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Making Your Odroid-XU4 a Silent Beast with the Zalman ZM-NB47J

As some of you may know the current top-of-the-line Odroid-XU4 is probably the most powerful SBC on the market. With its 2.0GHz Exynos Octacore CPU, 2GB LPDDR3 and USB3.0 support, it’s hard not to resist its potent charms. But with great power comes, errr, great noise. These things will keep you up at night.

The biggest issue facing the XU4 is heat – this thing gets seriously warm. The default SKU, along with the starter pack, ship with a whiny, annoying, and downright offensive fan. This thing could torture even the most taciturn of folk.

The makers behind the line, HardKernel, do offer a passive cooling solution. It uses a larger, fanless heatsink at 40 x 40 x (H)25mm. While this seems an obvious solution, it does comes with a few caveats. For one the heatsink is only capable of cooling the CPU up to levels around the 1.2GHz mark. Once the system is at full load, thermal throttling will occur. A lesser issue, but still a minor inconvenience, is the fact it no longer fits in the official case.

When I first bought the XU4 I had no idea the fan would be that bad. According to the official site ‘it barely kicks in’. Well I can tell you that is false. The eMMC in my starter pack came preloaded with UbuntuMATE, which is a fairly lightweight OS. Even general navigation would cause the fan to flare up and wind down every 30 seconds or so.

My eventual aim for the device was to configure it as a NAS, and maybe even get a Plex server up and running. I thought being mostly in an idle state would mean things shouldn’t be too bad. I was wrong. This thing was setup in the corner of my bedroom and would regularly wind up at 4am like a jet fighter. That fan had to go.

I looked around online for solutions, and thought maybe the official passive heatsink might be the best option. After all, it had the mounting holes, and was obviously made to fit the device. I wanted more, though. More cooling, less throttling. I started researching based on the 40 x 40mm footprint. There were quite a few options, mainly northbridge heatsinks, but most relied on thermal putty for application.

I finally stumbled upon the Zalman ZM-NB47J, a northbridge heatsink measuring in at 37 x 37 x (H)47mm. It offered a similar footprint to the HardKernel solution, but at nearly twice the height, would offer far better thermal dynamics. The dealbreaker was the fact it had adjustable mounts, meaning it just about fits the XU4. A bit of Arctic Silver 5 later and it was done.

Odroid-XU4 with Zalman NB47J Heatsink

So how does it perform? Well, the fact it doesn’t make a noise means infinitely better in my eyes. Granted the system will still throttle under full load, such as transcoding a 1080p video file. But after a few benchmarks I measured the CPU would run as high as 1.6GHz under load before throttling kicked in. A full 33% increase in performance over the Hardkernel passive heatsink. Not too shabby.

The main problem is finding one of these things. Zalman don’t make them anymore, so your best bet is eBay. Mine cost me about £5 including postage. A small price to pay for a peaceful night’s sleep, I’m sure you’d agree.

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How-to: Stop Switch Dock Scratching Your Screen

The Switch has barely had time to settle in and we’re hearing reports of the dock causing scratches to the tablet’s screen. Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aimé was quick to put the kibosh on any suggestions of a design flaw, stating they hadn’t experienced any issues when showing the system off at various events in the build-up to launch.

Needless to say, there’s still a lot of worried people out there who don’t fancy ruining their new toy, so I’ve come up with a solution to combat the plastic-on-glass problem that seems to be causing the issue.

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E3 2018: The Last of Us: Part II Theory

Sony’s press conference has been and gone, and we got our third look at Naughty Dog’s next instalment in the Last of Us franchise. It was a trailer that centred on Ellie, a lesbian kiss, and some very brutal combat. But what else did we learn?

At 2am, a bleary-eyed me missed a crucial snippet of dialogue in the trailer. Newcomer Jesse strikes up a conversation with Ellie and mentions “your old man” with the remainder of the sentence referencing someone obviously protective of Ellie, someone we assume to be Joel (he’s alive!). Watch the clip below:

It got me thinking. Is Joel too obvious? From the dialogue it makes sense- the behaviour sounds very much like classic Joel. But could Jesse instead be talking about Ellie’s real father? We know Anna, Ellie’s mother, was a former nurse who died the day after giving birth, trusting in Marlene to look after her daughter. But we know nothing of her father.

Could it be Ellie finally met up with her old man, and he spilled the beans on how her mother died? Maybe she was experimented on during pregnancy and that’s what made Ellie immune. Or maybe she was already carrying the unique gene? It seems highly unlikely she died from natural causes, so were the cult responsible for her death?

The clue is in the second trailer (above) where cult-leader Emily holds a knife to an unknown woman’s stomach, signifying maybe she is pregnant. Was this Ellie’s mum? Is it part of a flashback sequence. It would make sense that a cult would hope to prevent a cure, to keep the people scared, keep them living in anarchy. After all, people are at their most vulnerable to indoctrination when they’ve lost hope.

