Mark’s PC Project part 2

(I have no idea if this is worth it, but I’ve been thinking maybe I should edit these two articles so that non-PC techie people can read them and know what I’m talking about. Ah, maybe later. You know, I had meant to take photos of the installation process, but I was too embroiled in it to remember… Sorry for the dearth of images.)

Refer to my previous article for the plans and theory of upgrading/getting a new PC. Basically, I wanted to get a nice little mini-PC to take to LAN parties, but also to minimize the amount of space our stuff takes up and hopefully to lessen the sound coming out of our PCs collectively.

Juicy parts--the Shuttle mini-system, 2 sticks of Corsair XMS PC2700 256MB RAM, Zalman 3100plus HS, Duron 1.3, Maxtor HD
Juicy parts–the Shuttle mini-system, 2 sticks of Corsair XMS PC2700 256MB RAM, Zalman 3100plus HS, Duron 1.3, Maxtor HD

The first step was to back up all the important stuff of ours to CD. I needed to export Outlook email and contacts to external files, zip up our Favorites folders, collect the rest of our unique data, and burn it all to a CD. (I actually ended up never using the CD since I never had to reformat any hard drives and I had the foresight to stick all of Robin’s old files on my old computer so that when it became her computer the files were already there. But the CD is handy to have around just in case.)

After I got a nice back-up, I ripped the two computers apart. I removed the Athlon and GeForce4 from my computer, set them aside nicely… I took out two of the case fans and taped a piece of cardboard covering the gaping hole in back that one of the fans left. I put in the GeForce2MX from Robin’s computer into mine and put the new Duron in and the new Zalman HS on. Put the case back on and everything boots up wonderfully!

Zalman 3100plus HS
Zalman fan-shaped heat-sink and fan

Restoring Robin’s files went like a knife through butter. uh… soft butter, not that stuff straight out of the freezer. She seems to be enjoying the quieter, Windows XP Pro, faster computer.

The new Shuttle was not so simple.

The putting together of the computer went without a hitch. First I unscrewed the heatpipe thingamabob and remove it. Then I popped in the Athlon, put a teensy bit of thermal grease on, and put the heatpipe back on. The grease that I used was the same one that came with the Zalman fan, but I noticed that a little packet of the stuff also came with the Shuttle system. I have no idea which one is actually more thermally conductive but figured they were probably close enough that it didn’t matter. I then popped in the RAM and the drives. The first build I did included the HD and DVD drive but no floppy. I figured I wouldn’t need one since the WinXP CD is bootable and launches directly into setting up the OS.

The Shuttle heat-pipe
The Shuttle heat-pipe

Well, it did go directly to the WinXP setup and I went through the process thinking alright this is going smoothly, having never booted from a WinXP CD before… But then for some reason, I kept getting a lot of read errors from the CD and eventually the setup process just sort of died. Okay that didn’t go so well… I remembered that the last time I installed WinXP it was by upgrading an existing Windows OS. But the only way I’ve ever installed a Windows OS in the past was to format the hard drive and boot with a floppy with CD drive support and then run the setup program from the CD.

I remembered from my cursory glance at the BIOS settings when I first turned on the Shuttle that it supported booting from a Zip drive and coincidentally I had one of those in Robin’s old PC. Okay cool, I thought, I’ll have a Zip drive instead of a floppy and then I can still use all my old Zip disks (though in hindsight, I probably would’ve decided to take out that Zip drive eventually since it wouldn’t get used and would just take up room and generate heat (tho very little I would think)).

I had to temporarily take the GeForce4 card out of my new computer and pop it into Robin’s old computer (since its GeForce2 was now in Robin’s new/my old computer–with me?). I then unplugged the new computer and used all those cables in Robin’s old computer, turned it on, and then created a bootable (Win98 DOS) Zip disk with the files needed to support a CD drive. Then I redid that process in reverse–unplug the cables, take out the GeForce4, take out the Zip drive, put the GeForce4 and Zip drive in the new computer, and plug in all the cables to the new computer. Then I booted from the newly formatted Zip disk.

