Sunday, December 31, 2006

RAID 0 Migration

My first experience with RAID technology was over 10 years ago. The Lotus Notes servers I was responsible for were the first servers in my company to run RAID5. Since then I have wanted to use RAID5 technology at home, but until recently, this has been an expensive and difficult proposition.

One of the primary reasons why I selected the ASUS P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP motherboard for my recent 2 computer builds was for its RAID5 capability provided by the Intel ICH8R Controller. I wanted to learn more about the capabilities of this controller and the Intel Matrix Storage Console interface. My Nighthawk project provided me with that opportunity.

My original test plan with Nighthawk was to install Windows XP MCE 2005 on one physical drive, Windows Vista Ultimate x64 on a second physical drive, and the "Longhorn" Server beta on a 3rd physical drive.

I currently only have 2 physical drives installed with the ICH8R Controller set to "Enhanced/RAID" although I was not using both drives in a RAID configuration.

I highly recommend that if you have the Intel ICH8R Controller on your motherboard, set it initially to RAID in BIOS even if you are not planning on using RAID now.

It will make it much, much easier for you to migrate to RAID technology if you later change your mind.

Those who have been reading and following my Blog know that I have completed installing Windows XP MCE 2005 on the 1st physical disk drive. I was not using the 2nd disk drive since I was reserving that for my Windows Vista Ultimate x64 installation as soon as Nvidia releases a Vista driver for the Nvidia 8800GTS graphics card.

As I researched and learned more about the ICH8R Controller and the Intel Matrix Storage Console, I became fascinated with 2 of its many capabilities:

  1. The ability to migrate disks from a non-RAID to RAID set-up, and
  2. its "Matrix" capabilities.

I decided to explore these 2 capabilities while waiting for Nighthawk to settle at its new overclocked speed. This is the new disk configuration I decided to implement:

  1. Utilize both disk drives in a RAID0 configuration and migrate the existing Windows XP MCE 2005 installation.
  2. Create 2 RAID0 Volumes in this RAID0 Array of 2 physical drives, the first volume containing Windows XP MCE 2005 and the second volume reserved for Windows Vista Ultimate x64.

The incredible Intel ICH8R Controller and Intel Matrix Storage Console made this reconfiguration very easy.

I started the Intel(R) Matrix Storage Console (Version in Windows XP MCE 2005, selected the "Advanced Mode" view and "Create RAID Volume from Existing Hard Drive" action.

Volume Name: Nighthawk_XP_MCE
Raid Level: RAID 0
Strip Size: 128 KB (default)

The Console then prompted me to "Select Source Hard Drive" with the following note:

The data on the hard drive you select will be preserved and migrated across a new RAID volume.

I selected the 1st physical drive containing Windows XP MCE 2005 and I was prompted to "Select Member Hard Drive(s)" with the following warning:

Once the new RAID volume is created, it will span the source hard drive as well as 1 to 3 member hard drive(s).

WARNING: Existing data on the selected hard drive(s) will be permanently deleted. Back up all important data before continuing.

I selected the empty 2nd drive and I was prompted to "Specify Volume Size" as follows (I highlighted my inputs below):

Maximum Volume Size (GB): 931.5
Minimum Volume Size (GB): 470.4
Percentage of Available Space: 50 (initially set to 100)
Volume Size (GB): 470.4 (initially set to 931.5)

The following notes were displayed to assist you in specifying the volume size (highlighting is mine):

The minimum requested size for the RAID volume is determined by the size of the source hard drive. If you create a volume that uses less than 100% of the hard drive space, you may create a second RAID volume to use the remaining space.

Volume migration can take up to two hours depending on the size of the hard drive being used.

You may continue to use other applications during this time.

I started the migration without any hesitation at 5:28 PM and it estimated that the migration would take 3 hours and 30 minutes. During the migration, I continued browsing the Web while watching TV on Media Center on Nighthawk. The Windows Task Manager (Performance Tab) and Everest Ultimate were also running so I could monitor system performance. The migration barely used the CPU.

I am using two 500 GB disk drives and the estimate was not even close like other Windows estimates of disk operations. The migration completed at 9:55PM or 4 hours and 27 minutes later.

I restarted the system since the migration status window informed me that:

Migration is in progress. When migration is complete, you will need to reboot your system to use the entire volume capacity.

The main advantage of RAID0 is performance and this is already well documented. The main disadvantage is that risk of data loss increases since a failure on either disk drive will result in data loss.

That's how easy it was to migrate from a non-RAID to RAID set-up with the Intel ICH8R Controller and Intel Matrix Storage Console!

My objective today is to create the 2nd RAID Volume for Windows Vista Ultimate x64 installation. I'm still debating on whether to use RAID0 or RAID1 for the second RAID Volume. You will know my decision in my post tomorrow.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Quiet day of more testing

Contrary to what I reported in yesterday's post, the Nvidia 8800 Tech Demo of "Froggy" does not utilize the CPU at 100%. My subsequent executions of the "Froggy" demo only utilized 45 to 50% of the CPU. I'm perplexed why my initial run yesterday showed 100% CPU usage. I'll have to find another program that stresses both the CPU and GPU at the same time.

