Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of programs, games, hardware and other gadgets…

AVIRA Antivirus 2020 got new interface

I’ve been lurking around MalwareTips forums when I noticed someone posted about AVIRA getting new interface in their paid Internet Security package. Turns out, AVIRA Free also got a facelift. So I gave it a spin…

Main reason I did so was because AVIRA literally had the worst interface of all antiviruses in existence for literally decades. It was cumbersome, clumsy, fat, outdated and just plain terrible. It was so bad I avoided AVIRA like plague despite constantly scoring highly in tests. New interface looked promising, but I still had doubts knowing AVIRA and their almost legendarily terrible interface designs. Well, here are the findings in regards of new interface facelift.

What’s new?

Biggest change is ditching of weird “modular” launcher AVIRA insisted on for so long. The main interface now looks more like latest versions of AVG or avast!, even in color scheme. Which is not necessarily bad. It actually looks pretty ok and is quite logically organized. On the left there are categories and when you select them you have options on the right side.

What isn’t so new…

What isn’t so new are some of the old interface elements that got carried over from old interface dating as far as 15 years back in time. Yeah, I’m not kidding here and AVIRA seriously needs to step up the game now they finally done the main interface right. Luke Filewalker scanner is still around, old settings panel is still around and detection popup all look exactly the same as they have back when Windows XP was released and “Luna” theme design was a thing. Yeah, it has Windows XP vibe all over the place and it just feels wrong almost 20 years later.

Screenshots

AVIRA_Main.png
Main interface panel
AVIRA_Security.png
Security panel
AVIRA_Scan.png
Protection options panel
AVIRA_Settings.png
The “new” old settings panel
AVIRA_LukeFilewalker.png
Good very old Luke Filewalker…
AVIRA_Detection.png
“New” detection popup with Luna style close and Details buttons…

Additional info

Manual removal of some components in Programs and Features is required to get rid of things that are annoying and you don’t need, but get installed automatically. Like AVIRA Software Updater, AVIRA VPN and AVIRA Cleanup tools. They are all paid features that won’t have any purpose except eating resources and space as some dig into Explorer context menus and run constantly and eat absurd amounts of memory. Software Updater component for example was eating 450MB of RAM. I have 32GB of RAM, but it’s still absurd and serves absolutely no purpose as it’s paid only feature.

Verdict

New AVIRA interface is certainly a step in the right direction. It’s still not perfect, but it’s at least bearable now. And they need to seriously work on modernizing and integrating old panels and settings into new interface and make it a complete, consistent looking package. If they do this, AVIRA will become a serious competition with good detection and good looks. It’s already half way there and I can finally recommend it as an option.

Give it a try and let me know how you like it. Or just comment on screenshots. Do you like the new design or not?

Need for Speed: Payback review

NFSPayback_Logo.png

Ok, ok, I know it’s 3 months since release, but I couldn’t just take a piss at it 2 days after release, because in all honesty, that’s actually enough time to see what kind of game this is. But as a decades long NFS fan, I gave it a proper try and here is my review of this thing…

I actually wanted to make a full blown serious in-depth review of this game, but it’s such a steaming pile of shit I just can’t be bothered wasting my time to do it. I’ll probably still spend an hour or two writing this anyway, but whatevers…

Lets make a quick summary of goods and bads and then I’ll briefly tell you why I think so.

The Goods:

  • Graphics are good
  • Reasonably good car engine sounds
  • Alright music selection for the most part (mostly in garage)
  • Driving model is pretty good
  • World is reasonably diverse with somewhat interesting layout
  • Reasonably OK car visuals customization
  • Reasonable car selection

The Bads:

  • On release day it felt like an expensive 60€ Early Access game
  • 3 months later, it still feels like an expensive 60€ Early Access game
  • Missing tons of content on release day
  • Still missing tons of content we already had in NFS series freaking 15 years ago
  • Unfinished world
  • Microtransactions
  • Speed Cards
  • Idiotic car upgrading
  • Limited car levels
  • Idiotic car tweaking
  • Enforced car classes
  • Stupid races with retarded enforced cars
  • Racers are cheating scumbags
  • No free roaming cops
  • Cops are cheating scumbags
  • Wonky car physics
  • Offroad driving is weird
  • Retarded multiplayer
  • Cheesy and boring story
  • Absolutely annoying “characters” chatter during driving
  • Tons of inconsistencies and illogical stuff
  • Visual car damage can’t be turned off
  • It just doesn’t feel like Need for Speed anymore

I’ll now describe all the things in more details in same order as they are listed above. So you can follow exactly what I meant with that…

The Goods in more details…

So, lets start with the good pars… Graphics look good. Then again it’s Frostbite, getting any less would be a major disappointment. Car engine sounds are also good, although it feels a bit generic at times, mostly because of missing distinct turbo whistling or supercharger whining (because unlike in NFS2015, there isn’t any Supercharger part even available). Music in some parts is good, especially in garage. I like quite few songs there although still not on level of dedicated music created for the game specifically like in pre-2000 era. Driving model is pretty good, cars have a distinct differences in driving feel and whole driving model feels more like Screamer 2 or NFS Hot Pursuit 2010 which is more to my likings. Perfectly holding a drift line through corners is challenging and fun. It just works. Driving around the map is fairly interesting, it has a highway ring basically around it, it has a lot of elevation changes, straights and twisty roads, has flat desert plains, twisty hill roads, certain interesting points like the observatory peak, the dam, canyons, bridges, dense city… I wouldn’t say it’s a peak of possible design, but it’s interesting enough to be enjoyable driving around it. It’s not easy to remember because a lot of things look all the same without really distinct map parts or elements that would make roads memorable. This especially applies to city part. Car customizations are also pretty good. You can keep your cars all stock visually, you can tastefully modify just few details or you can rice the hell out of them and turn them into abominations. It’s your choice and game is not forcing anything on you so that’s fine. There is also reasonable selection of cars, from casual hatchbacks to million dollar hypercars. Can’t complain over that even though I wouldn’t mind if they added few others, like for example something from Tesla to spice things up and make them funky with a fast car that makes no engine noise. Would be interesting.

