Saturday, October 15, 2016

Training - Zwift Desktop Machine

So as most of you know I've been training indoors all year, and, really, since Christmas 2014. I did five rides outside in 2015 and one in 2016 - about a mile ride to the local garage to pick up the tow vehicle which had blown its master cylinder (i.e. no brakes).

Throughout this time I've been on Zwift, from somewhere in February or March of 2015. It's a great distraction, it motivates me, I've done more sprints on the trainer than ever, and it's provoked the completion of some projects that I didn't think were worth completing before.

One of them was building a new Windows machine.

I used to be all Windows before, mainly because of work. I had a Linux set up also but since I could log into Linux machines from anywhere I didn't bother really maintaining a machine at home. Then with the ContourHD and the helmet cam clips, I went to Macs. We got two, one in 2010, another in 2011. I do all my helmet cam clip editing on it, the native/included iMovie a great tool for my needs.

I did some minor IT work on our home infrastructure, building a Linux machine just because, then rebuilding some other machines. Then I let the Windows machines go, just stopped using them. Power supplies failed. Hard drives failed. I unplugged my back up drives and my back up to my back up drives, to preserve what I had.

And I left it like that for a few years.

Then along came Zwift.

It got me to work on my rocking trainer.

It got me to fiddle with my powermeter.

It got me to resurrect my Sportsiiiis.

And now it got me to rebuild my main desktop twice.

Let me explain.

Limitations of a Laptop

I knew when I started Zwift that I'd be limited by the laptop we use as our main computer. I just didn't know how much. The main thing with a laptop, at least our basic one, is that it doesn't draw pictures on the screen very quickly. It draws a static/stationary one great, but ask it to draw it 30 times every second... no.

I tolerated it because Zwift doesn't really punish you in a microsecond kind of way. Everything lags a bit so it takes a second for Zwift to register that you just did a massive jump. Also, with a limited drafting engine, you really can't just jump into a draft, you have to time trial into it. And it's not like a shooting game where a dozen milliseconds of lag/delay can mean the life or death of your character.

But I saw some weird stuff out there. Riders scattering randomly on straights. The laptop would slow down to about 4-6 frames per second in really heavy traffic. Group riding wasn't really enjoyable, it was more a stutter thing, like watching the world lit up by a strobe light.

Another limitation of a laptop - when I sat up quickly with earbuds on... yeah, I yanked the laptop off the storage totes and onto the floor. This happened a couple times. I wanted to stop exposing the laptop to that risk.

The laptop on the totes.
The Mac is on the right. The left one died in the last storm.


I wanted to get my desktop back in action. Zwift doesn't work with Linux so I'd have to rebuild my machine. I'd need a better video card for it also. Good video cards draw pictures really, really fast, and in fact the CPUs in them are faster than the main CPU (but they work differently so they're not your main CPU).

The problem is that I didn't have the parts to make a working desktop. Dead power supply, my throwaway hard drive for the operating system died (but the mirrored image I'd stored might be working), etc. Plus it was an older machine, one I built something like 8 or 9 years ago, an eternity for IT.

I unboxed a bunch of parts I had bought to upgrade the machine a few years back and put together the system . Fortunately for me CPU speed really hasn't increased, limited by physics (printing of CPU wire stuff), so my 5 or 6 year old kit was still pretty good. 3.33 Ghz CPU, 3 core (or maybe 4?). 16GB of RAM. A fast underlying motherboard chipset.

I did add a new video card to the batch, some 2 GB not-too-crazy thing. I have an aversion to paying too much for a video card just like I don't want to pay too much for carbon tubulars. I think I spent less than $100 for the card, my limit.

I put it together, added a (new) working power supply, and tried one of the old drives. Booted right up. I distracted myself by going through some of my old files, it was like Throwback Thursday. Then I went to install Zwift.

No luck.

I had a 32 bit version of Windows, and Zwift requires 64 bit.

I stopped at this point and pondered my options. That means I thought about it for a few weeks, if not more. I could get an iMac (Mac desktop) but that would run a lot of money. Or I could get a refurbished Windows 7 machine and install the killer video card in it. But all the machines I could find that cost not-much-more than Windows 7 itself weren't compatible with my middle-of-the-road video card.

So I went and bought Windows 7.

Then I decided to "do it later" because life got a bit complicated.

Fast forward about a year.

Zwift Update

The last Zwift update, from last week or so, crashes on the 5+ year old operating system on my Mac. Although a fix has been promised I decided after a few Zwift-less rides that this would be the time to do the Windows 7 install.

Yesterday I selected another throwaway drive, installed Win7, installed Zwift, logged in, everything worked.

Group Ride

The Missus got me some time this afternoon to do a group ride so I logged on. Lo and behold there was a Sub2 ride starting in 30 minutes or so. Sub2 rides are rides that average under 2 w/kg, which, for me, is about 145w.

Start of the Sub2 ride

Zwift handicaps me about 35w so that's actually about 180w for me. That's a really, really hard race for me - one of my Limerocks in 2015 was under 160w, and even the epic 2010 Francis J Clarke race was 187w. So Sub2s are about all I can do. I started the ride and realized the graphics were just amazing. In fact they made me realize something.

The scattering riders.

They weren't scattering.

Zwift, you see, has been developed by guys that think bike racing is cool. They want to replicate what you see and feel out on the road. When you go hard on your trainer, your avatar sprints out of the saddle. Not only that, the avatar rocks the bike smoothly, like they're supposed to.

And when someone rolls up past you, or the drafting algorithm takes a few of you to one side of the road and a gap opens up, you don't just ease on back.

You dive back, like it was the last lap of a crit and that was the leadout that would win you the race.

The scattering riders were actually riders diving onto wheel, but in a strobe light kind of freeze frame thing.

Strung out but people are trying to ease - basically everyone is well under 2.0 w/kg

In the end I wasn't the fastest sprinter, not by at least a few seconds. In fact I wasn't the second fastest or even third fastest. But I got to the sprint at least, the first time I'd done that.

And I got to experience a little more of what Zwift is about.

After The Ride

The ride really wiped me out in less than an hour, just thrashed me. I was three pounds lighter than I was in the morning, to give you some idea.

I got off the bike, showered, and ate dinner with Junior. He asked me to read some dinosaur books after, so we sat down on a couch, got a blanket, and I started reading.

A bit into one of the books I started garbling words or just inserting random words. I do this when I'm tired, and I think because it happens semi-often Junior doesn't really bat an eye at this. He waits for me to make mistakes and corrects me. Or he'll wait if I close my eyes a bit. Not too long, though, because after 10 or 20 seconds he'll put his nose to mine. I'll open my eyes to see his face pressed up against mine.

"Can you read?"

This time I thought I was doing okay until at some point I startled myself awake. I looked over at Junior, still sitting tightly against me. He was looking at me expectantly.

"Can you say the words?" he asked me, pointing to the right side of the page.

I read him more stuff about diplodocus.


sl149q said...

My name is Stuart. I'm a race director and a Zwift Addict!

On the other hand best shape I've been in quite a few years!

Unknown said...

Next you have to jump on one of the smart trainers. With the way they been coming down in price, it maybe worth a look.

Aki said...

I think a smart trainer is a bit away. My main thing is to get my power setup working again, for races/outdoor. Then I want to set up the black bike like the red one, with a second stem (which is $250-300). After that... if I can get a rocking smart trainer, or I can get a rocking frame for a smart trainer... I know people around here that have direct drive / smart trainers, when I'm ready I'll see if I can jump on one to see what it's like.