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Phoenix Viewer

Release 818

A couple of hours after I noticed the release notes being put up the downloads were announced on the Phoenix blog. The release announcement is here: 1.5.2.818 Final Major Release! And here: 1.5.2.818 SSE windows Bug. Ouch.

The Bug

Update: About 3:03 PM SLT 12/22 the fix 818A was released.

This is a two part bug. If you have a newer computer (no more than 3 years old) then you are likely not affected. This is a problem with computer CPU’s. You have probably been messing with computers long enough to know the CPU is the heart and brain of the computer. As time passes more abilities are built into the CPU, they are taught new tricks. SSE is one of those tricks. Older computers, CPU’s, can’t do the trick and newer ones can. 

So what is the trick? Geeky stuff… It is about how the CPU can do math using 64 bit numbers and apply that math to multiple sets of data, very handy for image processing and rendering. If you want to Google it, use Intel, SSE2, and SIMD in your search.

There are levels of SSE running from SSE to, I think, 4.2. You can check your CPU by getting a program titled CPUID or CPU-Z, they are fuzzy on their branding. (cNet Download for CPUID)

The Phoenix Team included an SSE and an SSE-2 version rolled into one package with the 725 release. That apparently swamped the support staff with questions and created a load of problems. So, with this release they made two separate downloads, one for SSE and one for SSE-2. Reading their blog you see that there is a bug in the SSE version that creates problems. They are fixing it and will soon release Phoenix version 818A.

The Fix

To get past this problem you need to know which type of CPU you have. So, if you don’t know, get the little program linked to above and save yourself the brain damage of figuring out your CPU.

If your CPU does not support SSE-2, wait for version 818A.

If it does, get the SSE-2 version. There are a lot of bug fixes in this release. So, it is a must have.

Install

I like Phoenix’s install. I’m not sure why, it just seems well done… or maybe it’s the colors.

The Phoenix Wiki tells everyone to clear their cache before installing, or at least before using the new version for the first time. I take this to mean cache and settings.

Cache location: C:\users\[user_name]\AppData\PhoenixViewer

Settings location: C:\users\[user_name]\Roaming\SecondLife\user_settings\settings_phoenix.xml

WARNING: Several blogs, wiki’s, and web sites say to delete everything in the user_settings folder. DO NOT do that. In some scenarios that is the thing to do. But, NOT for a new version install. You only want to remove the settings for the viewer you are installing. Remember. Second Life, Ascent, Dolphin, and some others use the folder for their settings too. I like it better when separate folders are used but that affects your chat/IM logs. Some viewer developers have decided it is better to keep all the logs together. Doing so when one is using multiple viewers allows you to see your past chat regardless of which viewer you are using at the moment. As long as things are working, it is probably the best idea.

TIP: When you manually delete the cache, notice the size. If your cache is close to the size you have set in Preferences, make your cache bigger. It will help performance. Those that are online for long periods and hop across the grid need bigger caches.

I don’t want to hear it but you’ll prolly ask, “How big should it be?” Well guys… er… well… I am embarrassed to say it… it depends on how you use it…

At some point as the cache grows the time to find a cached file is longer than the time needed to grab the oldest file, delete it and add the new one. If you are on for an extended period and notice your viewer slowing, mostly slower render and textures stay grey longer, check how much disk space your cache is using. If it is close to what is set in Preferences, change your setting to something larger. If the disk space use is considerably smaller than your setting, decrease the setting size to something less than the disk space used. Then notice if that helps or hurts performance and adjust accordingly. The default size is 500mb and that is a pretty good number.

Settings

Once I have a new viewer installed I go through and check the settings before logging in. I found that my Sound Files cache location did not transfer, as it should not when one clears the settings. The cache location is separate as Phoenix creates its own cache folder. So, sound is the only cache setting needing to be changed.

I prefer to use the external web browser. I think that makes for fewer WebKit problems.

