Monday, December 17, 2007

This is the end, my friend

An AC was so kind to post this link about AMD's plans (or lack of) for the FX platform.

I can only surmise that AMD took so long to create the new FX chips that they just decided to create an entirely new platform. Fair enough - why bother with NVidia? I mean it's not like they are a stellar software engineering company. For example NVidia forgot to assign some of our motherboards a MAC address or better yet how about those 8800 GTX drivers that finally work 8 months after Vista's RTM launch? To their credit they still have the worlds fastest (consumer) graphics card a year later.

It's also quite evident from the motherboard lineup that Phenom will be their platform going forward. That was always something that bothered me about the FX - there was just one motherboard available. It seemed like that wasn't quite enough.

Anyway - it is unlikely that I will continue investing my money in this platform. While I will carry a banner on principal for a time, AMD is so badly beaten at this point that it will be time to make a switch. I might have stayed with AMD but the fact that a year ago we were promised upgrades which never came - no new technology. No investment by AMD in the products WE invested in. We'll - that's hard to swallow.

In the coming months I will be putting up a new blog - I'll post the URL here for anyone that might be interested.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Intel unloads a new salvo

I just stumbled along this link:

http://www.hothardware.com/Articles/Intel_Skulltrail_and_Penryn_Performance_Preview/

Looks like the FX platform may not be so great after all...

It would be nice if AMD had answer for this.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Smoke and mirrors

It's disappointing that AMD feels the need to mislead the market place into thinking that something has been realeased when it really hasn't.

Take for example the 2360 SE and the 2350 parts.

Shortly after the announcement I poked some of my favorite sites that carry such things - to no avail. In fact, one site indicates that the 2350 is ETA: Past Due and that there are -4 parts in stock.

Wow.

For a company that has in the past been critised for difficulty in delivering - this doesn't help any.

I have also noticed that Dell carries high efficiency quad core chip propoganda on their site, but none of the servers can be configured with any of the new parts.

I don't know about anyone else but I would prefer that a launch date actually mean something.

Sadly, I just purchased two dual quad core E53XX servers from Dell.

Barcelona Benchmarks

An interesting write up recently in tech report on Barcelona...

http://techreport.com/articles.x/13176

The bottom line is this - in the highly business oriented benchmark SPECjbb2005 the opterons pulled ahead of their competing Intel parts. In some of the scientific benchmarks such as MyriMatch the Opteron also performed well. However when it comes to raw compute the chips don't perform that well.

Another item of interest is the single threaded performance of the 2300 parts in benchmarks such as POV-Ray. The new chips actually finish last among Intel AND previous generation AMD parts.

This tells me that the plumbing in the new chips is exceptional. The raw core performance seems to be lagging, but the internals must be able to handle IO very, very well to keep pace with Intel.

Overall - they still lag far behind Intel based on these test benchmarks.

For those of us that game this is not good news. As I wrote a while ago gaming performance is largely dictated by the performance of core and does not see much benefit from multiple processors. If the FX-90's don't see a significant boost on raw core performance we will find that most of games will perform worse - not better than they do now.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Vacation

For anyone that is actually still subscribed to this blog... lol you know I've taken a bit of a vacation.

Here are a few updates!

When I built this machine last year I had expected that I would be upgrading to two 8 core processors. This unfortunately has not happened due to AMD seriously slipping on their delivery schedule for the Phenom line. At the moment it looks as if there is going to be a serious wait for those of us who wish to take advantage of 8 cores. I'm really disappointed by these turn of events. So much for the 4x4 becoming a "platform". More information about the release schedule is available here. I think I'm tempted to wait for the FX-91 to launch. I can't really see the benefits of taking a step back in MHz. Of course, clock is not everything but...

When I make the move to 8 cores it will be time for a disk upgrade as well. One of the issues that the current machine faces is that a large number of processes causes excessive I/O and effectively limits the capacity of the machine. Vista indicates a ling queue length. A good example of this is running 3 or four virtual machines in addition to "normal" development tasks. I've been exploring options. At the moment, out and deep come to mind. I'm thinking about adding another array and possibly trying a 3 disk RAID 0 to see if there is better performance. I'm not convinced that will alleviate queing issues though so it might be worth test (how?).

