New PC bits, woes, wonder!

I’m really an AMD fan at heart - who wouldn’t be - they are cheap, fast and these days they are stable as well. Intel‘s been behind in most desktop chip related matters since they released the Pentium 4, with its long pipeline and surface-of-the-sun temperatures.

I’ve been using a P4 based system as my linux desktop because in 2004 when I set it up, the support for NForce2 chipset related gubbins wasn’t that good, and there wasn’t a high performance/quality motherboard with anything else for AMD processors. It was an ASUS P4P800-E Deluxe WiFi Edition, with a couple of SATA controllers, onboard raid, fast chip and four memory slots - a great board all round. The 2.8Ghz “C” chip that was in it was a good speed for the money, and it’d worked well as my desktop workhorse since I bought it, but lately I’d been feeling the need for speed.

Bob is one of those crazy overclocking types that I used to be before I broke too many things and got bored with an unstable computer, and he’d recently finished upgrading his PC on the cheap. It only cost him about $300, and that included a Sempron 2800+, new motherboard and a nice shiny X1600 Pro - damn good for the money.

I wanted to upgrade, seeing his machine be so fast and hearing that Nvidia video cards actually supported 3D while running dual monitors on linux (something ATI has yet to get working). MSY were still selling the Foxconn NF4K8AB-RS for $45, the same board that Bob had bought a few weeks ago and found to be pretty good for the money. As far as cheap video cards for PCI-E go, the 6200TC series seemed to be the way to go, and I bought the MSI NX6200TC-TD256ELF for $55 (Nvidia 6200 Turbo Cache Low Profile etc). Bob wanted a Sempron 3400+ and I didn’t need that much more speed, so I bought his Sempron 2800, knowing that he’d tested it to do at least 2.4Ghz (1.6Ghz stock speed) if I wanted to overclock it.

It was an easy install as usual for anything computer-related with me, and was nice that I didn’t even have to shift the motherboard standoffs. I re-used the Zalman CNPS7000B-Cu that I had from my P4 (yay for multi-fit coolers) and I was away. Well, to start with.

The Foxconn’s a cheap board, we’ve established this. Cheap boards with three ram slots tend to have the third one as a joke, and this was no exception. So far I haven’t been able to get it to boot with three RAM sticks in it - which sucks - having another half gigabyte of ram is always nice with what I do. So, with a BIOS reset and a gig of ram, I was away.

Next hurdle, video drivers. I hadn’t bothered to change the config in xorg.conf on my Ubuntu Dapper install, so of course that broke, going from an ATI video card to an Nvidia will do that. A bit of research and messing around later I’d found how to tell dapper to let me nuke the ATI drivers and get the NVidia ones installed (there’s some weirdness in how it backs up some files as part of the ATI driver package being installed, not letting them be restored/removed when you got to remove them.)

Eventually I got back into graphical, with one monitor working, which was weird - every other dual-output graphics card I’d ever seen and used would automatically just clone the picture to the second one when you didn’t have monitor spanning setup. Two hours of swearing and searching the net later, I found a random post on one of those “user review” sites with someone complaining about some 6200 cards not supporting dual-monitor setups. I’d specifically asked in the store about dual monitors being supported by the card, so technically I was covered by the Fair Trading act if they gave me any problems, but it was quite easy to go and buy a more expensive card (not surprising) and I ended up with the Forsa 6600 256mb for the princely sum of $112. Huzzah.

A bit more messing around and I’d gotten dual monitors working. Then a bit more swearing and I actually got dual monitors working PROPERLY. Hooray for shitty documentation on the internet. My next post will be about getting dual monitors working, since I couldn’t find a clear howto that worked how I wanted it to (two monitors, 3d, the ability to shift windows between monitors and be able to hit maximise and not take up both screens)

Once that was all working we overclocked it a little, and now it’s sitting stable (so far) on 2.0ghz at just slightly above stock voltage. With the Zalman cooler on it it’s running at a low temperature and it’s basically silent. All for a total cost of under $250, most of which I should get back by selling the P4P800 and the 2.8C Pentium 4 on eBay! 🙂

#Adventures #Linux #Programming