Game Making & Editing FAQ/Q&A

Below are answers to common questions and problems, or Frequently Asked Questions, that often go unanswered that User Generated Content creators or game developers need answering that haven't been elsewhere. For a full list click here »

The best computer for 3D rendering

May 06, 2018, 04:27:11 AM by kat

You've likely heard it before, lurk 3D communities long enough and someone is bound to ask “what’s the best desktop for 3D rendering”, "what's the best laptop..." and so on. Well, assuming the question isn’t being asked for reasons of idle curiosity, as the saying goes "if you have to ask, you can’t afford"[1].

:o|

Flippancy aside, if you’re specifically asking "what's the best desktop for 3D rendering" and accompanying the question with a list consumer rated components and parts, you are fundamentally misunderstanding the problem because, frankly, the best desktop (or consumer-grade 'whatever') for 3D rendering are is not going to be your typical desktop, workstation or thingamajig, but machines built specifically for the task (often as rack units), rendering 3D content in similar fashion to ASIC 'computers' mining bitcoin and only bitcoin - render 'blades' are set-up and managed just to produce rendered output and little else. Not especially cheap, user-friendly or with a great ROI for the consumer compared to the common-garden hardware the end-user might be more familiar with.

So, if you’re serious about wanting to know what the best computer for rendering is because you’re considering an upgrade, what might be better to ask is; "what’s the best desktop for 3D rendering in the $600-$1500 price range", or "the best desktop under $1000 for 3D" or some such, that way you set a practical (pragmatic) budget limit on the question that helps others answer more appropriately instead of what normally happens, they shoot for the moon and suggest buying a system stacked with multiple bleeding-edge graphics cards, CPU’s and huge amounts of ram (because that's what they have!)[2].

If you want a sensible answer, ask a sensible question.

Tips for buying 'the best' computer for 3D rendering
With all that said, depending on your circumstances, the older your current hardware the more options you have for buying better (not necessarily "best") hardware for 3D than you currently have, especially if you’re on a budget. If, for example, you’re still using a second (2xxx) or third (3xxx) generation Intel processor or equivalent AMD, upgrade costs can be kept down looking at used or refurbished desktops, laptops or workstations, hardware one or two generations down the family tree (childrens children), 4th (4xxx, e.g. i7-4790) and 6th (6xxx, e.g. i5-6400) in particular; as newer generation CPU’s become available older gear is often sold complete and ready to run much more cheaply than for the cost of a low-end new machine. The same holds true of GPU and graphics cards.

Obviously, this upgrading in this way does mean doing your homework and perhaps watching sites where end-users sell their old desktop and computer components for a reasonable price and in good condition.

With this in mine research CPU and GPU benchmark sites because many commenters responding to the "best…" question often incorrectly suggest you should just get the latest generation hardware because "it beats old generation processors/graphics hands down". Not true, at least not always, or where it is, a marginal 10 or 15% increase over five generations hardly qualifies as "beats hands down", certainly not for the additional expense involved.

Where possible stick with branded hardware as they are less likely to have issues with parts and compatibility (hardware age notwithstanding; the older something is the more difficult is might be to source spare and replacement parts).

Within the budget you’ve allowed yourself try and max out on RAM; if the system being looked at has a maximum allowance of 16GB, try and source that (in addition to, or to replace, what may already be in the system when purchased). Similarly, try opting for an SSD for the OS (256GB min for Windows 10) and at least 7k rpm hard-drives.

Being frugal, and patient, it’s possible to build a workable solution for 3D generally not just rendering, for few hundred dollars that will out perform a new computer in the same ball-park.


Footnotes:
[1] quote apparently attributed to J. P. Morgan.

[2] this is the digital artist, developer or computer users equivalent to red-Ferrari compensatory activity.

MXM graphics card module upgrade (heatsink)

February 22, 2018, 08:17:33 AM by kat
The process below relates to making a simple custom heatsink for an ATI/AMD 6700M MXM graphics card (an AMD 5950M recognised by Windows 10 as an 6700M) with limited tools, to fit inside a HP Elitedesk 800 G1 USDT (Ultra-Small/Slim Desk Top) computer (system uses the same/similar MXM module configuration typical of mobile workstation or laptop video card upgrades - note also, MXM type II graphics cards only fit MXM mounting slots, they cannot be fitted to internal/laptop pci express slots). Notwithstanding the heat-sink itself, to actually run an MXM graphics card a 180W external power adapter was needed (Part No. #613766-001 or alternatively #613766-002) as the original 135W results in a POST error relating to power shortages (not enough).