The drivers for the 8800 are now WHQL, there have not been too many issues with it. Upgrading using NVidia's package has been easy. I would not recommend using Windows update to upgrade the NVidia drivers, especially the storage drivers as I have had issues in the past. There is a new board package for the 680a although I'm really not too interested in "upgrading" anything that has to do with the RAID array. As they say "If it ain't broke don't fix it".

Performance monitoring still does not work correctly and I have no idea why.

The recently reported bug involving decreased network performance while playing audio under Vista affects this machine. It's really bad too. When transfering Multi-GB virtual machine images over the network I can get 107 MB/s peak and appx. 90 MB/s average between another Dell server with a RAID 0 array. The same transfer with audio playing will reduce the transfer speed to appx. 16 MB/s average. Terrible.

Overall the system continues to run well and continue to meet and exceed the demands that I place on it.

I'm still on the fence if I will move to the AMD chipset. We'll see if they are able to provide a compelling reason to make a move. Although, it looks like the 680a is largely dead. NVidia has already released a new version of the 680i chipset with more features. To be fair I'm not sure what they could add to the 680a besides SLI drivers that work!

LG

Friday, May 11, 2007

Driver Upgrade

NVidia has released a new driver package!

Drivers for x64 vista have been spotty to date but this update to nTune seemed to go a long way in providing me with decent system stats. It is also the only way we'll be able to OC the 8800.

http://www.nvidia.com/object/ntune_5.05.38.00.html

Also, new 8800 drivers were released on May 2nd!

http://www.nvidia.com/object/winvista_x64_158.18.html

The install process is easier. I can now play texas hold 'em with out that nasty flicker. Stay away from the DreamScene content though, it apparenly causes major issues.

**Note** I would highly recommend running all of the control panels as administrator, they seem to crash when they are not.

4x4 in the news

Some great news from Toms Hardware and TG Daily. Apparently AMD is showing off new boards and chipsets (something on my wish list):

http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/31991/118/

Apparently our new motherboard platform will be called Wahoo.

And the 4 core processor? It's apparently 45nm and was demoed this week as well! It will be called "Agena".

http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/31977/135/

Pretty exciting stuff!

News about R600 has been a little disappointing. Apparently AMD is releasing a model that is between the 8800 GTS and GTX but about the same price as the GTS. I believe the model is the 2900 XT. The monster card is the 2900 XTX which is supposed to be shipping around the same time as the board and processor parts.

It seems the ATI community is pretty happy about their drivers - encouraging. Hopefully ATI is doing the right thing and not developing their driver codebase on the fly.

Here is some info on the 2900's performance:

2900 XT Benchmarks

Monday, April 30, 2007

Disk Disk Disk

I think the one of the upcoming challenges for the 4 and 8 core workstation market is going to be resolving a major problem for multi core systems. I/O contention.

In the 4x4 we have two processors with a total of four cores, soon to be 8. So much CPU - and yet I find that I still wait. So I must of course ask the question "What am I waiting for?". Invariably the answer is the hard drive. As I continuted to cogitate I realized now that the machine can run four concurrent processes - system or otherwise, and there can be 4 active threads ( minimum ) that would be able to and need access to the hard disk. Each thread on it's own is quite capable of saturating the hard disk with requests.

With 8 threads running concurrently we're going to have even more trouble feeding them the data that they need. It's an unfortunate scenario because there does not seem to be a decent answer.

For now I see the most viable option is to add between 4 and 8 disks to your system. I will elaborate.

To truly take advantage of the 8 cores I think that we'll need the following:

Drives Purpose
1/2 (R0) System Disk
1/2 (R0) Program Files
1/2 (R0) User Data
1/2 (R0) User application data (My Documents, Music, Etc.)

These are all areas that are accessed very frequently and demand a high level of I/O. The nvidia chipset has a large number of SATA slots, and it's possible that the designers were thinking that it would be wise to use them all. I can see now, why this is the case.

This is likely overkill - you could probably get away with using 2 of the 4 sets. But if you need and use Virtual Machines a 3rd or 4th set is not out of the question.

I suspect there would be performance boost, but I'm not entirely sure how we'd go about measuring this.

Just food for thought.

L1N64-SLI WS Ethernet DOA Part 2

Well, it seems that the Ethernet DOA - was not.

