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Author Archives: Mark Van Name

Waiting sucks

You know it does.  Time is the most precious commodity, the one thing you can never get back.  So when someone or something makes you wait, it sucks.

It particularly sucks when you have to wait on your PC.  It’s your computer, after all, and it should do the work and be quick about it.  For many tasks, it is quick, almost instantaneous.  Some, though, require so much work that the computer can spend a lot of time doing them, leaving you waiting. Tasks that involve working with different types of media often fall into that category.

Which is exactly why we have HDXPRT.

It gives you a way to compare how long different PCs require to perform some common media-manipulation tasks.  Because those times can be significant—sometimes many seconds, but also sometimes many minutes—HDXPRT can give you valuable information that you can factor into your PC buying plans.

After all, the faster a PC is at this sort of work, the less time you’ll spend waiting on it—and that’s a good thing.

Mark Van Name

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Top 5 reasons for meeting us at Computex in Taipei

As I’ve mentioned before, Bill Catchings from PT will be at the upcoming Computex show in Taipei to debut HDXPRT 2011. At the same time, back home in North Carolina we’ll be mailing copies of the benchmark DVDs to all the members of the HDXPRT Development Community.

If you’re one of the lucky folks who gets to attend Computex, we’d love it if you would come by Bill’s room in the Hyatt (we’ll publicize the room number as soon as we know it), see the benchmark in action, and give us your thoughts about it. I know the show is huge and full of attractions, so I thought I’d give you the top five reasons you ought to make room in your schedule to visit with us.

5. Free snacks! We don’t know what they are yet, or even how we’ll persuade the hotel to let us have them, but we’re committed to providing something to quench your thirst and something to quell your hunger.

4. A break from the crowds. Not only do you get to sit, drink, eat, and see a great new benchmark, you get to do so in the quiet and luxury of a Taipei hotel suite. No more bumping shoulders with fellow show attendees or fighting to get to a place quiet enough that you can talk; in that room, you can relax.

3. You can affect the industry! The support for HDXPRT is growing. More and more organizations are using it. We don’t just want to show it to you; we want you to tell us what you think about it. Your opinions count, and they could help drive the design of the next version of the benchmark, HDXPRT 2012. Yeah, that’s right: the one in development isn’t out, and I’m already talking about the next one. Sue me: I like to live on the edge.

2. You don’t want to make Bill cry. Imagine him, sitting alone in the room, laptop humming, ready to demonstrate this cool new testing tool, and no one to keep him company. His sadness would be so unbearable that I can’t bear to think of what he might do. You can’t let that happen.

1. It’s way cooler to get your HDXPRT DVDs in person! That’s right: Bill’s not just going to show you the benchmark, he’s going to give you your very own copy! He’ll probably shake your hand, too, and thank you for coming. Admit it: that’s cooler than getting it in the mail (which is also pretty darn good—and which will happen to you if you join the HDXPRT Development Community).

Mark Van Name

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What to do, what to do

When you set out to build an application-based benchmark like HDXPRT, you face many choices, but two are particularly important:  what applications do you run, and what functions do you perform in each application?

With HDXPRT the answers were straightforward, as they should be.

The applications we chose reflected a blend of market leaders, those providing emerging but important features, and the input from our community members.

The functions we perform in each application are ones that are representative of common uses of those programs—and that reflect the input of the community.

What’s so important here is the last clause of each of those paragraphs:  your input defines this benchmark.

As we finish off HDXPRT 2011 and then move to the 2012 version, we’ll begin the development cycle anew. When we do, if you want to make sure we choose the applications and functions that matter most to you, then participate, tell us what you want, let us hear your voice.  We will respond to all input, so though we can’t guarantee to accept all direction—after all, goals and desires sometimes conflict—we can guarantee that you will hear back from us and that we will explain the rationale for our decisions.

Mark Van Name

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Putting HDXPRT in some benchmark context

Benchmarks come in many shapes and sizes.  Some are extremely small, simple, and focused, while others are large, complex, and cover many aspects of a system.  To help position HDXPRT in the world of benchmarks, let me share with you a little taxonomy that Bill and I have long used.  No taxonomy is perfect, of course, but we’ve found this one to be very helpful as a general categorization tool.

From the perspective of how benchmarks measure performance, you can divide most of them into three groups.

Inspection tools use highly specialized tests to target very particular parts of a system. Back in the day, lo these many decades ago—okay, it was only two decades, but in dog years two tech decades is like five generations—some groups used a simple no-op loop to measure processor performance. I know, it sounds dumb today, but for a short time many felt it was a legitimate measure of processor clock speed, which is one aspect of performance. Similarly, if you want to know how fast a graphics subsystem could draw a particular kind of line, you could write code to draw lines of that type over and over.

These tools have very limited utility, because they don’t do what real users do, but for people working close to hardware, they can be useful.

Moving closer to the real world, synthetic benchmarks are specially written programs that simulate the kinds of work their developers believe real users are doing. So, if you think your target users are spending all day in email, you could write your own mini email client and time functions in it.  These tools definitely move closer to real user work than inspection tools, but they still have the drawback of not actually running the programs real people are using.

Application-based benchmarks take that last step by using real applications, the same programs that users employ in the real world. These benchmarks cause those applications to perform the kinds of actions that real users take, and they time those actions.  You can always argue about how representative they are—more on that in a future blog entry, assuming I don’t forget to write it—but they are definitely closer to the real world because they’re using real applications.

With all of that background, HDXPRT becomes easy to classify:  it’s an application-based benchmark.

Mark Van Name

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An example of the community in action

Last week, I hosted a Webinar on HDXPRT. We’ll make a recording of it available on the site fairly soon. Multiple members attended. As I was going through the slides and discussing various aspects of the benchmark, a member asked about installing the benchmark from a USB key or a server. My response was the simple truth: we hadn’t considered that approach. As I then elaborated, we clearly should have thought about it, because those capabilities would be useful in just about every production lab out there, including ours here at PT. I concluded by saying that we’d look into it.

I’m not naming the member simply because with big companies I’m never sure if doing that will be good or will cause someone trouble, and I don’t want to cause hassle for anyone. He should, though, feel free to step forward and claim the well-deserved credit for the suggestion.

Less than a week after the Webinar, I’m happy to be able to report that the team has done more than look into these capabilities; it’s implemented them! So, the next Beta release, Beta 2, which we’ll be releasing any time now (maybe even before we post this blog entry), lets you install the benchmark from a network share or a USB key.

I know this is a relatively small thing, but I think it bears reporting because it is exactly the way the community should work. A member brought the benefits of his experience to bear in a great bit of feedback, and now the benchmark is better for it—and so are all of us who use it.

Keep the good ideas coming!

Mark Van Name

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