Friday, 30 December 2011

New Phone Wishlist

  • SSD onboard storage (not just a flash chip, propper controller based SSD)
  • USB 3.0 
  • Decent large aperture camera, Good image stabilisation, 1080p video, 5MPxl+
  • 4.65" 1280 x 720 IPS or OLED Screen 
  • Android 4.0 ICS
  • Nvidia Tegra 3 SOC
  • Metal, Plastic & Glass Thin Construction

Friday, 16 December 2011

How to Get Anti Aliasing in The Old Republic

- Head to

   (This may be a hidden directory)
   (Or equivalent for XP)

- open client_settings.ini

   It should look like this

- Add the line AntiAliasingLevel = X into the ini file

- Set X to the Level of AA you want (Eg. 2,4,8,16)
(from my quick testing 0x AA -> 2x AA is less intensive then Low --> High Shadows)

-Start the Client!

   Apparently AA is currently disabled due to a bug, I have been running it fine so far as have many others.


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Asus U46SV Review

I knew going into buying my latest laptop that I wanted something light, portable and powerful, a combination which is never easy to balance. I had the following objectives/ limits that I imposed on my choice of machine.

- A fully fleged mobile processor - I didn't want a low power model, or another Atom, this time I wanted something meaty. i5 or i7, Dual not Quad for battery reasons, and something that supported Vt-x

- A long battery life - My last notebook, My Mini 311, strugled to get past 4.5 hours even with its extended battery. I wanted something that would give me near all day battery life when surfing the web or taking notes.

- A low weight & small size - Coming from an 11.6" notebook, I knew that whatever I bought would feel big and heavy in comparison. So I decided to aim for either 13.3" or 14" with a weight below 2.0kg.

- A mobile GPU - As much as the Intel HD 3000 is a large step up from their older graphics chips, I wanted a mobile GPU that I could run some classic titles on. I initially aimed for an Nvidia GPU as it would allow me to write and test CUDA code on the go, but eventually settled for considering other options.

- A good screen - My Mini 311 had an 11.6" 1366x768 display so I knew that anything else with the same resolution ran the risk of feeling cramped. I Ideally aimed for at least a 1600x900 panel, and would have liked an IPS panel if it were possible, but laptops with good screens are a very rare thing.

- less than £1500 all in - At the end of the day this was for Uni and I'm not made of money, I was saving, and that 1500 had to include any upgrades I would do myself.

And so I began considering my options. Scouring the internet I found many laptops that all checked various boxes but few that ticked them all. When I first started looking the model of choice was the 2010 Sony Vaio Z series. In its best spec, this had an i7 620M, Geforce 330M, 8GB DDR3, 128GB SSD, 13.1" 1600x900 IPS display, 8hour battery and weighed about 1.7kg. PERFECT you would think, but it was not to be. The 2010 Z series was discontinued just at the time where I had saved enough money to buy one. There were a few refurbished models available but it's termination coincided with the release of Intel's new Sandybridge mobile processors. Fast as they were, there were few models that were quick to the market, and those that made it in swiftly, were quickly recalled on account of the Sandybridge Chipset flaw.

With my beloved Z series realistically out of the picture I had to investigate other options. Asus were producing some nice 13.3 and 14" laptops with 10 hour battery life and Nvidia GPU's (520M's - 13.3 and 540M's - 14") I couldn't find anywhere in the UK with stock of the 14 inchers so contacted Asus and was told that they didn't sell their 14" models in the UK "because it wasn't a popular size" Damn.
I explored various other options including dells, Toshibas, HPs, many brands and was still no closer to what I wanted. Acer had however produced a 13.3" Timeline Notebook with a 540M GPU and i5 2410M which was initially appealing, but on closer inspection it turned out the cooling wasn't up to prolonged stress and the CPU would throttle after a few minutes load.

It was shortly after this that Sony announced the replacement Z series and the S series. The new Z series unfortunately took more of a Desktop replacement route than a complement route, somewhat spurred I fear, by the arrival of the Macbook Air (which I had ruled out on the basis of their poor battery life when running Windows. It was incredibly light and thin, but bereft of any Discrete GPU built into the chassis, instead, Sony had built a dGPU into the external optical drive and connected it with LightPeak. While a neat option, I would have my fully fledged desktop at home, so wanted a complement rather than a replacement.

The S series on the other hand was available in two varieties, both 13.3", The SA and the SB. The SB was a more budget orientated machine with a Radeon 6470 GPU, lower end CPU's, and a 1366x768 display, so was overall a lot lower spec than the previous generation Z series. The SA series on the other hand had much higher performance specs. Starting at over £1000, the base spec had an i7-2620M, a 6630M GPU and a 1600x900 display and as such was much more in line with the performance of the previous Z series. There was also a slice battery available for an extra £100 and warranty extensions from the standard 2 years.

Weighing up the options I intended to get a Vaio SA, with Slice Battery, 3 year warranty and upgrade the machine myself with an extra 4GB of ram and a 120GB SSD. I went to my local Sony store to go and play with one but I was told they were only available online and they didn't keep a show model in the stores. So I played with an SB series (which has a very similar chassis) and noticed that the fan vent was at the back behind the screen, which was blocked when the screen was opened. This oversight led me to Google some user reviews to which I found there were many angry users claiming if put under load for more than 20 minutes the CPU would reach it's thermal threshold and throttle itself to 800MHz. As I intended to use my Laptop for some light gaming, I decided this wasn't acceptable so looked around again.

I then found that ASUS were trialling a 14" laptop in the UK market, the U46SV. It's a 14.0" 1366x768 laptop, i5-2410M, GT 540M, 4GB DDR3, 500GB 5400RPM, 8 Cell Battery with WIFI N & BT 3 weighing in at 2.0Kg. The specs ticked most of my boxes apart from the screen resolution which was unfortunately low, as well as the CPU being not *quite* as high as I would have liked. With a retail price of £699 it offered a significant saving over the Vaio SA so I decided to take the plunge and go for one.

The online pictures make it appear to have a cream coloured chassis which simply isn't the case. The model has an all aluminium case with a lightly contoured pattern around the touchpad and a smooth surface around the keyboard. It's black underneath and has a well sized opening for easy access to the inside. The battery at the back protrudes out from under the laptop slightly lifting the laptop above a surface allowing good airflow to the underneath. With it's <1" thick chassis the specs defy the size, it's a compact laptop with great specs and I quickly powered it on.

The Stock OS was rather full of rubbish. I ran some preliminary tests on the stock OS but soon fitted a 120GB Corsair Force 3 SSD and did a clean install. I also fitted another 4GB of Corsair DDR3 1333MHz RAM.  Before my fresh install I created the recovery CD's which took 5x 4.7GB DVD's and took over an Hour! I decided not to even use these and installed the OS from scratch from an OEM Windows 7 Pro 64* DVD. The Install was smooth and fast and the driver install was painless, I used the supplied Driver DVD and de-ticked the options for installing all of the unnecessary gubbins that was included.  

Within a few hours of the install I started getting some weird hard drive timeouts (the mouse would go slow for ~ 30 seconds and nothing would respond). Eventviewer reported IAStor errors and the problem was similar to one I had with my previous laptop, so I used the same steps as before and uninstalled the new Intel Storage driver and returned to the stock microsoft one. This seemed to work and the lag stopped immediately. However it introduced a BSOD or freeze on wake issue which I couldn't seem to fix. So after some investigation I reverted to the most recent Intel Rapid Storage drivers and made some changes to the registry which have so far, stopped the problem reoccuring. And sleep seems to be working fine too.  

The Performance of the machine however is Incredible. The CPU being a fully fledged Dual Core Sandybridge is lightning quick, even when heavily throttled. The CPU is a 35W model which Turbo's to 2.9GHz when under one core's load, 2.7GHz when loaded on two cores and 2.3GHz as standard. Under maximum load the temperatures would just break 90C which is jointly because of the quite compact chassis and the soft fan profile which keeps noise to a minimum while stopping temperatures from spiralling out of control.

The Optimus GPU setup works well, better than I expected to be honest and the performance of the GT 540M 1GB is absolutely brilliant for a compact mobile chip. It heats to a max of 88C and it's 96 SP's gives it performance in the region of a 9600GSO desktop chip which is sufficient to run any game at decent settings at the stock 1366x768. I tested Dirt 2, BFBC2, Crysis Wars, Just Cause 2, Burnout Paradise and From Dust and it blasted through all of them with no problems. It runs Just Cause 2 on a mixture of Mediums and High's with 4x AA and is brilliantly smooth! It was the same story with the others with the performance being surprisingly good.  