Now to the extensive The Bads list…

When it was released, it literally felt like a really very expensive Early Access game. It had tons of idiotic bugs, flaws, missing content that they are still adding to the game. And I’m not talking about small eye candy, they are adding whole new segments to the game like actually functioning multiplayer and multiplayer free roam. You know, something NFS2015 released 3 years before had on launch day. It feels like a very eager indie project by some unknown developer. In which case, I’d actually be impressed by the game if it was being sold for 20€ or so. But this is a game from EA. A multimillion AAA developer and this is the best they can make in late 2017? Come on! I also love it how everyone defends Ghost Games like idiots because apparently everyone thinks Ghost Games is some poor 3rd party studio being bullied around by evil EA. Stop doing this shit, Ghost Games IS an EA. Just because EA smacked a label on a group f their internal coders and designers, that doesn’t make them anything. They are still just EA with a different name sticked on top. I’ve bought Killing Floor 2 in Early Access few years ago, made by actual indie studio and it felt more polished and properly designed on Early Access release day than NFS:Payback was on actual proper final release day. Sure they are totally different types of games, but you can’t cheat the feel you get when you play one or another. And while they are adding content, the game is still missing pretty much all the cool things we already had in NFS games in the past.

Game world, while praised in the Goods part, it also has a desert segment on the southern to central part of the map where is literally a big slab of nothingness. I think it only has 1 gas station and few notable structures and that’s it. The 99% rest of it are just empty hills. It feels like they had plans to make something there too, but then somehow forgot it till game was already released and they just said, oh well, fuck it. This goes along with the Early Access remarks. Because it helps game feel like it wasn’t even finished, they just had to push it out because board members wanted moar profitz.

The worst part however is the fact EA shoved microtransations in this game and as a result, totally fucked up entire core of the game which is having fun with the cars, fiddling with them and driving around, trying to hoard all of them etc. What I’m saying here is that EA shoved microtransations in this game and as a result screwed up car upgrading entirely. There is no “car parts” shops or garage anymore. Instead, you get “Speed Cards” which replace the usual car parts you’d install in your cars. Instead of having 20 different parts, you get 6 Speed Cards classes that “upgrade” your car. Except it’s so monumentally retarded I can’t understand what retard at EA thought this is good for any kind of game. But got to get dem moneyz from dumb gamers. You’re not really in control of car upgrading, you drive up to Tune-Up Shop which randomly throws few cards at you and you can decide from that crappy selection which one to buy to slightly boost your car stats. And as you progress through game story, Tune-Up shops slowly give you higher and higher cards. After grinding races for hours you then piss away all the money on these stupid cards moving your car stats back and forth because these cards have stats connected in most retarded way. You buy a Turbo card upgrade and your car also somehow gets a boost or nerf of the brakes. Or buying a “better” block improves your top speed but somehow nerfs your nitro. You can also use random parts generator which is essentially a god damn slot machine in which you throw 3 fucking token points and it randomly assigns a Speed Card from one of 3 categories you pick. It’s so stupid it’s hard to describe it in words. And when you complete the story, if you want to max out all your cars, you have to go through all the 18 levels of Speed Cards each and every god damn time. You can’t just buy all the level 18 speed cards straight away. No, no, no, you have to always go from whatever each car starts at. And you can’t just do that in one go either. You have to leave Tune-Up Shop for 15 minutes so it “restocks” and you can try your luck again. I miss the days where buying car parts an cars was down to hard work and grinding money so you could then buy EXACTLY what you want. Instead, you actually have to grind even more because you then piss all your money and token points trying to upgrade your fucking car. You also get reward Speed Card for winning a race. They give you a choice between 3 “mystery” cards where I bet it literally makes absolutely no difference which one of 3 you pick, behind the front end, game would always assign you the same card even if you had chance to pick any other, so I always just hit confirm key on the middle one. And the card you got as a “reward” often only nerfed your car instead of upgrading it. You can look on NFS Subreddit what a shitshow that was and still is to this date, they just mildly patched it to make it less retarded. They also just released an upgrade like a day ago that introduces “Catch Up” packs to upgrade cars. So, I have a choice between 3 of them. First two literally nerf ALL my car stats. I’d literally pay 130.000 in-game money to make my car worse. The 3rd option is a 180.000 bucks upgrade that boosts car acceleration, top speed, but literally nerfs everything else almost down tot he bottom. Almost no nitro, no air time, shitty braking and so on. You can piss away 500.000 money on single car just because you have to go through tons of utterly useless shit that does nothing but nerfs your stats so you have to grind some more randomized Speed Cards shit in order to upgrade cars. It’s so stupid and makes whole game 100x worse grinding shit any NFS ever was to date. To make things worse, some cars that you may like, can’t even be upgraded past a certain level, making them useless for later in the game because you’re forced to buy better ones in order to even progress anywhere.

Car tweaking doesn’t fall down to installing tires with different properties. It literally doesn’t matter now anymore. You smacked that sweet oversized rear spoiler on your car? Guess what, it does nothing at all. Suspension stiffness, what’s that? All this is gone. I spent hours in NFS2015 fiddling with cars. The game was somewhat boring in general, but the stuff around cars was fairly ok. Installing different car parts actually affected how cars were handling, on top of extensive car tweaking which was dependent on car parts you actually had installed. NFS2015 had quick tweak sliders while free roaming which depend on installed parts. If your car was stock, you couldn’t really change much. But with racing brakes, better engine, turbo/supercharger, spoilers and tires, you could control brake bias, suspension stiffness, spoiler downforce, tire grip etc. In NFS:Payback, it literally doesn’t matter what you have installed, you have like 2-3 sliders for steering responsiveness, drivetrain mode like 2WD or 4WD mode and few other things that depend on car or class.

