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We have recently had the pleasure of using Southwest Airlines twice for flights from Chicago to New Orleans and then from San Antonio, TX to Los Angeles while on a holiday in the USA.
Firstly, you will find that Southwest are a very large American airline with flights virtually in all corners of the country and many airports having whole terminals or half terminals devoted to their flights. The proposition is simple: the company is a budget carrier, has numerous routes and is cheap, but does not try and squeeze every single last dollar you might have out of you like many of its European counterparts.
Booking the flight on their website is incredibly easy. There is no multitude of hidden charges like we get in the UK with bags flying free and no ridiculous check-in fees or whatnot. When you come to the airport, the service is also very good. There are kiosks where you can print off your boarding pass if you haven't managed to do so already and the queues were very short both times we travelled. Each passenger is allowed up to 2 hold bags weighing up to 50 pounds (around 22.5kg) and this is the only thing they are very strict on (we had to repack both times), but they are very courteous and helpful and the reasons for the rules are clear as the female staff at the desks have to manually haul your baggage around and then lift it onto the conveyor.
Once you oblige to not have overweight bags, everything else is very simple. You do not get assigned seats, but you get a number according to when you buy your ticket which lets you board in order. We boarded right at the end both times and still easily got two seats together by the window which were perfectly good for us. Granted, if you travel in a large group, this may be dificult, but at the price you're paying, it is hard to complain.
They are very generous with cabin luggage and allow much greater "cabin-sized" suitcases than you would get away with in Europe which most locals seem to make use of despite the huge hold baggage allowances. Moreover, we even found that the airline provides complimentary snacks and drinks on the flights including sandwiches which is great for short-haul flights. Ryanair and Easyjet are really put to shame! One more interesting point is that all flights operate from major airports which means you are both close to the place you're going and you get all the shops/amenities that you get with any other airline.
Last, but not least, the airline operates an interesting scheme where you can turn up to the airport and buy a special kind of ticket when the plane is full, proceed to the gate and wait to see if any passengers fail to turn up. This can result in you having to go back out and leave the airport if unsuccessful, but having witnessed a large number of people on many flights doing this and every single one succeeding, it seems an interesting concept if you have to fly urgently. It is also important to note that they operate very good terms for changing your flights with either no fees if done early enough or very low ones to change your dates which is also a consideration for some travellers.
I have purchased this cooler as part of an overall 1155 socket build for an Intel i2600k processor. I originally installed the cooler that came with the processor and later switched to the Hyper 212 to try and get cooler temperatures than the stock solution.
First of all, this cooler is substantially larger than any ones I have seen before. The heat sink has three large copper pipes which come right down to the processor and draw the heat out through a thick radiator. The fan component can then be attached on either the internal side, pushing air through the cooler and out through the rear fan or attached to the back to act as a double pulling fan.
While the official line is to attach it on the internal side, this is heavily dependent on two things: your other fans and the size of your RAM sticks. You will find that with larger sticks with coolers on top, it will be an incredibly tight squeeze to fit the cooler and I would highly recommend the reverse placement as the difference in performance is minimal.
The installation is a little clumsy. Unlike some modern styles, you have to take everything out of your computer, unscrew the motherboard and remove that to fit the cooler as you have to install a fixing plate on the back unlike the pushpin design of many other coolers. This, however, feels a lot more sturdy and appears to do a better job at holding things in place. The thermal paste provided with the cooler will be sufficient, but I would recommend replacing it with some Arctic paste instead for greater performance.
There are two tricky bits to the subsequent installation: the fitting of the holding bracket over the heat sink and fitting the fan. The holding bracket is somewhat annoying to fit, especially if you have a number of other components and wires around. the screws are flimsy to move to a different fixing location (there are 3 per screw and the 1155 socket uses the middle one) and the pin in the middle holding the cooler in place keeps wanting to move around. Once you've fixed all of them on properly, however, it seems to work perfectly well.
The second annoying bit is the fan fixings with the provided brackets. These are spring-based and incredibly flimsy. When you fix the fan on, there is fair amount of give and it appears that you've not done it right, whereas in fact that is exactly what it should look like.
The end product is great. Sub-40 degree temperatures at no load and below 60 degrees when at full pace is pretty impressive for a high-performance CPU cooler. The sound is about the same as a stock cooler and might even be a little more quiet which I am also particularly happy with.
