hardware rant

It really was high time. It was a bit more than five years ago that I built my system. So a serious hardware upgrade was overdue. The necessary research done, I ordered the needed parts. Until now I didn’t get around to insert those parts—last Saturday I did. I hoped to do, that is, because last Saturday the journey only began.
    Unpacking the mainboard (Asus Sabertooth P67), then installing the CPU (Intel Core i5-2400) and RAM (Corsair Vengeance 16GB) on it. All that went in a breeze.
    Next I ripped out the old mainboard and replaced it with the new one. Everything did fit snuggly so far. So I put in the first graphics card (Asus EAH6950 DCII 2DI4S 2GD5). I’ve got two of those, because before I had made positive experiences with the Crossfire thingie. The first one of these beasts went in all right. The second one … well: the case offers plenty of space for two of those bricks, but the mainboard not really. The second card on the second PCIe x16 slot didn’t want to fit tightly. The problem is that the card is so fat that it uses up three slots at the case’s rear plate. Enough space there, but the card also covers the row of connectors at the mainboard’s lower edge. There you plug in front-panel USB, audio and so on. I could live without those, but at said edge the powerswitch is also connected. Not even I can do without that one.
    All right, I thought, let’s try the new system with only one graphics card for the time being. Later I’ll find a solution for those connectors.
    When I had nicely connected everything I realized that I had plugged in a 6-pin connection at the graphics card, leading to the PSU, all right, but … besides the 6-pin connection there’s an 8-pin one. Unfortunately my old PSU (Thermaltake Toughpower 700 Watt) doesn’t supply a connection like that. The so-called ‘manual’ coming with the card doesn’t give any information at all.
    The result of trying to power up the system of course was black screens—the graphics card doesn’t get enough power. A red LED on it confirms that.
    Meanwhile it was late evening, the shops had closed. No chance for getting a new PSU before Monday. But I desperately wanted the new system up and running. Putting in one of my old graphics cards (Sapphire Radeon X1950 PRO) was the solution. Everything wired—except my old DVD drive (Asus DVD-E616A3T), no SATA—and ignition.
    Two red LEDs on the mainboard. The one says that it doesn’t recognize the RAM, the other means that no boot device can be found. My RAM! Heavens to Betsy!
    Multiple tries of RAM configuration, following the manual (I shouldn’t have followed it). Well, I ended up with only one of the units (4GB) installed, but the red LED went away. RAM there, but still no boot device was found. After having played around with putting which SATA-cable into which port on the mainboard (the drawings in the manual are not only ambiguous, but downright faulty, as I now do know), finally the system comes up. Obviously I had connected my old primary HDD (Western Digital RaptorX) to the correct port. The new mainboard, quadcore, sandy bridge and all, recognize and accept the old XP-installation and the system runs!
    The next projected step was to do a clean installation of Windows 7, 64bit. The DVD drive I couldn’t connect to the mainboard, but my trusted multi-roaster (Plextor PX-760SA) is SATA. For a bit of comfort I first installed the drivers for the graphics card from the old CD. The Plextor does its job. Now for the mainboard drivers … but for reasons unknown the drive now only reads CDs, DVDs aren’t recognized at all.
    Workaround: Download newest mainboard drivers on the laptop, bring it on an USB-stick, insert into big machine and install. Works like a charm, mainboard has all its drivers, Internet connection established. Download latest firmware and all for the multi-roaster. Alas, even after they’re installed the roaster refuses to recognize DVDs. So, no Win7 today.
    But there still was the issue of the RAM. Remember: I’ve got 16GB, but only 4GB are running. The BIOS, naturally. Download newest BIOS, replace BIOS, clear CMOS, reboot. Everything fine, except the system still accepts no more than 4GB of RAM. Above it simply won’t boot, not even loads the BIOS, instead red RAM LED on the mainboard. The memOK function does its blinking merrily away, but won’t accept the RAM. Meanwhile it was Sunday and I gave up for the time being.
    Monday, let’s hit the stores. What I bought at the nerd store: A new PSU (850W) with plenty connectors, a new DVD read-only drive, a tiny cable for connecting the third chassis-fan (because with the new mainboard layout I was lacking two centimeters), and, for good measure a 120GB SSD. What I bought at the uber-nerd store (electronics tinkerage): tiny circuit board connectors which go around the corner 90 degrees.
    Back at home I ripped out everything except the mainboard, the HDDs and the multi-roaster. Installing the new PSU posed no problems at all, same with the new DVD drive and the SSD. For the front-panel connectors on the mainboard I constrcuted something out of the parts from the uber-nerd store, then I tried to place the graphics card on the second PCIe 16x slot. Still the card didn’t really fit. An ugly suspicion arose. After having removed all the connectors the card still didn’t really fit! It’s the cursed PCIe 1x slot, which is protruding 2mm above the mainboard’s ‘surface!’ This is scandalous! The specialists in the forums I then consulted indeed grind down the slot—but honestly, I do not have the nerve to do that right now. Anybody in need of a spare HD 6950?
    Finally I decided to build the system with one graphics card and did so.
    Ignition, BIOS and POST run flawlessly, the system recognizes the SSD and wants something bootable. Win 7 DVD into the new optical drive and hey presto, the whole thing installs in no time and then runs fine.
    Back to the RAM issue. After having placed a second unit again the system refuses to boot. And now for the stroke of genius: I ignored the recommended RAM configurations in the mainboard’s manual, but instead placed two units as I thought it to be sensible.
    The system boots, the operating system comes up, and Win 7 tells me that there are 8GB of RAM. Next I place all four units. Same result, except Win 7 now recognizes 16GB of RAM.
    Net result: The ‘documentation’ which comes with some hardware components is not only beyond inadequate, but downright faulty at some times. The physical properties of the x1 slot on the mainboard are a scandal—they make it completely impossible to place a card of the very same manufacturer.
    In the end I nevertheless managed to build a fine running system. So much for my hardware rant … but stay tuned.
    The software rant will follow.

  • 風露 Friday, 16th March 2012 at 21:15

    Holy cow! My computers gave me a lot of trouble in the past but nothing like this! And most of my problems simply vanished by abandoning ASUS…

    Good luck :)

  • Alexander Rabitsch Saturday, 17th March 2012 at 20:43

    I´ve been a windows user eversince. I had win 95, win 98, win 2k, windows neptune, xp …. the kewl thing about apple is: software and hardware are from one company and the gear is running fine….

  • 風露 Saturday, 17th March 2012 at 22:13

    As long as the machine is running (and the OS not messed up with crapware) I don’t see any advantages of any system to another. But I do have the slight suspicion that quality assurance among the boardpartners wasn’t very good back in win98-times and has gone worse ever since.

  • Alexander Rabitsch Monday, 19th March 2012 at 14:41
  • 風露 Monday, 19th March 2012 at 19:16