Review: Razer Carcharias

I have a small headphone fetish and apparently cannot function without being able to properly listen to my music wherever I go. I have a pair for every occasion: At home/work, on the go, running and Ventrilo. If you wear headphones often, it’s actually worth dishing out a little extra cash to get a not crap pair. In my experience, most of the extremely cheap ones break easily (stress fractures on the headband near the ear cups, loose wires).

So my old headset broke last week: The sound coming through the earphones was extremely muffled and the microphone intermittently muted or reduced itself in volume. I could have just sautered the loose wires or ghetto fixed it, but why pass up on an excuse to get a new toy?

I was using some really clunky Plantronics headset. The microphone was actually pretty good, but they were uncomfortable and the headphones sucked (sound was way trebly). They were way too snug and bulky; Never get faux leather earmuffs, they crack over time and stick to the side of your head whenever it is warm. Tight headphones, in addition to giving you a headache over a long period of time, are impossible to wear with glasses.

I ended up getting the Razer Carcharias. I’m a pretty big fan of Razer’s line of computer peripherals (as seen on any of my workspace pictures). I was somewhat dubious of their audio products (headset is different than a keyboard or mouse), but the Carcharias had received good marks on most review sites so I gave it a go. It is very comfortable, it feels notably lighter than most other headsets without feeling shoddy or flimsy.

carcharias side

The headband tension is tight enough to seat the ear cups against your ears well, but not tight enough to pinch your temples off. Consequently, they are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time, even for folks who wear glasses. The earmuffs are plush and velvety. I am partial to this type of material because it is soft and doesn’t stick to the side of your face when it is warm. It does collect lint though.

Each ear cup is attached to the headband with two stuff paperclip like wires that slide up and down to adjust to your head size. They are flexible enough to laterally move to fit the side of your head, eliminated the need to include a swivel joint. Not having a moving joint against the side of your head is a huge plus to anyone who has long hair that gets caught in things on a constant basis.

There’s an in-line remote with a volume and a mute switch on the cord. Both are easy to use and stay put even if you shuffle around quite a bit (I have had issues with loose mute switches). Other than that, I suppose they are much like the remote on any other pair of headsets.

The braided cord is tangle resistant and fits snugly into the rubber sheath that attaches it to the base of the headphone cup. The cords on cheap headphones jiggle around quite a bit when you yank on them, leading to breakage. This point is a huge nitpick but: When you twist the braided cords they get increasingly curly. I find that slightly irritating.

carcharias 2

The Carcharias isn’t a sound isolation/cancellation set of headphones. If you play in a noisy environment, you will still hear background noises, your mother or wife sneaking up behind you, whatever. A couple of reviewers felt that the noise canceling microphone was sub-par, but it seemed more than sufficient to me. It was at least equivalent to the mic on my old headset, which was pretty decent (err according to general Ventrilo opinion). It is also worth noting that I have all of my headsets plugged in through the analogue input ports on my X-Fi front panel.

The headphones themselves are a bit lacking bass wise in my opinion. They are great for gaming, but only above average to good for music. It’s not that they are tinny, trebly or bad, they just don’t sound as rich as mySennheiers (which were in the same price bracket). If you aren’t extremely picky about sound, they are way more than adequate and far better than most of your run of the mill headphones. Audiophiles though, will probably opt for something better.

They are a bit pricey. I think the average retail price is about $70 give or take a couple of dollars. Overall, they have been great so far.

Keiya’s Workspace: September 2008

If this post magically vanishes within the next few days, it’s because the module broke or something like that. I am playing with a drupal fotonote module that allows for flickr/facebook style css-rollover image annotations. Unfortunately though, it kind of hasn’t been updated in a long ass time and doesn’t do 100% of what I want. But close enough.

My work area hasn’t changed a whole lot since the last desk post in 2007. Overall, I am happy with my setup. It is comfortable. I will though, probably ending just buying a normal HDTV and a larger primary monitor sooner or later. The TV-card works like a charm and all, but I can’t really change the channel AND play a full screen game. It’s also annoying swapping between analog and digital whenever I use the PS3.

