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New Machine to Play With

I finally broke down in all my Core 2 Duo envy and bought me a new desktop machine. I used to have a nice 3GHz P4 desktop that I used whenever I needed to do desktop-y things (long downloads, compute-intensive work, automated MAME testing, etc.) but that machine got converted into a server once my previous server went belly up. I'd been struggling along with doing some tasks on a spare 933MHz P3, but the motherboard only supported 512MB of RAM, and it was just generally not exactly a fast machine.

Now, I know I'll get laughed at for buying a stock machine from Dell, since you can't overclock them easily, and I know the C2D is an overclockers dream. But hey, I just don't have the time for it. And, for only $1000, I can't complain too much: 2.4GHz C2D, 2GB RAM, 250GB hard disk. The one thing I didn't realize when I got the machine (it's a Dimension 9200) is that it is legacy free -- about time! I almost skipped ordering the keyboard and mouse because I have a bucketful of each sitting at home. But since the new machine required USB peripherals, I added yet another keyboard and mouse to my collection. :)

Of course the first thing I did when it arrived was wipe off the installed OS with all of the craplets and installed a fresh copy of Vista 64-bit. One of my motivations for upgrading was to have a 64-bit machine that I can eventually write a decent MIPS DRC on. One thing I will say that has impressed me about installing 64-bit Vista, versus previous 64-bit versions of Windows: the 64-bit drivers are finally there in enough quantity that most everything just works out of the box. And even what doesn't work is often available online.

Assuming you can get online. I was installing it away from my wired network, so I popped in a wireless NIC, but apparently those drivers aren't available in-box in Vista. So I lugged it upstairs, plugged it into the wired network (fortunately the onboard NIC drivers were present), then had Vista search online for drivers, which it found, downloaded, and installed for the wireless NIC. Then lugged it back downstairs. Mind you, if I hadn't been deathly ill that day, the lugging part wouldn't have been a big deal. :)

With two Vista machines now, I have even more incentive to figure out the build issues. I developed a workaround for the "Can't fork" bug mentioned in my previous post, which I'll talk about in another post here. This meant I was at least able to compile and build using the MSVC toolset. So of course, I had to build a 64-bit native version of MAME, since I kept hearing that 64-bit native builds weren't significantly faster than 32-bit builds, which I found surprising given how superior the 64-bit ABI and ISA are.

Well, using Visual Studio 2005 compile tools, I have to say the improvement between 64-bit native and running 32-bit was surprisingly large. It bought an extra 15% in Cruisin' USA (was about 75% of full speed in-game on 32-bit, and close to 90% in-game on 64-bit). And even more siginificant gains on Ridge Racer (from about 35% on 32-bit to about 50% on 64-bit). Some other slow games (like Driver's Edge) also showed definite gains. I'll probably do some more formal benchmarking later, but overall it's nice to see some of these games run faster than a crawl.