Johnny Lee's SP2004 ORTHOS ran overnight and for most of the day on Nighthawk without any problem. I noted that CPU temperature reached as high as 67C/153F and the motherboard temperature maxed out at 32C/90F during the execution of ORTHOS. It appears that Nighthawk is running stable at 3.0GHz overclock, but I am not going to rush the process.

Patience is one of the keys to successful overclocking.

I am posting this right now from Nighthawk while the Media Center TV is on. Of course, Everest Ultimate is also running so I can monitor the system.

However, what is most interesting is that "a RAID 0 migration is in progress" also. I started this migration about half an hour ago.

My post tomorrow will focus on this RAID 0 migration and the incredible Intel ICH8R Controller on the ASUS P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP motherboard and the Intel Matrix Storage Console. There's a reason why "Matrix" is used instead of "RAID" in the console's name.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Overclocked at 3.0GHz

I ran Memtest86 overnight for over 10 hours and 33 minutes without any errors.

I restarted into BIOS and checked the hardware monitor:

Motherboard temperature: 31C/87.5
CPU temperature: 45.5C/113.5F
CPU Fan Speed: 1776 RPM

All systems go for overclocking.

I then changed CPU Frequency from 266 MHz to 300MHz and verified that the DRAM Frequency automatically followed at DDR2-600 MHz staying at the 1:1 (DRAM:FSB) ratio.

I saved this profile to O.C. Profile 2 in BIOS, saved BIOS and restarted Nighthawk.

Computer "Properties" in Windows XP MCE 2005 (Rollup 2) showed:

Intel(r) Core(TM) 2 CPU
6700 @ 2.66 GHz
3.00 GHz, 2.81 GB of RAM
Physical Address Extension

and Everest Ultimate confirmed:

Maximum Clock: 3800 MHz
Current Clock: 3000 MHz
CPU Overclock: 12%
Memory Bus: 300 MHz
DRAM:FSB Ratio: 1:1

I allowed Nighthawk to sit for awhile and come to an idle state with the following readings:

Motherboard temperature: 27C/81F
CPU temperature: 44C/111F
CPU Fan Speed: 1776 RPM
GPU temperature: 51C/124F
Disk temperature: 23C/73F

The first benchmark I ran was the Everest Ultimate Cache & Memory Benchmark. There were significant improvements in all results except for two: Memory latency went up from 71.3 ns to 76.1 ns and memory read went down from 6781 MB/s to 6178 MB/s. At the same time, memory write went up from 4818 MB/s to 5419 MB/s and memory copy went up from 5399 MB/s to 5654 MB/s. The L1 and L2 results all improved.

The next benchmark I ran was 3dMark06. After overclocking, Nighthawk scored 8772 3DMarks, improving on the 8536 3DMarks scored before overclocking.

There was an improvement of 309 Marks in the CPU score, but only 7 and 3 Marks improvement in the SM 2.0 and 3.0 scores, respectively. Based on these results, my initial conclusion is that the Core 2 Duo e6700 CPU running at stock 2.66 GHz speed is not holding back the Nvidia 8800GTS video card at all. Hmmm. I may have to look into overclocking the video card also!

The last benchmark I ran were 2 instances of SuperPi Mod1.5 XS, primarily to see what impact 100% CPU utilization would have on the CPU temperature. The screen capture on the right was taken after the completion of the 20th loop for each instance of SuperPi. I was relieved to see the CPU temperature not go higher than 49C/120F @ 100% CPU usage by 2 instances of SuperPi.

From a performance improvement perspective, SuperPi showed none. The 1st instance showed an improvement of 2.031 seconds but the 2nd instance was worse by 2.048 seconds.

All in all, the 3 benchmarks show a slight performance gain from this initial step at overclocking. The proof will come when the final stable overclock is reached.

I really wanted to see how Nighthawk performs from a temperature perspective when both the CPU and GPU are running at 100% utilization after overclocking. I downloaded the 3 Nvidia GeForce 8800 Tech Demos: Adrianne, Box of Smoke and Froggy. While the Adrianne demo is visually stunning and stimulating, the demo stresses the GPU but not the CPU (only an average of 30% CPU utilization). The same applied to the "Box of Smoke" demo (average 5% CPU utilization.)

On the other hand, the "Froggy" demo uses both the CPU and GPU simultaneously at 100% so I ran it for one hour. The highest temperature readings during this period were:

Motherboard temperature: 30C/86F
CPU temperature: 51C/124F
GPU temperature: 65C/149F

After this run, the temperatures quickly settled down to their "idle" temperatures reported earlier in this post (see above.)

I will be running Nighthawk at 3.0GHz for about a week before I overclock it to 3.2GHz. This will give the components in Nighthawk time to get acclimatized to running at this faster speed.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Going on Manual

Before doing anything today, I switched the speed of all the case fans from low to medium. This resulted in about 2C drop in both the motherboard and CPU temperatures.

My objective today is to get CPU and memory frequencies and voltages from their auto settings to manual.

