The Fluffshack

Unraveling the world one sock at a time

Broken Hardware Part 3

IMG_3283 by you.

Things are getting desperate. I am really at my wits end now.

A ray of light appeared when I removed the Creative Labs X-Fi soundcard, and other USB peripherals. The thinking was that if it was a power issue, that might help.

Low and behold, there was an improvement. The crashing continued, but was no longer resulting in permanent screen corruption as my previous pics show. Basicly in Mass Effect, the graphics freeze, as usual, but after an alt-ctrl-delete, the game and the graphics will pop back in a playable state.The crashes are also less frequent, and its sometimes possible to play for half an hour or more, without it crashing once.  However, when it does freeze, the freezing seems to come in waves, where the game will freeze every minute or so for period, before becoming more or less playable again for a while.   It doesn’t matter what i do in game though. I just leave it and it will crash eventually, with the characters standing around idely.

Grand Theft auto, on the other hand, still gives corruption, again, only after a while sometimes, but no longer the pixel mess. It will corrupt the textures in game, then freeze, then crash out to the desktop. GTA is more consistent in crashing that Mass Effect though, at this point.

Stuff I have tried since the last post:

– Took the PC appart and running on the table.  More or less excludes shorting with the case.
– Memtest86, turned up nothing (remember hte memory is suspect because its one of the few common components across the old and the new hardware)
– Removed 3 of the 4 RAM, no effect
– Replaced the Keyboard and Mouse with a different keyboard and mouse, no effect
– Reconnected the old PSU, no effect

IMG_3285 by you.

I have been going over how the PSU stuff is suppose to work, still thinking its a power issue.
The new 800watt PSU I got (Gigabyte Odin Pro) is a very good PSU, good reviews, and is know to deliver well on the voltage and amps. It has 4 separate dedicated +12v “rails”, two of which can deliver 28amps, more than enough for this setup.   Now I have been running Speedfan, and besides measuring temperature, it can give a readout on Voltage.

IMG_3272 by you.

Now here is the worrying part. It shows 11.35v on the 12v readout. Way too little. However, the BIOS itself, when I boot into it, is telling me the 12v is at 12.04, which is spot on. I did read that software indications of voltage are unreliable. Regardless, I reconnected the old 650watt no-name PSU, and its giving me the same readout in Speedfan, and in the BIOS slightly higher, 12.152v

IMG_3313 by you.

The whole thing still smells of a power issue. The way people on forums seem to have described power-related issues seems spot on with what I am having here. But it may just be confirmation bias of course.

There are 2 approaches I can take at this point. The first is to reinstall Windows, in this case Vista, again. I cant be sure Windows 7 is not at least a part of the problem, even though I doubt it because the problems started on Vista originally. I need to get my hands on a version with a valid key, but I think I know where, my original key didnt seem to work anymore as you know. I think I know where.

IMG_3310 by you.

The other path is to continue digging into the power issue. I have seen several forum examples of people that had similar instability, that they managed to solve by upping the voltage of components ever so slightly. The CPU and/or the RAM for example. I may try this, there are certain margins that we can play in safely. I am not convinced either PSU is not performing well, but to really confirm it, I would need a multi-meter, which I dont have. I may buy one, its generally usefull to have around anyway.

IMG_3311 by you.

I still have not heard back from the shop about my 295 card. I am assuming they have not recieved a replacement yet. I will call them tomorrow.  I may explain this whole thing to them, but I suspect they will give me the usual shopping list of things I have already tried.

And the very last thing I want to do is bring the parts round to them to have a look at. Its a logistical nightmare.

June 29th, 2009 Posted by | Angry, Gadgets, Tech | 3 comments

Broken Hardware part 2

Back to square 1 with the video card crashes. Even on my loaner 9800GT, same issues as before. I am even suspecting its the same issue as plagued my 8800GTX.

Mass effect is a good example: It will run fine for 5 minutes, then suddenly freeze. With alt-ctrl-del I get back to my desktop. But that is apparently the kick-start the graphics driver needs, and it will immediately full-screen the game again, and all is fine, for about 5 minutes, then it freezes again.

Now I have noticed, that if I just leave it frozen, without pressing alt-ctrl-delete to restart the graphics, the problem will permanently corrupt all graphics functions for this session of Windows, causing the crazy-ass pixel snow effect I have described before. Windows desktop will display random mis-colored pixels, that move about when something else on the screen moves. In the game the image becomes a mixed up mess of pixels, but its basically the same effect.
I imagine this is what video-memory corruption looks like.

Now I had exactly the same problem when I was running the 295, on Vista, aswell as on Windows 7, and on the old mainboard/cpu/power suppy, as well as the new hardware.
Thinking back to my original issue with the 8800GTX, I cannot remember seeing the pixel mess, but the freeze behaviour was identical.  If only I had let it sit there on the frozen screen of Mass Effect a bit longer, perhaps then I would have seen the same pixel issues.

IMG_3229 by you.

IMG_3233 by you.

IMG_3234 by you.

So, across a different OS, different cpu, different mainboard, different power supply, AND 3 different video cards, I seem to be having the same problem over and over.

Something is fucking up the graphics somehow. Either the physical card or the drivers.
What I find fascinating is also how in the corruption while in game, you very clearly see that familiar diagonal line across the screen. I cant remember what that was exactly, but it something pretty basic to how images are drawn on the screen. It goes to show something is off on a very basic, hardware level.

