PC User software: UserBench Encode HD

pcuehd[UPDATE: 31/July/2014 – Added the Linux and Mac OS X versions of the benchmark.]

There’s a long back-story to how the UserBench benchmark series came about that I tell one day, but at the time I developed the first one in 2005, it was the first PC benchmark developed in Australia.

PC User UserBench Encode HD was the last in the ‘Encode’ series and came out in 2010. Despite it’s age, it’s still a very relevant measure of performance today.

We found back in 2005 that there were very few benchmarks focused on multimedia in general and audio/video encoding in particular. Given the fact we were all ripping CDs and DVDs as fast as we could go, knowing system performance in this critical area we thought was vitally important.

UserBench Encode HD combines five audio test and five video tests, converting a 3m20sec stereo WAV file and a 60second 720p video file into a total of ten codec/format combinations.

The final benchmark score is referenced to a 2GHz Pentium 4 desktop running Windows XP SP2 as a score of 10.00 – so, a score of 85.20 means the test computer runs 8.52 times faster than a 2GHz Pentium 4 system on this benchmark.

This benchmark did make it onto a cover disc I think in late 2011 if I remember correctly and it’ll work on any 32-bit or 64-bit Windows system from Windows XP up.

We found this benchmark a very reliable bellwether for overall system performance – the five audio codec conversions are all single-core supported only, while the video encoding tests support multi-core CPUs. If you have a multi-core CPU system, you’ll get an improved overall score, thanks to the video tests. Since single-core performance is still an important factor, the audio scores give you this side of the equation. You can read the audio and video group test results separately on the screen after the benchmark has completed.

(In early 2012, the plan was to upgrade the benchmark from testing with 720p video to 1080p, upgrade the open-source FFmpeg transcoding engine that does the hard yards and call it ‘UserBench Encode FullHD’. Unfortunately, the magazine was closed before work was completed. At this stage, my plan is to create this version in the not-too-distant future.)

FILE: PC User UserBench Encode HD
VERSION: Build 157
FILE SIZE: 84MB-100MB
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1
DOWNLOAD: http://darrenyates.com.au/download.php?PCUserUserBenchEncodeHDBuild157.exe (click here)

OPERATING SYSTEM: Mac OS X 10.5 or later
DOWNLOAD: http://darrenyates.com.au/download.php?UHDMacOSXInstaller.dmg (click here)

OPERATING SYSTEM: Ubuntu 7.10 or later (or Ubuntu-based OS such as Linux Mint)
DOWNLOAD: http://darrenyates.com.au/download.php?PCUserUHDBuild157Linuxi386.deb (click here)

NOTE: While this software has been tested, it is supplied ‘as is’ – it comes with no warranty whatsoever and you use it at your own risk. Your downloading of this software indicates you abide by this condition. Don’t like it? Well, no-one’s forcing you to download it…

PC User software: System Spec Analyser

ssaOkay, strictly speaking, I can’t remember if this was ever included on a PC User cover disc. It may have been available on the PC User website before it was shut down in June 2012, I’m not sure.

In any case, I designed this app some time ago while I was benchmarking PCs and notebooks during the monthly ‘Best Value PC’ roundups – that’s where we’d set a category or price and ask vendors to send us product. In the end, it was taking forever hunting down the component specifications for each system and as deadlines grew shorter and shorter, I needed some time savings. System Spec Analyser saved me a bucket load of time every month by rounding up all of the specs automatically for me.

It does nothing else other than search out all of the useful specs on your Windows PC – simple. It doesn’t edit anything, change anything or save anything. If you ever need to know what’s rocking inside your computer, this is the fastest and simplest way I know how.

If you have multiple hard drives or optical drives, it’ll indicate the number to the right of the window and you can use the down-arrow to open up the combobox for that component.

I also found this particularly useful for finding the BIOS version on motherboards as well as the driver version of GPU hardware.

It’ll run happily on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers, but seemingly not Windows 8.1. Not sure why. I think Microsoft closed up the mechanism used to gather some of the specs.

FILE: System Spec Analyser
VERSION: 1.0.10
OPEARATING SYSTEM: Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 (NOT Windows 8.1)

DOWNLOAD: http://darrenyates.com.au/download.php?SystemSpecAnalyser.exe (click here)

NOTE: While this software has been tested, it is supplied ‘as is’ – it comes with no warranty whatsoever and you use it at your own risk. Your downloading of this software indicates you abide by this condition. Don’t like it? Well, no-one’s forcing you to download it…

PC User software: Windows 8 USB Installer

win8usbThis app was originally published as ‘Windows 7 USB Installer’ in Australian PC User magazine, but upgraded at the end of 2011 when the first ‘consumer previews’ of Windows 8 were made available by Microsoft.

