Zombie 1 PSU

When I went downstairs to check for water leaking into the basement during the storm last night, Zombie 1 was making weird noises. I powered it down and today found that it seemed that the PSU, not the optical drive or hard drive, was making the weird noises. This is a shame for many reasons. I don’t really need an optical drive in the thing, I have many spare 3.5″ IDE hard drives, and the PSU is a weird one that’s the wrong shape. Even if I bought a normal PSU and connected it from outside the case or something crazy like that, it would likely cost more than the machine cost me in the first place. At this point I’ve turned it back on and I guess we’ll just see how long it will last. This feels oddly sad.

EDIT: It is no longer making strange noises, at least for now.

Categorized as Hardware

XFX Card

XFX sent me back a replacement for my PCI-E 7600 GT with 256MB RAM. I was delighted to find that the replacement was a 9500 GT with 512MB RAM!

Benchmarks – average of FPS of two runs unless otherwise stated:

Lost Coast Stress Test:

1280×1024 Recommended: 68.92

1280×1024 Maximum: 52.54 (three runs)

1024×768 Recommended: 66.83

1024×768 Recommended with color correction and vsync: 52.52

Counter-Strike Source Stress Test:

1280×1024 Recommended: 126.49

1280×1024 Maximum: 59.48 (three runs)

1024×768 Recommended: 126.40

I suppose I ran the max tests three times each because they were so very pretty. It’s weird that a lower resolution with vsync and color correction would run more slowly than a higher resolution set to that and more. In the past, every time I ran maxed tests, its reflections contained the easily recognized purple checkers of missing textures. When I went from maxed to recommended settings and the purple checkers persisted, I realized that the missing textures never had anything to do with the abilities of the machine, and were indeed missing textures. I restarted the game to reload the textures, although I think mat_reloadtextures might do the same thing faster. (Found here.)

It is interesting to note that dropping to 1024×768 doesn’t provide too much of a boost in framerate, if any. This may be because 1280×1024 is the native resolution of the LCD, so no scaling is needed. After running tests, the console had an error about bench_upload being a cheat command. I enabled cheats in the hope that it would successfully upload my benchmark statistics. I could probably run a packet sniffer to see if it’s actually uploading. In Counter-Strike:  Source, sv_cheats 1 made the benchmark’s movements accelerated: the camera moved faster, the blocks spun faster, the water flowed faster, the flames flickered frantically – and the overall framerate was lower.

Windows fell back to software rendering when first booting with the new card. When my card died, Linux fell back to open source drivers for the onboard. I installed ATI’s propritory drivers in the hope that they would make the thing slightly more useful. It seems although NVIDIA’s drivers stepped aside when their card was unaccessable, ATI’s did no such thing, reducing X to an unsettling and intermittently flickering blank screen. The uninstall script in /usr/share/fglrx was nowhere to be found, which was odd because I manually installed the drivers from ATI’s installation script. Removing xorg.conf had no effect as it seemed to still use fglrx. I had not installed the propritory drivers from the repos. I ended up starting in single user (aka recovery) mode, starting an ssh server, resuming the boot process with telinit 3, logging in from elsewhere to stop gdm, then installing NVIDIA’s driver and rebooting. It works quite well now. I was even informed of telinit 3 by the NVIDIA driver installer itself, which was very nice!

EDIT: I found the uninstall script in /usr/share/ati.

Categorized as Hardware


Just as Vertex mentioned, it is much, much easier to do a fresh Windows install and move over documents than it is to clean up an existing one. Apparently Dell puts (or put, this is an old machine, but I wouldn’t expect this to have changed) RAM that is slower than what the motherboard can take as a cost-saving measure. This things really flies now, and it POSTs so fast that I have trouble getting to BIOS or the boot device menu in time.

That being said, I am once again appalled by the out-of-the-box driver support in a fresh Windows install, even that provided by an SP3 CD. The device manager was no help for finding out the names of the sound, video, and ethernet drivers I needed, so I booted up into Damn Small Linux and did an lspci, which told me what I needed to know.  Searching for drivers based on chipset versioning is not too fun, but it worked. The graphics were greatly improved from the 4-bit color, very low resolution they started out in, which was nice. The ethernet driver was a bit harder, because when I downloaded it, it wasn’t an installer, just a series of folders with three files. I went to the add hardware wizard, but it turned out I needed to let it fail, get past the check Windows Update pane, and then it would let me tell it where to look. The operating system seemed too proud of itself when it completed.

I had trouble finding an audio driver, and so did Windows even with a Windows update connection. I was very pleased to find that Dell had the audio drivers, which they made easy to find and download. Adobe annoyed me when I installed Acrobat Reader, as my client requested, because it decided to place another shortcut on the desktop that I didn’t ask for, and I feel it tricked me into installing Adobe AIR. The shortcut then wouldn’t go away – I couldn’t delete it – so I ended up booting into System Rescue CD to get rid of it because it annoyed me so much. I couldn’t delete it even running as administrator.