The first BIOS change I made was to set the CPU VCore Voltage to 1.4000V (CPU frequency was already set to 266MHz), restarted and checked to verify that everything else was working properly. I left Nighthawk running at this setting all morning while closely monitoring temperature and voltages - no significant changes.

When I was convinced that I still had a stable system, I shut down and made the following changes to the memory settings:

DRAM Frequency: DDR2-533MHz
Memory Voltage: 2.25V

Configure DRAM Tuning by SPD: Disabled
DRAM CAS# Latency: 5
DRAM RAS# To CAS# Delay: 5
DRAM RAS# Precharge: 5
DRAM RAS# Activate to Precharge: 15
DRAM Write Recovery Time: 5
Static Read Control: Disable

I also disabled ASUS C.G.I. at this time.

I saved & exited BIOS.

Note: It is normal for the system to power off momentarily and restart after making these types of changes.

Nighthawk restarted normally and I quickly verified that the DRAM:FSB Ratio was set to 1:1 (it was originally at 12:8.) I ran 3DMark06 to see what the impact of this ratio change was. The system actually scored 8544 3DMarks at this 1:1 ratio which is higher than the prior 8529 3DMarks at 12:8 ratio. You can draw your own conclusions from this result.

Nighthawk is currently running at around 50% CPU Usage with the Motherboard temperature at 30C/86F and the CPU temperature at 49C/120F, with the CPU fan running at around 1767 RPM. The BFG Nvidia 8800GTS GPU temperature is at 55C/133F, for comparison.

All the preparatory work is now completed. I will leave Nighthawk running Memtest86 all night and if there are no errors detected, I will make the initial overclocking change to run the CPU at 300MHz (3GHz at the default 10x multiplier) and memory at DDR2-600.

It will be interesting to see how this initial overclock will affect the 3DMark06 benchmark. I am specially interested to find out whether the Nvidia 8800GTS has been constrained by the Core 2 Duo E6700 processor running at its default clock speed.

We shall see tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

BIOS Clean-up

I'm using dual monitors with Nighthawk and I was wondering whether this has any impact on the 3DMark06 benchmark testing. I disabled the 2nd monitor and ran 3DMark06. There was an improvement of 101 3DMarks (8638 for single monitor versus 8537 for dual monitor).

I haven't shared a lot of details about the assembly of Nighthawk. There's plenty of information on the Web already about this particular topic, e.g., "How to Build a PC" from Tom's Hardware (one of my favorite Web destinations for over 10 years.)

Here's another good article from Tom's Hardware: "Overclocking Guide" - Part I of a series still in the middle of publication. Don't forget to check out the Tom's Hardware forums on overclocking - a great source of information.

Today, my next step in overclocking Nighthawk was to "clean up" the BIOS.

I wanted to disable anything I am not planning on using.

More importantly, I wanted to "lock down" the PCI Express Frequency and the PCI Clock Synchronization in BIOS. The many components in a computer work together in synchronicity with each other. If you ask one component to work faster, it will cause other components it depends on do it its work and/or other components which depend on it to do their work to also work faster! Two components you definitely do not want running faster or slower are the PCI Express and PCI buses. Most of your peripheral devices (e.g., your disk drives) are connected to either of these buses. The most common cause of instability problems when overclocking is when either or both of these clocks are set to the wrong values, inadvertently or intentionally.

Any performance gain to be realized from overclocking the PCI Express and PCI buses is negated by the certainty of system instability. It is simply not worth the certain agony and grief to follow.

Here are the BIOS changes I made to Nighthawk:

JumpFree Configuration

AI Tuning: Manual
PCI Express Frequency: 100
PCI Clock Synchronization: 33.33MHz
Spread Spectrum: Disabled

Note: I left all other new parameters from setting "AI Tuning" to manual at their default values for now.

CPU Configuration

C1E Support: Disabled
Vanderpool Technology: Disabled
Intel(R) SpeedStep(tm) tech.: Disabled

Vanderpool Technology (Intel's Virtualization Technology) can only be enabled or disabled after a cold start of the system. I may enable this at a later point in time when I start experimenting with Microsoft's Virtual PC. It is still unclear to me whether Vista and/or Virtual PC take advantage of this technology.

I saved the BIOS changes and restarted Nighthawk. I ran 3DMark06 to confirm that the BIOS changes had no adverse effects on performance. The score of 8536 3DMarks was off by only one point from the previous 8537 3DMarks (with dual monitors).

The only significant change I observed was that CPU temperature at idle is now at 43C/109F compared to 36C/97F prior to the BIOS changes. I may change the case fan settings from low to medium speed tomorrow.

That's all for today. I'm going flying - with Flight Simulator X on Nighthawk to do more testing!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pre-Overclocking Baseline Measurements

Faster speed for computer components usually requires more voltage which, in turn, generates more heat. Excessive heat contributes to component failure and reduces the life of electronic components. It's a delicate balance and I will be closely monitoring voltages and temperatures during my overclocking project.

I took my first reading in BIOS right after I turned on the computer:

CPU Temperature: 38C/100F
Motherboard Temperature: 24C/75F
CPU Fan: 1767 RPM
VCore Voltage: 1.288
2.3V Voltage: 3.232
5V Voltage: 4.966
12V Voltage: 12.038

There are 5 fans in the Antec Nine Hundred case: two 120mm infront (one set to Low and the other set to Medium), one 120mm on the side (set to Low), one 120mm fan in the rear (set to Low), and one 200mm fan on top (set to Low).

