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  3D Game development laptop - any advice?  (Read 3937 times)
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Offline William Denniss

JGO Coder


Projects: 2


Fire at will


« Posted 2004-05-31 00:43:53 »

Hi,

I am hoping to soon purchase a laptop well suited for creating 3d games.  My current laptop has a hopeless 3d card with zero linux support and I am wishing to correct this mistake.

I think IBM will be the way to go as it's a name brand so parts are available and Linux is supported.

The one I am looking at is the R50p listed here: http://www-132.ibm.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?productId=8672722&storeId=1&langId=-1&categoryId=2302835&dualCurrId=73&catalogId=-840

It has the
ATI Mobility FIREGL T2 3D card with 128 MB of dedicated RAM (which is unlike most laptops that share the video ram).

While it's pricy, it seems that the video card is about as good as you get on a laptop.

Does anyone have any advice with regard to 3D on laptops, IBM and ATI's linux compatability?

Thanks,

Will.

Offline swpalmer

JGO Coder


Exp: 12 years


Where's the Kaboom?


« Reply #1 - Posted 2004-05-31 02:33:24 »

Come on go with one of these, you know you want to Smiley

Offline princec

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Medals: 435
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« Reply #2 - Posted 2004-05-31 07:42:05 »

Don't, whatever you do, get an ATI chipset to develop on. Always, always, always buy Nvidia. I can't tell you how much time (and therefore money) I've wasted with ATI.

I've just bought a Dell 5150 for my games dev (1GB RAM, HT 3.2GHz, Nvidia) and it's absolutely excellent. The RAM was a cunning move - seems that 1GB is about right these days with Eclipse and so on :/

Cas Smiley

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Offline blahblahblahh

JGO Coder


Medals: 1


http://t-machine.org


« Reply #3 - Posted 2004-05-31 10:16:48 »

For linux, you need an ABSOLUTE MINIMUM of 512Mb RAM or you will spend half your life cursing. X-windows, Mozilla, OpenOffice etc are huge memory hogs, to say nothing of your IDE and your own java apps. It seems most linux apps also still have serious memory leaks - and since laptops tend to be rebooted much less frequently than desktops (because you usually suspend instead) this becomes a much bigger issue.

(or you can just stick to using one application at a time Wink). Linux distros tend to have very very bad virtual-memory management..it's easy to install a distro and end up with it swapping every app to disk "pre-emptively" so that if you leave your laptop for half an hour EVERYTHING is swapped to disk and it takes literally 5 minutes waiting before you can type - everything has to be pulled out from disk one-by-one Sad.

Dell + nVidia laptops have historically had appallingly bad support from the two manufacturers. However, Dell's laptops usually have the best value-for-money hardware (not as good hardware as IBM, and to a lesser extent Toshiba, but considerably cheaper!). Note that Dell make an absolute fortune on selling you minor spec upgrades - e.g. they used to make most of their profit on the RAM they sold for your laptop. Instead of buying a laptop with 512Mb RAM, you could buy the same one with the 256 option, and order 1Gb Dell laptop RAM for that laptop from crucial.com AND STILL SAVE $50! So look at the prices of all the components carefully - some are good, but most are a ripoff (they know customers will expect to be getting a discount for buying it all in one go, and they use this to rip them off).

For the graphics, note that X-windows has traditionally never supported the GeforceXGo (laptop versions of the GF cards) - although they may finally have fixed this within the last 6-9 months since I last checked. So you are stuck with nvidia's drivers. And, unfrotunately, nvidia has had historically very bad support - like a 3-year-old "official" known-bug that means you cannot suspend-to-disk in X-windows - the nvidia driver will crash linux either then or at resume. HOWEVER in the last 18 months their support for linux has become a LOT better, so although you iwll probably hear many horror stories from nvidia laptop owners probably most of it is now invalid - given how much things have improved in their whole attitude to linux, I would probably get anothe  G4Go quite happily (although I would then go psycho if I found that the same kind of critical bugs were knowingly not being fixed! Wink).

Finally, a note about upgradability: nv has recently announced a new format for laptop grapihcs cards that will *enable you to upgrade them*! The idea is it's like a "mini PCI", a small form factor where you can just go out and buy the next GF when it comes out and upgrade your laptop. Obviously a great idea for them and us - they get to sell many more cards (laptops are one of the few large markets they haven't yet fully exploited), and we get some future proofing. If you can wait 6-12 months, it would be worth checking how soon those laptops are coming to market.

