Sunday, April 19, 2009

IDE DVD drive + IDE to SATA converter + AHCI BIOS + Vista

This is your free "incompatibility of the day report".

If you try the above combination, the Vista install DVD will take about a half hour to boot, and will never be able to install.

The moral of the story : if you are going to enable AHCI in your motherboard BIOS, you need to make sure that all your devices are real SATA devices, and not using any IDE to SATA converter. I found this out, the hard way.

The specific components I ran into this with were a Samsung DVD burner, Unitek IDE to SATA converter, XFX nForce 750a motherboard with AMI BIOS, and Vista x64 SP1 boot DVD.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Incompatibility of the day : GA-P35-DS3R vs Hauppauge HVR-1800 vs PNY 9500/9600 GT

For inexplicable reasons, installing a PNY 9600GT video card together with a Hauppauge HVR-1800 capture card on a Gigabyte P35-DS3R motherboard causes Vista not to be able to resume from ACPI S3 sleep mode.

Other combinations are OK with S3 resume, including P35-DS3R + E-VGA 8600 GT + HVR-1800, P35-DS3R + PNY 9600GT . I even tried on another motherboard, an XFX nForce 750a SLI . No problem there with the same PNY 9600 GT video card and the HVR-1800.

I also own a PNY 9500 GT video card, which I tried. It has the exact same compatibility problem as the PNY 9600 GT video card.

So, I can't really say which of the 3 components - the Gigabyte P35-DS3R motherboard, the PNY 9500/9600GT video card, or the Hauppauge HVR-1800 is most at fault. All I know is that they don't work right together with ACPI S3 resume . This is one of the major problems with PCs today - so much hardware can be installed together, but most of the combinations are never tested.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Positive SLI experience with dual 8600GT cards and XFX nForce 750a motherboard

For reasons that I will explain another day, I have been switching video cards around a lot between my home computers. When I built my HTPC in 2008, I chose a video card with the same chipset as for my main PC - one based on the nVidia Geforce 8600GT chipset cards. One board was from E-VGA, and the other from Palit. The HTPC is now running with a slightly slower, but cooler and quieter, PNY 9500GT. My main PC is now running with a much faster PNY 9600GT. The 3rd PC had a built-in video card on its XFX nForce 750a motherboard, and supported SLI. However, like most built-in video cards, it was relatively underperforming, and it only had one digital video output. I have a requirement for two DVI - one to drive my Gateway FDH2401 24", and a second one to drive the monster HP LP3065 30" LCD that's getting delivered on wednesday, to replace the CMV-221D 22" that I sold last friday.

So, in this 3rd PC, I disabled the built-in video card, and after mucking with the jumpers on the motherboard just like in the good old days of non-PNP ISA cards, plugged in both video 8600GT cards into their respective PCI-E slots.

After a reboot, I could see that the graphics performance went from 5.9 in Aero and 5.5 in 3D in the built-in Vista benchmark, vs about 4.3 for the built-in 750a. After enabling SLI, the 3D score went up to 5.8 . I guess it's a little disappointing to just go from 5.5 to 5.8, but it shows SLI is working. The 5.8 was the lowest of all scores - everything else was 5.9 . The other PC with the lone 9600GT gets 5.9 in both Vista graphic tests.

This was with a single Gateway FHD2401 display running at 1920x1200. The second HP 30" display will run at 2560x1600 when I get it. I hope the presence of two video cards will help the performance when it gets hooked up.

Monday, April 13, 2009

VGA to DVI conversion success : Ambery HDV1

I received another signal converter today, the Ambery HDV1. I had ordered it last week from Ebay. It is not in the same price range as the model from Central Computers that I tested over the week-end - about 3 times the price - more with shipping and sales tax. It also has the interesting property that it works ! I connected the VGA output of the Roland VS-2400CD to the VGA input of the HDV1. I then used a DVI to HDMI converter, and an HDMI cable, and plugged them in to the DVI output of the HDV1. The HDMI cable went to port #1 of my Monoprice HDX-501 switch. And my Gateway FHD2401 displayed it nicely.

The HDV1 is supposed to support up to 1600x1200 resolution, which I have not tried, since the VS-2400CD will only output 640x480. But it could be useful down the road to hookup other VGA stuff, like my boyfriend's laptop.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Avanquest Disk Utilities vs Vista x64

On April 11th, I purchased the Avanquest Disk Utilities - a software package comprised of 4 different programs : Partition Commander, Perfect Image, System Commander, and Disk Copy & Clean. All fairly handy programs to have when one is constantly changing hardware, backing up, restoring, and installing and de-installing software, as I always am.
The box stated that it supported Vista, in large characters.
I opened it today and attempted to install the first program - Partition Commander. Unfortunately, it doesn't support Vista 64 bits. Same story for Perfect Image - which I was most interested in out of the 4. System Commander works, but I already had a license and I knew that. Disk Copy & Clean runs from the boot CD.
Overall, that's 50% of the programs that only run in 32 bit mode. I then noted that, in very small print, on the other side of the box, there was a note that it only worked in "32 bit only". I must have missed it during my purchase. I even looked for confirmation of 64-bit support online before I opened the box, since I knew I couldn't return software. It was nowhere to be found.
Fortunately, Avanquest has an excellent 90-day money back guarantee on this program, but now I have to mail it to them at my expense, and I am out the sales tax. I can't return the program to the retailer.

