SE440BX-2 RIP

by fwhagen Tue, 12 February 2008

My home server finally died this week.  Even my daughter was inconvenienced.  The old PII on a SE440BX-2 has been a faithful, long lived servant these many years, but finally passed on.  I bought this board a long long time ago and have been running it 24x7 as my home server for over 5 years now.  I don't remember exactly how long, as it was 3 major upgrades ago.  BTW, you can still run a nice server on 256MB RAM for file, print, Web, and FTP with Win2003.  I believe the failure was with some component of the BX2 finally wearing out.

On to newer hardware!  I purchased a 35W Celeron to run the server on now.  Going to put it in a quiet Antec case with a Hi-Eff PSU.  Should be a simple and low-cost build.  Only spent $200 so far including the case (most expensive part), PSU, CPU, motherboard and optical (SATA).  I happen to have 1GB of DDR2 from a mistake purchase last year that I will use.

Yes, the comic feeds are down and will be for a few days.  Sorry.  I will get them up first thing.  *Heavy Sigh*

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Filed Under: Life | System

Final Build Notes: Mars Lives

by fwhagen Thu, 24 January 2008

Well, the system upgrade is complete, finally.  q6600_1 Almost everything went very well.  There were a few moments of panic, but the end state is very satisfactory.  The best part is the Q6600 is running very happily at 3.005GHz with nearly no effort on my part.  I am going to leave it there for awhile, until I get the urge to tweak some more.  I will eventually replace the fan on the cooler with a better one and will tweak the timings a bit more aggressively then.  For now, everything is very stable and Mars hums along pleasingly.  The final configuration is below:

Case   Antec P182 Advanced Super Mid Tower Case
PSU   Corsair VX450W Quiet High Efficiency PSU
Optical   LITE-ON 20X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe Black SATA
Motherboard   Asus Maximus Formula - LGA 775 Intel X38
Memory   Crucial Ballistix 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)
CPU   Intel Q6600 Core 2 Quad 2.4GHz
Cooler   Scythe Ninja Mini
Video Card   Sapphire Radeon HD3870 512MB GDDR4

What can I say about the case beyond that it exceeded all my expectations.  From everything being well placed, to thumbscrews on all the right places, great sound baffling and excellent airflow.  This case was worth more than the $100 I spent on it.  I even love the "Gun Metal Black" finish it has on it.  The only changes I plan to make to it are the addition of a fan grill on the lower 120mm fan to prevent the HDD cables from potentially rubbing on it, replacing the 2 upper fans with something slightly quieter but with Motherboard connectors for variable speeds and the addition of a forced intake fan on the front.  None of these are necessary, however.

The Maximus Formula is an exceptional piece of hardware also.  Its difficult to choose a single feature that stands out above all else on this board, but it may be the "Q-Connectors" as illustrated to the right.  This particular one is a detachable standoff that allows all of the case leads to be attached before attaching it directly to the motherboard.  That has always been a difficulty to me, solved here with a simple piece of hardware.  Of course the huge cost difference would be ridiculous if not for the excellent over-clocking tools (see 1st paragraph of this post), excellent cooling features, onboard power and reset switches, 6 USB ports on the I/O shield alone, excellent built in sounds, and many more that come with this board.  Wow.  My only concern was the PC speaker.  It doesn't have one built in.  The case doesn't either; most modern ones don't anymore because the motherboard generally has them.  This generated the first panic state when the temporary PCI video card that I was going to use failed and there were no diagnostic beeps.  I had to go find an old case that I had that I could steal the speaker from.  Then it was off to Newegg to buy a $32 PCIe video card for the interim.

Not much that I can add about the Q6600 processor that hasn't been said by far more capable people than I.  It has a stock clock of 2.4GHz, and mine is running happily at 3.005GHZ at 45C idle and 68C at full heat load.  Stable, solid and 4 cores.  You got to love it.  The stock cooler kind of sucks, but that has always been the case with Intel CPUs.

Update: I have since updated the ASUS bios on the mobo which fixes incorrect temperature reading of the CPU. It actually runs between 32C idle and 55C under load.

The cooler I chose, and it was last minute, was the enormous Ninja Mini.  This thing was a pain to install, and I ended up installing it twice.  Well, the 2nd install was my fault.  I bumped the monitor extension cable and didn't notice it was loose.  I ended up reseating everything, including the CPU before noticing.  The fan it comes with is not great, but gets the job done.  "Mini" is a ridiculous name for this thing.  It is enormous.  Maybe calling it "Not so huge as it's namesake" is more appropriate.  It drops the temperature of the CPU by 20C in about 10 seconds when load is removed which is pretty stunning.  I will be replacing the stock 80mm fan with a quieter 92mm fan later on.  At $35, though, this was a great value.