So yeah, let me know in the comments if you think I’m crazy.

E3 2018: Microsoft Turn the Tide at E3

Leading up to E3 the focus was heavily on Microsoft delivering games, lots of games. Luckily for Xbox fans, they did just that, with some 50 titles old and new on show. We got the usual updates to core franchises, Halo, Gears and Horizon, as well as some premiered footage of multi-platform titles Cyberpunk 2077, Metro Exodus and a brand new Devil May Cry.

Battletoads was a surprise announcement

Elsewhere, we got a clear indication Microsoft are pushing towards a subscription-based model. Game Pass, their browsable catalogue of downloadable titles, took centre stage, with news Forza Horizon 4 and Crackdown 3 will both launch on the pay-monthly service. Phil Spencer also confirmed work is underway on a streaming solution, making a Netflix-style future seem inevitable.

All in all it was a great turnaround from Microsoft, definitely their best showing of this generation, but when you strip away the 3rd party games and focus on what was actually exclusive, you’re left with a handful of titles, the majority of which are also headed to PC. Scratch beneath the surface then, and it’s clear Microsoft are still struggling for exciting new IP.

So what are they doing about it? Buying game studios is what. Four to be precise. Forza Horizon developer Playground Games seems like a no brainer, but when you throw in Ninja Theory, Undead Labs and Compulsion Games, it’s clear Microsoft are putting massive effort into revitalising the Xbox brand and winning back their fanbase.

We have to be realistic about this and realise games from these new studios are likely years away. Probably next-generation away. So Microsoft are definitely building for the future. With persistent rumours of them selling off the Xbox brand, this is a clear statement they’re in this for the long haul. It’s real shot in the arm for Xbox fans, and great news for gaming in general.


List of games with media:

Battlefield VTrailer
BattletoadsTrailer
Captain SpiritTrailer
Crackdown 3* – Trailer
Cuphead DLC*Trailer
Cyberpunk 2077Trailer
Devil May Cry 5Trailer
Division 2Gameplay
Dying Light 2Trailer
Fallout 76Trailer
Forza Horizon 4* – Trailer
Gears of War 5* – TrailerCinematic
Gears POP* – Trailer
Halo Infinite*Trailer
Hyper Universe Trailer
Jump ForceTrailer
Just Cause 4Trailer
Kingdom HeartsTrailer
Metro ExodusTrailer
Nier AutomataTrailer
Ori and the Will of the Wisps*Trailer
PUBG* Trailer
Sea of Thieves DLC*Trailer
Sekiro: Shadows Die TwiceTrailer
SessionTrailer
Shadow of the Tomb RaiderTrailer
Tales of VesperiaTrailer
Tunic*Trailer
We Happy FewTrailer

* denotes exclusive title

 

 

E3 2018: EA Press Conference Round-up

The #EAPlay Press Conference kicked off E3 earlier today and we got to see a bunch of new trailers and announcements. Top of the billing was last year’s new reveal, Anthem. Looking like a mech/superhero/destiny/monster hunter love child, it was EA’s biggest offering, and it even got a release date (22 Feb 2019).

Elsewhere we got the usual sports announcements, including news of FIFA sucking yet more life out of poor PES by taking the Champions League rights. Madden has gone mobile in the new Overdrive, and NBA Live returns this September (7th), together with its much-loved career mode, The One.

EA have made a habit of late of showing off their creative side, i.e games that don’t try and take your money. Last year we got the well-received prison breaker A Way Out. This year the ever melancholy Sea of Solitude made an appearance, together with a surprise announcement that co-op puzzler Unravel Two was out now.

To top that lot off a somewhat awkward visit to the crowd resulted in Respawn’s Vince Zampella spilling the beans on new Star Wars title, Jedi: Fallen Order, and Command & Conquer returns in portable fashion with Rivals for iOS and Android.

Oh and did I mention Battlefield V is getting a battle royale mode?


Full list with media links:

Anthem(PS4/One/PC)TrailerGameplay
Battlefield V (PS4/One/PC)Trailer
Battlefront II: Clone Wars DLC (PS4/One/PC)Announcement
Command & Conquer: Rivals (Mobile)Trailer
FIFA 19 (PS4/One/PC/Switch)Trailer
Jedi: Fallen Order (TBC)Announcement
Madden NFL Overdrive (Mobile)Trailer
NBA Live 19 (PS4/One) – Trailer
Sea of Solitude (TBC)Trailer
Unravel Two (PS4/One/PC)Trailer

Cancelled Wii Star Wars Game Rogue Leaders Coming To Nintendo Switch?