The media is turned off by default.  See: See: Edit -> Preferences -> Audio & Video.

I like to have the Teleport Screens disabled. I can chat while I’m teleporting. Failed tp’s can take some time. See: Edit -> Preferences -> Phoenix -> Page 1 -> TP/Login.

I love the vertical chat tabs. See: Edit -> Preferences -> Phoenix -> Page 1 -> IM -> Vertical Chat Tabs. You have to restart the viewer for this to take effect.

I like the Modifiers for X, Y, Z position of the avatar. These settings adjust the visible avatar inside the avatar physics bubble, the bubble is how the computers see the avatar. So, with my sexy sculpty feet I can adjust this so my toes don’t poke through the floor. See: Edit -> Preferences -> Phoenix -> Page 1 -> Avatar.

Phoenix remembers your Windlight settings from session to session. You can turn that off to mimic the stand SLV behavior. See: Edit -> Preferences -> Phoenix -> Page 2 -> Windlight.

Spellcheck is off by default. I like it on. See: See: Edit -> Preferences -> Phoenix -> Page 2 -> SpellCheck.

Update: 12/23 – The Phoenix wiki advises those with ATI cards to turn off VBO (Vertex Buffer Objects). See: Edit -> Preferences -> Graphics -> Hardware Options. VBO is pretty geeky stuff. It is all about how the computer CPU and graphics GPU cooperate to draw 3D images. There are lots of variables but in general using VBO in SL should provide better performance, especially with newer video cards and drivers. SL uses OpenGL, which is sort of the referee between or traffic cop for the CPU and the GPU. ATI has a history of not working well with OpenGL.

Experience

Starting the viewer to check my settings put the viewer up in medium slow motion. Both cores are pegged at 100%. The response to the mouse is about 5 seconds. Eck. With some patience I got the settings changes made and closed the viewer.

On restarting it behaved much better. Switching away from the viewer dropped the cores to 15% and when the viewer is active it uses about 30% CPU, before login. Grabbing the screen corner and resizing the window puts the viewer back into 100% CPU and slow motion. Another restart, which did not help. Time to reboot the computer. That fixed the problem. I’ve seen this is several TPV’s. There appears to be some problem with the ‘Initializing web browser’. If that takes some time then the viewers are going to be slow.

Once in world I popped into Junkyard Blues, a fun dance place with country and Rock & Roll and usually a live DJ and scheduled genres (the guys are too shy but easily caught). While the avatars were rezzing and things downloading I was getting 7 or 8 FPS on my Duel Core2 – 8800 GTS. Once most this were downloaded and rezzed I was getting 12 to 15 FPS and that is with the SSE-2 version. I use the default High graphics settings for testing. It is a dance region. In a residential area the FPS jumped up to 18 while downloading and 18 to 27 after catching up.

For the changes and fixes see the Phoenix 818 Release Notes. I went over the interesting stuff in the previous post, so I won’t repeat them here.

Summary

The Phoenix team seems to be coming together. I think each release is better. The Wiki is probably the best viewer support wiki going. Now, if people would just read it… Also, they have great in world support in their group.

I’m looking forward to their release of Firestorm.

You may not have noticed that Imprudence/Kokua and Phoenix/Firestorm are moving in different directions. Phoenix is not working well on the OpenSim grids. The team is focusing on Second Life. That is probably a good thing. Keeping up with the changes in SL is going to be challenging task. Focusing the available resources will likely make for a much better viewer.

Imprudence/Kokua is shifting toward OpenSim with particular emphases on the Aurora branch and to support Second Life too.  The Imprudence/Kokua shift is about some fundamental differences in direction. The Phoenix team is supporting residents, those living in SL. The Imprudence team is going to be providing more support to the land owners in OpenSim. When you play in OpenSim you soon realize most of the people there are land owners running their own sims. They own 1 or more regions. The needs of these two groups are different.

As time passes we will see how this fundamental difference changes the two viewers.

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