Living with ARM for a week

So after the crazed purchase I made a few weeks ago, I returned from Japan, and was able to unbox and use the machine I’d been wanting for a while, a non x86 Windows laptop!

The NovaGo has a Snapdragon 835, and my phone, the ASUS ROG phone has the 845. Yes for this week, my cellphone actually has the stronger processor than my computer. Honestly this is almost an unthinkable situation! Although I haven’t been using my phone as a desktop substitute this week. It’s amazing how MS screwed up 10 on the phones, and Continium.

By default it comes crippled with this ‘S’ mode Windows, which hearkens back to the Windows RT launch, with the difference that it’s a quick trip to the application store to unlock Windows 10 Professional. It’s a free download as it should be, and it doesn’t even require a reboot!

Build quality isn’t so bad, the screen folds all the way back to make the machine into a ‘tablet’ although I don’t like that mode so much, it just feels wrong to wrap a keyboard around a monitor. However if you have rambunctious young kids, it’s great as when someone went running by me flailing their arms around like a while animal, when they struck the laptop the screen could easily fold back 180 degrees. Yay.

My first thing to do after setting up Office and VMWare VDI was to install the Linux subsystem, and Ubuntu. it’s exactly the same as it is on x86_64, which is great. And this let’s me have the best of both worlds, just like x86_64. As much as I dislike stumbling around with that aborted child of Pascal & Fortran (Python) at least I can run it under (mostly) Linux to get something close to like the production environment.

The C/C++ compiler is actually all cross tools. I wanted CLI only stuff because I like torturing myself, and it required a few GB of downloads. The good news is that the latest Windows 10 SDK does support GDI/CLI apps, so no crazy SDK hacking required, unlike back in the Windows RT days. Oddly enough the Taskforce 87 interpreter runs fine, but nothing else does.

I did a horrible job at hacking up SDL 1.2 to at least run (kind of, the audio doesn’t work, and it’s all WinDB) I got a few things up and running, including DOSBox and FrontVM. One thing that greatly helps is that i386 binaries ‘just work’. Honestly you wouldn’t even know you are running them when you are. Which made hunting down the ARM64 version of Chromium Edge kind of difficult to find. There really needs to be a more apparent way to tell them apart, if anything for battery efficiency.

As pictured, SQL Server 4.21a runs just fine, again you wouldn’t even notice. Same for Visual C++ 1.0 & FORTRAN PowerStation 1.0.

Again the audio in my crap SDL build doesn’t work, so DOSBox is silent, and without Direct X, the text mode is tiny. Oh also, there is no OpenGL in this version of Windows dev kit for some reason. Running ssystem is ungodly slow. Also the default optimizations seems to be Os, optimize for space, and on this ASUS I have to say /Ox is way way faster. DooM is quite playable on DOSBox when build with /Ox, unlike /Os.

For me, I spend most of my day to day in Office, and VMWare VDI, connecting to secure networks. So I’m just one step above a terminal. Which I guess is kind of sad, but this machine more than fills that roll for me. The 120GB of storage is tight. This isn’t a development machine persay, nor is it something to download tonnes of data to, it’s a lightweight machine where it’s strength is the built in 4G modem, and when running ARM software the longer battery life. To me the biggest drawback is that the keyboard isn’t backlit. Even though I touch type, I didn’t realize how much I’d grown used to it for casual use.

I guess it’s a hard toss up from this and a PINEBOOK Pro, I think most readers here would prefer the Pinebook, for all it’s openness, although I still like the idea of being able to copy over the Win32s version of Lemmings, and it just running. For me I kind of like this thing, although once I switch back to an x86_64 with more memory, better GPU and disk options, maybe this just feels like some kids toy.

For anyone with one of these rare machines that cares to play along you can find my built stuff on my ‘vpsland’ archive:

And the f2c/dungeon build along with the C/C++ compiler is in the aptly named dungeon-2.5.6-ARM(32bit) file.

Random fun with video cards

So that 3d Mark 11 bench tool was on sale, and I thought it’d be interesting to judge various machines.

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070(1x) and Intel Core i7-9700K ProcessorNVIDIA GeForce GTX 980(1x) and Intel Xeon Processor E5-2678 v3AMD Radeon R9 290X(1x) and Intel Xeon Processor E5-2620 v2
3DMark Score239801635113534
Graphics Score290581758518872
Physics Score15672132897876
Combined Score15824138556623
Graphics Test 1 fps1146.83182.54180.92
Graphics Test 2 fps2145.84282.38290.27
Graphics Test 3 fps3173.273111.73124.86
Graphics Test 4 fps481.82452.33457.79
Physics Test (fps)49.7642.1925
Combined Test (fps)73.664.4430.81

One glaring thing is that the old AMD (new ones too??) don’t have any PhysX acceleration so the weak processors shine through. And honestly the 980 is still a really solid card. Assuming yours hasn’t been mined to death.