The 1366x768 screen is of average quality, it's a pretty standard LED TN panel with predictably meh vertical viewing angles but I guess it has a hinge for a reason. On my old laptop and desktop I would adjust the digital vibrance in the Nvidia control panel to give a more vibrant (but not overly saturated) picture. However because the display is connected to the Intel GPU, I have to use the Intel display options to adjust the colours manually. I've found a happy medium now which is fine, but sometimes when the machine switches to the 540M it doesn't use the same colour profile, which apart from anything, results in everything having a bluish tint. It's not the end of the world, but it's something that could do with some work.

The Keyboard is nicely laid out with a good feel even though it's not backlit, The Mousepad however is exceptional. It uses an Elan Devices Corporation Touchpad which supports multitouch and my god is it good. The two finger scrolling is superb and the three finger side swipes for forward and back feel natural and work perfectly. This is simply the best trackpad I have used bar the Macbook one. It is well sized and has a good feel to it. The buttons are shiny (which I'm not so keen on) but their motion is good and their not too noisy. All in all, these are some seriously good HID's.

The SSD itself has had really great performance, when it works, scoring 7.9 in the WEI and having read speeds of over 550MB/s. I was worried that Asus would have had the internal SATA port connected to the SATA 2 controller which would have hampered performance somewhat but luckily this wasn't the case. The machine boots really quickly and applications fly open, It's noticeably quicker than the F60 SSD in my desktop, and I'm definitely considering buying a 256GB and doing some reorganising.

Battery life is generally impressive. With Minimum Brightness, Wifi + BT off, In Battery Saver mode (which locks the CPU in it's x8 Multiplier) and just idle on the desktop, or working on word documents it really does get 10 hours of battery life. On the other end of the scale when gaming it gets about an hour and 20 minutes, mainly due to the 35W CPU + 35W GPU and 88WH Battery. Battery Scales from there with it getting 6 - 8 hours when playing videos or browsing the web.

I noticed before and after the reinstall that there were some issues with stuttery sound while watching videos which was slightly strange. This sometime got to the point where the machine would restart during particularly bad stuttering. This was concerning of course so I started googling and deploying tools. DPC latency checker identified that there was indeed an issue with a driver with the DPC latency rising to over 15000ms! (below 500 is ideal). This was exacerbated by opening Resource Monitor which proved a useful way to narrow down the faulty driver. By disabling devices I discovered it was the Gigabit LAN Driver that was causing the issue. By Disabling it when it's not in use the problem is gone and hasn't raised its head since. Still working with Asus on coming up with a full fix.

I've now begun travelling with the notebook and have found it to be light and practical. The Power supply is a 90W model, has a Blue LED and gets quite hot when charging or powering the machine, but I've yet to see it become unstable. It's of average bulk and size and of normal length and the power tip locates firmly with a 90 degree tip. The Battery seems to wear at a standard rate and came with 1% wear as you'd expect.

I've installed Ubuntu 11 under VirtualBox for my Programming and it works rapidly thanks to the VT-x Support. I'm also intending to use Office One Note for taking notes in lectures and have set up my Outlook and suchlike. The spec of the machine means it can handle Win 7 64* with no problems and with an SSD the boot times fly.

Overall I'm really happy with the machine, The build quality is solid and the price is very competitive. The Keyboard is nice and the Trackpad is immense. The performance is awesome and the spec is very good for the money. The size is just right and the machine looks very smart and definitely worth the cost. I'd advise anyone to get one without any hesitation, but maybe don't use a Sandforce SSD if you're upgrading :P

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Why I love the HP / Compaq Mini 311

