Category Archives: Hardware

Serpent 4

Serpent 4

Serpent 4

About a month ago, I decided that I would upgrade my desktop computer’s core components (CPU, motherboard, and RAM) because Serpent 3 was getting increasingly unstable, and Memtest wasn’t coming to the rescue this time.  At the same time, I figured I should probably “upgrade” my OS to Windows 7 since everything seems to be switching over to it now.  Watch the video below to see the build in action.

So the hardware of Serpent 4 is working out flawless so far, but the operating system is constantly disappointing.  The main trouble early on was that I kept getting the dreaded “display driver stopped responding” system freezes but only when using Firefox.  Googling this gives you infinite solutions, but the one that worked for me was just downgrading the nVidia drivers from 320.18 to 310.70.

In general, there’s too much that’s really annoying about Windows 7 and not enough to actually like.  A few things I do like, though:

  • Libraries are kinda cool, I guess
  • Not being limited to 3.25 GB of memory is very cool
  • Task Manager on steroids–even saves your sorting
  • Pin to Taskbar can be useful
  • WebDAV remote folders work seamlessly
  • Resizing thumbnails in explorer is occasionally helpful

And that’s pretty much it.  As far as things I don’t like in Windows 7, most of them fall into the category of needlessly changing things (e.g. making it more “user-friendly”) such as the entire network connections control panel, not displaying drive free space in the explorer status bar, the lameass search box in explorer, etc.  And the UAC… I really wanted to believe you might be helpful sometime, but after a month of dealing with your bullshit, I couldn’t take it anymore.

But at least I’m getting to play Company of Heroes 2 now, so I guess it’s all worth it.

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Fixing a Gamepad Cable

Within a couple weeks, I had the misfortune of having two gamepads that I’d had for years both die on me.  One, a Logitech Dual Strike, clearly had its cable split open and one of the wires severed.  The other, a Microsoft Sidewinder Plug & Play, just started crapping out randomly then suddenly died for no apparent reason, but it was well over a decade old.

The cable on the Dual Action split right at where it went into the gamepad itself, so there was no room to strip and then splice the wires together.  And the Sidewinder I had no hope of fixing without a multimeter and some luck.  So given that I knew what was wrong with the Dual Action, I decided to sacrifice the Sidewinder (which I unfortunately liked better) to save the Dual Action by replacing its cable with the one from the Sidewinder.  Plus the Sidewinder’s cable had reinforcement at the base of the cable to keep it from splitting there—would have been nice if Logitech had thought of that.

After I opened up the gamepads, I noticed two things different about their USB cables.  The Sidewinder’s cable connected to the PCB using a crimped wire terminal (you know, the plastic ones with the reconfigurable pinout) whereas the Dual Action’s cable was just soldered to the board.  Also, the wires were in a different order according to their colors.  I decided to take advantage of the terminal on the Sidewinder so I could easily rearrange the wires if I got the pinout wrong.

Sidewinder PCB

Sidewinder PCB

Removing the terminal took forever since I didn’t have a solder sucker.  I found out that copper has the ability to absorb solder, though.  So, I cut open an old AC cable, striped a wire, and used that.  It actually worked pretty well once I got a technique figured out.  Once the solder liquified, I jabbed the tips of the copper cable in there and rubbed it around, making sure to remove the copper before removing the iron (or the copper gets soldered to the PCB, naturally).  Also, I had to hold the copper with pliers as it’s a great conductor of heat.

Removed terminal and copper wick

Removed terminal and copper wick

The rest of the soldering went a lot smoother.  I removed the split cable from the Dual Action, then put the terminal in its place.  I just used the solder that held the wires in place to hold the terminal as well.  Finally, I changed the order of the wires on the USB cable so they’d match up to the order that the Dual Action wires had.  Assuming the USB cable wire colors are standard, it should work (again, I didn’t have a multimeter, so I couldn’t check).

And as the video below shows, it did work.  However, getting the covers back on was a little tricky.  The plug that holds the cable in place as it enters the cover was a little large on the new cable.  But trimming the plug a little with scissors and expanding the opening with an x-acto knife was all it took.  The repaired gamepad made it through two hours of Zelda on Snes9x with no problem.