I got my laptop about 3 years ago, with a GF2 in it. I was specifically looking for a system where I could do games dev. OK, so it has a measly 16 Mb Ram on the graphics card - but it has vertex shaders etc, which means it's *still* capable of doing all the major stuff for the vast majority of games. From this perspective, assuming you get the non-upgradable card, I believe that performance is almost irrelevant to you - it's features that matter. You don't care that you can only do 60 fps in 18 months time on a top game, what you care about is that you can still display all the different features of the game (i.e. how bitter would you feel nowadays to have a GF1 laptop, where you can't view any shader-effects at all! Sad).

malloc will be first against the wall when the revolution comes...
Offline dsellars

Junior Devvie




Need to write more games


« Reply #4 - Posted 2004-05-31 14:10:32 »

I don't know if this helps but a friend of mine has a sony vaio with the onyx black screen, it has a nvidia (Gforce 4 i think, with a P4 2.8 or so).  He thinks its great and plays games like battle field vietnam with no probs.  He's had it a while so there will be much better ones available now as well.

I think the only problems with it are the low battery life and initial price (cost around £1500).

on the plus side the screen is very good.

Dan.  
Offline William Denniss

JGO Coder


Projects: 2


Fire at will


« Reply #5 - Posted 2004-05-31 21:39:48 »

thanks for the advice Smiley

blar, I agree that features are the most important with the 3d card, I don't care if the latest game runs a little slowly so long as I can develop 3d stuff on it.  My PC still has a GF2 which has done me proud so far.

I love the idea of upgradable video cards but I really can't wait.  If my current laptop had such a feature I'd be saving a lot of dough.

Dell's prices are luring but I too am wary of their linux support.  IBM is expensive, but apparently you do get what you pay for - and they actually advertise linux support which is appealing.

As for a Mac - I do want a mac, but I think I'd rather it as a desktop machine which I can test stuff on, and use for general stuff.  For development I'd prefer linux with windows there for testing as well.

I agree that 512 is the absolute minimum, I had only 256 on this laptop and it wasn't fun - fortunately I could upgrade that  part.

Cas,

Please can you give me the summary of your ATI troubles?  I've been an nVidia man too myself, but I was under the impression ATI have ironed out most of their problems and were now at least on par.

The big difference I see with the linked IBM laptop when compared to most others, including the Sony, is that it has 128MB of dedicated video ram, where as most others use shared ram.  I assume that dedicated vram is faster for graphics, plus your normal ram doesn't get eaten up.

It's a real pain that there are so few options for high-end graphics on laptops, so I'm kind of hoping the IBM one will be ok.

Thanks again,

Will.

Offline ribot

Junior Devvie




Ribot - mobile UI specialist


« Reply #6 - Posted 2004-05-31 21:54:22 »

Personally, I'm on an ibook G4 800MHz 640MB RAM at the mo, and everything is super duper...  except for the screen estate...that's why I'm currently selling it in order to get the maxed-out 15-inch powerbook. Smiley

Sony onyx blank screens do look very nice too!

http://ribot.co.uk - design agency focused on mobile
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Offline blahblahblahh

JGO Coder


Medals: 1


http://t-machine.org


« Reply #7 - Posted 2004-05-31 22:28:25 »

Quote
thanks for the advice Smiley

The big difference I see with the linked IBM laptop when compared to most others, including the Sony, is that it has 128MB of dedicated video ram, where as most others use shared ram.  I assume that dedicated vram is faster for graphics, plus your normal ram doesn't get eaten up.

It's a real pain that there are so few options for high-end graphics on laptops, so I'm kind of hoping the IBM one will be ok.

Will.


Unless something's changed since I last looked, those "shared RAM" cards are a rip-off. They aren't "shared" - they're just using the fact that the AGP bus is reasonably fast to store everything in system memory and streaming it to the card on-demand. It used to be that when Voodoo3's had tonnes of texture ram on-board, and were very expensive, you'd see people selling cards with "4Mb-64Mb texture RAM" meaning "4Mb texture RAM, but we'll stream up to 60Mb of textures in from main memory when we need them" which is nothing of the sort Angry.

