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...