Diablo III – Endgame Content Suggestions

Based on the game’s current design, item farming centric, there is still a lot that can be added as endgame goals to synergize (yes, a DII pun) with this goal. I’m quite frankly surprised that the Blizzard team was so blind as to think that farming was the only thing people cared about in DII for the endgame. Patch 1.04 was a step in the right direction on fixing the items and possible endgame goals, but they need to take it further. As such, here is a list of possible content that can be added that would make farming worthwhile, starting with the obvious:

1. PvP – Competition while boils down to gear and maybe skill. However, DIII is mostly item based because of the game design so I expect PvP to be highly weighted towards better gear. If you want a game balanced to disregard items and rely on skills, play GW2.

2. PvP Ladder – Active record keeping for league matches. You can PvP for fun or you can PvP as part of a ladder system. This will make the competition worthwhile.

3. PvP related achievements. Lots of variety here and pretty obvious.

4. Timed Normal, Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno runs. Add a new game option to create a game (single or multi-player) that introduces a gate/NPC at the beginning of the game. Once all players are in the game, the team leader can talk to the NPC, open the gate, and start the timer. From there, the goal is to try and beat the game (Act I to IV) in the shortest possible time. Your best times will be kept on your profile and the best overall times for the server are listed on a ladder. Unlike the a Paragon ladder (which can never be reset), the Speed Run Ladder can be reset every season giving new players a chance to get a spot and forcing old players to redo their run in order to stay on the new ladder.

5. All-time Timed Ladder. Separate ladder kept for all-time best speed runs. Earning a top spot here can immortalize you for a much longer period of time.

6. Arena challenges/Gladiator. Basically, have tournaments that can be setup where players register a team and get placed in an arena (various types). You have no access to potions. Waves of enemies (no drops or exp gained) come out at set timed intervals. The goal is two-fold – try to kill as many enemies as possible and try to survive the longest. A ladder can be kept recording both type of results. Again, this ladder is also resettable and you can keep an all-time ladder as well. The Arena can also spawn Act bosses as well to make this really hard.

7. Seasonal bonus achievements or banner accents for the top N players/teams on the ladder leaderboard awarded after each season reset. The diablo3.com website should have webpages dedicated to recording the history of the previous ladders that have been reset. The lack of permanent history is one of the problems with the DII ladder.

Note how all of these things are based on both skill, teamwork, and gear quality. Improving your endgame gear is a big factor and thus makes the endgame item hunt more worthwhile. This would certainly trump all the endgame content of DII except for Ubering and gambling (which is just a faster, easier version of crafting). Ubering is fairly negligible as it was mostly for the item hunt (already handled by farming) and the boss challenge (can be replicated by the Arena suggestion). Gambling, meanwhile, was fun because it was simply a faster version of crafting. You can EASILY obtain endless gold in DII with a goldfind character (such as a barb) and then gamble to your hearts content. There is no easy satisfaction equivalent in DIII but that is mostly because the game design of farming items prohibits DIII from having such an easy item obtaining outlet.

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Diablo III – Endgame Theories pre-1.04

This game is all about farming, but end game farming is boring because:

1. Leveling is so easy that you don’t need to save up mid-range gear. You can get to 60 without much difficulty and on gear you get while playing. This means that there is no need for twinked characters to help them level up to equip endgame gear for the final grind. This kills the excitement players get from finding any good low or mid game gear. Hence why the AH is all about finding the best of the best and anything less just sucks (even if it is good).

2. No custom character builds (or rather, the options are very limited) cause niche items to simply not exist. This is compounded by how most weapons are interchangable no matter what skills you use (any 1 handed weapon is fine on a monk). Since no one is making a Dream Sorc or a Ranger Paladin in DIII, you won’t be finding any whacky items that may make people go, “I want to make X character build using this item.” This further reduces the chances of someone finding an item and going, “Not the best but cool!”

3. No stat points reduces the utility players get out of certain item modifiers. Finding a nice low req, high str/dex item in DII was much cooler than finding a similar item in DIII. This combines with #1 and #2 in that you don’t need such items to help you super twink a character for faster leveling.

4. Reduction in endgame goals has reduced DIII farming into a single goal – finding the ideal set of equipment for any character. In DII, you can get to the endgame and do many things:
farm for cool items
try to get to 99 in the ladder race
hunt Ubers
goldfind for gambling
farm for crafting items
In DIII, your equivalent options are:
farm for top notch items
goldfind for buying on the AH
farm to craft items

As mentioned, farming is a lot less exciting because you are getting more “trash” now than in DII because of the limited utility from many stat modifiers. It should be obvious that goldfinding for gambling is much more exciting than for buying on the AH. Lastly, crafting is very different in DIII than in DII because the items you need to craft are a lot less varied. It also overlaps heavily with farming for good items in that any trash you find can be salvaged.

Then there are the missing endgame goals. No ladder means that you don’t need awesome items to clear areas faster for better exp. No PvP means you don’t need to look for specialized PvP gear. What you need items for are beating Inferno (once) and for faster farming. Since Inferno can only be so hard, that means you only need gear that is “good enough” because the game requires little to no skill to play (bosses and monsters are easy to read). Meanwhile for farming, if you are farming for better farming gear, it ends up being VERY pointless.
Thus you only have 2 endgame objectives to make the game “fun” of which one of them requires sitting in front of the AH looking for that exact item you want/need and the other is to farm just enough to beat the game.
Or… you farm for items to sell and make real world money.

5. The new stat point design, while nice in that it makes it easier for casuals, does not resolve the ultimate problem with DII stats – everyone still pumps vit and occasionally a primary (dex for zons, dex for block, strength for gear). DIII ends up being worse in that characters are so reliant on damage that they must pump their primary stat along with vit. Everything else is useless (def from str is pitiful, res from int is also pitiful, dodge from dex is pitiful). The further compounds the “stats rule all” theory I have for items in DIII. Everything else (save for a few useful mods like mf, all res, crit, leech, and attack speed) is useless. Then again, I haven’t seen enough other mods to know what else exists.

Overall, I’d describe the endgame goal of farming as… weird based on how Blizzard designed the game. There isn’t enough content right now to merit farming other than to make money. I just don’t see what the point is in farming with the current game.

