Tag Archives: video cards

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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Biding Time

Until President Obama waves his hand and magically fixes the economy so I can find a job, I’ve been biding my time with several projects as usual. As mentioned in my post a couple months ago, I expected to complete a major overhaul of the content system by the end of last year and amazingly actually did so. I felt like the content pages were too bulky with the varying number of images and description lengths, and it didn’t look very clean. So I crafted a custom vertical tabview to organize the information into specific tabs for description, images (dynamically loaded with AJAX), changelog, and downloads (also AJAX). The default tab, called “Vitals”, is a combination of the other tabs, showing general information, a shortened description, one image, and the number of total downloads. The succinctness of the vitals tab helps keep the tabview height down and thus all the items on the page look uniform.

Of course, it all looks rather well until you go to test in Internet Explorer. Despite my attempts to keep everything within standards, IE6 still has issues such as flickering tab button background images and the always enjoyable broken box model. However, IE7 isn’t without its problems either and the tabviews seem to adversely affect my fixed positioning hack from last post.

I’ve also been redoing parts of the site to use more CSS and less inline formatting. Most of the web seems to be in love with CSS to the point that they blindly use only CSS, but I tend to be more pragmatic about it. Certainly, CSS is useful for centralizing style information that is to be used repeatedly or as part of an overarching theme. But the CSS standard is not quite complete enough to handle everything a developer might want to do. I frequently need a property that tells an element to be springy (i.e. fills up the remaining height or width of its parent), but there exists no such property in CSS2. A trick that I like to do with (100% height) tables is to use them to keep something vertically centered in a page or at the bottom of a window but able to expand. CSS has no way to do these things; its vertical-align property only works on inline elements (and don’t get me started on margin hacks). So I think I’ve made my point: it’s a good start, but it’s not there yet. (Plus: IE6. So even if it were there, we still couldn’t use it.)

But I haven’t just been diddling web development lately; I’ve also been back at VB.Net to release a public beta of my much slaved over alarm program cleverly named “Snake’s Alarm”. Not much has changed since I last worked on it in earnest in August 2007. I finally fixed any instability with the FMOD system playing two alarm sounds concurrently by just preventing it from doing so, figuring there wasn’t much use for two overlapping sounds playing. I have also perfected the snooze feature by adding options to control the max amount of snooze time allowed and to turn off the monitor when snoozing. There’s still a lot left in the TODO file, but this version is still completely functional and reliable.

In hardware news, I recently replaced my Radeon 9600XT with a GeForce 7300GT as a stopgap upgrade until I can finally afford a new system. It was seriously the best AGP nVidia card I could get on Newegg–they’re going like hot-cakes (whatever the hell that means). I had my eye on a 7600GS until it sold out when I went to buy. Now the 7300GT that I got is already sold out. I wrote a lengthy review on Newegg for the video card about a week before it sold out (albeit one person labeled it as helpful before then) that I’m going to republish below.

Pros: I haven’ t done a lot of benchmarks, but it looks to be about 60-120% faster than the Radeon 9600XT it replaced, depending on the game or benchmark of course. I chose to switch to nVidia because this card supposedly runs cooler and with less power than ATI’s final AGP offerings (and to prevent fanboy-ism). My tests with RivaTuner show the core runs a bit hot at idle (~116°F), but it only creeps up marginally in most games (~140°F). Video stress tests put it at about 166°F. Overall, the 7300GT’s performance is only somewhat noticeably better in most newer games compared to its predecessor.

Read More…

What’s silly is that I’ve mostly been playing Diablo 2 (an eight year old game) since getting this new video card. I convinced Kaylen to play it with me, being that it would run on just about any computer and she was in exile over winter break. Though it seems I got her hooked since we played all the way through with my Paladin and her Sorceress. Since the first completion, I’ve been poking around in the game’s data files for any changes I can make to perceived flaws.