Going from memory here is roughly what I paid (Yes I bought the RTX 2070 before the announcement of the Supers, and basically it’s too high for right now, but this is what happens in tech, value slides way down).

RTX 2070GTX 980R9 290x
price in HKD$3,739$800$350
3DMark Score239801635113534
3DMark per HKD6.4120.4438.67

So the biggest bang for the buck is the used stuff. Like it’s not even close. I should probably add in MSRP’s for the old cards. But here we are.

My old GPU was an GTX 460, before I tried out the 1030 & 1050 before making the leap to the 2070. But lately I’ve been looking for old gen cards as they seem to perform pretty well. Also for AutoCad I picked up a P2000. It’s insane how much those cards can go for, and I should bench that one to show how terrible it is at gaming. But wow what a speed difference in CAD.

Roy was right, GTR PSU’s are terrible.

My GTR Power Com PS530 Plus ‘Chinesium‘ PSU blew up.

Roy called it!

Well, Roy called it. It’s a shame I don’t have footage as I didn’t really expect anything to happen, but I let the system run for a few days nothing much to report, I had mostly left it to idle, until the kids came in, and it became a YouTube, music machine. Again nothing much to report, I loaded some program to report CPU temperatures, and it was hovering under 30c. Not to bad.

With the kids gone, I thought I’d run FurMark to see how the GPU cooler is scaling as I suspect I should disassemble the video card, clean it up some, add new paste at least. So basically at 600×400 it was scaling about 1c ever second, just going vertical until it was in the 80c range. I’m not sure of the exact temp, but it was at least 80c and then the PSU shorted, shot electricity out the back, and let out some magical blue smoke. I yanked the power cable, and pulled the PSU, which was still hot to the touch.


Now granted the TDP of the E5-2620 v2 is 80 watts, and what I suspect is the killer, the graphics card, an ASUS Radeon R9 290x can consume up to 300 watts. I don’t know how much 4 sticks of RAM, and a M.2 drive will hit, but considering the PSU says 550 on the box, 530 on the sticker, I suspect going anywhere near 450 is really pushing it to the limits.

I pulled the card, and cleaned it up, and put in an ANTEC 650 PSU, and was amazed that the system powered up just fine. I even reran FurMark until it hit 75c, and killed it, and let it drop back to it’s idle temperature of 35c.

So yeah, the GRT PSU killed itself under load. I though that disclaimer in FurMark was a bit crazy, but no really it really can kill hardware! And I got lucky the only thing that died was the PSU, the machine is still happily running.

Because I hate myself

Yes. It’s my last haul for the month.

I feel lucky to find a copy of Takeshi no Chousenjou in the box. I only know of it from Jon Tron. I actually do have a Famicom in the office, so I guess I can play it.. Although I’m not so much looking forward to holding up my phone with Google translate like a monkey daring to touch the monolith.

Yes it’s Takeshi no Chousenjou.

I’m pretty sure I won’t finish it, but this game immediately intrigued me. Then I forgot. This morning I awoke in a bit of a maker’s mark and contact c haze and remembered this game…. Then I remembered I’m in Japan.

I’m in Narita now. Having dinner, my flight back to Hong Kong is tomorrow. Can’t wait.

Oh I also picked up a GTX 980! So expect more exciting Chinesium updates tomorrow. I think on Tuesday I’ll get more water pumps and change my dual Xeon huananzhi board to water cooled..

There is other stuff afoot, some more painful returning to Return to Zork, and if my FM Towns actually works, some pharlap fun. Although I’ll probably do that even if I need to rely on emulation.

Did you know that although the FM TOWNS may have shipped with the pharlap 386 do’s extender with its MS-DOS, but it never had a DooM port!?

Oh and disks to the Coherent port to the Commodore 900 turned up. Binary only. But I guess this is exciting for Z8000 fans.

I did look quickly at lemmings, and yes it has WING and Win32s. Awesome!

What is with the price of retro Japanese software?

So I was lucky enough to get to Beep before it close, and I picked out a couple of FM Towns titles (and a junker!), and I thought ‘Return to Zork’ would be a good title, something to compare the MacOS & MS-DOS versions against.

Although slightly faded, it does come in this nice box, which reminds me of the NEOGEO… which is probably an apt comparison.