Apparently the firmware for my motherboard was not properly initalized leaving the MAC address for the Ethernet in it's default (and invalid) state.

I found through the helpful advice of another reader that setting the MAC address manually in Vista allowed me to use the on-board ethernet. Whoo!

I was quite happy about this and immediately did some benchmarking with a server on my network that has a RAID 0 disk and a GbE controller. The result under Vista was an astonishing 92 MB/sec - very close to the benchmarked maximum read speed of my disks.

Apparently there is another ASUS BIOS update out there or possibly still in beta that will allow you to write the MAC address value directly to the firmware. However because setting the address manually worked I have not invested much time in exploring BIOS updates.

Of course there is a caveat - I found that running the same transfer 12 hours later yielded performance in the 18 - 24 MB/s range. I guess the dynamic TCP windowing capability of Vista is not that smart :(

My guess is that if 99% of your traffic is internet based then the window function will tend towards a much smaller MTU, and the advantatges of the large MTU will be lost over the local LAN. This is of course speculation - but the likelyhood that the dynamic windowing function is unaware of the context of the transmission (local LAN vs. WAN) is quite likely given where it would sit on the network stack to do it's job.

Bottom line: reboot for multi GB transfers over GbE.

An interesting note however is that there is a very noticeable difference between my onboard card vs. netgear card. The onboard completely outpaced the netgear card even after rebooting and retrying the transfers.

Still here

To answer a readers question: we're still up and running. I've been running around quite a bit lately and it hasn't involved spending a lot of QT with my 4x4.

As we get closer to the AMD launch I'll be providing some details on AMD's support for the upcoming Barcelona platform as well as the new R600.

When the time comes we'll be documenting the upgrade from the FX-70 to the new Barcelona chips.

Believe it or not, I'll be needing the CPU!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Goodbye NVidia

Almost two and a half months after the launch of Vista we don't have fully operational 8800 drivers. In addition, the platform drivers are of questionable quality as well.

This is in my opinion, inexcusable.

There are a number of others who are quite peeved, most notably the forum goers over at the once operational www.nvidiaclassaction.org ( I wonder where the site went? ). Though you can pretty much find a rant just by typing "8800 GTX Vista" into google.

So I've decided that when the R600 rolls out (I'm willing to be a little patient) I'm going to make the switch.

With any luck we will see a motherboard from ATI/AMD for the 4x4 platform sometime soon as well.

I hope that others who have NVidia products and are displeased will choose differently on their next purchases. Short of some sort of legal action, the only way we can show our dissatisfaction is by purchasing another product.

L1N64-SLI WS Ethernet DOA

At least two other readers have had trouble with their on board Ethernet. I'd like to hear from anyone else who has had an issue as well just leave a comment.

A call for comments

Give the compatibility issues I've written about so far, I ask any readers of this blog to post comments about hardware vendors whose hardware works with Vista, or doesn't and any other information that you feel is relevant. At some later date I'll re post with a list featuring the naughty and nice.

Vista Compatibility

Recent events have me pretty ticked off.

I just bought a Logitech Orbit MP camera. A cool little camera with 640x480@30fps and Pan/Zoom/Tilt features as well. I bought it specifically because there is a logo on the box that shows: "Works with Vista". Two vista installs later (32 and 64) it doesn't work with Vista, nor do the latest drivers.

I also had to uninstall the latest version of the 8800 drivers because the nvidia display driver kept crashing after playing W.o.W. for 30 minutes. I'm now back to the Feb. 20th release. Which while it works has some problems. Several are incompatibilty with the Hold Em' game distributed with Vista Ulti and crashes after running DreamScene for more than a few minutes.

Why is it that Samsung has Vista drivers that work with my 4 year old laser printer? And why does a nice little icon show up with my T-Mobile dash? All of my joysticks including my Yoke and Pedals from CH Products work as well.

The things I've read over in the ATI camp indicate that they are pretty happy with their "Vista Experience". And I have to be honest my Laptop has an old school X300 in it, and it's been running Vista since October with not a single instability.

I'm baffled at how companies can release products that are advertised to work with Vista but don't. From what I've been reading, Logitech's track record with software support for their hardware is pretty bad. NVidia has major issues as well.