Central Computers HCV0101 VGA to HDMI converter vs Roland VS-2400CD

I have been wanting to go all-digital for my displays in my home office. Don't ask me why, the reason would be longer than this blog entry.

One device has stood in the way until now - the Roland VS-2400CD digital audio workstation. As I have mentioned before in this blog, it is an embedded system, featuring only a VGA analog connection, and there is no possibility of installing a different video card. It outputs a fairly low 640x480 VGA resolution.

Thus, the only way to connect this device to a digital display (DVI or HDMI) would be to use an analog to digital signal converter. This used to be an expensive conversion box. Not anymore.

Earlier this week, I spotted an inexpensive signal converter on Central Computers' web site, model HCV0101 . The total cost was under $40. On saturday april 11, I decided to give it a try. I first drove to the Santa Clara store. They were out of stock, and directed me to their Sunnyvale store, where I purchased it.

Once I got home, I hooked it up - and got no picture whatsoever. The specs on the unit listed 640x480 as one of the resolutions :

640x480 60Hz 75Hz

I hooked up the VS-2400CD to my display via the analog VGA connection again. I then noticed that it was set to output 640x480 at 66 Hz for some reason. One of the very few display settings on the Roland is the vertical refresh rate. I turned it down to 60 Hz . I hooked up the converter again. And then, I got a digital picture ! I guess the converter can only handle those two specific refresh rates of 60 Hz and 75 Hz, and nothing else in between.

The 640x480 picture did not look good on the Gateway FHD2401, but that's because it tries to stretch it accross the screen in "wide" mode, and it's supposed to be a 4:3 resolution. That problem is common to both the direct VGA connection and the converted HDMI output. Unfortunately, the only setting on the Gateway that will solve that problem is using the "native 1:1" setting - but this results in the picture only being postcard-size, since the screen is 1920x1200. This problem has nothing to do with the converter though, and everything to do with the scaler in the Gateway FHD2401 and its lack of settings.

I thought I was done with the VGA->HDMI converter, but unfortunately not so. Later in the day, the unit started losing the HDMI connection. It turns out the HDMI connector on it is very loose. I think I got a defective unit. Another trip to Central Computers may be in order.

Update : I got a replacement unit. Clearly an open box one. And it behaved the same. It worked for a minute or so and then kept losing the signal. I guess a signal converter for that price is too good to be true. I returned it on April 13.

Level One DVI PS/2 KVM-0406 vs nearly everything else I tried to hook up to it

DVI PS/2 KVM switches are very hard to come by. Most digital video KVM switches use the USB interface these days, not the older PS/2 keyboard and mouse interface. Most computers for the last decade have featured USB connectors, though not all of them support USB keyboard and mice at boot time. Unfortunately, one of my machines is an embedded system, a Roland VS-2400CD, which features only PS/2 connections, and cannot be upgraded to USB since there are no expansion slots of any kind, and even if there were, it would also require firmware to support it.

One would think that such an issue could be resolved by the use of a simple PS/2 - USB converter. But that is not so. Plenty of converters exist to connect PS/2 keyboard and mice to USB-only computers, but there are no converters that I know of that will allow PS/2-only computers to use USB device.

In fact, the only solution is a smart KVM switch that can accept the PS/2 on the computer port side. That presents a big problem if one also wants to use a digital video interface like DVI or HDMI, since very few digital KVM switches exist with a PS/2 interface.

A week ago, I found one such switch on ebay. It was a Level One model KVM-0406 . The price was ridiculously low - about $45 shipped. The specs said its maximum resolution over DVI was 1600x1200, which was lower than the 1920x1200 resolution that I needed. But it also said that it supported the maximum single-link DVI bandwidth of 165 MHz, and my video card is doing 1920x1200 over single link DVI. So, I ordered it, and received it by fedex on saturday April 11.
I immediately hooked up one of my PCs to it, which was using an nVidia 8600GT video card. The pleasant surprise was that it ran just fine at 1920X1200. The mouse and keyboard worked just as well as with my previous analog KVM switch, too. The only problem was that the Cyberlink Blu-ray advisor noticed that HDCP did not work on the DVI connection - where it worked without the switch, but I did not have the expectation that this old switch would support it.