A couple of years ago if you had of told me I would have a glorified netbook as my secondary PC I would of just laughed at you. The first wave of n230 7” atom PC’s seemed so useless for anything real world. The screen was too small, and it ground to a halt if you showed it anything more complicated than 2+2=4. It seemed like a combination that was just not thought through. Surely there was a happy medium somewhere between the 15.6” monsters and their 7” tiny brethren.
And so just past Christmas 2009 I decided that I would start looking for a new ultraportable, but one that would be usable for more than just basic office work. By this point netbooks had mainly evolved up to 10” atom N270’s which while a step forward was still not enough. The main problems with them were the resolution, keyboard and mouse. 1024x600 is simply not enough to run windows in comfortably. You spend your whole life scrolling up and down and applications often didn’t fully fit into the screen. On top of that the keyboards and trackpads were squeezed into the chassis and I struggled to find one that was comfortable enough to use day to day.
On the other end of the scale there were the Sony ultraportables. They were small and powerful but with a £1000+ price tag there was no way I’d be affording one of them anytime soon, and I needed it in the next few weeks. One thing that caught my eye however was that Asus had produced a few 11.6” netbooks with 1366x768 screens. The screen resolution sounded too good to be true but unfortunately they were paired with 1.33GHz Atom CPU’s. So I endeavoured to find an 11.6” laptop with a little more under the lid.
I’d read a little about the Nvidia Ion chipset on sites like Anandtech, but never really considered owning something with one in. Then, I came across the Mini 311. I thought my birthday and Christmas had come at once. Here was a machine that had the same 11.6” 1366x768 display of the Asus’, but also had a 1.6GHz Atom N270, Ion LE chipset, 160GB HDD, 1GB of DDR3, Wifi, 6 Cell etc etc. It sounded like a brilliant base for a good little ultraportable, especially running a nice lightweight OS like Windows XP. I’m not a fool however, I knew well and good that the N270 is a single core with hyperthreading, and that hyperthreading is nothing like having two cores. On top of that 1GB of Ram wasn’t going to hold me over for long so I went into it knowing that I would be performing some upgrades at some point during my laptop’s lifetime.
£300 later, I had ordered a Mini 311 direct from HP and before I knew it, it had arrived on the doorstep. I unboxed it with a strong sense of awe. In the flesh it was such a pretty machine! The white lights contrasted brilliantly with the silver and black casing and even the font of the keys was pleasing to the eye. I powered her up and she was swiftly into the OEM Windows XP installation. I was pleasantly surprised with the pace of the machine. It was able to swiftly browse the web, while playing back some H264 video in Media Player Classic (which leveraged all 16 of it’s graphics cores) and there wasn’t any significant slowdown. If anything I did find in heavier sessions that I would be limited by the HDD access speed (which was 5400rpm), RAM, (of which 128Mb was allocated off to the Ion chip) and the CPU speed of apps that weren’t GPU accelerated.
So I used the machine for a few months and started getting to grips with it. The screen was and still is brilliant. The vertical viewing angles left a little bit to be desired but the pixel pitch more than made up for it. The keyboard was well sized and nice to use and the mouse although not perfect, was more than usable. Battery llife was also not bad, heavily browsing the web I’d get ~3hrs from the 55wH battery, 5 hours when working on documents, offline, low brightness. I did find that for some tasks the 1.6GHz single core really wasn’t up to heavy CPU only loads. Extracting zip files for example, was a task that simply took more time than on a desktop quad core so I resolved to start upgrading the machine to get the absolute most from it.
I started by ordering a stick of Crucial 2GB DDR3 1333MHz and buying a Hitachi 320GB 7200RPM HDD. The combination gave a healthy boost to the overall system performance, and the amount of Graphics Ram increased itself to 256MB. Thanks to these upgrades many older games became easily playable, however the restricted CPU horsepower continued to limit many titles.
It was at about this point I discovered the MyHPMini forums. This was just a bunch of owners of various models of HP netbooks and among them there was a subforum for 311 owners. Many of these members, like me, realised the potential of the machine and it seemed a large number of quite technically minded people had purchased Mini 311’s and more importantly, joined the forums.
When I found the site there were a few active projects looking at getting more from the 311. First was the ION LE –> ION conversion mod. Basically all this did was flash the GPU BIOS to allow DX10 effects to be used on the Mini’s GPU. Still to this day I haven’t used this mod and my reasons are thus. The conversion doesn’t actually give you any extra performance. People seem to think it does, but I see no way it can. It doesn’t raise clock speeds or increase the shader or ROP count so there’s definitely no hardware improvement’s to be found. As well as this, DX10 as an API did little to improve performance in games. It was generally used to add complicated effects on top of DX9 games, and only in the latest range of titles. As awesome as it is, the 311 was never built to play the latest titles at anything near the top graphical settings. As such the added DX10 effects netted me no gain and as someone said a long time ago, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
The next notable mod was a project some guys were doing to enable some mild software overclocking for the CPU’s powering our Mini 311’s. Their stock Frequency was either 1.60GHz or 1.66GHz and they were hoping to get that frequency up a bit. I got stuck into the thread and before we knew it we had a usable mod. It revolved around using the Asrock OC tool which, as you can guess from the name, is designed to overclock Asrock motherboards. Now obviously, our HP didn’t have an Asrock motherboard, but Asrock did produce an Ion Motherboard which the tool was compatible with. A bit of technical modding to some .ini files later, we had a usable tool that could adjust the base clock of the CPU.
The stock base clock of the N270 is 133Mhz. This is then translated to the CPU clockspeed through a 12x multiplier (6x when Idle) to give a full clockspeed of 1600Mhz. The RAM speed is also derived from the base clock with the default being 1333Mhz or 8x the base clock. Using the Asrock tool I was able to push the CPU to nearly 2.0Ghz without my additional 2GB stick and to just over 1.8GHz with my additional RAM. The machine didn’t appear to be running into a CPU boundary, but more a RAM speed one. With the base clock overclocked past about 150MHz my 2GB stick would start erroring, and I wasn’t able to adjust the timings or memory ratio because the machine came with an OEM’d HP BIOS which had been gutted of all of the great Nvidia performance BIOS options present in their original ION chipset Bios.
So with my 1.8GHz overclock I got an appreciable increase in CPU performance, which helped out in any and all situations where I was CPU limited. I had heard that people using Liquid Nitrogen on ITX Atom boards had managed to get theirs up to 2.2GHz so I felt that to get a good 1.8GHz wasn’t bad. I also decided to break out a few GPU overclocking tools and see which worked the best with the Ion chip. In most games I was CPU limited but for the GPU limited ones I decided to see how much more I could eek out of my little Ion chip. It’s stock clocks are 450 core, Memory tied to the CPU memory speeds, and 900MHz shader cores. I tried rivatuner but it wouldn’t recognise the chipset, Nvidia System tools on the other hand recognised it no problem and was happy to play with the clock speeds. I got them up to a happy stable 525MHz Core and 1200MHz Shaders, which was a healthy boost to my little 16 cores.
I found that the combination gave me a great little boost in Games like KOTOR, and meant I could enable a few more pretty graphics options and the CPU clock increase gave a nice little performance boost across the whole OS. However, I knew I needed more from the CPU and what I needed was to be able to get the RAM multiplier down a notch. In the meantime I decided to stick with what I had and create profiles on my Windows XP Desktop. My performance profile raised the Max 3D clocks to the 525/1200 speeds and power save brought the 3D clocks down to 2D speeds.
It was around this time I decided to give Windows 7 a go. I had got some spare Windows 7 Pro Licenses at home and decided to chuck one on a separate partition. I split the HDD in three, Win XP, Win 7 and Data/Media, and then delved into the Install. By default the Mini 311 comes with AHCI enabled, which means XP reinstalls are “fun” to say the least (I’ve since created a custom install disk in case I ever need to wipe a 311). Windows 7 installs on the other hand are no problem as it plays nicely with AHCI, so I chucked the 32* disk in my external optical drive and before I knew it I had a nice shiny clean OS.
I found the initial Win 7 Performance to be ok, the OS was generally thrashing the HDD and CPU for quite a while after the install, so I took to disabling the Indexing service and the like. I also found that AVG with Win 7 really compromised the system performance, as did MS Security Essentials. I figured out that it was the Real Time scanning that was the real problem (it was adding minutes to the boot time) I’ve since settled on ESET Smart Security, which has a very small footprint and in my experience Is the best package for keeping a machine squeaky clean.
I also experimented (almost jokingly) with Virtualisation. I tried running Ubuntu 10 in VirtualBox but even the install took a month of Sundays. The lack of VT-x combined with the general lack of grunt means I reckon I’ll be holding off on Virtualisation until I get a majorly more meaty mobile machine. I also abandoned iTunes on Windows 7 as it was just getting to the point where the app was getting so heavy that it was compromising multitasking! I switched over to WinAmp which uses minimal resources while doing the same job and it’s not a problem at all.
Back on the OS front, I left my games installed in XP and set Windows 7 up as a “working” OS. I set up Office 2007 and got my Chrome Browser synced in etc etc. I found the performance generally fine (things could get sluggish if I was running more than one “heavy” app) but once I’d got the right apps sorted the OS was generally responsive.
It was at about this point I came across a mod being worked on by “Icelord” on the HPMini forums to reopen all the advanced Nvidia Performance options of the BIOS. It was no mean feat, but before I knew it there was the final BIOS file ready for flashing. Now many people can go their entire lives never having to flash a BIOS, and that’s good, because doing so results in the production of more grey hairs than taking a cat to the vets. On top of that having to flash IN WINDOWS is generally considered one of the worst ideas ever dreamt up in the history of mankind. But here I was about to flash a handwritten BIOS into my laptop in windows. There is no reset; get this wrong and you have a DEAD laptop on your hands. The only way back would be a new motherboard, or possibly soldering a new BIOS chip on if you’re very good with a soldering iron, neither of which is ideal. So I stopped every unnecessary running process, took a deep breath, and started the flash.
I sat there watching a small bar moving across the screen, knowing that if something went wrong, and that bar stopped, I had killed my Mini 311. It didn’t stop. It said the flash had completed successfully. But would she restart? Was this the last time my machine would ever be alive and in an OS? I clicked restart. The screen went black. I waited for an eternity. Where was the boot logo? Where was my BIOS? After a few very tense moments, the screen flashed back to life and I had my new custom BIOS ready to dive into. F10. I’m in. Phew! The first few pages were the same as before but then there was the lovely “advanced” menu. Options and options and options, but crucially, The RAM Ratio was adjustable, and even unlinkable! But I didn’t want to dive in completely headfirst, because the CMOS chip in the 311 had no reset. You get the settings wrong, and you have a dead machine! This custom BIOS was turning out to be rather fraught with danger!
So I began researching the best settings to go for to get the most out of my machine. And eventually I picked my point and went for it. I chose an FSB of 185. Yep. 37% faster than stock, keeping the CPU multiplier at 12x resulting in a clock speed of 2,220MHz, while dropping the ram down to 932Mhz at 7-7-7-18 2T timings. Noice. But would it work? I had to feed the FSB into the BIOS as a quad pumped frequency, which in basically meant multiplying the value I wanted by four. But I then also had to give that value in terms of an integer + a variable. I gave it as 512+228 and the Ram ratio of 10:4. I also bumped the VRAM up from 256Mb to 512MB, just in case. I then pushed the enter key, and F10. Save and Exit BIOS. The screen went black, again I was torn up inside, what was I doing? Would this kill it? Would this be the end of my machine? The screen was black... No life? No? Had I really done it? The screen flickered on. She posted. My Mini was alive, just. The POST had been very slow, and I was worried she was going to conk out on me. But she didn’t. My amazing little machine booted straight into Windows 7. The OS loaded nice and swiftly, and I fired up CPU-Z. The settings had taken. I had a 2.22GHz Atom N270. Awesome. I fired up Prime95 to check for stability and sure enough she seemed solid. I left the machine attached to the mains for a few hours to check she was stable and also checked the new idle clock of 1.11GHz was stable (which it was, even without liquid nitrogen!). I’d done it. YAY!
I booted round into XP to get some game on. I also had my Asrock Tuner to see if there was any headroom left in the machine (There wasn’t). I then reconfigured my GPU profiles which had broken because Nvidia System Tools covers all the bus speeds on the system and my new FSB didn’t match the one in the profile. And so I fired up some games, and my god they liked the extra clockspeed. It really made a difference, and when recombined with my GPU overclock, My little Mini absolutely flew.
A few months later (while perusing ebay) I made another discovery. A company called laptop-powerup were exporting 3rd Party batteries from China and these weren’t just any batteries. The Stock model is a 55WH 6 Cell Battery, manufactured by HP. I’d seen lots of cheap third party 44WH batteries made in China which obviously would have lost you 20% of your battery capacity. But this wasn’t one of those batteries. This was not a 6 cell. This was a 9 cell, 78WH battery. That’s an extra 42% capacity. Hell Yeah! Needless to say I bought one, and £40 and a few weeks later, I was the proud owner of one of the first Mini 311 9 Cell batteries in Britain. She fitted cleanly into the body of the machine, and her extra cells sat in a protrusion that lifted the base of the machine off a flat surface, which as someone pointed out, would be good for cooling. I took some pics and posted them up to the MyHPMini forum. I was inundated for information on battery life etc. So I began to test, and I really did get at least an extra 42% from it. That resulted in an Idle time approaching 9 hours, a web browsing time of around 5 hours and a gaming time of around 3 hours. Noice.
And to be honest that was it. That is pretty much all the successful improvements I’ve made to my Mini, and to be honest I don’t think I could have asked for a better base to work from. My 1.6GHz, 1GB, 160GB, 128MB ION, Win XP machine has become a 2.22GHz, 3GB, 320GB 7200RPM, 512MB ION OC, Win7&XP Dual Boot Machine. What a transformation.
I’ve considered various other upgrades over the time I’ve had my Mini. I’ve looked into fitting a Mini PCI-E SSD into the slot underneath, but have yet to find a one that is both cost effective and compatible. The Idea would be I would have my Main HDD (for Media and some apps) and have my Mini SSD for my Win 7 OS. Unfortunately most Mini PCI-E SSD’s aren’t really Mini PCI-E. They use the connector, but electrically they’re SATA. Thing is my Mini PCI-E is definitely not electrically SATA, and there’s some debate on the forums as to whether they’re electrically USB or real PCI-E. In recent months Supertalent have released a new range of real PCI-E SSD’s, but they’re prohibitively expensive, and the higher performance model isn’t out in the UK yet. Hopefully if the price falls and someone can confirm compatibility then it could be an upgrade for the future.
I also considered getting a WWAN chip for the laptop to get some internal mobile internet going, but I’ve since got my Mifi going nicely. This way I can have various devices hooked up to my 3 Mobile internet contract. The internal modem would be a pain to fit as well as I’d also have to buy some more aerials and route them up through the screen, which would involve taking the screen apart, which is something I’d prefer to avoid on pain of death. I’ve also considered adding Wireless N but have wanted to do so without removing Bluetooth. I use Bluetooth for a Razer Pro¦Click Black mouse which is great for gaming so I can’t really remove that but having 150Mb/s of wireless bandwidth would be mighty fine useful for chucking data between machines. I have a Buffalo Wireless N Router which is great for my phone but I’ve yet to find a half height Mini PCI-E Wifi n + Bluetooth card. Other options for adding Bluetooth separately have also proved expensive or just downright impractical.
Ultimately the Mini 311 has been the best machine I could have ever wished for. One of the things that has always frustrated my about Notebooks is their relative “un-upgrabable-ness”, But the 311 has broken that mould. This machine is so different to the machine it started out as it’s amazing. On the surface it appears like any other Mini 311 but as soon as you power it on it’s apparent this one is something special.
One day however, I will have to get a new laptop. But there is no way that my next machine will be as amazingly flexible as my 311 has been. I’m currently considering a Sony Vaio SA. It’s a different kind of machine to be honest. Whereas the Mini was always meant to compliment my Desktop machine the Sony will be looking to do alot of the work that my Desktop currently does, including Virtualisation, and some, but not high end gaming. When I’m done upgrading it, it’ll be a 2.7GHz (3.4GHz Turbo) i7 Dual Core, 8GB DDR3, 256GB Sandforce SSD, Radeon 6630M 1GB GPU, Win 7 HP 64* all in a 1.8Kg 13” chassis with a 1600x900 display and a sheet battery that brings total life in stamina mode up to 14Hrs. This is going to be almost a desktop replacement machine, but it’ll cost around £1400. Gulp. I can’t really afford it, but after the year I’ve had I really think I could do with something absolutely awesome. I’m looking tentatively at what options I’ve got in terms of desktop upgrades. To be honest my machine isn’t struggling with any current titles, especially thanks to the free GTX 480 that I won, so I’m really struggling to justify dropping £££’s on mega upgrades. I think I’ll wait for Ivy Bridge + GTX 600 series. And If I have the money, then I’ll pull the trigger on some upgrades. But I won’t have the money, so I’ll probably have this spec for a good few years to come.
To summarise, the Mini 311 is a shining star in what is generally a very dull notebook sector. It’s the perfect form factor, and absolutely amazing for an enthusiast. It’s also very humbling to go back to having one core of an old architecture, it really make you appreciate having our modern quad and six core CPU’s that we take for granted today. I’ve recently managed to get Burnout Paradise running really smoothly under WinXP, with all my overclocks enabled, Temps hit 90C but it just plays and plays (battery life suffers somewhat though). So anyway as Guns n’ Roses say, “Take me down to the Paradise City!”

