suckers who will pay £4.50 for the privilege. Citing the above-mentioned lack of any Christmas cheer, I shackled up with some friends and braved the impossibly busy city centre. Not an easy feat.

Don’t complain about this horrifying dead-eyed effigy of Santa. It was far worse when it was lit up the week before, so I’m glad that some feckless engineer hasn’t looked up from his porn mag long enough to fix it. Look at those eyes. Those are eyes that have seen the worries of the world. Don’t worry, Santa. We’re here for you.

A staple of Christmas Fayres is the Bavarian swing grill, where the aforementioned Lidl sausages and rubbery hot dog buns are teamed up in order to disappoint those stupid enough to buy one.

That’d be me, then. It tasted like shredded tyres.

With my stomach full and wallet empty, we pressed on through the stalls. The food stalls were grouped together into a fenced-off area, which was surrounded by policemen authorized to use the force of rudeness should anybody try to sneak out booze into the city centre and corrupt the roaming gangs of teenage arsonists that inhabit Manchester with bootleg mead.

The stalls contained ungodly horrors from a world to which style is as alien a concept as leg cramp is to an eel. By this time, the girls I was with had bought some mulled wine. I won’t disclose how much it was, but it was far, far too much.

This thing didn’t even have an excuse to be there, not being related to Christmas in the slightest. On the other hand, that ‘Fairy World’ display stand – minus fairies – is only £20, so my brother’s Christmas present this year is sorted.

I only have a photographic record of a couple of these stands, so they barely draw testament to the acres upon acres of resin I passed by. I regret not taking a photo of those glittery dragons left of centre, so you’ll just have to take my word as to how stroke-inducingly vile they were. Mythical sky-ruling beasts of inferno and slaughter reduced to a tasteless plastic centrepiece. It’s almost enough to bring a tear to one’s eye. On the other hand, I wish I’d seen those hourglasses while I was there. They look pretty bitchin’.

So long then, from Manchester’s German-Christmas-Festival-Market. Did I feel any more seasonal as I boarded the train back out to the campus? Did I fuck.

I wonder if anybody bought that fairy world stand.

PS. Thanks to Vittoria for most of the photos here. For this, she is awarded the coveted status of Dull Hypothesis’ Official Italian!

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs

I know I haven’t been posting very regularly for the last few weeks, but as a person who is an avid follower of Apple, their products, and their influence on the technology world, I had to make time to pay tribute on this day to Steve Jobs. He was a man I never met, yet he changed the lives of myself and everybody I know with the products his company innovated. Today marks the sad loss of a truly inspiring and remarkable man, and I join the online community in condolence. May he rest in peace.

Why Google’s Cloud Computing vision has no silver lining for any of us

By James Plant

When their Chrome browser exploded into the limelight, Google took advantage of their increased involvement in the average user’s online experience to introduce the concept of Cloud Computing to the greater userbase. If you are unfamiliar with Google’s vision of the Cloud, the essence of this concept is that every action you do on your computer takes place through a web browser. The ideal conclusion of this is that the operating system as we know it ceases to exist, turning the home computer into a single-use web browser. Google are currently attempting to usher in this ideal with the release of Chrome OS, but is it too soon to be taken up and trusted by the average user? Let’s find out.

First of all, let’s compare a Samsung Chromebook with an average netbook;

 

Chromebook

Generic ‘wintel’ Netbook

CPU

Intel Atom N570 @ 1.66 GHz

Intel Atom @ ~1.6 GHz

Storage

16 GB SSD

Up to 320 GB HDD

Memory

2 GB RAM

1-2 GB RAM

Battery life

8.5 Hours

6-15 Hours

Connectivity

Wifi & Optional 3G

(50 MB free 3G, USA only)

Wifi & Optional 3G dongle

Price

£349 Wifi, £399 3G

£200-£300

On paper, the Chromebook used in this example appears to be entirely standard netbook fare, except for the platter-based hard disk being replaced with a low-capacity SSD. While at first this may seem to be a major disadvantage, the web-centric nature of Chrome OS means that all of a user’s files are stored online.

Online storage has some advantages, such as worldwide availability, but the very nature of such a service presents significant downsides compared to traditional local storage. All file access is limited by the speed of the computer’s internet connection, and inherent privacy issues rise from the storage provider potentially having access to every one of the user’s files. And what should happen in case of a hacking attack on the service provider, or a major system failure? Paranoia in the average user’s mind blow these issues massively out of proportion. It’s hard to trust a company you’ve never met with your files.

Google brand cloud computing as “Why it’s okay for a truck to run over your computer”. In reality, remote data storage is no safer than regular backups.

But while the lack of any offline storage is a disadvantage, the real problem here is the price. An entry level EEE PC running Windows 7 Starter can be picked up for a penny shy of £200, and at first and even second glance, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why the Chromebook should start at £150 more. It runs the operating system the average user knows, and can perform all the tasks they are likely to want to do – web browsing and office work – admirably. Windows 7 Starter’s performance shortfalls can be overcome by a tech-savvy user with a replacement operating system. And here we near the root of Google’s Chrome OS woes:

There is nothing stopping you from turning your generic PC into a Chromebook.