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Diablo III – 23 hours in – Normal Mode Beaten

So I spent another 2 hours and beat all of Act IV in Normal mode. Ok, so that was crazy short and not what I expected. Storywise, it makes sense because you need to “act quick” and beat the big bad before he accomplishes his plan. However, I didn’t expect it to be that short, or worse, that easy. At least with DII, Chaos Sanctuary was hard. Anyway, here are my final impressions of the game before I move onto Nightmare.

1. Act IV was too easy. End game big bad was slightly harder to beat than the other Act bosses (I even had to use a potion!) but that was more because I was playing late at night. Those hours overlap with the active hours in the US (the server I play on) and thus, my latency wasn’t my usual 160-170, it was always over 200. So the lag actually got me caught in some bone prisons when I should have easily avoided them. So while I thought, “Fuck yeah! I beat him!”, I didn’t get the same elation I felt when I beat DII or really any other game ever for the first time. Hell, beating Street Fight II Turbo on the SNES felt like a bigger accomplishment than beating DIII on Normal. All of the good game design that made it just challenging enough to beat Act I, II, and III went out the window in Act IV. I think the game designers for DIII went too far in Act IV as it was actually easier to kill enemies than in Act III.

2. Act IV is… boring. I mean that as a map design critique. The map feels so linear and small (even when searching those few optional dungeons) that I never found it interesting. Again, it makes sense storywise but for the gameplay, it makes Act IV an area I wouldn’t want to keep revisiting.

3. Plot holes or rather, unresolved questions are abundant. The game definitely does not feel as complete storywise compared to DII. With DII, we knew that the game ended on a cliff hanger but from what the NPCs say in DIII, this should be the END of the story. None of the dialogue implies that there should be a next game so you never think, “Oh. This will just be answered next time.” Anyway, here are the questions I have:

  • What happened to Leah’s soul?
  • What happened to the black soulstone that fell to god knows where? Is it defunct? Are the demon souls really gone?
  • Aside from the Nephalem being the offspring of angels and demons, what the hell was so special about the main character that Kulle aluded to? If that was it, then that is some piss poor story telling as it sounded like a hint to a really cool and big reveal.
  • What happened to Adria? This is the one part along with the soulstone that could lead to the next game. However, it is not obvious and could feel really forced if this is what they pickup from.
  • Is Imperius dead?
  • Why is Tyrael taking up the position of Wisdom instead of Justice? You hear extra stuff about how the previous Archangel of Wisdom is probably alive and wandering around after becoming somewhat insane. So I guess they need a replacement. However, Tyrael was repeatedly said to be the perfect Archangel of Justice because of his judgement. Who the hell is going to replace him?

4. The final cut scene was very cool like the others. However, I was hoping to see me (or all the playable classes) beating the crap out of the final big bad before killing him. That would have been an awesome scene to watch.

5. What was the point of allowing me to keep attacking the final big bad’s body after beating him? He had 0 life and I could keep attacking (cause I thought he’d just get up again) but then after a while, his body exploded into loot. Seemed weird/odd/glitchy.

6. Ending credits are so long that the background music finished and the credits kept rolling. Yes, the ending credits were so long that the music actually ended and all I had was a faint background hum. Sitting through the credits took longer than the time it took for me to beat the final boss.

7. Items are boring. Or perhaps it’s because I never found anything but normals, magicals, and rares. In DII, I got at least 1 set and 1 unique by time I had beaten normal for the first time. Maybe magic find is just harder in DIII, but not getting anything other than the normal loot after beating the game makes it feel pointless to farm gear (might as well just craft).

Overall, my impressions of the game are that it is good for casual players. Very easy, nice story, cool cut scenes, and very little thinking involved. No skill is needed at all to beat the game on normal. For people who like to ladder race, this game is not for you. Players who enjoy making unique character builds are likewise going to hate this game. Lastly, those who prefer farming are also going to find this game a bit boring as you don’t find anything really “cool” feeling (sets and uniques, or magicals and rares with whacky abilities). Based on hype and expectations, DIII was a flop. Based on target audience… I have no idea who they are targetting. Seems like the casuals but then why make the AH? Doesn’t make sense, but whatever, a lot of DIII doesn’t make sense.

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Diablo III – 20 hours in

So I marathoned DIII for some 12+ hours with on a short break to watch Olympic basketball (great game between the US and Lithuania by the way). Then played a few hours more to get to Act IV. I should be right around 20 hours of actual gameplay now and have some new impressions of the game.

1. Gameplay for Act I to IV progression is designed very well. You never run into a roadbump where you feel the need to grind. I was able to just play (with and without side quests) straight through for the story without paying attention to my levels.

2. Leveling is boring. The game is designed to make leveling boring and an uneventful occurrence. Unlike DII, leveling up does not guarantee a change in skills and stat points are designed to scale well with the gameplay. So there is never a need to level nor do you really get anything out of leveling.

3. Skills really do get boring very quickly. Since you only unlock skills or runes at certain breakpoints, you end up using the same skill combos for a loooooooong time. Then when you level up, 90% of the time, the unlocked skill or rune doesn’t help as I won’t switch to it. Some skills are simply better for overall enemy beatdown and survival. For example, I’ve been using Deadly Reach with Piercing Trident ever since I unlocked that rune. I’ve tried all other primary skills and their runes for 30 min runes after unlocking them but none of them kill with the same speed and survivability as this combo. Same goes for most of the skill slots for a monk.

4. The cut scenes are cool.

5. The vocal volume is too low relative to the sound effects and background music. Having it setup this way by default is an odd decision.

6. The act bosses (or really most of them) seem boring. I didn’t find any of them challenging because they didn’t seem to have many attack patterns of variation in attacks. This is partly due to the well scaled gameplay & leveling, but I really thought things would be more difficult. Beating the bosses simply did not feel epic. Maybe the final boss in ACT IV will be better.