I would like to see some legal action related to the claims of "compatibilty" I feel that it is really going to be the only way to send a clear message to these companies that it is NOT ok to use us as beta testers.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Motherboard RMA

I have an RMA into Asus regarding the on-board network card issue. Another reader pointed out he had the same symptoms under xp 64 - I hope that the hardware is broken and not the software. Hopefully they are going to be able to send me a new motherboard so I can just do a swap.

In the mean time I will continue to make due with my little Netgear 1 GbE card.

Virtual Server 2003 R2 and Vista

Just a word of caution, it doesn't work on this machine.

I installed virtual server a couple nights ago. I rebooted, and my machine BSOD'd within 10 minutes of starting up. Periodically it would BSOD and reboot. Whacky. The error was in ndis.sys. Of course "Checking on-line" for a solution yielded nothing. Admittedly Virtual Server 2003 R2 does not feature Vista 64 as one of the compatible operating systems, oh well.

More RAM installed

I got another pair of the Tracers this evening. I popped them in with out a hitch. The system seems a bit more responsive - especially in WoW during the flight from Westfall to Iron Forge (an aerial route in which there are many frequent scene changes) Route the frame rate seems to be better.

Interestingly, the steady state ram usage is now up to about 2 GB.

I'm sure the RAM benchmarks would be pretty high now. Unfortunately I tried to install Sandra a week ago and it doesn't work. No idea why, something about not being able to connect to a database. I wish vendors would test their software with Vista... >:0

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A few words about power management

One of the really neat things about Vista is the new resource monitor. It gives a very detailed in depth look at what is going on with your system. It offers a number of new metrics to see how your system is doing. Some of the readings that I got after installing baffled me a little.

In Vista, under the original task manager (Ctrl-Alt-Delete -> Task Manager) you can find your CPU utilization. I spent a decent amound of time looking at the CPU meter under XP 64 just to see what was going on under the hood. I found that for the most part the CPU never exceeded 30 - 40%. Only when a number of tasks or an installer was running would it go higher. Occasionally I'd leave WoW and EVE running at the same time and wonder why it wasn't quite as fast as it should be. Mind you, I'm overly sensitive and have high expections for my new machine. However when I was not using the machine, I found that the CPU was largely idle (1% Usage)

So after I installed Vista it seemed that my base usage had gone up, a lot. It also seemed that the general responsiveness of the machine was lower. I became curious and investigated further. I found that there is a new button, under the "Performance" tab in the Task Manager. It's the resource monitor. The resource monitor provides a vast amount of information. Amoing it's nice features is a CPU readout. Unlike task manager there are two data points, a blue line "Frequency" and the traditional green line, CPU usage.

I watched the graph and realized in short order that the CPU was by default, not running at 100%. In fact, most of the time it was clocked at 38%, the lowest speed possible. I typed in the word "Power" in the start menu and it brought up "Power Options". Sure enough, Vista is clocked at "Balance" by default. This means that if your cpu supports Cool n' Quiet (Lame name AMD) or SpeedStep Vista will enable it by default. It's nice that Vista supports these features by default.

So, if you feel like Vista is a little slower than XP, it probably is by default, but know that you are helping the environment by keeping the "Balanced" or "Power Saver" setting. You can always change it to give you a boost when you need it.

Share your score

I just found this really cool site for sharing your Windows Vista Score. Pretty cool stuff check it out!

http://www.shareyourscore.com

After submitting your info you'll get a little icon like the one on the right bar

A 4x4 Vista Score


After installing Vista I was really interested to see what the experience index would be. Before installing my graphics drivers it was a solid 1.0 based on lowest subsystem score. This was of course due to the fact that the default Vista drivers for my card didn't perform very well. So, I went on to install the 8800 drivers from NVidia and I ran the benchmark again. I wasn't fully sure what the scale was, 1 to 5? 1 to 10? Given the consistency of the results and based on the documentation in the help file I figured the scale is actually 1 to "5" which actually means 1 to less than 6 based on my results. 1 to 10 might have been better!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Vista 32 bit or 64?

Last week I took the plunge and installed Vista on my 4x4 machine.

I purchased a copy of the "limited edition signed by Bill Gates" version of Vista. Lame I know, but it was the same price as the regular version on Amazon.