My biggest complaint about Diablo 2 has always been that you level too frequently at the beginning and hardly ever later on. I did a huge spreadsheet with player experience, monster level, and level-to-area calculations trying to come up with the best solution for a balanced and steady leveling system. One of the most telling graphs of this data is at right, showing the percentage increase in experience needed to get to the next level compared to the last level. In vanilla Diablo 2, after level 11, the player needs 25% more experience to get to each subsequent level, which can lengthen the process significantly as one approaches level 27, where the experience difference levels out at a more respectable 9%. I created a modification to the leveling system that merely smooths out the experience difference from level 5 to 30 and balances the resultant increased difficulty by lowering monster stats according to how far behind in levels the player is.

I’m not sure if it’s all as complicated as it sounds, but when I finally release the mod, I’ll be sure to include the spreadsheet for others to marvel at. I’ve also done a number of smaller mods and have already uploaded three such mods as of this post. One fixes the ever-annoying game font where the 5’s look like 6’s–a huge confusion when looking at item stats. More will follow as soon as they’re thoroughly tested in our new Barbarian and Assassin game. 😛

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Mantises are still having sex.

This is just something I remembered I took a picture of a while back, and I thought “what better place for this than the interwebs!”. Really, how often do you see praying mantises fucking on the side of a trailer? Like… never.

Anyways, that’s not the real reason for this post. Actually, there’s not much of a reason. I just wanted to ramble about my latest gaming. I’m not sure if it’s sad or not, but I’ve been having the most fun playing old games lately. Specifically, I played both campaigns of Warcraft 2, plus most of the Human campaign in the expansion pack (Beyond the Dark Portal). After a week-long intermission of playing NOLF, I moved on to another oldie: Command and Conquer (free here). However, the NOD campaign wasn’t as fun as the GDI one; GDI has too many versatile heavy weapons. If you don’t have some SAM sites yet, they’ll fuck you up with helicopters and especially air strikes. If you don’t have 5 light tanks, you’ll get rocked by a mammoth tank. And no more carting engineers into their base in an APC to jack their shit. :( So, I gave up on NOD and switched to C&C: Red Alert. Occasionally, I get an urge to play C&C: Renegade again. It’s too cool being in the middle of a strategy game. Alas, I never finished Renegade the two times I tried.

I’m not sure exactly what sparked this bought of classic gaming–maybe nothing in particular, but I’ve got some guesses. One is that my system is falling below the acceptable performance level for most new games. I was looking forward to playing Bioshock until I found out about the steep system requirements. Even though the community has fixed the video card shader requirements somewhat, I still feel like I’m having trouble getting into the game because of performance issues–try battling a Big Daddy with 6fps. Another reason for not playing recent video games is that I feel like I’m turning into the demographic old gamer that only enjoys strategy or nostalgic gaming. Hopefully, a game will come along soon to prove this wrong, though. The final reason is that my taste for them has been soured by constant bugginess and instability problems. It seems like every game I’ve played recently has had at least one problem I’ve needed to google, even the older games. Let’s go through a list, shall we…

  • Red Alert: Problems installing under XP. Fix: Run the DOS installer under compatibility mode for Win95 or just copy the install directory to your hard drive. Don’t forget to patch it.
  • No One Lives Forever: No music. Fix: Run DXDIAG, under Music tab, disable “Default Port Acceleration”. Apparently, NOLF uses MIDI music with their own sound font.
  • Warcraft II: Doesn’t run in XP. Fix: Get the Battle.Net edition.
  • Sven Coop: Can’t play online. Fix: Crack the authentication, because WON is dead. Check out Steamless Project, but probably don’t bother with the WON alternatives.
  • Dark Messiah: Overheated my video card initially, but then just started randomly freezing halfway through the game. Fix: Gave up on this one.
  • Stalker: Oh, where to begin. Fix: Play Deus Ex or Oblivion.
  • And finally, Fortress Forever…

I’ve been pretty excited off and on over the last year about Fortress Forever, the source engine remake of Half-Life’s Team Fortress Classic mod. Well, I finally checked up on it recently and noticed they finished it in September, weeks before the launch of TF2 in fact. But of course, when I got onto an empty server to give it a whirl, I locked up within minutes. Googling around, I came up with several supposed fixes to the generic “looping sound crash/freeze”. I dunno about crashes, but whenever my system freezes and the sound loops every few seconds, I know it’s a video card problem. Sure enough, most of the fixes were of the video card variety. So I tried the typical “update your drivers” fix, thus finding out that ATI has inadvertently (or maybe not) started phasing out AGP cards from its newest drivers (7.7+). Shit, my Direct3D wouldn’t even initialize with the 7.9 Cats. I went back to the next latest set of Omega drivers (based on 7.4) because I enjoy the control panel that doesn’t force bloatware rape on your system like the Catalyst Control Center that fucked my system over last time I installed it. But part of the Omega control panel doesn’t work for some reason, so I may end up going back to 7.6 + ATI’s control panel from some old Cat version (4.12?).