Talking of car classes, all races have enforced car classes. You need to buy a car dedicated for a certain class. For example, you can’t use a Race class car for Drifting. Or vice versa. In NFS2015 you could just use whatever car you had and just tweaked the parameters in such way to make rear end loose. Here, you need to buy sometimes even same car for different class. For example, I fancy the BMW M5. It’s not enough to buy it once, no, you’ll have to buy same car several times if you like it in order to satisfy the game requirements for each class. Now, place this multiplied spending on same thing on top of already retarded Speed Cards. This game is such a fucking grind fest it’s unbelievable. All in favor of fucking microtransactions because they need to make game as insufferable as possible for people to voluntarily decide to buy part tokens which are a slightly faster way of actually getting parts that aren’t total garbage. Whoever actually buys this shit is a fucking retard and you should be ashamed of yourself if you have done that, spending actual money on in-game content because developer made the game so insufferably lame to grind through that you feel desperate enough to do it.

Oh, and to make things even worse, it was not enough that they enforced car classes for races, they’ve gone beyond that and also enforced races within classes. Most notable being Drag class where you have races that require you to use a Drag car that steers like a crippled whale through city streets around fuck tons of 90° corners and bends. It was one of the most infuriating race I’ve ever experienced right after racing portion of Mafia game. To make pain worse, they made Ai racers so obviously cheating in this race it made me go ballistic. I was sweating with the damn handbrake trying to move the fucking Drag class car through god damn corners using handbrake and Ai opponents were flying through corners like they are driving a god damn agile Race class.  Like fuuuuuuuuck, why can’t you leave Drag racing be a fucking Drag racing? NFS Underground 1 had most fun and exciting Drag racing of all NFS games. Manual shifting, one shot nitro, flying through a straight street between traffic. The rails system actually made it more fun than having full control over steering. But no, they had to “upgrade” it with fuckery like normal race in a wrong car against cheating Ai. Bravo. Thats’ a great plan to make people like your game or race mode…

Now to the part I was most annoyed about and still am. NFS:Payback has NO free roaming cops. Sure, NFS2015 had them and were so boring and useless you could evade them in 30 seconds using stock crappy car. But they were there and they could improve them to a point of being good and fun like in Most Wanted 2005 or NFS Most Wanted 2012. Instead, despite of all the complains, they didn’t bother even tweaking them a bit. They just left them being totally useless. Fast forward to NFS2015 successor, NFS:Payback and you’ll find out there aren’t even any free roaming cops. None, nada, nill, zero. You can drive around at 350km/h and crash into everything and no one will be there to enforce the laws of the road. Cops only exist in limited range of missions, mostly for the Runner class, there are some Bait Crates which you can use to initiate pursuits and recently they’ve been releasing new extra cars all over the map that you have to find and then race back to the airfield to claim them. And that’s where you find out just what kind of cheating scumbags cops are as well. Not only their cars behave like they are on god damn rails, they also have ridiculous acceleration and their tactics are utterly idiotic. Most of the time I get busted by a fucking EMP bullshit that is so unpredictably idiotic you can’t even know how to evade it because you can do same thing twice and once it’ll bust you and other time it won’t. It make it even worse when you’re out in the offroad sections of a map and if they fire EMP on your there it’s basically a guaranteed bust. To make things worse, all these abandoned cars are piles of shit so it makes racing back to airfield not an exciting experience but the most infuriating shit ever. Ever since I started playing this game on release date, I haven’t been once busted by cops being capable like in god damn NFS Most Wanted 2005 from 12 years ago, no, I was always busted by some stupid dumb shit, be it stuck into some fucking rock in the middle of nowhere, getting rammed off the road over the cliff by illogically accelerating cop and busted when it resets you back, nailed by EMP with absolutely no ways of evading it or just getting fucked by wonky physics…

Yup, we had funky things happening in the past NFS games, but the amount of bizarre shit your car will do in this one is just outstanding. Enter a tunnel and hit the 3cm high curb int he middle and your car will spasm out into the air like you hit a god damn jumping ramp. Or flipping over for hitting a small bump in the road or spinning on the front bumper with rear raised int he air for half a minute. or hitting invisible ceilings because you somehow jumped too high or hitting invisible walls because they decided that collision box around ground rock should extend 50 kilometers into the air. When things work fine, the physics work alright, but there is just too much of this really dumb shit that shouldn’t be happening in regards to physics.

Which goes the same with offroad racing. Opponents again being on rails that you can’t move them from, but they can push your around like they have 100 tons and you’re in a fucking Fiat 500. To make things worse, it doesn’t matter what car you have or what tires you use or what car height is, ALL cars without exception have same speed and behave basically identical on gravel or dirt. You can have a Honda Civic or Mercedes G63, they’ll both ride at the same speed over offroad surfaces. That’s just dumb.

Now, lets talk multiplayer. It was bad on release and it’s still bad. Probably one of the worst in entire NFS history. Initially there was a mix of Race and Offroad class. You can’t just decide to play Race class modes because you fancy high speed tarmac racing. Nope, you’re again FORCED to do one offroad race between 2 Races. To make things even worse, I wasn’t aware of this in the beginning when I only had 1 upgraded car which was for the Race class. But no upgraded car at all for Offroad. So, I was forced to compete against others who had both cars upgraded. I was doing reasonably well in Race, but in offroad I was last because my car was shit. The ones game gives you as option if you have none at all are all stock and just as shit as not having a car at all. Later EA added Drift competitions and managed to cock that up again (what a surprise). They made drift points scoring higher if you’re in the front, leading the pack. What people did then was crash everyone into shit or push them ff road and complete the Drift race in front of the rest, scoring highest points. because a developer “Ghost Games” (still just EA) never heard of this thing called “GHOST CARS”. It’s a recording of your best race using a transparent car that can’t collide with you. Same could be done here. Opponents in your view would be a ghost car and you’d be a ghost car to them. Everyone could be on the same road at the same time, doing Drift race while applying the points boost for the one in the front, but with no means for people to ram each other off the road. I’m a fucking nobody and I thought of this solution in 2 minutes that a fucking AAA developer with allegedly professional game designers couldn’t. Fuck me sideways. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in NFS Hot Pursuit 2010 multiplayer and while it was flawed, I’ve had tons of fun in it. It was just designed well enough for it to work and be enjoyable despite its flaws that never even got fixed. This here is just absolutely horrendously terrible. So bad I gave up after doing just once race and I have no wish of ever trying it again. It’s almost as if they never planned to have mutliplayer in this game and they decided to add it anyway pretty much 15 minutes before game was released to public.

