Posts Tagged "hardware"

Sound Corruption in Windows 7?

Published on September 21, 2010

Has anyone here run into sound corruption problems in Windows 7? I’m having occasional audio problems with my current system, and I’m wondering whether my Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS is to blame (it’s an ancient card). All I need is another hardware failure…

The Future of Graphics Cards?

Published on September 13, 2010

Having recently replaced my graphics card, I was surprised to learn that the latest generation of cards requires not one, but two PCI-E power connections (with recommended power ratings of 20A on the +12V rail). Seeing as graphics cards have gotten larger (they now take up the width of 2 or more PCI slots) and more power hungry, I got thinking about their future. Several questions came to mind:

  • In 5 or 10 years, will graphics cards require their own dedicated power supply?
  • Will computer manufacturers forgo the PCI-E format for some sort of on-board socket, similar to the CPU?
  • If not, how will card size factor in to motherboard and case design?

It seems to me, especially seeing as how some graphics cards have cooling units larger than the card itself, that the PCI-E form factor for GPUs can’t last for many more years. Perhaps smaller-scale, multiple cores will prevent them from growing even larger than they are today. It’s interesting to think about the various possibilities.

Not as Bad as I Feared?

Published on August 27, 2010

I found an old video card around my house last night, so I swapped my current one out for it. I was able to boot my system, but upon entering Windows, I still see graphical trash. That indicates to me that the motherboard is most likely to blame.

After doing a little bit of hardware research last night, it appears that my CPU is still among the best, so I doubt I’ll replace that after all. And seeing as my graphics card might not actually be to blame, I’ll probably hang on to it as well (it, too, is still fairly decent). The motherboard definitely needs to be replaced, and I’m thinking about going to DDR3 memory instead of DDR2 (though if I stayed with DDR2 I could get by with just purchasing a new motherboard).

So, long story short, the situation doesn’t appear to be as dire as I had initially thought. It still bites that I have to deal with this though. Why can’t technology just work?

The Day the Computer Died

Published on August 26, 2010

My desktop computer at home has been giving me some occasional graphical problems ever since I updated to Windows 7. I have the latest and greatest drivers for my graphics card, but every so often I get graphical trash on screen that, usually, corrects itself. Tonight, it seems to have died for good. I can’t get the system to boot reliably, even after trying to reseat the card. To add to my woes, I’ve also been having the occasional “double-beep” at startup, indicating that I have a memory problem. This has been an issue ever since I switched to the abit motherboard I’m currently using.

Anyways, I’m going to bite the bullet and buy a bunch of new hardware to fix all of this. New motherboard, CPU, memory, graphics card; the whole shebang.

If you have recommendations as to what to buy these days, I’d sure appreciate it. I’ll be putting in some orders ASAP, so the sooner you can recommend something, the better.

Recommended LCDs?

Published on July 12, 2010

Exactly five years ago today, I bought a used NEC 22″ monitor for my personal computer at home. It has served me well for that time, but I’ve seen it act up a time or two recently. Seeing as LCD technology has progressed much over the past few 5 years, I feel like it’s finally time to bite the bullet and join the mainstream. As such, I’m starting the hunt for a new display. Here’s what I want:

  • Real Estate: I run 1600 x 1200 at home, and I’d like to stay in that neighborhood
  • Fast Response Times: The display would primarily be used for gaming, so fast response times are a requirement.
  • Vibrant Colors: Some LCD displays have pretty weak white-balance; I want something with nice color reproduction, since I’ll also be doing occasional photo editing.

Does anyone here have any recommendations on brands or where to start looking? Is there a model or manufacturer you’ve been happy with? Any ideas would be appreciated!