One last point to note is that the packaging, instructions and product details suggest that this cooler is incompatible with the 1155 socket processor types (i2500k etc). This is in fact not true and this fan works wonders in combination with these processors. I would highly recommend the use of this product!
I have bought the P8P67 Pro Asus motherboard when I decided to build my own PC a few months ago. The key reason for considering the P8P67 series was their compatibility with the i2600k 1155 socket processor which I chose as by far the best option out there.
Having chosen the processor, you basically have two choices thereafter: manufacturer of the motherboard and the stuff you want your motherboard to have.
In terms of manufacturer, there are two clear choices - Asus and MSI as well as a few budget brands and a small number of very high end (read expensive) ones. I picked Asus for their known build quality and given that prices were very similar. Today, you'd expect to pick one of these up for under £150 which is a good price on a top quality piece of kit.
Your next choice is the type of board you get. There are all sorts of types ranging from the most basic to the Deluxe version. They are mostly the same, but you have to look at the fine print in order to determine the key differences. When you get the PRO board, you essentially get everything any sane person would ever want with full HD support, USB 3.0 & all the ports you want including SLI/X-fire potential (although beware that if you buy particularly large graphics cards, you will only be able to fit one of these onto the board (e.g. one with big fans) - the second one will have to have no large cooling when you come to link them). There is virtually nothing (read: extra languages, etc) available in the Deluxe version that you would ever need, so save your cash.
The BIOS of this system is particularly good with lots of options and very easy overclocking and set up using a graphical interface. This is one of the best available and definitely far better than the competition in the 1155 socket motherboards.
Overall, I would highly recommend this board if you are going for a Sandybridge computer build as it offers everything you would want, is reliable and has a great BIOS for a reasonable cost.
This review is based on the i7 2600k I bought a couple of months ago and installed as a full computer build at the time.
Having studied the market for processors for a while and assessed the various options, I opted to go for the 2600k Intel processor simply because it is in a market of its own when you consider performance and price. Given you can buy these with a fair bit of change from £300, it is amazing that this is one of the top performing processors if not the top processor out there for consumer computing.
The chip itself is a standard size which works with the 1155 socket motherboards. I will review the other components I purchased separately. Essentially, there are three key issues you need to consider when deciding whether to purchase this processor:
1. If you are a truly budget build, then this processor will not be for you. There are much cheaper options out there which will, of course, have significantly poorer performance to go along with the cheaper price. If you are considering a mid-range set-up, however, this processor is hands down the best performer on the market.
2. Decide what you want to use the computer for. If you are after gaming only and will not require to run multiple complex applications simultaneously or do heavy photo/video editing, then this processor will not be necessary. You will not notice any significant difference between its performance and that of the lesser sibling - the i2500k. I would get the cheaper option instead. The reason for this is the fact that each core of this processor has two separate coils which, when doing things like video editing/rendering will create a lot of benefit which no modern computer games come close to being able to utilise at present.
3. How urgent is your computer build. I would normally always advise to never wait for computer components as undoubtedly whenever you build a system, it will become somewhat outdated within a matter of months, but with new processors in the price range at much improved performance rumoured by both, Intel and AMD over the next two months, it is always worth a small amount of consideration given that these processors have been around for the best part of half a year.
In terms of performance, I cannot fault this processor. While I am no gaming enthusiast, it ran Far Cry 2 at max settings for everything using up about 20% of its capacity and hardly heating up. All video editing and other needs I have bestowed on it were incredibly quick. If you are after framerate comparisons, etc, then do a quick google search, but if you want to know how to build a monster performance PC for a fraction of the cost a pre-built option would set you back, look no further than this processor!
Before I start, I appreciate that a number of dedicated computer geeks will shoot me down and explain through a set of incomprehensible words mixed with numbers how completely wrong I am to suggest that the iPad has truly revolutionized the computing world.
In truth, however, that is an undeniable fact. Millions upon millions of iPads were swept off the shelves throughout the recent months and the eagerly anticipated announcement of the iPad 2 will surely continue driving sales through the roof.