Story, while I never demanded one or had any problems with any in racing games is rather cheesy and inconsistent here. For example, NFS Most Wanted 2005 had cool cut scenes that were funny and I couldn’t wait to see what more I’ll see. It also had a really nice plot twist that surprised me more than many heavy story driven games. And then here we have a bunch of missions and races stitched together in really weird way that again gives that weird sensation of playing a game made by very eager designers who don’t have the skills to materialize the ideas proper way. Everything I did to progress through story was just “whateverz”, just let me get over this already. And to make things more annoying is this stupid characters chatter when they just randomly “call you up” and ask you shit or talk to you for no reason what so ever. And they usually decide to do so when you need distractions the least. I’d almost prefer a tree style progression with unlock rewards like we had in NFS Hot Pursuit 2 with no story at all than the fact they spent tons of time doing all these animations and dialogs instead of making properly capable free roaming cops. I just can’t get over that fact…

There is also bunch of weird inconsistencies in this game of which most memorable was when you evade cops in some mission, totally obliterating some bridge across the highway. Just for it to be absolutely spotless 1 minute later. Or how in some part of the story someone says to you that all the cops in the city will be after you from now on and that you should lay low. Motherfuckrs, there are no free roaming cops. I could plow right back into the city, do donuts all over it and literally nothing happens. old NFS games that were story driven had this covered and done properly. You actually had heat level that affected how trigger happy cops are on your presence. But here they say one thing like thy had plans in doing it but then they got distracted by sweet Microtransactions and Speed Cards to be bothered doing it.

What also annoyed me was car damage. Now, the car damage doesn’t affect driving capabilities at all (well, not all). It just makes your lovely car look like absolute shit. But there is no way of turning this off to always have spotless beautiful car. You’ll be riding this wrecked pile of shit most of the time because lets be honest, you’ll be hitting shit in this game. What I meant with that “well, not all” above is that if you like the Hood Camera view, the one where you feel the closest to sitting in a cabin, it’s because when you hit a car into something, the hood will bulge upwards, obstructing your view, forcing you to use way too lower Bumper Camera or some top of the view one. And that’s fucking annoying. Giving players ability to turn off visual damage would solve this. But nope, can’t be bothered with that either.

Verdict

In all honesty, I haven’t played NFS game this bad. NFS Hot Pursuit 2 was a lackluster but I actually had fun with it. NFS Hot Pursuit 2010 was also a lackluster, but it was fun despite not having any story at all. NFS Most Wanted 2012, it was crappy copy of Burnout that ran like shit on pretty capable hardware, but at least it has properly capable cops and quite fun world so it was still exciting. NFS The Run, despite going absolutely the other way without any open world and car customizations and people bitched over that endlessly for it not having all that, it left a mark on me. The sheer experience of racing across entire United States was really exciting for me, especially because the world was so beautifully crated to really give you feel like you’re conquering large distances. Hell, even NFS2015 was quite fun because of how much you could fiddle with cars and just drive around, despite having absolutely useless cops and also cheesy boring story. Only game that relates to NFS:Payback garbage that it is is NFS Rivals. NFS Rivals was a weird one, it wasn’t absolutely bad as such, it was just so god damn forgettable I often forget where it is positioned chronologically in the NFS timeline. I know it had cops and that you could drive Ferrari after long time of not having them, but that was about it. Like I’ve said, it was just so damn forgettable it’s almost as if it didn’t even exist.

I’d actually say NFS Payback is a decent racing game if it was made by some unknown studio and being sold for even 40€. You’d have no expectations from them because they would have no reputation. And it would probably surprise me as a game worth considering. It does some elements right and a lot very wrong. But that would be OK for a no name studio releasing their first project. However, Ghost Games is an internal label of a group of EA programmers and game designers. This is an AAA (triple A) studio with millions to piss on development and having allegedly capable teams to do the job with perfection. Instead they made this mediocre thing that has nothing fun, no identity, it just feels out of place, made around bunch of eager ideas that never got finished. I gave me sensation like not a single person from development team has EVER played ANY older NFS game. Dropping all the cool stuff people always wanted is just inexcusable.

I’m a NFS fan since TNFS released back in the mid 90’s of the last century and I regret buying this game even for a cheaper price of 30€ from a 3rd party store (which is a reason why I couldn’t refund it). I was disappointed by certain NFS releases, but never to this extent as with NFS:Payback. I was always willing to forgive mistakes or changes and just accept them. But NFS:Payback is so monumentally flawed at its core it’s impossible to look away and ignore the flaws. NFS:Payback would actually be a fantastic game if they ditched the god damn Speed Cards that fucked it all up, if it had NFS Most Wanted 2005/2012 capable cops and car upgrading and tweaking from NFS2015 with classes of cars like in NFS:Carbon which weren’t enforced, but separation between Tuner, Muscle and Exotics made it refreshing and you could pick the right class for your driving style and stick with it. I could ignore the cheesy story, inconsistencies, bad design choices if NFS:Payback had that. But it doesn’t. And because of it it gets the label of being probably the worst NFS game in history of this franchise.

Only buy it if you are really so desperate in playing an arcade racer and even then, only do it with maximum possible discount. In all honesty, it would be difficult for me to pay 20€ for it, knowing I paid 20€ for far better games made by nobody indie teams consisting of 3 developers… This is a disgrace for EA and NFS franchise. Get your shit together EA. The Star Wars fiasco with same shitty microtransactions and this bullshit with NFS made me drop EA on the same list as I have Ubisoft. The DON’T EVER FUCKING BUY THEIR GAME one. I’m a NFS fanatic and since there aren’t any other decent arcade racing games around, I’ll most likely still consider next NFS game, but I’m not just gonna buy it like NFS:Payback. I’ll get a pirated copy first if I’ll have to and evaluate it properly. I don’t even trust their refund policy anymore at this point for it. And then I’ll decide if it’s actually worth the money or not.

