Upgrading a PC and chess problem solving software – Part 2

15 Aug. 2012 | by Peter Wong

Windows 7 was well-received when it was released, and indeed it seems to improve greatly on its predecessors in terms of features and stability. However, the new OS has a curious drawback that I have noticed (or imagined), that when certain software problems do occur, they tend to be harder to resolve. When I was using Windows XP, googling any issue or error message that arises would typically lead to a tech forum where the remedy is posted. Doing the same now with Windows 7-related issues, I’ve found that quite often the forum suggestions simply don’t work (for me or the original enquirer). Perhaps the many different versions of the newer OS out there means there’s less chance of a one-size-fits-all solution.

I mentioned the above as a sort of background to my difficulties in installing APwin, the graphical interface for the solving program Popeye. A pop-up message about a certain missing file cut off the set-up process. Fortunately the creator of APwin, Paul Wiereyn, answered my request for help. Paul, who put in a massive effort over the last year to make his application compatible with Popeye, diagnosed the problem and advised on possible fixes. He also indicated, by the way, that his program had been tested on more than five computers running a variety of Windows versions, all without such an initial problem! In the end Paul kindly sent me another set-up file, which successfully installed APwin on my system.

Here is a screenshot of APwin acting as a front for Popeye. The myriad of problem options available in Popeye are easily accessible; thus on the left side of the window you select the orthodox or fairy pieces to be placed on the board, and on the right you choose the stipulations, fairy conditions, and any special solving preferences. A particularly nice feature is that when you click on any of the option headings (in light blue), a help window appears and explains what the available choices mean in a glossary.

Given that my previous computer was purchased seven years ago, it’s not surprising that the new one (with an Intel Core i5 processor running at 3GHz) shows a big advance in solving speed. For instance, a 10-move directmate of mine which took too long to test with Kalulu before is now confirmed as sound by Popeye in less than 5 minutes. More direct comparisons are possible because Popeye’s solving times are included in its solution files, which I have kept. Take the fairy helpmate seen in the APwin screenshot – it was solved in 5 minutes on my old PC, and only 22 seconds on the current one.

Popeye has a weakness though in that while it does handle proof games, it is much slower compared with a dedicated PG program like Natch. A PG in 10 moves that Natch solved in 6 seconds on my old PC took Popeye 25 minutes to do on the new one. Or consider this 12-move PG which was verified in 1 minute by Natch. When I used Popeye, the problem was still unsolved after 4 hours at which point I interrupted the process! There is another program besides Natch that specialises in testing PGs, named Euclide. Since Euclide is far from new – like Natch it has been around for more than a decade – I was not optimistic about its chances of being compatible with the 64-bit version of Windows 7. However, when I downloaded the application it installed without a hitch on my new system. And how fast is it? It verified the just-mentioned PG-10 in 1.8 second, and the PG-12 in 1.3 second!