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10 Years in Video Cards

I was cleaning out my spare computer parts yesterday and realized that I had saved every video card I’d ever owned.  So I thought I’d take some pictures before I chucked them and present a history of video cards.

Pile o’ Video Cards

Diamond Viper II (2000 – 2001)

My first video card ever, I bought this primarily for playing Team Fortress Classic (a Half-Life multiplayer mod) and Unreal Tournament.  And at those two games, it did quite well.  According to Wikipedia, the Viper II had a mere 12 million transistors and a core clock of 125Mhz.  I was surprised to see that it came with composite and S-Video connectors for outputting to TV.  You’ll also notice its lack of a fan.

Geforce 2 Ultra (2001 – 2004)

The Geforce 2 Ultra was twice as powerful as the Viper II at a transistor count of 25 million and a core clock of 250Mhz.  This card helped me battle my way through classic games of the time such as Jedi Knight 2, Dungeon Siege, Deus Ex, Grand Theft Auto 3, and Rise of Nations.  This was the only time I bought a high-end version of a video card.

Later in this card’s life, I put it into a rig I built for my sister, and she of course mistreated it.  Hence the fan on the video card seized up and fell off.

Radeon 9600XT (2004 – 2009)

Weighing in at 76 million transistors and a core clock of 500Mhz, the Radeon 9600XT was an excellent video card that held its own right up until 2008 when Shader Model 3 games started coming out.  During its reign, I was enjoying games such as Half-Life 2, UT 2004, Company of Heroes, TES4: Oblivion, Counter-Strike: Source, and Dungeon Siege 2.  Starting with this video card, I also began using dual-monitors and haven’t looked back since.  I modded my card to add copper heatsinks on the RAM chips and later on replaced the HSF with an all-copper one.

Geforce 7300GT (2009)

This video card was really only a stopgap until I could build a whole new system.  At 177 million transistors and 350Mhz, the 7300GT was one of the last video cards to still support AGP.

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Memtest FTW!

For several weeks now, I’ve been having troubles with Serpent 3, my desktop PC.  It started randomly blue screening (aka Blue Screen of Death) with random error messages whenever I was playing Diablo 3 or watching video.  That coupled with the fact that I hadn’t changed any drivers or hardware recently led me to initially suspect that my only two month old video card (GeForce GTX 550 Ti) had gone bad.  (As always, I also suspected overheating, but the sensors weren’t indicating that as the culprit.)

I fiddled with video card drivers some just in case that helped—it did not. So, eventually, I swapped my new video card out for a Radeon HD 4650 that was lying around.  Although early signs were hopeful that I had isolated the video card as the problem, the swap actually had only slowed down the frequency of blue screens.

I was starting to think that I’d have to build a new system core (motherboard, CPU, and RAM), but I still knew of one more trick to try.  There’s a program called Memtest86+ that will repeatedly test your entire PC memory (RAM) to see if there are errors with it holding correct values.  I’ve used Memtest before to make sure new memory was good, but I’ve never actually seen it find any errors.  It didn’t take long before it did find errors this time, though.  I narrowed the problem down to two addresses around the 500MB mark in the first DIMM.

I had two memory addresses that were repeatedly returning errors in Memtest86+.

So I took that first stick of memory out and left the other matching stick in and tested again.  After three full passes, Memtest was showing no errors for this stick.  Next, I swapped sticks.  And as one might guess, errors galore.

So, I swapped the sticks again and also returned my beefy new video card to Serpent 3.  And I’ve enjoyed an entire evening of gaming and videos with zero blue screens.  Luckily, Diablo 3 doesn’t seem to demand more than 2 GB of memory.  Memtest FTW!

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Sounds of Skyrim in 5.1

I get odd hankerings for new things to try out sometimes.  Since I’ve been playing the hell out of Skyrim lately, I thought it’d be cool to record the game’s ambient sound effects in surround sound (AKA 5.1 or 6-channel).  The idea was really inspired by a particular audio file found in my rip of Dungeon Siege III’s music which had rain in 4-channel surround–I thought that sounded awesome.