Not exactly what a computer-game-dev wants, is it? You carefully optimize your texture loading to fit into the available memory, then find out that actually you didn't have any of that memory, it was just vapour-ware, and there's some graphics driver trying to do to you what you were doing yourself Smiley.

Aren't people saturating their AGP bandwidth as it is anyway, without any of this mucking about using it all up for other stuff? It's not like most of that bandwidth is "going spare", is it?

...but I'm not an OpenGL dev, so I'd appreciate an answer from someone who's tried developing with the shared RAM cards...Wink

malloc will be first against the wall when the revolution comes...
Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 435
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Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #8 - Posted 2004-06-01 07:19:28 »

The shared RAM cards are by and large awful. It's hand-in-hand with other cheapass features like broken drivers and a dearth of functionality as well of course.

Nvidia nvidia nvidia. If you're a developer, you buy Nvidia. It's that simple. Unless you like random bluescreens, strange rendering artifacts even today, unsafe behaviour with ill-specified parameters, huge driver downloads, and inexplicable crashes and general system instability. YMMV, but I bet not by much :/

Trouble is you've got to have one handy to test on. Not that it helps because their drivers are always so buggy it's a lottery that any particular bit of code will work between one set and the next.

Cas Smiley

Offline starlord

Junior Devvie





« Reply #9 - Posted 2004-06-02 03:47:18 »

i have been nvidia guy myself too, but when i started to look for good laptop with nvidia card on it,they where all too expensive or other parts where crap,then i found siemens and bought it with ati 9000 mobile card and never had a problems on linux,windows. with linux all the distros i have tryed has worked(with some minor problems on gfx card but nothing that couldn't fix).

i have always believed that ati has the worst gfx card and worst support at linux, but this has proven me wrong.
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Offline William Denniss

JGO Coder


Projects: 2


Fire at will


« Reply #10 - Posted 2004-06-02 09:24:51 »

thank you everyone for your help.

Like starlord I found that better ATI's cards are availiable in laptops than nVidia ones.  I'm not saying either card is better - but  the ATI cards _available_ in laptops were newer and thus better than the nVidia ones, finding up to date nVidia cards in laptops was not easy.

I decided in the end to go with a high end consumer card rather than the pro ones (like FireGL) mainly because it's games I'm writing, I'm not using CAD and only a little 3dsmax, plus these are the cards the target audiance are using anyway.

I went with Dell in the end - I didn't plan to originally, but every single other make I looked at had some flaw - the IBM's had the wrong cards, Toshiba's, only an XGA screen etc.  Unlike IBM, Dell lets you customise which is very nice when you want an extra 20GB space etc...

The ATI Radion 9600 pro was the best consumer 3D card I could find from any shop in Australia at a resonble price so that's what I went with (there was a 9700 one - but it was a heavy brute with a short battery life - more a desktop replacement and I have got to carry this on my push bike so I want to be a little mobile).

And I have confirmed reports of this exact laptop/3d card working in linux so I am happy.

Cas - they conned me with the RAM, I got 256 free, but I too wanted 1GB, so it was better just to upgrade the bonus 256 to 512 than have to chuck out a 256 card later.  Hopefully I don't have as many ATI problems as you did.

Thanks again,

Will.

Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 435
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #11 - Posted 2004-06-02 09:43:43 »

Dell dicked us around with the RAM too! I got my dad to order the laptop for me (for tax purposes) and when he surfed to the Dell site the special offer I was looking at just wasn't there. He had to clear out all his cookies and delete his cache before he got to see it. Very, very sneaky.

Cas Smiley

Offline William Denniss

JGO Coder


Projects: 2


Fire at will


« Reply #12 - Posted 2004-06-02 22:45:13 »

They are very cunning, that's for sure.  When I clicked on the model I wanted and was presented with a list of preconfigured options - I swear that two options were identicle (after you upgrade/downgrade some items to make them the same) except for the price.

But - they won my money by offering the most customisable machine and so they didn't fall into the trap of the other contendors by having one feature which stopped me from getting it.

Will.

Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 435
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #13 - Posted 2004-06-03 06:57:24 »

I'm very happy indeed with my new 5150. Apart from the keys being in the wrong place. Grr.

Cas Smiley

Offline vrm

Junior Devvie




where I should sign ?