Bandwidth Usage Update

Published on March 3, 2009

In my recent post on analyzing bandwidth usage, I promised an update once February was done. Seeing as it’s now March, it’s time for said update. Here’s the graph of my bandwidth usage for the month of February:

Bandwidth Graph for February 2009

I didn’t break the 40 GB barrier, but I wasn’t far from it this month at 37 GB. The highest daily total was 3304 MB on February 2, though several other days came close to that total. This is the first month that I haven’t noticed any interesting trends, but it’s still enjoyable to chart my activity. As I predicted, my daily average seems higher this month, thanks to my Roku player and Netflix Watch Instantly. If I break the barrier in March, I’ll be sure to let everyone know. It appears Time Warner has done their homework on their proposed upper limit…

Analyzing Bandwidth Usage

Published on February 8, 2009

Time Warner Cable recently announced that it will be bringing bandwidth caps to more cities, after apparent success in their trial area of Beaumont, Texas. The upper bound on the cap is 40 GB, considerably lower than the 250 GB cap used by Comcast. Go over that amount, and TWC will charge you extra overage fees. I’m completely against this. If caps come to our area, I will seriously consider ditching TWC for some other means of internet access (perhaps the recently mentioned WISP network). Note to Verizon: start rolling out your FiOS service to the Triangle area; I will happily subscribe!

Anyways, while chatting with my dad about these caps, we got wondering about what our bandwidth usage rates really are. I recalled that my router (the oh-so-wonderful Linksys WRT54GL), which I flashed with the open-source DD-WRT firmware, supports bandwidth monitoring (beginning in v24). Happily, I flashed v24-SP1 right before I moved into my new house, so the data has been collecting ever since that time. There are some very interesting trends in the graphs, so let’s take a look at them:

Read the rest of this entry »

Jonah’s Rig 3.0

Published on April 29, 2008

Last week, I rebuilt my computer again (making this the third machine I’ve run on since this site opened up). Here’s the list of what I upgraded in the system:

ABit IP35 Pro Motherboard
A great motherboard with passive coolers on the MCH, ICH, and PWM component areas. A very handy digital readout is available on the board to troubleshoot boot-up issues (no more beep codes), and the overall layout is excellent. However, I have a few minor problems with the board. The SATA connectors are angled at 90 degrees, making it very difficult to attach the cables from my drives. I’m currently using SATA ports 5 and 6, because ports 1 through 4 are physically inaccessible. Also, my wireless network card wasn’t happy with the board, and I had to switch back to my old one, which has lousy reception. I’m going to fix this problem in a novel way; stay tuned for further details.
Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale CPU @ 3.0 GHz
After much thought, I decided to go back to an Intel CPU (after using an AMD X2 4400+ for a while). The Intel chips are just faster right now, and they use less power, allowing them to run a little cooler. I had a difficult time getting the stock heat sink to snap into the mounting holes on the motherboard, causing the motherboard to bend around the CPU socket (which concerns me). I’ll probably spring for an after-market cooler at some point to remedy this situation.
2 GB of Geil DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) SDRAM
I’ve never used the Geil brand of memory before, but Anandtech recommended it on their last holiday buying guide, so I picked some up. The chips run at a default 5-5-5-15 timing, but they support 4-4-4-12. I made one attempt at overclocking the chips, but Windows wouldn’t boot, so I reverted back to the defaults. Changes in the default memory voltage is probably warranted here, which is something I failed to do on my first try. The copper-orange heat spreaders are very sexy.
BFG Tech GeForce 8800 GTS (G92) 512 MB
The 8800 GTS-512 line of graphics cards is based on the new nVidia G92 chipset (using a 65nm die). It’s notably faster than the 8800 GT, which is the card I had my eye on for a long time. The 8800 GTS has a larger cooler that’s not as loud, and it’s a beast of a graphics card. This is the first card I’ve had that takes up two slots on the motherboard, leaving me with only 2 out of the 3 available PCI slots. It runs a little warm (70 degrees Celsius at load), but I’m willing to live with that for now.
Corsair CMPSU-620HX 620W Power Supply
I was concerned that my old 500 W power supply wouldn’t have the juice required for this new build, so I bought this highly recommended Corsair model. It’s modular, which allows me to use as few cables as I need, and it’s incredibly quiet.
2 Seagate Barracuda SATA 250 GB Hard Drives
These Seagate drives are a little faster than my old ones, they’re 90 GB larger, and they have double the cache (16 MB).

