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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Outrunning the Hardware?

Over the last year, Linden Lab has introduced a lot of new features to make Second Life more attractive.  We now have Mesh objects, and options in the viewer to enable depth of field, shadows, and spotlights.  Additional functionality has been added with more flexibility in how we can attach things to our avatars, and the ability to put multiple things on a single clothing layer.  Functions like Search and the Profile have been expanded and linked more closely to the Web.

Along with all these improvements have come increasing demands on the performance of the computers we use to access SL.  My computer is about three years old, but it is still quite powerful.  It has a quad core i920 processor, 12 GB of RAM, more than a terabyte of hard drive storage, and an NVIDIA 560Ti graphics card.  I have Verizon's fastest FIOS data link.  Despite an impressive set of specifications, my frame rate when using Mesh-enabled viewers is often so low that SL becomes unusable.  Not only does movement on the screen slow to slide-show speeds, but even the entry of text begins to lag behind my typing ability.

The problem of avatar textures persistently failing to rez has gotten so widespread that the Firestorm viewer has a new pie menu function, "Tex Refresh" that you can apply to yourself or to other gray avatars that you see on your screen.

It's not just me.  The forums are full of posts from people who can't log in, or can't teleport, or can't see the world around them, or can't get their avatar to look like anything except a cloud.  Last night, I met two newcomers who had just gotten new laptops for Christmas and were trying Second Life for the first time.  These were brand new computers, and yet they could not see anything around them but gray shapes.

It's not just the official viewer, either.  ALL of the mesh enabled viewers I've tried have these problems.  Viewer 3, Phoenix, Firestorm, and Nirans.

Is anyone at Linden Lab testing the software with real world computers, on real world internet connections? When Viewer 2 was released, the vision was supposedly to make SL more accessible to Everyman.  Somehow, that has failed to occur.  Instead, SL is becoming LESS accessible.  Unless you are a computer geek with the very latest custom gaming rig, and highly knowledgeable about how to tweak and troubleshoot your machine for maximum performance, Second Life has become a very unfriendly application.

8 comments:

  1. Me, as most of the ones i know in world still use the pre mesh version of phoenix.
    Sad to see all rezzing so fast on it and with a Mesh viewer, any, all seems to take ages to rezz|

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  2. Part of the problem is the dumbing down of new computers. I have spoken to many peoples with new machines who can not run SL properly. I have even seen new machine with no way to have a wired connection to the internet. These machines work well for most things, movies make up for bad connections by caching well ahead of the viewer, intensive graphics work is done in the cloud, etc.
    Second Life absolutely demands a good, wired connection and high end graphics capability, things many new machines lack.
    You are, however, right. That is only half the problem. Many high end viewers demand very high end equipment indeed. In the end I believe LL will have to offer a cloud based service (probably for a fee) to take the graphics pressure off "modern" computers.

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  3. Mesh runs fine on my iMac, and on my 2009 Toshiba laptop (which today is a $350 machine).

    Thousands of us do just fine with mesh.

    That said, have been reading that some anti-aliasing code was changed in the same code-updates as mesh - and is known to cause lag issues on some video cards. Try flipping anti-aliasing off, or if off, on.

    The anti-aliasing comment came from here:
    http://blog.nalates.net/2011/09/10/charlar-linden-interview/
    - which dates to September, but might still be relevant.

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  4. @catnapkitty: I know that many computers handle the mesh viewers just fine. I've even heard from some users who say SL runs much BETTER for them with Firestorm (Mesh) than it did with Phoenix (non-Mesh). The fact remains that many computers do NOT, and LL has not provided any clear guidelines as to why that might be the case or how to fix it.

    I've tried all sorts of different anti aliasing settings...and other settings too, both in the viewer preferences and in my graphics card's custom settings. So far, nothing has made much of a difference.

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  5. Mesh viewers only use the native viewer AA!
    You can't override them via Vga general panel!

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  6. Here's a left field thought: What if the chip and pc makers themselves are cutting back on high end features so that you'll want to go to a tablet next? Anything is possible in the hardware industry.

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  7. It's a thought, Joey, but with sites like Tom's Hardware benchmarking every new device in sight, I really don't think so. :)

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