Creative Labs turning a new page in history?

I’m pretty sure we’ve all had Creative soundcards in our systems at one point. I’ve started with Sound Blaster 128 back in 1998. And continued this with Sound Blaster Live! 5.1, Audigy 4 Value, X-Fi Xtreme Music and Auzentech X-Fi Forte which was based on X-Fi chip, but with higher quality DAC’s, OP-Amps and audio capacitors. I’ve also had Diamond Monster II with Aureal Vortex and ASUS Xonar Essence STX in between, but that’s for some other time.

Things really changed when I’ve gone back to Sound Blaster with the newly released Sound Blaster Z series at that time. These were the first Creative Labs soundcard series which had zero problems on my system with any kind of audio, be it games or general multimedia. I literally never experienced anything serious with it. That was a good start. Then Sound BlasterX AE-5 happened. Probably the most advanced soundcard made by Creative after X-Fi, capable of outputting 32bit audio at 384kHz and having DSP unit capable of processing 32bit 96kHz audio. They crammed really high end components on it, the sorts you find in Class-D amplifiers. It even makes clicking sound as you’re switching audio/speaker modes and it’s switching circuitry, just like on high end amplifiers. But that’s no surprise, Creative has made high end soundcards before…

What’s really different this time seems to be the part which Creative has been lacking for years and decades. Software and tech support. If you got 2 updates a year and actually got a full driver for new version of Windows, it was basically a miracle. Creative just didn’t even bother. Software was often really buggy, problematic to install and use. Tech support? LOL, what is (was) that?

I’ve had Sound BlasterX AE-5 since October 2017 and what I can clearly confirm is the rate at which Creative is releasing updates for it. To this date, I’ve received 5 driver updates since its launch in August 2017. Last one just released on 9th February 2018. That’s more drivers than 2 old series of soundcards from the past combined! In just half a year time. I’ve also contacted their tech support during this time because AE-5 had a bit buggy software since it’s rocking whole new interface. And they always responded within a day and in case of microphone problems even supplied me a solution and in next update fixed the actual issue. They also dramatically improved installer which is ultra fast now and feels way less problematic than before. And for the new Creative Connect 2 control panel, they listened to our wishes and added few things that were necessary but missing at first (like more user defined EQ presets and not just a single “Custom”). And goodies like Filter mode for the DAC’s which just appeared out of nowhere in the Connect 2.

I have no clue how a long term software support for AE-5 will be, but if they continue this trend and actually provide this kind of level of software and support in the future, things are looking pretty bright for Creative. People won’t have to be scared of buying an expensive soundcard and finding out it’s just a nice paperweight after 2 years or when new major Windows version is released. I guess motherboard makers integrating more and more capable soundcards pressured them into being more active with software support if they want to sell more stand alone soundcards.

If you want an excellent soundcard that actually has superb driver support this moment, get Sound BlasterX AE-5 for sure. Time will tell, but this certainly surprised me. It was about time, damn it. 🙂

DeLonghi AC230 Air Purifier review

This might be a bit unusual thing to be reviewed on my page, but in a way it is related. Every PC user knows dust is the seed of evil. Clogs filters, clogs coolers and fans and it’s just nasty and annoying. If you have a computer that runs almost 24/7, you know dust gathers like crazy inside it and around it. I also happen to sleep in the same room which makes it even worse. I’ve been thinking of getting air purifier for months, but couldn’t really decide. There are literally hundreds of them, mostly what I’d consider as no-name brands. There are also from well known vendors like Sharp, Philips and so on, but they cost a fortune and are ridiculously hard to buy, at least in my country. But in the end, based on several factors, I have decided for air purifier from a well known Italian appliances manufacturer DeLonghi. I have opted for the highest model AC230 because the price difference as well as dimensions of the unit weren’t particularly higher compared to their more basic AC100 and AC150 units. Plus I’ve heard filters for AC230 are significantly easier to obtain than for other two units. Have been using AC230 for several months now, with review being mostly written in the Draft folder, here is my final experience…

DeLonghi AC230

Construction and design

AC230_Unit.jpg

The unit is very sturdy and has no rattling elements. Maybe the rear case plastic is a bit cheap on touch, but the front one you’ll see most of the time is very high quality. The front plastic cover imitates shiny sandblasted metal which also looks very nice. This front panel is locked in place with magnets which make it really easy and durable. No hinges or mechanisms, just strong magnets. Certainly a good and durable design decision. Only bad design choice I’ve noticed so far is the cable storage compartment on the bottom of the unit. Its cover is attached with screws which point out of the case almost as much as the rubber feet. I can see this as a potential problem for delicate floor if you drag the unit around, it might scratch it. Especially over time as rubber feet will wear or compress because of weight and time. I’ve removed all 4 screws on the bottom just to be sure.

Filtration

It has a 5 stage filtration. Washable pre-filter for larger particles, HEPA filter rated to filter particles larger than 0.3 microns, active carbon filter to absorb toxic fumes and odors, Nano Silver filter with anti-bacterial effect and lastly a TiO2+UV photo-catalytic filter. UV light by itself kills viruses and bacteria by disrupting their cell structure with UV radiation. And with usage of TiO2 (titanium dioxide) mesh, it further enhances this action.

Filter is rated at 720 hours which doesn’t sound like a lot, but I think I know the reason why they rate it at such low number of operating hours. HEPA filter itself may last a lot longer. I’m speculating 6-12 months actually, depending on usage and amount of dust. It’s the active carbon filter that wears out so quickly. So, if you mostly care about dust filtering, you can just ignore the 720 hours recommended replacement cycle. I would still recommend filter replacement at least once a year.

Be aware that HEPA and Active Carbon filter are bonded together. To replace one, you automatically replace both.

I did find another flaw, a green/grey mesh “filter” covering UV bulb started dissolving, I’m guessing it’s because of UV bulb. After removing it, location where it was pressing against UV bulb was just crumbling into dust. I don’t think it was meant to be like this, so I removed it to avoid potential dispersion of these particles into the air. UV bulb is still covered with plastic case mesh for protection.