I have been test driving this new setup with a few games. Call of Duty 4 looks amazing in high resolution with all the eye candy turned on, and it has elevated my opinion of the game. The Crysis demo ran great at 1280 x 1024 at the ‘High’ graphics setting, and I may be able to push it a little farther (I’ve ordered the full game, by the way; I’m very excited). Team Fortress 2 is thrilling at 1600 x 1200, and even Half-Life 2, which will be four years old later this year, looks great running at 1600 x 1200 with 4x FSAA. Half-Life 2: Episode 2 should be equally as nice.

Hacking the Wii

Published on December 31, 2007

A couple of guys have figured out a way to hack the Nintendo Wii, opening the door for better home-brew software for the platform. The way they figured this stuff out is pretty cool, and it should be interesting to see what kind of new software is developed now that the “Keys to the Kingdom” are available.

My dad and I both agree that it seems to be in Nintendo’s best interest to open up their hardware. Why they don’t do it, however, is beyond what we can figure. Maybe they’re scared of the game publishers having to compete against “open source” (i.e. free) games? It seems to me that having lots of great third-party, home-brewed software could only help your platform in the long run. Not to mention that it would open up the hardware to great uses as assistive devices (which would be great for kids with disabilities).

Valve’s Statistical Data

Published on November 17, 2007

Valve recently posted the results to their hardware survey. There are many interesting things that can be gleaned from the data:

  • At least 54% of users have broadband connections
  • 39% have 2GB or more of memory
  • 55% have Intel processors versus 45% with AMD
  • nVidia graphics cards are much more popular that ATI cards
  • 1280 x 960 is the most common primary display resolution
  • Embedded audio chips are more popular that stand-alone cards (I found this particularly interesting)
  • 84% of users are still using Windows XP

Lots more interesting data is available, so be sure to check it out if you’re into that kind of thing. The results of another survey were also recently released. Statistics for Half-Life 2: Episode 2 are available for viewing. I particularly enjoyed the overhead maps that show where players die most often. I’ve got to believe that the developers at Valve think this kind of data is pure gold.

Configuring the Linksys WRT54GL

Published on October 6, 2007

I bought a Linksys WRT54GL today, to replace our aging DLink DI-624 (it had been acting pretty flaky as of late). The Linksys router supports open-source firmware, and our first course of action was to flash the highly recommended DD-WRT distribution. I have to say that I am very impressed with this firmware. There are lots of options available and it reports lots of interesting information.

Setting up the router wasn’t difficult, but my dad and I ran into problems getting our IBM laptops connected wirelessly. All of our other machines were able to connect without any problems, so it was clearly a problem with either the ThinkVantage Access Connections application or the IBM wireless adapter. We spent quite a while trying to get things working, and finally found the issue. We had originally set the Wireless Network Mode option in the router basic setup to “G-Only” mode since we intended to use 802.11g only around our house. But for whatever reason, the IBM laptops didn’t like that. Switching the option back to “Mixed Mode” cleared up the problem immediately, much to our delight. Hopefully this little tidbit will help out someone else facing the same problem.

Bad Vibrations

Published on April 14, 2007

I’ve noted over the past few weeks that my computer at home has picked up a vibration. Every so often, it gets to be so bad that the case actually rattles. The only possible cause is one of the many cooling fans, and I’m guessing that my Zalman VGA cooler is the culprit (though I’m not completely certain). When I installed the Zalman, I opted not to use the variable fan speed control, choosing instead to run the fan at full speed all the time. What’s odd is that my last video card, which also ran with a Zalman cooler, didn’t have this issue. Perhaps this second cooler isn’t as well balanced? Should I install the fan speed control to throttle down the fan speed? Or could it be another fan altogether? Whatever it is, I’ve certainly got to spend some time troubleshooting the issue; it’s driving me crazy!

Update: It looks like the Zalman cooler is not the culprit (score another point for Zalman!). I installed the FanMate speed controller, turned the speed all the way down, and the vibration was still present. I’m now suspecting my stock CPU cooler (the one that came with my AMD processor). Also, when I was inside the computer, I noted that the case’s side panel supports were bent out ever so slightly, so I bent them back. Now the vibration has turned into a constant hum! Perhaps it’s time for a new case?

Breaking WEP in Under a Minute

Published on April 4, 2007

An article posted yesterday at Slashdot mentioned a new way to break 104-bit (aka 128-bit) WEP keys in less than 1 minute. What’s more, this new method requires capturing less than 10% of the packets required by the previous best method. This kind of discovery should hopefully help people move to more secure schemes, like WPA.