The whole thing ended up taking somewhere around 7 hours, but closer to 4 or so of those were actual work, lots of it was waiting for a virus scan. I wonder what I can do in the future while waiting for progress bars. I did start installing XP while I waited. I’ve also moved to a different method of charging for my labor. When I was working on friends’ gaming rigs, I just charged 10% of the hardware costs, which seemed reasonable. Dad suggested I charge hourly. I have a cap, though, as to not let labor prices get too high. I feel uncomfortable charging large amounts of money.

Graphics Card Dead?

I think I just fried my graphics card by trying to put on a new heatsink. It only booted up once, and for a few seconds before the screen went blank. Now it won’t POST with the card in.

I was having problems with the fan making annoying noises. Over a period of a few months, XFX managed to send me a new heatsink. There were no instructions, so I looked up some guides on YouTube. I think the problem was that the coat of Arctic Silver wasn’t complete when I first booted up. I’ve had bad things happen every time I’ve used Arctic Silver. With it, I’ve gummed up a processor, killed a motherboard and CPU, and now fried a graphics card. Maybe I should get generic thermal paste and just leave Arctic Silver alone.

Categorized as Hardware


No more wireless! I finally managed to crimp an end on the cable that we pulled up through a crack in the floorboards inside the wall of a closet. My hands were shaking because I was too lazy to eat enough today and I had Pepsi, which had caffine. I think I’ll stay away from Pepsi now. The baseboard had been taken off from earlier. I’m now connected at gigabit speeds, although from what I’ve read (in the rant linked to below) when I’m running Windows I won’t be able to saturate that link. 🙁 Everything seems faster now. ‘Tis awesome. ^^

Categorized as Hardware


I installed the 1GB DDR 400 RAM I bought from newegg for $24.98 after shipping. That’s why I had 2 cents left on one of the Visa gift cards, which I then couldn’t add to PayPal. The machine initially wouldn’t POST, but I moved it to the other open slot and it worked. I haven’t found the time to run memtest on it, but it decreased my Linux boot time by 2 seconds. I hope I don’t understand bootvis, because it seemed to increase my Windows boot time by 3 seconds! Framerates were unaffected in Lost Coast and CSS stress tests at recommended settings.  The framerate went up by .5 for Lost Coast, and went down 1.4 for CSS, and because I only ran each test once, I guess it’s statistically nothing. Hopefully this will help with slowdown during memory-intensive things.

Categorized as Hardware


Thanks to lshw, I avoided buying too much RAM for my motherboard. I wanted to know for sure what type of RAM I was running, and luckily it also listed my motherboard RAM capacity: 2GB.  It lists loads of other stuff too: detailed information on system devices, (PCI, USB) BIOS, and even disk partitions! This is more about my machine than I ever knew. I really wish I could find a manual for my eMachine’s motherboard. I’m not sure if it even came with one. I’m saving up to replace this with a self-built machine, but it’s going slowly.

Categorized as Hardware

Switch Fan

My Netgear gigabit switch didn’t come with a fan, (“Silent operation!”) then requested to be kept in moving air. Jerks. I bought a 120mm from Vertex, and just now got around to setting it up. Zombie 3 gave up its CD drive so that the molex could reach outside the case.

I was reminded of my hasty job crimping the server cable when it went down with seemingly any nudge.  -_-

I initially pointed it the wrong way because I didn’t bother to check the arrows, but the end result is a 120mm case fan taped to the top of the case adjacent to the switch with a partial boxboard air duct.

Categorized as Hardware


I swapped out the 80mm fan in the router, it had been making weird noises. It’s a Dell box, and the fan was encased in this weird plastic mounting thing. It has cylinders that go through each hole and connect to a grill on the back with “Dell” written on it. I got it off by wedging a small screwdriver in between the fan and the front at the corners – when I did so the front started to click loose. I got the new fan in there easily enough, and slid it into its slots in the case. The green plastic air duct thing snapped on to the CPU heatsink.

My Linksys router is now running DD-WRT. I downloaded my stuff from here, as it’s a WRT54GS Version 6, and followed this handy guide. I haven’t had connection problems since using it, which is nice, although I’m not entirely sure that’s because of the firmware, as I’ve changed other things as well. I wasn’t aiming for a scientific experiment, I just wanted my connections to stop dropping intermittently.

The other thing I did was print out this parabolic antenna. It looks kinda funny stuck onto my wireless antenna, and the downside is then that you have to aim it and sacrifice omnidirectional connectivity, but this might also be helping.

I had installed fresh drivers to see if I could get my D-Link DWL-520+ to support anything better than WEP. No such luck. The applet the driver installed didn’t even recognize my card, although the card still worked. It was strange because even though the icon said it was not connected to a wireless network, I could browse just fine. I uninstalled the D-Link Air Plus stuff, and the card was recognized and configured automatically, at which point things once again became sane.

When Mr. Smith talks about current events, he usually brings up listening to NPR in the morning. It occured to me that I would like very much to listen to NPR in the morning, so I set up mplayer to first play a tapered 440Hz sine wave, in case the connection doesn’t work, then connect to the URL conveniently listed here.


My DSL modem (even though I guess it’s actually a bridge, but modem is what is says on the box) crashed. I knew something was wrong when a request to Google timed out. I couldn’t ping the modem, even from the router. I have homework to do and I haven’t started any of it yet. Tomorrow will be busy. 🙁