Make sure to regularly clean pre-filter. I also clean HEPA here and there using vacuum cleaner furniture brush at lowest vacuum cleaner speed and gently go across entire filter surface from the dust receiving side (white one, not the carbon granules side).

Control panel

AC230_Controls.jpg

From left to right…

  • FILTER light which warns you to replace filter (time based, 720 hours of operation)
  • RESET button below it to reset the status after replacement of the HEPA filter
  • AQS control for the front red/orange/blue lighting
  • IONIZER button to toggle ionizer on/off
  • 3 manual fan speeds (Low, Medium and High)
  • AUTO button for automatic fan speed based on AQS air quality sensor
  • Off timer with 1, 2, 4, 8 hours settings
  • ON/OFF button

Buttons are full touch operated and they glow brightly, but they go into dim mode after few seconds. They emit some light to the room, but it’s not annoying even during night. Every touch of any button creates a beeping sound as a feedback for changed settings.

AQS (Air Quality System)

DeLonghi AC230 comes with sensors which detect various particles from fumes, smoke, gases etc and activates the higher ventilation speed depending on severity of the detected impurities to accelerate air cleaning. AQS system is always active, but you can decide not to obey it by manually selecting a desired ventilation speed. To use AQS system, you have to press AUTO button on the control panel. When using manual speed settings, AQS will still show the state of air quality, but will not modify fan speed even if air quality changes.

Pressing AQS button on control panel only enables or disables air quality status lighting, which is useful for night operation, so it’s not too distracting.

AC230_AQS_States.jpg

Orange is very bad air quality, green means acceptable and blue is for excellent air quality.

There is general misconception that AC230 units have a hardware bug which makes them stuck in certain AQS colored mode. Based on my observations, sometimes air becomes so bad, AC230 is not able to improve it. Opening door or window of the room for few seconds made the unit cycle back to green and later to blue mode. I have also noticed removal of the small green/grey mesh in front of UV bulb improved things a lot and the unit is now able to maintain blue state much easier for some reason.

Ionizer

Like many air purifiers, this one comes with ionizer which is using high voltage needles with ionizing tips to generate negative ions. It’s actually an useful feature sometimes, because it can neutralize bad smells and force dust to fall on surfaces instead of floating around, but can also be annoying if you cannot turn it off. Ionizers create ozone (O3) which is an irritating oxidizing gas and can cause problems with some users. Luckily, AC230 unit has a dedicated ION button to turn it on or off at any time. It’s a simple thing, but you will often not find this even on units 5 times more expensive!

Night usage and noise

As I’ve said before, top control panel emits some light, but gets dimmer when nothing is pressed for few seconds. AQS air quality lights can also be turned off. In terms of emitted light footprint, it’s pretty good and isn’t annoying. Would be nice if there was also option to fully disable even control panel lights entirely. I’m sure some users would appreciate it.

Noise levels are very subjective thing, but if you have the AC230 unit running at Low speed, it’s reasonably quiet. If there are any other noises like quiet music, TV being turned on or having a conversation, you won’t even hear it. At Medium and High speeds however it is quite noticeable. I only use these modes when I’m not around and I want to accelerate filtration.

Sleeping with this unit nearby is possible, but if you’re not used to constant static noises nearby, you’ll want to disable it for the duration of the night.

My room has high temperature changes from very cold to very hot sometimes and I’ve noticed fan noise does change depending on temperature. Most of the time it has an uniform, even noise, but sometimes it goes into a bit more annoying oscillating noise. Imagine having a fan that is not balanced perfectly. It sounds like that here and there and that is in fact more annoying. This also changes depending on distance and angle from the unit.

In general, I think noise levels are very good.

Specifications and comparison with smaller models

AC230_Specs.gif

Power consumption

Measured with Voltcraft Energy Check 3000 consumption monitoring device on European 230V wall socket.

Consumption at given fan speed:

  • Low: ~41 W
  • Medium: ~47 W
  • High: ~60 W

Additional consumption for optional features:

  • Ionizer: 0.4 W
  • AQS LED status lights: 0.6 W

My usage and results

All observations are based on me having AC230 unit only 1m (~3.3ft) away from my head during day and around 3m during night. Unit is running pretty much 24/7 and is placed on a piece of furniture, 110cm above the ground which is less than ideal, but only option for me. Recommended placement is on the floor.

It did not eliminate dust problems entirely, to achieve that you have to run the air purifier at maximum speed at all times in order to catch more dust particles while they are floating in air and even then, some would still fall on surfaces. But I can sense being a lot less irritated by dust and I also noticed there is a lot less dust being accumulated on surfaces and also inside my computer. Indication of its efficiency is also the amount of dust caught on the pre-filter. It was a moderate amount during a year, but rather large amount during winter time because the heating makes dust particles circulate around the room a lot more. DeLonghi AC230 unit is clearly catching dust in its filtration system.

Verdict

All in all, a very good all around air purifier. Is well made despite few silly design flaws, has good noise levels, has settings not found even on most expensive units and it’s simply doing its job rather well. There is really nothing that bothers me very much and for the price, it was a very good purchase. I’m still using the first HEPA filter, so I can’t comment on parts availability, but we do have official DeLonghi service chain in my country and filters aren’t that expensive based on prices found in online stores like Amazon. If you’re looking for a good and affordable air purifier, DeLonghi AC230 is an excellent choice for sure.

UPDATE 2017/09/10

After roughly 1 year, I’ve now replaced the HEPA filter. Like I’ve said in the review, HEPA filter doesn’t require replacement every 720 hours of usage. It’s the carbon filter on it that requires that. So, if dust filtration is your primary concern, replacement every year is perfectly fine.

AC230_Filter_Box

I’ve ordered the filter on Amazon.de and it was 38,10 € with shipping included. Fairly reasonable expense for once a year. And also the only expense as far as this air purifier goes (if we exclude electricity).