« Reply #14 - Posted 2004-06-03 13:33:23 »

will buy a Dell laptop the day can buy it *WITHOUT* windows XP
Offline Golthar

Junior Devvie




;)


« Reply #15 - Posted 2004-06-04 05:46:05 »

Quote
Come on go with one of these, you know you want to Smiley


I just got the 17 inch one last week.
Trust me, this baby purrs...

Java runs like a dream and this thing can even meet Halo with little trouble (does get a bit hot though  Grin)

come visit us: http://www.otf1337.com
Offline William Denniss

JGO Coder


Projects: 2


Fire at will


« Reply #16 - Posted 2004-06-05 11:05:38 »

Hi,

I've cancelled my Dell order and got myself a PowerBook (15" as it's more suited to my habits).

Why?

To be honest I'm sick of trying to get hardware to work in linux.  It's fine for PC's but laptops (esp. ones like from Dell) are such an uphill battle which detracts from my coding time.  This way I get a top class unix-based OS without the hardware headaches of Linux (and they can still run linux).  They also have the best video card of all laptops I looked at (which was a lot).  I also assume the mac video card drivers are better supported than the linux ones which is important.

This is my first mac I've owned although I've played with a few.

I am bloody impressed.  One fancy feature I love: The auto-adjustment of the brightness based on the ambient light (which of course you can disable) - very cool.  And of course the OpenGL-driven GUI but that goes without saying.  10 years ago I never would have done this, and I doubt I ever would had they not made the increadably smart decision to use a unix base.

Now I must work on getting Odejava Mac support up to speed ;-)

Thanks for the suggestion mac users, it prompted me to check them out Smiley

Will.

Offline erikd

JGO Ninja


Medals: 16
Projects: 4
Exp: 14 years


Maximumisness


« Reply #17 - Posted 2004-06-05 11:31:15 »

I was about to encourage you NOT to by an IBM laptop. I have a new one and it's really dog slow for some reason and the screen broke after 3 weeks after which I lost my laptop for more than 2 months waiting for it to be repaired. Now the DVD player/CD burner doesn't work anymore  Angry

Anyway, I'm glad you made a good choice Smiley If I'm going to buy a new laptop, I think I'll get me a powerbook too.

Offline cfmdobbie

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1


Who, me?


« Reply #18 - Posted 2004-06-05 13:35:06 »

I'll only buy a Powerbook when they put two mouse buttons on the touchpad.  Having an OS that supports two mouse buttons, then only having one button on the case is rather odd, to say the least.  (Yes, I know you can plug in a USB mouse, but I'd like the machine to be fully featured while on the move as well.)

On the whole though, I have to say I'm very impressed by the Powerbooks I've played with.

Hellomynameis Charlie Dobbie.
Offline William Denniss

JGO Coder


Projects: 2


Fire at will


« Reply #19 - Posted 2004-06-05 22:08:32 »

hehehe I commented on that to the guy - he doesn't think they ever will.  It's a bit funny having such a huge button...

But, it is fully featured - "Ctrl+Click" = "Right-Click", just an extra button press.

Dunno how to get the middle mouse button though...

Will.

Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 435
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #20 - Posted 2004-06-06 08:36:10 »

You've got to get one of those iddy widdy teeny weeny mice about the size of a penny racer! They're super cute, optical, and have a scrolly wheel! Perfect for work on the move coz they're so small.

Cas Smiley

Offline swpalmer

JGO Coder


Exp: 12 years


Where's the Kaboom?


« Reply #21 - Posted 2004-06-06 20:09:37 »

Wooo hooo!  A convert!  Cheesy

I'm sure you are totally loving it.

I have the older generation 15" without the auto brightness adjustment.  It's about a year and a half old now - the DVD writer failed on me last month and I got it replaced.  Makes me think the 3 year warranty plan is probably not a bad idea - though the cost of replacing the DVD (I did it myself) is slightly less than the extended warranty.

I'm also just over a 3rd through "Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X" 2nd ed. so I'll be an expert soon  (Objective-C  = weird yet cool).
I plan to take a crack at some LWJGL issues at some point.  But don't hold your breath Cas Wink.

Will,
If you are keen on unix, make sure you grab "Fink" it is a system that has ported many unix things to OS X and made them very easy to install and upgrade.