I allowed the computer to idle for 15 minutes.

I then started ASUS PC Probe, Everest Ultimate, and SpeedFan to get temperature and voltage readings:

ASUS PC Probe:

Motherboard Temperature: 28C
CPU Temperatyre: 37C
CPU Fan: 1767 RPM
VCore Voltage: 1.18
3.3V Voltage: 3.23
5V Voltage: 4.97
12V Voltage: 12.04

Everest Ultimate:

Motherboard Temperature: 28C/82F
CPU Temperature: 36C/97F
Core #1 Temperature: 40C/104F
Core #2 Temperature: 42C/108F
GPU Temperature: 53C/127F
Disk Drive Temperature: 25C/77F
CPU Fan: 1795 RPM
CPU Core Voltage: 1.18
3,3V Voltage: 3.23
5V Voltage: 4.97
12V Voltage: 12.04
+5V Standby: 4.90


Motherboard Temperature: 28C
CPU Temperature: 37C
Disk Drive Temperature: 25C
CPU Fan: 1786 RPM
VCore Voltage: 1.18
3.3V Voltage: 3.23
12V Voltage: 12.04

I ran 2 instances of Super Pi mod 1.5 XS, each instance calculating 32M digits of Pi. One completed in 21 minutes and 9.890 seconds. The other one completed in 21 minutes and 17.562 seconds. Both instances pegged both cores of the CPU at pretty much 100% utilization during the calculations. I ran 2 instances because I have observed that running just one instance of Super Pi in a dual core system kept one core fully occupied while barely utilizing the other core.

During the 20th loop (out of 24 loops) of the Super Pi calculations, I captured the temperature readings from Everest Ultimate and SpeedFan. Both tools showed Motherboard temperature at 32C, CPU temperature at 49C and 50C (the temperature reading of both cores was 55C) and fan speed at 1795 RPM and 1805 RPM. The slight discrepancy is due to both tools not taking readings at exactly the same time.

I then ran the Everest cache & Memory Benchmark. The results are as follows:


Read: 6781 MB/s
Write: 4818 MB/s
Copy: 5399 MB/s
Latency: 71.3 ns

L1 Cache:

Read: 62647 MB/s
Write: 42522 MB/s
Copy: 85039 MB/s
Latency: 1.1 ns

L2 Cache:

Read: 20119 MB/s
Write: 16018 MB/s
Copy: 22003 MB/s
Latency: 4.5 ns

I followed this with running the Everest Stress Test for 5 minutes. Twice during this test, the ASUS Probe warned of CPU temperature exceeding 60C, but the computer continued running properly.

The last test I ran was 3DMark06. Nighthawk scored 8537 3DMarks, with the breakdown as follows:

SM2.0 Score = 3725
SM3.0 Score = 3709
CPU Score = 2338

The details of this test results can be viewed here.

Tomorrow is when I start tweaking the BIOS for overclocking.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Pre-Overclocking BIOS Reference Point

One must have a reference point before setting out on a mission in order (1) to know how one is going to accomplish his/her objective, and (2) to be able to measure one's progress in achieving his/her objective.

Here are the initial BIOS settings for Nighthawk before I start my overclocking mission:

V02.58 American Megatrends, Inc.


Legacy Diskette A: 1.44M, 3.5in.

IDE Configuration
SATA Configuration: Enhanced
Configure SATA as: RAID
Hard Disk Write Protect: Disabled
IDE Detect Time Out (Sec): 35

System Information
Version: 0804
Build Date: 10/20/06
Type: Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 CPU 6700@ 2.66 GHz
Speed: 2666 MHz
Count: 2
System Memory
Available: 2880 MB


JumperFree Configuration
Configure System Frequency/Voltage
AI Tuning: Auto
DRAM Frequency: Auto
LAN Cable Status
Post Check LAN Cable: Disabled

USB Configuration
Module Version: 2.24.0-11.4
USB Devices Enabled: None
Legacy USB Support: Enabled
Port 64/60 Emulation: Disabled
USB 2.0 Controller Mode: HiSpeed
BIOS EHCI Hand-Off: Enabled
USB WIFI/USB 9, 10: Enabled

CPU Configuration
Configure advanced CPU setting
Module Version: 3C0E
Manufacturer: Intel
Brand String: Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 CPU 6700@ 2.66 GHz
Frequency: 2.66 GHz
FSB Speed: 1066 MHz
Cache L1: 32 KB
Cache L2: 4096 KB
Ratio Status: Unlocked (Max:10, Min:06)
Ratio Actual Value: 10
Modify Ratio Support: Disabled
Vanderpool Technology: Enabled
CPU TM function: Enabled
Execute Disable Bit: Enabled
PECI: Disabled
Intel(R) SpeedStep(tm) Tech.: Automatic