I’ve also decided to show you the difference between 1 year used filter and a brand new one, just for comparison how much crap it filtered in this time. Be aware that I have vacuumed the pre-filter several times through 1 year of usage, without that, main EPA would get a lot more dirty than it did…

AC230_Filter_Comparison

Left filter is new, right one is the old. You can probably see how much darker the right one is…

And as I was writing this, I realized I was addressing the filter type wrong the entire time. Something I realized after looking at the filter box just now. It’s EPA, not HEPA. In the past it would be fine, but if we’re pedantic, lets go full force as they have changed the classifications a bit 🙂 It’s EPA12 (E12) to be more specific. EPA12 is not a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air Filtration) filter but “ordinary” EPA (Efficient Particulate Air Filtration). And the number defines a grade. EPA12 is the highest EPA grade which has a filtration of 99.5%. So, it “misses” 0.5% of particles. First HEPA filter misses 0.05%. Next grade 0.005%. And so on…

AirFiltrationGrades

I think 99.5% filtration is still pretty damn good considering not having such unit would leave 100% of dust in my room. I’d consider even E11 to be reasonable. Where E10, while it does something, missing 15% of all particles is quite a lot. Besides, as you ramp up the filtration, you also increase the air penetration resistance. Meaning you need a higher pressure to push air through the filter, which means more expensive unit because of more powerful motor, more noise as you have to push air through finer filter.

I hope this update is helpful, filter seems to be obtainable for now, will keep you posted how this goes through years of usage…

SecureAgePlus Multi-Engine Antivirus Review

SecureAgePlus Introduction

This antivirus has actually been around for quite a while, but it hasn’t really interested me because the old interface was a bit clumsy and the scanning reliability was rather poor.

But that has changed quite dramatically with version 4.4 (I’m reviewing 4.4.1). The interface is now incredibly pleasant to use, has a logical layout and most importantly, they seem to have resolved scanning reliability as well. Universal AV is fast and reliable now and they have also replaced VirusTotal multi-engine online scanning service with Jotti, which is an older service with a bit less scanners, but it seems to be a lot faster and reliable. I do hope VirusTotal will one day return to assist Jotti scanner, but it’s still very good as it is right now.

SecureAgePlus_GUI.png
Main SecureAgePlus Interface
SecureAgePlus_GUI_Settings.png
SecureAgePlus Settings panel with few of Universal AV engines listed

Universal AV

This antivirus is a bit special. It uses local antivirus of your choice or you can also use integrated one (ClamAV, very basic, but it works), but its special sauce lays or shall I say floats in the cloud in form of two services. One is Universal AV which depends on several antivirus engines running on SecureAPlus servers, placing ZERO load on your system. All is done through intelligent fingerprinting, you only have to submit whole EXE to their server for analysis if no fingerprint is found on their server to match the potential malware on your system. After few seconds, results are returned to you and you can decide what to do if found to be potentially malicious.

SecureAgePlus_GUI_Detection.png

Second line of defense from the cloud is Jotti’s service, again with multi-engine scan service which at the moment boasts 19 different antivirus scan engines.

SecureAgePlus_GUI_Detection2.png

In theory, not even two such services can deliver absolute 100% protection, but with so many engines, chances of malware evading all of them becomes very slim. And given you don’t experience any slowdowns on your system, the more engines there is, the better.

Multi-layered Protection

Another good thing about it is that you can use it along with your favorite existing antivirus. I personally don’t trust ClamAV all that much, so I’m using avast! instead of ClamAV. They can run both together without problems. I had to exclude avast! main folder in SecureAgePlus because it was asking about one avast! file, but after I’ve done that, it seems to work fine.

Whitelisting

To even further extend the security, SecureAgePlus also relies on whitelisting and certificates to lower false positives as well as give you more clues whether you should trust a file or not. Unfortunately it is not possible to disable whitelist, which makes it tiny bit annoying if one wants to only use it as a pure second opinion antivirus and nothing else.

SecureAgePlus_GUI_Whitelisting.png
SecureAgePlus Whitelisting Panel

Licensing model

SecureAge is using an interesting Freemium licensing model. In a nutshell, it’s free for initial 1 year and it can be free beyond that if you’re willing to invest some time into promoting it. Either by posting about it on social media, writing testimony, review (like this one) and simply spread a word about it. If you’re not willing to do all this, you can also decide to support it directly with a Premium license. If you want to give it a try, make sure to use my referral link below and help me out receiving points so I can extend my Freemium license.

My referral link: Download here and receive 15 months free license

Like I’ve said, on install you get 1 year free and fully functional antivirus, so you don’t have anything to lose really and you help me out at the same time. Give it a try and see for yourself how it works and how effective it is.

Few minor dislikes…

After all the praising, there always comes that “but”. Luckily, it’s nothing major really. Only things that are a bit annoying is that you can’t install ClamAV directly from within SecureAgePlus interface if you’ve deselected it during initial installation. You have to run installer again and check it there. Would be a lot more convenient if there was an option for that already inside interface. Next thing I don’t like it a bit is the fact that you can’t disable Application Whitelisting service entirely and use SecureAgePlus only as a second opinion scanner, you can only adjust it to be more permissive. You always have to deal with whitelisting dialogs if some new app isn’t yet whitelisted. Can be a bit annoying sometimes. there is also no On-Demand scan option within main interface, other than Full System scan. You have to use Explorer context menu to scan individual folders. And lastly, initial scan takes VERY long even on top of the line system with very fast SSD as it’s main and only drive. I’m guessing it has to hash all files on the drive for Whitelisting to work, so be prepared to leave system on for SecureAgePlus to finish this first scan. After that is done, all consecutive Full System scans are done in few seconds.

