Only showing posts tagged with "CPU"

Guilty Confessions

I know, I haven’t blogged much lately, and I’m sorry. Ironically, I have less time to blog in the holidays than during the semester. “What?!” you say. In the holidays I am doing things that I like, for example writing my Command Console C++ program, and thus I am less likely to spend time on things I like less than coding eg blogging. But during the semester, procrastinating from working means that I “make” time to blog (so that I don’t work).

Anyway, the last blog I wrote (Smackdown for Conroe) you can pretty much forget, since apparently, reverse hyperthreading is not real. So the Conroes are kicking the crap out of the AMD AM2 CPUs. Ah well, such is life in IT. You buy some tech and it gets outdated straight away.

I also have another guilty confession. I have started to use Windows Live Messenger (WLM). I normally use Skype, but unfortunately I need WLM to talk to people at university, so I’ve had to install it.

It really is an inferior piece of software compared to Skype. The instant messaging experience is crap. For example, Skype manages somehow to remember when a conversation gets broken across a 6 hour gap and brings up the previous messages sent, so I can remember what we were talking about. WLM just erases it and starts afresh.

Skype also doesn’t have advertising crap shoved in your face, like WLM does. However, I have ripped that crap out of the software with a patch called A-Patch. It also lets you remove other annoying things like “Buy a Webcam” links and other useless teeny-bopper buttons and rubbish.

Skype also, in instant messaging, shows the difference between who’s message is who’s by putting a colour background behind the “Daniel says:” part and different colour background behind the “Daniel’s friend says:” part. In comparison, WLM relies on you to change your text colour. Too bad if yours is the same as someone else’s.

However, I will give some kudos to the WLM development team. It has come a long way since I used to use it years ago. The fact that voice chat works now, the shared folders feature, etc are all good new things that WLM has.

Smackdown for Conroe

I always feared the upcoming Conroe cored Core 2 Duo CPU from Intel because it was promised to kick the crap out of AMD's Socket AM2 processors, one of which I currently own. The reason I didn't wait to get a Conroe rather than the Socket AM2 CPU I now have was because I didn't want to wait until August to get one. August is too late because I wanted my new computer for my University holidays (July).

I figured that the long lifespan of the AM2 socket would allow me to easily upgrade the CPU if it got too weak in the future. Also, the Conroe only really kicked the crap out of the Socket AM2 where games became CPU dependant (eg at a massive framerate). And in that circumstance I thought that it didn't matter whether my new computer got 170 frames per second rather than 200.

However, according to The Inquirer, AMD has had a wildcard in their sleeve just waiting for Intel. Socket AM2 CPUs have the capability to do "Reverse Hyperthreading". For those who don't know, Hyperthreading (or HT) is a process that Intel pioneered that allowed two threads to run consecutively on a single CPU core. I had this technology in my last Pentium 4 computer and I can vouch for its usefulness: multitasking was improved. However, with the advent of dual core processors, HT was no longer necessary so Intel stopped using it.

Reverse HT, as the name states, is a process that AMD is pioneering that allows a single thread to run across multiple cores. This technology has the potential to solve all the problems with dual core technology.

The problem with dual core technology, as I see it, can be summed up with this saying: "you can't make a baby in one month with nine wives". Basically, before Reverse HT you couldn't run a single thread across more than one core. Most applications are single threaded and a lot of them cannot be ported to be multithreaded programs (not to mention multithreaded programming is reportedly a pain in the proverbial). Therefore, most applications run slower on dual core CPUs because each core on the CPU is actually slower than a core on a normal single core CPU. Therefore, dual core CPUs aren't actually faster than single core ones for single threaded applications.

Reverse HT can turn all this around. With the ability to run a single thread across two cores, the speed bonus that multithreaded applications have enjoyed from dual core CPUs can now be realised with single threaded applications.

According to the INQ article, Reverse HT on Socket AM2 CPUs has the potential to kick the crap out of the Intel Conroe CPUs, or at the very least, bring them back in the running, out of Conroe's dust. And the best part: this technology is already on current Socket AM2 CPUs eg mine! This means shortly my new computer will kick more arse than it currently does (which will be a lot of arse! :D ).

This is just perfect timing for AMD, hiding away the news of Reverse HT, letting Intel get everyone hyped about Conroe and how good it is, then at the last moment before Conroe is to be released, after Intel can do anything about it, smacking down Conroe with Reverse HT Socket AM2s.