Desk

Games/etc from left to right: World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade Collector’s Edition, Hal Leonard Guitar Method, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Into a Dark Realm by Raymond E. Feist, Wrath of a Mad God by Raymond E, Feist, Good Omens by Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman, The Sims 2: Apartment Life, Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid 2, 3 & 4, Grand Theft Auto IV & Resistance: Fall of Man.

DeskRight

The white drawer is fairly new; It was $40 at Ikea or something. I took up playing the guitar early this year, so here is my setup. Fun fact: Because of the way I like to sit (I’m right handed and lean to the right) and because my computer chair has armrests, I keep kinking guitar cables. Need to remember to sit differently….

DeskLeft

When did I build this machine? Two years ago? It still performs fairly well, though the CPU is a bit of a bottle neck at this point. I will probably build a new machine in a year or two. Whenever this machine starts crapping out or whenever I am no long able to run new games at fairly high settings (probably the later).

Computer

The Belkin n52te

100_1487Earlier this year Belkin released the n52te, an updated version of the n52 gaming keypad that I wrote about last year. I caved in and bought it recently. The n52 is comfortable because it has an ergonomically designed hand rest (if you have the n52te, it’s coated in rubber). Out of all the gamepads that I’ve tried, the n52 was the only comfortable peripheral, in my opinion at least.

I think that many people are put off by the fact that the n52 doesn’t have as many keys as some of the other popular gamepads. If you are wise about using both the n52 shift states (red, green, blue) and the normal keyboard shift states (shift, control, alt, and any combination of such), you will have MORE than enough buttons to bind everything that you could possibly want. Anyways, the n52te:

100_1490

The keys on the n52te are a huge improvement. One of my only gripes about the original device was that the keys, especially the circular button, were very stiff and took quite a bit of time to break in. The new buttons are way more responsive. They are soft and quiet, I’d say somewhere between laptop keys and normal soft keys “feel wise.

The scroll wheel was also significantly loosened up so that it feels more akin to a normal mouse wheel. I own a Razer Diamondback, it feels pretty similar in terms of click and looseness. The dpad on the n52te comes with a “joystick” on it, kind of similar to the ones on the Playstation Dual Shock controllers. It’s made of plastic and doesn’t grip your thumb sufficiently. It is however, easily removable if you do not like it.

I don’t know why Belkin/Razer chose do to this, but the null shift state was eliminated. Consequently, that is one less set of keys that you are able to bind. So if you use all 4 (null, green, red and blue), you are kind of SoL. Rumor is that the null state might be re-added in a future driver update.

100_1486_0

The orange rubbery non-slip pad has been replaced by 6 rubbery feet, which grip better. The orange pad though adequate, still slid a bit, especially when my desk was dirty. Earlier n52te models had problems with the pads being uneven and rocking. Belkin seems to have resolved the issue since my gamepad is fine.

The profiles now load onto the controller’s internal memory, allowing you to plug and play it without having to install anything. The software, now powered by Razer, is completely different now. The editor and the loader have been integrated. A few people have complained that the new software was hard to use. It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t extensively use the macros so, *shrug.*

To be honest, the $70 price tag for the Tournament Edition is a bit much (the new keys really really do feel much nicer though…and it matches my keyboard and mouse lol). If you already own an n52, it’s not a huge upgrade. If you don’t own one, if you can get past the learning curve it is an invaluable gaming tool. Highly recommended!

Tips:

  • Bind your movement keys to the cursor keys instead of WASD. That way, you will be able to chat AND move, even if the chatbar is active. No more: “wwwwwwwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa fuck.”
  • It was also suggested to bind all of your most commonly used spells to non printing keys.
  • The LED backlight can be toggled on and off with a switch on the bottom of the pad.

More Cowbell

I have new computer toys: An EVGA 512MB 8800gt Superclocked video card and a PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750w PSU. Crysis runs smoothly with 4x AA and all of the settings on high at 1280×960. Every other non-Crysis game runs smoothly my preferred resolution, 1680×1050 with all of the settings maxed out. Not pushing as many FPS as I could because my processor is a bit of a bottleneck, but meh (I am tempted to upgrade to a quad core, bad Keiya no more computer parts).

