Finding the Cheapest Digital Downloads for PC Games

These days the PC Game digital market is thriving. There are tons of stores out there, and with tons of stores comes tons of competition. Thanks to the competition, there are constantly sales going on. So, how do you find the cheapest place to buy your games?

That is where my brand new site comes in, CheapShark:


The basic idea behind CheapShark is to take all the digital game stores out there, and keep track of the prices of their games. By keeping track of all the prices for you, it makes finding the best deal on games easy. In addition to being able to instantly search for particular games, CheapShark will also show you lists of the Top Deals ranked by a combination of factors such as percent off, metacritic rating,  release date, and price history. Also, you can manually browse all of our indexed deals, including filtering by store and sorting by price, rating, etc. So, if you buy digital downloads of PC games, check out CheapShark, and save some money!

A Steam Alternative

*Update #2: Since I posted this article years ago, the digital distribution market on PC has grown and branched out a great deal.  Impulse has been purchased by Gamestop and Direct2Drive has been purchased by Gamefly. However, some great Steam alternatives that I still use and highly recommend include:

Gamer's Gate




There are many, many, more digital distributors, these are just a few that really stand out. Be sure to shop around before you buy! You can use a site like CheapShark to easily compare digital download prices, all in one spot.


Original Article——–

If you play PC games you most likely know about the download service run by Valve, Steam. However, you may not know about the newer Impulse service from Stardock .

Impulse allows you to purchase and instantly download games, much like Steam. One thing that sets Impulse apart however, is that it does not need to be running in order to play games you have purchased. This means instead of having to wait for the service to start every time you want to play, you can jump right into the game. The Impulse client itself starts faster than Steam, and has a very slick interface, as is the case with most Stardock products. There are tabs for products, community, updates, your software, and your games. Updates are readily visible when you start the client, and require a few clicks to execute.

While the Impulse service offers a lot of promise, it does fall short in a couple areas. One of these, while improving, is the available content. While Impulse does offer an impressive library of games, many are outdated. This will hopefully improve with time as Stardock works out deals with publishers.  Another issue that could be worked on right now however, is the friends system*. I only started using the system with the recently released Demigod, but it became apparent right away that there were some rough edges. For one, when you receive a message from a buddy in game, the message seems to popup only if they begin the conversation, not if they are replying. This makes missing messages a frequent occurrence. Another larger issue is the inability to message friends outside of a game. This makes the friend system useless unless you are using an impulse enabled game, such as Demigod.

So, like anything else Impulse has both its advantages and flaws. I would expect that as time goes on the service will only get better, and I wouldn’t be suprised to see it doing as well as Steam eventually. Only time will tell.

*Update: It looks like Stardock is working on a buddy/matchmaking system, it looks promising. Check it out here.

Easily View Home Media Anywhere!

If you are looking for a way to listen and view your music and photos wherever you are, Tonido might be for you. It offers an easy way to setup a home server with a great looking graphical interface. With Tonido running, and web access enabled, you are able to listen to music, view photos, and share any files on any computer with an Internet connection. For users on the go, this is great to have.

After installing Tondio and setting up web access, you are given a url which you can use to access the server. After logging in on the page, you are brought to the administration page (seen above) which allows you to edit various settings, as well as launch any of the Tonido ‘applications’ (jukebox, photos, etc.) Each ‘application’ is simple to use, and  Jukebox is especially useful as it allows you to stream your home music colleciton anywhere, at a bitrate of your choosing.

Overall the interface is very clean and professional looking, and everything is easy to find. If you are looking for an easy solution to serve your home media collection, Tonido is a good place to look.

Computer Cable Management

Recently, after talking with a fellow computer builder about his cable management solution, I decided to do a little cable management with my own PC. Cable management is simply re-routing wires in a PC case to make it look cleaner, and more importantly, to improve airflow in the case lowering overall temperatures.

The first thing I had to do was remove the side panel on the motherboard side of the case. At first I was a little skeptical that my case had this feature (it was a $40 Rosewill brand case , and I wasn’t expecting such a nice feature).  However, it appears that the area for wiring behind the motherboard is pretty standard, since low and behold, the side panel came right off, revealing openings near the power supply, and lower end of the case for re-routing cables.

Next, I ran all the cables (besides the dvd-rom 4-pin power connector), to the area behind the motherboard, behind the panel which I just opened. This is where I ran into the first issue. The motherboard power cable (the large black one in pictures below) was not long enough to run through the back of the case and plug into the motherboard connector. So, I had to compromise and leave this cable out front. I tied it, and the cd-rom power cable, down with zip-ties.