Anyways, back to the point:  Skyrim in 5.1.  I was pretty unsure how to accomplish this at first.  To start, I tried the recorder that came with my X-Fi, Creative Smart Recorder, as I seemed to recall it supporting some more advanced audio formats.  But alas, it can only record stereo (albeit at higher frequencies and bit-depth).  I also have Adobe Audition 2.0, which is pretty old now and has pretty limited multi-channel support–or so I thought.  It turns out that in “Multitrack” mode, you can actually select from several different lines to record from.

Audio Hardware Setup

Here’s where it gets tricky, though, and dependent upon one’s sound card.  Windows’ standard audio drivers don’t support recording from anything but the front two channels.  But if your sound card supports ASIO, then you should be able to select your different hardware channels independently to record from.

I also ran into another snag here where I still only got stereo recording even when using ASIO.  The problem was that I was in the X-Fi’s Game Mode when I needed to be in Audio Creation Mode.  This is the first time I’ve actually ever needed that mode for this card.

Then to get Audition ready to record, set the input of six tracks to each of the channels to  record (Front Left, Front Right, Center, Rear Left, Rear Right, LFE) and tick the “Arm for Record” button for each.  Finally, hit the master record button and then jump into Skyrim or whatever game you want to record.

Adobe Audition Recording Multi-Channel

When, you’re done, you’ll have six nicely-synced wave files.  But they’re pretty useless unless you plan on only listening in Audition.  I like my multi-channel audio to be in AC3 usually because AC3 Filter is a fantastic decoder when used with Media Player Classic.  However, multi-channel OGG also has good support among audio players.

I knew that BeSweet could encode to 5.1 AC3 and OGG, but I was unsure how to get my six waves into it when there was only one input file allowed.  It turns out you have to create a playlist file with the .mux extension that has the paths to your six waves in the order FL, FR, C, LFE, RL, and RR FL, C, FR, RL, RR, and LFE and use that as the input file.

And after that, everything is pretty gravy really.  I’m thinking about editing some of this up a bit and releasing it online but stuff like that takes so much time, so we’ll see.

Update 3/29/2012

I found some time to edit up the recording I did of Skyrim and have uploaded it for your consumption as a RARed AC3.  This recording includes the following environments:

  • 0:00 → snowstorm
  • 4:15 → forest
  • 5:30 → stream
  • 10:30 → distant dragon
  • 11:30 → geyser (the area between Riften and Windhelm)
  • 13:20 → Riverwood
  • 21:00 → thunderstorm
  • 25:15 → rain shower
  • 28:00 → forest at night

The cats were thoroughly freaked out by the dragon and thunder parts if that’s anything to go by as far as quality.  Obviously, to make the best use of this, you need at least 4.1 speakers and something that plays 6-channel AC3s like Media Player Classic and AC3 Filter.

1.01K

Sounds of Skyrim in 5.1

88 MB - RAR

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Lexmark Printer Software Leaking Memory

I’ve got a Lexmark X4650 wireless printer/scanner and as such, I’ve naturally installed the software provided by Lexmark which includes drivers and their Lexmark Productivity Studio. However, I’ve noticed ever since I got this printer that one of the processes (lxdxcoms.exe) for the associated software leaks a lot of memory. I’ve seen it easily get above 250MB in just a few days. So I’ve come up with the following batch script to restart the necessary services and processes and thus get the memory usage under control without the need to restart Windows.

net stop lxdx_device
net start lxdx_device
taskkill /f /im lxdxmon.exe
start /D"%SYSTEMDRIVE%\Program Files\Lexmark 3600-4600 Series" lxdxmon.exe

This script is certainly applicable to a large number of Lexmark printers, but depending on the printer you have, you may need to change the path to start the executable on line 4 of the script. Good luck.

UPDATE 7/27/13

Looks like this script is still relevant as Lexmark’s software still leaks memory even under newer versions in Windows 7.  This certainly doesn’t reflect well on Lexmark.

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