Score 2-1 for AMD and therefore myself.

Phoenix Reborn

Since my last computer (Phoenix-II) sizzled and burned, I have bought an entirely new rig. This time I was not stupid and I did not buy parts at the end of their lifetime; I got Socket AM2 parts which are all new and AMD has promised to continue using the socket for at least two years. I ordered the parts and within 3 days Scorptec had got them all, which was amazingly fast. I can highly recommend Scorptec to anyone wanting computer parts. They don't have the best prices but their service is very good and their warrantees are long. The parts I got were:

  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ (Socket AM2) CPU
  • ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard
  • 2 x Corsair 1GB PC-6400 DDR2 RAM, 4-4-4-12 timings, with EPP
  • XFX 256MB Geforce 7900GT "Overclocked"
  • Silverstone ST60F 600W PSU
  • 3 x Seagate 250GB 7200rpm SATAII 16MB Cache with NCQ HDDs to be RAID5ed
  • Lian-Li PC-V1000B Plus case
  • Creative Audigy4 sound card

Here's a picture of them all still in their boxes. Lovely.

First things first, I had a nice look inside the case. It turned out the power supply was too big for the case in its current format. This meant I had to remove the second hard drive enclosure to make space for it.

So I then started installing parts into the box. As you can see the whole operation made a big mess of my room. First up, the hard drives and optical drives. Then I installed the motherboard, but when I got to the CPU I hit my first bump.

The instructions for installing the heatsink on the CPU were to first hook one side of the heatsink clip and then the other side of the clip onto the retention bracket then turn the securing handle which pushes the heatsink firmly down onto the CPU to ensure a good thermal contact and to make sure it is secure.

So I clipped on the heatsink but it needed a fairly large amount of pushing to make it go on. Then, when I tried to turn the securing handle, it refused to move. Obviously, the clip had gone on wrong or something. Unfortunately, now the heatsink was on tight and wouldn't come off. So I had to unscrew and remove the entire retention bracket to remove the heatsink. Once off I could dismantle it and then clip it back on properly. This time the securing handle turned fine. So I screwed the retention clip back onto the motherboard and this time the heatsink secured fine. Phew.

Next up, the memory and graphics card and then the rest of the components. In this picture you can see the back side of the case where I routed some of the wires. And in this picture you can see everything inside the computer. You can see the funnel that directs air from the back 120mm directly over the CPU and the specialised extraction fan that juts out over the graphics card to blow its heat out the back of the case.

Overall I was a little dissatisfied with the Lian-Li case. Lian-Li is supposed to be a very high quality case manufacturer, but I was underwhelmed by their offering. The case was not entirely toolless which is what I would have expected. I had to use a screwdriver numerous times, especially since the 5.25 inch drive bays needed screws to hold the drives in. This is normal for most cases, but the last case I worked on (the Cooler Master Ammo) cost a third of the price and was completely toolless. Also, getting the back side door off requires nothing less than a pair of scissors for a lever since it is so stiff; fingers are simply too weak (and painful). A bit of WD40 might fix it up, but I'm sorry, Lian-Li is supposed to be engineered to perfection (especially considering the price). Also, this case does not have a removable motherboard tray, a feature, I am told, is extremely useful and was included in Lian-Li's last case design (the PC-60). Although all the internal case edges are supposed to be rounded, I can say by experience that there are still enough edges to cut yourself on. I had my fair share by the end of the build.

That said, the Lian-Li is very effective at cooling the computer. As you can see in that last picture, the redesigned interior, the 120mm fans and the GPU heat extraction fan are very good at removing heat. The fact that the case is also full of holes also contributes to greater airflow. The Lian-Li is very quiet which is beautiful after my last PC (a scorchingly hot Pentium 4 because of Intel's terrible NetBurst architecture) which was irritatingly loud.
Overall, I'd probably give the Lian-Li a 8/10.

The next bump on the road was trying to install Windows. I had downloaded a free, but legit, copy of Windows XP thanks to my university, to save me the trouble of ringing Microsoft and trying to get them to reactivate my old XP copy on my new machine. It turned out I needed to supply the XP install with supplementary drivers for the RAID array. But the XP install just crashed whenever it tried to read them from the floppy disk. So I was forced to create a custom XP install disc that had the drivers already included. nLite is a beautiful program that allows you to do that as well as slipstream in SP2 and hotfixes.