Sunday, 31 July 2011


So I’m sat on a train home, just finished work, and it’s been an interesting week computer wise. Managed to get Burnout Paradise going on my 311!!! It’s awesome, and I never thought my little Atom + Ion chip would be up to it. Got the CPU still at 2.25GHz and have overclocked the GPu from 450 core, 900 shaders to 525 core, 1200 shaders, and it is more than playable! Battery life is about 2hours (if that) and the machine does get *very* hot, but it’s awesome. Game is running at 1366x768 on all low settings but considering that it still looks good :)
Also been ogling laptops for uni, my current favourite is the Sony Vaio SA series which (although it has an ATi GPU) is an amazing machine. Only thing is my preferred spec is ~ £1200 so it may be a little bit out of my budget. Either way, I’m saving as much as I can, and soon I’m going to be selling off some old bits and bobs on forums and eBay. I’ll check back with how that goes.
Work has been good, built some nice machines with i7 2600’s, 8GB of ram and a Radeon 6950 Graphics Card, one had a Vertex 3 SSD in it as well (which is always nice). Suffice to say lots of 7.9’s in the Windows Experience Index.
Sent the Crosshair III Formula I won back to Asus as they decided they’re going to replace it with another something of some description rather than send me a sound card for it. Will report back when I hear from them.
Desktop has been going well, only issues I’ve had since I got my 480 is idle power consumption and heat (although some of that is because the British summer is FINALLY here) I’ve brought my CPU down to stock volts and have it going along nicely at 3.6GHz. Also configured the machine to auto turn off the screen etc. 
And Finally, I’m currently in the process of reorganising how I store all my data and backing it up. Only problem? I’ve lost the mains led for my external hard drive. *facepalm.* Ahh well life goes on...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Life with a GTX 480

So first another big thanks to Bit-Tech and Asus for my brilliant prize, I hadn’t imagined I was going to come away from the event with anything near as meaty a 480 so was over the moon when I got it plumbed into my system. I wasn’t remotely sad about pulling out my GTX 280. It’s the last remnant from my RMA saga with VCS and the bad memories won’t be missed. I personally love reference coolers on Nvidia Cards, there’s something solid and reliable about them, and I always prefer a reference model to a cheapened custom model. To my delight the card was a full reference model, laced with a carbon fibre design and fully equipped with a big shiny heatsink and 4000RPM delta fan for cooling. Yikes.
I spent some time looking over the card. The carbon fibre design really appealed to me and the overall design of the card (including the little Geforce by the power connectors) was much to my liking. So with little delay, I ripped out my old 280, wrapped it up in an anti-static bag, and dropped in my shiny new 480, plugging in the 6 and 8 pin connectors from my old card. It posted first time (which is very nice if you’re me) and with a nice whisper of idle noise I was into Windows. I reinstalled the 275.50 drivers, cranked up the digital vibrance a bit (seriously love this feature) and started up GPU-Z. Idle temps of 45C with a 44% fan speed at 1700rpm was acceptable but I made a mental note to try and lower the speed at some point (as none of the rest of the fans in my system make anywhere near 1700rpm’s worth of noise, even though it’s still really quiet).
I fired up a bit of Unigine Heaven and popped on the tessellation for the first time on my own system. At 1920x1200 the 480 made mincemeat of it, and I soon began popping on some 3dMark Vantage and Crysis benchmarks. Load temps were maxing at 88C with the fan at about 2600rpm, which while still hot was alot cooler and quieter than some people had told me 480’s ran. Over the next few days I got playing some games and found almost all of them preferred the 480 to my previous 2x 280’s. That shows you the difference architecture can make. One of the only exceptions was Vantage which gave the 280’s 4000 points more than the 480!!! O_O
Just Cause 2 was a good example. Although several of my friends swear it’s a well optimised game, I’d often had issues with performace, and got generally poor scaling from the SLI profile. No such problems with the 480 though, even with SSAO and GPU water physics Maxxed the game ran like a knife through butter. Very impressed by the performance on show here and sunk a few more hours into what is a superlative free sandbox game.
Next up Crysis, the 2x 280’s managed but struggled with everything on very high, often dipping down to 20fps (or lower) and that resulted in me having alot of the options such as shadows and postprocessing set down to high. No such issues with the 480 though! On all high’s @1920x1200 w 4xAA It posted an average of over 60fps and up at Very high posted an average of 33fps :D Think I might play through the storyline one more time when I get back from holiday.
The Witcher 2 also ate up the performance of the new card. My GeForce2 card ran it on good settings with a pretty consistant framerate (apart from large fight scenes) but the 480 just mushed through everything! I set the game up to ultra (with Ubersampling off) and it Plowed through the game like a witcher in a brothel. Even with the settings bouncing off the top the frame rate was still smoother than with my 280 and I actually reached the end of my first playthrough. I’m really happy with the performance (and the game!) and looking forward to playing through the storyline a few more times.
I also tried out the Nvidia demos for the 4 and 5 series. Design garage still ran like a raytracing application whereas the Superonic Sled demo ran silky smooth. The Endless City GeForce5 demo took the fight to my 480 though, with masses of tessalation on show. Still smooth enough framerates in this and in the Aliens vs triangles demo. The Medusa GeForce2 demo also ran without a hitch as you’d expect.
Generally I found that in almost all games settings could be maxxed and performance was much improved. The higher average framerate in games like BFBC2 and TDU2 meant that gameplay was more enjoyable on the whole, which I’m very pleased with indeed :)
Among other games I found that Assassins Creed: Brotherhood (which I’m currently playing through) could be maxed in DX11 mode and was still silky smooth. All this performance is making me question spending £1K+ on a big system upgrade before I go off to uni but I think I’ll see how it goes.
Since getting the system I’ve also moved my system to another room and unfortunately the desk it’s under doesn’t give as good ventilation as the place it was before. This, combined with some hot weather, has resulted in my CPU temps rising from 44C / 62C to 50C / 68C hot for a Phenom II, but tbh I’m not confident my Overclock is all that great anymore. It needs alot of voltage to keep it stable and the Hydro H50 doesn’t seem to be doing a particularly stellar job at getting rid of all of that heat.
Because of this hot weather I decided to try setting a custom fan profile for my new 480. In the past I’ve always used Rivatuner for custom fan maps, but it’s now long since been unsupported and I don’t know whether it was the 480 or the 275 drivers but it just didn’t give me the options to change the fan max and minimums. I decided to give EVGA Precision’s fan control a try and set about adjusting the little graph you can use to adjust the curve of fan speeds. I dropped the idle speed a little bit (to around 1300rpm) and raised the loads speeds to try and keep the max temps down.
This resulted in a hell of a lot more noise under load, but despite the hot weather, load temps came down to 81C. I’ve since put this back to stock, because having a hot room has resulted in idle temps of 60C (even though it would hit this and then cool itself)and I just didn’t find the jumping nature of the fan control ideal. I also think that it made a mistake at some point and failed to raise the fan to the correct speeds. I got a weird cut out that looked like a thermal trip, so decided it was best to go back to stock for now.
Besides the heat I’m very glad I got the GTX 480. It’s closest card is the 570 and it’s better in a lot of ways. It has 1.5GB of ram, a 384Bit Memory interface and 48 ROPs to the 570’s 1.2GB, 320bit memory interface and 40 rops. They both have 480 Fermi SP’s and both have quite similar clocks (700,1400,3696 to 732,1464,3800). The 570 of course does put out less heat and draw less power so it’s more overclockable but it also has the crazy power limiting hardware nvidia chucked into the 5 series cards which kinda spoils the fun in some games and applications. At the end of the day I’d rather take the 480 as the more complete architecture should see it hold it’s own at higher resolutions and in games going forward.
Overall I’m really impressed with the 480, It’s given me no real issues and has plowed through everything I’ve thrown at it. I’ve thought about picking up another one while I can @£199 but I think the heat and temps might just kill me / my machine. I did find getting it free a bit peculiar though :P I’m so used to planning every purchase and upgrade to such an intricate level of detail that just having a 480 drop into my lap really did come as quite a surprise! A pleasant one though, I’m very glad to be rid of my 280 which will be finding it’s way into a friend/cousin’s machine and I’m looking forward to a solid summer of great DX11 capable gaming!