The ultimate edition comes with two DVD's, one for the 32 bit version and one for the 64 bit version. So of course the first question that comes to mind, which version do I install?

Being a glutton for punishment as well as having some very solid reasons for wanting to use the 64 bit version, I chose to go for the 64 bit.

Here are a few reasons for choosing the 64 bit version: Microsoft has said that they will not allow Kernel level access to outside applications in vista 64. What this means is that malicious programs will have an extremely hard time placing system level "hooks" that could be used for nefarious purposes. This was a major issue in the months leading up to the release in 2006. Many anti-virus vendors were complaining that they would not be able to make their software work properly with vista if it did not allow Kernel level access. Microsoft acquiesced to their request due to political and legal pressure, especially the EU. The compromise was that the 32 bit version would be left "open" and the 64-bit version would be left closed. As a developer I feel that the general direction of pc software will be towards 64 bit - so I'm interested developing under a 64 bit environment. Finally, in reading the list of "known issues" listed by Nvidia for the 8800 it seemed that there were less known issues with the 64 bit version of the 8800 package versus the 32 bit version. Whether this is due to less testing of the 64 bit version, I don't know ^ ^.

It all seems to work however, and overall my impression is a positive one!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Impressions and some "benchmarks"

After putting the system together my first impulse was to open task manager and see what was going on behind the scenes, and I was stunned.

I think I've seen my system exceed 50% utilization twice. Not for lack of trying mind you. I loaded up Warcraft III, Flight Sim X, FEAR and found that they were all CPU bound to one CPU, I came to realize that the other cores and chips just don't help at all, at least not right now. I mean, I already knew this, single threaded games won't use more processors - but seeing everything in action really drove the point home.

If you are buying a system for gaming, keep this one point in mind - your games will only run as fast as your fastest core. Half Life is slated to get some multi-threading goodness sometime this year, but coding (i know) multi-threaded applications is difficult and frequently slows the development process. There are a host of issues that need to be dealt with when developing with threads. It also increases bug hunting time. So while it would be "nice", many houses that have single threaded developers probably aren't going to be adding a ton of "risk" to their project plans any time soon just so that we can use all of these crazy cores. The good news is that the PS3 is inherently mutli-threaded and will allow game developers a chance to get their feet wet with threads and concurrent process streams.

The impression here is that 4 cores is too many for 99.99999999999999% of the people out there. The bandwidth available on this system is staggering. I found that when I was installing software I would start two, sometimes three "long running" installs. Or I might run the updater and do an install browse the web etc. etc. There would be basically no slowdown. Nothing seems to take very long, and things like searching my Outlook inbox doesn't put a dent in system performance. All the while I'm free to go from site to site, recompile code, and run queries. If you want a gaming rig I think that two cores might be a better number, it will give the OS and other tasks an area to work while the other core is maxed out. Also, the Intel chips are highly overclockable.

What was a little surprising is that I'm using way more ram, because I can run more programs. In hindsight it makes sense, though when I put this system together I looked at my previous RAM usage and settled on 2 GB, thinking 4 GB might be excessive. I was wrong. Running Visual Studio 2005 really eats a lot of ram, add in SQL Server Management Studio, a few browsers, Outlook, EVE or WCIII and iTunes and you have 1.5 GB easy. I'm also using x64 for my development tools which increases RAM usage as well. The bottom line is that if you have a lot of applications open, go for the 4GB you'll probably need it when Vista is out.

Disk IO is phenomenal. I'm never waiting on the disk. Well I am, but not nearly as much as other machines. This has less to do with the chips and more to do with the drives. If you are building a high end machine like this, get the faster disks. You'll find that they are still fast three years later. It's really the only "investment" that won't get thrown away.

I don't know what's going on in my machine. At the moment, I have no way to monitor temps across the system. I've tried a number of different packages and I've found that they either hang the system or report wierd numbers. This is actively preventing me from tweaking it anymore than I already have. Though at the moment I'm running it in "stock" mode.

From a graphics perspective it eats up the highest settings. In some cases such as EVE, I've found that it actually renders a little better at higher settings. Everything just looks great though. I'm pretty sure that has more to do with the 8800.

Lack of cooling options. Most coolers are not designed to deal with multiple cpus. While I'm sure it would help, I'm going to hold off until a decent 8800 cooler is available. I've also been thinking about desinging a cooling rig for this type of setup that is quiter than a fan based solution.