Okay things got a little weird here. The BIOS assigned the Zip drive C, the hard drive D, and the DVD drive E. So I typed in fdisk and made sure that I had the right drive by looking at its size and then created a new partition and all that. Then I formatted D drive and all that was good. Then when I typed setup from the Windows Me CD (remember I’m going to install a Windows OS and then upgrade to XP) it had the default directory set to C:\\Windows. I thought, okay that isn’t right since my HD was D drive. So I changed it to D and then setup did its thing. Its thing was to install some files on C and some files on D and completely screw up the bootable Zip disk.

Shit. So now what? Better sleep on it. It was 2 am Thursday night. On Friday morning I woke up thinking screw the Zip drive!

I don’t want that to happen again and this freaking drive letter thing is weirding me out. So, I rip the floppy drive from Robin’s old rig and pop it in place of the Zip drive. So now I boot up with the floppy and all is right with the world. The hard drive has been assigned C, the floppy A, and the DVD drive D. Anything else would be heresy. I formatted the HD yet again, but this time instead of installing Windows Me, I figure I’d give Windows 2000 a shot. This went well! Then I upgraded to WinXP, but for some reason the setup hung. I thought maaaybe it hung because I didn’t install the motherboard drivers before trying to upgrade to XP. At the same time, though, I started to think there might be a hardware issue.

This might not have been first evidence of some larger issue with the hardware, but it was my first seed of suspicion. It might explain why the initial XP install had read errors. I didn’t know what it was, but at the time I thought the most likely culprit was heat. While not new, the processor I have in there is definitely hot. The GeForce4 didn’t help matters, either. So, I took out the video card and tried again just using the on-board video. If I had to live with just the on-board video, it might not have been so bad since it is a GeForce4 MX. It still hung up on installation.

All this time I’ve been checking the hardware monitor in the BIOS to get a general idea of how hot the system was. About 48 degrees C, which actually isn’t sooo bad, but I thought it still seemed the most likely culprit. So, at this point I had to remove the drive cage to get at the processor. I removed the heat-pipe and made sure the CPU was seated correctly. I wiped the thermal grease off and applied some of the grease that came with the Shuttle case rather than the stuff that came with the Zalman fan. I then put the heat-pipe back on making extra-sure that it was on correctly. The drives go back in (you can’t just connect the drives without locking the cage in for this case since the IDE, floppy, and power cables are so short to minimize clutter), and boot up and look at the hardware monitor. The temperatures dropped to below 30! Still, afternoon turned to evening while I was doing this (each install attempt takes quite a bit of time!), and I had also cracked open the window, so maybe the temperature difference was just reflecting the ambient temp difference. Ah well, so much for scientific method. At this point, I also noticed this smart fan technology where the fan would not spin up to maximum speed until a certain temperature was reached. I turned this feature off so that the fan is always on at maximum. Unfortunately, it made the computer much louder. About as loud as my previous computer, and my disatisfaction with its noise is part of the reason for this upgrade!

In any case, Win2k installation went without a hitch this time! Ooh ooh! So, thinking I was in the clear, I put the GeForce4 back in and tried booting up. Good. I installed the motherboard drivers. Good. Then I popped in the XP CD to upgrade. Good. Everything seemed to be going well! I went about setting up the network and copying my Favorites over, installing software, Office, and whatnot, getting Outlook set up, etc. Super keen!

Then I installed a game, Independence War 2, and copied my save games over and tried to play. It crashed to desktop. I tried again after remembering to set the properties of the application to run in Win98 compatibility mode. This time I get the blue screen with a memory dump. Ah crap. But maybe it’s just this one game. So I tried to install Dungeon Siege. The installation hung and I had to reboot.

Hmmm…. I started to think maybe it wasn’t heat after all and something was wrong with the memory or motherboard or hard drive or I don’t know what!!! I went to download.cnet.com and got a system checking tool. Unfortunately, the one I got, though rated really high, only checked some of the system settings and only checked the first 8 MB of RAM. Still, no problems were detected, so I went back to thinking maybe it was a software issue.

Shuttle PSU
Maybe the PSU isn’t powerful enough for the Athlon AND GeForce4?

I found a bunch of forums for making IWar2 work in WinXP, so I followed all the advice I could find, but it still didn’t work. While I was looking for help with the game, however, I found a link for a comprehensive free memory checking utility.