Recent Events

So I’m sat on a tiny plane to Madeira as I write this, marvelling at the levels of “comfort” aboard this Easyjet flight. I’ve had plenty going on recently and have been somewhat neglecting my blog, so I feel this is my chance for that to change :)
About a month ago I entered the Bit-Tech / CustomPC / Asus Overclocking Summit competition on the front page of Bit-tech. To enter you just had to come up with an idea for how Asus could improve either their motherboards or graphics cards, fair enough I thought. So I dropped an email off to James Gorbold (CPC editor) about how I think Asus should try to build a stress test into their motherboard BIOS for overclock testing. And that they should look into the possibility of a GUI with clockspeed options for a graphics card bios. Since then I’ve also thought they could have one of their flash linux distros with some overclocking tools included but anyway. I entered and sure enough the deadline passed and I’d had no reply. Days continued to slip by, and I just assumed that there was no way I’d be getting a place. On the 24th of June however, I got an email congratulating me on getting a place (I think I was a reserve because the RSVP date was the 23rd :P)
We met at Gamerbase in London (An awesome place btw) and set about the day. 21 of us turned up and we were split into teams of 3 and 4. Initially we were supposed to be given a speech, but following a few technical issues connecting the Asus laptop to some tv’s :P, we started round one of the overclocking competition. Each team was given a rig with an i7 2600K, Asus GTX 560 1GB, Asus P8P67 Mobo, 4GB of Adata 1600Mhz 7-9-7-21 Ram, Adata 40GB SSD and Thermaltake: Frio, PSU, mouse and KB, all connected up to Gamerbase’s Dell monitors.
Round one consisted of posting the highest score in the Video Encoding section of the CPC Benchmark. Our team cleaned our OS of Acronis and optimised our OS for performance and then delved into the BIOS. Fans all set to max our first set of settings for 4.6GHz didn’t take, but that seemed to be because the Adata Ram didn’t like the bizarre timings it said on the side. We left it at Cas 9, and completed a run @ 4.6Ghz coming out at 3993 Points. This was a good start but we needed more, with voltages heading over 1.5v we creeped over 5Ghz. We completed a run at 5.05, 5.1, 5.15 but nomatter what we did we couldn’t get our 5.2Ghz stable. We tried silly voltages and started getting warnings from the mobo so backed off and considered our options. We had our best score at this point at around 4300 points which left us in ~3rd according to the Bit-Tech guys so we decided to try anything because we were running out of time. We eventually decided to try a 99.5*52 clock for 5.175Ghz. A bizarre clock for a sandybridge with it’s “locked” base clock but it posted so we pressed on. We were almost completely out of time when we clicked run that final time. It was our last try and the whole team was on the edge of our seat praying it would pass. We were considering waving copies of CPC at the rig to try and cool it to get it through. Our final Jesus run finished just in time and bumped our score up massively to 4403 points. That put us in 1st place overall just as time finished.
The whole team was over the moon. No one could believe we’d done it but we had. 5.175GHz. Crazy. The results were announced and we switched off our machine so it could cool before round two. In the gap we were all fed Coke and Pizza which was well appreciated by everyone, and then all sat ready for another go at the speech we should have had before. It was very interesting & the Q&A session at the end also raised some interesting questions (many watercooling related ;) which were well answered by the Asus staff present. They fielded some interesting responses about EVGA products too which was interesting, giving us a better understanding of the difference in the target market of the ROG boards and products like the SR-2 and Classified lines. After this was done, we dragged our chairs back over to the OC rigs and set about for Round 2.
Round 2 was completing a Bench run of 3DMark11 on Performance settings. Our first challenge was negotiating the Asus Smart doctor software which had a lock on what clocks and voltages you could apply. The stock clocks were 810 Core, 4008 Memory but the Asus overclocking software limited us to 910, and something else on the memory. We found the setting for fully unlocking the clocks and set to work. As a team we decided to set the CPU back to stock, figure out the limit of our GPU and then find the best settings we could get stable for the CPU. Our best solid pass was at 1035MHz, 4174Mhz with a Vcore of 1.087v which came out at 4699 points. A good start, but not good enough :P we raised the CPU clock to 5.15Ghz (optimistic :) and tried another run. We passed the first few GPU tests without problems but got a lock within seconds of the Physics test starting (which of course is CPU+GPU intensive), so we backed off to 5GHz and dropped the GPU clocks a bit and put in a score of 4802. Better but still not the best we could get. :P Once again it was Jesus run time and our best score came at 5.1GHz with the same 1035, 4174 GPU clocks. This gave us a great score of 4940 which was one of the best of the day. We spent the last 15 minutes desperately trying to get 5.15GHz and 1040MHz stable but we kept getting to same point in various tests and getting locks. We were still happy with our 4940 and were hopeful of finishing well overall.
We overheard the team next to us get a score of 4963 so we knew we were not at the top, and the Bit-Tech guys kept us in suspense as to who’d come where :) It was great fun working together and meeting new people and as much as the competition was about the overclocking it was in equal measures about having a laugh. I really enjoyed getting to know the guys on my team and we all contributed tons of different ideas without which I’m sure we wouldn’t of got anywhere near the scores we did. Finally, we were all gathered round the screens and the results were announced. Even though we didn’t get top in Round 2 we still came out top overall! (The bit tech guys attributed points to each place finish to keep it balanced) We were over the moon and being first meant we got first pick of the prizes!
On the subject of the prizes, a few people pointed out to me when we got there, that we had been told the prizes were “next gen” but as it turned out alot of the Boards and Cards were previous gen. This didn’t bother me really, as much as having some Bulldozer / Sandybridge-EX kit would of been nice, there was still a good selection of stuff. There were various Asus GPU’s including a GTX 480, a couple of 5870’s, some 6000 series cards and a GTX 560, there were also quite a few Crosshair IV motherboards, a Crosshair III, a Sabertooth P67 a Micro-atx 1155 and a Rampage/ Maximum 1156 ROG board. There was also a selection of Headsets, coolers and other bits and bobs.
As the winning team we got first pick of the kit, Since one of my GTX 280’s died I was really up for a new GPU to tide me over until the 600 series comes out. Looking over the GPU’s I decided that the GTX 480 would be the best companion for me, It may be hot and have mega power consumption, but so does SLI 280’s :P Other members of my team picked up the GTX 560, a 5870 2GB Matrix and a Crosshair IV motherboard. We were all then handed a Thermaltake T-Shirt and neck strap and then the other teams got to pick their prizes. After everyone had taken a prize there were still a few bits lying around, so they decided to pull names from a hat. It must have been my lucky day because my name came out for the Crosshair III Formula. It’s a 790FX, DDR3 motherboard which I won’t be swapping in straight away but am putting away in case my Crosshair II goes to silicon heaven or a Friend/cousin does an upgrade.
So after that it was all over! We hung around for a few minutes and chatted to the CPC/Bit-Tech guys about how we’d got our scores and then went our separate ways. Overall I’d say it was a brilliant day. To get to really thrash the life out of someone else’s kit and to make great friends along the way was brilliant. We’ve all added each other on steam and jokingly considered entering the Scan Overclocking competition (but it’s all the way up in Bolton :P) Big thanks to Bit-Tech and Asus for an awesome day. I would do it again in a heartbeat and advise anyone with a bit of experience in hardware to do the same :) I’ll add another post about life with the 480 as well but all in all, a brilliant brilliant day :D
PS. Carrying a GTX 480 and Asus ROG board on the Train is fun XD