It is true that the iPad does not boast or in fact even come remotely close to the top of the range computers available in the market. In fact, its processing power, memory and certain technological components on paper lag significantly behind most other types of computer. So much so that many people in IT will not fail to explain to you exactly why the iPad isn't even a proper computer.
The crux of the issue, however, is that people aren't stupid. And the reason the iPad has been swept off the shelves is because it offers the customer something no other computer does to anywhere near the same degree - simplicity, sophistication, personalisation, user-friendliness & a customer-centric approach. Everything about the iPad has been designed with the end consumer in mind rather than making a generic processing tool which is the way a classic PC has been produced.
Much like the iPhone which has gradually conquered the mobile phone market, the iPad boasts a colossal number of apps which you can download for free or a small charge. The quantity of these apps is immeasurable and some say that the App Store actually belongs to God. You can download copious numbers of games, utilities and all sorts of generally useful software which enable you to use your iPad as a spirit level when aligning your tiles (as you do) and user your iPad as a TV remote control (the usefulness of this functionality is somewhat dubious). The battery life is particularly good, especially considering that the iPhone's is somewhat less good and the iPad really makes an extremely useful tool for long journeys, casual entertainment and web browsing.
Please note that this review is being written within days of the launch of the iPad 2 and having not personally owned the first one (review is based on extensive use of my sister's), I am most definitely in the market for a new generation one. One thing that I will note, however, is that having 3G capacity on the machine makes it a much more worthwhile purchase as it enables you to use the full potential of the machine wherever you are on the go. Be sure to check what the data usage cap is if you get a contract with it as the predominant cap of 500MB is incredibly easy to breach and you would risk paying top buck for all usage beyond the agreed cap.
My first exposure to Flight Control came courtesy of my sister's iPad at Christmas which started as sheer amusement at a simple game which involves landing airplanes onto different runways according to their type without them crashing into each other. In the space of days... well... who am I kidding? In the space of hours, I was addicted to the point of covertly stealing the iPad at every opportune moment in order to play Flight Control despite not being capable of getting even remotely close to the scores my sister had recorded.
Having recently bought an iPhone, I have downloaded the game onto that for the meagre sum of 59p. The hours of shameless entertainment that the 59 pence gives you surely make this one of the most worthwhile purchases you can make for under a pound!
I was hugely surprised to discover that despite the screen being susbstantially smaller on the iPhone and it being apparently more difficult to play the game, with experience I got considerably better and my scores on the iPhone are substantially better than anything I could achieve on the iPad originally. The game is incredibly simple in its design where a number of different plane types which travel at different speeds enter the screen at various points and your job is to guide them to landing strips of an appropriate colour without them crashing into each other. There are a number of different maps with varying difficulty levels and when playing there are a number of achievements that you can unlock as well as a leaderboard showing you exactly how bad you are in comparison with the hundreds of thousands of people with better flight path drawing skills than you.
The one drawback is the relatively little flexibility in the game modes as once you've played the game for long enough, you do eventually begin taking breaks. Having said that, I would very highly recommend everyone to get the app for their iPhone or iPad. It was first on my list when I got mine!
I fundamentally disagree with a number of recent reviewers who have put up significantly negative reviews of this bumper for a variety of reasons.
Apple were hit by a barrage of rather vague connectivity issue claims when the iPhone 4 was released which no matter how hard I intentionally tried I failed to replicate having purchased the iPhone myself. Regardless of where or by whom this rumour was started, Apple went above and beyond their call of duty and offered all iPhone users a free bumper as well as including it with all future iPhone purchases completely free of charge. Given that this response was so far beyond anyone's expectations and the fact that all this was done absolutely for free, I fail to see how people can be negative about the gesture.
The bumper itself is a very well made piece of kit. It is a mixture of rubber on the outside, some stronger materials in various places and a much harder plastic in the corners to protect the phone from damage. The bumper fits nicely around the perimeter of the phone and does a good job in protecting it when falling on flat surfaces as regardless of the fall angle, the bumper absorbs the impact.
All buttons and holes are appropriately catered for and the bumper looks to be a very good quality product which does not detract from the design of the iPhone and is inconspicuous. The one minor drawback which stops be rating this 5 stars is that the volume buttons on the side are allowed to protrude beyond the extent of the bumper. It is fair to say that it is hard to imagine what the case would need to look like in order to protect these buttons, but I have managed to scratch and chip mine already where the rest of the phone is very well protected.
