Posts tagged ‘hardware’

Farewell GTX, Hello GTX

Saturday night I sat down at my gaming desktop to check in on some MMOs that I hadn’t logged into in months, namely LotRO, Rift, and Defiance.

I spent about 15 minutes in Rift moving all my inventory over to my Vault and then redeeming all of the patronage rewards that had been stacking up before canceling my subscription. I haven’t touched the game since before it went free-to-play, it’s just too much work to get back up to speed with all of the soul changes, and had been waiting on my last renewal to run out.

Then I hopped into LotRO just intending to pay my housing upkeep, but I ended up fiddling around and discovered that the inventory system changed. I was able to merge all my individual bags into a single window! Maybe I’m easily amused, but it makes thing so much easier when only one large window pops open instead of six little windows. I imagine people running mods have been enjoying something similar for a while, but I really dislike messing with mods for MMO clients.

Anyway, I ended up playing with my Hunter a bit and figuring out the big class changes from a few months back. I had just finished and ported back to where I’d left off questing when the game crashed. I chalked it up to LotRO being old, after all it is still slow to load and still doesn’t support full-screen windowed mode, and decided to move on to Defiance.

Watching the Season 2 premiere got me curious about what state the game was in. When I logged in, I found that I had more than a dozen items to claim in the shop. Once I got my inventory squared away, I got on my ATV and headed out only to have the game crash. Again, not thinking anything of it, I relaunched and noticed a button to update appearance on the login screen, and decided to have a makeover. While tweaking my character’s appearance I had the screen go black and then a Windows message popped up that my graphics kernel has crashed and restarted.

I had recently update my drivers and wondered if that had been a mistake, but went ahead and went back to fiddling with my character’s appearance. Then red lines started to appear on the screen, followed by my machine rebooting.

Crap.

When my machine came back up in safe mode and there were still red lines on the screen, I knew it wasn’t the drivers. Or at least wasn’t only the drivers.

I’ve never had a video card die on me before, especially one that’s only a coupe of years old. I’m not sure when but sometime in the last five years I’d upgrades the original GTX 275 that I’d used in the build with a GTX 580, so it’s no older than that. It has seen pretty constant use though.

Regardless, I took a trip to Fry’s on Sunday and picked up a new GTX 760, which isn’t quite top of the line, but is still better than the 580 without being ludicrously expensive. Plus my motherboard is old enough to be PCI-express 2.0 not 3.0 so I’m already capping my performance with the 760 as it is.

Speed matters.

Pro-tip for the next time you decide to do some Spring cleaning on your computer like I did recently. Make sure before you spend the weekend replacing your primary hard drive and reinstalling Windows and hundreds of gigabytes of games, that you are sure that the new drive is the correct speed. I mistakenly used a 2TB drive that I’d originally intended to use in my Blacx SATA dock. That’s important because I usually get 5400 RPM drives for that purpose as they generate less heat, and the speed isn’t that necessary. Unfortunately a 5400 RPM drive is noticeably slower on a Windows install, especially when launching the Skyrim Creation Kit and loading all of the required data files.

After much cursing, some drive imaging, trying a 3TB drive that couldn’t be partitioned correctly as a bootable drive, more cursing, and then reinstalling (again) on a 1.5TB drive, everything is back to the way it should be.

Spring cleaning my computer.

On Friday I decided to do spring cleaning on my desktop and reinstall Windows along with everything else. I hadn’t intended to. Originally, I was just going to do a backup onto a new 2 TB drive that I’d bought, but then I started thinking about just moving my current 1 TB to a secondary slot and installing everything from scratch. I’d been having some weird errors sporadically during shutdown, and besides, and it had been two years since I installed the OS.

I always forget how much time it takes to do a fresh install. I’m not talking about Windows either. Windows 7 is actually pretty quick to install and is mostly an automatic process. No, what’s taken the most time has been putting all of my games back on. Since this was supposed to be a clean start, it didn’t make much sense to just copy over my old installs for my games. Instead I downloaded them all. Interestingly, the install processes for Star Trek Online, Champions Online, and Lord of the Rings Online have all changed somewhat. First they all had a Pando pre-download that’s much more obvious than the way it used to be handled. I like that it’s more upfront. Second, both Cryptic games installed to my C:\users\public folder.

Besides those three MMOs, I reinstalled Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift. I’m a bit surprised that I put Rift back on my machine. My primary rule for doing these computer cleanings is that I don’t install anything back on the drive unless I’m going to play/use it. For instance, while I did reinstall Steam, I didn’t download all of my games again. I just reinstalled Skyrim and Orcs Must Die. I didn’t even remember that I’d bought the full version of OMD, which is another reason not to reinstall my full Steam library.

So I started thinking about it and realized that I haven’t actually given up on Rift as completely as I thought I had in my January writeup. Although, I believe it’s more about what Trion’s doing than the game itself.

So that was my weekend, and a good part of Monday. I’m still not done really, but I’ve done as much as a I need to for may day-to-day. Most of my pictures and videos and such are stuck in a Prior Install folder that I’ll pull stuff out of as I need it. Sometime in November, I’ll take a look at what’s left in there and probably delete it all.

One last thing, I really love my Coolermaster Sniper case. It’s completely tool-free, which means I was able to open it, remove one old hard drive, move my original down a slot, and insert the new drive without messing with a single screw. So nice.

