Archive for February, 2011

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More blowup-y goodness

February 28, 2011

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Picture: Capacitors exploding like party poppers, my actual video card.

That’s right, yet another post about some sort of mishap/adventure I’ve had with some piece of computer component or technology. This time, it was my video card.

After doing a recent modest upgrade to the main parts of my computer, my video card was still trudging along like a true trooper. NVIDIA released the GeForce 8600GT in April of 2007 and XFX released an overclocked “XXX Edition” shortly after that. At the time, I’d just finished a computer build in the summer and followed up the holidays by treating myself to a video card upgrade for Christmas by nabbing XFX’s card. After tossing it into my system, I immediately noticed two things, it was hot and it was loud. Sure, it was a mid-range card and heat wouldn’t be too bad, but the noise was unbelievable. This was all due to it’s tiny heatsink fan, imagine something like a 60 mm fan.

Since it was so small, it would need to spin really fast to keep the chip at bearable temps at overclocked speeds. What resulted was a high whirring sound that was woefully ill-representative of it’s cooling performance. In fact, in a test where I actually opened my case up and stopped the fan with my fingers, I got total silence. It was the loudest thing in my case! It easily was the single source of ridiculous noise coming out the side of my computer. I immediately went in search of an aftermarket cooler to mount on so that I could alleviate the stressing heat and the brutal noise. After placing on a Zalman VF900-Cu LED heatsink fan onto the card, it performed brilliantly thermally and acoustically. Cool and quiet, this guy became my soldier for light gaming since the end of 2007 till just a week ago, over three years of work.

It’s demise came loud and sudden, a popping sound emanating less than a foot away from my right leg. After jumping in fright and then calming myself down, I checked the inside of my case and couldn’t find any wreckage. Thus, I trekked on usage for another day. That is until the next day. My computer started show artifacts and glitchy graphics on the desktop itself followed by having the display driver crash repeatedly. I wiped, reinstalled and upgraded drivers in safe mode and still no avail. My computer was now starting to lock up even before finishing to load it’s system tray apps (to which I have a bunch.) I’d read on some forums that heat might have been an issue, but I’d dusted the card recently so airflow should not have been an issue, especially for my better performing cooler. Many others said the chips might have cracked and that I should toss it into the oven to bake it. Quite insane.

There was one good advice from someone online. He said to take the card out and examine it. You just never know what you might notice could be wrong unless you fully unplug the card and take it out to review. So, I did just that. The card looked all good and fine until I notice the bottom right hand corner of the card. What manifested there is the photo I took at the top of the post. Three capacitors had burst their tops like party poppers. I didn’t even know this was possible because I thought they were solid capacitors. I was definitely NOT plugging this back into my computer. The next day, I went video card hunting for a replacement. For pretty much the same price I paid years ago for the 8600GT, my computer’s graphics are now powered by an NVIDIA GeForce GTX460. A marvelous card with great performance that, just six months ago, was $200 brand new.

As for my now dead 8600GT, I found that there were many reports of the same three capacitors bursting on many others’ cards. It turns out XFX’s supplier was loading up the card with low quality, and in some cases, fake solid capacitors that were prone to bursting. Most others cards hit the fail wall after the first year or two, mine got an extra year that I owe to the extra cooling. Andrew now has the carcass and is looking into whether he can replace those caps and maybe revive the bugger. If he can, it’ll truly be amazing. For myself, I’ll continue blasting along with my new card because realistically, 2-3 generations of cards have passed and it was time to move on.

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Early morning, Long computer rant

February 4, 2011

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Ack, the sun! It burns!

Yawn…0_0
You know, most of my posts are done at god-awful hours of the night. Right now, it’s probably 6 or 7 in the morning. That doesn’t seem bad. Wake up, get dressed, get on the computer for a post. In actuality, I’ve just gotten back from breakfast with some friends. A meal with friends? That takes ages. I’ve been up since 5AM. That’s right, I got up at 5AM and it was actually on my own accord. I invited some friends to breakfast because apparently waking up early randomly today was a trend. Side note: When I left the house (and when I came back, too) the sun wasn’t even up yet.