Parts used/needed;
- AMD/nVidia Type III MXM card[1].
- Copper or aluminium plate or sheet[2].
- 40 x 40 x 30mm aluminium heatsink[3].
- 3M double-sided thermal adhesive pad/tape[4].
- CPU/GPU thermal pad/s (silicone)[5].

Optionally;
- Machine screws/bolts; M2 (2mm x 8mm) and M1.6 (1.6mm x 5mm)[6].

Tools used for the job
- junior hacksaw with metal blade.
- standard bastard file for metal.
- needle files (round).
- 2mm drill bit for metal.
- pin-vice.
- wet-n-dry fine grit.
- craft knife.
- scissors.

Making the heat-sink
To keep the process as simple as possible, the plan is to mount the aluminium heatsink square on a section of plate that’s cut to size and drilled so it can be mounted to the MXM module mounting posts on the motherboard (M1.6 screws). To avoid waste and keep the amount of work to a minimum, the baseplate will first be draw to size on a sheet of paper or thin card. This will then be cut out, placed on the metal sheet, which will be marked and cut based on this template, mounting holes included.

The basic MXM heatsink with aluminium block and copper baseplate

First mark the mounting holes to determine base-plate actual size.
The simplest way to do this is use the MXM graphics card mounting bracket on the underside of the board (if the MXM board has no mounting bracket use the holes the bracket will attach to). Hold a piece of paper over the bracket (board underside) and poke holes where the mounts are. Double-check position and alignment (cf. #1 below).

Holes puched in paper to double-check measurements for baseplate

With holes punched, the distance between them should be;

 - 46mm centre-to-centre

Using at minimum a 2mm drill-bit to match the M2 mounting bolts/screws, this makes the inside edge-to-edge measurement 44mm (or 43mm nominally), with an outside edge-to-edge of 48mm[7] (or 49mm nominally) (cf. below).

Basic measurements for the copper baseplate - 46mm centre-to-centre, 56x56mm

Knowing MXM specific mounting hole size (not the same as typically expected for ATI/AMD graphics cards) and placement the heatsink plate can be drawn relative to the MXM graphics cards overall size and the GPU’s position on the board[8].
Using 2mm thick copper or aluminium plate[9] (1.2mm minimum) and the centre-to-centre mounting hole distance of 46mm, add another 5mm hole-centre to outside edge, making the plate 56mm x 56mm[10] overall (5mm from hole-centre to outside plate edge). This forms the template and should look similar to the image below;

Paper and card templates used to draw/scribe copper baseplate

Once drawn, the MXM heatsink template can be cut out and transferred.
Double-checks measurements after initial layout then cut paper or card template using a craft knife and straightedge or steel ruler. Place on copper or aluminium plate and mark or scribe the baseplates outline and centre-punch the mounting holes [11] (spray-glue may help here).

The basic heatsink baseplate marked on 2mm thick copper plate

Cut to shape and drill mounting holes.
Using a metal cutting saw cut as close to the outside edge of the heatsink as possible (the outer border)[12] to minimise the amount of excess material that needs to be removed. Once cut, confirm the mounting hole centres are clearly punched, drill using a 2mm or 3mm drill-bit for metal[13]. Finish up using a metal file to finalise the shape, remove any heavily scribed lines or marks on the upper surface with wet-n-dry sanding paper or other abrasive.

Cooper (2mm) baseplate scribed, drilled and sized

Clean, de-oxidise and de-grease surfaces.
To make sure the heat-resistant double-sided tape sticks the aluminium heat-sink block and baseplate firmly together clean and de-grease using surface cleaners and/or alcohol[14] – this is critical for lasting adhesion. Apply the tape to the underside of the heatsink block – cut to shape/size and/or trim excess where needed. Centre the block over the plate and press down firmly[15]. The MXM heatsink unit is now ready to install.

The basic MXM cooling unit with aluminium heatsink block and copper baseplate

Installing the custom MXM heat-sink.
The final step is to install the heat-sink unit to the MXM graphics card module. Apply thermal grease to the GPU, alternatively use a silicone thermal pad. Position the heat-sink and fasten using standard M2 bolt/screws – although pressure ensures a tight fit between GPU chip and heat-sink be mindful of gaps that may form when fastening pressure is unevenly applied[16].

The custom made MXM heatsink installed in a HP 800 G1 USDT
Hardware properties of AMD Catalyst in Windows 10

Does the MXM heatsink work?
In a word, yes. Performace boost will differ depending on the module installed but they should generally be greater than embedded GPU chipsets. Unless installing an MXM card to run multiple monitors, the addition of an MXM graphics card does mean the system had two effective graphics units, or rather two GPU's, the MXM module and embedded Intel-based chipset that came with the system. This may cause conflicts (power issues notwithstanding), which can generally be solved disabling the embedded GPU in faviour of the unit on the MXM card.