(click on picture for larger image)

Next was getting my components hooked up. I first ran the two 6-pin power connectors down to my video card and found they were just barely long enough to reach. I tied both the 6-pin cables together to make sure they stayed neat. So now I had to hook up the SATA power to the hard drives. This is where I ran into the second issue. Unfortunately, the second power connector on the SATA power cables was not far enough down to be of any use. Since I have 2 SATA power cables with 2 connectors each, and I could only use the first connector on each cable, I would only have 2 available power connectors for 3 SATA hard drives. So, I had to compromise again, and route one SATA power cable out front (along the large black Motherboard power cable), while leaving one  behind the motherboard.

Now that I had the hard drives supplied with power, I had to hook up the data (red and yellow SATA) cables. There wasn’t much I could do to clean up the cables, having 3 drives didn’t help. I did, however, zip-tie them to the bottom of the case, so they would not stick out so far.

A couple cables, like the  front audio (white middle) cable, and the CPU fan still go directly over the motherboard, and I could not really see any solution for this.

So, in the end there were a couple compromises I had to make, that could be fixed in the future with a higher-end power supply, or extension cables. The IDE dvd-rom cables (large blue) is still an eye-sore, and hard to move. They do sell rolled IDE cables, which I may consider picking up for future use. Overall though, I think that my first attempt at cable management turned out o.k. It certainly helped with airflow, since now my components, and overall system temperature, are all 10 celcius lower.

Feel free to comment with any cable management tips/tricks you have.

System Explorer

Ever wish you could replace Windows Task Manager with a more powerful alternative? System Explorer is the software for you. I recently tested System Explorer out and found that it does everything I need in a process manager, and then some.

Not only does it allow a user to see all running processes, and how they were launched (hierarchical tree), but you can also upload a file to be scanned by the leading a/v companies, search the process name in google with a single click, and even determine if you want the process starting with windows. All that, in the first two tabs.

As you continue to the next tabs in the “monitoring section”, you can view a history of programs accessed, what files are being used, what programs are accessing the net, and even create and compare “snapshot” of running processes.

In addition to the monitoring section, there is also an Autoruns viewer built right in, where you can view exactly what is starting with Windows, and have the option to disable or delete any entry.

Lastly, System Explorer includes an Unistaller tab as an alternate to Windows add/remove programs, and a Settings tab which allows you to enable/disable various components of the System Explorer tool.

Overall, System Explorer is a must have for any power user who wants to keep their system under a watchful eye without paying a cent.

Intel Core i7

The new 45nm core i7 chips from Intel are being released this month, and they look to be a great step up in real world application performance. Ranging from the base model, at $284 to the “extreme” model at $999, there should be an i7 processor for most high-end computing needs. New in these chips is the inclusion of a level 3 cache (8 MB), and the ability to “auto-overclock” built right in. Because of the new architecture of the chip, the i7 lineup will be able to run eight threads at one time, which means better multitasking all around. Also, systems using an i7 chip will need to use ddr3 memory and a motherboard which utilizes Intel’s “QuickPath” interface, instead of using a front-side bus.

In benchmarks, we see improvements (over previous 45NM chips) of up to 30% in applications such as winrar (file compression), and similar performance increases in video encoding. While these leaps in power are amazing, there is a catch. When it comes to PC gaming, these chips offer little, if any, advantage over previous 45NM chips to the average user… for now. Hopefully as time goes on, and games are coded to take advantage of the new chip architecture, we will see large performance increases over previous generations of Intel chips.

Raid 0, worth it?

Raid 0 , or striping, is a method of gaining higher read/write speeds by interleaving data between two or more hard disks. The general consensus is that this provides a faster overall system, and thus, is worth both the time and money to setup a Raid 0 array. I recently purchased two WD6400AAKS drives, and a Gigabyte Raid enabled motherboard to setup my first Raid array. I managed to create the array, and copy my operating system to the array, without having to reinstall windows. This can be done if you have a bootable harddrive outside the array, and a cloning program, such as Acronis True Image.

Before creating the array, I ran a speed test on a single WD6400AAKS drive so I would have a comparison. These were the results in HD Tune:

On the initial boot from the system (now running from the Raid 0 array), I did not notice any major speed improvements over a single WD6400AAKS drive. When I ran the HD Tune benchmark, however, the results showed that overall speed had increased:

Benchmarks are all good and well, but what did this speed increase mean for everyday performance. Well, I first tested file transfering speeds. I duplicated (copied) an 8 gigabyte folder on both the single drive and the Raided disks. On the single drive, the files took about 5 minutes to copy, while on the Raided drives, the time was closer to 2.5 minutes. While this may not seem like a large difference, it adds up for larger file sizes. Next I tested loading times for various applications. When starting Firefox, there was negligible differnce between a single drive compared to the Raided drives. Also, when loading a game of Call of Duty 4, the loading times actually seemed to be slightly longer. Moral of the story, Raid 0 will greatly improve performance when copying huge files, or installing large applications, however, don’t look to see major increases in loading speed for your applications. Is Raid 0 worth it? Well I suppose it just depends on what you expect from it.