My family and I still use WEP around our house, but we’re thinking about changing to WPA instead. One benefit of where we live is that our neighbors houses are fairly far away from ours. So, if anyone is using our access point, they are likely to be sitting out in our front yard, something we are likely to notice pretty quickly.

Improved Networking

Published on January 19, 2007

The new networking card that I ordered came in yesterday, and I installed it last night. I now get excellent signal strength in my room, compared to the ‘poor’ rating I was seeing before. Hopefully the slow down issues I’ve been seeing will disappear as a result. My computer boots way faster now, which seems encouraging (boot time had slowed to a crawl, and I correctly suspected that the wireless card was to blame).

Weird Network Problems

Published on January 5, 2007

I have recently been seeing some very strange networking issues on my home computer, and I’m not certain I understand where the problems are coming from. Because my computer is a long way from our cable modem, I make use of a wireless networking adapter (a Netgear WG311 v3, to be exact). The signal strength I receive is somewhat low, due to the adapter’s tiny antenna and its lousy location at the back of my computer.

The actual problem I’m seeing is a severe degradation in performance over time. When I run the speed test at Speakeasy right after a reboot (or when I initially turn on my machine), I can consistently get ~4500 kbps down and ~300 kbps up. After an hour or two of usage, running the same test consistently gives me ~750 kbps down and ~50 kbps up (sometimes slightly higher; the numbers vary). None of the other computers in my house see this issue, and all are wireless.

Last night I flashed the latest firmware onto our DLink DI-624 wireless router (the one that was installed was really old), but I saw the issue again after I made the update. Seeing that this issue is limited to my machine, it makes me think of two possibilities:

  1. It’s a problem with my wireless card (though another computer in my house has the exact same type of card, and doesn’t see the problem).
  2. It’s a software issue (something is screwing over the network settings system wide).

Does anyone have an idea of what might be going on here? I’m thinking about buying a new networking card with a better external antenna (this one at NewEgg is what I’m currently looking at), with the hopes that better signal strength will make this problem disappear. But I’m grasping at straws; this is driving me nuts and I want it fixed!

Dual-Core Stuttering

Published on September 10, 2006

Yesterday, while playing through Half-Life 2 (this time at 1600 x 1200 … :-D), I noticed that, after playing for a while, the game began stuttering. Strangely enough, changing the graphics and audio settings didn’t make things any better. Even down at 640 x 480 with everything as low as it would go, the game was still quite choppy. So I got looking around the web, and began wondering if my new AMD dual-core processor was the problem.

I found a number of pointers to CPU drivers, dual core optimizers, a hot-fix from Microsoft, and more. But one forum post in particular caught my eye. It has links to all of the aforementioned fixes, and contains a number of tips on how to get games to work properly in a dual-core environment. This morning, I installed the latest nForce chipset drivers from nVIDIA, as well as the dual-core optimizer from AMD. The nForce drivers have unfortunately made my SATA hard drives appear as removable, which is odd but understandable considering that SATA drives support hot-swap functionality. And the dual-core optimizer seems to have removed the stuttering (though I haven’t played as long today as I did yesterday; I still need to investigate whether this has truly fixed the problem or not).

Anyways, if you happen to have a dual-core processor, and are concerned about game stuttering, I highly recommend the forum post above. Perhaps the steps I’ve taken so far will fix the problems I was seeing.

Zalman VF-900 Install Process

Published on August 18, 2006

Not too long ago, I posted a Zalman VF900 review and, due to my lack of a digital camera at the time, failed to post any images about the install process. Now that I have a camera, and due to my recent computer rebuild, I have posted a small photo set of the install process.

This time around, installation was much easier since I knew what to expect. Thankfully, the stock cooler on the eVGA GeForce 7900GT was easy to remove, unlike my previous card. And the Zalman cooler is, as always, a snap to install. Although I don’t have any current screenshots, my temperatures on this new card are phenomenal. The idle temperature stays around 40 degrees Celsius, and the highest load temperature I’ve seen has been a paltry 45 degrees! As I said before, I highly recommend the Zalman cooler; it truly works wonders.