North Bridge Configuration
Memory Remap Feature: Disabled
Configure DRAM Timing by SPD: Enabled
Static Read Control: Auto
Initiate Graphic Adapter: PEG/PCI
PEG Port Configuration
PEG Forece X1: Disabled
PEG Link Mode: Auto
South Bridge Configuration
PCIEX16_2/PCIEX1_1 Force: Auto

Onboard Devices Configuration
Configure Win627EHT Super IO Chipset
HD Audio Controller: Enabled
Front Panel Support Type: HD Audio
Onboard 1394 Controller: Enabled
Onboard PCIE GbE LAN_1: Enabled
LAN Option ROM: Disabled
Onboard PCI LAN_2: Disabled
JMicron SATA/PATA Controller: Enabled
JMicron Controller Mode: AHCI
Serial Port1 Address: 3F8/IRQ4

Plug and Play OS: No
PCI Latency Timer: 64
Allocate IRQ to PCI VGA: Yes
Palette Snooping: Disabled
IRQ3 assigned to PCI Device
IRQ4 assigned to PCI Device
IRQ5 assigned to PCI Device
IRQ7 assigned to PCI Device
IRQ9 assigned to PCI Device
IRQ10 assigned to PCI Device
IRQ11 assigned to PCI Device
IRQ14 assigned to PCI Device
IRQ15 assigned to PCI Device


Suspend Mode: Auto
Repost Video on S3 Resume: Disabled
ACPI 2.0 Support: Disabled
ACPI API Support: Enabled

APM Configuration
Restore on AC Power Loss: Power off
Power On By RTC Alarm: Disabled
Power On By External Modems: Disabled
Power On By PCI Devices: Disabled
Power On By PCIE Devices: Disabled
Power On By PS/2 Keyboard: Ctrl-Esc
Power On By PS/2 Mouse: Enabled

Hardware Monitor
CPU Temperature: 44.5C/112F
MB Temperature: 28C/82F
CPU Fan Speed (RPM): 1795 RPM
CPU Q-Fan Control: Disabled
Chassis Fan1 Speed: N/A
Chassis Fan2 Speed: N/A
Chassis Fan3 Speed: N/A
Chassis Q-Fan Control: Disabled
Power Fan Speed (RPM): N/A
VCORE Voltage: 1.288V
3.3V Voltage: 3.232V
5V Voltage: 4.966V
12V Voltage: 12.038V

Boot Settings

Boot Device Priority
1st Boot Device: [IDE: PLEXTOR DVDR P]
2nd Boot Device: [IDE: Memorex 16X-DD]
3rd Boot Device: [RAID: Maxtor 7H500F]
4th Boot Device: [1st FLOPPY DRIVE]
5th Boot Device: [ATAPI CD-ROM]

Hard Disk Drives
1st Drive: RAID: Maxtor 7H500F
2nd Drive: RAID: Maxtor 7H500F

Boot Settings Configuration
Quick Boot: Disabled
Full Screen Logo: Enabled
AddOn ROM Display Mode: Force BIOS
Bootup Num-Lock: On
PS/2 Mouse Support: Auto
Wait for 'F1' If Error: Enabled
Hit 'DEL' Message Displayed: Enabled
Interrupt 19 Capture: Disabled

Supervisor Password: Not Installed
User Password: Not Installed

The ASUS P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP motherboard has 2 features I really like. The first one is the ability to store/load 2 O.C. Profiles. I saved the current profile to "Profile 1." The other feature I like is the ability to backup/load the BIOS to/from a USB thumb drive. I backed up the current BIOS and settings as A0804-00.ROM, just in case.

The next step is to record baseline readings of temperature, voltage, fan speed, and, of course, system performance. But all that work is for tomorrow.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all! Peace on Earth and good will to all men, women and children. All 3 of my children are safely home for the holidays and all is well with life.

I installed the latest chipset drivers using Intel 's Chipset Software Installation Utility and it fixed the "PCI Device" and "SM Bus Controller" problems. The only side effect was that I had to re-install the driver for my on-board sound device. I also installed the Hauppauge video decoder and the Nvidia PureVideo Decoder (trial) which now has my Media Center fully operational. The only remaining problem is that my Plextor PX-755SA DVD-RW is still not recognized by Windows XP MCE 2005, but I'm not going to worry about that for now since my Memorex IDE DVD-RW is fully operational. I think I am done with the setup.

Nighthawk is ready to fly.

Regarding temperature, voltage and fan speed readings, I have the ASUS PC Probe II, Everest Ultimate and SpeedFan all running right now while watching TV on Media Center. All 3 programs show the same exact temperature, voltage and fan speed readings. This is what I expected since all 3 are reading from the same sensors from the Winbond chip.

For fun, I installed the Flight Simulator X demo on this new system to see how well the BFG Nvidia 8800GTS video card performs. Flight Simulator X (FSX) is one of the most resource demanding program you can run on your system today (and probably for the next year or so.) FSX will gobble up whatever hardware component you can throw at it today and you still won't be able to run it well with all FSX settings at "Ultra High" - try it yourself. I was pleased just to see it perform reasonably well on Nighthawk with "High" settings. Now, flying with FSX is definitely a fun way of performing benchmarks - not to mention, it is also the safest way to fly!