Google Chrome

Internet Exporer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and now comes Chrome. The new open source web browser made by Google looks to be a new direction on how we surf the web. Chrome is stripped down to the basic necessities, and shows this in the speed it renders web applications. Gmail in particular (wonder why?) loads about twice as fast as in traditional browsers.The idea of “web applications” is shown the ability of chrome to create a shortcut to open a single page in an even more simplified Chrome window. For example, I created a shortcut to gmail on my desktop, that when clicked opens a single Chrome window with just gmail, and nothing else (no address bar or bookmarks). This could be handy for people who want to open webmail as they would a local program like Outlook, or Thunderbird. This feature also expands on the idea of Web 2.0

Another new idea put into reality by Chrome is creating a separate instance of the Chrome browser for each tab launched. While this can eat up loads of memory, it should (in theory) make Chrome highly stable, as one tab’s contents will not affect the performance of another. For example if one website was to cause an error and crash, the other tabs in Chrome would be isolated, and hopefully continue to run as usual.

Also worthy of mention is Chrome’s “incognito” function. This allows the user to browse without having to worry about Chrome creating records of sites visited. While this is possible by tweaking settings on most popular browsers, Chrome takes it one step further by having an easy shortcut to this feature for people who don’t wish to go digging around in settings.

Lastly, Chrome makes life easier by its ability to import most personal settings from an already installed web browser. In my test drive, Chrome was able to import not only my bookmarks, but also my saved passwords from the Firefox installation on my PC. This is a nice feature, because it saves you from having to retype any passwords, or request a forgotten ones.

Overall I found Chrome to be quite fast, but it is no Firefox. Chrome is built not for functionality, but for speed. Numerous extensions or add-ons would simply slow it down, and get away from the main idea behind Chrome. So, if you are looking for a browser with loads of add-ons avaliable for increased funtionality, Chrome is not it. If however, you simply need a browser to view webpages, no more, no less, than give Chrome a shot, you may be pleasently suprised.

If you’re looking for a site for streaming your favorite tv shows, and movies, look no further. is the has all this, and more. Hulu was created in March 2007 by NBC Universal and News Corp, and has been improving and building ever since. Content is always expanding, and currently Hulu hosts shows and movies from FOX, NBC Universal, MGM, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Brothers, and others.

As for quality of the content, video can be streamed in either 360p, or a higher quality 480p. I watch shows and movies on a 1440×900 widescreen monitor, and the 480p stream looks great. You may be wondering what the catch is by this point. Well, as you may know, streaming video takes huge amounts of bandwidth, which in turn costs huge amounts of money. To pay for this, Hulu has advertisements during the shows. An average TV show has about six, 20 second long advertisements. However, in my mind, this is well worth the ability to stream high quality video on demand.

You can watch most shows without registering on Hulu, but there are some nice advantages if you don’t mind registering. By signing up for an account, you can have email updates whenever a new episode of your favorite show is put up, queue videos to watch later, and write reviews about any clip, episode, or movie. Another feature of Hulu is the ability to embed custom clips of shows (lower quality) from Hulu on your own website:

The only downside to Hulu is the inability to set a larger cache for video. This means that, instead of the video continuing to load while paused, it will simply stop loading altogether. So to stream 480p video, you will need a fairly high speed connection able to continually load the video.

Overall, Hulu is a great site for free, high quality, legal, content. It shows real iniative into the world of online television, and is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Auslogics Freeware

If you have ever visited the download section of PC-pad, you may have seen (and used) Auslogics Disk Defrag, a completely free, speedy disk defragmentation program. What you may not have known is that Auslogics also offers two more great products completely free of charge. The first program is called Auslogics Registry Defrag. Like the title states, this program defragments the registry, keeping it compact and hopefully increasing the performance of your computer. Running the program is extremely easy (and relatively quick), but does require a restart. Here is a screenshot of the interface:

The second program is called Auslogics System Information. This program shows you a huge amount of data about your system, broken down into easy to navigate categories. It also allows you to create a report (with all the info included), in HTML, XML, or plain text. The program is very useful if you want to easily find a detail about the system you are currently using. Here is a screenshot of the starting screen:

Auslogics puts out quality software, with great looking interfaces, for free. So, if you haven’t yet, give one of the above programs a try.