You Want It To Work, Too?

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Just read the flings of your future wife article.

It basically says what I’ve said for years. What we need are actual TESTS, not reviews. Motor Trend TV reviews cars. Consumer Reports TESTS cars, for like, 20-30 thousand miles or so.

The gospel of the reviews cloaks the one problem I’ve noticed in the computer industry lately, and that it is indeed moving too fast for its own good.

The companies involved:

(a) don’t have time to fix what was wrong with a newly released product because its replacement is only 3 months out and

(b) because the replacement is only 3 months out, they only have that long to get it ready. All too often, they don’t quite get it right, which puts you right back at (A).

I’ll use the example I know best – me.

I’ve been building these things since the 8086 and have pretty much seen everything from all-integrated micro-boxes to water/freon/peltier-cooled monsters that will take up the entire end of the basement if you let it.

I currently have 8 machines. I rotate the technology out when I can and sell off what is oldest as used machines. Right now, I have 2 Slot-A Athlons, 2 S370 Celeron2s in BX boards, a dual PentiumPro box, a Celeron 533 PPGA box, a P3/VIA693 box, and a KT133/T-bird box. Of the 2 slot-A boxes, one is AMD-751, the other is KX133.
This represents several generations of equipment within both rival factions.

The fastest is the KT133/TBird box. The slowest is usually the dual PPro box. However, speed isn’t what I’m going on about – reliability is. Ease of operation is.

The VIA boards in the P3 and TBird boxes (especially the P3), are easily the biggest pains in my ass. They required the most knowledge and futzing around to work right. They constantly need updates to fix what should have been fixed before it came out.

I’m not saying the others are perfect, but they’re not even close to the same PITA (pain in the ass) level. The KX133 isn’t too far off, but it’s had more time out in the public to ‘cook’ a little longer.

The P3/VIA693 box right now is trying to install Win2k. It gets BSODs at various stages of the installation. The funny thing is it’s the second VIA board in there. The really funny part is that my old BX board installs it perfectly, all else being the same. And that’s with an overclocked AGP port. (it’s a 600EB).

I still have yet to get it to run an overclocked chip. It has jumpers for the various bus speeds and any Celeron I put in there ONLY works at is default speed, no matter what I do with the jumpers or the slotket adapter.

Amazingly, the only i815 board I’ve run into went smoothly, though it wasn’t mine, I just built it for someone.

The PPro box is a snap. It’ll run forever. I haven’t touched it in a year.

The 2 Celeron2s in the BX boards took me a half-hour (for both) to get built and running. They’ve been through several OS loads, video-sound card changes, etc. They just plain work.

The Slot-A Athlon in the AMD board is the same. It has required little work to get it as good as it’s ever gonna get. The PPGA 533 Celeron is my wife’s box and I never futz with it.

Just what do I consider a real PITA. This is a real PITA:

I decided to give NVidia another chance recently, after swearing after bad encounters with a TNT that I’d never subject myself to that again.

There’s nothing like having to reconfigure your whole video system everytime a new game comes out. Buying a NVidia video card automatically signs you up for the ‘Driver of the Week’ Club.

I don’t even know WHY they include drivers with them anymore. By the time you buy it they’re worthless.

Anyway, back to my attempts. The system is a P3-600EB on a Via693 MSI-6199VA board with a 128MB Micron PC133 stick, The P3 is un-overclocked as the EB part makes that difficult at best. It has a Diamond Monster Sound MX300 (the last of the good Aureal cards), and a 3com 3c905 NIC in an Antec Mid-tower w/ a PP303 power supply.

I fresh-loaded Win98, loaded all the updates, skipped DirectX 8 and loaded DirectX 7a. I loaded all the drivers for the Diamond and the 3com. Since I have multiples of these cards I used the drivers the other systems use.

Video card #1 – Visiontek GeForce GTS2 32mb
This card worked absolutely great until I loaded the first version of NVidia drivers I tried, 6.34. Once the drivers were loaded, the system would work OK for a few minutes, then hard-freeze (no mouse, no anything). I removed the drivers and restored the original registry before I loaded the video drivers. I tried version 6.35. Same thing. Tried 6.31, 6.47, and 6.49. They sure were consistent. Mind you, all I have to do is unload the GeForce drivers and the system runs just peachy other than that it’s ugly.

Video card #2 – Hercules Geforce 2 MX
I clear the drivers/registry again, download the 6.35 Hercules drivers, and try again. DAMN! The same thing. I went through the usual, re-tried all the various versions (do I REALLY have to memorize them ALL?), and was rewarded with the exact same behavior. That does it, back to Old Faithful Voodoo….

Video card #3 – Ol’ faithful Voodoo3 3000
Clear the drivers/registry, load 1.07 Voodoo3 drivers. Once again, Ol’ faithful proves her worth by working flawlessly. Ran 24 hours of 3DMark loops and declared victory.