I thought I was all set and I went on running errands for the day - not trying to connect the 2 other machines to the switch.

Much later in the day, I was cursing at the switch. The Roland VS-2400CD had some major issues with the mouse locking up and jumping all over the place by itself. This was something that could only be attributed to the mouse emulation in the KVM switch.

Worse, my second PC, using an nVidia 9500GT video card, had major problems with it when connected to the switch. When I first hooked it up, "live", the display at 1920x1200 just flickered horribly and the picture was half way off screen. I thought it might be the 15ft cable. So I switched to a 6ft cable (the same length as for the other PC that worked), and brought the machine closer. The problem persisted.
I tried to reboot the system. The BIOS screens showed up without corruption. But the operating system (Vista) would not boot. Not from the hard drive, nor from the installation DVD !
I never could figure out why that was. But when I took the KVM switch out of the way and reverted to the previous configuration, the machine booted just fine.

Needless to say, with only 1 machine out of 3 working properly with the switch, it is not useful to me, and I'm in the process of trying to return it. I am not sure if I will have any luck locating a good PS/2 and DVI/HDMI switch.

For now, I have reverted to using my trusted Iogear MiniView SE for the keyboard and mouse connections, since it works properly with all 3 machines and its mouse emulation does not cause issue. And I am using the previously-discussed Monoprice HDX-501 switch to switch the Gateway FHD2401 digital display. It's not very ergonomic, especially since the HDX-501 uses a single toggle button that only goes forward, and requires four button presses to go to the previous input :-(. I foresee a better digital switch in my future.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Eagle Consus ET-CSIU2J-BK dual SATA drive JBOD enclosure

After the WD hard drive failure I had yesterday, I decided that I need more backup storage. Therefore, today I bought this drive enclosure from Microcenter along with a pair of 1.5 TB SATA Seagate drives in order to build a 3 TB array. The enclosure is supposed to take two SATA drives, and make theme look like a single larger drive.

I noticed that the box for this enclosure said 2 TB limit, but the salesman said it probably just hadn't been tested with larger drives. The price was right, so I took a chance.

I tried it as soon as I got home, and the two 1.5 TB drives were recognized as ... only 750 GB total :-( A quarter of the actual capacity.

Unfortunately, that means the enclosure is useless to me. I was hoping to reduce the number of power supplies/USB plugs and hook up more high capacity drives. But this isn't the solution unfortunately. So, both the enclosure and the two hard drives will be going back.

If someone knows of a JBOD enclosure that doesn't have this 2 TB limit, please let me know.

Friday, April 3, 2009

They don't make hard drives like they used to.

It was only 8 months ago that I purchased a Western Digital 320 GB external USB hard drive, for the purpose of bringing my uncompressed music collection to the office, and listening to it on my computer in the background with headphones. Today, this hard drive has already failed. It just does a clicking noise when being powered up. It has only been moved a few times between home and office. Fortunately, all the data is backed up at home, many times, and the drive has a 3 year warranty, but it is an annoyance to have to ship this drive back to the manufacturer for a replacement.

LSI Logic 53C1010 SCSI controller vs Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R motherboard

I have used SCSI controllers on almost all the many computers I have built since I was 15 years old. I have a couple that I have been using since 2001 - an eternity in computer times - which are based on the LSI Logic 53C1010 chipset.

When I did a major computer upgrade in 2007, I chose a Gigabyte GA-P35-DSR3 motherboard.

The LSI SCSI card worked OK with it, with one exception : the SCSI BIOS always searched for all 30 SCSI targets, 15 on the LVD bus (Ultra 160) and 15 on the regular wide SCSI bus (40 MB/s). It seemed to ignore the SCSI BIOS settings that I had set, telling it to only search for the SCSI targets that I actually have. This annoying problem increases the machine's boot time by about 20 seconds. There are 3 other disk controllers in the system - one Intel ICH9R SATA controller on the motherboard, one Gigabyte SATA controller also on the motherboard, and finally one VIA IDE/SATA controller on a multifunction PCI card. That's a lot of BIOS storage target scans to go through before the computer can even start booting the operating system from a hard disk or other device. It's a little bit over a minute's worth of BIOS time. Unfortunately, too many programs still require reboots after installation or uninstallation, or I would seldom reboot the computer - I normally use ACPI S3 sleep/resume feature which works great.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Google is still not indexing new sites without external links

In March and April of 2008, I acted as recording engineer in the production of a new recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. In January of 2009, I put up a web site making the recording available to everyone. Nearly 3 months later, this web site still does not appear in the Google index, despite my having added it manually as a suggested link. Apparently, that suggestion was ignored. The site just cannot be found. This blog entry will be the first external link to that web site. I hope that it will succeed in getting the site indexed.