Sunday, April 24, 2011

New PC: Video cards swapping - II

Yesterday I decided to swap the video cards back.

Regardless of the good cooler, the 9800GT was becoming too hot. Apparently there is just not enough air and ventilation - thanks again to Dell motherboard design. The video card is positioned at the very bottom, next to the only PCI slot, so there is less than an inch space between the radiator and the bottom of the main case chamber. The optional fans of the Turbo Module barely fit there, almost touching the wires. Under heavy load the card temperature was over 100°C!

So I decided to return the original ATI HD5670 back - it's a bit less powerful, but being newer it uses less power than 9800GT, so runs much cooler. I put the card back thinking I was just returning to the original configuration, but what a mistake! Well, the old PC didn't have any issues - Windows XP just reused the nVidia driver, I just disabled autostart of the Catalyst, which was complaining about the missing ATI card.

Windows 7 in the new PC didn't have problems either - again, just reused the ATI driver, and I re-enabled the Catalyst autostart.

But completely different story with Ubuntu. It just didn't boot to the GUI! The monitors stayed black and were blinking with the power indicators, which meant there was no proper signal from the video card. Booting in recovery mode and attempt to reconfigure graphics didn't help. Neither the playing with xorg.conf. I removed everything related to nVidia - no luck. Removed ATI drivers as well - nothing... Then somewhere in the logs I noticed mentioning of VMWare and some warnings. I remembered that VMWare gets pretty deeply into the system, it even compiled some kernel modules during installation. So I decided to give it a try. Found how to uninstall it (followed instructions on this page: sudo vmware-installer -u vmware-player), and then after more playing with recovery mode that the system finally could boot successfully into X.

It wasn't the end though. There was no network connection! Apparently when VMWare was ununstalled, it took the network with it. More googling helped to find that "eth0" is not in /etc/network/interfaces anymore. Just added it to the first line ("auto lo eth0"), rebooted, and voilĂ  - it worked!

Now I have just reinstalled ATI drivers, and re-configured the multi-display mode, and finally my computer is working again. No more experiments!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New PC: Video cards swapping

ATI HD5670, which came with my new PC, is not very powerful video card. It's better than some totally budget ones, but it's definitely at the low end. So I decided to compare it with the nVidia 9800GT, which I had in my old PC, and probably swap them. Several years ago 8800GT (which 9800GT is based on, it's basically the same) was almost on the top of the line, and according to the tests I found on Internet, it's still a bit faster than the HD5670.

But first I wanted to replace the cooler on that 9800GT, because the original one was too loud and the card was getting pretty hot on load. Checked what NCIX had on sale, and bought this one - Accelero S1 Rev.2 passive VGA cooler:

The drop in the temperature was huge. With the old cooler the GPU/Ambient temperatures were ~70°C/47°C on idle, and ~80°C/56°C on load. With the Accelero S1 they dropped down to 45°C/34°C and 68°C/43°C accordingly. And that's without fans, in complete silence! Heat pipes are very efficient!

So, I tried both cards in two computers, ran 3DMark06 on both, and here's the result:

3DMark Score NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT, 512MB ATI Radeon HD 5670, 1GB
Old computer
(Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E7300 2.66 GHz)
New computer
(Dell XPS 9100, Intel Core i7-930 Processor 2.8 GHz)

Based on these results, I'm leaving the 9800GT in the new machine, and will see how it will work.

Monday, April 11, 2011

New PC: Why I don't like brand named PCs

I was complaining about limited SATA connections on Dell motherboard.

Turned out I was wrong. Look at this picture - here are the available connectors:

Those black and blue ones at the edge of the board are used for the the HDD and DVD drives, so there was only one available. But when I was checking BIOS setup today, I noticed it lists more SATA slots. I did one more closer inspection, and finally understood what those numbers and text near the SATA ports on the motherboard mean. Those black and blue connectors are actually double ports! Right under the ones, which are visible and have cables connected, there are two more connectors, which are hidden and not noticeable from any possible angle. And even when I found them, it was very difficult to connect the SATA cables there - without seeing and with limited access.

I've never seen the SATA connectors design like this! If I had a manual for the motherboard, I could figure that out earlier, but alas, seems like there is no such manual coming with Dell XPS.

So, finally it looked like I could connect my other HDD. But that was a hasty conclusion. I was still unable to connect the additional drive, because the SATA power cable was not long enough. It was designed to work only for a specific hard drives position in the original XPS case - the distance between the connectors is very short. I could use one cable with three connectors to power two drives, and the second cable, even though it had three more connectors, could only be used either for the DVD drive, or for another hard drive, but not for both of them. Normally the power supplies have at least a couple of molex connectors. Even though they are not used for the HDDs these days, there are adapters for other components, like fans, special motherboards, PCIe cards. But Dell power supply does not have any, so I couldn't even use this way. I need a SATA power splitter.

How many more surprises should I expect from this Dell?!?

Here's a list of annoyances I had to face with this Dell:
  • It is too loud
    • Cheap and extremely noisy VGA cooler
    • Stock CPU cooler - noisy and not very good
    • No HDD vibration dampers
  • Non-standard design of the motherboard, and no documentation for the motherboard
    • A bigger and better 3rd party CPU cooler doesn't fit
    • Difficult to find and use extra SATA ports
    • Not enough fan power connectors on the motherboard
    • Only Dell front panel with non-standard USB ports can be connected (and cannot run without it)
  • No molex connectors from the power supply
  • SATA power cables are designed to be used only for a specific HDD configuration
  • Not enough USB ports on the back

The main idea is: all the components of this Dell PC were designed for a specific configuration. The customization/upgrade/replace abilities are extremely limited. This kind of a PC is intended for the users who are not expected to do anything with it. Want to change something? Order another configuration or even another model!

It is not for me for sure. I've never wanted to buy a brand name PC for myself - saw several of such machines, and every one of them used some custom components, which were difficult to customize or upgrade. This is the first time when I had to get a brand name PC, and it will be the last one!