7. I love how I can socket without worrying now.

8. Crafting is fun and a good way of wasting tons of time.

9. Some stats seem absolutely useless (probably character dependent). For example, strength can increase defense but not by enough that it is worth using over dex or vit for a monk. Intelligence increases resists but does nothing else for a monk and since I haven’t ran into a single enemy that made me think, “I wish I had higher x resists,” it really is useless. For my followers, I pretty much go all vit because of the bonus they get. My enchantress had some 4k life by mid ACT II and by mid ACT III, she had enough int too to have 44 all res. I can’t imagine using gear that doesn’t give massive +stats (or at least I haven’t seem many modifiers outside of leech that are useful).

10. I haven’t noticed any difference between playing through quests with MF (around 25-35 is what I can use without drastically slowing down) and no MF. So, I ended up not using any MF (unless by chance) and am able to just blaze through most of the game unhindered.

11. It feels weird that gems only have specialized properties for helm and weapon. No real variety and since the “Other” property is always a +stat, it reinforces my theory that +stat gear seems to be the best type of gear to use in DIII. That kinda makes item variation really, REALLY boring. Or perhaps I need to get to NM or Hell before seeing other cool useful properties show up on items.

Overall, I’m still impressed by the game. It has its ups and downs, but I am having fun playing it. I am worried about the endgame though since all signs are pointing to it being boring. Most people will be using the same skills, items seem like they have optimal sets of mods, and everyone will be going for the same gear (because there are no specialized builds or gear based theme builds).

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Diablo III – Initial Impressions

I recently bought and built an entire new computer just to play D3 while I’m living in Japan. It took a long time to get to this point, but I have been able to play D3 for the first time. My expectations are high but having heard about the ups and downs of the game from forums and my brother, I think I had much more tame expectations going into the game. That is, I hope it is fun enough to keep me interested for a long time (e.g., a year or two). So here are my initial D3 impressions after 5-6 hrs of gameplay on a solo monk.

1. Very fun from the start because it doesn’t seem impossible to mow down enemies. Of course, D2 wasn’t that hard either but most of the early game was about whacking enemies with a weapon as very few classes had skills that could be “spammed”. Exceptions are those that don’t need to spam skills to be fun (barb, summoner necro, were druid, ma assassin). With D3, you get to spam a primary skill endlessly which is awesome.

2. I don’t notice leveling. Part of it is that I am a bit more immersed in the gameplay BUT a larger part of it is that it takes so long to get something new when leveling up (the level breaks for skills/runes), that I don’t bother watching my exp bar. Unlike D2, when I level up in D3, I don’t think “Yay! New level!”. Having no stat or skill allocation has ruined the entire leveling experience in this game. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing yet. I need to play more to see how I feel about this change.

3. While I no longer have to think about allocating stats/skills (which is a nice change), it also sucks that it takes so long to “up” a skill. One of the best parts of D2 was hitting 30 and being able to up any skill I want. With levels in D3, I don’t feel like I get any stronger except when I unlock a new skill/rune. Leveling feels pointless and stupid, which I guess means no ladder races.

4. Some of the skills and runes feel underwhelming. So far, there have been no hard choices on which skills to pick and use. I literally cannot see how someone can play a monk at my current level in a more effective manner.

5. Skill spamming your primary at no cost is very fun. But it gets a bit boring fast. All the secondary skills for the monk also seem so boring that I rarely use them. The only times I’m forced to use a secondary skill is when I am fighting an elite or boss pack and need some effect from the skill that I cannot get from my primary. I liken this to Magicka. Magicka is super fun because you can spam skills endlessly but the fun never gets boring because there are hundreds of combinations you can use. Also, with different enemies, some skills are not effective. So you actually have to think of what skill to use or new skill combo to try. This is endless skill spamming done right. D3 feels like it lies between D2 and Magicka and lands in a “fun but gets boring quick” type situation. Perhaps I need to unlock all my skills before this gets fun but… like I said, level progression is not fun in D3 whereas in D2 you actually got joy out of each new level. This is a poor combination for gameplay in my opinion.

6. Side quests feel boring but for an OCD person who wants to get all of the achievements, I am forced to do it. Since there are random journals everywhere, I feel forced to make sure I search the entire area/dungeon which can take a LONG ass time (just like D2). If I find the right path at first (by seeing the circle thingy on my minimap), I usually think “fuck!” instead of “yay, lucky!” This makes the game much longer and I don’t feel like the reward matches the time investment. Of course, I could always ignore getting all the achievements but then I also miss out on potential story too (because in some cases, the journals directly explain the storyline). So this leaves me feeling like I have zero choice in how I want to play the game (to get the most out of the plot). This forced searching also kills off a type of gameplay in D2 – exploration. Since exploring is no longer optional for completests, those players lose an entire type of gameplay. Worse yet, if all you want to do is play single player and like exploring to reveal the entire map, then tough luck. The map is reset in D3 when you leave and resume a game.

7. Lag is annoying. I’ve rubberbanded a few times (maybe once every hour) which isn’t too bad, except for the one time it got me killed. What bothers me is that I wasn’t even running. I thought I was attacking a group of enemies from the outside of the pack but then I rubberbanded and noticed that I was in the middle. Before I could skill spam or use a potion, I was dead. Not fun Blizzard! It has been how many weeks since launch? How can this still be an issue?

8. Lastly (SPOILERS), not enough cut scenes. I feel like 5-6 hours of gameplay is enough time for me to have see another cool cut scene as a reward for say… killing King Leoric. Or when Leah does her power explosion trying to save Cain. Hell, Cain dying is such a huge deal that I feel like that whole scene should have been a legit cut scene because enough cool stuff happens that it would make for a really cool and memorable cut scene. Especially since Cain was alive for such a short time in D3 (seriously, they offed him so damn fast in this game).

Overall, the game is still fun but my verdict on how fun is put on hold until I beat hell. I’ll see if the endgame is really worth playing with my own eyes since I fear that there is very little for me to accomplish at that point – leveling is not fun, going back to reveal entire maps is not doable, and so far, I don’t see any variation in skill builds. I’ll hope for the best but will also keep my stash of unfinished games on the side in case D3 doesn’t pan out.

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Google Fiber – A boon for small towns

Edit: So I read up on it Google Fiber more thoroughly and turns out it is only in Kansas right now. So ignore the petition part of my post. The rest of what I’m saying still makes sense though.