In a recent NVC podcast from IGN, president of Factor 5, Julian Eggebrecht, discussed the possibility of releasing cancelled Star Wars trilogy Rogue Leaders on Nintendo Switch.

For those unfamiliar, Rogue Leaders was a remix of the original trilogy; Rogue Squadron (N64), Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leaders (GC), and Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike (GC). It was initially planned for release on the Microsoft Xbox, but management issues at LucasArts meant the game was cancelled midway through development in 2003.

Factor 5 went on to dabble with titles for Xbox 360 and PS3 before coming back to Nintendo to complete the game for Wii. It featured updated graphics, a brand new lighting system, added motion controls, and MotionPlus based lightsaber duelling. Eggebrecht goes on to claim this was the best game Factor 5 ever made.

Unfortunately Rogue Leaders never saw the light of day after the financial crash in 2008 saw publisher LucasArts cancel the project, sending Factor 5 into liquidation. Today, Factor 5 still exist in a disbanded form, but Eggebrecht’s demeanour on the show suggests he was holding back some exciting news.

The TL;DW quote from Eggebrecht:

“Shall we just say it’s definitely something that in some way shape or form should come out of the archives. All the things that I think prevented that back in 2009 when we finished the game should be out of the way nowadays, so I think it’s just about the willingness of us spending some time on it, Disney/Lucasfilm playing along with it, and then EA must be a little in the mix. But we’ll see about that.”

[Chat about Rogue Leaders starts at 38 minutes]

 

Why The Last of Us Part II #PGW2017 Trailer Was More Than Just Gratuitous

In the lead-up to Paris Games Week Sony were promising big things, something not many expected due to their own event, the PlayStation Experience, being just around the corner. While we were treated to even more footage of games we already know and love, few of us expected The Last of Us: Part II to make an appearance. And what a polarising appearance it was.

I’m sure many, myself included, initially thought we were seeing ‘Days Gone’ – another of Sony’s 1st party titles. But as the trailer settled in, it was obvious the fidelity was way beyond anything we’d seen from Bend Studios’ open-world adventure. It wasn’t, however, until the familiar screech of the infected bursting into shot, followed by the end titles, that we could be sure this was a Naughty Dog production.

 

The five minute trailer caused a stir on social media due to its adult themes of extreme violence, with many claiming it was a step too far for a public event. While I agree this was a very brutal showing, the nature of which reinforces Neil Druckmann’s vision of a sequel centering on hate, there’s a deeper meaning to the lack of context.

Make no mistake, this trailer was out to shock from the outset. Hooded figures dragging a seemingly helpless woman by torchlight created a distressing scene inline with a full-blown horror film. An attempted hanging, gutting, and two savage deaths later and we were all left wondering who the hell any of these new character were. It was real halloween stuff.

As a standalone trailer this may have seemed all too gratuitous and misleading, but then Naughty Dog know their meta-game. The level of analysis thrown at the first trailer, together with hints from other source material, meant another trailer featuring Joel and Ellie would not only be playing it safe, it would risk overdeveloping their characters early on. If the first trailer showed us The Last of Us in it’s downtime, this very much reached the other end of the spectrum. This was as gritty as it gets.

Whether you loved it or loathed it, the conversation was there. It was a fresh sample, ready to go under the microscope. Theories spreading like wildfire. Was the woman Ellie’s mum? Do the roadsigns confirm Seattle as the setting? Is the entire game a prequel? This ongoing debate is the real core of what Naughty Dog was trying to promote.

We’ve seen a million deaths in videogames, it’s been part of the narrative since the very beginning. Naughty Dog are using it in the right way. They’re using it for emotional reaction, to set the scene, and I think this is when videogames are at their very best.

Jack Ryan, in his debut as PlayStation Executive, said it best: “a game made by adults to be played by adults.”

Magic 8-Ball MicroPython Code for BBC Micro:bit

I’ve been messing around with the online editors on the micro:bit website for a while now, and while they are great for beginners, I was looking for a dedicated offline client for Windows. Turns out there’s this great little programme called Mu, which let’s you code in MicroPython, a subset of the Python 3 programming language.

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Why Xbox One X vs PS4 Pro is a Tough Sell

Microsoft finally unveiled Project Scorpio at this years E3, and hey, whaddya know, it wasn’t called Project Scorpio.

Many of us went into the showcase so accustomed to the Scorpio codename, we felt it inevitable Microsoft would stick with the branding. Not only was it familiar, but it spoke of an almost reticent potency, and was, well, just a bit cool really.

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A Way Out Was My Favourite Take from the EA Conference (E3 2017)

With history preceding them, I’m always a bit sceptical going into an EA conference. They churn out the sports franchises annually, their shooters rotated every other. It can all get a bit predictable. We kind of knew what to expect this year too, and it’s exactly what we got. New FIFA, new Madden, new NBA, and new shooters.

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