The artwork has faded, although the CD-ROM inside was still sealed, never before opened. I picked this up for an eye watering ¥3,480 but flipping the box over revealed the launch price of an astonishing ¥12,800! I’m not sure what the exchange rate from 1994 was, but even at a generous 100:1 JPY to USD that’s half the price of the old multimedia kits which included the drive, sound card and so many came bundled with Return to Zork.

Another random title I grabbed was even more insane!

¥ 14,800 for Silent Möbius: Case: Titanic!

I need to get a RGB monitor & keyboard to see if this thing even works, meanwhile I fought with UNZ to get it running, and the mouse tracking is totally broken unless you change the DPI scaling, credit to this post in the UNZ ‘BBS’.

One thing is sure, the voice acting in the Japanese version is so terrible.

As people complain about ‘AAA’ games, and paying $60, just look at this! $134 USD for some cartoon boat game thing.. Although I’ve never heard of Silent Möbius or played it, I just saw it was available for the x68000 and PC-98. So I guess it’s one of those Lowest Common Denominator games.

One interesting thing about the FM TOWNS is that they have that ROM DOS with CD-ROM drivers, and their apparently blanket licensing for PharLap 386. Although while I was wasting time looking at cartoon rabbits, someone else scooped but the 386 BASIC kit. Darn.

But in the Return to Zork world, the ‘made.exe’ is in fact a Pharlap 386 EXP, meaning that it runs in 386 protected mode, so you don’t have to struggle with emm386, himem.sys and trying to get a ludercus 580-600kb of conventional memory. Seriously it was such a chore to get this running the manual has a big section on setting up a boot disk. It’s a shame they didn’t license a DOS extender for the US PC platform, although I can see why they chose that route on the FM Towns (and I believe PC98), as there is a RTZ9821 directory there which includes an EXP. Shame it was never relased state side as a patch, as it would have been a GREAT user change. Well that or a Win32 executable.

Building with the finest Chinesium

budget build with the power on

Im going to detail it later, so all of this will change, but I was back in my favorite “junk” mall and a few places are selling new kit!

So I thought I’d do one of the Xeon boards up with what I thought looked good, but new. However they don’t offer remanufactured GPUs so the Radion 200 something is a used card I picked up for $350 Hong Kong dollars.

1920×1080 @ 88FPS! Very auspicious!

While I’m not the biggest fan or all that knowledgeable about ATI/AMD GPU’s this Radeon R9 200 (something) seems to perform okay. At the least it ran FurMark for a minute without catching fire.

Going with this idea, that means the PSU, case, motherboard and all in one liquid cooler are brand new.

I think the overall cost should be below 200$ USD but I need to go through my receipts and check. Although it is a cheap build for sure. More than enough punch for excel, and enough graphical punch for some gaming.

While not the cheapest case, the aigo Mini case was the least terrible looking one I could find. And at $160 HKD, that puts it in at around $20 USD. Nice

For cooling I found the Alseye H120 cooler for a cool $280 HKD or about $35 USD.

While I’ve used multiple AIO’s before this one really didn’t feel all that different from the rest. And it was the cheapest one I could find.

Contents were pretty much what I’d expect. The cooler block, radiator, and some adapters and whatnot to connect it to the CPU. What is nice about this one is that it includes mounting hardware and explicit ability to mount to the socket 2011. I’m pretty sure that this AIO is technically cheaper than the fan kit I have on my dual processor board.

I picked the 550 watt ‘POWER COM’ GTR power supply, since they bothered with a box. There was a 650 that just came plastic wrapped for cheaper, although I think I should have gone that route.

PSU Wired in with an adapter to drive the video card, and although only half of the secondary CPU connector has a plug in it, the board still powers up to POST.

While the machine does power up, I really have to wonder about the overall power budget. But this is a cheap machine so…. I’m more so happy it powered on.

And amazingly the machine not only powers up, but after a few minutes inside the BIOS the CPU is running at a cool 21c. Nice!

So from what I can recall:

  • Motherboard / CPU / RAM 450RMB
  • Case $160 HKD
  • PSU $150 HKD
  • GPU $350 HKD
  • AIO $290 HKD

So this puts me at a mere 187 USD. I could have gone cheaper with a discount air cooler, and a very simple 2D graphics card. But I was thinking of going with the ‘best of the worst’ type thing, so that means going with the water cooling, and the best looking graphics card I could find on the cheap. As you may have noticed storage is missing as I had expected some M.2 drives to have arrived by now. But for sub $200 prices this little box packs quite a good little punch.

Atermiter x79 Mini-ATX Xeon bundle

I needed to get some new PC’s for some temp workers, and I didn’t want to spend all that much. At the same time they need to work with fine Chinese programs like WeChat and TaoBao, which means they have to load up on all this spyware that bogs down damned near everything.