Video card #4 – Spankin’ new Voodoo5 5500 (like I was really gonna pay $260 for one?)
Just for fun, I cleared everything one last time in an effort to get a card working in here worthy of a P3. The 1.04 Voodoo5 drivers went in and the card again worked perfectly. Again, I ran 3DMark for a 24 hour session and again, I won.

I later placed both the above GeForce cards in other systems, the GTS2, in a Celeron 930 box on a Soyo 6BA-III BX board. The Hercules found it’s way onto an AT Soyo 6BB BX board with a Celeron 567 in it. Both cards work fine in both systems and are happy now. Bad cards? Bad VIA board? Bad Karma? Who the hell knows….

Moral of the story? I dunno, but it sucks wasting 3 days trying to get 2 NVidia cards to work on a VIA693 board.

Update: I read the moral this morning: NVidia buys out near-bankrupt 3dfx. People must dislike items that actually work right out of the box. At least that’s what they’re saying with their wallets.

I’m going to miss 3dfx.

Yes, I do have a hardware bias. I like stuff that works. I like stuff that does what it say it does on the box. I don’t like buying motherboards that advertise AGP4x, but not when you run Win2K. I don’t like buying memory that really only works on certain brands, or models of boards. If it’s a PC133 SDRAM DIMM, I expect it to work in ANY board that supports PC133 SDRAM.

I don’t like buying 2 -Pentium 3s that don’t really work in dual mode because that part of the product wasn’t done until the cB0 stepping, and no, there’s no easy way to tell the cB0s from the cA2s. It’s funny, you gotta look REAL hard to find that out on their site.

And now I hear that the initial P4s are the same way? Oh boy.

I also don’t like buying 52x CDROMs that only do 32x and are slower than the 40x I took out to replace.

I’ll tell ya, it’s getting so that when I read a spec sheet, advertisement, or some reviews, I’m so cynical that I’ll believe it only when I get it to do it. Thank GOD for retail store return policies.

I sure hope my first attempt at a KT133 board and Socket A chip doesn’t go like this, Nvidia cards and VIA boards seem to be picky as hell. NVidia and ATI are going to be my only choices.

To be really honest, I never expected the ‘bleeding edge’ to have earned it’s name THAT honestly. It wasn’t all that bad, all that long ago.

Update:

Just thought I’d update a bit on my ‘problem child’….

The VIA693 board loves the Voodoo5. Plain and simple. However, I went back upon the elusive NVidia path.

It’s been suggested by various readers that I consider the AGP power issue, the AGP4x issue, and changing the order in which I load the VIA drivers, vid drivers, sound drivers and Direct X. Various orders of that software load were suggested. All SWEAR that that is the way to do it.

1) AGP port power issues I don’t think it would’ve been a problem with the GeForce MX card. If it doesn’t even draw enough to need a fan, I think the AGP port can handle it.

2) AGP4x issues Lots of reading done here. It seems that all VIA Socket 370 boards advertise AGP4x support, but none actually support it, at least not until version 4.26 of the 4-in-1 drivers come out. The funny part is, my latest boards BIOS doesn’t list any AGP4x switch. It does offer an AGP2x enable/disable switch. Fat lot of good THAT does.

3) Driver load procedure Various suggestions here. Most have you load VIA 4-in-1first, then varying orders of the rest. FYI, I tried them all, even though the idea is LUDICROUS! It’s like saying you have to get in your car thru the passenger door, open and close the glove compartment twice, and turn the wipers on before the car will start. This CAN’T be normal.

Done some other reading…. Truth – no KT133 chipset Athlon board has ever supported 133Mhz bus speeds, despite their names and advertising. Only the spankin’ new KT133A and the even shinier DDR boards do.

A friend of mine showed me his “hacked” VIA board. Apparently, there are utilities with which you ‘hack’ the hex code of a VIA board’s BIOS, to change registers that otherwise aren’t available to be changed through the board maker’s selections. He needs to do this to get his memory speed up to par. Shouldn’t the manufacturer do that?

Anyway, back to the problem child, It’s keeping the Voodoo5. It’s happy with it, and I’ve already spent 5 times the mobo’s worth in time futzing with it.

I should mention that I now have GeForce 2 MXs and GTSs working in 3 – AMD751 boards, 2 – BX boards, and 1 – ZX board. I have since built 3 machines for family with i815 boards and GeForce 2 MX cards that went together without a hitch. Now that the VIA is stable, it’s going outta here….

It appears that I might have to wait for the AMD760 boards before I step into the Socket-A sandbox. I MIGHT try a KT133A board, but if the multiplier functions don’t work any better on it than they do the some of the KT133 boards I’m reading about now, fuhgeddaboudit.

I don’t mind beta testing hardware, I just like to be told when I’m doing so, and to not pay full price to do it.

Email Mike


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