So I downloaded that and tried it out and guess what? It ran several tests and found a whole slew of errors on the second DIMM! To double check, I pulled that stick out and ran the tests again with flying colors. Then to just make sure it was the RAM and not the slot on the motherboard, I put the bad one in and took the good one out. It passed the tests again! So, I thought, maybe it was the motherboard all this time! On a lark, I put the stick that was out back in and ran the tests again. At this point, the two sticks were swapped with each other from the original configuration. It passed the tests. Huh. Cue twilight zone music.

Mark’s Theory:
Here’s my theory. When the computer boots up it automatically checks memory timing by testing out the first stick. Even though the two sticks of RAM are the same model by the same compay, maybe one of them is actually a little bit slower than the other (in other words, less tolerant to heat). So when I originally set up the system, the faster RAM was in the first slot and the computer thought all the RAM was like it and set its timings aggressively. The second one couldn’t keep up and crashed the system or caused errors. When the slower one was in the first slot, as it is now, the computer set the timings less agressively and the faster stick can keep up just fine.

Here’s why I think my theory is spurious at best. From my experience with other motherboards and RAM and configurations, I had always thought the motherboard checks all the RAM before setting the timing since I’ve had computers in the past with completely different sticks of RAM in at the same time and I don’t recall memory errors. Also, I haven’t checked yet, but I believe you just set the timings in the BIOS, it doesn’t dynamically alter them. And finally, the Corsair XMS memory I got is made for overclocking; they shouldn’t have problems with aggressive settings!

Anyway, with the RAM set in their new places, I was able to install Dungeon Siege, Half-life, and some other games. Half-life crashed the first time I tried playing, and so I went and looked at the BIOS settings again and decided to turn down the AGP to 4x not 8x since I think I have a 4x card. Half-life worked. Things seemed good. I turned the smart fan feature in the BIOS back on. Ahh, nice and quiet again.

I played Fallout a bit on Sunday and things seemed to be going well, but Fallout doesn’t take many resources… George and I installed the graphical NetHack last night and surprisingly it hung, but a quick reboot, turning smart fan off just in case, and we were playing NH just fine.

So, now the computer is there. I am not sure about its hardware stability. Might be motherboard driver issues. Might be normal hiccups… The other computer, Robin’s new computer, is running like silk, by the way. I suppose I can live with a reboot every day or so… seems a bit odd though. And I’m not sure if the smart fan thing, in other words, heat is having an effect.

Identification

Your benevolent host, JohnnySnake, has decided to post a full list of users and usernames, for those among us who can only see the shadow on the wall (or who don’t know you are supposed to bring food to your orals…duh!). As more users come on line, they will be added.

Secret fact: Sixteen marmots found in sock drawer.

John Chopper AKA Chris Melhus

Secret fact: High-level corporate operative for Dr. Skipper Corp.

Johnny Danger AKA Mark Chen

Secret Fact: Arrested for stalking Al Roker.

B Diddy AKA Brandon Parker

Secret fact: Bathes in rice vinegar.

Johnny Reb AKA Robin Varni

Secret fact: Majority shareholder in www.uglypeople.com

Johnny Woohaa AKA George Wu

Secret fact: Ate 18 Moon Pies in one sitting.

Johnny Srilanka AKA Isuru Senagama

AND, yours truly,

Secret fact: Not… wearing… underwear…

Johnny Snake AKA Ben Schrag

Actually this post has some kind of hidden purpose…that is to maybe try to get some real pictures and brief introductions for each of us on here somewhere, just in case people don’t know friends of friends. Mark you said that’s possible to do right? If we need to do something, let me know. I would love to help any way I can with my meager HTML skills.

My heart is still pounding…

George is doing his orals right this second!

he called at 2 to ask me to get food for it by 2:30. it “slipped his mind” that he was supposed to cater.

just got back from mad dash to trader joe’s and psych bldg. i think i might have kept my cool if i didn’t have to park in the handicapped spot. so instead, i freaked out, handed everything over, and left without wishing him good luck. you guys will make up for that, won’t you? no teasing about his “slippery” mind, now.

๐Ÿ˜‰ this color is called “blush”


ps: hey brandon!