Ah, the Radeon HD3870.  First time I have ever bought ATI's flagship product when released.  But for $250, it was a good buy, and only $50 over budget.  Too bad MSRP is only $220.  Very good performance and I haven't even considered over-clocking yet at all.  There were a few odd things about this card:  First off, it is a single slot cooler.  All the other 3870s, including Sapphire's are dual slot.  Nice, but odd.  Secondly, you can't even find this card on Sapphire's website; they only list the dual-slot version.  Finally, mine came without the hot-chick sticker.  I don't really care, just thought it was odd.  Anyway, I really like this card.  Very fast, great digital video performance and not a bad price.  All the games I have run (except Crysis, of course) are super smooth at the max settings so far.  I am very impressed.

In conclusion, I am very happy with the new setup.  This has been the most extreme "upgrade" I have ever performed for myself.  I was boxed into it with the AGP/Prescott setup I had before.  In order to upgrade the CPU, I needed to get a new motherboard, memory and a PCIe The video card.  It only made sense to go ahead and get the improved case and DVD-RW drive too.  It was also a very enjoyable build and blissfully successful.  It passed all my burn-in tests with flying colors.  Vista's performance score is maxed out at 5.9; I kind of hope that they raise the maximum value with SP1 so I can see the relative score increase over my last one.  Pure vanity, of course.  Overall, the system is very quiet.  I cannot hear it under my desk at all as long as the wife's machine or the server is running.  (They will be upgraded next.)  And so far, all I have lost is my CoD4 profile; no great loss. 

Final pictures are still on the camera, so I will post them at a later time.  For now, time to play more MOHA!

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Filed Under: System

The Build Is Complete (Nearly)

by fwhagen Thu, 17 January 2008

The last two pieces finally came in.  The new Sapphire HD3870 is a very nice single-slot card that looks great and performs well.  Haven't had a chance to really stretch its legs yet.  Will do that this weekend.

And the Scythe Ninja "Mini" is here.  There is nothing mini about it.  It's HUGE!  I will install it tonight.  I hope.  It may be a tight fit on a Maximus Formula motherboard.  I will update this thread with those results later.

Then its migration of systems.  Not the fun part.  Reinstall Vista, reactivate, reinstall apps, load games, restore backups.  The drudgery of the upgrade....  But it's all worth it! 

UPDATE:  I got the cooler in.  It was the hardest part of the build.  The 775 cooler mounting specs are not easy to deal with.  But it's all together.   Had a moment there when I thought I broke something, but turned out to be a loose connection on the monitor extension cable I was using.  whew. 

I am going to tweak the build a bit later.  Different cooler fan, maybe different case fans that can attach to the motherboard for variable control and maybe an forced intake fan as well.  But not for a while.  I am full concerning the build hunger.

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Filed Under: System

It's Alive!

by fwhagen Mon, 14 January 2008

I got everything together again this weekend for the system build and everything works well.  Very well.  I learned a couple things, too.

First:  While the stock cooler on the Q6600 is very nice and much better than any previous cooler I have used from Intel, it is a bit small for the CPU if you ever intend to do much with it.  Under full heat mode of Prime95, it reached 75C, which is not terrible, but a bit higher than I am comfortable with.  So a $35 Ninja Mini is on its way to replace that.

Second: $270 for a motherboard is a lot of money, but you really get what you pay for.  The Asus Maximus Formula is the easiest board I have ever used both for installation and configuration.   I have Overclocked the Q6600 from 2.4GHz to 2.94GHz with no effort at all, simply by setting the AI settings to Q6800.  Once I get the Ninja installed, I hope to push it up one more level and get 3.2GHz.  The irony being that is what my Prescott runs today.  I even got STALKER included in the box.

I wait for the Sapphire HD3870 to be delivered later this week, then it's super gaming season for me!  I can't wait to see how Stalker runs on the new rig with full dynamic lighting compared to my old system that would only run without.  And you should see LAME run, it's amazing fast 20x at high quality VBR settings.  That's 4 to 5 times the Prescott, and only on one core.  I can't wait to see video encoding performance.

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Filed Under: System

The Beast Is Not Yet Born

by fwhagen Fri, 11 January 2008

This has not been the best build I've done, procedurally anyway.   On Tuesday, after finally getting the parts together and ready to go, I did the assembly.  I had a wonderful experience mounting everything, although a newbie moment of forgetting to install the I/O shield before the motherboard.  Oops.  The motherboard has a detachable standoff for the case leads, so you just plug them into the standoff easily, then plug the standoff into the socket and you're done!

Got everything installed, powered on and...  nothing.  No beeps, no video, but power to all components, the motherboard lights and all the fans.  Another nifty feature: the motherboard itself has an on and reset button, illuminated even, right there next to the PCIe slots.  Called tech support and they ask if I had the case speaker attached.  Case speaker?  I haven't owned a case with a speaker in a long time.  Most MBs come with a little peizo buzzer just for diagnostics these days.  But the Maximus line doesn't.  So I had to find one.  Sure enough, plugged it in, powered up, and I got the diagnostic tones for "No VGA detected".  Guess my old PCI card that I was going to use for burn-in and tweaking is not going to work.  And there are no local shops that I can get a cheap PCIe card.  So I wait for Newegg,com to deliver a $30 x1550 for testing.