Installation benchmarks

Windows XP64 - 26 Minutes
Patch to current - 16 Minutes (DSL 6.0 Mb)
Full Office Install (From ISO) - 1 Minute 30 Seconds
Full Visual Studio 2005 Team Architect Install (DVD ISO ~ 3.5GB of data) - 12 Minutes 24 Seconds
SQL Server Tools - 2 Minutes 30 Seconds

Those are the extent of the heafty installs. Those of you who have done the VS.NET install can appreciate how fast that really is.

Drive benchmarks (using h2benchw)

I was interested to see if there was any gain or loss in performance by using the MediaShield controller. I was also interested to see the difference between a single disk and the RAID 0. I found that there was no signficant different between the RAID and non-RAID connected drive. The RAID adds a pretty heafty read boost, though I was expecting a little more.

Write tests were not conducted primarily because it took too much time.

Single Raptor no RAID
Sustained transfer rate (block size: 128 sectors):
Reading: average 71966.5, min 27578.4, max 85309.5 [KByte/s]
Random access read: average 8.13, min 2.52, max 20.64 [ms]
Random access read (<504 index =" 28.9">
Single Raptor RAID connected (also system disk)
Sustained transfer rate (block size: 128 sectors):
Reading: average 71351.8, min 16714.1, max 85308.2 [KByte/s]
Random access read: average 8.10, min 2.24, max 19.86 [ms]
Random access read (<504 index =" 28.8">

RAID 0 Striping (system disk)
Sustained transfer rate (block size: 128 sectors):
Reading: average 99133.7, min 55080.4, max 111992.1 [KByte/s]
Random access read: average 8.14, min 0.05, max 14.84 [ms]
Random access read (<504 index =" 31.7">

Games
I'm going to expand on this a little more but here is some preliminary stuff:

Warcraft III
Highest settings, 1600x1200, don't have a framerate, but it's fast, very fast.
30% CPU Use

EVE Online
Resolution: 1920x1200
100 FPS in station, 27-32 FPS Outside (You've never seen EVE like this)
Settings:
Antialias: 16xQ
AA Transparency: Supersample
Anisotropic: 16x
Vertical Sync: On
25% CPU

EVE seems like it might use more than one thread. I'll post some new EVE pics soon, they are unbelievable.

Why 4x4?

Expensive, Hot, Loud, Not the winner. Those might be reasons not to build a 4x4 machine. I think though, that there are some solid reasons to build this system, and to start using this platform. So here are a few...

Dual processors.
I think we've all wanted dual processors at some point in our lives and this is it, finally, a dual processor desktop platform that we can all use. Granted, ASUS seems to think that this is a "server" motherboard, but I would tend to disagree. It lacks the Buffered/ECC ram that would make it a stable and reliable addition to a server room. The disk controller is not fit for a server environment either.

Upgrade path.
One thing that I like about AMD is that there is a decent amount of life in their products. Socket 939 is still alive and kicking, AM2 should be around for a while as well. The 4x4 and Socket F is it's own thing as well. If you want to upgrade in 12 months, it will be possible. The same cannot be said of Intel who has an external memory controller that frequently requires a new motherboard with the purchase of a newer processor (though the new 5300's are pin compatible with previous motherboards). More than anything I bought this system for this fall, and the 8 cores that I will be able to plug into my machine. It's going to rock.

IO.
AMD has an excellent architecture for I/O. My tasks vary on a day to day basis, but I felt that AMD would provide the necessary bandwidth for all of my tasks and more. So far this is the case. Though the broken ethernet controller is a disappointment.

Speed
Despite losing out to the QFX, it didn't lose by that much and in terms of cost, the board and chips for the FX70 are about the same price.

Conclusion
Pick what you want - there is more than enough processing to go around. I like AMD, I think they have been innovating and I want to support their products. This purchase hasn't been by the numbers, but I'm very happy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Partial Guide to 4x4 and Windows XP64

I have tried a number of configurations for the install of Windows and I thought I would share what works and what does not on XP64.

Things to know before starting

*Do not install nTune*
Under windows XP64 nTune does not work with this motherboard and will cause a full system halt (no BSOD, mouse will stop functioning system will go unresponsive).