The temperature issue: The card runs hot because the stock fan doesn’t spin up fast enough, EVGA has (supposedly) fixed this in a BIOS update. Alternatively, you can just tweak the fanspeed thresholds in RivaTuner to have it spin up faster at certain temperatures. There is a good illustrated step-by-step guide here and here.

Busy lately, no time to post. I’ll try to write a few posts to address the email questions that I have been blowing off /apologize.

Ray’s G15 Mod: HowTo

I mentioned this topic in a previous post: Ray's Mod is one of the best G15 Winamp applets out there and as far as I know, it's the only one that will flash the LED's in beat with the music. My installation of Winamp has fallen into severe disuse since the great Coup d'iTunes well over a year ago. I've actually loaded it a few times soley for the purpose of turning off the lights to watch the LED's flash (hush, I am easily amused :P).

I had trouble finding a download link to the mod, it doesn't seem to be hosted at many places. So here's a working link from a German G15 mod forum. The flashing LED thing is somewhat of an easter egg because it's a hidden option. Here is what you need to do in order to enable it.

  1. Go into the Ray's Mod option menu, it should be the 4th G15 media button.
  2. Hold down both CTRL keys without letting go, while scrolling to the bottom.
  3. There should be 2 additional options on the very bottom of the options list. Enable them with the play/pause key, then let go of the CTRL keys.

Load some tunes and enjoy!

Keiya’s WoWSpace

DeskFront

I like reading the “Reader WoWspace of the Week” articles over on WoWInsider. It’s interesting seeing where other people play, in addition to giving me purchasing ideas (naughty naughty, I spend enough on “stupid computer crap” and “personal ergonomic comfort.”) Figured I would do my own:

  • Desk: Beech Veneer Ikea Galant table. My old deks was a large awkward computer cart. I like this one because it’s plain, sturdy, and spacious. I am considering going back over to Ikea and getting the cable organizer that attaches to the underside of the desk, so that I can run the cables through it and hide them a little more.
  • Chair: It was on sale at Office Depot for around $99. It’s cushy and it’s leather.
  • Monitors: 19″ Samsung SyncMaster 914v and 22″ widescreen Samsung SyncMaster 225BW. Both were Black Friday sales, for 2005 and 2006.
  • Speakers: Cheap Creative 5.1 speakers from Best Buy. One day, I’ll replace them with a nicer set of PC surround sound speakers, but these are sufficient for the time being.
  • Nostromo n52 Speedpad: I love this thing, it’s so handy. I have just about every single ability and macro that I could ever want to use bound to the gamepad. It does though, take quite a bit of time to get used to. I don’t think I can play without it now.
  • Logitech G15 Keyboard: Newest toy, posted an article about it lately. My other keyboard drowned in a tragic coffee incident.
  • Razer Diamondback Mouse: It’s a low profile mouse with on-the-fly sensitivity adjustment options. Pretty, glows blue, very responsive.
  • Burning Crusade Collector’s Edition Mousepad on top of an IcMat (bought it from CompUSA and hated it…the noisy scraping noise eventually drove me nuts). The MC mousepad is a bit small though…

Computer:
DeskComputersBuilt it during early August right when the socket 939 chips and boards dropped significantly in price. Had originally purchased a Radeon x1800XT, but it was a bad. Returned it to Newegg and bought a cheaper NVidia card in its stead. Figured that I would eventually replace it with a DX10 card.