I have been a somewhat typical opinionated consumer occupying the opposite half of the Apple-o-mania. Over the course of a number of years, whenever my contract came up for renewal, I religiously studied reviews & technical specifications of all the available phones in order to pick the best the market supposedly had to offer. The numerous ads showing how much more powerful than the iPhone these handsets were, how their battery power prevailed, how their screens were better, how they had more memory, better camera... well I'm sure you've heard it all before as well.
In the end every single Nokia, Sony Ericsson & Samsung very predictably failed to impress, most of their functionality was inaccessible to mere mortals with no postgraduate computing qualifications and I was eagerly waiting for my next to upgrade.
Eventually push came to shove and after another useless Sony with a keyboard which either refused to acknowledge your input or typed your chosen letter 3 times in a row, I gave in and patiently waited until my contract ran out and upgraded to the iPhone 4.
Having had a number of "top" handsets recently and having played around with a number of the competitors, I think I can safely say that the iPhone is a phone from an alternative universe when put next to any of its rivals. The key reason for this is its focus on the consumer. Apple have, as always, thought about the customer first and ensured that their handsets are geared towards the people who would want to use them rather than wowing with a set of numbers and useless specifications.
In terms of hardware, the first thing you notice is the screen. I have no interest in the technical aspects of how it works, etc, but the quality of the screen is second to none. The resolution is great, the colours vivid and it really feels like a high quality computer in your pocket. The camera on the back does not have the greatest resolution of mobile phone cameras, nor does it have the most amazingly powerful flash, gazillions of zoom or a fancy name lens yet when comparing the pictures taken with an iPhone to those with the above "qualities", it is surprising how good the iPhone photo quality is given its supposed inferiority. In fact, having owned a number of flagship Sony Ericsson camera phones, I can safely say that the numbers advertised mean virtually nothing.
On top of the quite obviously superior build quality, great design & looks, the iPhone boasts by far the most user-friendly operating system in existence. It is intuitive, simple to use, extremely user-friendly and geared towards people who don't want to point away with their scroller/stylus or use a de-facto immitation aka Android. The Appstore offers every single useful piece of software anyone would want - from countless games to useful gadgets and enhancements to Apple's own functions.
All in all, it is hard to think of anything that comes even remotely close to the iPhone in terms of quality and user-friendliness. If you're still having doubts or delusions about the superiority of other handsets, then you really need to open your eyes. I'm not some kind of an Apple fan who has upgraded from one iPhone to the next and now that the prices have finally come down, you would be kidding yourself not to get one. Make sure you use a cashback website which virually offsets the upfront costs and makes the contract that much more affordable!
Having seen Naturally 7 perform as a warm up act for Michael Buble a few years ago, we made sure to go to one of their concerts when they came round on their own tour of the UK later on. During the original concert where they were the warm up act and nobody in the audience had heard of the guys before they started, the group truly amazed every single person in the audience. So much so that the queue to buy their albums & get their signatures was far longer than that for Buble (who was also very good as per usual).
The album is similar to a number of of their other ones and contains a number of songs which made them the massive online success that they are. The group consists of 7 performers who play modern ballad and soul music without the use of any instruments. Each member of the band has a few instruments that they specialise in immitating and the perfection to which they know their stuff is something you can only witness during the concert as each member showcases their individual skills throughout the concert.
If you get the CD, you will be amazed at the fact that there are no instruments whatsoever being played. The benefit that this band has over traditional music is that not only can they perform whenever and wherever they like (they made an online video of performing on a crowded Paris subway to show this) but they are also able to do a lot of music which would not be physically possible on a real instrument.
The main singer has an incredible voice which you have to hear to really understand what I'm saying. While everybody in the band is pretty good, the base & guitar are particularly good giving a real rocky feel to a number of their tunes.
All in all, I am truly amazed that these guys have not taken the music industry by storm and am convinced that it is simply an issue of marketing as their songs are excellent, their musical ability is second to none and they are a truly nice bunch of guys. Get the Wall of Sound album, get all their other albums, then go onto their german-based website (something to do with their record contract) and find out when they are next touring the UK and go buy tickets to your nearest show. Their concert was far and away the best live musical performance I've ever seen!