Format new drives
It takes forever, and seems like a total waste of time - but do it. A WD Raptor 150 will format in 45 minutes. Ideally, format each new drive that you are putting into your computer individually. Simply following this procedure would have saved a solid 6 hours during the install process for me. The default drivers provided by ASUS do not deal well with faulty drives in your RAID array - and the latest nVidia drivers do a much better job at hiding the problem. However there are no SMART utilities installed by default - so you have no insight into drive statuses and problems.

Remove USB card reader devices
So I was on my "last install". I install XP only to find that when I boot into windows that my main drive is labeled "E:" LOL. Turns out the USB card reader that I had connected to the computer was detected as a fixed drive even though there was no card installed during the installation. At the time I also had Plug and Play OS set to "No" in the BIOS which may have caused this issue. Regardless USB devices cause trouble (see my previous post) so remove them before starting your install.

Setup the RAID ahead of time
Using the BIOS options, setup the RAID array. There are some posts kicking around on message boards that suggest that the array should be setup post OS install. I have found that this does not work with this particular piece of hardware. If the OS is installed without the RAID controller enabled, XP will fail to boot when the RAID controller is enabled post install. XP will fail to boot properly *even if the drives are not assigned to the controller*. The relevant settings were: MediaShield Enabled (BIOS, First Screen, IDE Configuration), No drives enabled, Sil BIOS enabled (BIOS, Screen Two, Other Configuration). Also of note is that when no drives are assigned to the RAID F10 is not an option.


Before you begin

If you are using a RAID Array, you will need the RAID drivers to boot and install the OS on the new array. This will require one of two things: A slip stream image created with nLite or a floppy disk, and drive attached to the system that contains the F6 drivers. The ASUS disk has these files under \Drivers\Chipset\64bit\IDE\WinXP\sataraid. Optionally you can download the latest nForce drivers and then extract the EXE file using Winzip and grab the drivers under \IDE\WinXP\sataraid.

If you are not using the RAID, turn off the RAID options in the BIOS and you will be able to install without any problem.

My Process

Drives
The drives were plugged into SATA ports 1 and 3. I have enabled RAID for ports 1 - 6. Under the F10 menu the RAID method set is to striping, using the the two drives on ports 1 and 3.

Overclocking
No overclocking was used during install.

Boot Sequence
CD-ROM, Hard Drive, Floppy Disk

Drivers

Motherboard
The asus provided drivers were not used. The latest nForce drivers for the motherboard were used, Version 9.53 released December 21 06. WHQL Certified.

Audio
The ASUS provided drivers were used.

Graphics
The latest 8800 drivers were used, ForceWare Release 95Version: 97.44 Release Date: December 8, 2006.

Networking
My local LAN is domain based. As part of the initial install domain membership was added.


The Install

Time required

The install from F6 to cd-key request will take about 15 minutes. From the cd-key request the login prompt will take roughly an additional 11 minutes. This will total somewhere around 26 minutes for the complete install. Pretty fast!

The sequence

Install Method: The non-slip stream, F6 method was used to install Windows on the machine.

F6 was pressed at the initial load screen and at the the prompt "S" was used to install the two nVidia RAID (Class and nForce) Drivers.

The installer asked which drive to install the OS. Only one, the RAID array, was listed. The drive was selected and "Format partition (Quick)" was used (The drives had been previously formatted to verify their integrity).

After copying and installing the files the system rebooted.

The install prompted for a number of pieces of information the requested information was provided. Upon completion of the forms a few more operations complete and the system rebooted.

System boot after the BIOS finishes takes about 14 seconds at this point.

After the system boots and the main user account is logged on the nVidia nForce drivers were installed. The Ethernet drivers were not installed due to issues with my on board devices. However, I would recommend just installing only the Ethernet package and not the second optional install (I forgot its name).

The system was rebooted.

Hard Drive Benchmarks were run on the RAID array. See my benchmarks post.

The 8800 Drivers were installed.

The system was rebooted.

Windows update was run, 51 updates (174.8 MB) were downloaded and installed in 16 minutes over a 6.0 Mb DSL connection.

The audio drivers were installed.

Normal operation of the computer commenced.

Rebuild

The second hard drive (WD Raptor 150) for the RAID 0 array arrived yesterday!