At the time of that release, if I remember correctly, Microsoft hadn’t yet released its own USB drive installer app, so I developed this one. Again, it’s very much like my Linux USB Installer app in its simplicity – you select your Windows ISO image and the flash drive you want to install it onto. Then, hit the Install button.

You’ll need at least a 4GB flash drive for Windows 7 and 8, 32 or 64-bit. The 64-bit version of Windows 8 takes around 3.5GB of storage if I remember right so it should just fit. As far as I remember, this will work with Windows Vista (if anyone is still using it).

It’ll turn your flash drive into a bootable one and – obviously – erase all the contents on the flash drive to install your Windows ISO image.

And just to be clear: this app does NOT come with a Windows ISO image.

FILE: PC User Windows 8 USB Installer
VERSION: 1.2 Build 244
OPEARATING SYSTEM: Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1

DOWNLOAD: http://darrenyates.com.au/download.php?PCUserWindows8USBInstaller.exe (click here)

NOTE: While this software has been tested, it is supplied ‘as is’ – it comes with no warranty whatsoever and you use it at your own risk. Your downloading of this software indicates you abide by this condition. Don’t like it? Well, no-one’s forcing you to download it…

PC User Software: Linux USB Installer 1.5

app1-lusbThere are a number of operating system-to-USB flash drive installers around, but I never found any of them quick and very simple to use.

So, to make it easier for newbies to try out Linux (and our UserOS distros in particular), I developed the PC User Linux USB Installer app for Australian PC User. This is version 1.5 and it’s about as simple as you can make one of these tools – you supply the location of your Debian-based Linux ISO image and the flash drive you want to install it to.

After that, you click the Install button. I said it was easy…

This app was one of many PC User software apps featured on the magazine cover disc with each new UserOS release.

It’s a Windows-only app, but works on anything from Windows XP to Windows 8.1. It’ll make any flash drive bootable and should only list your external drives as possible drive choices – not any internal drive (lessening the risk of you trying to format your own hard drive).

FILE: PC User Linux USB Installer
VERSION: 1.5
OPEARATING SYSTEM: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1

DOWNLOAD: http://darrenyates.com.au/download.php?PCUserLinuxUSBInstaller1.5.exe (click here)

NOTE: While this software has been tested, it is supplied ‘as is’ – it comes with no warranty whatsoever and you use it at your own risk. Your downloading of this software indicates you abide by this condition. Don’t like it? Well, no-one’s forcing you to download it…

UserOS operating system development restarts

uoshs1203 uos904-0Those of you who fondly remember Australian PC User magazine as I do may remember that I used to develop a series of Linux distros for the magazine cover disc called UserOS. Between 2008 and 2012, there were a number of releases including:

* UserOS Ultra – fast, lean with just enough apps to get you started

* UserOS Extreme – loaded up with lots of goodies, a complete OS lacking for nothing

* UserOS Rescue – a light ‘no-install’ distro designed to act as a rescue disc for grabbing files from a drive with a filed OS partition.

* UserOS Home Server – a user-friendly server operating system with graphical user interface but features designed for home server use including web interface control.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve restarted development and I’m happy to say that the old mechanism I used to develop these distros (developed on a Windows computer I might add) still works, despite many modifications and changes that have been made to the Xubuntu root source these operating systems have invariably used.

So at this stage, I’m looking at updating UserOS Home Server as it was the one I received the most ‘bouquets’ for.

So now is the time to speak-up! If there’s sufficient interest still in an update of this OS, let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email.

What’s interesting is that the size of the Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Linux kernel continues to expand rapidly. As a test, I’ve created a basic ‘raw’ distro that is little more than the kernel, Xfce4 desktop and that’s about it – but it still creates a 530MB ISO image. A few years ago, attempting to do the same thing, I could get it down to under 300MB. Ideally, my plan would be to keep it under 700MB, but the final release of UserOS Home Server 12.03 (in the March 2012 issue) of PC User magazine came in at 770MB for the ISO image, so the chances of sticking under that are fairly slim.

Still, with even many older systems now happy to boot from a USB flash drive, this shouldn’t be the issue it once was.

My plan is not to change the OS too much from the Home Server 12.03 release, just update it with the core of the Xubuntu 14.04 LTS (the previous version was based on Xubuntu 11.10). This would not only update everything from performance to security, it would also provide a much longer serviceability period under Ubuntu’s LTS plan.

One of the major problems we faced last time was getting a working iTunes server. It’s not so much the availability of server software as the long-term reliability, given that Apple has been known to change how its iTunes client works at a moment’s notice (if I remember correctly, this was the problem last time).

Anyway, if you have any ideas or thoughts, leave a comment below.