So Google Fiber was announced today and I have to say, it is amazing. If you take a look at the price plans, you will be amazed at what you can get for the price. Google is making a very smart move here by providing the “free” option. It will undercut any provider not named Verizon (fios) and press the telcos to respond accordingly. This is great for competition and even better for us consumers.

Even after looking at the fine print, this is a damn good deal. The free option is a one time payment of $300 or $25 a month for 12 months. Include the $10 you need to sign up to petition for Google Fiber and it will cost you $310 for a minumum (yes stated in their TOS) of 7 years of internet at 5mbps speeds. I’m sure most rural places without any competition (meaning overpriced, shitty telcos) would be dying to have this. It comes out to less than $50 a year for 7 years.

The other benefit is that you get 5mbps speeds on a fiber network which means you won’t be capped. You will get actual 5mbps speeds unlike what you get from most broadband providers today. For example, Optimum Online advertises some 10mbps speeds but you can never go past a sustained 3mbps. It’s hilariously misleading but legal because they say “up to 10mbps”.

What what’s the problem? You need to get most or a large chunk of your town to commit to the $10 fee to petition for Gooogle Fiber to come to your town. To be effective, you need the local government to get involved and push to get everyone to sign up (close to 100% conversion rate would definitely make Google want to pick up your town). I can see this being extremely beneficial economically for small towns. They can both break free of the telco monopolies and it would save residents a ton of money. It will also bolster certain businesses by allowing them to utilize internet as part of their establishment.

Going for coffee at the local cafe? Free wifi.
Eating lunch at your local pizza joint? Free wifi.
Waiting at the local bank? Free wifi for your phone.

Tons of ways to make life super convenient. Having so many free wifi spots around town will also allow residents to save money on cell phone fees by avoiding data plans. Overall, residents get to save a ton of money which can then be spent on local businesses (who are now better).

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, get your town to sign the fuck up y’all!

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The new mintBox – is it worth it?

The Linux Mint team in conjunction with CompuLab has released a new SFF PC named the mintBox. It has a small (nettop sized) SFF design centered around an all metal case that allows for the PC to be cooled without fans. This near silent (hard drive is not SSD but can be replaced with one on your own) design puts this PC ahead of many other Linux computers simply because it goes one step further than what you can get with off the shelf parts. The premium you are paying for hardware is no longer the cost of labor – it is the cost of pushing unique Linux PCs to the market.

Of course, this sounds great but everyone is going to want to know the price. Is the markup too high? Well this post’s aim is to give you a comparison between the mintBox, similar nettops, the Mac Mini, and DIY solutions. Hopefully, it will give you enough information for you to make your own decision about whether or not the mintBox is priced correctly.

The mintBox Basic and Pro

Here’s the price and spec breakdown of the two versions being offered (all of this is straight from the Linux Mint blog post linked above):

mintBox Basic mintBox Pro
APU G-T40N (1.0 GHz dual core + Radeon HD 6290 – 9W) APU G-T56N (1.65 GHz dual core + Radeon HD 6320 – 18W)
2 RAM Slots Available – 4GB RAM 2 RAM Slots Available – 8GB RAM
Bay for 2.5″ SATA HDD – 250GB HDD Bay for 2.5″ SATA HDD – 250GB HDD
Flat metal case Ribbed metal case
Dual-head display HDMI + DisplayPort Dual-head display HDMI + DisplayPort
Digital 7.1 S/PDIF and analog 2.0 audio, both input and output Digital 7.1 S/PDIF and analog 2.0 audio, both input and output
Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n + BT combo with dual antennas WiFi 802.11 b/g/n + BT combo with dual antennas
2 USB3 ports + 6 USB2 ports 2 USB3 ports + 6 USB2 ports
2 eSATA ports 2 eSATA ports
2 mini-PCIe sockets / 1 mSATA 2 mini-PCIe sockets / 1 mSATA
Serial RS232 port Serial RS232 port
$476 + shipping, duty & VAT $549 + shipping, duty & VAT

Note: Differentiating features are in bold.


Looking at these specs isn’t all too helpful though. We need to be able to compare this to similar PCs so let’s go shopping!

Barebones Nettop Kit

Doing a quick search on Newegg, we can easily find barebone nettop kits with similar CPU/GPU specs. Foxconn is the cheapest (pricewise) of these. Asus and Acer also offer similar components for slightly more (though usually not barebones). For now, I’ll use Foxconn as a baseline comparison as that is the cheapest you can go. This will give us a good minimum baseline to compare prices.

These two nettops are the closest to the specs of the mintBox Pro and run about $160 on average:

Since I’ll be using the Foxconn nt-A3700-0H0WBANA in the comparison build, let’s list this as $150.

Next, we can look for some RAM and a hard drive. Currently, RAM is fairly cheap but hard drives are still higher than pre-flood prices. Looking at our options, this seems to be a fair choice of components to compare with:

Grand Total: $237

SFF DIY Solution

We aren’t done yet! Next, we will want to look at a custom DIY solution to make a similar SFF PC. Ideally, a quiet solution similar to the mintBox and see what kind of components we can get. There are several sites with great information on helping to build such systems, often for HTPC use, such as SilentPCReview, [H]ard|Forum, and AVS Forum. For the comparison build, I will base my parts list off of this Habey HTPC build. However, I will swap the case with a slim version and remove the slim DVD drive used in the build. Fudging some of the parts for closer comparison to a Mac Mini (pretty sure these parts will still work together) gives us a parts list of:

* Another case option is the Viako cases but I’m not sure about their availability and am too lazy to look up builds using these cases. They do look very spiffy though!
** 120W version is only $4 more – I’m not building this thing so I’m allowing myself some fudge numbers.
*** I’m aware this is no longer sold at Newegg but I did use this in a build a year ago so I know the previous price. I also picked this over the better Intel motherboard because it has built in wifi (Intel one would require a USB wifi dongle).
**** It is also possible that you may need a better CPU heatsink and fan (low profile one that is quieter), but I’m leaving that out since this is just a theory build. I assume the default CPU heatsink and fan included with the i3 is a low profile one.