I am in the process of benchmarking the drives to see what, if any, performance overhead is associated with the NVidia MediaShield RAID Chipset.

Right now I have the system drive connected to the RAID controller and the new drive formatted and empty on the standard Sil controller.

I am going to run the benchmark on both drives, then I'm going to re-install the OS on the two drives raided together and see what performance boost I get.

I will hopefully be able to fully resolve the ethernet issues this time around and fix my nvidia desktop manager that not longer works due to installing nTune!

I have sadly been unable to locate a OC utility that will give me a complete look at system temperatures. I think this might have somethign to do with the fact that there are two 570 MCP chips on the motherboard. So I'm going to have to wait on getting a full look at the versatility of the FX70

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Heat

After running th system for a while and checking the BIOS I think I have a pretty good handle on average temperatures for the system.

Idle:

8800 70C
Proc 1 55C
Proc 2 55C
Motherboard 60C

These go up a few degress while playing games - but for the most part this is sustainable.

Note that while playing single threaded games the system utilization is only about 30%.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

ASUS Support, Ethernet

ASUS has finally figured out that they are shipping a product and it needs support. My previous attempts last week to contact them about my Ethernet issues did not go well. However I was able to get some "help" yesterday. Note that the L1N64 is a "Server Motherboard" according to ASUS so choose accordingly on the support line voice prompts.

The technician wasn't really that helpful. He suggested that I need to do a full system re-install to get the Ethernet ports working. Something about not installing the drivers, and then installing them one by one. He was also not really able to provide a documented step by step procedure to resolve the issue. A full re-install is not really a solution IMO. What is somewhat irritating is that this is not a new problem with nVidia. There are many forum posts that describe problems similar to my own.

I think I might do a full system re-install on a scratch disk so I can figure out what the procedure is to avoid this issue. Of course I maybe wasting my time and the ports ARE broken... but it really looks like something is interfering.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Pictures!

Some people have asked for pics. I've put together a Picasa photo album for you all (opens in new window).


Check them out!







nTune and the 680a

I have been looking for a utility to monitor my system "health" while overclocking. I thought I found it here. I installed it, which seemed to execute without incident. I went to run "nVidia Monitor" and found that my system immediately stopped responding. Great... I tried the "Stability Test" as well and found that my system crashed again. Go nVidia.

Asus ships no tools for determining if you are harming your machine while overclocking. A little more robust set of tools would be nice.

Incidentally, I think that I have isolated the USB reboot hang to having the the external USB drive turned on.

BIOS Bugs, Ethernet Problems

There are two BIOS issues that continue to plague my system.

The first is related to the use of external USB drives. I have an external 200 GB LaCie drive. When it is plugged in and turned on it shows up in the BIOS as a bootable device. By default this drive is booted BEFORE the RAID array. The problem arises from the fact that when the USB drive fails to boot the system it halts the boot process and no other bootable hard drives are checked. You can however, change the boot order in the BIOS so that it prefers your RAID over the USB device. Great, so it would seem there is a way to deal with the problem... And yet, not really. The problem arises when the system does not detect your USB drive - the settings for the USB drive are removed from the BIOS if the system boots and does not detect the drive. When it is connected again you'll find that the system will try to boot from the USB drive (which does not work) and not the RAID array. The only real solution that I have found for this is to leave the USB hard drive off until XP starts to boot.

The second issue is related to USB device initialization. The system seems to hang when initializing the USB bus, usually after a software reboot. A push of the reset button seems to do the trick, however this makes automated or remote reboots difficult.

The Ethernet saga continues. Although, I'm now 90% certain that it is a software issue and not a hardware issue. XP shows that the Ethernet ports fail to get an IP address from the network. However XP also shows that the the interface is receiving multicast packets from the network. So something is working... Windows defender also showed a reference to the ActiveArmor dll - which makes me think that it is the nVidia hardware/software firewall at work. Funny thing is none of the control panels show a way to manage these settings. The only weird thing is that the MAC address for both ports appears in an ASUS product manual (they end in F7:F7:F7). But since I cannot get support for the board at this time I'll have to keep plugging along with my NutGear GbE card. It works - but doesn't have a lot of options (namely frame size adjustment).

Despite these problems, I'm pretty happy.