Robin Joins the Pack

OK, let me see if I have the rules of this alternate-reality that is the C.M.G.P. down. From what I can gather from Mark’s [I like that little trick] past entries, members can be as cheeky, dorky, and self-absorbed as they like as long as they use some form of the name “John” in their username. Is that about it? Whee hee! At last a safe forum for me to share my wit and arcane craft interests which, I believe, fulfill all three of those qualifications. Thanks for inviting me!

Love you guys,

r

Mark’s PC Project

So, I’ve been an avid computer user (mostly PCs) since the mid-80s. It’s hard to count how many computers I’ve owned since then. Do I count upgrades or just the chassis? Or perhaps it would be best to just count the number of CPUs I’ve gone through. Lessee… XT, AT, 486DX33, P120, K6 233, K6-2 350, Duron 800, Athlon 1800+. Doesn’t seem like much now that I think about it… ๐Ÿ™‚

Each time I’ve upgraded CPUs, regardless of whether I got a new motherboard, case, and whatnot, my computers have gotten louder and louder. Or maybe it’s that I’m becoming more sensitive to noise in my old age. Or maybe since computers get faster and faster, fast enough to finally satisfy my needs (for the time being–say 6 months or so…:)), I look to other things I could try to aspire for.

Today I aspire for a small PC which is fast enough for my gaming needs and is quiet enough for my music and movie playing needs. I know I could get a completely quiet system by going with say an Eden chip which doesn’t require much in terms of heat dissipation, but that would only satisfy two of the three criteria (small and quiet). What I really needed was something that could run today’s performance processors AND today’s performance video cards AND be small and quiet. Enter Shuttle’s XPC.


Shuttle’s mini-PC (pictured here is the SN41G2)

I’d first heard about Shuttle in December 2001 on Anandtech, but the verdict was that it wasn’t fast enough for gaming… no AGP slot. In July, Shuttle came out with a P4 with AGP slot version of the Small Form Factor PC. Still, by the late 90s I had already been converted to an AMD supporter, mostly because I believe competition breeds better products. Rumors about an AMD version of Shuttle’s SFF PC (dubbed XPC by Shuttle) surfaced around the same time the P4 version came out and I patiently waited, thinking hmmm when that comes out might be about the same time I should upgrade. Well, now there is a Socket A with AGP version of Shuttle’s XPC; wait no… there are two! Thus begins this article.

I have two computers right now:

Computer 1: Mark’s

  • motherboard: Asus A7V133
  • CPU: AMD Athlon 1800+ (1.43gHz)
  • memory: 512 PC133 (two 256 DIMMs)
  • video: GeForce4 Ti 4200 with both analog out and DVI out AND weird not quite S-video in/out
  • sound: SBLive Value (it kinda sucks actually in terms of compatability issues)
  • others: WD 80gig HD, CDRW, floppy, keyboard, mouse, etc.
  • sound issues: 3 (though quiet) case fans, PSU fan, Thermaltake Volcano 7+ CPU HS and fan–this computer isn’t loud, it’s just not quiet

Computer 2: Robin’s

Basically this is an older K6-2 350 on a Super Socket 7 motherboard. The only item of significance (and this is a stretch) is the video card, a GeForce2 MX.


Mark’s PC–note the TV as second monitor!


Robin’s PC

So, why upgrade? Three main reasons:

  1. Robin and I are trying to minimize the space all our stuff takes up as we prepare to move in August (we’ll be selling our CDs and books and other stuff soon)
  2. I want to get Robin a faster computer so that we can do some LAN gaming together and for when I have friends over (not sure how legit a reason this is but I believe she will enjoy Dungeon Siege a great deal!)
  3. a small (very small) computer without compromising speed nor an AGP slot for good video would be great to take to LAN parties.

