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.

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