Monday, 6 June 2011

My Faulty Hardware

It does seem that I have been somewhat cursed with a plague of faulty / failing hardware. Sometimes it's my fault ( I put my hands up when it is) but most of the time things just seem to die around me. It's not down to any mishandling or mistreatment I just have terrible luck!
  1. Faulty Cheap 400w PSU from Maplin: Didn't even return it, just replaced it with an even cheaper Sumvision POS
  2. Faulty Geforce 2 GTS Given to me: Give it it's due this card was the only component I brought over from my first ever desktop. It lasted a good while in my new build (a swanky Athlon 3200+ 939 number) but one day the ram just went away and blue screens ahoy it was replaced with a bargain basement FX 5200.
  3. Asrock CPU Upgrade board from Local Shop: I never could really pin this one down to software, hardware or just generally a bad idea. It was a crazy Asrock design where you had a daughterboard (which plugged into a 939 board) onto which you plugged an AM2 CPU and DDR2 Ram. I had endless issues with locking and crashes, seemed to have some relationship to the AMD Dual Core Optimiser but alas, I never got to the bottom of it. This board was heavy and stuck out 90deg to the motherboard so one day (while trying to beef up it's support) i switched the machine on and all the VRM's on the little board burst into flame. I swore infront of my Grandmother (who was visiting) and that was the end of that.
  4. Gigabyte GA-M55S-S3 from Local Shop: I bought this as a replacement for the 939Dual-SATA2 that used to have a CPU upgrade board attached to it. It lasted a good while and saw some good times, but unfortunately bit the dust (temporarily) after a bad BIOS flash. The Flash itself was fine, but the custom Boot Logo (in it's infancy back then) didn't take and so no more booting (My Fault really, it was the wrong Res). I told Gigabyte this and they kindly sorted the board out for me, for the cost of return Postage if I remember right. That repaired board is still in use with my Athlon 6000+ in a cousins machine.
  5. Sapphire X1950 Pro AGP 512MB from Scan: bought for my Brothers machine when it was first built, was good for a long time but eventually started heating to 100C before dying. Wasn't dust or fan damage, just weird. Was promptly replaced by Scan, impressive service which earned them more of my Business.
  6. Various DVD Drives and Printers, Bought from various places: Throughout my years building PC's I've never had good luck with DVD drives or Printers. Both seem to die on me at an alarming rate. My first DVD+-RW drive cost ~£90 and died in about 18 months. My next one was a Samsung which stopped reading disks, then a Lite-On which never burnt properly etc etc. All the while going through about 3 different (Probably HP) printers. Bad times
  7. Razer Copperhead Blue Mouse from Scan: Side button went faulty after ~ 9 months use was replaced swiftly by scan with new mouse. Still at my side today. 
  8. Gigabyte GA-M57SLI-S4 from Local Shop: Not so much a failure so much as an incompatibility. I bought this board when my M55 died before Gigabyte said they'd fix it for me. It was a very similar chipset so it was almost a drop in replacement. It was given to my brother when I bought my Crosshair II Formula and served him well for a while (even though it never officially supported his PhenII940 and reported giving it 1.74v when OC'd) Unfortunately it was retired when it just refused to play ball with his new Sapphire HD 5870 Vapor-X 2GB. No post. No nothing, new board was bought
  9. Asus Crosshair II Formula bought from Lambdatek: bought this board with the hope it would better support my CPU, and would run a Pair of 260's nicely in SLI. I also hoped it would rid me of a locking problem I was having under heavy graphical load. It didn't help. I built it up and discovered it would be fine outside the case, but died repeatedly in the case. Suspected the motherboard but before I got a chance to really test it the board Upped and died on me. Took Asus 3 months to get me a new one. Spent 3 months with an ancient machine running Ubuntu. Still haven't quite recovered.  
  10. Be Quiet! Dark Power Pro 650w: This was RMA'd after my new Crosshair board didn't sort the probelm. Found that with this PSU attached the locking was worse so I RMA'd it. Scan confirmed a fault and replaced it with a brand new unit which still (touch wood) lives today in my brothers machine.
  11. XFX GTX 260 192 XXX bought from Scan: This card was bought nigh on lauch day and was a very early reference PCB card with Ref cooler but OC'd clocks.Unfortunately it became the bane of my life for 18 months. It was ultimately the cause of my locking problems and it became increasingly worse over the 18 months I had it. Eventually returned it to scan (who returned it to XFX) who after some time diagnosed it faulty and had me refunded £144 which I put towards a shiny new (ultimately faulty) GTX 280.
  12. XFX GTX 260 216 XXX (no 1) bought from Scan: this was bought from scan for my brother it was DOA and replaced with a Gainward which still lives today
  13. XFX GTX 260 216 XXX (no 2) bought from VCS: was also DOA and eventually replaced with a GTX 280 which still works today (as of 7/6/2011) I don't reckon it'll last though
  14. GTX 280 from VCS: was bought mostly with funds from the faulty 192SP 260. Went faulty in 6 months, was replaced with another faulty card. Argued with VCS for months but eventually got a £154 refund.
  15. Razer Carcharias Heaphones from Scan: Mic Died after~ 8 months use. Swiftly replaced with new pair by Scan.
  16. iPhone 3G from O2: Not technically in my computer but very faulty hardware. First phone had faulty accelerometer from the moment it came out the box, second had faulty silent switch within 3 months, third had faulty screen (would go white until you locked it again), Sold the working one, and that has been replaced several times again by apple, so much so that apple have given my friend who bought it a new handset with warranty! bad times
  17. iPhone 4 from Vodaphone: Had a faulty proximity sensor from day one, apple tried to hide this as a software problem, so why did new hardware fix it then apple? replacement has survived ~ a year so far. 
A worthy mention (Things which lasted or performed beyond expectation)
  1. XFX 8800 GTS XXX 320MB from Scan: Still lives after 44 months and it hasn't had an easy life. Spent it's infancy in my desktop before living out a large chunk of it's life folding. one the warranty was up I flashed it up to Fatal1ty clocks and it has never missed a beat. Brilliant card.
  2. Genius wireless keyboard from local shop: The only thing I still use from when I built my PC, it's been to more LAN parties and been chucked about more times than I care to mention but it still powers on, occassionally asking for batteries. Will retire it when it dies (the shift key has lost it's spring in the last week :(
  3. HP Mini 311 from HP direct: Amazing Netbook/Laptop. Specs in the sidebar say it all, trust me to have one of the only laptops in the world which has it's BIOS hacked and Hardware Overclocking added. Add to that a 9 cell battery (which I need to look for) and it's an amazing little machine. Love it to bits, will be sorry to see it replaced.
  4. LG Blu-Ray & HD-DVD Drive from Scan: outlasted it's warranty without missing a beat, the only reliable optical drive I've ever had. hope it lasts well into the future...
  5. XFX 7800GS XXX from Local Shop: Still lives today, years on. was sold to a friend and it's never missed a beat for him, now in his family machine. Great bit of kit
So there you go, 17 cases of hardware failure, there are many more minor ones and probably a few majors I've forgotten to mention but there you go. Me + Hardware = Bad Idea :P

Saturday, 4 June 2011


Decided to update my Spreadsheet of things I've bought for my Desktop PC and here are some interesting facts.