Long story short, the drivers weren’t the issue. I tried lowering sound card acceleration in DXDIAG and setting FF to launch in Direct3D 8.0. None of this did any good. Then I got a hint that reminded me of a “fix” I used to get Stalker working. You may recall from this news post, how I set some Paged Pool parameters to stop Stalker from freezing. At the time, I was unsure that such a change to the memory management would affect other programs negatively. From my understanding, setting PagedPoolSize to 0xFFFFFFFF basically just told Windows to use as big a pool as it could, thus making it difficult to run out. Apparently, the source engine doesn’t like this. After I forced a value of 402653184 (Dec) bytes (384MB), I was able to play an entire game of the classic map Well as a sniper. (Betting this fix may also work for my Dark Messiah troubles, as it also uses the source engine.) I’m still feeling out this new TFC, but it was still great fun and everyone in the community is awesome. I had some problems sniping though, at first…I kept trying to make lag shots like I was still on a 56K modem. Nope, you don’t need much lead with 70ms ping.

Oh…and FUCK YOU, STALKER! Ukrainian piece of shit.

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It’s 10:30, right? Ttssssss…I gotta take a news break.

A lot of stuff has happened since my last post: my sister got married, I had a birthday, and school started back. However, none of those are particularly interesting or tech-oriented, but here’s some things that are:

Since my last post about fixing my video card, the fan naturally died again. I should have expected this. Trick #2 to know about fans is that after they’ve failed once, they’ll probably fail again soon after fixing them. I overlooked this fact because I was too satisfied with my work. But after confirming the fan had died a second time, I went ahead and ordered a copper GPU HSF kit (VANTEC CCB-A1C) from Newegg.

The installation was mostly straight-forward except that I had to modify the 3-pin fan connector to fit the 2-pin header on the video card. I did this by putting the 3-pin wires (of which there were only 2; the third wire is typically for RPM monitoring) into the previous fan’s 2-pin connector (the plastic part). The thing about 2-pin and 3-pin connectors is that they don’t terminate the wires the same way, so I basically just had to force the wires down into the connector, hoping the pressure would keep them contacting the header pins. It’s pretty ghetto.

Kaylen’s a sweetie. She got me a Western Digital 320GB (3200AAKS) SATA drive for my birthday. Unfortunately, she (and I) overlooked the fact that this drive only has a SATA power connector, which my PSU lacks. In my defense, the Newegg page that I sent to her about it had no mention of what power connectors it offered. Newegg came to the rescue again, though, with a SATA power to 4-pin Molex adapter for a few bucks, which was shipped in an absurdly large box filled almost completely with packing peanuts.

The hard drive upgrade plan (which I devised a year or more ago) was to copy each current drive up to the next highest capacity drive and then remove the oldest drive, a near-failing Maxtor 40GB. Thus, the 40GB drive’s data would go to the 80GB, the 80 to the 160, and the 160 to the new 320 (in the reverse order, obviously). This process went rather smooth until I got to the 40GB drive, which held the OS and boot loader stuff. I knew I couldn’t just copy the drive within Windows and expect it to boot. There are just too many OS-locked system files, for one thing; but also, the Master Boot Record won’t be copied. I looked around for a while trying to find the right way to approach this. After a whole afternoon of failed WD Data Lifeguard bootable floppies, I finally found a program that would do everything I wanted, Acronis True Image. It will step you through a simple wizard that will even let you resize copied partitions and then force you to reboot into a Windows console (like Scandisk uses) that flies through the process. It even gives you time to unplug the source drive so that it can assign the correct drive letters to the destination. It worked flawlessly (after I converted the source drive from FAT32 to NTFS). I now have about 280GB free across 3 drives–I wonder how long it’ll take me to fill them all up.

