Category Archives: Graphics cards

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.

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$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.

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.