Overhaulin’

Published on August 14, 2006

This weekend I had the great fortune of rebuilding my personal computer. It turned out to be quite an experience, and surprisingly frustrating at times. Before I detail the problems I ran into, here’s a list of the new components I put into it:

  • Asus A8N5X motherboard
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ CPU (dual core)
  • 2GB Corsair XMS DDR400 SDRAM
  • Antec SmartPower 2.0 500W Power Supply
  • eVGA GeForce 7900 GT 256MB
  • 2 Seagate Barracuda 160GB SATA 3.0 GB/s hard drives

I have also put up a small photo series detailing my progress, for those interested (more on this in a moment). Fortunately, it doesn’t contain any photos of my frustrations.

After assembling everything in the system, I plugged it in and turned it on. For a fraction of a second, the system begins to boot; after that, nothing but silence. I try again, with even worse luck the second time: nothing happens at all. Panic instantly sets in. Frustrated, I surf the web looking for answers but come up empty handed. My dad suggests that it sounds like power supply issues so, one by one, I disconnect every device from the supply. After getting down to just the motherboard, CPU, and memory, things begin working. Slowly but surely I replace the items and, to my delight, everything eventually works.

I tried out Windows slipstreaming for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised with how well it worked. I was able to load Service Pack 2 instantly, bypassing the oh-so-annoying Windows update process. Interestingly enough, I still had a total of 55 critical updates to be applied, and even more for Microsoft Office. I’m slowly getting things back to normal, and I look forward to doing a little gaming in the near future.

I’ll have another Zalman VF-900 blog post here soon, detailing the install process (as well as my second no-power adventure with my new machine).

As I noted earlier, I have posted a photo series here at this blog covering my computer building experience. I am trying out the Plogger photo gallery software for my photos, so feel free to check out my main collection (I have replaced Plogger with Monkey Album, my own photo album software). Plogger has a few bugs, and a few features I dislike, but I’m going to try it out for a while (until I can write my own). If you see a problem anywhere in the gallery software, let me know. Hopefully things will work as they are intended to.

Narrowing Down

Published on August 2, 2006

Since early February and March, I’ve been talking (and thinking) about upgrading my home computer. And I’m finally making some inroads to the situation. For whatever this is worth, here are the components I’ve firmly decided on:

  • Asus A8N5X: This motherboard has great reviews at NewEgg, and the socket 939 platform from AMD is way more mature (and stable) than the new Intel stuff (or even AMD’s socket AM2, as far as I know). It looks like this isn’t available anymore at NewEgg. 🙁
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+: A great processor for a very reasonable price (although it went up $15 just today). Dual core should be fun to play with.
  • CORSAIR XMS 2GB (2 x 1GB) 184-Pin DDR SDRAM: Going from 1GB of RAM to 2GB will certainly be an improvement.
  • Antec SmartPower 2.0 SP-500 ATX12V 500W Power Supply: I’m going to try a modular power supply and see how well I like it. Antec makes quality units, so I don’t doubt that I’ll be pleased.
  • Seagate Barracuda 160GB SATA 3.0GB/s: I’m planning on getting two of these, doubling my available storage (not that I need double the storage mind you). My current Maxtor drives really suck; they’re loud, slow, and I’m tired of dealing with them. Hopefully these Seagate’s will do better. These drives are no longer available at NewEgg. 🙁

I’m also looking at upgrading my video card (preferably to a GeForce 7900GT), but I don’t know which brand to go with. I currently have a card manufactured by eVGA, and as I have mentioned before, it runs a tad warm. I’ve also been reading about a number of stability problems with eVGA 7900 cards, although they recently did a 7900 series reload to fix some of the issues. As a result, I’ve been focusing on the XFX GeForce 7900GT (470MHz). The XFX model comes with stock speeds (most 7900 cards come factory overclocked, something I’m thinking I’d like to avoid) and it has fairly good reviews at NewEgg. The price, around $225 after rebate, isn’t bad either!

Had I fully made up my mind about a video card earlier this week, I would have gone ahead and ordered these components. But I’d rather spend some more time weighing my options. Suggestions? Comments? As always, they are welcome.

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