Grand Total: $455


Finally we can compare! From the Mac Mini lineup, I will be using the default $599 configuration (cheapest price) as upgrades will quickly shoot up the price. Also, before we compare, I’d like to point out that 10% of the mintBox price is a donation to Linux Mint. So the actual prices break down like this:

  • mintBox Basic – $428.40 + shipping, duty & VAT + $47.60 donation
  • mintBox Pro – $494.10 + shipping, duty & VAT + $54.90 donation

Now let’s put everything in that giant table and compare!

Features mintBox Basic mintBox Pro Foxconn Barebones Habey DIY Mac Mini
CPU APU G-T40N (1.0 GHz dual core) APU G-T56N (1.65 GHz dual core) AMD E-450 APU (1.65GHz dual core) Intel Core i3-2105 (3.1GHz dual core) Intel Core i5-2415M (2.3GHz dual core)
GPU Radeon HD 6290 Radeon HD 6320 Radeon HD 6320 Intel HD Graphics 3000 Intel HD Graphics 3000
Power Consumption 9W (8W idle, 17W load) 18W (9W idle, 24W load) ? ?
RAM 2 RAM Slots Available – 1x4GB = 4GB 2 RAM Slots Available2x4GB = 8GB 1 RAM Slot Available – 1x4GB = 4GB 2 RAM Slots Available2x4GB = 8GB 2 RAM Slots Available – 1x2GB = 2GB
Hard Drive Bay for 2.5″ SATA HDD – 250GB HDD Bay for 2.5″ SATA HDD – 250GB HDD Bay for 2.5″ SATA HDD – 250GB HDD Bay for 2.5″ SATA HDD – 250GB HDD Bay for 2.5″ SATA HDD – 500GB HDD
Case Design Flat metal case Ribbed metal case Plastic Nettop case 3mm Thick Aluminum case Unibody Aluminum case
Dimensions 6.3″ x 6.3″ x 1″ (16cm x 16cm x 2.5cm) 7.48″ x 6.3″ x 1.575″ (19cm x 16cm x 4cm) 7.48″ x 5.31″ x 0.98″ 9.0″ x 8.0″ x 2.25″ 7.7″ x 7.7″ x 1.4″
Case/CPU Fans No No Yes Yes Yes
Video Outputs Dual-head display HDMI + DisplayPort Dual-head display HDMI + DisplayPort HDMI + DVI (DVI to VGA adapter included) HDMI + DVI + VGA Dual-head display HDMI + Thunderbolt (HDML to DVI adapter included)
Audio Digital 7.1 S/PDIF and analog 2.0 audio, both input and output Digital 7.1 S/PDIF and analog 2.0 audio, both input and output Line-out jack (support S/PDIF-OUT) + frontside headphone/mic jacks 3 audio ports (8 channels – Realtek ALC892), speaker, headphone, mic Audioline in/out minijack, headphones + built-in speakers
Ethernet Ports Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Wifi WiFi 802.11 b/g/n + BT combo with dual antennas WiFi 802.11 b/g/n + BT combo with dual antennas 802.11 b/g/n – Single Antenna Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n – Dual Attennas 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless networking;4 IEEE 802.11a/b/g compatible – No Antenna
USB Ports 2 USB3 ports + 6 USB2 ports 2 USB3 ports + 6 USB2 ports 2 USB3 ports + 4 USB2 ports 2 USB3 ports + 4 USB2 ports 0 USB3 ports + 4 USB2 ports
eSATA Ports 2 eSATA ports 2 eSATA ports 0 eSATA ports 1 eSATA port 0 eSATA ports
FireWire Ports 0 FireWire ports 0 FireWire ports 0 FireWire ports 0 FireWire ports 1 FireWire ports
Thunderbolt Ports 0 Thunderbold ports 0 Thunderbold ports 0 Thunderbold ports 0 Thunderbold ports 1 Thunderbold ports
Card Reader None None SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/MMC 5 in 1 Card Reader None SDXC card slot
Bluetooth Yes Yes No No Yes
External Extras Serial RS232 port Serial RS232 port Includes a VESA mount and stand Optical S/PDIF Out Apple Remote (optional upgrade)
Internal Extras 2 mini-PCIe sockets / 1 mSATA 2 mini-PCIe sockets / 1 mSATA 1 mini-PCIe socket (wifi card) 1 mini-PCIe socket (wifi card) / PCI Express 2.0 x16 / 2 x SATA 6Gb/s / 2 x SATA 3Gb/s ?
Most Noticable Feature Fanless Case Design Fanless Case Design Cheapest Upgradable, Customizable No Power Brick, Built-in Speakers, Unibody Case, Upgradable, eGPU capable
Total Cost $428.40 + shipping, duty & VAT + $47.60 donation $494.10 + shipping, duty & VAT + $54.90 donation $237 $455 $599 + shipping
Markup (no donation, based on mintBox Pro) $-65.70 $0 $-257.10 $-39.10 $104.90

Note: I’ve bolded the standout features of each system in comparison to each other. Obviously based on my own opinion.

Drawing Conclusions

So what do we learn from this gigantic table? I have no idea.. yet. I would like to make a comparison between the Foxconn build and the mintBox Pro as that paints a clearer picture of what extras you are paying for.

First off, the markup is about $257. Now let’s see what is missing from the barebones setup that you get in a mintBox Pro:

  1. extra mPCI-e slot (2 instead of 1, just remember in both systems that 1 of these is the wifi card – or at least I assume the mintBox to be using one of these for wifi)
  2. Bluetooth
  3. mSATA
  4. 2 eSATA ports
  5. 2 extra USB2 ports
  6. Display Port
  7. Dual wifi attennas
  8. extra RAM slot and an extra 4GB of RAM
  9. Fanless case design (I have an older Atom Foxconn and it is loud!)

Note: You do lose out on a card reader.

Now in that list, I’d say 1-7 aren’t worth more than $40. The RAM (extra slot and 4GB) is a good extra and I can see demand pushing this to be worth ~$30. Then you have the biggest differentiator: the case design. It is fanless, sturdy (metal, not plastic), and looks sleek. Knowing the prices of good SFF cases, I’d say the difference between a low quality and high quality case can be at least $40-50. This cuts the markup to about $147 so let’s says $150.