Google are tied by their use of open-source technology into releasing Chrome OS as source code under the name Chromium. One linux-savvy teenager later and a generic PC disk image is legally available for download and installation, entirely without Google’s blessing. But even more crucially, Chrome OS offers little which the Chrome browser does not. So even if the average user doesn’t want to download a disk image and install Chromium OS alongside or over Windows – something which is unlikely – they can download the Chrome browser in twenty seconds – something which is likely, especially factoring Google’s huge advertising push for the browser – and boom. They have practically the same user experience as the Chromebook for no extra charge over generic PC hardware. And better still, they have access to all the locally based Windows applications they trust, without the need for a constant and potentially pricey internet connection.

Speaking entirely from opinion, Chrome OS bothers me. While it makes sense for Google to want to push web-based services, they missed a perfect opportunity to become a big-name sponsor to a conventional desktop Linux distribution and bring it to the mass market. They have proven they can do this with Android – of which I am the biggest fan – when they bought it up in 2005 and made it the most widely sold smartphone operating system worldwide. They created the Windows of the smartphone world. And they did this with locally based software, not web apps.

Had they done this with Chrome OS, they could have marketed a realistic alternative to Windows available for generic PC hardware, backed by a trusted brand name.

Sales figures remain to be seen, but I think Chrome OS will fall flat, and potentially take trust in future cloud-based operating systems with it, damaging user trust at the time they become viable.

[James Plant is a blogger from a folded corner of the UK near Liverpool. He mainly sticks to infographics, but occasionally likes to blog like a human being.]

Got an opinion? Tell us in the comments!

Keeping the G4 alive – A practical case study on modern use of Apple PowerPC hardware

By James Plant

In this latest segment of the digital age, the domestic computer market is dominated by the x86 processor architecture and its derivatives. Until the mid-2000s, Apple had been a major exception to this rule, placing only PowerPC processors at the core of their computers, and as a direct result, at the core of their software strategy. When the decision was made to switch to x86 with the rest of the industry, Apple transitioned their software strategy to the new architecture, slowly dropping official support for PowerPC. With OS X 10.6 marking the official end of the PowerPC era, can the architecture still hold relevance in an x86 world? Let’s find out.

The eMac was designed as a budget alternative to the ‘lamp’ style iMac G4.

First of all, let me speak from experience. Alongside a primary Linux-powered machine which I use for daily activities, I run a 1.25GHz eMac as a media center and my main field computer remains an 800MHz iBook G4. Both were purchased second-hand, the eMac in 2008 for £125, and the iBook G4 in 2011 for £60 noninclusive of minor upgrades. Both of these machines run OS X 10.4 and see daily use. I shall begin with the iBook, and for comparison I will use a EEE PC 1005PE bought late last year.

Unfortunately, the differing architectures and operating systems between the compared machines presents me with a significant roadblock in a comparison: To my knowledge, there is no benchmarking software common to both PowerPC OS X and Fedora Linux, making it impossible to gather benchmark scores with any meaning. In lieu of such a figure, I will list the specifications of each machine;

EEE PC 1005 PE

iBook G4

CPU

1.66GHz Intel Atom N450

800MHz IBM G4

Memory

1GB DDR2

640MB DDR

Storage

250GB

40GB

Screen size

10.1” 16:9

12” 4:3

Battery life

10 hours expected

6 hours per battery expected*

* I own more than one iBook battery

Unsurprisingly, given that it is a much more modern computer, the EEE PC out-performs the iBook on paper. In practice, however, the difference is not so clear-cut.

On a 802.11G WiFi connection with good signal strength, both machines load the landing page of this very site in the region of ten seconds, and both show signs of slowdown when the multitasking load begins to stack up. Booting time is similarly matched, at about one minute from power button to login prompt. It should be noted that the EEE PC is running Fedora Linux for these tests, and not the stock Windows 7 Starter.

Software support for the EEE PC is the usual Linux fare, but to my surprise the standard Linux fare also frequently extends to OS X in the form of PowerPC or Universal binaries, with many open-source projects still supporting the architecture. This surprising fact is the best bet for PowerPC in remaining relevant in the modern world, as almost all off-the-shelf Mac software this long after the Intel transition no longer supports the previous architecture. Even some closed-source software – For example, I am a Spotify subscriber – retains active development for PowerPC*.

The iBook G4 was the last of Apple’s PowerPC consumer notebooks

Moving on from the portable to the desktop, the eMac performs admirably as a media center, running Spotify – a subscription music streaming service – and playing DVDs. Web browsing is infrequent, as I use my aforementioned primary machine for such activities, although it should be noted that the extra megahertz in the 1.25GHz processor make it fast enough for most Flash objects and even Youtube. A comparison with my 2.8GHz quad-core primary machine would be completely unfair.

Both of my G4 powered machines are restricted by their PowerPC lineage, as in they cannot run the latest versions of OS X and off-the-shelf software is out of the question. While the computers are definitely past their prime, they are by no means obsolete. For most of the activities a user would want to do on the machine, the world of open-source provides an appropriate tool, often with a PowerPC package. Unless you have highly specific needs as a computer user, these older computers make excellent sidekicks to their more modern brethren, especially considering they can be picked up for petty cash online and in used hardware stores.

And while completely unconnected to their PowerPC hearts, it’ll look a damn sight nicer on your desk than a wintel rotbox.™

* This was true at time of writing, but as of October 2011 Spotify are soon to be dropping updates for the PowerPC platform, although I believe a legacy version of the player – as well as several unofficial players – will still be available.

[James Plant is a blogger from a folded corner of the UK near Liverpool. He mainly sticks to infographics, but occasionally likes to blog like a human being.]

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

eMac image courtesy Tyler9xp on Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-2.0)

iBook G4 image courtesy Akira Kamikura on Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-2.0)