Sep 18 2020

It’s that time again: A new console generation

Published by under Games,Hardware

The Xbox 360 was the first console I’ve ever bought, and it was the machine that liberated me from the annual PC hardware upgrades that are needed to play the latest games.

My first Xbox 360 died with the notorious “red ring of death”, and Microsoft replaced it even though it was already over a year(!) out of warranty. The replacement Xbox 360 also died with a red ring of death a few years later, but by then it no longer mattered – the backwards compatibilty program of the Xbox One made it possible to play all the games the Xbox 360 games that I own on the new console.

Then I bought a PS4 to play some of the Playstation-exclusive titles like Uncharted. And also because it was more powerful than the Xbox One and games generally looked a bit better on the PS4 than on the One.

But… While the noise of the Xbox 360 never really bothered me, the jet-engine-like noise of the PS4 became unbearable for me over time. The Xbox One is noiseless – even if I wear my hearing aids while playing, I can’t hear the console. The PS4 drives me insane even if I do NOT wear my hearing aids. I haven’t touched her in a year. She’s sitting next to my new Xbox One X and is collecting dust.

Ah, yeah. The Xbox One X. I wish I had purchased her much sooner. You can’t hear her. Until the Series X is released in November this year, she’s still the most powerful console on the market – more powerful than the PS4 Pro, and she’s equally as powerful as the Series S that is going to replace her later this year (technically, the One X is even faster than her successor; she has 6 Teraflops of compute power while the Series S only has 4 teraflops, but the Series S supports raytracing in hardware and uses the next gen hardware architecture, so she’ll be able to play next-gen games that will look better than current-gen games.)

The One X is an awesome gaming machine and one of the best things Microsoft ever produced. I bought Xbox-versions of some of the multi-platform games that I had bought for the PS4, so that I can play them with even better graphics on a noiseless machine.

Apparently, I have already started migrating away from the Sony platform.

The next console generation will have a very disappointing launch, I’m afraid: There are no real next-gen games available on launch day. What will be available are current-gen titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla that have been enhanced to use some of the new power to look slightly better (and maybe have a better framerate) on the new hardware; but those games were all developed for the current generation. The most anticipated game this year, Cyberpunk 2077, will not even ship with in a next-gen enhanced version: It’s a true Xbox One/PS game, the next-gen version does not even have a shipping date yet.

All pure next-gen titles are still under development and might hit the shelves some time next year. At launch, people will be buying the new consoles to play last-gen games on them. That’s not really a platform-selling argument.

The Xbox Series X/S provide backwards compatibility back to the original Xbox. For people with a grown library of games and who actually still replay at least some of these games from time to time (which I actually do), the new Xbox Series is a save investment and well worth the money for that reason alone.

For me, the question won’t be if I buy the Series X, the question is only when I will buy her. I might wait for an interesting bundle. If the console can be pre-ordered in an AC Valhalla or Black Ops or even Cyberpunk 2077 bundle, I might even buy her on launch day already. (Or if I really have the urge to buy myself an early Christmas present.)

In Sony-Land, things look worse. Sony completely botched the pre-order time window: An hour after the online event in which they announced the prices and the launch date of the PS5, all of a sudden, WITHOUT any prior notification, the PS5 was available for pre-order already. The people who were still online on midnight pre-ordered the new consoles; when the rest of the world heard about the news, everything was already sold out. Just like the PS4 launch. I’m pretty sure that Sony didn’t have that many consoles on stock, but “sold out” always sounds good, even if you only had three or four machines in the first place. It makes the competition look worse if they can’t boast “sold out in the first hour” – even if the competition had a few million more boxes to sell.

At least that clarifies the purchase order: The Xbox Series X will be the first to move in. Just like last time, when the Xbox One moved in long before the PS4.

Besides the fact that the PS5 is the less powerful next gen console – and we don’t know yet if she will be another jet-engine in your house that drives you nuts – she also only provides backwards compatibilty to the PS4. For me, the PS4 already suffered badly from not being backwards compatible to the PS3, and there were a few PS3-exclusive titles that I would have loved to play as well (like the Resistance series, for example) that never were “remastered” for the PS4.

Microsoft supports a feature called “Smart Delivery”. In Xbox-land, there are a bunch of Xbox One games on the market or announced that can later be upgraded to native Series X versions for free. You won’t have to buy them again to get the next gen version. Cyberpunk 2077 is one of those games, as is AC Valhalla. Sony rather quietly also made a similar feature available, but you can tell from the little noise around it that it was only an afterthought that was forced on them because the new Xbox has it.

Right from the first rumors and then later announcements, this generation, Microsoft had the better start, the better marketing, the better “narrative”, the better arguments – and technically also the better and more powerful console.

Still, Sony will most likely sell more consoles than Microsoft, but not because they have the better story to tell or a better product to sell — like Apple, they have a strong fan base and people will buy the PS5 “because“.

Yes, there will be a few Playstation-exclusive titles again this generation. The problem for me is: None of the titles that they’ve shown so far really interest me, and the one that does interest me, “Deathloop”, is only a “timed” exclusive which will at a later date also be released for the Xbox Series. There’s no Uncharted 5 coming. Looking back at the PS4 era, the Uncharted series was the only Playstation exclusive that I really, really liked. For my taste, the rest were overrated and overhyped graphics demos or rather boring interactive movies (for example “Until Dawn”).