Having used the Eurotunnel a good few times over the recent years and comparing it to the ferry experiences alongside, I feel I have a fairly good grasp of the difference between the two options for getting yourself, your car, passengers and an unlimited amount of belongings to wherever your heart desires in mainland Europe.
There are two sides to the Eurotunnel coin and I'll start with the negative one: it can be fairly expensive, especially so if you choose to travel at peak times on those days of the week and in those weeks when demand is at its highest. Expect to pay top dollar to travel across during mid-morning on the first Saturday of the half-term week and any other similarly busy day. Moreover, typical lorry crossing times early on and towards the end of of the day can be expensive.
This, you'll be pleased, is the only 'downside' and not having children and being flexible about my times of travel, I've enjoyed plenty of very reasonably priced trips. It has to be noted that every now and then Eurotunnel offer promotional deals, particularly for short trips, where the value is significantly better than using ferries, so be on the look out!
The trip itself is virtually flawless. The booking process is extremely easy and once you get to the terminal, the camera will either recognise your numberplate and automatically identify who you are or you'll need to stick your card into the machine which straight away gets your booking up on the screen. I would always recommend allowing at least 25 minutes prior to departure to board the train, but on top of that it is almost always worth it to book a train an hour or two later than you may wish to use it. Even during relatively busy periods, there has not been a time when I turned up earlier than my prebooked time and was not offered to get onto the next available carriage which is particularly useful when travelling in the evening or if it is a sufficiently long trip to get to the train. We travelled halfway through Europe during the peak of the snow in December and were very happy to have booked a later train as it gave us time to crawl through the arctic conditions in Belgium and even though we got there a little early, we hopped on the earlier train instead of waiting.
The trip itself is very very quick. From experience, once you begin boarding the train, everything goes fairly quickly. The border check is very efficient and once the train is moving, you pop out on the other side within 20 minutes or thereabouts, so in comparison to the hours upon hours spent on an overpriced ferry, I would strongly urge the use of the Eurotunnel instead!
Having recently gotten the FIFA 11 for the Wii, I have explored the various game modes and feel compelled to write a review to tell the whole wide world about the greatness of this latest installment in the outstanding series.
First of all, it must be noted that FIFA 11 takes a step forward in introducing the multitude of gameplay options available on other platforms to the Wii and allows you to play on the streets as well as on Stadiums as well as playing a single player career mode, managing clubs & the updated online mode.
The Streets to the Stadium mode is great although somewhat frustrating as you progress a player over the course of a few seasons but are not able to control the remaining team members. The other modes are good and have been somewhat improved from the previous versions as the strategy and AI seem to have improved.
Online games have definitely become much better than they once were, but there are still a few minor problems which really need addressing. These are minor things such as the game still allowing you to choose the same kit which can make games really tedious. The game also significantly overpowers skills even on 11v11 game mode which means that a player who keeps lifting the ball over his own head is impossible to tackle anywhere near your goal except for giving away a penalty which can be very frustrating, but it does work both ways. Once you have played enough games and assuming you perform well enough, you will get a ranking if you make the top 10,000 which makes the game even more exciting as you can progressively play better opponents and see your own rank improve. It also means that eventually, you'll be playing people roughly your own skill level although you will still occasionally come across a particularly talented player coming up through the ranks.
In terms of gameplay, there are minor tweaks here and there, but all in all FIFA have continued in their typical fashion and kept the game entertaining for hours on end. I would highly recommend that you go out and buy one in the post-Christmas sales!
Don't get me wrong. Wii Play is a fun game when you first get the Wii and it will hold your hand as you learn the basics of using the wiimote and the ways of controlling the Wii. There is a somewhat limited (in comparison with many games which have since been released) range of games which range from shooting to table tennis & fishing. These all effectively give you an alternative way to use the innovative technology of the Wiimotes.
Back when I got the Wii, this game was included as standard in all purchases and served the very purpose of teaching you the ropes. I am not sure whether this is still the case, but in case it is not, I would advise against getting it on its own merit. It is a very simple game with limited scope and for the money you can get a range of significantly better titles with greater scope and game depth.
Because of these reasons together with a relatively hefty price tag when bought outside a package deal, I would strongly advise against getting this game. On top of the above, it is now quite out of date seeing as it was released at the sam time as the Wii went on general sale some years ago.