-My Average spend in the last 3 years was £684.84
-Since first building it ~7years ago I've spend £3,799.81
-Of that the parts I still use cost £1,448.75
-So I've discarded (or sold) £2,351.06
-Of everything in my PC the only things not in warranty are my Blu-Ray Drive and my Mouse
-Longest warranty Period is 84 Months (Corsair HX850w Modular Power Supply)
-Most Expensive single thing I've ever bought is my Screen, £315.90

Since I built it I've had the following Graphics setups
Geforce 2 GTS AGP
5200 AGP
7800GS AGP
8800GTS 320MB
GTX 260 896MB
GTX 260 896MB SLI
GTX 280 1GB Single

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Battle is Over!!!

Yesterday finally got a refund of £154.16 from It has been an exhaustive process but at last after over 4 months I finally have enough money to move forward. Thinking about an LGA 2011 + GTX 680 Upgrade later in the year which this will go towards. Full details of how it transpired in this thread which has been viewed over 6000 times...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

So it's been nearly a month...

And once again I find myself in the grips of Videocardshop and their useless cards. I got an engineeris report from a seperate company corroborating the idea that the card is faulty and they now have it back on their workbench being tested. huzzah.

This month I decided to take my backup seriously. Now in my machine I have a 60GB SSD for my OS and boot programs, a 1TB F3 for Apps, Games and Steam, and a 1TB F1 for media and downloads. I decided to buy a 1.5TB Samsung F2 HDD and an ICY BOX E-Sata enclosure so i would have a nice fast, external backup drive. I have also configured a nice piece of software called fbackup Link :) it's simple, without an oversimplified interface (ie. There's lots of options) and gives you slot of control over backups.
This being me though things were never going to end smoothly. The esata didn't work. more descriptively, it would start and send a small chunk of data and then just stop. It would sometimes take out explorer just to add insult to injury. In the end I just switched to USB 2.0 and thought screw this for a game of soldiers. I didn't want a USB 3.0 one, I wanted ESata and it didn't work

Sad Face

In other news my LOVELY Razer Carcharias headphones have gone a bit faulty. The Mic has broken entirely, so their on their way back to razer to be replaced. Bad times.

I've recently also wiped my phone, updated to 4.3.1 and rejailbroken. It needed to be done because I'd stuffed so many cydia installed apps on there that the OS was grinding to a halt. I've started again with my cydia apps. Just the essentials like SBSettings, Browser Changer, Infinifolders, Lockinfo, Quickreply and Winterboard. Plus all of the corresponding required packages of course. Love having freedom over my phone. Also trying to get into On-The-Go Playlists as a way to motivate myself to listen to music more. Also ordered another pair of Sennheiser MM50 iP Headphones. Good Times.

On the gaming side, I've started (gingerly) playing Mafia 2, and bought about £3.50 worth of DLC yesterday when it was cheap. Not madly into it but it does me as a bit of gaming on the side. Still playing BFBC2 with the guys and it's still awesome :D Level 30 now, w00p. Looking forward to a summer packed with games which will make my graphics card decision all the more important.

BTW did I ever mention I love Windows 7?
I <3 Windows 7 (Even though it wasn't my idea :P )

Friday, 18 March 2011

Graphics Card Mess

A good few years ago I bought an XFX 7800GS from RL Supplies. It was an amazing upgrade at the time and worked absolutely flawlessly. I sold it to a friend and it still works in one of his machines today. Encouraged by this card I upgraded to an XFX 8800GTS 320 XXX, this also worked perfectly, overclocked nicely and is still working in as a dedicated GPGPU today.

By this point I was so pleased with my XFX cards I even themed a case mod around the XFX name.

I upgraded from this card to an XFX GTX 260 XXX (192sp). It had a deteriorating problem (instability under load) which unfortunately took over a year to get to a point where it was repeatable enough to apply for an RMA. In the meantime, I purchased a new XFX GTX 260 XXX (216sp) from Videocardshop (RL Weren't able to get them by this point) with the hope that with the dodgy card as the non primary GPU the stability issues would go away.

This new card however was, DOA (1/4/10). I RMA'd it promptly and after three weeks Videocardshop got back to me and told me they couldn't get me another one, so offered me a refurbished GTX 280 (21/4/10).

In the meantime I'd established a completely reproducible test for the fault on my original 260. So I RMA'd this and it eventually was diagnosed as faulty by the XFX RMA Centre. I got a £140 refund back which I put towards a second XFX GTX 280 from Videocardshop. (ordered 21/5/10, despatched 1/6/10)

Everything was fine for a few months, then I started getting weird colour screen locks, both when starting applications (that used SLI) and (if they started) when under heavy load. The display would freeze with whatever I was running and there would be pink squares all over the image. I eventually pinned it down to one of the two cards and RMA'd it to Videocardshop (23/1/11). They couldn't reproduce the fault. So I sent them pictures of the fault occurring with just that card.

They replaced it with another XFX GTX 280 (18/2/11) after much insistence on my part and when I received the replacement it was even worse. The replacement locks on boot to a full coloured/squares screen (when primary gpu or lone). I tested the replacement in a completely different machine at RL and it exhibited exactly the same fault.(6/3/11)

So even after months of waiting for replies and being without a fully working graphics card setup, they say "they cannot agree it is faulty" (7/3/11), because they "tested it" before they sent it to me. They have, however, offered me a £75 "trade in" for each card (9/3/11), which given they cost me a combined £330 less than a year ago I feel is a joke. Having had 3 GPU's from Videocardshop (of which only one works) I have kindly asked them for a refund for the faulty gpu and a partial refund for the working one from the original RMA. I'm not willing to go on with constant issues and get a replacement from them which probably won't work or will probably break after a few months.

They have now asked me to pay to send the card to them, saying they will test it (presumably with the same tests that didn't show the issue before) and if it doesn't show the fault they're just going to send it back to me (and I'll have to pay the shipping back as well) (I had to wait a week from my last email just to get this reply from them)

I've really lost faith in XFX Cards or more specifically Videocardshop's stock.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Little bit offended

They offered me £150 refund for both cards :-( back in negotiations with them...

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

So... It's the Graphics Card!

Took my GTX 280 to work today in the hope of getting a chance to chuck it in a big rig and test it, to try to reproduce the colour screen lock fault. During my lunch I got a chance and chucked it in a machine with an i7 920, Gigabyte EX58-UD3R, 6GB Corsair Dominator GT 1866Mhz Ram, a Corsair 1000w PSU and a 2T Raid 10 Array. The machine was 100% stable with its usual CF MSI 5870. Chucked in my 280 and installed drivers praying that It would break so that i could pin down the issue and lo and behold

It locked on the desktop. Happy Days. So now I need to get back onto Videocardshop and tell them they've sent me another faulty card. And that I want a replacement that works!!! God only knows if I'll get one though. Really Getting fed up of all this RMAing and thinking of just buying a nice GTX 580. Forget the ~£400 I just want a machine that is reliable and works. :-( I'll keep trying anyway...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Sad Face :(

Went out last night watching Marchlands (amazing drama) and managed to borrow some broadband and download the Crysis 2 MP Demo. I booted up the system from cold and got another lovely colour-screen lock. Switched the PSU cables round on the GPUs and the system booted in. Got installing Crysis 2 and Dragon Age 2 Demo (I'd got them at the same time) and sorting out some MKLink redirects for some big files that were turning up on my C: Drive.
So when the installers were done, I booted up Crysis 2 MP Demo and set about examining. It started in 1280x720 which in my opinion is a bit embarrassing for a AAA title. It should at least be able to detect your native screen size. I noticed there was no console available (or at least the old button had been removed) and then I met the menu. I liked the rotating angle aspect and thought that was not badly implemented. I changed the graphics "settings" from Gamer to Hardcore, set the right res, enabled vsync and jumped into a nice low latency 12 player game (only 12!!!). I started playing and found the frame rate was ~17fps (judged by eye) not good enough at all really , but before I got a chance to fix it, BAM! Colour Screen Lock. :( So after a reboot I quickly headed back to the settings and downed things to "Advanced" which seemed to do the job nicely. All in all though I was pretty disappointed with the demo. The graphics were pretty good, comparable to the first game with a few added post processing tweaks but nothing revolutionary.
Dragon Age II looks good, the combat looks really enjoyable (not as slow and difficult as the first) and the graphics look sharp! was surprised how much I enjoyed it and it made me thought maybe I should give the first another go. I did kind-of enjoy it when I got into it, I guess I jsut got lost along the way. I also read today about The Witcher II, which is another title I CANNOT WAIT FOR!!! The first Witcher game was a masterrpiece, unappreciated by many gamers, even RPG fans because of individual weak/long sections. Note that many games have these, Telos? Need I say more? Anyway all in all it's a strong year which makes it all the more dissapointing that my system is unfortunately about as stable as the Middle East. Going to take the RMA replacement GPU to work and hope that I get a chance to fire it up on a test rig during my lunch. see if I can make it colour screen lock. Sods law says? It wont.