Just like I’m not the target audience for Apple products, apparently I’m also not the target audience for Sony products.

Microsoft has given up on console-exclusive games. In their business model, Xbox is a platform and a service that not only includes consoles and the Windows PC, but also streaming games to mobile devices: Project xCloud. They don’t care where you play a game, as long as you play it on one of their supported platforms (console, PC, streaming). They don’t see Sony as a direct competition anymore, and selling consoles is not at the core of their business.

Still, there will be at least one title coming exclusively to the Microsoft platform that I am really, really looking forward to: STALKER 2. That game alone sells the Series X to me. I still haven’t seen anything that sells the new Sony console to me; and even if they showed a few clips of games that potentially looked interesting, nothing was even remotely in the same league as STALKER 2. That’s the kind of game that I want to play – and in my experience, games like this – first person shooters like this – have always been naturally at home in the Microsoft universe.

Still, I know that sooner or later I will have both new consoles in my home. I still love gaming, and I will love it till I die. Both consoles together still cost less than a good gaming PC, and they have a longer service lifetime than a PC.

The Series X is a no-brainer choice: Of course do I want the most powerful console. We already know from early reviews that the Series X is also a very quiet console, so there is no noise problem. Even if there were a diskless version of the Series X available, I have so many old games on disk that I need a disk drive in the new Xbox just in case I want to play Dead Space or Bad Company again.

As for the PS5, I will probably buy the diskless “PS5 All Digital” version. I don’t need a Playstation with a disk drive: I won’t be watching movies on that console and I generally have stopped buying games on disk. The fistful of PS4 games that I have on disk I will either simply buy again from the store when they are on sale for a few bucks (that would be the Uncharted series, the Dishonored series and Prey) or I know that I don’t want to ever play them again (for example The Last of US 1, Until Dawn, The Order 1886), so it won’t be a loss. Yeah, the diskless PS5 will do for me – and she also looks prettier. But… I will only buy the PS5 when I know that she is a quiet, preferably unhearable console. I will never buy a Sony console blindly again. Should reports come in that the PS5 is another loud device, I will kiss Playstation land goodbye and write the Playstation off as I’ve written off Apple computers.

 

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Sep 18 2020

Apple Silicon: We’re done here

Published by under macOS,Thoughts

I still have a Mac Pro 6,1 – the “trash can” Mac – at work. Since Monday last week, it’s running Windows 10 natively and it also has a VM with Ubuntu 20.04.1 on it.

macOS is gone from that machine completely.

Apple is moving to ARM-based CPUs, and that CPU architecture doesn’t work me on a desktop system. Your mileage may vary, but that’s your mileage, not mine. x86/AMD64-compatibility is a requirement for me on such a system, one of the reasons being that I run virtualized versions of 64-Bit-Intel Linux distributions and Windows 10 in parallel on a desktop system for development and testing purposes.

Big Sur will be the last version of macOS that will run on Intel CPUs. With the timeline that the Apple executives have outlined, at the end of 2022 the transition to ARM will be completed and as we know from the PowerPC-to-Intel transition years ago, the version of macOS after Big Sur will be ARM-only.

Big Sur will not only be the transitional first version of macOS to officially support ARM, it will also become even more restrictive than Catalina, and Catalina already was an overly controlling bitch to work with. Apple not only killed the fun in their platforms, they’re turning them more and more into straitjackets. When your main job is to support the IT needs of hundreds of scientific users, every single day brings you a new example to prove that macOS is the worst platform to support. No, in the reality of a huge work environment, Macs do anything but “just work”. In fact, they are the oppsite of systems that “just work” – and they don’t play well with others at all.

And with the “Apple Silicon” announcement, over night, Intel Macs have turned from a support nightmare to a support nightmare that is also dead meat. If you’re thinking about buying a Mac now, save your money — you will be investing in the past and your new Mac will be short-lived. (But what is not short-lived in the Apple ecosystem?) In two years time, you won’t even get a new operating system version for that box anymore. You’ll be lucky if you still get security patches. Despite all their marketing, Apple has always sucked at long term support.

I decided to pull the plug now. Other members of my team must support the Apple platforms, but I have the luxury that I only need to observe this from a distance. I won’t invest my own time in Apple computers anymore, and I also won’t buy another Apple machine for myself at work. The Mac Pro is now a beautiful designer PC, but it’s no longer a Mac. And believe it or not, that machine feels twice as fast under Windows 10 than it felt when it was running Catalina. I will upgrade the RAM one last time on that system (to 64 Gig), and I will keep using it until it dies of old age (but probably not for very much longer as my main work horse).

Throughout the last 15 years or so, I’ve spent A LOT of my own money on Apple equipment – more than the nominal capital of a German GmbH, which is an insane amount of private money. Luckily, I have given up spending my own money on Apple products years ago already. I’m not trolling when I say that I have written off a large personal investment.

Using Apple systems at work is another story, because I work in a multi-platform landscape, so I still needed to buy and use Macs. As a group leader, I’ve decided to hand that baton over to my younger colleagues: Let them deal with a platform that constantly moves from migration layer and restrictions to another migration layer and more restrictions, and let them try to find a fix for something that worked in the previous release and that Apple decided to break or remove in the current version. I’m tired of it, I want to spend my time on more interesting things.

Apple, we’re done here.

 

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