Diet Pepsi has recently taken a leading role in the soft drink industry in the UK. It combines the healthy message of not having high volumes of sugar with the cool and young appeal and has definitively beaten Coca Cola on the price front which has made it the preferred choice of an ever growing number of pubs, bars and restaurants as well as many households.
I have personally switched over to buying Pepsi a couple years ago ever since their prices plummeted in comparison with the Diet Coke alternative. I'll always be buying a Coke-based product for general recreation and for mixing with alcoholic beverages. Diet versions are nice as I prefer the taste and at the same time, these are supposedly better for you if you are trying to keep off the pounds.
I definitely prefer the taste of diet pepsi, although this is a view which is not shared by most of my family. On tops of this, Diet Pepsi works very nicely as a mixer - I am a fan of Rum and Disaronno cocktails. I am no scientist, but it makes a great crackling noise when poured over very cold ice cubes.
Last, but not least, the prices on Coke products has been a tense affair ever since the two entered into the never-ending competition. Most recently, Pepsi has typically been 1/3 or thereabouts cheaper than Coca Cola alternatives which in my mind is a great reason to choose Diet Pepsi seeing as there is objectively so little to choose between the two!
We got Wii Party especially for playing with a group of friends and family as we had heard that this game particularly suited such occasions. The first thing we particularly liked about the game was the extra Wiimote which came with the game. Having bought the game in Asda with a big discount, coming in at under £30, it felt like a bargain that we got a free controller in the box.
The game itself is really good for large groups of people. There are a number of different game modes which all essentially involve playing very small but fun games with a group of people. You can technically play alone against 3 computer opponents, but that takes away from the entire point of the game. If you are after a single player source of entertainment, I would suggest that this would not be the right option for you. The games are very different and involve very different types of activity and controls. Most take under 5 minutes to complete which allows you to frequently switch between different games, game modes and to alternate the participants.
The breadth and depth of available games is quite staggering. It took us a good few days, several hours at a time before we went through all the ones which are available. If you don't have the full component of 4 players, you have to add a necessary number of computer players to make up the numbers as almost all the games are designed for 4 people. There is a game mode where you play with 2 players if you wish to do so.
All in all, this game is great for the purpose of playing small games in a party, but not great for other types of gaming. The price may seem prohibitive, but all you need to do is shop around and no doubt you'll find it significantly cheaper than the £45 in some shops as part of promotional deals.
I owned the 512 MB version of this Iriver MP3 player some years ago when having 512MB worth of music was considered somewhat extensive and a tiny green screen informing you of the song you're listening to was the best you could get on the market.
At the time of the release of these players, one would generally upgrade from having CD players and the ability to have a small gadget capable of playing so many more songs was truly innovative. True, there were many other types of music players, but I chose the Iriver for its styling, capacity and relatively reasonable price. Now, of course, this player is very outdated which reflects in the low rating I have given it, but this does not stop the memories flowing back and the player will work as well today as it did back then.
The joystick to the right of the screen is very useful in navigating what is essentially a very straight-forward menu. The screen is clear and simple if not very graphically advanced in comparison to modern counterparts. The 512MB capacity was ground-breaking at the time as it was one of the very first devices in the world offering this level of technology and I was a very proud owner. It would typically allow me to manage a playlist of around 100 songs with constant updates where some were taken out and others replacing them. It did mean, however, that you had to be picky with your music and unlike most moden iPods, you were never in a position where you didn't like 90% of the music on your player.
There is an added functionality of listening to radio, but whenever I tried to use it (particularly on trains), it did not seem to work properly as the connection was very poor. It also only has an FM-tuner, so no listening to Football matches while the wife is trying on a new frock on a Saturday afternoon.
Last, but not least, the clip & fairly good shock-proof design have meant that this gadget is very useful as a portable music player. I went running with it and it never skipped a beat.
All in all, I would recommend this device to either someone who wants to try something different and doesn't mind the limited space on offer, somebody after good value for money or a collector as this was a truly ground-breaking gadget for its time and I do not have a bad word to say about its performance or sound quality. If you are after a genuine music MP3 player and are not on a very tight budget, there are plenty of models out there with twenty times as much space and a bigger screen with a better menu system for very reasonable amounts of money.