  • Case: Antec p180, It’s the mini-fridge case, but it’s large, quiet (sides are insulated), and designed well. It’s also made of steel…and kind of heavy lol.
  • CPU: AMD 64 X2 4600+, CPU Cooler: ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 64 Pro
  • Motherbard: Abit KN8 SLI
  • RAM: 2GB Corsair ValueSelect 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400
  • Graphics Card: BFG Geforce 7600 GT OC with a Zalman VF-900
  • PSU: OCZ Powerstream 520w.
  • Harddrives: HDD 1: 400g SATA Seagate Barracuda, HDD 2: 250g SATA Western Digital Caviar (video and bittorrent drive), HDD 3: 250g IDE Maxtor (junk drive)
  • That’s a 5.25″ in floppy drive installed, in it’s beautiful faded beige glory.
  • Below it is the Creative X-Fi front audio panel with my Ventrillo mic plugged in (I know I know, will chat more with it one day I swear). Probably wasn’t worth an extra $100 just for the remote and panel, but I <3 buttons.
  • Case = dusty. I haven’t cleaned out the front intake filters in several months. Luckily though, the inside of my case stays relatively clean. The filters seem to catch most of the dust.
  • Top of the case: Old ass TI-85 graphing calculator sitting on top of a scientific calculator , and an external HDD enclosure.
  • To the right is my old computer, which actually isn’t functional at the moment because I don’t know where my C drive is. When turned on, the entire case hums and emits a horrid blue glow. It’s irritating.

 

Other Stuff:
DesklolI just cleaned my desk, otherwise there would be food and an assortment of paper work everywhere.

  • My rooster mug <3.
  • 30g iPod video. It’s how I keep sane during the workday.
  • PS2 and Gamecube with Jabba the Hutt perched on top.
  • BC collector’s edition.
  • Miscellaneous games, DVDs, and literature. Typically the games, books, and DVDs that I am currently playing, reading, and watching.
  • X-Fi and TV remote. I usually store these on the floor on the other side of the room 😛
  • $20 tensor lamp from Costco with a loose switch. Been broken for 2-years, keep meaning to fix it.
  • Junk under the lamp: Small pile of old harddrives and a plush frog pencil holder. Both are sitting on 2 old computers, stacked on top of each other to form a table.
  • Ugly black file box under the table is what I use as a foot rest.
  • Right above my mouse is a white dish like thing with a clear blue d20 in it. It’s actually an incense holder that I use as a spoon rest. When the weather is not hot, I love sipping hot cocoa in the evenings.
  • The d20 makes important decisions for me.

G15 Modifications

g15systemspecs

With a program called LCDStudio, you can customize your G15 to display nearly anything that you would ever want to see (Winamp information, system specs, CPU temperature, etc). The downside being, that you will need to keep the LCDStudio running in the background in order for the custom displays to function. In order to show your CPU/GPU temperatures and fan speeds, you will need to install SpeedFan (and keep it running in the background as well).

SpeedFan is more or less straight forward to setup. LCDStudio requires Microsoft.NET 2.0 on your machine before you can install it. After you download and install LCDStudio, you will need a license in order to run it. It’s free, click the link and fill out the online form when the popup shows.

  • G15forums is a great resource for downloading and seeking aid on starting templates. They aren’t too hard to modify either.
  • Good Winamp mod: Ray’s Mod. Visualizer, makes the LED’s flash, etc. In order to make the entire keyboard flicker: Go into the config screen, hold down both CTRL keys, scroll down to the bottom, enable both options.
  • WoW mod: G15 Bar. It gives you 18 extra buttons to move stuff to.

….changed the site theme. Hoping that it’s readable. I’ll make a custom logo, banner, or something one day.

Logitech G15: Initial Impressions & Experiences

Yeah, so Saturday morning I knocked a cup of coffee clear over my keyboard, ruining half of the keys. I took at as a clue from the gods of geek consumerism and hit Fry’s that afternoon to purchase a $99 keyboard: The Logitech G15 (the one with the LCD screen).

It was a decision between the Razer Tarantula and the G15. I preferred the way the Tarantula looked, but the LCD functionality won me over. I know that there are probably hundreds of reviews for it out there, so I will try to focus on the little nuances and quirks that aren’t commonly mentioned. I’ll take pictures and include them later if I remember.