So what is in this $150 markup? Well there’s CompuLab’s R&D, labor costs, and profit share, but is that really worth $150? Probably not as I’d say a more reasonable markup would be $75 or $100, though I can’t really blame a small company wanting more money for taking a risk and pushing a new type of Linux PC – well designed, custom, and branded – usually Linux PC makers don’t have custom designed cases. We are usually just paying for labor and testing.

Verdict: Price is a tad bit high but that’s a fair price to pay for trying to break into a market. Also, if you are an early adopter, it should be expected that you will be paying more than those who decide to purchase a couple months later. This is just my opinion though; what’s yours?

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Going Out With a Bang (at least let me dream the dream)

I started working for a terrible boss about 3 months ago and have since asked to be transferred to a different department.  Unfortunately, the move has not happened yet and as each day passes, she’s making my life more and more miserable.  Her creativity in how to be a bitch is actually rather impressive.  In a moment of utter frustration (and fantasy), I drafted my resignation letter to the CEO while laughing maniacally inside.  Now if I only had the balls to eat instant ramen for 3 months straight while I looked for another job.  Letter below for you enjoyment.

Dear Mr. XXX,

You obviously don’t know me but I have been working here at XXX for the past 2 years and have decided that if I must go, I might as well go spectacularly.  That is, in part, a reason for this letter.  The larger issue that I hope you will take to heart is how employees are treated here under your stewardship.  I do not write this intending to burn bridges, but if they must burn, then so be it.

Overall, I think that XXX has been a relatively nice place of employment.  It has its flaws, but what organization doesn’t?  And for the most part, my time here has been an enjoyable one.  I have met and worked with a lot of wonderful and talented people, many of whom I can now consider close friends.  However, in the past couple of months I have worked under a certain manager who has had the impressive skill of making me reconsider my life’s course.

I am in no way a hasty or emotional person.  In fact, I think most people would say that I’m almost devoid of that particular side of humanity.   Thus, it is with the utmost mental clarity that I tell you that she might possible be the worst person I have ever had the unfortunate fate of meeting in a workplace environment.

She insults my intelligence, my person, and my work.  She has deleted my work in front of me and told me to my face that what I spent time on was worthless and that she needed to do everything herself.  Yes, my work was subpar, but is it any wonder with such a toxic manager abusing her authority?  I have given it a thorough reflection and have come to the conclusion that I do not have the mental fortitude to withstand her incessant attacks and my work suffered greatly under her “guidance.”  But the reason for this letter is not to give you a detailed account of the sling and arrows I endured.  That would take too long and be too reminiscent of a historical account of the inquisition.  Nor is it my goal to inform you that just as my predecessor before me, so too do I wave the white flag of surrender in the face of such daunting bitchery.

Mine is a nobler goal in hoping that you can change this organization for the better so that you can retain people like me.  I think I have a lot of talent and I believe I can give a lot to the organization.  Everything in my history, including my Ivy League pedigree, attests to this fact.  I did not want to leave, but the structure of the company did not allow me to stay.

Once I realized that I could not handle the abuse, I very quickly asked for a transfer out.  There was no place for me within my division so I looked elsewhere.  Unfortunately, and idiotically, a transfer to another division required a sign off with an endorsement from my current manager.  Talk about not making sense.  Any and all doors close when the hiring managers in the other buildings see a manager bashing an employee regardless of reason or it if is even deserved.  The fact is that this perspective employee comes with baggage and there are plenty of other who don’t.  The reason for rejecting me is pretty simple.

During the process, I was also told by HR to apply to a single position at a time for reasons including “for purposes of ensuring that both your manager and HR are aligned with any applicable and transferrable skills at the right time.”  This logic is flawed on two major fronts.  If my manager’s treatment of me can best be described by a medieval depiction of Hell and has told me to my face that the work I produce is worthless, what makes her insight into my skills worthwhile?  Furthermore, my HR manager has no idea what I do or what my performance is outside of what she hears from said manager.  It’s pretty obvious that they will be aligned and that alignment will not be in my favor.  The second issue is that the statement placed no consideration for the desperation that I was feeling to get out.  Things got worse daily, and since I’m looking regardless, what does it matter if it’s one of ten different positions?

If an employee does poorly, he or she can be fired or disciplined.  If a manager manages poorly, there are no repercussions and the employee either needs to grin and bear it or leave the company altogether.  I have spoken to many people, including those in very senior roles and they have all advised that I find employment elsewhere.  They too saw no way around this ridiculous system.

Is that really the only choice?  Why is it that mangers are not held to high standards for developing those under them?  Why are they not held accountable for doing a terrible job?  Every year there is a review from the top down, but never one from the bottom up.  Those are all pertinent questions to aks, and you also need to wonder how much talent you have lost over the years because of situations like mine.  This is a common problem among all large scale organizations where the employment base is so broad.  Those at the apex are so far removed from the daily grind of those at the bottom that they don’t see these issues.  But know that the issues are there and good, hardworking employees leave while their cancerous bosses remain.

If you do decide to ask questions, I have no doubt that you will receive some rather unfavorable stories about me from the party in question.  Some may be made up and some taken out of context.  Some may even be true because I did lash out immaturely during the height of my frustration.  Regardless of what you may hear or conclude, know that I am not writing to sway your opinion of me.  All I hope for is that you will at least think about holding members of this company accountable for the abuses that they commit while wearing the mantle of management.  I also hope that you will think about a way to change the system so that those unfortunate enough to run into such abuses do not suffer for them.

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A Major Problem Preventing Linux Adoption

So I saw a post on Reddit the other day asking about standout software on Linux and it got me thinking about what could be improved and what is already good on Linux. I’m going to take my response and clean it up a bit for a post here as I feel like discussing the areas in which Linux lags behind Windows & OS X. First off, a breakdown list:

Polish Me Up!