If you need a second system to test some ODE stuff on just send me a note.  I'm quite anxious to see full support of OS X for all these wonderful frameworks.

Offline Golthar

Junior Devvie




;)


« Reply #22 - Posted 2004-06-07 10:31:56 »

Quote
hehehe I commented on that to the guy - he doesn't think they ever will.  It's a bit funny having such a huge button...

But, it is fully featured - "Ctrl+Click" = "Right-Click", just an extra button press.

Dunno how to get the middle mouse button though...

Will.


When using the trackpad, it really isn't as bad as people make it out to be Smiley
I do find the Apple bluetooth mouse to be slightly annoying with only one button, but that will pass

come visit us: http://www.otf1337.com
Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 435
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #23 - Posted 2004-06-07 11:57:44 »

I'd really, really love a Powerbook but I just couldn't justify tripling my price tag for the same performance :/

Hey William, now you can help with the LWJGL port Smiley

Cas Smiley

Offline William Denniss

JGO Coder


Projects: 2


Fire at will


« Reply #24 - Posted 2004-06-08 03:24:37 »

Bugger, I wrote a reply yesterday but closed the browser before hitting submit Sad

I couldn't be more happy with my decision Grin

There are too many things that I like about OS X to list.  I can do everything I did in linux, in the same old way but the laptop hardware is supported, and the non-programming stuff (for example email clients, system preferences etc) are  a pleasure to use.   At the end of the day, it definitally gives me more time to program as I have to spend less time fixing stuff up or using inefficient UI's.

swpalmer, thanks for your offer of help.  I did manage to get it working, thanks to the similarity of linux and osx and a readme someone had written on compiling ODE on osx (albiet an outdated readme of an older version, but still helpful).  I'll drop you a note if I do run into troubles though Smiley

I did grab fink, and downloaded a bunch of packages so now I feel right at home Smiley  I was impressed with how many packages OS X came with to begin with.  Do you use fink?  I've got a problem where I can't seem to get the updated svn packages - the website lists them as available but the ones I see are older.

I might be able to help with LWJGL cas Smiley at the very least from a testing perspective.  I don't activly code in C/C++ however.

It's a pity mac's do have a price premium.  The hardware is top notch however, even the basic models are fairly high spec.  Makes it a great target for selling games to!  I'm sure they lose some potential sales though, I tried to convince my dad to get one (before I owned one) citing that he'd not have to worry about it breaking but he didn't want to fork out the extra $$.  Two days after getting his new computer, he had the sasser worm and had to take it back Roll Eyes   For me, this computer actually was a grand less than the dell I ordered, partly because they were ripping me off, and partly caus I got the academic discount, and opted to wait a bit to upgrade my ram (ensuring I have a free slot of course).

Cheers,

Will.

Offline swpalmer

JGO Coder


Exp: 12 years


Where's the Kaboom?


« Reply #25 - Posted 2004-06-08 10:41:08 »

Re: Fink

There are some packages that are considered unstable.  There is a trick to enabling the unstable branch.. I can't think what it is now, but the Fink web site is sure to have it in the FAQ.  I used Fink when I was running Jaguar, but I never re-installed it when I moved to Panther.  I found I just wasn't needing it.

Be sure to sign up on the apple developer site as a free ADC member.  That will give you access to Developer Previews of the Java runtime.  Be careful though, because Java DP releases can't be uninstalled, since Java is an integrated component the only official way to uninstall is to re-install the OS.  The recommended practice is to keep a partition that you can have an experimental version of the OS on for DP testing and such..  I personally just take the risk and install the DP on my main OS install.

Also, being an ADC member you will get access to updates to the developer tools (Xcode) and you will be able to submit bug reports.  Apple's bug database is closed, so you can only see bugs that you have reported yourself, but Apple is reasonably good at working with it - they don't mark (non-duplicate) bugs I've reported as closed until after they check with me that my problem is fixed.

I run Eclipse RC1 for Java development.  Xcode is a different beast.. not that hot for Java, quite slick for Objective-C once you get used to it, and believe me it takes some getting used to Smiley

Isn't it great to have all the developer tools included with the OS - including a professional IDE?.

If you are like me it will take a few months to really appreciate all that OS X has to offer.  There are quite a bit of things that aren't really spelled out for you.  Websites like http://www.macosxhints.com are your friend.

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