Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How Fast is Your Computer? The Angry Birds Litmus Test

This should serve as a simple test of your computer's internals (CPU, buses, video and audio adapters) to find out how capable your computer is in handling different tasks — audio, video and other activities.

The important bits first.


* With Windows xp (SP3), you need at least 768 Mb of RAM memory (the real-life minimum for Windows xp SP3 is 512 Mb);
* With Windows Vista and Windows 7, you need at least 3–4 Gb of RAM memory (2 Gb is the absolute real-life minimum).

(Your mileage may vary with other operating systems.)
  • The latest install of Google Chrome (it's fairly large), and
  • the latest install of the Angry Birds game for it (not small either*); best if a desktop shortcut were created for it, and
  • the game launched separately with no other applications running;
  • The display setting for the game must be Standard Definition (SD).
  • * Well, ok, there is now a large amount of people who already have Chrome or Chromium and Angry Birds installed, so this makes it a non-issue for those who have both.
The answer to the test would be 'fast' and 'not so fast', depending on audio performance. Same if gameplay is slow.

Criterion: If the game's intro music is jerky, or sounds like bad reception in a mobile call, then 'not so fast' is obvious.

For example, before the 2011 (going on 2012) Christmas update for Angry Birds and Google Chrome 17 (or 16), the game ran fine on a decent (but a) six-year-old notebook computer with the following specifications:

* Intel Celeron M 410 @ 1.46 GHz;
* Display adapter: Mobile Intel 945GM Express (integrated, although the manufacturer's specs listed Intel GMA 950);
* 1 Gb of RAM;
* A good hard drive (not that it matters much);
* Windows xp SP3;
* Let's suppose drivers for hardware are up-to-date, too.

After upgrading the game and the browser, the intro music became jerky (had to turn it off) and gameplay became gradually slower the longer the game was played. Yes, the game can be played without sound on, but it will still be slower.

I will not downgrade to Google Chrome 16 and then try out the latest version of the game, but if I ever see a computer with similar or slightly lower specs, then versions 15/16 of Chrome would be worth trying out.

(If you otherwise don't use Google Chrome, then there's nothing to stop you from uninstalling it.)

Even if the CPU is slower, but the computer has a dedicated video card, then gameplay can be faster, since a dedicated video card is typically faster and can therefore process video better than an integrated graphics adapter. — I guess because in part the former uses separate video memory, while the latter relies on the computer's RAM memory to keep video data in it. A dedicated video card also takes away some of the processing overhead that would otherwise be forced on a CPU, especially if the integrated graphics adapter is unable to process some instructions and the processing load falls back to the CPU.

In some ways, new versions of both Google Chrome and Angry Birds for Chrome may unintentionally make a number of nice computers obsolete like that :> — especially notebooks, as these are not easy to upgrade, if at all, or beyound certain hardware limitations.

All this makes the test really a moving target, as both Google Chrome and the Angry Birds game are in active development, and each will take advantage of new processors' instruction sets and new graphics capabilities (such as newer versions of OpenGL) that are implemented by new video adapters, as portions of Google Chrome are coded against them in assembly language.

That the test fails on some computers, does not mean that people should not choose a notebook with an integrated graphics adapter; it only means that such computers of a certain age are just not fast enough and therefore not as future-proof — in terms of years and the modern software they'd be capable of running.

Much of the reason for such a test is that it's more-or-less simple and offers a real-world "case study", as opposed to benchmarking software. I chose Angry Birds for Chrome, because the game peruses the different capabilities of a computer that runs it; Angry Birds uses Google Chrome as the back-end, and utilizes HTML5, JavaScript, and Chrome's integrated audio support (unlike separately using plugins for audio) for all the fancy stuff.

Another reason is that there are folks who are considering buying a used computer or passing one down. Such a test (if allowed to be performed), or published results of such a test on different hardware should inform the potential users as to the viability of having to use a not-so-new hardware combination for the next, oh well, 2–3 years, for example. Maybe even longer.


How the test relates to the computer being future-proof: If playback of sound in Angry Birds for Chrome is fine, then you can rest assured that the machine can be well used for other activities (such as getting to watch videos on YouTube) for quite a while, even if sound may become jerky after both Chrome and the game are updated.

If sound in Angry Birds is jerky on a computer today, then there might be less confidence about whether the computer is fast enough within the timespan of the next five years, for example. That also includes much of the future software.

The backup test would be the YouTube test (if videos play normally at 360p), only that YouTube uses Flash and users can choose which major version of Flash Player they want on their computer (YouTube supports Flash Player 10 or newer).

There is really nothing to stop people from using older and even older machines, so long such a configuration meets their expectations and that these users are then aware that the hardware does or will eventually turn out to have limited capabilities for new functionality.
T., 29.01.2013. update:

Very recently it was possible for me again to play Angry Birds with quite a bit less reduction in game theme playback quality (which to me is often the marker of whether that game is playable).

The conditions where as follows:
  • Google Chrome 24.0.1312.52 (the latest stable version);
  • Chrome extension ScriptNo installed, with some of the following domains allowed:
    google.com (to login through Google)
  • Angry Birds installed (the latest version)
  • All other applications were turned off, including even Microsoft Security Essentials (you have to turn that on after you stop the slingshot game.)
  • The game window had to be separate (through the Angry Birds shortcut dragged to the desktop), so that only the game would start and no the rest of Chrome.
  • The game window had to be in focus and the mouse cursor was not supposed to veer outside the game area to avoid twitchy playback of the theme song.

    Thinking that that would be it might be wrong. So I remember now that
  • I cleaned up the hard disk a bit to allow for more swap space, odd as this may sound. Defragmenting the hard drive every once in a while is always a good call.

No comments: