Category Archives: NVIDIA

The Solid State PC

A silent PC is one that makes absolutely no noise, and by necessity has no moving parts (including fans). Such systems usually use very low-end hardware limited to trivial tasks such as running a cash register. The system introduced today, a Solid-State PC (SSPC) is a powerful quad-core i5 PC which runs most software faster than the majority of modern PCs, yet uses less than 25W idle.

Continue reading The Solid State PC

And that’s why I buy EVGA

I don’t much care for product placement although I do accept the matter, but when dealing with the poor quality of some companies as of late, I thought I would pat one on the back for doing an exceptional job.

That being said, EVGA went out of their way and decided to do a one time replacement of a video card that I have purchased two years ago. The card had a lifetime warranty, but had that one little clause of, you must register the card within 30 days. My failure to do so could have easily been held against me. Fortunately EVGA was willing to help me barring two tiny hurdles. The first was submitting an invoice which I still had from dealing with an online company. Second was to register the card which was done over the phone while on the call. After working long hours and not being able to call support on their hours, I decided to submit my issue through email. After a single email discussing the matter with EVGA Tech support, they issued a one time RMA for my graphics card. I was very specific with my email detailing all of my troubleshooting measures and listed each component in this particular machine by product name. I managed to get a reply on the same day and on a Saturday.

I want to thank EVGA for their great service and also would like to remind everyone to read their product warranties and do what it takes to keep the valid. I decided to register a similar produce with EVGA and the process took may be two minutes. There was no excuse for me not to take that time to fix the problem.

$18 (after $20 rebate) NVIDIA 8600GT graphics card

$18 (after $20 rebate) NVIDIA 8600GT graphics card with dual DVI

I don’t think this blog entry requires much explanation.  Even without the rebate, it’s a great deal.  You can order up to 3 of these and get a maximum of $60 rebate.  For anyone with an older graphics card, this will breath new life into the computer with a reasonably fast, quiet, and cool temperature graphics card.

At $179, NVIDIA Ion solution loses all of its appeal

Update 5/15/2009 – I made a mistake and didn’t factor in the DC power supply you get with the $179 price on the Ion.  That means I need to include a power supply in the alternative.

TechReport just reviewed one of the first mini-ITX NVIDIA Ion platform solutions from Zotac which involves an NVIDIA 9300 graphics adapter and Intel Atom 330 1.6 GHz dual-core CPU.  The problem is that its MSRP is priced at $179 and at that price, one can buy a far better integrated graphics Intel G45 motherboard and Intel Conroe-L 1.8 GHz CPU for less money.  While the street price for the Zotac Ion solution might be less than $179, it will likely not be too much lower.  The superior performing G45/Conroe-L solution shown in Table 1 could be had for a mere $132 $175 which completely strips all of the appeal of the Ion solution.  The street price for the Ion system should come down in price a little but the lack of performance for the money is some concern for me.

Table 1 – Bare bone platform

Item Cost
Foxconn G45 MicroATX motherboard

ICH10R storage controller (RAID 0, 1, 10, 5) and Blu-ray capable HDMI graphics

Intel “Celeron” 430 Conroe-L 1.8 GHz

Stock speed much faster than dual-core Atom, and can easily clock to 2.88 GHz

Sparkle SPI220LE 220 watt PSU $43
Platform total $175

Furthermore, I can’t say I’m too confident about motherboards based on NVIDIA chipsets since I’ve been burned on them before.  The NVIDIA 7050 platform which was introduced less than two years ago never got S3 suspend mode working right without crashing during wake up.  The original BFG review board based on the NVIDIA 7050 chipset bombed the suspend test and a recent ECS model GF7050VT-M I got for my cousin had the exact same problem.  What’s even more shocking to me was that driver development seems to have ended in 2007 which is the same year the product came out.

This is not to say I don’t like NVIDIA graphics cards which are not the same thing as their motherboard chipsets.  I actually favor NVIDIA graphics cards because they support a development platform called CUDA which allows some applications like password cracking and video encoding to operate 10 times faster than the fastest CPU.  Video game support also seems to be better with NVIDIA graphics.  But the 7050 chipset fiasco has left a foul taste in my mouth for NVIDIA motherboard chipsets and the price doesn’t impress me too much either.  Intel graphics on the other hand have always lagged in terms of video processing and gaming support but that’s getting better recently especially with the G45 line.  More importantly, Intel motherboard chipsets have always been well supported and while they’re not always perfect (no product is), at least I know that newer drivers will come and fix the issues.

Be sure to check out my follow up on how to build a perfect Home Theater PC for under $600.

XFX motherboard NVIDIA BIOS and driver update fails to fix sleep mode

As a follow up to the past problems I’ve been having with the XFX nForce 630i model MG-630i-7159, I upgraded the BIOS on the recommendation of Adrian.  It was a good recommendation and I should have remembered to try updating the BIOS to see if these problems went away, but unfortunately I have to report that it didn’t work.  Not only did it not work, I had to jump through a lot of hoops to install the BIOS update which is a procedure I would NEVER expect any normal person to put up with.

First of all, I had to register on XFX’s website to be able to find the update.  Once I got the update, it came as an ISO image which on the face of it is pretty convenient.  All I had to do is get an ISO burning software like Nero or the free ISO Recorder to burn a bootable CD.  Once the disk was burned, the disk can be booted on any computer or at least that was the idea.  But the optical drivers failed to load on my computer which had a Blu-ray ROM drive so I had to replace the optical drive with a regular DVD drive to get the disk to boot properly.  What’s scary about the disk is that it automatically runs the BIOS flash utility with no user interaction so it might be a good idea to toss the disk after you’re done because you don’t want to automatically flash something else.  Maybe there’s a safety mechanism and maybe there isn’t but I wasn’t eager to test it out on another motherboard.  I would have preferred just getting the BIOS update and I would have created my own boot disk without this nonsense.

Once updated, Vista puked big time and every single driver in the computer had to be remounted and reinstalled.  This is something that always drives me nuts about Windows.  I mean you just plug in a webcam to a different USB port and the damn thing makes you reinstall the drivers.  You would think that Microsoft would be able to detect that it’s the same stuff and just seamlessly remount those things without freaking the user out.  Anyhow, this computer had to reinstall every driver in the system and after all that was done, the problem probably got worse.  Before the update, I could at least wake the computer and log in and then it would lock up.  Now it just wakes up but you get no mouse and keyboard and the cursor on the password prompt would just blink.

What’s the problem and do we blame this on the motherboard vendor or NVIDIA?  I don’t know since neither XFX or NVIDIA has an explanation.  I understand that computers are very complex and there are bugs, but I don’t understand how this problem has been permitted to go on so long without a resolution.  I remember talking to Gigabyte about a problem with one of their motherboards failing to post when a Blu-ray ROM was hooked up to the system and Gigabyte responded a few weeks later with a BIOS update that fixed the problem.  That’s a model of how you’re supposed to handle these problems.

Build a powerful and silent office computer for under $600 – no display

This is a computer build list for a good office computer with solid graphics performance.  This computer has very low power consumption with NVIDIA passively cooled 9500 GT graphics adapter and Intel dual-core 45nm processor.  The nice thing about this set-up is that it has two digital display outputs and one analog display output so you can hook up multiple monitors.

Component Price
ASUS P5Q SE/R LGA 775 Intel P45 chipset with – ICH10R RAID 114
Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 Wolfdale 2.53GHz 3MB L2 Cache 120
MSI N9500GT MD512Z GeForce 9500 GT 512MB – VGA/DVI/HDMI 88
2 GB DDR2-800 DIMM 41
Cooler Master Elite 330 – ATX tower (in store pickup) 50
SeaSonic S12 II SS-330GB ATX12V 330W “80 Plus” Power Supply 68
Western Digital 512 GB SATA hard drive (lowest power consumption) 70
LG 20X DVD burner, SATA 26
Sub total (including shipping) 577

This system could be considered an entry-level gaming computer with decent gaming performance for 22″ LCD displays or less.  It can also be converted to a great HTPC computer with bigger multiple hard drives and a Blu-ray optical drive.  When the AMD/ATI Radeon 4600 series comes out, those will be a great substitute as well.

Blu-ray PC blues

In an effort to build the cheapest computer I can build that plays Blu-ray DVD movies, I put the NVIDIA 7150 chipset with Intel Allendale dual-core 2.93 GHz (overclocked) test bed to work.  I’ve already been having some problems with this inexpensive embedded NVIDIA chipset but I wanted to put it to the most challenging video load it can handle.

To start off, I put in a Pioneer BDC-S02BK Blu-ray ROM drive in the computer and put it to the test using PowerDVD 8.0 trial edition.  The result was an absolute failure and I couldn’t even get the drive to recognize “The Other Boleyn Girl” 2008 Blu-ray edition that I rented from Netflix.  The drive would recognize HQV Blu-ray edition test disk but the frame rate was just awful and at times it was like watching a 5 fps slide show and the CPU hit near 100% for both CPU cores on the Intel Allendale 2.93 GHz processor.  Mid way through, PowerDVD 8 crashed and took about 5 minutes to terminate the process.

So I went to Fry’s and picked up a Lite-on BD-ROM drive for $110 and that came with an OEM edition of PowerDVD 7 which only permits 2-channel audio but that was fine for me since I’m only hooking the computer up to my DLP HDTV.  I put the disk in and “The Other Boleyn Girl” worked with PowerDVD 7 but it was still jerky at times and the CPU hit 90+ percent again.

At this point since this motherboard and embedded GPU is absolutely worthless for Blu-ray, I’m going to try and pick up an AMD Radeon HD 3450 PCI-Express graphics card with full H.264 and VC-1 acceleration for $37.  I’m going to switch to an inexpensive Intel G33 chipset motherboard because I want the S3 sleep state to work so that the computer can have instant on capability.

The NVIDIA 7150 motherboard is crashing whenever it wakes from S3 sleep state and I don’t know if it’s a bad implementation by XFX or if all NVDIA 7150 chipset motherboards have this problem.  Since I can’t get any support on this from NVIDIA or XFX after repeated queries, I’m going to assume the worst until I get my hands on another 7150 to test and suspend my recommendation of this chipset for now even if you’re not using it for Blu-ray playback.

Why are video drivers so hard to get right?

I (finally) wrapped up a 6 or 7 month long struggle with my video card. See, some time ago, some update or another did something… odd… with my video card (an NVidia 7600 GS, for the record, the best passively cooled, dual DVI output card I could find when I put this PC together). It started doing this “thing” where major portions of the screen would be transparent to the layer beneath. Oddly enough, it only occured when a game was running full screen. Let me tell you, it was quite odd going through Half Life 2 (I know, I am WAY behind the times) being able to see through walls if I get right next to them. In many situations, there would be some odd “snow” in areas too. To make it even more strange, the games would work fine the first time they were run after a reboot, or if I started the game in a window and then told it to run full screen. Needless to say, it really sucked.

For the last umpteen months, I would occassionally fool with it for a few hours… messing with settings, updating drivers, searching the Internet. A friend of mind reported that he had an identical problem. I was loathe to revert to a much older driver, because I had severe performance problems with some of them. I kept meaning to purchase another video card, but frankly, I find purchasing desktop-grade hardware that is paid for from my bank account to be quite stressful. I’ll price out $10k worth of server kit in a few hours, including vendors and SKUs, but for some reason, personal PC equipment turns me into a neurotic diva. Of course, for the money I could have earned in that time I spent wrangling with the existing card and picking out a new card, I could have bought a whole new PC…

I finally picked out a suitable replacement, a low end Sapphire Radeon card (no way was I going back to NVidia). Ironically, I purchased the NVidia card because ATI cards have had so many driver problems over the last few years. For my needs, which are quite low end (a few older games, driving a pair of monitors for typical business usage), I don’t need anything fancy. I need it to not cause me headaches.

I finally solved my problem this weekend, by dicovering that NVidia driver installers leave themselves on my drive, and I found a driver from before the problem. After installing it, it worked like a charm.

But I find the whole situation rediculous. ATI and NVidia have both had very long (as in, “a few years”) periods where they had a bad driver reputation. Imagine if, say, drive controllers were as unreliable as video drivers. You know, doing things like resetting the driver and “going blank” for five minutes at a time (my previous ATI card did this, to solve the problem I’d use the keyboard to get the PC to sleep, then wake it back up) with no warning. I am sure that people would love their hard drives doing that. Or if waving the mouse around too fast caused the system to blue screen, blaming a failure in the mouse driver. Yeah, that’s going to move a lot of units. I can see the computing public loving to have to search out drivers for their sound card because their current card does not play Outlook’s new mail notification sound properly, due to a driver incompatbility with Outlook (but not Word or Excel).

Now, I know that there is a certain reality here. Video drivers are very complex. They involve a lot of fancy algorithms, optimizations, and so on. They need to be compatable with a ton of applications and APIs which are doing some tricky things. The hardware operates under some very tight constraints. But you know what? So does an F-15. If F-15’s had drivers written by ATI or NVidia, the US Air Force could be pwn3d by the local RC airplane club. Seriously.

NVidia, ATI… get with the program. This situation is only possible because you two have a duopoly. Someone’s going to eat your lunch someday, and bad drivers are the worst form of customer service possible. I’d jump for the chance to give a 3rd party my video card dollar (as little as I spend on them) provided that the drivers weren’t junk.


More problems with NVIDIA chipset motherboard

The NVIDIA 7150 integrated graphics motherboard and chipset is giving me more problems.  This is the XFX nForce 630i model MG-630i-7159 motherboard I’m testing which has a lot of potential when I overclocked an Intel Allendale to 2.93 GHz effortlessly.

I really want to love this motherboard and chipset for all its potential at an affordable price, but I still can’t get S3 sleep state working and the system locks up after I wake it up and log in.  I still can’t get a good answer from NVIDIA nor have I heard from XFX regarding the problem.  I don’t know if it’s the motherboard implementation or NVIDIA drivers.

Now I’m having problems with the NVIDIA desktop resize utility which is impossible to use on a DLP screen that overscans the edges.  For some reason I can’t see all the controls on the resize screen and the continue button is probably off the edge of the screen.  Even when I manage to change the settings, it snaps back to the default setting as soon as I click apply in the NVIDIA control panel.  I resized the screen to a slightly lower resolution that’s about a little more than 1700×900 pixels and that makes it slightly more usable but it’s less than ideal.

This is also a good reason to really dislike rear projection screens because they chop the edges off.  My particular model is also interlaced even though it claims to be a “1080p” display.

Build list for a nice $400 computer

It’s been a while since I’ve put out a PC build list so I’m going to start with a value edition with an embedded NVIDIA graphics motherboard and Intel dual-core CPU.  Note that this is more than powerful enough for any media center or office computer and even some casual low-end graphics gaming.  It’s a nice small computer that’s designed to be very quiet and fast.

Component Price
MSI P6NGM-FIH (NVIDIA GeForce 7150) HDMI Micro ATX 84
Intel Pentium E2180 Allendale 2GHz dual-core 70
2 GB DDR2-800 DIMM 41
Cooler Master Elite 340 – SMALL MicroATX tower (in store pickup) 40
FSP300-60GLN 300W efficient power supply 44
Western Digital 500 GB SATA hard drive (lowest power consumption) 90
LG 20X DVD burner, SATA 32
Sub total (including shipping) 401

Later this week I’ll put up a more powerful value system that can game well on any LCD up to 22 inches.