One of the reasons why I wanted to install the Media Center Edition of Windows XP instead of just plain XP was to test my Hauppauge PVR150 TV Tuner since I haven't been able to run it in my Windows Vista Ultimate x64 (RTM Build 6000) system - no Vista x64 driver! I also have an ATI 650 Wonder TV Tuner card with the same problem - no Vista x64 driver. But I have the ATI Wonder Elite installed in my Windows XP Professional system, so it was a good opportunity to do a comparison of the 2 TV tuners.

This is not a scientific comparison by any means. I used the same model monitor (Samsung SyncMaster 213T) for the "side by side" output display. One significant difference is the digital (DVI) connection for the ATI tuner versus the analog (RGB) connection for the Hauppauge tuner. The image from the ATI tuner is on the left and the Hauppauge image is on the right in the following photos for comparison:

In my opinion, I prefer the image output of the ATI Wonder Elite TV Tuner. The colors are richer and brighter. I tried to adjust the brightness of the Hauppauge PVR150 TV Tuner but increasing the brightness washed out the colors.

I will perform a similar comparison of the ATI Wonder Elite (based on the 550) with the ATI Wonder 650 in the future, after I have successfully overclocked Nighthawk.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

An all-nighter (almost)

I did not get to bed until the wee hours of this morning. I can't remember the last time I've done this. I didn't notice since my kids and their friends were still up partying when I finally called it a night (or morning). More to the point, I was enjoying myself working on Nighthawk.

Yesterday, before I installed the diskette drive so I could install Windows XP MCE 2005, I decided to install Windows Vista Ultimate x86 (RTM Build) on Nighthawk. The Vista installation proceeded to a point where it notified me it required a driver for the JMicron controller although it had already successfully booted from the Plextor PX-755SA DVD-RW hooked up to this controller! No sweat. I have the JMicron driver on a USB thumb drive (Vista can use USB thumb drives and optical drives during installation!) Vista found the driver but could not load it. I tried numerous times including changing the JMicron setting in BIOS to IDE, AHCI and RAID. Vista simply refused to install the driver (I tried different versions of the driver as well).

This appears to be a common problem documented in several 'Net forums. I'm still scratching my head over this one because I used the same optical drive to install Windows Vista Ultimate x64 (RTM Build 6000) on Blackbird. I recall running into the same problem, but I got around it somehow. I just can't remember what I did. I'll look into this more when I install Vista next on the 2nd drive of Nighthawk.

To avoid the same problem while installing Windows XP MCE 2005, I decided to install an IDE Memorex DVD-RW drive (also connected to the same JMicron controller as the Plextor) in Nighthawk, making it the first boot device and the Plextor DVD-RW as the second boot device. BIOS sees both optical drives but Windows MCE 2005 does not detect the Plextor PX-755SA DVD-RW at all. The only other driver I had to "F6" install was the Intel ICH8R RAID driver.

I ran into a minor snag installing Windows XP MCE 2005 Update Rollup 2. It comes in 2 CDs. Well into the installation process, it prompted me to install the 2nd CD and installation continued. I was then prompted to insert the Windows XP Service Pack 2 CD which I did not have! I immediately went to the Microsoft site to download SP2 (it took over an hour to download), burned the ISO image, inserted it into Nighthawk - only to be informed that the files Windows XP MCE 2005 wanted were not on the CD. I cancelled the operation and the installation proceeded and completed.

Windows XP MCE 2005 booted successfully off the hard drive. I immediately noticed that I had no Internet Explorer. I was also unable to install device drivers, etc. Obviously, the installation was incomplete. I installed Service Pack 2 which I had already downloaded for over an hour. It appeared to run successfully but still no Internet Explorer! It's a real problem when one does not have an Internet browser these days! I finally solved the problem by performing an "upgrade" installation of Windows XP MCE 2005.

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 looks great! It looks almost like Vista with the "glass" look. The first things I did was to install Windows update (60+ items including Internet Explorer 7), the Nvidia driver for the 8800GTS video card, and other device drivers. There are 2 devices not working: SM Bus Controller and an Unknown Device). The unknown device is my Hauppauge PVR150 TV tuner since I can't watch TV and/or DVDs in Media Center. I'll look into these problems later.

I was anxious to see how well the BFG Nividia 8800GTS video card performs so I installed the latest version of the 3DMark06 benchmarking tool and fired it up. Nighthawk scored 8542 3DMarks! In comparison, the overclocked (3.4GHz) Blackbird which has the BFG Nvidia 7950GT video card only scored 5328 3DMarks.

Here are the full results:


I also installed the ASUS PC Probe II utility which shows Nighthawk idling with the motherboard at 28C, the processor at 38C, and the CPU fan running at 1767 RPM. In comparison, Lavalys' Everest Ultimate shows Blackbird idling (except for Media Player providing the music) with the motherboard at 32C, the processor at 42C, and the CPU fan running at 1688 RPM. I've heard there's some disparity about temperatures and voltages shown by various tools. I'll test, validate and document my findings on this subject later.

My next step is to install the usual benchmarking and stability testing tools on Nighthawk and start setting baselines at the default BIOS settings.