Construction & Features
The G15 is a nice looking (every key is backlight with a blue glow) and solidly built keyboard. It’s relatively large, at around 1.5x the size of a standard board. So, if you use a small tray or have a desk with limited room, check to make sure that there will be space. It’s also significantly heavier than other keyboards, which is nice. I like a device with some weight to it. The keys are relatively soft, quiet (not clacky), and feel great to type on, but that’s based off of my personal preference. I would recommend finding a store with one on display and testing it out first before considering a purchase.

In addition to the standard keyset and the LCD screen, there are 18 keys to the left, broken up into three 6-key chunks that can be customized using a macroing system. Above the extra keys are 3 togglable states, adding up to a total of 54 extra buttons.

General word of caution: The software allows you to record complicated macros. Be careful because people have been banned for misusing them. As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t do it using WoW’s in-game macros, than it probably IS an exploit. I would stay away from the timing macros (bypassing the global cooldown for example is against the EULA).

There are two USB ports on the top of the keyboard. Unfortunately they are USB 1.1 and somewhat underpowered. Though sufficient for running devices like thumbdrives, you probably won’t be able to connect your iPod or web cam.

The wrist rest feels sort of cheap (it’s a plastic attachment). It is adequate and comfortable, but it would have been nice to say, have something more solid and permanent, similar to what I had on my old keyboard (Microsoft Ergonomic 4000). The cable management grooves on the underside of the keyboard are also marginally useful, since they aren’t large enough to fit thicker cords (my gamepad mostly).


The LCD Screen and Profiles

By default, the LCD will rotate between 5 displays: A clock showing time & date, a system performance meter showing CPU & RAM usage, a stopwatch, a media player controller (start, stop, pause, forward/back), and a POP3 email monitor. You can customize what to show and not show as well as disable/enable the auto-rotate in the settings. It’s worth noting that you cannot directly bind the G keys to things outside of the Logitech software (they don’t function like normal keys).

  • The POP3 applet doesn’t natively work with Gmail because it doesn’t support SSL. In order to get it to work, you will have to install an SSL Wrapper (Stunnel or whatever, google it).
  • Most popular media players support the G15. If it doesn’t work out of the box, there’s usually a plugin/driver available.
  • In order to get the media buttons to work in Winamp: Go into preferences and enable global hotkeys.
  • You will need to keep iTunes unminimized in order for it to work with the controls (not docked into the system tray/taskbar that is).
  • The WoW applet displays basic character information, battlegrounds statistics, and whispers received. The character information is marginally useful. It shows basic stats, melee stats, durability and bag slots. It would be nice if there was a way to customize it (to say, display caster and healer relevant information). Betting that there’s a mod out there somewhere.
  • I haven’t tested the battleground support, didn’t get any PvP time in this weekend.
  • The whisper logging is awesome. I’ll usually leave WoW logged on, with all sounds off, and minimized while working on other things at home (working includes watching DVDs and surfing). The G15 will list the names of the last 4 people who sent you a tell, so I don’t have the urge to check WoW every few minutes for whispers.
  • The LCD will display a list of people who have tried to contact you. I get a fair amount of whispers and frequently go AFK, so the tell logging was nice!
  • Ventrillo 2.3.3 Beta adds G15 support! No more, “who the hell just SAID that?” situations.
  • There are a good number of G15 mods available now. I would check out G15 Forums, by far one of the best mod communities out there.


Conclusion

Though the WoW options aren’t all that super useful, I just can’t express how damn awesome it is NOT to have to lose WoW focus in order to check what song is playing, switch songs, unminimize Ventrillo to see who said what, etc. The G15 is a bit pricey, so if you are just looking for a vanilla keyboard, $80 to $90 might be a bit expensive. If you are in to new geek toys or are just looking for a way to pimp your desk, look no further: This is an excellent keyboard, two thumbs up!

Nostromo n52 Gamepad and WoW

Note: I wrote a more recent article on the Belkin n52te, an updated version of the n52, if anyone is interested in reading a comparison.

It took a about week for me to find the “perfect” WoW button configuration and a week or two more to get really comfortable using the n52 in multiple situations and on multiple characters. Once you pass the adjustment time frame, it really is a great gaming accessory to have, seeing that you can map pretty much every single ability and macro onto your left hand. 