I've since installed all my games and programs and I am happy to say that Phoenix-III is a roaring success. Here are the benchmark score it has earned:

  • 3DMark03 (Default Settings): 18031
  • 3DMark05 (Default Settings): 8813

Holy smoking computers, Batman!

Just to get you excited I'll hit you straight up with the exciting news: my computer started smoking!

Now I'm not going to do a George Lucas and not start at the beginning, so prepare to hear a saga of love, hate, sorrow, and passion. From the beginning.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away... uhh... back a couple of years ago, (2002/2003 I think) I went out and bought myself a brand spanking new computer that only had the top of the line components. The CPU was a 3.06GHz 533MHz FSB Pentium 4 and the motherboard a Gigabyte GA-8INXP which had got 9.5/10 reviews wherever it had been reviewed. It also brandished 1GB of DDR RAM using that newfangled (back then) dual stream tech. 120GB of brand spanking new SATA HDD. And EMCA (Even More Computer Acronyms)! :) It was state of the art, top of the line gear that kicked some major butt (especially over my previous P3 800MHz machine). I was happy.

The galaxy was in peace... uhhh... computer worked like a dream for just over a year. Then the Sith made their move. The motherboard died. The computer just refused to turn on. I would press the "ON" button and it would whir up... and do nothing. No POST. No screen output. Nothing.

So I rang Dodgy Brothers (aka Computer World) where I had bought my components and got kicked in the teeth. Apparently the board's warranty was only for one year. And one year had just past. "Damn, no warranty," I cursed. Of course, being the young inexperienced padawan that I was back then, I bought this sweet new tech just before it became redundant. P4 533MHz FSB was outdated to 800MHz FSB a few months after I bought the computer and the whole Socket 478 not long after that.

So getting a different motherboard was out of the question since mine was the best. So I said, "use the force Luke"... uhh... "I'll just get the same motherboard again; mine must have just been dodgy." 350 bucks later (because the initial price was so high ($450) Dodgy Brothers couldn't sell it any lower or they'd make a loss) I came happily home with a new motherboard.

Peace reigned in the Republic for just under a galactic year. The computer worked like a dream. Then the motherboard kicked the bucket again. Same problem. "Aha!", I thought, "Inside the warranty this time!". So I sent it in to Dodgy Brothers. They took it and around a month later (I almost died waiting. You just don't separate a Jedi from the Force. Its just not cool.) the replacement came in. I installed it and it worked no problems.

Then, not long after, around the middle to the end of 2005, my fellow Jedi (cousin) Patrick, who had bought the same components for his lightsaber... uhh... computer as I had, was caught in the gaze of a Sith Lord. His motherboard (the same as mine) died in the same way as mine. He sent his in for warranty, with Dodgy Brothers telling him that the warranty on our boards was three years (they told me one year). So I had bought that second board for nothing. Those damn Neimoidians at Computer World (Dodgy Brothers) had ripped me off!

But the war with darkness was not yet over. Six months passed and this time the Sith were better prepared with a counter-attack, and they had something new up their sleeve. In December 2005, my motherboard developed leaky capacitors (Image). For those who don't know, this is where the acid inside the capacitor leaks out. Not good. However, the board still worked. Mostly. Like Anakin, it was given to small tantrums where it was simply refuse to boot, beeping motherboard error codes that said whinged randomly about broken graphics cards and motherboard faults. However, a few simple restarts would get it going again.

But the dark side had infected it, and there was no going back. By the end of January 2006, it would only boot 10% of the time. So, just before I went away skiing in Canada on the exotic planet Earth which lies in the Outer Rim, I sent the motherboard back into Dodgy Brothers for warranty.

Buying a new model of motherboard at this point to avoid warranty and get a new model of motherboard was out of the question. Motherboards of the same socket (Socket 478), which became redundant soon after I bought it, weren't being sold, let alone made any more. So I was stuck with waiting for warranty.

Around one and a half months later I got another motherboard back. Same model, and according to Dodgy Brothers, apparently new. It worked when I installed it, but around a week later it started not booting, and I'd get weird graphical corruptions and freezes in Windows... sometimes. *Sarcasm* Sure its a new motherboard, Dodgy Brothers. I spent lots of time probing with the Force (aka my screwdriver), trying to find the problem.