Linux has some great software but much of it needs polishing to make it attractive to the non-technical user. These are all cross platform so the software is not exclusive to Linux. However, some of these problems are exclusive to Linux. In the cases where they are not, these are the best pieces of software for Linux whereas on Windows & OS X, you have potential alternatives. Examples:

  • Firefox should find a way to disable the title bar by default. Not have the user poke to do it via various methods (more choice here is worse because it makes it a nightmare for people to troubleshoot if they want to undo the change).
  • VLC needs to make their interface pretty. Release 2.0 did this for OS X but Linux and Windows still look like crap.
  • Skype. I hate it and I actually prefer the simple Linux interface, BUT to attract new users, the UI has to look pretty. Not something that is a throwback to the 1990s.
  • Zim. Best desktop wiki but needs to look prettier and be a bit less buggy with the text formatting.

Please Make Me Better

Then there is the software that isn’t good enough yet (my opinion, these just don’t feel as polished or as smooth/easy to use as their Windows counterparts). I’m only mentioning software that is actually released as stable here; example, the Calligra Suite is very promising but is still in beta.

  • Office suite (Libre Office) – documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. All aren’t as good as their MS Office counterparts.
  • Other office programs like Visio and an email client (on Linux this would be stuff like Dia and Thunderbird) – Again, not as good yet.
  • Simple paint programs to replace MS Paint. For the normal user, MS Paint is as simple and easy to use as it gets. While Pinta is something I’ve been meaning to test out as a Linux replacement, I haven’t heard many people including it by default in distros which makes me wonder if something is wrong with it. Right now, I just don’t do much image editing so I haven’t had a chance to test the program myself yet.
  • Photoshop replacement – GIMP is still not good enough yet. Other mentioned programs like the ones on KDE are good but still lag behind in features. Remember, this is about being as good or better than the Windows & OS X counterparts.
  • Games. Really just games in general aren’t supported much on Linux despite what Wine can do. Using Wine just won’t feel that good to the non-technical user. Especially if you have to explain how it works to them.

It’s Tied!

Things in Linux that are about equal to Windows & OS X (or are just cross platform):

  • Meld is awesome, but from my co-workers, I’ve heard that Beyond Compare is also awesome.
  • Notepad++ can be replaced by Sublime Text 2 (though this costs money and is cross platform) or Kate (good unless you are not running KDE in which case you run into the problem of getting it to feel like it is part of your DE). Outside of these, there isn’t a single easy to use, high powered GUI text editor for Linux that is on par with Notepad++. As much as I like vim (and respect emacs), those are programs that “advanced” non-technical users would never use.
  • Music Players – Foobar, Songbird, etc. can be replaced by Clementine (cross platform), MPD, Nightingale, etc. There are tons of great music players on all platforms.
  • IRC – XChat is great but is cross platform, hence we don’t standout here except perhaps in choice as there are a ton of other great IRC clients on Linux. But IRC is IRC so what works here works. We don’t really “win” out here.
  • Chat programs – Pidgin. Empathy+Telepathy isn’t feature comparable yet to Pidgin but if it does get there and then goes beyond, we could potentially standout here.
  • PDF readers – Foxit on Windows is good enough and comparable to all the great PDF readers Linux has. We have more choices but again, reading PDFs is pretty basic. No real “win” here.
  • File Transfer – WinSCP vs Filezilla (again cross platform). For just straight up file transfers, all OSes have good programs to use.
  • And a bunch of cross platform stuff like: KeePassX, other browsers, Comic Readers (MComix is my current favorite), emulators, VirtualBox, etc.

We Rock!

Now we are talking. Things that Linux wins over Windows & OS X (not cross platform):

  • TortoiseSVN < RabbitVCS, TortoiseHG, etc. However! The big problem for Linux is that none of these has universal support for all popular file managers (Nautilus, Dolphin, Thunar, PCManFM) so improvement is still needed.
  • Version control tools – SVN, Git, HG. We got ’em all!
  • Terminals. Anything beats cmd.exe and Powershell is nice but slow to load. OS X has a good terminal too. However, Linux just rocks when it comes to the number and feature set of our terminals.
  • File managers. None are perfect but they are all better than Windows in my opinion. OS X I’m not sure since I haven’t used it in a loooong time.
  • Archive manager. Ours handles a lot more formats once you install all of them. Installing stuff like p7zip on Windows just doesn’t feel as nice as when using it on Linux. We also got tar and more compression types. Again, haven’t used OS X in such a long time that I don’t remember what this was like either.
  • Partition manager – GParted handles so many filesystem types, can do so much, and is so straightforward to use that it is pretty damn hard to beat.
  • Docks – we got lots of them. OS X of course would be a tie here since they too have a good Dock.
  • Kupfer, Docky, etc. So many to choose with so many features.
  • Wealth of command line tools. We have more than everyone.

Hmm, I don’t know…

Things I don’t know about because I don’t really use them:

  • Audio, video editing.
  • Webcam usage outside of Skype.
  • Screen capture/recording programs.
  • PDF creation.
  • Backup programs – Acronis, Paragon (I’ve used this and it’s dead simple but for Linux I just use rsync and scripts), Crashplan, Time Machine (For OS X. I’ve heard great things about this.) etc. vs Duplicity, Bacula, etc.
  • Calendar/scheduling programs.
  • High end math or scientific programs.

So What’s the Problem?

Overall, if you look over what software Linux has available in comparison to Windows or OS X, you will find that we lack polish or just lose out in very important areas to non-technical users (the first two lists). Software that my mom and dad would use. We also have so much choice, which when combined with our various DEs and WMs, that it becomes clear that there is no good single stack that can be presented to users that will cover all the basic essentials. This is important because while you can run a KDE application on GNOME, the added bloat in terms of dependencies and RAM usage makes it so Windows and OS X end up being a better computing experience.

So why not fix it? Well… I’d be amazed if any of the stuff I mentioned in the first two lists ever get fixed because doing simple Google searches will show that many users have already mentioned this stuff years ago. None of them ever got fixed, though you get annoying workarounds. So chances of any of it suddenly being made a top priority fix is slim to none.

Also notice that the two following lists that we win out on due to being better or having more choices don’t concern basic users much except for a few things. Instead they cater to power users which is why Linux is often seen as awesome by more advanced users. Sure non-technical users will think Linux can be great to use as well but they only see it as an alternative to Windows. It doesn’t give them the same POP that us advanced users get when using Linux.

Sure non-technical users will think Linux can be great to use as well but they only see it as an alternative to Windows or OS X. It doesn’t give them the same POP that us advanced users get when using Linux.