The n52 has 3 rows of buttons (2 rows of 5, 1 row of 4 on the bottom), a D-pad where your thumb sits, a red button above it, a large button below it, and a clickable scroll wheel between the keypad buttons and the D-pad. It also has 3 different shift states (red, blue, green) which can be bound to any button. You can set each shift state to “momentary” (only active while holding the button) or toggle (active until you press the button again). If you aren’t sure what a shift state is or need more information, read the literature on Belkin’s website.

Anyways, I don’t know how useful this post is to anyone, but when I was Googling for information on WoW n52 setups, there wasn’t a whole lot of useful information available. I tried to make my setup as generic as possible to avoid having to tweak settings in the Nostromo software. So swapping ability positions means just swapping where I keep spells on my action bars in game.

Button Configuration
There are basically two ways in which people have the D-pad bound: a. using it to control basic movements or b. using it for shift states (shift, control, alt, and then jump or whatever). I do the former, binding it in this manner: forward, back, strafe left and strafe right (using the mouse to turn of course). Using it to control basic movements is actually what takes the most getting used to, since WASD is the norm. Even if it takes some time to get used to I would recommend binding the D-pad in this way, it will leave more of the keypad buttons open for abilties and shift states.

I have red shift set to momentary bound to the large red button above the D-pad and blue shift on toggle bound to scroll up. Normal (not red or blue) is used for spells and abilities, red is used for the non abilities (the map, social screen, battleground score, bags, etc), blue is bound to the raid icons (aka lucky charms) and other junk.

Shift (top action bar in WoW), alt (self cast), and control (pet bar) are bound to the leftmost keypad buttons on each row. The remaining 11 buttons on the three rows are bound to abilities. I have my most frequently used abilities bound to the middle buttons on the middle row because that is where my fingers naturally rest.

Scroll up is bound to blue, scroll down is bound to the key that switched my action bars in WoW (bar 1 is for frequently used abilities, bar 2 is used for buffs), and scroll click is used for jumping. I have the button on the bottom bound to tab targetting. It seems like it would be a good place to bind jump but it really isn’t since you can’t use the D-pad and press it at the same time (not unless you were born with a second functioning thumb).

End Stuff
Oh by the way: The black hand rest is removable and adjustable; the manual just doesn’t really say how to do it. Hold the n52 firmly on a table and pull the black part straight up, it might require a bit of force. If you have large hands, you can move it down a peg, otherwise just remove it or leave it where it was.

I stated this at the beginning of the post but: the n52 takes some time to get used to, it has a fairly steep learning curve depending on how you choose to bind your keys. Give it some time, it might take a week or two to get used to.

Attached to this post is the .n52 file for my WoW configuration profile if anyone is interested.

Creative X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS

I picked up a new toy for my computer last Friday. I started turning the backgound music in WoW back on because it just sounds absolutely rich and phenomenal in comparison to my old Audigy. Just FYI: The X-Fi Xtreme Gamer is pretty much the same card as the Fata1ty FPS, just $100 cheaper and without the front audio panel and remote. What can I say? I like shiny buttons…

I guess my only major complaint about the card is that the X-Fi uses a shared audio input/output "flexijack" for all non speaker related connections. So if you have multiple devices, a microphone and whatever else, you will probably have to swap them in and out. That isn’t a problem though if you have the front panel.

Word of advice to anyone trying to enable use of the maximum number of sound channels in WoW: It’s disabled by default for some reason. Go into your WoW directory, open the WTF folder, and then open "config.wtf" At the very bottom of the file, add this line:
[code]SET SoundOutputSystem "1"[/code]

Otherwise, if you don’t have a sound card that supports 128 sound channels, keep moving the slider down one tick at a time until you can hear things /shrug. I’m not sure why they aren’t labeled, it’s sort of annoying.

Also, a lot of people seem to be having crackling and popping issues with Creative cards (X-Fi included) and nForce 4 boards. I haven’t had any of these problems yet, knock on wood, but there isn’t a good solution to this problem yet to my knowledge, so it is something to keep in mind if you are thinking of purchasing one.