The Jump to 64-Bits

In addition to my recent computer hardware upgrade, I also upgraded the OS jumping from Windows XP to Windows 7 RC and from 32 to 64 bits.

I’ve been a Windows XP user for a long time now, and I had no inclination to go to Vista.  The only compromise I’d made was adding some programs like Launchy to incorporate similar Vista-like UI improvements into my XP experience.  When the Windows 7 RC came out with so many rave reviews, I decided to try it out on my secondary desktop.  I have been very happy with it, and had no trouble with finding drivers for all of my existing hardware or running any of my software.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to pre-test going to 64-bits, so that was the big test on the new machine.  Fortunately, I’ve had nearly no problems.  Of course, my video card was brand new so that was an easy update from Nvidia’s site.  My printers, an old HP LaserJet 5p that I’ve had for over 10 years and an Epson Stylus Photo 820, both loaded drivers with minimal hassle.  The Epson pulled drivers from Windows update, but the LaserJet required me to grab the Universal PCL 5 drivers from the HP site.  My monitor, keyboard, mouse, game pad, DVD-ROM, and DVD-RW all loaded with no problems.  The only issue was with my Epson Precision 1650 scanner, which I was able to get working in 32-bit Windows 7 but didn’t have support for 64-bit.

I was pretty worried, based on past horror stories of moving to 64-bit Windows, both Vista and previous.  Overall though the jump to 64-bit has been painless and is definitely worth the performance gains of getting access to 6GB of RAM.  The only downside to upgrading to Windows 7 so early is that I’ll need to reinstall once the retail version is released, but I have until (I think) June next year to do it so I’m looking at it as an enforced spring cleaning for my operating systems.

Computer Upgrade

I have been wanting to upgrade my gaming PC for quite a while now.  I used to build a new machine every 3-4 years.  Each time I would try to by the latest and greatest parts and I usually managed to skip a CPU generation each time.  My current PC has been near it’s end of life for quite a while now:

  • Intel Pentium 4 3.2 Ghz
  • 4gb of RAM
  • Windows XP 32-bit
  • ATI Radeon x1950 Pro AGP

I had upgraded the memory and video card  over that last two years in an effort to delay the big upgrade.  The biggest problem was the motherboard predated PCI-E so I couldn’t upgrade to any of the current drop of high-end video cards.  And a motherboard upgrade meant that the CPU and memory both had to be upgraded.  Which all adds up to money.

It used to be that wasn’t a problem, I was single and had a well paying job, so I had quite a bit of disposable income.  Now five years later, I’m married (and my wife is not a gamer) and I have a 10 month old son, so money for upgrading a computer is not high on the priority list.  So over the last year I’d been putting a bit aside each money with the goal of building a new machine.

I hadn’t planned on building a new machine for another two months or so, but two things put me over the edge.  First, Crazy Kinux built a new machine and I started feeling like the last gamer on the planet still using a Pentium 4.  Second, I started playing the Champions Online beta and I had to turn down so many settings to get it to play smoothly that I realized I was finally too far behind the curve.

So I took gave myself a budget of $1400 and started shopping online.  After checking my back issues of PC Gamer and Maximum PC and reading some reviews online I here’s the parts list I settled on:

  • Intel i7 920
  • Asus P6T
  • 6gb RAM DDR3
  • Cooler Master Storm Sniper case
  • Silent Pro M 700W Power Supply
  • Cooler Master Hyper N520
  • EVGA GeForce GTX275
  • Seagate 3.5″ Barracuda 1.5TB SATA drive

I decided to use the on-board sound and networking, and I already have a good monitor (Dell 1907FP), keyboard and mouse.  All in all, not an extreme high-end machine, but not a budget box either.

Fry's Shopping

I intended to buy the case locally and order everything else online.  So I headed to the Fry’s here in Indianapolis to pick up the case and see how they compared on the other parts.  Turned out that Fry’s prices were as good as most of the online prices (without even accounting for shipping), so I ended up buying everything that day.  The final total was $50 bucks under my budget, and that’s not counting rebates.

I also cheated a bit by paying the service department to install the CPU and fan on the motherboard for me.  I hate working with thermal paste and after seeing the directions involved on installing the fan, I decided that was the best $10 I’ve ever spent.

Here’s a few shots of all the beautiful boxes (click to enlarge).

Case and Motherboard

CPU, PSU, Fan and Drive

GPU

Motherboard with CPU

After I unboxed the case and started to install the mounting screws, I ran into my first problem.  There was no IO shield in the parts bag from the motherboard.  I made a quick call to Fry’s and was told I would probably have to return the motherboard, which meant removing the CPI and fan.  I was not happy about the situation as I drove back to Fry’s, but when I got there customer service allowed me to take an IO shield from another box already setup for a return.  So at least I had a quick resolution and a happier drive home.

IO Shield

Lot of trouble for such a small part.

Fortunately the rest of the build went pretty smoothly.  The Cooler Master case was a joy to build in, completely tool-less for everything except mounting the mother board and some really nice, large fans.  It also has a nice set of USB and audio jacks on top along with a power button and a fan control.  It also has a set of blue LED’s in each of the fans and there’s a button on the fan control to turn them on and off.

img2009-08-29-16.47.12

Geek's version of Black Beauty

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Completely tool-free for all drive and card installation.

Three 120 MM fans in the case.

Three 120 MM fans in the case.

Not a professional wiring job, but good enough.

Not a professional wiring job, but good enough.

The Final Product

The Final Product

It's Alive

It's Alive!