Time to quote myself for emphasis. This is why prevents Linux adoption. No matter how hard you try to put together a coherent distro, you will inevitably fall short because we aren’t better in the areas that matter. In fact, overall we are worse. All the hubbub of no viruses, freedom, free software, and whatnot means nothing if we cannot win in these areas. A tie isn’t good enough. We need to blow away users for all of the basic tasks. I’ll admit that games can’t be changed by us but that will come if everything else gets improved on first.

Admirable Efforts

An interesting aside is looking at distros that are attempting to fix this problem and at least come into a tie with Windows and OS X. For example, while I’m probably never going to use it, elementary OS has a goal of trying to unify the computing experience on Linux. It’s attempting to handpick and modify a software set so you can have a single integrated GNOME 3 desktop that feels like it all fits together – looks, usability, everything. Of course the downside is that if the software they pick doesn’t fit all your needs, you will suddenly break the illusion of unity they’ve built and you will be back to square one. Additionally, they are limited to the same software restrictions we have above so at best they can just fall short of tying Windows or OS X. Perhaps if they get to this point, they can start working on improving the software they’ve chosen to try and eventually make Linux better.

Ubuntu with their move to Unity is another attempt at unifying the computing experience on Linux. They are pouring a lot of money into getting all their software to work with the global menu and to fit into their new DE. While the initial release sucked (I tried it on first release along with GNOME 3 as part of an experiment to pick a DE for my first ever Arch Linux build), it does show promise and could eventually be good enough to attract new users. However, they too will eventually run into the same limitations. Hopefully with their resources, they can make a good contribution to fixing up those pieces of software.

Chakra Linux with their focus on KDE is another interesting project I’ve kept tabs on. The way they try to get GKT integration into KDE is very interesting but still needs some work. Since they made the choice of going all KDE, they get to rely on the KDE community. This is pretty interesting the entire community is focused on the KDE suite of software so they have a better chance of catching up to and surpassing Windows & OS X. Everyone else has to deal with potential forks (Open vs Libre Office) to major projects. The downside is that non-KDE users won’t be interested in helping to their speed of development may not be fast enough to ever surpass Windows or OS X.

Lastly, I’ll mention my own experiences making a unified XFCE environment on Arch Linux to complete the list of major DEs. I attempted to build an environment with minimal dependencies – no GNOME or KDE, is only XFCE and thus GTK, and runs fast. For the most part, I got it working but it took a long time to get there and it still isn’t perfect. I had to give up on some great pieces of software (ex, Kate) in favor of reduced dependencies. I also wouldn’t say the environment as a whole is worlds better than Windows or OS X for a normal user. In fact, it falls short because of what I mentioned above. But as an advanced user, I find it a joy to use compared to Windows.

Final Words

So Linux community, I hope someone takes note of what I’ve written and attempts to contribute to the future of Linux by sprucing up the state of software in Linux – for the stuff that is important to non-technical users. Our track record keeps me skeptical since we tend to focus our efforts on cool geeky pieces of software (and thank you for that!). If we really want to win the “desktop war” (aka: convert users), these things are of utmost importance.

A 7 year Linux user

P.S. As an aside, due to continuing the discussion Reddit, I bet that people are going to just ignore what I wrote and attack my post from random positions that have nothing to do with what I said. It seems to be the stance that Linux apologists take up when they can’t find a fault with your actual arguments. Just remember, looks matter (you wouldn’t want to look bad in a first impression right?) and that non-technical users are the majority. Linux isn’t perfect and we should be willing to listen to critique and fix our flaws.

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Orlando’s Magic Offense

As everyone knows by now, Dwight Howard is staying in Orlando for another year. During the whole trade debacle this year, Dwight made some interesting “suggestions” which included asking Otis Smith to trade for Nash and Monta. I decided to watch a few games to see if either of these players would make sense on the Magic and while I’m sure the offense could be changed to fit their skill sets, neither fit in perfectly. So why would Dwight ask for these two players, aside from their status as great offensive weapons? Was he just making random requests or does he have a better understanding of the Magic’s offensive woes (ranked 21st in the NBA this year at 94.3 ppg) than people think?

Whenever I watched an Orlando game, even those in previous seasons, I always had a weird nagging feeling that the offense just isn’t living up to its potential. Their offense [somewhat] works as Dwight’s dominance allows for all of the 3 point shooters to get open looks. Meanwhile, all of the 3 point threats should theoretically make it easier for Dwight to score. However, that rarely seems to be the case and I think I finally know why – they have no wing player that can create their own shot.

Right now the offense is designed so Dwight elevates the offensive abilities of all of his teammates. This is very evident when looking the ridiculous 3 point % of their entire team. Everyone is shooting lights out from behind the arc relative to other teams. So why has Dwight’s scoring output stayed the same for much of his career and why have his shot attempts stayed so low for someone so dominant? Most would point to his FT shooting woes or lack of variety in post moves as the main culprits and yes, this is part of the problem. But a bigger factor is that the Magic offensive sets are not designed to help get Dwight easy shots.

Both Nelson and Turkoglu are supposed to be the creators that help get Dwight easier shots either through pick and rolls or via their penetration & passing. Whenever either player is “on”, the Magic tend to win because they end up making the defense pay for focusing so much on Dwight. The problem – neither player is able to do this consistently. Jameer was close in his All-Star caliber year but after getting injured, he was never able to reach the same level of consistency. Dwight’s presence is the only reason either can even contribute well regularly. Heck, he is the only reason anyone on that team can contribute regularly. So the result is that the Magic end up being a very streaky team offensively that relies a LOT on 3 point shooting.

Once we understand the manner in which the Magic offense is designed, it becomes very clear why Dwight wants another star who can create their own shot (or in Nash’s case, create for everyone else on the team – create something other than 3s). If the Magic had one other consistent offensive threat that can create their own shot, Dwight’s offensive numbers and efficiency would shoot up. This would make the Magic a very dangerous team. Sadly, they have Otis Smith as their GM. A dude who doesn’t seem to understand how to put together a great team; right now, they are just a good team and will stay that way for the foreseeable future unless they make a change.

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