news238Lastly, if you haven’t seen the new show on G4, Code Monkeys, then you really need to. Even if you don’t get that channel, you know there are plenty of sources for the episodes on eMule. Basically, it’s a show about 80s video games that looks like an 80s video game. The comedy is a good amount of raunchy and there are plenty of game references strewn about the sets. Seriously, if you’re a gamer or a programmer, you will love this show. /end plug

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Snake fixes his video card.

Recently, I’ve been noticing increased GPU temperatures on my Radeon 9600 XT courtesy of ATITool and MBM. At idle, the GPU was already up to 140°F. At first, I just shook it off as a fluke or an overcompensation as I wasn’t seeing any real issues or graphical corruption. Looking back, I realize that the reason I hadn’t been seeing any problems was the games I (and Kaylen) had been playing: GTA3 (6 year old game), Alice (7 year old game), and Project64 (based off of 11 year old technology). None of these games even take advantage of some of the three year old technologies on my video card; so it wasn’t being stressed enough to fail.

Then I decided to play Dark Messiah since it’d been out long enough to get passed its initial release stability problems; I never had any problems with the demo version either. But once I got through the training mission, my system just locked up completely. I restarted and checked the BIOS hardware monitors and everything looked acceptable. Suspecting something else, I started playing again with the MBM dashboard open on the secondary monitor. When the system locked again almost immediately, I looked at the dashboard to see an insane 240°F (115°C) for the GPU core temperature–well beyond the boiling point for water. I was surprised to see it get that high before failing.

At this point, I acknowledged that the excessive temperatures reported indicated some cooling problems with the video card. I removed the card from the system so that I could get at the cooling apparatus better; and sure enough, there were some large chunks of dust clogging up several of the fins on the sides. I felt that the amount of dust was even capable of slowing the fan down enough for failure. After cleaning and replacing the card into the motherboard, I booted up and checked the temperatures–still ~140°F at idle. To see if there was any sort of improvement, I tried the “fuzzy spinning cube” stress test of ATITool. It got up to and then leveled out at 219°F, locking after a few minutes. There was still something wrong; however, cleaning the dust chunks out of the heatsink did seem to alleviate some of the heat stagnation.


Testing the fan with a battery after oiling.

I let the system POST and then went into the BIOS so I could poke around in the computer case while it was on. I positioned a mirror and flashlight so I could see the GPU HSF, and as I had expected, the fan was not spinning at all. I took the card out again and moved it to the kitchen table so I could work on it. I removed the HSF from the GPU and then slid the wires out of the fan power connector. I was going to test the fan with some battery power; however I didn’t know what voltage the fan normally took. But I figured 9V was probably a safe bet and easiest to test with. I laid the exposed fan wires on the battery terminals and nothing happened. It was looking like the fan might just be burnt out and I would need to order a replacement, but I had one more trick up my sleeve.


Curiously enough, the chip appears to say Radeon 9570 XT instead of 9600 XT.

As Kaylen looked on in amazement, I removed the sticker on top of the fan to reveal the mechanical access hole. As you may know, a couple drops of household oil into a ball-bearing fan can bring it back to top speed or even quiet it down. So, that’s what I did, followed by manually spinning the blades until the motion felt smooth. As you can probably guess, the fan buzzed right up. While I was at it (and because I had made a mess of what was already there), I replaced the questionable thermal compound that was used previously between the core and the HSF. It was a silver material, but not necessarily comparable to the quality of the Arctic Silver I replaced it with. Kaylen had fun snapping pictures while I did this. You can see them below.

And after I put everything back together, I did get to play Dark Messiah for five hours without any problems. It’s actually a lot better game than some of the reviews made it out to be. It reminds me of a cross between Enclave and Thief 3–the former for the combat style and the latter for the atmosphere. However, I will admit that the overabundance of convenient environmental traps to kick or cut detracts from the realism. But at the same time…fuck it, the game is still fun.

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