This weekend it will live!  Following will be a week of burn-in, OC-ing and tweaking.  By February, I hope to have the HD3870 in hand and ready to game.  It's been an interesting and long build.

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Filed Under: System

Disaster!

by fwhagen Mon, 07 January 2008

Delivery for the Beast was delayed until Monday.  So no glory for me.  Heavy sigh.

Then on Saturday, the SCSI subsys on my server went south, knocking out the system volume.  Everything is backed up, but I had to spend the weekend rebuilding.  The machine is almost 10 years old, so I'm not complaining, but all of my feed builders were interrupted.  I will get them re-initialized tonight, so there will only be a day or two missing from them.  Sorry.

Maybe I will get to buy some new server hardware this spring....

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Filed Under: Life | System

The Beast Stirs

by fwhagen Fri, 04 January 2008

Finally, after dreaming of the Core2 series of processors, I am upgrading my system.  Well, I have been since August, anyway.  I finally bought the CPU/MB/Memory combo this week.  They should be here today!

Here is the plan (in the order purchased):

Case   Antec P182 Advanced Super Mid Tower Case
PSU   Corsair VX450W Quiet High Efficiency PSU
Optical   LITE-ON 20X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe Black SATA
Motherboard   Asus Maximus Formula - LGA 775 Intel X38
CPU   Intel Q6600 Core 2 Quad 2.4GHz
Memory   Crucial Ballistix 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)

Last will be the video card.  I am leaning toward the ATI HD3870 in a Saphire or Diamond Viper configuration.

The case is excellent!  The P182 is the finest case I have ever worked with.  The walls are thick, heavy and absorb vibrations very well as they were designed to quiet the system.  Rubber gromitts for drive mounts, very nice airflow and great cable management technique make this a joy to work on.

I chose the Corsair PSU because of its efficiency and noise ratings.  It is based on the Seasonic designs and should be very quiet.  Also, my choice of size is controversial, but on metering my Prescott at full load, I never saw it cross 280Watts*.  If I bought a kilowatt PSU, I would waste a lot of energy and heat from the inefficiency at the low end of usage.

I wanted to get a SATA optical, but don't care about Lightscribe.  I may get a second later....

The Maximus Formula is an expensive drop.  I did not intend to spend $270 on a motherboard.  But the X38 chipset is the only one to support PCI-E 2.0 and it is supposed to be compatible with Penryn when it comes out.  I don't anticipate replacing this board for a very long time.  And the 2.0 spec has shown some dramatic gains for the HD3870 cards in reviews.  So, ouch, but I think a good buy.

The Core2Duo E6600 is considered the best over-clocker in years.  It's price is $229.  The Quad core Q6600 is very similar and is only $50 more.  It was not a difficult decision.

Memory is memory, from what I hear.  I still went ahead and spent the extra $20 for 1066 for the lower latencies and OC ability.

I will post more as the system specs out and I have a chance to play more.  But I am very excited.  Should be a fun weekend!  Total spent so far (including the anticipated $200 for video):  Under $1000.  Great time to build PCs.

*EDIT:  Updated to 280 from 250.  Mistake at time of post.

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Filed Under: Life | System

Overriding Group Policies

by fwhagen Mon, 31 December 2007

I do not condone overriding group policies on systems in a corporate network as a general rule.  The policies are setup for a reason and are there to help and protect you.  No, really.

However, sometimes you need to override some to get your job done or sometimes are not appropriate.   For instance, I am a fervent proponent of the locked desktop.  So much so that I reflexively use winkey-L when I get up from my desk.  As a fail-safe, I set my screensaver duration to a ridiculously low value.  Ah, but our networking folks have set group policy that is more lenient and restricted users from modifying it.  So as an admin of my box, I went around the policy and set it back to more aggressive values. 

Now I can defend my position as tightening security as opposed to violating policy, but my actions are still wrong.  The following link is to Mark Russinovich's excellent article on circumventing inconvenient group policies.  Read it at your own risk:

Circumventing Group Policy Settings

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Filed Under: System

Note to Self: SharpReader/Proxy Issue

by fwhagen Fri, 04 May 2007

When SharpReader starts displaying the message about not connecting to the server at 127.0.0.1:  Shutdown SR, turn off Automatically Detect Settings and any proxy settings in the LAN Settings configuration.

That should do it.

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Filed Under: System

XP PowerUser System Admin Tweaks

by fwhagen Mon, 26 February 2007

Scott Hanselman always has great tricks for developers.  Here are a list of registry tweaks to make system administration much easier and flexible for XP.  Use at your own risk!

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Filed Under: PowerTools | System

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