Why make a heatsink?
Wouldn't it be cheaper to just buy a heatsink?. Ordinarily yes, if MXM graphics cards used standard fittings. As they don't nothing off-the-shelf fits; either mounting holes are too far apart or too close together, often by a millimetre or two, or stock heatsinks are too large to fit inside the confines a the USDT case/format, a similar issue as might be found in some server rack units where custom heatsinks need to be made to accommodate and cool server graphics cards.


Footnotes:
[1] although "Type III" MXM graphics cards may physically fit the available MXM motherboard slot, they may not be hardware or Operating system compatible, a condition that might not be discovered until booting up.

[2] metal plate or sheet material for baseplate should be a minimum thickness of 1.2mm to limit distortion and flexing – thicker material can be used but will typically affect ease of production.

[3] heatsink dimensions are largely determined by the height from GPU to underside of the case lid, and reduced width/depth as allowed for access to mounting holes – larger prefabbed heatsinks can be used but will need altering to allow for mounting point access.

[4] thermal tape is often used to ‘stick’ heatsinks to chips mitigating mounting pins and brackets. Success depends explicitly on clean surfaces. Thermal adhesives are not the same as silicon heatsink pads that aid heat transfer between surfaces.

[5] thermal pads made from silicone should be preferred to thermal past as the spongy resistance is used to ‘tension’ the heatsink once mounted instead of springs as might normally be used.

[6] to mount the heatsink itself to the MXM bracket the same type of M2 screws/bolts used in laptops can be used. To mount the MXM card itself to the motherboard MXM mounts M1.6 screws/bolts are needed. These requirements may vary depending on motherboard and card mounting brackets or posts.

[7] as the holes related to M2 threaded bolts/screws they will need to be slightly larger to ensure the mounting bolts have wiggle room if needed to fit the mounting plate. Drilled with a 3mm bit, or a 2mm then expanded using a needle file, either/or subject to availability, this makes the inside edge-to-edge measurement between 44mm (maximum) to 45mm (minimum) – ideally 44.5mm, and/or an outside edge-to-edge of 47mm (minimum) to 48mm (maximum) – ideally 47.5mm.

[8] ] GPU chip placement is not always centred within the space defined by the brocket and holes, or perpendicular to the MXM board edges.

[9] baseplate should be a minimum of 1.2mm thick to minimise flexing when fastened to the MXM mounting bracket.

[10] the size described here is based on defining an area that allows enough room to fully support the mounting holes without undue bending or twisting of the plate (depending on plate thickness and tempering) – the heatsink baseplate could be made large or smaller depending on the space available and/or whether partially or fully covered other onboard chips and modules is possible (they don’t obstruct the baseplate).

[11] it will be easier to mark or scribe around a card version of the template using an indelible pen, fine-line marker, or pointed object. If scribing, initial markings should be light so corrections can be made with relative ease.

[12] depending on the metal used for the base plate, use a powered, ‘junior’ or full-sized hacksaw with metal-cutting blade (teeth close together). To be absolutely sure of mounting hole placement, positioned the MXM card on top of the plate and marked down through the holes double-checking their position relative to those marked. Do this before cutting out the raw baseplate.

[13] drill one hole and double-check the diagonal (e.g. bottom-left to top-right) for placement and accuracy before drilling the opposite corner. To allow some wiggle room, use of a 3mm bit is recommended else holes may be too tight (alternatively a needle file can used to clean up or widen the holes). Countersink holes to de-burr.

[14] for copper plate in particular use Brasso or similar branded or off-brand, mild abrasive, surface cleaner/metal polish before clearing any residue with (isopropyl) alcohol or nail-polish remover.

[15] use a table and once positioned, apply full weight to the unit for a moment to ensure absolutely fast adhesion. Test by checking for any play or wiggle – if tape comes unstuck the surfaces would not properly cleaned and prepared.

[16] ideally fasteners should be spring loaded in that a long bolt is fastened to the mounting bracket under the MXM board which is then tensioned by the presence of compression springs. Unfortunately, these types of fittings are not readily available for MXM cards so the use of silicon thermal pads is recommended to provide adequate thermal transfer and compressive resistance to the downward pressure of the fixings that are used.

VideoStudio Poor Snapshot and Preview Quality

April 01, 2017, 05:33:53 PM by kat
Poor video quality in VideoStudio

Problem
When editing a project and video is paused in Corel VideoStudio, the playback Preview screen/area displays blurry, pixelated or otherwise poor quality video still images (video Snapshot quality is also affected - "Edit » Take a Snapshot"). Original or source clips don't appear to be affected by the problem, typically displaying clear of any of the pixelation or poor quality visual artifacts when paused or played (subject to project settings).