I have bene looking for common elements. Here is the stuff I can think of:
– Same power socket (could it be a power issue causing memory corruption? Would this not be stopped by the power supply?)
– Same sound card; Creative Labs X-fi Fatality edition (with front panel)
– Same mouse (logitech MX revolution)
– Same Keyboard (logitech G15)
– Same headphones (logitech G35)
– Same Wireless Network USB dongel (sitecom)
– Same 2 monotors: 22″ and 19″
– Same Case
– Something enviromental like interference, magnetic field or signal-crossover

Now, looking at the list above, the ony thing that has recently changed or been added is of course the G35 headset.
My first thought was, maybe its conflicting with the Creative X-fi, so I removed the sound card, that I wasnt even using currently as the G35 software takes care of all sound
That did not help. It also cant be a driver issue as in this Windows 7 install, its default drivers for the X-Fi, but the Logitech drivers are installed from the website.

IMG_3237 by you.

IMG_3238 by you.

Could it be the G35 or its driver itself then perhaps? Its a USB headset, with a sound driver that acts as a directsound output device, and can do serround sound. How could it effect the video card?  Sure both use drivers, could they be eating eating eachothers memory space? I thought since Windows xp this kinda stuff was already almost impssible? no?

I will try to stick the G35 in a different USB port, in the back this time, instead of the front. (perhaps a defective USB port?, the frontpanel USB ports of the case have not changed between these configs either)

Next I can try without teh G35 at all, with or without activating the onboard sound card of the mainboard.

The shitty thing here is that I may have replaced my 8800 for no reason. And that the 295 currently at the shop may be fine after all.

I will know more in a few days…

June 21st, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | one comment

A fist full of broken hardware

The last 4 days have been nightmarish. As in, the worst kind of hardware upgrade nightmare.

IMG_3187 by you.

It started early last week, when I started getting serious issues playing Mass effect. The graphics driver would suddenly crash and reset, causing an interruption and minimizing the game. Windows would restart the driver, generate a popup, and then I could keep playing.
This started to get progressively worse, as after the first crash, the in-game graphics would slowly start to corrupt. Textures would start to go missing, geometric shapes would start to get out of sync, and lighting effects would go haywire. Tried the newest Nvidia drivers, no effect.

IMG_3195 by you.
The 8800 even failed in dos mode.

IMG_3196 by you.
My old card, the 8800GTX
Now I was already considering getting a better card, as I was not impressed by the performance of Mass Effect, and my Nvidia 8800GTX was getting on a bit, now over 2 years old.
So I went out and got myself the new Nvidia 295, which is basicly a duel-core version of a 260.
Its the most powerful card on the market today.
I also saw that the quad-core Intel 775’s where down to some nice prices, so I also pickup up the 3Ghz version, the q9650. I knew my mainboard, the Asus Striker Extreme, should be able to use it.

IMG_3186 by you.

On Thursday I swapped out the Nvidia cards, and had a good night of play on the new 295. But it was obvious how much of a bottleneck the CPU was now.
The next night, I swapped out the CPU. However, imagine my suprise when the Quad core didnt play nice at all. The PC would not boot at all with it in there. Under the assumption it was lack of having the correct microcode for the new CPU, I downloaded the last BIOS file, and flashed it with the EZ-Flash tool in the Bios.
That was the last time my Striker Extreme ever booted.
I am clueless about what went wrong. It was the correct Bios file, and a perfectly normal and supported means of flashing.

So Saterday I went back to the shop, and got myself an Asus P5Q Deluxe mainboard.
After putting it all back together again, I let the original Vista installation boot up.
It actually dealt with all the changes quite well.
Tried mass effect, and while it ran very smoothly now, as expected, within minutes I got pretty bad texture and vexel corruption. So not exactly the same problem as with the old card, but quite similar.
Supreme Commander ran smoothly and without any corruption, but would suddenly crash out without warning.
I ran into an additional problem with Vista. Because i had changed so many bits of hardware, it now said i needed to re-activate it. But when I tried this, it said the key was already in use. Rather strange, considering this was a volume-license key and already in use by my laptop and several other computers i am aware of. Volume license keys should be able to be used multiple times.

IMG_3164 by you.
New card: the Nvidia 295GTX duel core

IMG_3188 by you.New board: The Asus P5Q Deluxe

By this point, I was suspecting the driver-instability, if that is indeed what it was, may well be down to windows. Coupled with the activation issue, I decided to take the opertunity and install Windows 7, RC build 1700. Once this was installed, I went about getting the games back on. Mass effect needed to be re-downloaded, so I gave GTAIV a try. This was on the default drivers supplied with Windows 7.
Much to my disappointment, I got severe texture and shading corruption again, similair to what i had in Mass effect.

IMG_3193 by you.

I have tried various combination’s of drivers now, but the largest difference has been when I have turned off multi-core rendering in the Nvidia control panel. The problems are there clearly with just 1 core, but with 2 cores on GTA crashes almost immediately. I tried some Left 4 Dead, which crashed on 2 cores, but ran reasonably well on 1 core. Most distressingly, is that sometimes when it crashes, for example in Supreme Commander, it shows a bad-pixel pattern over the screen, not just in 3D, but also on the 2D Windows desktop.

IMG_3191 by you.


Supreme Commander with pixel snow inside the game, and even on Windows desktop

Mass effect goes crazy with duel cores on, vexel nightmare. With just a single core on for rendering, it only(!) freezes every 5 minutes.
So I am more or less out of ideas. My suspicion is that my new card is as broken as my old card. And the old card is very broken, as even in the boot screen it showed vertical red lines across the screen, probably indicating fried memory or something else bad.
We already threw out the original box of the 295, but its got a 3 year warranty, so I should be able to get it repaired, or get a replacement. I am hoping for the latter.

Maybe I will think of something else to try tomorrow, but it looks like i will be going back to the shop soon.

June 14th, 2009 Posted by | Angry, Gadgets, Tech | 2 comments