Software, hardware, I tried it all. It seemed like both the graphics card and the motherboard were stuffed. Sometimes the motherboard sometimes decided not to boot. The graphics card randomly froze the computer with graphical errors (Image) and refused to reproduce the problem when put in someone else's computer. It often would work fine and I would get happy, stealing precious half-hours of Oblivion or Star Wars Empire At War. But always, it would eventually die.

So I turned to Jedi Knight Patrick. After his motherboard also died he ended up buying another model of Socket 478 motherboard. He was able to do this because he bought it far enough back in time there were still some on the shelves. He was forced to buy an entire new board because Dodgy Brothers has yet to (even to this date) send him a replacement board for the one in warranty. But again, the Sith were not far behind. His computer also just started stuffing up for no reason: BSODs in Windows, underperforming graphics to the point of unplayability. Eventually he was forced to destroy his dark-side turned Padawan... uhh... computer. Shutting away his grief at such potential in the Force lost, he bought a laptop.

So he lent me his graphics card (now a spare part) so I could play Oblivion. And it worked... until the Sith got wind of our plan. His graphics card started having corruptions, worse than my card (!), to the point that they were evident in the BIOS and on other people's computers when it was installed in theirs. We will never know the full extent of the Sith's involvement with that tragedy: whether my motherboard killed his card or it just died on its own.

So I installed my old GeForce 4 from WAAAY back so I could at least use the computer for storage. And everything was peaceful for a few weeks... then disaster struck.

This week, studying for my University exams, I set up my computers so that I had slides from lectures at the Jedi Academy... uhh... Swinburne on my laptop and was using my main computer to type notes. I dragged my sorry carcass through days of Introduction to Business Information Systems (IBIS: possibly the worst subject in existence) study and today I hit 9000 words and 33 pages of notes. All saved on my computer.

The Sith's plotting never ended, and I, relaxing, was taken off guard when my computer froze while I was typing notes. "OK", I thought, "I'll just restart." Nothing. No boot. Recognise the situation? I started disconnecting things, hoping that would fix the problem. Then I turned on my computer.

FIRE! Or perhaps just smoke. Whatever, the Sith struck their final blow to the Republic. My computer smoked and I screamed and turned off the power. The room was full of an acrid haze and I found that one of the power cables for the floppy disk drive had come out of its plug and shorted on the case, the wire going red hot and burning through the plastic covering it.

The computer still doesn't turn on. The shroud of the Dark Side has fallen and all has been lost. Well, I don't think the short damaged anything, but I can't tell because the computer didn't work anyway.

Here are some pictures of the destruction:

  • Image - You can see the wire loose from the floppy power connector where it ought to be.
  • Image - A nice overexposed photo of the burnt wire
  • Image - The plastic on the wire is completely deteriorated

So unlike in George Lucas's stories, this saga ends on an unhappy note. My computer doesn't want to boot, and my files are lost (the main thing that wasn't backed up was the 33 page 9000 word IBIS notes, and other stuff like all my Steam apps (CS:S, HL:2 etc)). My hard drives are SATA and in a striped RAID configuration so I can't just slap them in another machine to get the data back.

But its OK. I was never going to read those IBIS notes again, anyway. The learning was in actually typing them out. Even though I still don't know most of that stuff. All my other stuff is either backed up on my laptop, a copy available from Jedi Knight Patrick, or is less important things (still annoying, however) like save games and images of Office 2007 Beta that I can afford to lose.

"But George Lucas... uhh... DC," you ask, "How did the Sith manage to destroy each board you and Jedi Patrick ever got, even though some were new?" "A good question, my young Padawan," I reply. Since I can't find any reports on the Internet of anyone else having problems with my motherboard model, I think that Dodgy Brothers got a dodgy (geddit!?) batch of my motherboard, and so every single one they sold had the flaw that eventually killed it. The one that got repaired in warranty actually didn't die the same as all the others, and instead died of leaky capacitors, another stroke of the Sith (or bad luck).

But its all OK. Soon, in a few weeks, I'll get an entirely new lightsaber... uhh... computer. And then perhaps the Sith will leave me alone.

*Scene zooms out with a nasty Sith laugh echoing away into the background and then cuts to credits with a circular wipe and loud Star Wars music*