Pros:

  • multi-engine scanning
  • very high detection rate
  • very small performance footprint despite multiple engines
  • very nice and logical interface
  • functional with other security software with minimal effort
  • Free for 1 year plus option for free extension

Cons:

  • very long initial scan even on top end system
  • a bit clumsy later installation of optional local ClamAV scan engine
  • no On-Demand scan options other than context menu scan and Full System scan
  • cannot disable Whitelisting part entirely and only use it as second opinion AV only
  • still giving user a final word whether to trust or block a file despite scan verdicts (may be risky with some users who don’t understand scan results)

Verdict

All in all, it’s a very interesting and effective security software. It’s not flawless, but the flaws it has are very minor despite making a “Cons” list rather long. I’m pretty sure they’ll fix or improve most of these in the future. And even if they don’t, I can safely assume most people wouldn’t mind if these remain as they are just things I personally disliked a bit. They probably won’t even bother most users. Give it a try and decide for yourself. I really like it now and I think I’ll keep it as second line of defense next to avast!. 🙂

Links

SecureAge Official webpage

Download (with referral link)

Bongiovi Acoustics DPS Audio Enhancer Free

I was searching for an audio enhancer like SRS Audio Sandbox or DFX Audio Enhancer. The sort of enhancer that sits between your soundcard and Windows OS and processes all audio sources, be it music, movies or games. And today, I found one by mistake.

To be honest, I’ve never heard of this company (Bongiovi Acoustics) before, but after some Googling, it was founded by Tony Bongiovi, an audio producer and engineer. And if that doesn’t convince you, he worked with Bon Jovi, Jimi Hendrix and Aerosmith among many others. They also work with Honda, Toyota and Hyundai for their audio systems using hardware implementations of Bongiovi DPS system to enhance listening experience in cars as well as several other fields like medical applications and other consumer electronics like TV’s.

Bongiovi Acoustics DPS

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BongioviDPS_2.png

BongioviDPS_3.png

I’m using this variation of interface skin, but there are few more to choose from.

It provides specially tailored profiles for headphones, internal speakers and external speakers with specially crafted audio profiles for each. They look like equalizer presets, but they aren’t named “Rock” or “Dance”, they are named by cities. Miami Speakers, New York Speakers, Paris Speakers etc.

Audio quality

I had very little expectations if I’m honest, which is why I was blown away even more. I’ve tried many enhancers in my life, from those limited to music players only, to some like DFX and SRS that worked on the same system level, but none of them came even close to Bongiovi DPS.

I personally prefer the Mendoza Speakers preset because it delivers the most detail and punch which is what I want for my music and games. But there are few other profiles that focus on different sound dynamics (like mid range for vocals). The Stereo Expander also helps widening the channel separation. It’s a very subtle change, but if you listen carefully, you can sense it.

Biggest issue with most enhancers is that they work great with one thing and sound horrible with others. SRS Audio Sandbox had this problem and to smaller extent DFX. But with Bongiovi DPS, everything just sounds great. Tried few different songs, from game soundtracks from Deus Ex Human Revolution to Mechwarrior 2 soundtrack. It made my skin crawl, I kid you not. I also tried my standard benchmark song, Lily Was Here by Candy Dulfer. The guitar and saxophone sounded so real it felt like someone is playing it live in the room. Mind blowingly amazing. What’s also interesting is that at least Mendoza profile increases the volume quite significantly and adds tons of details, but is still easy on ears. It’s not harsh and that’s also interesting. Usually these enhancers just make audio so harsh you can actually hear crackling in the background and that’s very bad and makes ears hurt after few seconds of listening.

I’ve also briefly tested it in a game Killing Floor 2. It was the same amazing punchy audio in the game intro videos and it didn’t disappoint in the actual game either. When time slows down with Zed Time, whole room shakes up in bass, but it wasn’t distorted or anything. When Scrakes and Flesh Pounds were announced via in-game roaring voice of those two monsters, it was so majestic I can’t even describe it. And exactly the same applies to the weapons. The Vermint rifle which sounds like a fart gun without Bongiovi DPS now actually has a proper kick and punch to it when you fire it. Incredible. I just realized I have to test this in latest Need for Speed. I’m already sure the car engine will sound amazing 🙂

I was testing all this using Sound Blaster Z and Altec Lansing MX5021 2.1 speakers. Your experience may vary based on hardware you have. Mine is quite capable, don’t expect too much from generic plastic 2.0 speakers with on-board audio…

If my words alone haven’t convinced you yet, give it a try. Bongiovi DPS is a free program. Only limitations are locked Bass and Treble controls from what I can see. Those two settings are restricted to Pro version which can be bought for a fee I guess (can’t seem to find more info about it at the moment). For some reason, they still work though 🙂

Bongiovi webpage:
http://bongioviacoustics.com

Read more about Bongiovi DPS:
http://bongioviacoustics.com/dps/

Bongiovi DPS Free Download:
http://bongiovidps.com

Iobit Driver Booster, driver updater that actually works

I’ve always been skeptical about these things, because from my past experience, they always screwed something up. But apparently as time progressed, companies got it right.

I was forced to use this tool when I’ve reinstalled Windows 10 clean on my ACER Iconia W4 Windows tablet and bunch of controllers weren’t detected and half of the stuff just wasn’t working. I’ve installed some drivers using Driver Talent, but it failed to recognize bunch of stuff. I had no audio and none of content like movies would play. Plus, Driver talent was super clumsy in free version because you have to manually download and install all found drivers.

But after firing up Iobit’s Driver Booster, it found them all and tablet is working like new. And even in free version, it’s super easy to use, automated and it just works. I was so impressed I now have it on all my systems. It didn’t do anything wild with the drivers and you can even opt to only install WHQL certified ones.

Plus, it can keep a lot of other stuff up to date for you, like Microsoft Visual C++ redistributables, Adobe Flash, OpenAL and PhysX along with many other things needed for problem free gaming. And you really have full control over it. Paid version offers fully automated updating and few other goodies, but free conveniently doesn’t do that by default. Most people don’t like that anyway. I know I prefer vetting installation of every driver myself. You avoid a lot of problems this way….

It also has bunch of safety features like driver backup and System restore points prior driver updating so there is really minimal chance of things going wrong.

IobitDriverBooster.png

I really like it and if you’re having problems finding specific drivers for your PC, laptop or Windows tablet, that only show us a very cryptic entry in Device Manager give it a try. It certainly (pleasantly) surprised me.

DOWNLOAD:
http://www.iobit.com/en/driver-booster.php