It's now colour-screen locking from a cold boot :-(

Just tried booting with the screen plugged into the other GPU and still colour screen locked :-(

With the display plugged Into the bottom (working) card when it locked I unplugged the SLI connector and the coloured mess went but the display remained black. I moved the display back to the top card and this time it booted but both GPU's were *Disabled* O_O only just managed to re-enable them and get back into windows

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Wednesday, 2 March 2011


[Alexander the Meercat] OMG!!! [/Alexander the Meercat]

So I've begun refitting all my components (details on Right Hand Side) into the new NZXT M59 case that came yesterday, and I'll outline the ups and the downs for you now.
Starting with downs, out of the box there was a breakage in the cable that connects the DVD Tray LED to a Molex connector (at the Molex connector end) the cable is frayed and it's probably going to take a soldering iron to get it back attached. Bad times.
Also there has been a design oversight in regards to the top 5 1/4" Bay. The case comes with one of those cheap black plastic flaps to "hide" DVD drives, which is all well and good, it is at least removable (after all I *like* my blu-ray drive's front) but unfortunately at the top of the plastic bay slot on the front of the case the corners are rounded. So you can't fit a DVD drive all the way in. You have to use the DVD Drive Cover. Not the end of the world but a small oversight. [edit:is end of world as drive tray will not open -.- ] The only other notable thing is the very shallow depth of the back panel leaving not a lot of room for rear side cable management. Just requires extra effort on my part :)
However! We now move to the ups, the changed design of the case looks to lend itself to a massively more effective cooling setup, especially in Multiple GPU Scenarios. Each GPU has it's own "pool" of air, whereas in my old case airflow to one of the cards was severely limited and the other card had to draw in hot air from around its counterpart. This does seem improved, even if I've had to get stuck in with some fan controls to get the right Temperature/Acoustic balance.
The Watercooling radiator also has two big back vents through which it can suck down cool air (and it does seem to be doing a good job) I've put the two Scythe "Gentle-Typhoon" fans back on Q-Fan mode following CPU temp, will see how that goes, It results in higher idle temperatures but cuts back on any noise (there isn't much) which is useful given the fans proximity to the open vent.
Also a huge win are the front audio ports. They're HD Audio and the cable has shielding so no more crazy graphics card audio interference!!! And the plugs (being new) work perfectly and every connection is nice (no more wiggling!!!)
My other hope from this rebuilding process was that, if the graphics problems i've been having were the result of a loose connection or bad joint, remaking every connection would solve my crashing problem. I even swapped the GPU's over so the recenty RMA'd one is first and ol' trusty is second. Alas it was not to be. First boot was fine (perfect case-case transition, sata ports and all) however after I came back for the second and third boot I got colourscreen locks entering windows! (they were warm boots) Fourth boot (cold) went ok and games started sweet as and ran fine for a good few hours, just wish I could pin down the cause of the locks!!! I'm tempted to say the RMA'd GPU is to blame but they tested it before the sent it and assured me it was fine. May conduct my own testing... PSU is also suspect, going to try and test with my XFX 750w at some point. Ultimately though it may be motherboard and I've pretty much decided that if, after this year's exams, it reaches summer and the system just isn't solid enough for gaming, then I'm gonna drop a load of cash and replace CPU/Mobo/Ram and maybe GPU's too. Will have to see... Anyway, late start tomorrow, Wooooo....

Case pics to follow soon :)

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Tales of a Dying Machine

Looks like my machine is well and truly on the way out. The locks are getting more invasive, happening even from cold boots, and even locking while playing a YouTube clip. So it looks like my machine is well and truly on it's way to deaths door. And I really can't afford to replace it. Or it's innards anyway. And I would like to change it all round. Its been 7 years since I first built my PC and I've been incrementally updating it since then.

Athlon 3200+
Athlon 6000+
Phenom II 940
Phenom II 965...

Etc etc etc
I think it is about time I just dropped a whole load of cash and replaced everything all in one go. Saying that last night I did manage to get on battlefield for a good hour and a half. When it works, it really does work, when It doesn't, it really doesn't. I just hope I can keep it alive for now. Rebuild to new case tonight...

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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Mobile Broadband Gaming

The above name is somewhat of an oxymoron. The idea of combining the high latency mobile phone networks with the fast paced low latency world of online gaming seems to be sure to end in failure. And yet that was exactly what I attempted last night.
I'm currently stranded away from home with my desktop and staying somewhere without a fixed broadband line. I was however armed with my 15Gb/month Mobile Internet Thingy. I immediately assumed that attempting any sort of online fps gaming with it would be futile, and set about looking for games that would play well with a minimum of Internet connections. My first attempt was Assassins Creed 2, to which I'm sure you'll cry "Alas! This game hath no multiplayer!" to which I would cry "Right you are! But it does require an online code check every time you start the game!" so I started it and played for a while. I've completed the story line so I was left running around hunting for collectables and completing side missions. I was also on Dolby Axon at the same time, discussing the ins and outs of the new dragon age 2 demo (which I don't have, due to a lack of proper Internetz). Unfortunately my Mifi decided to conk out and I lost both voice and (upon exiting the game) failed to upload my savegame back to the server.
Following two reboots of my Mifi and a reboot of my PC things got going again, I got axon going again, and then set about deciding what to play. My friends and me settled on Battlefield Bad Company 2, which to any less informed is (primarily) an online fps. I went into it with the inclination that my 3G modem, would generally flop at uploading and downloading the required data quickly enough. But in that regard, I was most surprised. While on the server list of BF:BC2 the best pings to any server from my landline was ~35ms and in game that generally rises to 80+. I found on servers where my friends were getting 125ms pings I was getting ~190ms and it was perfectly playable! Hurrah! So I spent a good couple of hours being 1337 at Battlefield and then headed to bed. It did make deciding whether to get a fixed line broadband connection put in here a little more difficult...

Monday, 28 February 2011

Not looking forward to testing

Trying to figure out what's wrong with my machine :-( a part of me thinks it's one of the graphics card still or the motherboards cooked or the power supply isn't working properly. It's just all those things are a pain to test! (mainly because you have to make a change and then leave the machine for a few days to be sure the problem's gone D: wish me luck.

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Sunday, 27 February 2011

So my machine is driving me mad

Recently my machine has been playing up badly. And it’s really starting to frustrate me. Basically every time I start the machine when it’s been off for a while (but not unplugged from the mains) it crashes at the start of any game that uses SLI. Random. I’ll upload screenshots after this. I thought I’d isolated it down to one of my graphics cards but I RMA’d it and now it’s still doing it!!! So yeah it’s really frustrating L

My inclination is to just say screw it and drop £900 on a 2500k, 8GB of Corsair 1600Mhz 1.5v ram, a Gigabyte P67-UD4 and 2x EVGA GTX 570’s. But I have to keep telling myself, NO!!!

I’m sposed to be saving for a laptop, and I’ve found a few that I would like to get. The first is the Sony Vaio Z Series. Its everything you could want in a laptop, i7 3.33Ghz Dual Core, Lots of Ram, Nvidia GT 330M, 13.1” 1600x900 Display, 1.35Kg, 10Hr Battery Life, Just everything. Problem is its £1600. Which is a lot, but I guess you get what you pay for. The other option is a nice little ASUS 13.3” I found. It’s half the price, and has less performance and is heavier but still maintains the same maximum battery life. So for now I’m going to hang on and see what happens.

Really looking forward to my new case coming :D Keeping my old one because it has lots of sentimental value. It’s been the only constant since I First built my PC 7 years ago. How things change. Anyway, that’s all for now J

Saturday, 26 February 2011

So does this go to Facebook...

Still playing, Here's my Cat ^_^

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Location:Uxbridge,United Kingdom

So I got this new app

So yeah I'm gonna be playing with blogpress on the iPhone and seeing if it works well with me. For starters, here's the new case I want

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Uxbridge,United Kingdom

I need more posts

So alot of the reason I don't post very much is that I feel that every time I sit down I have to drop a MASSIVE monologue on everything and anything but I'm thinking now that just isn't the case. I want to add more content but not necessarily drop 100000000 words every time. So this is me, promising more regular updates to my otherwise epic blog, and please people, click the adverts if you see anything useful. Tis good.