Solution
Assuming there are no other issues related to hardware (drivers etc.), poor quality video in VideoStudio's preview screen is typically the result of using the applications "Smart Proxy"  feature ("Settings » Smart Proxy Manager » Enable Smart Proxy" or "Settings » Preferences » Performance") which reduces project quality to speed up the editing process - to save resources and memory when working with larger HD video files, with "Smart Proxy" enabled, VideoStudio creates low resolution, low quality 'proxy' files to aid the process. When enabled this results in the 'poor quality' video images seen in the Preview screen.
Quote
Smart Proxy creates lower resolution working copies of larger source files. These smaller files are called “proxy” files. Using proxy files speeds up editing of high resolution projects (for example, projects that have HDV and AVCHD source files). [VSPx9 manual - pg.59]

To address the problem Smart Proxy needs to be disabled forcing VideoStudio to process and utilise clips as raw and uncompressed as possible. Once Smart Proxy is disabled Snapshots, images taken of a clip as a still image, also clear up reflecting the original quality of source and/or as determined in "Settings » Project Properties".

Video Studio won't start after Windows Update

March 22, 2016, 01:02:03 PM by kat
[image courtesy Corel]
Problem
Corel Video Studio (Pro) won't run after Windows Update (For Feb/Mar 2016) has been run. Program also does not respond to being placed in Compatibility or other mode (right-click vstudio.exe, select "Compatibility"). The issue is caused by a number of updates to a Windows sub-system that essentially breaks a link in the necessary chain of events needed by Video Studio (Pro). Problem appears to affect Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 10 to a lesser degree.

Solution
A 'HotFix' for Video Studio x7 or above is available from Corel here.

For Video Studio x6 or below, or in instances where a HotFix cannot be utilised, try uninstalling the following Windows Update files (important: Corel no longer supports v6);

For Video Studio (Pro) x7 and above uninstall 3126587 and 3126593. For Video Studio x6 or below 3140410 may additionally need to be removed. Be sure to disable or 'hide' removed updates to prevent their re-install on reboot. For Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 updates this may necessitate switching Windows Update to 'manual'.

To see and uninstall Windows 7 updates;
- from "Control Panel" select "Programs" then under "Programs and Features" click "View installed updates".

To see and uninstall Windows 8/8.1 updates;
- from "Control Panel" select "Programs" then under "Programs and Features" select "View installed updates" bottom-left.

To see and uninstall Windows 10 updates;
- click "Start", then the "Settings" icon, then "Update & Security". On the "Windows Update" page select "Advanced Options" bottom of the page, then on "View your update history" on the following page. Click "Uninstall Updates" top of the page to remove.



Alternative Solution
An unsupported/unofficial 'fix' (which may be removed as a result) is available for Video Studio v6 or v5 users here. Download "MUIHelper.zip" and extract the contents. Copy the included file "MUIHelper.dll" to the root directory of Video Studio (Pro), typically "Program Files/Corel/..." - this overwrites an existing file of the same name, rename the original to archive it before copying over the new file. Video Studio should now start (note it may also be possible to install the previously removed updates).

What is/does getting "FOXed" mean?

February 24, 2016, 04:15:54 AM by kat
Q: What is/does getting "FOX'ed" mean?

A: The term "FOX'ed" is a colloquialism to mean something has been 'taken-down' (often without warning) due to an infringement of Copyright pursuant receipt of Cease-and-Desist Notice. Although C&D Notices have a long history of being issued by Rights holders against others deemed to be misappropriating their Intellectual Property, it wasn't until 20th Century FOX issued a Take-down Notice on a Quake (1) modification, Alien Quake, that the practice became more widely known, and subsequently referred to simply as "FOX'ed" - at the time the Alien Quake mod was capitalizing on the popularity of the "Alien" franchise, Property owned by FOX (primary factor), who were actively working on their own materials (secondary factor).
Quote
The Alien Quake project has been discontinued by 20th Century Fox. I received an email on April 11th, 1997, from a 20th Century Fox representative that ordered us to cease all activity. The Alien Quake project was using copyrighted material without permission and this makes Alien Quake an unauthorized and illegal production. Therefore, you are hereby ordered to remove all your Alien Quake files from your computer storage. You must also remove all references to Alien Quake from any WWW pages or internet sites you keep or maintain. All distribution of Alien Quake is illegal and you should know that the Alien Quake team are under obligation to report the name and URL of any distributor to 20th Century Fox. Please let us know if you know the URL of a distributor or potential distributor.

Thank you for your co-operation. [source (dead link removed)]

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