i7 PC Build: Tech Notes

Every new custom PC build is a bit of an experiment. You may know all the specs of the components, but once it’s all assembled, it’s time to find out if your expectations were correct, or if there are any hidden issues to work out. The PC I built in the earlier accompanying article began by running completely within my expectations, then quickly exceeded them, and all at a rather reasonable cost for a high-performance computer.

I’ve assembled some more details on the components and choices surrounding them in another article.

Read more in the Tech section…

Intel Z170 “Skylake” I7-6700K PC Build

Late last year, I finally built a new custom PC for sims and gaming based on the latest Intel Z170 chipset and the Intel “Skylake” series I7 processor. The new machine is intended to be cutting-edge now, and should remain upgradeable and provide excellent performance for the next five years or more. There’s been a lot going on with it — not only was I creating a custom build based on some very new parts, but Windows 10 was also new on the scene, so there was much to do in the way of “dialing in” the new system. What follows is the full-step-by step of the hardware assembly. If you’ve never built a custom PC, or if you have and are just curious, have a read in the Tech section.

Click here for the full article…

Fifteen Years of MSTS

Microsoft Train Simulator is turning 15 years old, and it’s still going strong. Not bad for software that’s officially listed by Microsoft as “unsupported” by Windows Vista and later versions. But it’s still possible to run it in Windows 10 on its own, and Open Rails will keep MSTS content alive for the foreseeable future.

How far have we come? Well, just for fun, here are a couple of screenshots. (Click the images to see the full versions.)

The first is the original MSTS Marias Pass route, from the cab of the default Dash 9.MSTS ShelbyNext is the same spot on Marias Pass 5 (A more modern re-worked version of the Marias Pass route) from a modern cabview of the Dash 9, and taken in Open Rails.Open Rails ShelbyQuite an improvement!

Elvas Tower Clarification…


Elvas Tower Clarification…

There’s been some confusion with respect to availability of the Elvas Tower forums, as that’s where a large portion of discussion of Open Rails goes on.

The Elvas Tower forums are currently open and readable to anyone; you do not have to be logged on with an account.

Registration for new accounts is currently not open.

Disclaimer: I have no connection to the operation or administration of Elvas Tower. I simply report the current state of affairs around the MSTS / OR community.

Open Rails 1.1 Released

A new Stable version of Open Rails (v1.1) is now available at the Open Rails website. The download link is here on this page.

This version adds several MSTS compatibility features, such as refilling steam locomotive tenders from water troughs between the rails, support for speed limits in temporary restricted speed zones in activities, better brake functionality, improved sound handling, better handling of cab lighting in tunnels (night mode switching), and more.

There are also numerous improvements and additions to features specific to Open Rails, many persistent bugs fixed, and overall underlying improvements to the application code to allow for future development.

If you haven’t tried Open Rails, or if v1.0 wasn’t quite close enough to an MSTS replacement for running trains, it’s well worth trying out this latest version.

Note: Currently, there is an alternative route editor in independent development, but there is no replacement for the Activity Editor or other MSTS built-in editors yet. Open Rails provides an vastly improved environment to operate trains in. Creating and editing MSTS content still requires the original MSTS toolset or other third-party tools.

A New PC Build

Not long ago, I detailed a way to fix a broken power switch connector on a Mac Mini. That fix got the computer I’ve been running MSTS and Open Rails on for years back to work, but it was clearly time to replace it. I had actually planned a replacement computer build nearly two years ago but it just never got to the top of the priority list in the budget. With the old computer on its last legs, it was time to move ahead. Continue Reading…

Fix a Broken Power Switch Connector On a Mac Mini (Original Style Case)

I’ve used a Mac Mini that runs Windows with Apple’s “BootCamp” dual-boot solution for years. In fact, this particular “Late 2009” edition Mini has run Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 10. It runs MSTS and Open Rails, even Flight Simulator 9 and Flight Simulator X. While it’s not the fastest thing on the planet, it’s been surprisingly good. MSTS can run with all settings maxed-out, and Open Rails and the flight simulators give decent performance at moderate settings.

The older original design Mac Mini has a known flaw where the connector for the power switch may separate from the motherboard, rendering the computer useless. The standard (and expensive — around $300 US!) is to replace the motherboard. Not a good investment on an old computer. But here’s how to perform a simple fix to get the Mini back in action, more appropriate for an old machine that’s probably not going to be kept around forever.

Read more in the new Tech section…

Clearing Trees on Tracks in Open Rails

Beginning with Experimental version  x.3369, it’s possible to clear trees appearing on the tracks in Open Rails. Not every route has this issue, but you’ll know it when you see it — Trees appear too close to the rails, in between the rails, in tunnel openings — anywhere a tree has no business being. If you run the same route in MSTS, the offending trees are nowhere to be found. So what’s going on?

When a route is built in the MSTS Route Editor, it’s possible to create “forest regions” — simple boundaries that define an area for trees to be automatically populated. If the tracks fall too close to, or even inside of, the boundaries of a forest region, MSTS will automatically suppress the trees that would intrude on the tracks. Open Rails doesn’t use the same method to separate trees from the rails, so some routes will display trees intruding on the tracks.

Early attempts to apply an algorithm to find and suppress tree/track conflicts where a forest region intrudes on the tracks could remove the trees, but incurred a heavy impact on frame rates. A recent re-evaluation of the methods has finally resulted in a successful means to prune away errant trees without adversely impacting frame rates or causing any other problems with scenery objects.

Read more in the “Tutorials” section…

We’ve Moved! (Again…)


We’ve Moved! (Again…)

With thanks to an associate of mine in the information technology and security arena, the site has been moved to sub-domain on a new host. The old host just wasn’t keeping up, and tended to serve up pop-under ads in spite of a no-ads promise. If you entered the old URL, or clicked an old saved link, you should be redirected here to the new host.

Everything should be in place — I spent a day importing the old files and database, and re-configuring references so the images and files all work as they should. If anything is missing, I’ll probably track it down in the next few days as I double-check the site.