Friday, December 22, 2006

And its name is Nighthawk

The computer I just completed building has a name: Nighthawk, and it takes its place (albeit temporarily) right alongside its almost identical twin, Blackbird.

I noticed that Nighthawk runs a lot quieter than Blackbird. This is probably due to the case fans running at low speed on Nighthawk as opposed to medium speed on Blackhawk. The low noise is also probably due to Nighthawk running 1 disk drive as opposed to 6 disk drives for Blackbird.

Memtest86 V1.65 ran almost 17 hours overnight without any memory errors! I'm very pleased.

Although I have 4 GB of memory installed, BIOS currently only sees 2.88 GB which is normal since I do not have the "Memory Remap Feature" enabled. The operating system I am currently installing is 32-bit Windows XP Media Center Edition. I will have this feature enabled when I install Windows Vista Ultimate x64 (RTM Build 6000).

I have just started installing Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 on the first drive. The drive is currently being formatted. It is 500 GB in size so it will take a while to format. I do not like to perform a "quick" format, specially if the drive is new.

This process required the "F6" installation for the Intel ICH8R RAID driver and I do not have diskette drive installed on Nighthawk or Blackbird. I know I could have created a "slipstream" installation CD to automaticcaly include the driver and avoid having to use a diskette drive. It was easier for me to install a diskette drive, so Nighthawk has a diskette drive now. It's coming off as soon as I get done with the installation!

Now, I remember what I hated most about Windows XP installation. Come to think of it, my previous P4 computer also does not have a diskette drive. I wonder how I installed Windows XP Professional on it. Maybe I did not have to perform an "F6" installation.

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 should be up and running on Nighthawk in my next post.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The moment of truth

The mystery of my computer going to sleep in the middle of night probably has something to do with the new APC UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) which I connected just the previous day. Windows Vista recognized it when I first plugged the USB connector from the UPS to my computer. I just noticed that the APC UPS device no longer appears in my device list.

I waited the better part of the day for my Corsair memory. I knew it was going to be delivered today because I checked the Fedex tracking and it had already arrived at the local Fedex distribution center this morning. I got a little worried when late afternoon arrived and there was no sign of Fedex. I decided to check Fedex tracking and I was surprised to see a note that the package had been left on my front porch. I immediately checked and sure enough, my package from Zip Zoom Fly was on the porch. I shake my ahead in wonder 0f today's technology and the reach of the Internet. I had to check a server somewhere on the Internet to tell me that a package is waiting for me on my front porch!

I opened the package containing my 4 GB of Corsair XMS2 PC8500C5 DDR2-1066 memory and left it on my desk for an hour to let the memory reach room temperature (it's cold and wet outside - raining.)

I installed the memory, a BFG 8800GTS video card, a Hauppauge PVR150 TV tuner card and connected all the data and power cables. I performed a last check of all connections and turned the power supply on. The blue LED light on the motherboard turned on! So far, so good. I went through another round of checking everything visually.

And then I could no longer postpone the moment of truth.

It doesn't matter how many PC's one has built in the past, one still holds his/her breath for that initial push of the power switch. The moment of truth.

Click! A quick visual check shows all case fans and, more importantly, the CPU fan turning.

No video! Where the heck is the video signal? My heart was in my throat and I'm already thinking ahead about my approach for troubleshooting the problem.

Wait! The KVM (Keyboard/Video/Monitor) switch was on for my other PC. I quickly switch the KVM to the new PC and there's the reassuring prompt to go into BIOS since a new processor was detected! Whew! The only other time I experienced a heart-stopping moment like this was when I forgot to turn the power supply switch on and nothing happened when I clicked on the case power switch. Other than these 2 incidents, I have been very fortunate that every PC I've built successfully came alive on that initial power on.

I set the date & time and noticed that BIOS version 0302 (07/10/06) was installed. I upgraded the BIOS to the latest version 0804 (10/20/06) from a USB thumb drive using the ASUSTek EZ Flash2 BIOS ROM Utility V3.00. Make sure the USB thumb Drive is inserted before starting the PC. Otherwise, the EZ Flash2 utility won't recognize it. In my humble opinion, this is the safest way to update the BIOS on this board instead of updating from an operating system.

I left most of the BIOS settings on default for now except for the following: disabled the onboard Wi-FI, the 2nd Gigabit Ethernet port (PCI), disabled Quick Boot, set the motherboard to power on with either the PS/2 keyboard (Ctrl-Esc) or PS/2 mouse click, set the ICH8R controller to RAID and the JMicron controller to AHCI.

A quick check of the temperature indicated the CPU running at 48C/118F, the motherboard at 32C/89.5F and the CPU fan running at 1844 RPM. I have all 5 case fans (four 120mm and one 200mm) running at the low setting for now.

What's the new computer doing now? I started Memtest86 V1.65 almost 2 hours ago to test the memory and to "burn-in" the computer. I will leave it running Memtest86 overnight and if there are no errors detected tomorrow, I will start installing Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005.

It will be a while before I start any attempt to overclock this new computer. I want to make sure that it is stable and running without problems at the default settings before I start making changes.