Mark’s new computer

  • case and motherboard: Shuttle SN41G2 barebones mini-case with mini version of nForce2 motherboard
  • CPU: AMD Athlon 1800+ from other computer
  • memory: 512 PC2700 Corsair XMS (two 256 sticks to take advantage of dual memory channels on the nForce2)
  • video: GeForce4 Ti 4200 with both analog out and DVI out AND weird not quite S-video in/out from other computer
  • sound: built-in audio
  • others: Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 60gig, Creative DVD drive (got it lying on my bookshelf doing nothing), keyboard (possibly a flexible keyboard from Empire Hero or the Virtually Indestructible Keyboard–LAN parties again–the deciding factor is whether I’ll have to get a USB keyboard), mouse, etc.
  • sound issues: heat-pipe, low power PSU, hard drive featuring some new fangled sound reducing technology (fluid encased ball bearings or something like that)

I love the idea of this Shuttle system. They came up with a heat-pipe HS for the CPU which minimizes the noise coming out (check out the Anandtech article for more info). The PSU is only rated at 200W which makes me wonder if it can handle an Athlon chip, but reviews seem to indicate that it should be fine. If this is true then the 200W is great since it lowers energy requirements making it cost less to run both in terms of economics and in terms of the environment. Eventually, when prices are low enough, the perfect companion would be an LCD monitor or two to further make it an ideal LAN computer and to further reduce energy requirements.

Computer 1a: Robin’s planned trickle down computer

  • motherboard: Asus A7V133
  • *CPU: AMD Duron 1.3 bought new
  • memory: 512 PC133 (two 256 DIMMs)
  • *video: GeForce2 MX from her old computer
  • sound: SBLive Value (it kinda sucks actually in terms of compatability issues)
  • others: WD 80gig HD, CDRW, floppy, keyboard, mouse, etc.
  • *sound issues: same PSU fan, 1 case fans (used to be 3), and new Zalman 3100-Plus fan-shaped heatsink (this comes with a big 92mm fan–most HS fans are about 60-70mm–and hopefully this will reduce the noise quite a bit)

Items marked with * are the items that are being swapped in. The idea here is that if I get a Duron which puts out less heat then I can use the very quiet (from what I hear) Zalman CPU HS and fan. Also with less heat, perhaps I can get rid of some of the other case fans and further reduce noise.

So much for music reviews and waffle irons…

That is some news, man. Congratulations to both of you. Does the bit about the minister mean that you’re offically married after he signs it? Or are you waiting to make it official at the ceremony? Very exciting. Although what do you mean by “Don’t freak out”? You just upped the pressure on the rest of us!

In sporting news: the Super Bowl wasn’t so super, but I was pretty suprised by the result. Bummer for Tim Brown, though. He’ll probably go down like Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing- always the bridesmade… At least Mark Madsen got his ring(s).

Our volleyball tournament yesterday (The Marty Open) didn’t go so well. We had a cheesecake pool (Williams, Siena, Maine, and Yale) and a +80 point differential (8 games), but wound up going into the playoffs as the #2 seed. (The only other 8-0 team (MIT Varsity) got the #1 seed because their pool was “harder”… ) We played Columbia in the single game quarterfinals and lost 21-25. UConn took the repeat over the MIT Varsity.

ON THE HEADPHONES today:

  • Yume Bitsu “Yume Bitsu”
  • Brokeback “Looks at the Bird”

WOW…what a bomb to drop in the first week of BLOG.

WOW…what a bomb to drop in the first week of BLOG.

Congratulations to both of ya! It’s been quite a while and I guess we were all asking ourselves when it was gonna happen. Of course, all the best and if you do get around to having that ceremony you know I’ll drop everything to get there (if you invite me, just send the card to: Johnny Snake, The Broom Closet, Big Daddy Spike’s Tavern, 13 Dick Street, New Spanksville, ME 00001). Have you thought about what kind of ceremony it will be? Let me guess? Fundamentalist Christian?

News item of the day: scientists observe a bug breathing. The fun part is how they did it… by bombarding the bugs with SYNCHOTRON RADIATION…something like 1,000,000+ times the sun’s energy density. And the idea happened when a bug just happened across the beamline. Can’t the national lab hire a damn exterminator? what the hell?

I just finished mah grant proposal, so I get to starcraft this weekend! Or maybe I will install graphical Nethack…yeah…has anyone tried it yet? opinions? what else are you all playing? (I know what Chris is playing, we don’t need to go over that).

Big News!

Well, I guess Robin and I should let some people know about this… Yesterday we went to the county building and got the paperwork for our marriage license. We’re having a friend of ours who is a minister sign the documents later on this month.

The actual ceremony that we’re going to have for friends and family won’t be until the summer, so don’t freak out.

mark

sporadic ramblings of a gamer in academia

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