The old Celeron J3455 just wasn’t handling the load, and then I saw this cheap bundle, the Atermiter x79 Mini-ATX motherboard E5-2620 v2 Combo:

The kit includes the board, processor, and 16GB of matched DDR3 ECC RAM. And I was able to get the kits for 450 RMB ($65 USD) as I was ordering more than one. I don’t know if this kind of negotiations are available to anyone outside of China. Although I don’t know if doing this would be some kind of service to resell? It’s crazy enough that I already employ someone to help buy stuff, maybe I should turn it into a business.

Anyway, scoring the Celeron J3455 vs the Xeon E5-2620v2 shows that the Xeon is 2x as fast per core, and with 6 cores / 12 hyper-threaded vs 4 cores on the Xeon. So this should be great.

Atermiter Mainboard, Born for Gaming

The board showed up the next day, granted it’s because it’s from the province adjacent to Hong Kong, Guangdong so it didn’t have that far to go.

Box contents

Contents were pretty bare, the memory nice foam packed, a SATA cable, and a heat sink adapter to sit on top of the LGA 2011 socket to let you use other more common heat sinks. I went ahead and used a LGA1151 3 wire fan kit I had lying around.

Mini-ATX Xeon 2011

The board is TINY. It really is Mini-ATX. I don’t have any spare M.2 storage on hand, so that’ll have to be for another day, instead I just have a disk & SSD from the old Celeron, which booted up just fine in this board. Naturally bring your own CR-2032 as they are so scared of shipping lithium ion batteries for some reason. Xeon’s don’t have iGPU’s so you will need a graphics card. And I just used a super cheap NVIDIA Quadro FX 580. Not an awesome card, but you can see what you are doing, so it’s more than enough for back office work.

E5-2620 v2, 6 cores, 12 threads, 16GB of RAM for $65 USD!

So yeah. Another China Xeon special. I know it’s not that exciting, I should fire up the other one and see if I can get XP x64 on there. I have a GTX 970, it’d be a killer HL2 machine!

Bill Gates on the future of Xenix

I bet most would never imagine an article like this. And yes, it’s really Bill Gates on the cover. And yes the lead story is about Xenix. Really.

And can you imagine what magazine would have such a glowing photo shoot of Gates? I almost wonder if anyone can imagine which one it would be?

The main point of course is binary compatibility between x86 distros, and killer apps. Of course not quite in that terminology but it’s there. Even in 1985 the hints of the far superior 80386 was being actively talked up, and the promise of a Xenix for the 386 as well.

And the magazine?

Yeah it’s Unix World. Volume 1, issue 5.

A bunch of early issues found their way onto, and it’s great stuff going over the old ads for SUN, HP, and all the old vendors, the articles wondering what will the future of BSD be, and Bill Gates on Xenix.

I know this will be a great score for all my Xenix fans!

Just made a drunk purchase… Not too mad


I’ve been a hidden long time fan of non x86 NT, I’ve owned Alphas and PowerPC (still sadly no MIPS), and when it came to the arm platform, ive since picked up the Surface RT and the Surface 2 RT. YouTube works fine on both, although the 2 is far faster and overall nicer user experience. I use the 1st Gen as a winamp player as it’s easier to jailbreak and cross compile to and mess with. But locked down Windows 8.0 for arm is insanely limited.

Enter Windows 10 and another botched shot at Windows on ARM for the general consumer. These ship with a S limited version of windows, which apparently can be easily unlocked to full 10 pro. I chose the Asus as it’s a laptop, and has more ram than the HP. Both however should be enough for casual day to day usage of office and edge chromium. I’ll have to see how it goes for either cross or native compiling.

Although the arm in these machines is 64bit, is there 32bit user land at all? Is it still possible to maintain a 32bit userland of gcc 1/2 and binutils for legacy compiles? How terrible is x86 qemu on arm emulation? DOSBox native? I guess SDL should be a simple rebuild like NT MIPS?

I’m also curious about WineVDM and MS-DOS player.

Oh well, I’m just waiting for a flight in the airport, going slowly insane.

UPDATE on the ASUS here:

My conclusion is really that the biggest problems with the physical machine is the lack of a backlit keyboard, and the tiny storage. Windows on ARM feels like a solution looking for a problem, but the obtuse problem is non x86 diversity. And in those regards it’s pretty much working fine.

But looking forward to a non x86 usable machine. I even have an unlimited chip for Hong Kong. It’ll be interesting if it can keep up for me, and if I’ve finally hit Ted Smith FORTRAN Maximum usage. Although this has no floppy drives.