Putting it all together

I almost had a heart attack this morning. I leave my PC on all the time and this morning when I walked into my study, my PC was powered off. The first thought that crossed my mind was my PC crashed overnight. With my heart pounding heavily, I powered on with a click of my mouse and I was very relieved to see the "Resuming Windows" message. Whew!

I was somewhat surprised that Windows Vista put my PC to "sleep" since I have it set to "never put the computer to sleep." The only thing different I did last night was I closed all active applications except for the Windows Sidebar. Must be a Windows Vista feature: it must be smart enough to know that the PC isn't really doing anything so it will put itself to sleep regardless of what the power plan settings are.

OK. On to my new build...

I have all the components assembled and wired together for the most part. The ASUS P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP motherboard is mounted in the Antec Nine Hundred case with the panel connections (Firewire, USB, Audio, power, reset, and HD Led) all wired to the motherboard. The additional USB header for the back has also been installed (using the PCIEX16_2 slot position since I am not planning on installing a second video card in this PC.)

The Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 processor and stock HSF (Heat Sink & Fan) has been mounted on the motherboard and the CPU fan cable connected.

The Antec NeoHE 550 power supply has also been mounted in the case and the 24-pin EATXPWR cable connected to the motherboard. The plastic cover on one half of the EATX12V connector on the motherboard has been removed but I will wait until later to connect the 8-pin EPS +12V connector from the power supply to the motherboard until later.

The Plextor PX-755 SATA DVD-RW drive and one Maxtor 500 GB SATA-2 disk drive (I will add the other 2 disk drives later) have been mounted but not connected yet.

At this point, I'm waiting for my Corsair memory which I ordered from Zip Zoom Fly before I can proceed further. It was shipped yesterday so I should be receiving it later today. A note about Zip Zoom Fly: this is my second order from them, the latest one I submitted online last Sunday. It was only yesterday (Wednesday) when I finally connected with customer service on the phone that my order was processed. Unlike other online retailers, Zip Zoom Fly appears to require some interaction over the phone - at least based on my experience. But once everything is cleared up (Zip Zoom Fly is very cautious about credit card authorization and changes in shipping address, etc.), they get your order to you quickly. In fairness to Zip Zoom Fly, my first order was shipped to my work address and this second order is being shipped to my home address.

While waiting to complete final assembly, I will share what I plan to do with this new computer I am building. Ultimately, the plan is to run Windows Vista Ultimate x64 on this overclocked computer (with 3 Maxtor 500 GB drives in a RAID5 set) when I finally turn it over to my wife in February 2007.

Until then, my plan is to install a separate operating system on each of the 3 drives: Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, Windows Vista Ultimate x86 (RTM Build 6000), and Windows Vista Ultimate X64 (RTM Build 6000). Only one hard drive will be connected at any point in time during this experimentation phase when I will be conducting performance benchmarks and other testing.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What's this BYOOC about?

BYOOC = Build your own overclocked computer

The purpose of this Blog is to share my experiences building my own "overclocked" computer so others can learn from my experiences & mistakes (hopefully none).

Why build your own computer? I find a lot of satisfaction in building something with my own hands that works and is useful.

What is "overclocking?" Simply, it means making your computer run faster than its rated specifications without any instability. Today's computer components make it even easier to "overclock" than ever. In spite of this, many individuals are afraid to do so and many who try fail - mostly because they try to use a "cookbook" method based on what other people have done. I'll try to avoid providing you with this approach, but rather provide you with the fundamentals so you can make your own choices.

Also, I'll warn you ahead of time that this is not about "extreme" overclocking. If that's what you're interested in, there are plenty other sites on the Web on extreme overclocking. This Blog is directed towards the individual who might be interested in overclocking, or someone who has attempted and failed in overclocking.

Why "overclock?" Probably for the same reason that others customize and "soup up" their cars.

I have built over 10 computers for myself and my family. My most recent build has the following components: ASUS P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP motherboard; Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 processor overclocked to 3.4GHz; 4 GB Corsair XMS2-8500C5 DDR2-1066 memory; BFG 7950GT video card; Soundblaster X-FI Platinum sound card; 6 Seagate 750 GB hard drives (2 RAID5 sets); Samsung SH-S183L DVD-RW drive; Antec NeoHE 550 power supply; and all housed in an Antec Nine Hundred case. I'm running Windows Vista Ultimate x64 (RTM Build 6000) on this computer. I selected these specific components based on my own prior experiences and after a lot of research on the Web.

I'm about ready to build a similarly configured computer for my wife. The only differences in configuration will be: no sound card (I'll be using the onboard sound); BFG 8800GTS (this will be swapped to my computer once the Vista driver is available); Plextor PX-755SA DVD-RW drive; and 3 Maxtor 500 GB hard drives (RAID5). This system configuration will be the basis of this Blog.

Does she really need a high-power computer like this? Yes, if I can convince her to do the video editing of the many hours of 8mm videotapes we have collected of our children. That's my primary ulterior motive in this exercise - to save myself work! The second ulterior motive is that I plan to use her computer to experiment and test before I turn it over to her in February. The third and final ulterior motive is that I can use her computer in the future as backup in case of emergency.