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I upgraded some computer parts over the last week or so. Went with Sandy Bridge, that’s the latest in Intel’s line of computer processors. That entailed  also upgrading what is essentially the core components of a computer, i.e., the CPU, the motherboard and the RAM. I got some great prices on the parts with the help of some sales and a rebate. The annoying part was actually taking out the old parts and putting in the new. You see, quite a few of us have the good old Antec 900 computer case. This guy is amazing, it comes stocked with 4 fans and room to add a fifth! Airflow is superb and I know many a new computer builder still going out to buy them. However, there are some faults.

The first fault is that there are no air filters on any of the fans, removable or not. What it equates to is the amazing airflow also encourages amazing dust flow. I swear, I open up the case once every few months to find nearly everything with at least a fine layer of dust snow. In some cases, dust cake. UGH.

The second fault I notice is that for you to have optimal airflow, you’ll want less cables obstructing it’s path. That would incur that you do some cable management inside the case. Well, that’s where the 900 fails in my mind. In early versions, there were no cable management holes cut out, basically requiring you to pray that you could get a cable to bend and staying out of the way. In later versions, including the one I own, they cut two holes to the side of the motherboard. That’s better, but they’re basically worthless, too. The holes are placed almost directly next to where a hard drives SATA cables will be positioned. That encourages placing the cable through the hole, but it requires you to either bend the cable in a ridiculous fashion or bend it safely but have it stick out quite a distance from the drive itself. Even once you get the cable into the hole, you’re presented with a slightly idiotic quandry. The SATA ports on the motherboard are basically an inch away from that same whole you just got into. AGH. It’s almost 10x easier to just go straight from the drive directly to the motherboard and not even bother snaking the cable anywhere. I did that and tucked the excess of the cable through the hole, but that still leaves quite a bit of cable obstructing air flow. The other side of the case itself is also very thin, making it difficult to get the side door back on if you have cables looping through the holes.

The third fault is that it is very much a hassle to add or remove a hard drive. The 900 uses a cage compartment system where you can mount three hard drives to a cage. To get to it, you must first remove said cage. This seemingly simple maneuver entails the unscrewing of thumbscrews on BOTH sides of the case, requiring you to pull off both side panels. Also, since you are removing the entire cage, you need to disconnect cables from every hard drive mounted previously in the cage and also disconnect the power cable from the fan mounted at the front of the cage. Once out, you can then mount a hard drive using 2 (nearly proprietary) screws to both sides of the cage. From there, reinsert the cage into the case, reconnect all the drives in the cage, reconnect the power for the fan, screw in the 8 cage mounting screws and then close both side panels.

Seriously, to install a single hard drive requires to unscrew no less than 12 screws (side panels and cage screws) and disconnecting too many cables which you no doubt spent a lot of time trying to route in crazy places. GAH.

The Antec 900 is a case with great airflow and lots of hard drive mounts. However, it’s not a great case to work with as it falls short in a few key areas. If you’re a person who builds and forgets, this case is fine. If you’re like me and you find yourself working inside the case every months (maintenance, cleaning, new parts), you’ll grow tired of it’s weaknesses very quickly. I’ve used it for three years because I wanted to justify the price at which I bought it (90 bucks back then) but nearly every single occasion where I’ve opened it has cause me frustration and longing for a new cast. Thus, I’ve gone and upgraded to a different case with still great airflow but improves on all the faults of the 900.

I only did this because I had some special financial backing from a few friends, so I got this new case really cheap. It’s a Cooler Master HAF X, a full-sized tower case. It’s huge and it’s heavy. So much so that it actually came with wheels to mount on the bottom. I transplanted my entire pc over to it and it was very easy to do. This case also has excellent cable management that can make even a novice look like a pro. For the owners of the 900, it might not be feasible to just go and buy a new computer case. As for a stickler like I am and coupled with wishing for a new case for so long, this move has been delayed enough.

Post has been edited for typos and some grammar issues.

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