My PS2 memory card died, taking with it various save files. I guess I was courting disaster, in that I had been using the same single memory card since I bought my first PS2 in 2002. Flash memory is great, but it only lasts for a finite number of write cycles. Looks like I’m going to have to play all those levels of Katamari Damacy again. (Oh, the horror.)
Nintendo’s web site has a hidden gem: filed away under Iwata Asks… you’ll find a series of lengthy articles talking about the entire design process behind the Wii. If that’s not enough Wii to float your boat, BusinessWeek are also getting in on the act.
Nintendo have gone in pretty much the opposite direction to the rest of the industry. Sony and Microsoft are in an arms race of graphical and CPU firepower. The Xbox 360 has a custom IBM PowerPC CPU which has 3 G5-like processor cores, each at 3.2GHz, with a 5.4GHz front-side bus to connect it to the graphics chip. The PS3 has a 64 bit PowerPC core for general purpose tasks, connected to 7 independent vector processor cores known as SPEs, all at 3.2GHz. (There are 8 SPEs on the chip, but to increase yield they are using chips where 1 is faulty, as well as the faultless ones.) For the tasks needed for video games—3D geometry and the like—each SPE is allegedly about as fast as a general purpose CPU of similar speed.
So, 3 CPUs for Microsoft, 8 for Sony, all 3.2GHz—what about Nintendo? Turns out the Wii has one 729MHz PowerPC, a 243MHz graphics processor, and…er, that’s it. In terms of raw power, it’s a souped up GameCube. Instead of counting on bleeding edge CPU power, Nintendo are counting on innovative gameplay, convenience, and a host of other subtle design factors.
I won’t bother to talk about the controller, because you can read about that everywhere. Suffice it to say, the idea is to dramatically increase the approachability of the system. If you can point, you can play, hopefully. The rest of the design is what interests me more, and doesn’t seem to have received as much attention.
I was very skeptical of the Nintendo DS when it came out. A touch screen seemed like a reasonable idea, but putting two separate screens in a handheld seemed like a gimmick. My skepticism was also likely due to my disappointment with the Game Boy Advance. There are some truly great games for it—Advance Wars, Golden Sun, Wario Ware—but they are far outnumbered by the endless Pokemon games and lame movie and TV tie-ins.
Another interesting flaw has been discovered in the Diebold paperless voting machines used in many US states. The Diebold machines are supposedly secure because they run software from an EPROM, software that has been independently audited and certified for use by election board officials. Except it turns out that if you change a single jumper inside the machine, it will boot any code you care to supply on a standard flash memory card instead.
I notice that 1GB of CompactFlash has dropped to under $100. It’s only a matter of time before it makes sense to replace DV camcorders with flash memory units. With MPEG-4 compression, a unit like the Fisher Sanyo FVD-C1 can record about an hour of NTSC quality video in a GB. (In fact, there are already some pro camcorders which use RAID arrays of CompactFlash, believe it or not.) Sure, DV is cheap, but DV also sucks a lot.
I solved my Palm RAM problems. It turns out that the Palm V has about 800K of unused flash memory, because the OS isn’t all that big. By buying a piece of $15 shareware, you can shunt a couple of your honking huge Palm apps into flash, freeing up RAM. The only problem is, it doesn’t work with all applications. There was no demo available, and I didn’t want to waste $15.